Sunday, June 29, 2014

Water World

I'm not a natural water drinker - it isn't my first, second or third choice when it comes to beverages. But while I default to choose a Cherry Coke, I know my insides are saying, "please water us!" To help with the taste and the excitement level of drinking tap water, I started making spa water at home more often. I would always see dispensers at event receptions I attended filled with lemons, cucumbers, and - most tasty - starfruit. I definitely gravitated towards filling my glass more than once when these were in the picture. We finally took some action last year and bought a dispenser from Bed, Bath and Beyond. By setting this up on a weekend morning, filling it with H20 and the fruit/veggie of the day means I find I'm re-filling my glass throughout.

Last weekend, we picked up a cucumber and strawberries from the Farmer's Market. After letting it marinate for an hour or so, the dual taste really came through in the water.
You may recall I set up these dispensers at our fall yard sale last September, with lemons in one and cucumbers in the other. What did I realize about a month after the yard sale? I had the base on backwards! So if you are thinking the black base looks a little odd,  you would be correct. However, the table wasn't super stable that it sat on, so I actually would have been less confident with the glass dispensers sitting so high off the surface. At least that's what I'm telling myself.
It's not just me feeling the spa water love: My sister had put together a strawberry, rosemary and cucumber mixture over Easter that delighted.
And I gave my mother this infuser pitcher for Christmas. She told me she's about to go strawberry picking for the season, so I picture a lot of pitcher usage in the near future!
photo source
I'm also finding myself bringing a couple slices of cucumber to work with me to add to the glass I keep at my desk, making me drink something in the morning before I grab a Coke for lunch. That's still one habit I just can't seem to break.

What are you putting in your water?

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Goals: Year Four

It's that time again, when I finally start thinking about the 12 months ahead and set up some not-so-lofty goals to set my sights on. In my fourth go-round, you'll find even more staples that re-appear from year to year, a few stretch goals and an opportunity to spend more time in the kitchen, something we've been doing less and less it seems like lately.

Here's a look at the 36.5 in 365 goals of years past before we dive into the 2014-2015 season:
Year One - the start of the experiment. Highlight: I ran a 5K.
Year Two - Highlights: This was the year of the project table and shag rug.
Year Three - Highlights: I set up an Etsy shop and we completed our laundry room makeover.

Culture Vulture
1. Read 15 Books - Between Book Club and a Leadership Program I am in through work, I don't think I'll have any problems at all with this one - I've already fit in 11 since January!
The Light Between Oceans - dragged a bit towards the end, but I enjoyed it overall.
Crucial Conversations - part of my leadership program homework. Helpful ideas for success at work and in life!
Made to Stick - Another in the leadership series (this will become a common refrain this year!). Great thoughts around making your ideas last.


2. Watch 120 Movies - The habit continues. Latest Netflixes at home - getting through the tail end of the Woody Allen pics I have yet to see. Highly recommend The Purple Rose of Cairo and Hannah and Her Sisters.

3. Visit 2 Museums - I just came back from the WWII Museum in New Orleans - amazing exhibit. Ready to tackle a couple new ones, and maybe an old favorite like the Art Institute!
June - Bob takes me to the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago for the evening. Bonus points: we find that they have live jazz on Tuesdays in the summer!

4. 2 Trips to the Theater - Breakdancing with Bach is coming up this weekend, that's definitely something new!
August - Not sure if this fully counts, but I took in a Broadway themed Concert in the Park! 11 Chicago-bound shows were highlighted with live performances. I'm counting down 'til I can see Newsies!

5. Visit 3 New Cities - If I want to keep up with my 15-places-in-15-years list, I think I may need to be crossing Austin or Savannah off in 12 months time. . .

6. Plan an International Trip - Peru was a hit, but after several trips learning about ancient civilizations (Egyptians, Incans and Mayans), I think we're ready for something completely different.

How Entertaining
7. Create 4 New Freezer Meals - We've been getting lazier in the kitchen lately, all the more reason to have more grab-and-go meals to pick from.


8. Cheesemaking, Second Phase - I attempted mozzarella, with room to improve. Shall we try the next level up afterwards?

9. Host 2 Parties - Our annual Harvest Party is a given, but also hoping to fit in a late summer bash to celebrate a (hopefully) done second bathroom.

Health and Wellness
10. Get Outdoors More Often - I'm a self-described indoor kid, but here's to long walks, camping trips and afternoons on (someone else's) decks.

11. Learn how to Swim - I shouldn't admit this since I grew up a lake, but I can barely swim. I don't love the water, but know I need to learn how to do more than flounder. Maybe I let Bob take me to the pool once or twice. . .


12. Keep Drinking More Water - Already doing more than I ever have before thanks to a steady supply of cucumbers and strawberries added to our drink dispenser. Keep it up.

13. Make More Appointments - I hit up the eye doctor and dentist for the first time in a long time this month. I told my eye doctor I thought it had been about a year and a half since my last visit. It had actually been close to 4. Make the follow up appointments early and stick to them.
I actually made my 6-month-from-now appointment for the dentist. That never happens. See you in January!

Adventures in DIY and Home Ownership
14. Sew Something Else - I promised my family their very own mantel scarves, and also had visions of a puppet theater stage for the nieces. First step: Detangle the thread that jammed up the machine last time I used it.


15. Second Bathroom Renovation - Tub, sink and tile has been taking over the garage storage area. We're gearing up for demo days in July and preparing to learn a lot.

16. Closet Organization - Thanks to a revamped laundry room, our coat closet has mucho storage space and the wheels are turning with how to use it.

17. 12 Pinterest Projects - Recipes, crafts and holiday decor here I come.


18. Complete Entryway Decor - With a church pew bench, entryway table, some art on the walls and a storage crate, we're well on our way to calling this area done-zo. Now to finish off the wall above the table and pick up an umbrella holder.

19. Purchase New Nightstands - Our nightstands are ridiculously short compared to our bed height. We finally picked up new bedside lamps, so the end tables can't be far behind, as long as we find the perfect ones.

20. Find a Buffet - Sigh. We came very close last month when we spied this awesome buffet at an Antiques shop in Andersonville at 75% off. Someone else had it on hold and swooped in before we could make it ours. Might this be the year we discover our match?

21. Install New Ceiling Fan/Lights - We bought a ceiling fan a year ago. so in the box it sits. We moved in three years ago and can't reach the dining room lights even with the ladder, so in the dark we eat. Time to make a change here.


22. Make 50 Cards - Using my new Cricut machine to be sure. I'm running out of birthday cards, so a pile of those is next on my list.

23. Update Photo Albums - The wedding album is complete, but stacks of photos stare at me from their bin, waiting to be cut up and added to the memory books, including trips to London, Italy, Belize and Peru!

24. Make the Advent Calendar - I have a vision of creating wooden blocks that fit within a printer's drawer. The drawer was bought on eBay a year and a half ago and there it sits.

Professional and Personal Development
25. Learn Guitar - I received a guitar as a gift a couple years back. It is a nice display item, but it turns into a bit of a joke when I realize I don't even know how to hold it properly.

26. 65 Blog Posts - I'm trying to be a little more realistic, bringing this number down a bit from past years - but at the same time, would like to make sure that I hit at least 5 or 6 posts a month.

27. Keep Driving - I haven't taken the car out as often as I should to keep up the practice, but here's to another year of behind the wheel, one trip to Target at a time.

28. Support 3 Charities - Whether it be time or cash money, here's to supporting the causes out there.
Good luck on your Walk to End Alzheimer's, Meika!

29. Find a Speaking or Writing Opportunity Through Work - I've had a chance to write an article and present in front of the department in the past 6 months. I'll proactively look for more opportunities in the professional arena.

30. Volunteer Once a Month - Chicago Cares, Ronald McDonald House and more on are on my regular rotation. Is this the year to try out something new?

31. Create 2 Positive Rituals - After reading the wonderful book, The Power of Full Engagement, I'm going to focus on finding at least two areas to create positive rituals to help manage my energy.

Money Matters
32. Purge 100 items - Last year I collected several bin-fulls to sell at our yard sale. Between clothing, old games and never used household items, I see some craigslistin' and yard sellin' in our future.

33. Meet Savings Goal - A year and a half ago, I made up a goal to get to by our 2 year anniversary. We're getting closer, but hit a couple roadblocks called "Special Assessments" and "Elaborate Vacations." Not that I would give up our holidays, but if we can hit the goal by the end of 2014 you can count me as a very happy camper indeed.

34. Find 3 Extra Cash Opportunities - Between Lollapalooza Year Four, the odd focus group and collected pocket change, there should be at least a handful of extra moolah opportunities coming soon to a wallet near me.
I've had a nice surge in Etsy sales for my Every Holiday Blocks - sold out of my available 8 sets! Time to make some more, methinks.

35. Back Up eFiles - This blog alone has hundreds and hundreds of photos attached to it, not to mention thousands of words. Between my music, my photos and my personal documents, it would be a good thing not to lose them all suddenly to a virus or sledgehammer to the computer.

36. Complete an Inventory - I always read about how you are supposed to have a home inventory on hand in case of a fire or disaster or a robbing rampage hits our house. Research how to put this together and make it happen.

And. . .
36.5. Be a great wife, aunt, sister, daughter, friend, boss and co-worker.
The old "do unto others" thing.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Don't Remove This Stain

I mentioned our New Glarus Brewing Co. crate in this post, as a plan to add to the bottom of our new entryway table. Photos like this were the inspiration to add some storage and pizzazz to the floor underneath the table.
photo source
However, the unfinished wood left something to be desired, and was super bright against our green hallway wall. I had thought about staining it when first bought, but was unsure how the color would affect the label on the side of the crate. If I wanted a blank one, I could stop at any Michael's and pick up a crate for 10 bucks, but I needed to make sure the stain wouldn't be so dark as to make the "New Glarus" text unreadable.
We perused Home Depot last weekend and compared the colors on the Miniwax wall. I really liked Cherry and Gunstock, but not for this project as they ran a little too red for our tastes. We picked up a small half pint of Special Walnut, thinking it wasn't so dark that it would overtake the wording on the crate, but still heavy enough to feel like vintage wood.
I set up shop outside our garage spot, threw a dust mask on my face to be on the safe side, and put down our painting dropcloth. 
Having never stained anything before, I made sure to read the directions a few times before beginning. The stain was opened, stirred and I did a quick color test on a random piece of wood in our garage. Right away I could tell we were on the right track.
Because of the unfinished wood, this piece barely needed sanding at all, but it is a good step to remember for future projects.

I used a clean white rag to apply the stain as opposed to a brush. I went with the grain and worked through the crate to get every nook and cranny. The first side seemed a little dark, so luckily the New Glarus wording shows up on both sides, so I had a second chance!
On the side that would be displayed, I went a tad lighter in application to make sure "New Glarus" was still easily visible, but other than that bit of carefulness, the process was quite easy. I wiped down the crate to get rid of extra stain that hadn't sunken in and then left it propped up in the garage for a day to un-fume itself and dry out.
I brought it in the next day and quickly got to work figuring out what it should hold.
Right now, I've got an extra blanket tucked into the crate, but I can see this being the home for scarves and hats in the wintertime. I love how it turned out, and think I just got on the staining bandwagon - what else can I tackle?
All that's left for this space is a TBD statue or decor piece for the other side of the crate to add some height. 

PS. We picked up the crate during Bob's 30th Birthday surprise trip to New Glarus - read about it here!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

#Winning

The sourcing of our bathroom reno needs continues. We're thisclose to getting started, once our tub arrives at Lowe's by the estimated date of 6/20 we should have most everything we need to feel good enough to start demo'ing.

We've got a common thread going with our bathroom fixtures, sticking with Kohler all the way. The mishmashness comes in when looking at what Kohler lines we're going to be featuring: Memoirs, and Archer and Bancroft, oh my!

We found our sink early, first spied at Studio 41 - a great bath supply shop we found on our way out to the suburbs. Great selection and layout compared to some of the other stores we've been perusing. The Memoirs Stately comes in 2 sizes. While the 30" wide one was tempting, the realization that it would take up more space than our current vanity (the opposite of our goal with a pedestal sink) and the inflated price tag stopped us from moving forward.
The 24" wide sink was just as sweet, and a steal for us via Amazon.com. Literally. We used a gift card and then used up our Amazon.com credit from TurboTax ($500 applied from our tax refund plus 10% = fifty free bucks!) on the sink, the first half having being used for The Nest.
Some excitement in the house as we tore into the giant boxes delivered a few days later - I don't think I've ever had boxes so large delivered and we laughed imagining what the tub delivery could end up looking like if we went the Amazon route for it, too!
In the end, our tub was purchased through Lowe's online and will be available for pickup in just another week. We went with the Kohler Archer, partly because of it's reasonable price and partly because other Kohler tubs we were drawn to were too wide or too long for our smallish guest bathroom. 
The Archer drop in tub hits at 60" x 30". We got a drop in tub because we plan on running the floor tiles up the side of the tub to tie it all together. Another reason, we couldn't go any wider and had to avoid all the 32" tubs we were finding. It will sort of look like the photo below, though you'll need to replace the brightly lit, open window with less space for our scenario.
photo source
So now onto the fixtures. I'll tell you, I don't understand why faucets are so expensive. If you can explain this to me I'm all ears. We didn't want to go crazy, and I initially put a modest $150 in the budget, but when we looked at the options in stores, the cheaper ones truly did look cheap. The Memoirs Stately sink faucet that matches our sink is a beauty, but at $412 we had a hard time convincing ourselves to pull the trigger. 
Bob found the Bancroft line and we both liked the feel of chrome mixed with the white handles. The handles also have little "H" and  "C" labels on them. At $329, a bargain compared to the Stately, but still higher than I wanted to budget. 
Since we knew the tub would take a couple weeks to get here, we decided to try our hand at eBay. It started two weeks ago when I found the Bancroft Bath and Shower Trim Kit available from a seller who bought it for a home improvement job that didn't end up happening. I put in a bid at $135+shipping and waited it out. Soon enough, it was ours in name and two days later was ours in hand!
Luck was on our side when just a few days later the Bancroft sink faucet popped up as a display item that was being sold for under $200, like new. The warning was it came without a part, but one that was available on Amazon for $11. I placed the minimum bid of $140+shipping and began to wait six days for the sale to close. The day after my entry, I was outbid. Rather than play the game, I waited patiently and held the iPad close until 1 minute until the end of the auction. I had to re-bid twice within 20 seconds because of someone else's automatic bid, but it was ours!
I can't say I use eBay all that much, my last purchase was a printer's drawer in 2012 for an advent calendar project I have yet to complete, but the excitement of winning my two bids this week could get one addicted quickly!

So let's check out where we're at with the purchases in this post:

Listed Prices on Amazon.com
Kohler Memoirs Stately Sink - $368
Kohler Archer 60x30 Tub - $621
Kohler Bancroft Sink Faucet - $329
Kohler Bancroft Bath and Shower Trim - $217
= $1,535

What We Paid:
Kohler Memoirs Stately Sink - $25
Kohler Archer 60x30 Tub - $585 + tax = $638
Kohler Bancroft Sink Faucet - $162 (includes shipping) + $11 part on Amazon
Kohler Bancroft Bath and Shower Trim - $151 (includes shipping)
Discover Cashback Bonus on Tub because of 5% cash back at Lowe's - ($29)
= $958

Oh yeah, we're on a roll now.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Grillin' It

It is finally summertime here in Chicago, and that means one thing. . .we're dragging our grill into the alleyway to cook up brats and burgers and other goodies for dinner!

Yes, without a balcony we had to take our love for grilled foods into our own hands. Our garage spot opens up into the alley, so it's easy enough to wheel out the grill each time we need it. Bob sets up a camping chair for a half hour or so, and we provide a quick bit of entertainment for the drivers passing us by.
Last weekend, we took a three-pack of mushroom and swiss brats from Green Bay's Maplewood Meats (a Christmas gift staple from my Wisconsin-based parents) and picked up a pile of sweet corn from the grocery store.

We dropped cable TV months ago, so Food Network inspiration has been a bit light in our house as of late. However, Bob did manage to catch an idea from Jamie Oliver's 15 Minute Meals, which was on a network station picked up through our antennae. (PS: Saturday mornings on CBS also feature Dr. Chris, Pet Vet - if you want cute, watch this Australian veterinarian nurse a baby penguin back to life!)

In this Oliver episode, his 15 minute meal was Jerk Pork with a Grilled Corn and Crunchy Tortilla Salad. We decided to skip the pork for now and focus on the side dish.
photo source
In my opinion, it doesn't get much better than the taste of grilled corn. After devouring a couple cobs with our meal that night, we shaved off the kernels from the extra grilled cobs and saved them for the salad the next night.

Unfortunately, I didn't get very far with links to the recipe online or a show archive, but I did manage to find the ingredient list. Since most salad recipes consist of: "add all ingredients to a bowl", I figured I wasn't missing much.

Creamy avocado, the grilled corn, a head of romaine lettuce and colorful tomatoes were diced up.
We couldn't find cress at the store (although saying "I need 2 punnets of cress" is now our new favorite thing), so we went with bean sprouts for the topping. The veggies were all layered atop a few baked corn tortillas. A squeeze of lime across the top was all it needed, though a cucumber lime dressing would have also been a good choice!
Dishing out a corn tortilla and filling it with the salad made for one fresh and tasty meal. 
Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go and buy more corn to grill up!

Sunday, June 1, 2014

That's the Entryway (I Like it)

It was a little over a year ago that our entryway church pew made its way from Craigslist to our home, and since then we've always had a search for the perfect side table in our heads to help complete the space.
Memorial Day was meant to be focused on finding bath fixture sales as we prepare for our second bathroom renovation. In the end, we took advantage of some great sales, but the bathroom wasn't the lucky recipient of most of the items we now call our own. This area across from the entryway bench was though.
2 Memorial Days ago, we found ourselves at Domicile, a huge furniture store in Lincolnwood. We found a rug we loved for our bedroom, but even with a "no-tax" sale going on, we didn't pull the trigger. We were on our way to the Lincolnwood Lowe's anyways, so we decided to stop in to see what types of sales were going on. We figured if the rug was still there and cheaper than when we saw it in 2012, we would make the purchase. It turns out, the rug was MUCH more bright purple than we remembered it. We realized how much it had developed in our heads over time as "the perfect rug" when it wasn't at all true.

We almost left, but decided to do one more lap around the store. And that's when we found it - a lovely little console table from tag furniture. On sale for $229 and on a no-tax day. Our goal for a table was less than 40" wide, around 12" deep but not much more because of the thin hallway we're dealing with. We also loved the metal material that didn't look ultra-modern, but matched more of our furniture in the house, including the dining room table. 
Next came styling. I grabbed a few coffee table books and arranged a few times. I added a World Market bowl that I've had for years as our key-mail-and-sunglasses-collector and played around with the globes that had previously been housed in said bowl.
In case you are curious, here's a rundown of our highlighted books: Tutankhamun: His Tomb and Its TreasuresChicago Imagists, Lonely Planet's The Cities Book, Electric Banana: Masters of Psychedelic Art, Romero Britto: Colors Around the World and Archipelago: Portraits of Life in the World's Most Remote Island Sanctuary
It has already been nice to see our keys ending up in one place, and we'll see if we can keep mail from building up here. 

A couple to-do's left for the table. After considering a big mirror above the table (after we move the thermostat, a long term plan), we ended up buying two framed chalkboards from Pottery Barn that feature hooks for our keys to stay in plain view. At 14.5" wide, two across at eye height will fit the table pretty well, and allow us to leave messages for each other like, "I fed the cats already, don't let them trick you!"
Finally, we've got some plans for the bottom space under the table. I'm picturing a decent sized statue or vase on one side, and our New Glarus Brewing Co. crate on the other side, once it is stained a bit darker and ready to hold who-know's-what. I've been gathering ideas from Pinterest like crazy: hats and scarves for the wintertime, an extra blanket or throw, or maybe it'll just keep doing what it's been doing and hold our shoes.
But for now, our view when we walk in our door is just a little more exciting lately thanks to our table.