Thursday, January 31, 2013

Goals: Year Three

Well, it is about time. I took more than a few months off in creating my new list of goals - the original intention was to post this before Christmas to start the calendar year off right, but end of January counts just as well, doesn't it?

This list is typically in the back of my mind - and probably in the back of almost every notebook I use because when I find myself with some time on a flight or on a lazy Sunday I start looking at the list trying to add a couple more quality items.

I have learned a few things after two go-rounds (read the recap from Year One and Year Two):

Don't overextend where our moolah is going - My first year I had equal parts "spend a lot of money" and "save a lot of money" - make sure both are doable!
Be realistic - Renovating every room in the house? Probably not going to happen in the next year. But grab hold of a couple areas like the entryway and the laundry room and we're getting a little more focused.
Stick with the basics - Most of my Culture Vulture goals and a few of the Personal Development goals have stayed the same each year which is not a bad thing. Unless, we think this could be the year I watch 150 movies??? 


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! 
Telegraph Avenue - Michael Chabon wins me back after a couple not-so-greats (in my opinion).
World War Z - a realistically written oral history. Sad that the movie version didn't take the same approach. Could have been amazing.
The Last Lecture - a little different than I initially thought it would be, but great reminders to go after what you want in life.
Beautiful Ruins - time travel (well, not literally) to 1960s Italian coastline. Would be a dream.
Summer at Tiffany - a nice little story about a young woman's adventurous summer in NYC. Not much substance, but nice none the less.
Wild - a woman hiking the PCT, read days after returning from our own hike along the Appalachian. We did two hours, she did three months. 
Sunnyside - A story about war, movies, relationships Charlie Chaplin and Rin Tin Tin. Sometimes a bit hard to follow, but all in all good stuff from the author of Carter Beats the Devil.
Tell the Wolves I'm Home - Don't let the strange title stop you from picking this one up.

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). 
56 since February 1. 

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!
We saw John Oliver at the Chicago Theater in October - an anniversary gift from me to Bob.
Finally went to the ballet in Chicago! Saw The Nutcracker this holiday season.

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. We also visited the Art Institute in August as part of an anniversary celebration. Also got to the Shedd Aquarium for some fishy action.

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! And several cities throughout Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine put this one into extra credit zone (Killington, Burlington, Concord, Meredith, Portland, Bar Harbor and Kennebunk to name a few!). Amazingly, I hit up 8 new states in 2013 including Virginia, Utah, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, Indiana, Arizona and Maryland!

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!
I'll be in Toronto for work in late August, does that count? We're thisclose to booking our Peru tickets for this coming March.

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!
Done!

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.
Spent a long weekend making meatballs and sauce to freeze and later a chicken a noodle soup. One more round of breakfast burritos currently in our fridge. My tried and true Velvety Squash Soup found its way to the freezer this winter.

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.
Summer Party centered around my Birthday was a success. Our Harvest Party 2013 was great fun. Throughout the year I also hosted book club and a bunco night and we had a number of relatives over for Bob's grandmother's birthday party this past July!

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 making an emergency kit. So far just a lot of batteries and food. . .

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.
Well, the boys got taken to the vet and we found out they both need teeth extracted because of decay! I'll make a quick plug for oral care dry food, because I'm wishing we would have gone that route. . .



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.
Sort of making this work - but could use a little more prodding in the morning!

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.

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?
So far most of my projects have been in the kitchen, but with the holidays approaching I'm already seeing lots of little crafts dancing in my head.

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.
Done! With a Halloween banner to prove it.

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. 
I made 6 more of those felt owls and sold a half dozen at our yard sale. Still lots to go.

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.
Thanks to two generous gifts (completely unrelated, interestingly enough), our entryway bench now has two India-inspired pillows. We also recently splurged on our bedding and brought home two beautiful king-sized and down-filled firm pillows for the bed.

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.
New washer and dryer have been ordered - stay tuned for a blog post soon!

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!)
I drove in my sister's new hometown. A bit white knuckled but a good start. . .need to do better here!

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!
Tuesday was always my volunteer day and I've been spending them as of late at my Second City writing class. Hmm, time to stop making excuses.

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.
The wedding book is finally done!

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!
Will hit just over 50, so not as strong as I would have liked.

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.
Achieved one of these right after Christmas. We ate lots of leftover pizza in the fridge and even got out of the house a bit. I'm going to ignore the fact that three days later we put a new washer and dryer on the credit card!

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!
Doing very well here, although a bathroom remodel or big splurge on lighting could trip us up a bit.

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!
2 more sold before Christmas via Etsy. Woohoo!

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!
Done!

Finally

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. . . .

Sunday, January 27, 2013

An On the Go Breakfast

The last couple of months, I have had a regular Google search term of "meals to freeze" as I look for new ideas for dinner tonight and two weeks from tonight. With this search, I landed on a super simple recipe for homemade breakfast burritos and in it found quite the winner.

The idea: scramble a dozen eggs with salsa, sausage and all of your favorite breakfast fixin's, wrap up tightly in a tortilla, flash freeze and then individually wrap. When you need a quick breakfast, microwave one for about 2 to 2 1/2 minutes and baby, you've got a burrito going on. Confession: there have also been one or two evenings where nothing looked appetizing for dinner and these made their way into the belly.

The key is to use a large enough skillet to hold 12 scrambled eggs, a jar of salsa, a pound of breakfast sausage, 2 cups of shredded cheese and hash browns. Luckily, I didn't overflow, but came close a couple of times!
Bob helped out with his burrito wrapping expertise. He nuked the tortillas for 30 seconds, wrapped in dishtowels to keep the heat in and to make them more pliable, and then added enough for one serving. The 10 inch tortillas seemed to be the best size for these, but we also had 12 inch tortillas on hand and those filled up just fine.
The original recipe seems to be pretty optimistic in how many burritos this serving size can make, but of course it all depends on how many ingredients you add. Our first batch made 14, our second batch made 18 when we added in another 1/2 pound of sausage (the first go-round I made do with just the 1/2 pound leftover in our freezer).

The salsa added enough veggies for us, but you could throw in additional green onion, garlic, tomatoes or whatever your little heart desires. 

Line the burritos on a wax paper covered baking sheet and find room in your freezer. After a few hours, the individual servings should be nice and frozen. After this step, wrap up in saran wrap and store in a ziploc gallon bag in the freezer. Pull one out as needed and enjoy!
To spread the burrito love, we gave my sister's family a homemade "gift card" for a batch of these burritos as part of an "on the go" gift package for Christmas (including ceramic travel coffee cups and an iTunes gift card to help make running a little more fun). 
All in all, I spent less than an hour making a batch - not too shabby considering all of the instances it will give us where we don't have to think about breakfast!

Shared on Sugar Bee Crafts

Monday, January 21, 2013

Alpha-Bet That Would Make a Great Gift

In 2011, I made my then 2 1/2 year old niece, Ella, a photo book all her own with a little help from Mixbook.com. The story was a hit (read about it here), and she would ask to read the "Ella book" throughout the year. This holiday season, I decided to create something for the one-year old Amelia. A little Pinterest inspiration is never too far away!

This mom created an alphabet book for her little one, tailored with personal photos. She shares all of the page photos on her blog here.
I took over my sister's hard drive to find any and all applicable photos. Plugging them all into the mixbook template and adding text boxes was easy enough. And with "A" standing for Amelia, the book named itself.
I'm hoping she will have just as much fun pointing out everything familiar about the photos as she will with learning her ABC's.
Some letters were easier than others - I found myself with about four options for the letter "H", but when it came to your "X's" and "Q's" we have to get a bit more creative. Let's just say I did some forced posing with Amelia and her xylophone!
Amelia shows up in most of her photos, but with only a year under her belt I sometimes had to rely on her sister to help showcase some of the letters, like this adorable shot of Ella dishing out ice cream cones from her "kitchen."
All of Amelia's family members make appearances, including her newly minted Uncle Bob.
 
I also made Ella a new book: 20 pages detailing the holidays, seasons and celebrations that she celebrated in 2012. And so, the personalized hardcover book collection of my nieces grows! What should the book themes be for next year?

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Freeze, Pasta!

I love when a random Google search proves more than fruitful. I started looking around at dishes to make ahead and freeze, and this Baked Pasta with Chicken Sausage stood out amongst the crowd. To paraphrase Joey from Friends, “What's not to like? Chicken Sausage? Good. Baby Spinach? Good. Fontina Cheese? Gooood!”
The recipe made enough for 2 dishes, so we wrapped one up to freeze and threw the other one in the oven.
This also had the distinction of being the first meal we at our new dining room table. Definitely room for a few more!
It wasn’t more than a few weeks later when we sat in front of an empty fridge and and were happy to find a full freezer. Re-heated and it tastes so good.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Etsy Does It: Holiday Blocks

One of my year long goals was to look into selling the Every Holiday Blocks that I first made for myself in the summer of 2011. Written about in this post, the blocks are six-sided messages meant to stay on your shelf year round, running through the major holidays and seasons.
Last spring I sort-of-impulse-bought a set of 500 one-inch blocks from the internet. Let's just say I was planning on buying 100 to try making a few seats to start, and suddenly the volume price savings took over and I figured why not buy enough to make 27 sets??

Around July I began to crave working on a project that wasn't wedding-centric (see: centerpieces, table numbers, invitations, etc), so I hunkered down and made a dozen sets of Every Holiday Blocks.
                               Every Holiday Blocks
I played with the paint colors, messages and "clip art" from the original set to improve the look, and I must say have gotten pretty quick at hand-painting each of the six sides carefully. Many a netflix movie was watched during the painting sprees.
                                 Every Holiday Blocks
With some ready-made sets, I decided to open up an online shop and see where things lead. And so, I'm happy to unveil the lydiasnextstep shop on Etsy. Further down the line I am hoping to add a few more projects, possibly ones seen on this blog, like the Mixed Media Movie Mod Podge or a version of these Felt Owls to recycle all of the yarn balls created for my wedding centerpieces.
For now, the blocks are available, so please do share the news with any of your craft loving friends and thank you for your support of the blog - 3 1/2 years in production, wow!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Carded 2012

Under the wire doesn't even begin to describe how I went about Christmas cards this year. I knocked them all out in one night, mailed them the next day and hoped that they would all arrive before December 25!

Inspiration hadn't found me yet, so my annual tradition of making my cards was a bit threatened as my weekends filled up with other projects, work trips and general weariness from DIY overload in 2012. I was too stubborn to buy cards, and did not want to send eCards out and time was running short. So I was very happy to find the following on Pinterest, a perfect idea for all the holiday scrapbook paper I have accrued.
I started by breaking out my set of Martha Stewart holiday paper, I estimated a size per tab and got to work. Arranging them on a card wasn't too challenging - just made sure to mix up the colors and patterns enough to look random!
After some fun with the paper cutter and glue stick, I found enough stickers to act as "toppers" and a spool of decorative ribbon made for some excellent garland.
I was able to make the first couple with glue dots, which I would highly recommend for something like this. The glue stick, even though applied lightly, still added a bit too much weight and stiffness to the card.
After making a baker's dozen of tree cards, I wanted to mix it up a bit and decided to use some holiday paper that came as part of a craft set.
The ideas were simplistic, but I loved how they turned out. A background color, a swatch of holiday and an added message with a rubber stamp and ink was all it took.
Before I knew it, I had another 20 cards. Bob wrote a message on the insides of each and we got to addressin'.
We increased our mailing list a bit this year, but because of our timing we missed a few family members already en route to Chicago for the holidays! I am thinking next year I need to put cards on my to-do list for November!

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Braid with Love

When we put a bread machine on the registry, it was one of those items that I couldn't help but think to myself, "would be nice to have, but would we use it?"
Well, challenge accepted! Since the wedding, we've used the bread machine three times in the traditional sense, and once more over the holidays to help knead the dough for Cardamom Bread before we braided it and put it in the oven. Now, when I say "we" I mean Bob - he's been quite the bread connoisseur.

We had a taste of sweet Cardamom Bread at our Christmas Eve celebration and wanted to recreate for Christmas Day back at home. Bob started with a simple recipe of sugar, flour, yeast, etc and added 3 tablespoons of cardamom to the dough before sticking it in the machine for an hour forty five.
When the dough was ready, Bob rolled them out into three parts and we braided it onto a greased cookie sheet.
 
Letting it double in size under dish towels for 30 minutes, and a quick brushing with an egg wash and a sprinkling of sugar (use sugar in the raw if available), we threw it in the oven at 350 for about 40 minutes.
We can't find the exact recipe used that day, but here's a link to a similar Cardamom Bread that sounds just wonderful.
In just a couple hours, a tasty treat we devoured that evening. Yum.