Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Lemon bars and raspberry sauce

Oh my.

I thought you might like seeing food pictures, then I worried that maybe I'm turning into a foodie and then I thought well it's a little too late to worry about that now.

I made my first ever batch of lemon bars today along with some raspberry sauce. Per the reviews for the lemon bars, I did increase the lemon juice from 1/4 cup to 1/2 cup. They are definitely lemony (I tasted the residue on the knife after I cut them). We'll see how they turn out tonight; small group is here again while Fiona continues to recover from her horrible allergic reactions to we don't know what just yet. Behold the finished products:

Let me just confess that straining out the raspberry seeds was a complete pain. First I used my flour sifter, which did a decent job although it was very slow. So I thought I'd give my colander a try but the holes were much too large and all the seeds went through. Pictures of that process and of me returning to the flour sifter would have been pure comedy gold but I had a little too much raspberry sauce on me to get the camera.

And finally, since I rarely get a picture of Chloe not all curled up in a ball, I present Chloe in her new favorite spot on my desk:

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Knocking off the chores

This weekend we started knocking off items from the home organizational audit I did earlier in the week. We had perfect weather for outdoor tasks and took full advantage of it to get a lot done.

We both agreed that painting the window well in our bedroom took top priority. So Saturday morning, Kent slithered through that 18 inch wide window so he could wash the concrete window well walls with a TSP substitute, a necessary step prior to actually painting the walls. The window is above waist height on me, but opens out onto the ground level of the well which is covered with gravel. Getting in and out isn’t easy and requires a second person spotting the one doing the slithering.

We foolishly though we could wash the walls and get the paint up all in one day—forgetting entirely that the window well doesn’t really get a lot of sunlight and we live in Boston, which is a little more humid than Kansas City. So the walls weren’t dry in time to paint yesterday. Kent painted them this morning, and he cleaned the outside of the windows. I cannot believe how much lighter our room looks. Something like that doesn’t really show up in a photo so you’ll just have to take my word for it, the change is startling.

We also tackled the patio. We have a huge patio, it’s almost 500 square feet and it’s one of the main reasons we bought this place. Yesterday Kent pulled down the lattice covering the support pole for the balconies above us. We had no idea how much mildew that lattice harbored, and it was also rotting in place. Makes sense, though, the balcony support structure doesn’t really get sun at all so the lattice stayed permanently damp. We were also surprised at how removing the lattice opened up the area visually.

While Kent took apart the lattice, I planted four flats of shade-loving ground cover (English ivy and Pachysandra) plus assorted bushes and flowers. I took pictures that show the patio in bigger swatches but then the plant colors aren’t obvious so I took a couple of pictures of some the plants. I also got a bit of sunburn on my back yesterday working out there.

PS It's 85 degrees F in Boston today! WooHOO!

Friday, April 24, 2009

Best piece of furniture ever

A couple of years ago, my mother-in-law Ardis offered us the armoire you see here. I think she wasn’t entirely ready to pass it on but we took her up on that offer so fast we made her head spin. We used it in our guest room in Crush House in Kansas City, where held my doll house supplies and some of my sewing things.

Here in Boston it does far more than that. Let me show you the wonders of this armoire assisted by my kitties. This armoire is so useful to us that if I had Kent's mad skills with Gimp, I'd have put a halo or at least some sort of heavenly light all around every picture I took of it today.

First, the closet part of the armoire is our coat closet. We rotate out the lightweight coats during the winter and reverse the process come spring. I also store my yoga mats in here, you might be able to see one just behind the blur that is Wally.

The bottom drawer holds my patterns plus the materials for the next project. You already know Wally likes to help me sew, and he is just showing his interest here.

Next is the drawer that holds our kitchen tea towels. Kent’s grandmother made a set for each of her grandchildren when they got married, and from the looks of them, Kent’s first wife never touched them. I love them and will be really sad when they finally turn into holey rags.

The next drawer contains our essentials for surviving Boston winters: hats and gloves, lots of both. I don’t think we’ll move those anywhere come warm weather, partly because there’s really no other place for them to go.

The top two drawers hold two sets of towels each. We brought just six sets altogether so we can rotate our towels and also have towels for the rare overnight guest.

Finally the top of the armoire is Wally’s personal space. I included these pictures even though they are blurry, because he was rolling all around up there while I took the rest of the pictures. In fact I thought he might just roll right off. I finally gave in and used the flash for the last picture, and of course then he stopped moving.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Zen Habits, Organizing Audits and me

I am a semi-regular reader of Zen Habits and have bookmarked more than a few of the columns because they're worth a second or third look. Earlier this week I read a column about how and why I should do a home organizing audit (article here). In a nutshell, the writer believes that we tend to overlook or ignore that which we see daily. So any unfinished project like pictures not yet hung or books not yet sorted and stored tend linger because we don’t really see them any more. Then other messes accumulate there, which also go unnoticed. Auditing each room takes the blinders off so all messes, unfinished projects or trouble spots can be identified and prioritized for fixing or what have you.

I see this happen with my sewing. I’ll leave my sewing machine out in our living space as I’m working on a project because it’s either out to be used or else it’s stored in a closet. Then the ironing board stays out as well. Add to that the iron itself plus the little spray bottle I use to dampen the material, and of course let’s not forget my sewing box and button box. Pretty soon I’ve taken over the corner by the pass through, which is also where we sit to eat. Then we can’t sit together to eat dinner but end up eating at our desks. You get the picture.

So today I’ve been working on that organizing audit. I’ve already captured two pages of things to be done. They range from very, very minor (reorganize a closet) to fairly major and/or tedious (re-grout the tub).

Kent’s traveling this week. I shared the article with him, and then today told him I was doing this audit. He’s afraid, he’s very afraid. After looking at this list, I can see why.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Compare and contrast

These don't need much explanation.





Sunday, April 19, 2009

You can keep the coffee

Kent and I go through a pound of coffee in about six days. We used to get a Roasterie blend called City of Fountains that was sold at our local Costco. We liked the price ($12.99 for two pounds) and we also liked supporting the Roasterie, a Kansas City-based business. Plus it was really great coffee.

We knew we’d have to find something else once we moved to Boston; while the Roasterie is sold across the Midwest, you can’t buy it here in Boston unless you buy online. Unfortunately, the blend we like is distributed exclusively to Costco to sell in their KC facilities. Ordering something else would mean we'd pay more for pound plus we’d have to pay for shipping. To top it off (and to be honest) we’d really have to plan ahead for coffee. Sorry, folks, that’s just not going to happen. I tend to realize I need more coffee the day before I actually need it.

So we turned to Starbucks. We’ve liked their Christmas blend and God knows you can find one on almost every block, so availability wasn’t an issue. But it’s $10.95 for a pound of the coffee we like. Let’s say we buy coffee 54 times a year, accounting for us using a bit more than a pound a week and also allowing for the occasional guest. We’re looking at almost $600—OK $591.30—a year. On coffee!

Dunkin Donuts coffee is revered here in Boston. It’s also cheaper at $8.69 a pound. Using the same math, we’d be spending $483.84 a year—saving us $107.46 a year. In Boston terms, that’s one hair cut, or two cheap dinners out, or almost two monthly T passes, or about 10 days’ worth of groceries. As Kent said, it’s not a no-brainer but it’s worth a try.

I hate this coffee. Even Wally, who usually tries to sniff and drink my coffee, turns his nose up at this swill. As soon as this bag is done, we are switching back to Starbucks. Plus we aren’t even saving money. In order to make this coffee semi-palatable, Kent said he’s using probably three of our scoops per pot rather than two. So Boston can keep the Dunkin Donuts coffee, and I’ll stick with their donuts.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Odds and ends

The reheated steel-cut oats did just fine, although they definitely thickened up. So it's a good thing I added the brown sugar to the oats yesterday. This morning I stuck my spoon in the oats, and it stood straight up.

I took this video yesterday and I confess it's mostly for Alison. We created a bit of a kitty monster in her at Thanksgiving, and she still associates computers with kitty videos.

And finally another cute cat picture. Those boys sure are photogenic.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Of experiments and shortages in Boston

I use a pretty normal deodorant—Arid Extra Dry solid unscented. I don’t have massive loyalty to Arid per se but the solid and unscented parts are non-negotiable in my deodorant. Whatever is used in the clear formulas that don’t leave streaks on your clothing irritates the bejesus out of my skin. There’s nothing quite as attractive as a woman scratching her pits while out in public!

All that to say I have had almost no luck in finding my deodorant in Boston. I can find most scents and of course I can find unscented clear formulas but not the tried-and-true solid unscented kind. Well, I did find it at one drug store here in the South End but it costs $3.60 a stick. Yeouch.

So when Kent and Ben went to Wal-Mart last Saturday, Kent knew he should look for my deodorant. And he hit the motherlode! He brought home six sticks—in fact he said he bought all that they had in stock. I do wonder what the checker thought as he came through the line. Probably something like “wow he must have a real BO issue . . . “

I experimented making steel-cut oats in our rice steamer today. I do like the steel-cut oats but there’s no way on earth I’m spending 30 minutes actively making breakfast. So I thought I would give the steamer a try. The results were mixed: cooking time took an hour (I started with 35 minutes which wasn’t nearly enough). Even then the oats had to sit a bit to finish thickening up. I made two servings and refrigerated the second bowl. I’ll try microwaving it in the morning and see how that works.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Easter fun

We are back from our trip to Smithfield, VA, home of Smithfield hams and also of Ben, Jen and Alison. We flew down Thursday morning and got back last night. We had such a great time, they are truly fun people to be with and are great hosts.

I suffered a bit of sunshine envy, though. Their apartment is not only huge and open and has two bathrooms, it’s also VERY sunny. Believe me, I soaked up all the sunshine I could get.

On the left, I’ve included a slide show of pictures from this past weekend. Some are from our trip Friday to see Jamestown. We took a ferry across the river and you’d be surprised how many cars they can pack on that ferry.

Saturday we split up a bit. Ben and Kent went to Wal-Mart, which is a semi treat for us since the nearest Wal-Mart is about an hour away from us in Boston. Jen and I headed out to get pedicures, check out a fabric store and also pick up some groceries. Well the pedicures were pretty interesting—the shop is owned by a Vietnamese woman and on the weekends her two high school aged daughters help out. The daughters actually did the pedicures and they were just enthralled with Jen. They wanted to know where she went to high school and were shocked she was not only out of high school but done with college. I think they mostly loved her blond hair and blue eyes. One of them told me she wished that any daughter she might have would also have blond hair and blue eyes. What normally takes about an hour ended up lasting about 90 minutes. I’m pretty sure they used twice the normal amount of lotion on us since my legs were quite sticky the next morning. Those two really didn't want to see Jen leave.

The fabric store we found is more accurately a quilt fabric store but had a really great selection that works for clothing, especially girl clothing. The woman who helped us said that’s because the owner has a granddaughter and wanted to have those kinds of materials for her to use in making quilts for her granddaughter. I got some more fabric to make a couple of things for Alison—another dress like the one I made her for Easter, plus a dress that has ducks as pockets and also a little bag that has slots for crayons. Jen and I saw one of the finished bags, and she commented that would be useful when they are traveling by car. Jen said Alison tends to lose her crayons so the bag will help plus I can use up extra material left over from other Alison projects.

We all checked out Saint Luke's church. From their website: It is the oldest existing church of English foundation in America and the nation's only surviving Gothic building. It was well worth seeing. I just wish it had been warmer on Saturday because the grounds were lovely and we would have all enjoyed walking around a little more.

Our trip home was sort of challenging. Even before we left for the airport, our flight was listed as nine minutes late. Actually we don’t know that it ever even went at all. Apparently Newark (where we were supposed to change planes) had dangerous wind conditions so at first it looked as though we wouldn’t get home. Then we were put on a later flight out of Newark although the ticket agent sounded dubious that we would even make the later flight. Once down at our gate, we were called up to the counter and told we were now on a US Air flight—so off we went back out through security to get to the correct concourse to catch a plane To Washington DC. We were supposed to fly from DC to Boston on a 9 PM flight but got on a much earlier flight only because it too was super late. Long story not quite so long (yes I know, too late)—we were home by 9:30. Hurrah!

Here’s a short video clip of Alison trying her very first Peep. You can see her Easter basket and she’s wearing the dress I made her, which makes me super proud that Jen liked it that much.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Kitty pics galore!

Wally has a new morning game with me. He hops on my lap and requires vigorous petting until he catches sight of my bathrobe sash. He'll spend the next 10 minutes or so trying to murder the sash, drink my coffee or nudge my hand for more petting.

This is a typical picture of the boys uneasily sharing the perch while awake. When they are asleep, they tend to curl up like a yin-yang symbol. But when they are awake, they wrestle or bite each other. Here they've finished wrestling, and what you can't see is that Wally is whipping his tail.

In these two pictures, I found the kitties lined up like this on our bed, and grabbed my camera. While not the best pictures ever, to see them lined up that way made me giggle.

Finally, I took these two pictures of Wally this morning. We'd taken down the curtain at the bottom of our stairs which helps stop the heated air from the apartment rising to the top of our stairs. Kent draped it across a chair in the living room, and Wally thought it was an appropriate place for royalty to recline. Doesn't he look like a prince?

Saturday, April 4, 2009

So I wasn’t admitted

I learned on Wednesday that I wasn’t admitted to UMass Boston. As you can imagine that wasn’t a good day. In fact I was pretty bummed out about it. To make things worse, Kent was out of town all week so I didn’t even have him around for comfort.

Two things have really helped me move on. First, for Lent this year I didn’t give anything up, although I considered a couple of things (alcohol, chocolate, the usual suspects, even the internet). But giving something up didn’t feel right. I’m sure that sounds self-serving, but honestly I lead a pretty disciplined life so the giving up of things isn’t generally a sacrifice or a stretch for me. I didn’t think I would learn anything or get closer to God.

Lately I’ve been feeling like I box God in a lot, make Him a small god, lower case and all. But He’s not, He’s a BIG God. So what if I chose to live BIG and act as though I have a BIG God? That’s my Lent challenge and it’s been good for me, although not easy. Wednesday, I realized it’s not difficult to live large, to find the joy in life when things go well. But living large is a choice as is being happy. Wednesday I chose to live large, although I will tell you I didn’t feel all that large. Still, I took the baby steps and Thursday I did feel better.

The second thing that helped was the realization that all I got was one rejection from one state school that had a very strange application process. I have a friend who found out two weeks ago that she has Stage 4 breast cancer. My disappointment is minor compared to the situation she’s in—after al she is in a fight for her life. So the shift in perspective helped too. I’m disappointed but this rejection sure isn’t going to kill me.

Next steps? Well I’ll check out other schools and see what I can find. And chances are good that this pushes back a school start date by probably a year, which makes me cranky. I am not the world’s most patient woman. Maybe patience is the lesson for Lent next year.