Friday, December 24, 2010

Ho ho ho, y'all

Merry Christmas Eve!

It's totally my favorite day of the year and I hope you're all having good days, too. Enjoy the holidays!

P.S. I've got the entire week between Christmas and New Year's off and I have some serious DIY dreams to bring to life.

P.P.S. Plus, we're planning a trip to the permit office so here's to hoping we will soon be posting about some electrical fixes (we're upping the R-value of our basement insulation and so will need to bring the outlets out an inch or two to accommodate the difference).

P.P.P.S. I'm even hosting the tiniest, trashiest NYE party of all time, and I'm happy to share my trailerific decor secrets with you. Get ready for some super fun projects in 2011!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Get carded

(True story: I have not been carded in like a year. I'm 27, so this should surprise no one. But, when I do get carded (on those rare occasions when the waitress is either drinking herself or her manager is eagle-eyeing her), I almost want to thank the server for mistaking me for a younger version of myself. (But I don't because that's something dorky old people do and I might be old, but I'm still hip and down with it, as I think the kids say.) I'm old and clearly, all those late nights and very full red party cups becoming very empty very fast are showing.)

Moving on!

So....this is how a visibly older woman such as myself displays her Christmas cards:
The sign is one I picked up at Gordmans years ago in an after-Christmas sale (for $6! I'm thrifty and old. I'm the next Sophia Petrillo.). I use clothes pins to stick cards to it and it builds as we get closer to Christmas.

What better way to remind myself that even though I am old and worn and leathery, I still have my friends.

Get off my lawn!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Basement Boogie: Treasure Hunt

We made basement progress last night! It had been a while since we got to go down there ourselves and get our hands dirty, so this little step really had us jazzed. (We've spent the past three weeks or so negotiating with the window dudes and getting a little help from the pros when it came to a pesky shower leak.)

Our next big step was to figure out how everything down there is wired. You see, our old basement had really thin and cheap insulation and of course, we are stepping it up a notch. This means the walls will be thicker and we'll have to bring every outlet and switch an inch or two out so they aren't all sunken into the wall. 

This means we had to map out the wiring, which is pretty tricky when you have a finished ceiling across most of the basement. 
We were on the hunt for junction boxes. Once we found those, we traced which lights and outlets they went to and then determined the breaker they were connected to. We got through 2/3 of the basement just fine.

 In the fireplace room though, we have a finished ceiling and no way of seeing how all the wired connect. We think we might now, but you kinda don't want to be halfway sure about electrical work. So, Hubs is conjuring plans up and will take his questions to the pros and the permit office before we move forward.
 So, yes, it was a baby step. But, it's one baby step closer to being finished! I'm told by our resident basement expert (that's Hubs) that after we get the electrical figured out, we get to do electrical demo (and who doesn't love demo?), vapor barriers, insulation, more vapor barriers, electric rebuilds and then we wait for the window guys (they're thinking they'll install in early February). But then (oh, glorious then!), we drywall. We paint. We floor. We trim. We celebrate. We collapse. We re-emerge into the daylight. We cease being mole people.

Because 2011 is the year Bigger, Better, Best goes underground.

Monday, December 20, 2010

A time when I wasn't cold

A while back (right after our little NoCal adventure), I hopped a plane with two goofy gals and went to surprise Brittney (who is a blogger, but first and foremost a real life friend, so please do not interpret this surprise to be creepy in anyway. Note to blog-only friends: I promise to never ring your doorbell unless asked to do so.) for her birthday.

Hilarity ensued.

We ate burgers, hilariously.
We got just buzzed enough to still call ourselves classy ladies at a beach bar.
We strolled around the beach, as classy dames are wont to do.

We (I) posed with animal statues on the Santa Monica pier.
We went really swanky and watched the sunset from a rooftop bar populated by people who, unlike myself, were not clad entirely in clothes from Target. Apparently, that is kind of the norm at chic rooftop bars in California. Who knew?
We ate Italian food and told completely inappropriate stories way too loud and made the tables next to us uncomfortable (I imagine anyway).
We rode a bus. It was my first time on a bus that was not taking me to and from the State Fair. Ain't I a big city gal now?

We ate awesome breakfast sandwiches.

We rode tandem bikes on the beach. In flip-flops! In November! Oh me, oh my.
We ate at Don Antonio's and spotted the Broke Ass Bride and her dude, but were too busy stuffing our faces to say hello.

We had a good time.

Have you ever surprised anyone by just showing up one day? 

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

That's the night that the lights went out in Iowa.

Don't worry, nobody got shot or was acting adulterous in this blackout.

Saturday night the weather in Iowa and the rest of the Midwest was nasty. Freezing temps, biting winds, snow, ice - they even started cancelling church for Sunday morning. Hubs and I hunkered down with some homemade pizza, some presents to wrap and White Christmas.


The power flickered.

"Isn't it weird that we've lived here almost two years and we've never had a major power outage?" I ask, clearly dooming us.

"Yeah," says Hubs (such a talker, that one!).

Flicker. Flicker. Hubs goes on a beer run to the corner store because it's going to be a long night. Opening line of White Christmas. Rousing rendition of Gee, I Wish I was Back in the Army.

Flicker. Flicker. Dark.

Hmmmm, I think to myself (who else would I be thinking to, by the way? I'm not as telepathic as I'd like to be). If the power is out and stays out, so does the heat. Panic. Panic! It's going to be cold tonight! We have a cold-blooded turtle! Ay yi yi!

Hubs returns and creates a calming environment.
Guess Who, a wind up radio and some sweet sweet High Life got us through.

The power stayed off until about 4:00 a.m., but we only know that because our neighbor told us. Around midnight, we packed up the reptile and cats and made our way a few blocks to the Ramada.

Don't even pretend to look surprised.

Monday, December 13, 2010

House sure does look good, Clark.

Remember how Hubs and I were totally stoked to deck the halls and take home the gold in our neighborhood Christmas light contest?

Well, judging was this weekend and we completely kicked everyone's ass. Which is totally the point of this joyous season, right?
I'm going to have to ask you to ignore the wretched quality of this picture. Santa's little helpers have not figured out how to make the true majesty of this winter wonderland shine through in photos just yet.

Truth be told, we were a little shocked that we were in the top three (even though only seven houses were in the contest and five were called out as awesome - Hubs was still rendered speechless). We lacked colorful elements and I'm pretty sure the whole thing would have crumbled without the wreath. Another clincher? I turned down all the lights inside (unlike this photo which I snapped on my way home from the gym one night) and had the Christmas tree on so as to create a warm and cozy glow. Victory, it seems, is in the details.

We won a $25 gift card to our local mall and (poor Hubs) I declared that this set a precedent and by golly we WILL win every year until we are old and shuffley and have to move to Shady Pines. I mean, you want a house you can be proud of, right Russ?

Friday, December 10, 2010


Looks like Niles is more raccoon than cat.
PS don't mind all those High Life cans. We haven't taken the recycling out in a while!
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Wednesday, December 8, 2010

What's cookin', good lookin'?

A few years ago, I was invited to a cookie exchange. All the other attendees were Wives With KitchenAids (so, cookie ganstas) and at the time, I was an apartment-dwelling non-cook, non-domestically inclined, non-Wife who mistakenly thought my cookie quality wouldn't matter and we'd all just have some wine.

I showed up with flat, pathetically gray and mealy raspberry cookies and only my sparkling social awkwardness to protect me.

I was not invited to another cookie exchange.

I vowed to someday make cookies that did not incite coos of, "Oh, they're finnnnnne. You triiiiiiied. Must have been a bad recipeeeeeee."

And so:

Sunday was all about baking for Hubs and I. We locked the cats in the bathroom (because "cat-hair" isn't really a cookie flavor I've come to love just yet), cracked open some Honker's Ale and went to town on some Christmas cookies.

Our plan was simple: recreate two family favorites and try one new thing.

The family favorite I bring to our new little familia is iced sugar cookies. They sound so simple - just get some slice-and-bakes (because from scratch was found to be an utter disaster in the Great Cookie Mess of '96) and whip up some powered sugar frosting and voila! Christmas is here for certain.

Not. So.

Of course, using cookie cutters waaaay more fun than slicing and baking. And no, one roll is not enough. And no, I'm not going to just slap some white icing on here and call it a day, where is your Christmas spirit?! These cookies should be lovingly slaved over for hours - your eyes should be numb from the intricate designs. And really, it doesn't matter because by the time the icing sets, the design will be all runny and your sweet "Hubs and Alexson 4-eva" cookie will start to look like a rather unsavory cartoon of some moose.
That's totally part of the tradition, though. I'm nothing without these little buggers at Christmas.
Hubs' family cookies are a little less dramatic, but no less tasty. For him, we made apricot and pecan kolaches. Last year, we bought the wrong brand of apricot filling and it almost ruined Christmas. Luckily, we found a can of the good stuff that looked like it might have been pulled from a Cold War-era bomb shelter and all is right with our little cookie universe.
And finally, we decided to make gingerbread men (only one lady among them and she isn't exactly dressed ladylike. See photo below). These we did from scratch with some good, spicy ginger from Penzey's. They turned out excellent and we dipped half in melted chocolate and the other half got the cream cheese frosting treatment.
When the day was done, we had been baking for nine hours and had about seven dozen cookies. Seven dozen cookies to be proud of. Seven dozen cookies we can bring to work and give to neighbors without shame. I'm the Eliza Doolittle of baking.

Move your bloomin' ass, indeed, 'Enry 'Iggins. I've come a long way!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Clemen-tiny dancer

Before we begin, do you also get the words to Tiny Dancer and Private Dancer confused? I do and it's really awkward for a) the obvious reasons and b) because I'm pretty sure the only time I've ever heard Private Dancer, it was sung by that sweaty songtress, Mary Katherine Gallagher.

Not in this clip, though, because of all the wonders this ol' internet has brought us, not one of them is a clip of the Tina Turner SNL skit from 1997. Thanks for nuffin, World Wide Web.


All this to tell you that I'm currently averaging two clementines a day. We bought two crates of them and it's been glorious. A feast of mini citruses. No seeds. I'd never really had them before, but they called to me at the Hy-Vee. And now, here I am, scurvy-free and with a trash can full of peels. Living the good life.

I don't know how long we'll be seeing these in stores, but if you've been sheltered in terms of fruit consumption like me, I implore you to try them.

Last winter, I did some citrus decorating and now that I have several dozen clementines scattered around the house in various bowls, I'm thinking I could do something a little more unique with them.

You know what would be cool? A wire wreath with little circles, made just for holding tiny clementines. When full, it'd look like a wreath made of just fresh clementines - kind of like those wreaths made of ornaments. That way, you wouldn't have to poke them to get them to stick and they'd be easy to grab off for a snack.

For the second time this year, I'm thinking I need a welder.

Monday, December 6, 2010


Notice anything different about our beloved faux-tle (again, a faux mantle - why isn't this catching on?)?
Before and After - what's new, aside from much better lighting?

Hell yeah I made that fifth stocking! Is it awesome? Yes. Is it the perfect size for a bathtub-pooping cat? Of course. Was it insanely easy because I totally cheated and made two flat sides and then sewed them together? You bet your sweet little rump it was, sunshine.

I used this Lion Brand Yarn pattern (for the sock only and with thicker yarn that it asked for. I'm a little nervous of duplicate stitching right now and also was too cheapcoldlazy to go out and buy the yarn I would have needed to put the fancy cat outline on there. So when I say "followed" I mean "was inspired by.") and it only took a few hours. I made up the little Christmas trees myself (sans pattern, thankyouverymuch. To commemorate this madcap dash into rebelry, I might do something really crazy next. Like steep my tea an extra minute or even two. LOOK OUT DES MOINES.).

Now, I've got a few top secret knitting projects to finish up and maybe I'll even make some more little pet stockings so they all match (because. You Know. I'm kind of going batty over the lack of a cohesive family stocking brand on the faux-tle (fake mantle!). That extra minute of tea steep-age clearly wound me too tightly.

What's your big, triumphant Christmas craft? I know you have one.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Finally cold enough for this...

(Angels singing, heavens opening up, rays of soft light dancing on my shiny hair and fabulous vintage coat)

I've been waiting since the Fourth of July to don this puppy (not literally, though the fur is real - WHICH is okey-dokey with me since it's vintage (the cuddly little guy would have been long gone by now anyway and what am I gonna do - disrespect his life by throwing his hide away? Should I bury my coat? Or thank his little ghost for being such a trooper and apologize for any pain he was in and wear the hell outta my fine coat?) and my stylish Nana's and sohelpmejeebus, if someone throws red paint on me (is that still happening? Or did it go out with flannels and bowl cuts?) I'mma cut someone (not literally. With my words. Slice.)) and tonight I finally get to step out in it!

Don't you hate finding awesome winter stuff in summer? It's a long wait. (Let's not talk about the fur thing. I feel a little guilty, which isn't a good look for me. I furrow my brow when I'm guilty (now you know) and really don't want to have to find a vintage fur hat to cover up all those lines.)

Aaaaaaand scene.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Basement Boogie: Notsomuch

It's been a while since you and I have talked basement. What with all our trips to the coast (sigh) and business trips (businesstalk) and holiday trips (hiccup), November just kind of flew by us without much progress.

And in fact, December might, too.

The biggest hold-up is trying to figure out where to start - Hubs whipped up a snazzy flow chart showing what needs to happen in order for the next phase to happen, in order for the next phase to happen, etc. It's getting pret-ty nerdy up in here, folks. But it's totally justified - rebuilding is hard work. And confusing. And frankly, it makes me want to curl into a ball and eat seven pounds of M&Ms. Because that would clearly solve all our problems.

Add to that that we likely won't be able to replace the windows until February because of the window dude's timelines (which halts drywall work because why put up drywall if the windows are known to have some seepage issues - that would just put us back at square one, (you know, the square with the wet drywall? The square of tears and fears and woes and sobs?) which we wouldn't want, now would we?).

So, that's that. Just hang with us and trust me, eventually we'll be doing posts on stud-work, vapor barriers and the wonders of drywall hanging. Someday, we'll even be posting about putting up new baseboards, laying resilient flooring (which I daydream about regularly) and building a bar and beer cellar (oh. yes. We will have earned a beer cellar if we live to see the days of a nearly finished basement.).

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

An obsession, a rant and a coined term

Last year, I hadn't yet taken my knitting classes at Ephemera (which, by the way, might have been the single best present ever - thanks Hubs!), but I was obsessed with big, bulky yarns. They looked so pretty all twisted up and just waiting to become something that I couldn't resist - I had to create. (Did I just sound artsy? That's what I was going for. Cue the beret, dim lights and smoldering eyes of a brooding artiste.)

Naturally, having no known knitting ability and an intense desire to BUY YARN (I'm so. so. so hip.), I went on a yarn-wrapping tirade. If it didn't move, it got wrapped in yarn. It sounds insane, and it was for a few days - a mad flurry of hot glue wisps and strands of Thick and Quick flying around me while I tried hopelessly to keep the cat away from my masterpieces.

So anyway, it turned out quite nice (pour a little out for my homey, the basement drywall, featured in that post) and I even got a nod from the most famous green living blogger ever to come out of the great state commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Danny Seo.

This year, the yarn-wrapped decor is making a comeback on our stylish faux-tle (that's a faux mantle, y'all. Couldn't you tell?).

 Pardon our mail pile and hid.e.ous light fixture. A sleek new drum pendant is my present to myself once we finish the basement, so just chillax.

It only holds 15 pounds, but the yarn trees are styrofoam underneath that skillfull wrapping and we've got a few Christmas-morning hanging spots for when these little stockings are chock full of goodies.
Notice also the nativity, lantern of lights and 12-bottle wine rack stuffed to the brim with sweet, sweet Charles Shaw.

Note: I know there are only four stockings and yet five souls residing in our humble home. I'm trying to knit the new cat a sock, but know this: Knitting your First Sock less than a month before Christmas and with the knowledge that it will be Highly Visible as a major part of your Holiday Decor is NOT recommended.

Unless you, too, are the owner of a big ol' wine rack stocked full of three buck chuck. Then, it might be bearable. I take zero responsibility for your actions and/or fits of yarn rage when you get to the heel. Heels are not easy, people. Heels make grown women weep openly.

The End.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Competitive Christmas

Now, gentle reader, you know I'm all for quiet holidays - knitting by the fire, soaking in family funtimes, buying local and handmade gifts, roasting geese, wearing slippers, and making every Christmas cookie from Hubs', my and our German neighbor's family traditions (from scratch, of course) - but this year, a new less-cuddly tradition is afoot in our home.

It involves beating the pants off all our neighbors.

We're entering the neighborhood Christmas light contest! Sqa-wheeeeel!
Our muse.

The top prize last year was a decently-sized gift certificate to Ace Hardware, so our little minds have been hard at work these past few days, conjuring up lighting designs that will dazzle passers-by young and old.

Judging isn't until December 10, so we're planning on spending the better part of this weekend filling the yard with animatronic deer and festooning the crap our of every limb of every tree we own.

The contest is judged on creativity, colorfulness and classiness and let me tell you, it is a fine line between classy and creative when it comes to exterior illumination. We, are of course, erring on the side of creative (that is to say, a leee-tle trailerish) and hoping our enthusiasm and pizazz (I said it) will win over the hearts of our lovely and esteemed judges (of which, I am one*).

So, want to come over on December 10, don some Dickens-style garb and wassail away with me? That, my friends, would win fo' sho'. I mean, how classy, right? Dickens! Dickens equals class! I'm sure of it.

*Just one of the many perks of designing the 'hood's newsletter every quarter. I don't think I'll be allowed to vote for my own house, just to keep things "fair" and "unbiased." Harumph. 

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thankful thankful

Happy Thanksgiving, all! I'm celebrating this year by running a little cross country race and hanging out with Hubs' family (we switch off going to his folks' and mine each year). I hope your day is full of superfuntimes, lots of stuffing, a little premature Bing Crsoby, and overly dramatic graces before meals.

What are you thankful for this year? Here's my list:
  • That our family is healthy. We made it another year without losing any major body parts (not counting that one time), so that's always nice. 
  • That Hubs and I both got to move into jobs that allow us to learn, do what we love and in very different ways - change the world we live in.
  • That Trip and Niles get along and are cat-brothers and not cat-nemeses.
  • That our house is still standing. Because it was touch and go at times.
Those are the biggies. I'm also thankful I discovered how to make caramel sauce, learned to knit, figured out how to can veggies, that Southwest is eventually coming to Des Moines, and that I signed up for Shoe Dazzle. Sometimes, it's important to celebrate the little things.

I'm also thankful (and amazed) that you all read this little ol' blog every week. Thanks for your comments and support! Without you guys, I wouldn't be able to put on airs at family functions and remind everyone how internet famous I am. So, thank  you and have a very lovely Thanksgiving!

Hot to trot!

We did it in 30 minutes!
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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Annual dilemma

We sent our first official adult Christmas cards last year and I can tell now that it's going to be something I both look forward to and dread every year. I love scrolling through all the designs online (like these from Shutterfly, who's running a cool blogger promotion right now - just sign up and do a little post like this and get 50 free holiday cards - wahoo for frugalistas such as myself!), but choosing one? And choosing which photos of us to plaster on there? That's torture.

I mean. There are SO MANY good looking pictures of us to choose from. How can I ever narrow it down, right?

Last year was easy - we used wedding pictures, of course. But this year, I'm stuck. Luckily, I found a few options (here, here and here!) that can accommodate quite a few shots. I'm thinking I'll do a little photo montage of our year - from surviving a ridiculous winter (I think we got something like 40 feet of snow?) to building a deck together to celebrating our first anniversary.

What do you look for in the perfect Christmas card photo? Is it cats in sweaters? Because I can totally make that happen, too.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The One Plate Thanksgiving Dinner

Thanksgiving is a time for tradition, a time for family. Well, in the Bigger, Better, Best neck of the woods, we tend to enjoy getting creative with traditions (except for the scared ones, like quoting every line of Christmas Vacation, pancakes on Saturdays and listening to the Muppets and John Denver whilst decking the halls) and we are the only ones of our particular DNA structure within a five hour radius.

And so, we decided to celebrate Thanksgiving a little early, with pals, and by creating a one-dish meal that captured everything Thanksgiving. Literally.

Remember when we did something similar with Oktoberfest? Well, the "Let's make this holiday into a pizza" bug bit again and this time, we were hellbent on getting an entire Thanksgiving feast onto a pie.

Of course, we had to start with a turkey. Hubs went for a whole bird, just a little 10-pounder, and salt brined with with lemon peel and lots of herbs.
 It was hands down, the best turkey I've ever had (sorry, Dad).

We mixed our regular pizza crust with a cornbread mix that was flavored with sage and other herbs to give it a stuffing-ish taste.

After the crust baked on its own for a few minutes, we spread a thin layer of mashed potatoes on it.
Then came a cranberry sauce, flavored with a Thai chile and spicy cinnamon as well as fried green beans and onions.
I lost the wishbone and any discernible chin-in-profile.
 We also made up a gravy to top the pizza with.
 And here is what we ended up with:
 It was delicious and really tasted like a full Thanksgiving meal with every bite.
Your family might revolt if this was real Thanksgiving, but for a couple of culinarily curious kids the week before the big day, this was totally radical. Dude.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Other Napa adventures

Our two days in Napa were so relaxing. We scored a great deal on our hotel thanks to my sister's connections and so we got to hang out with swans on our way to breakfast each morning. Nothing starts the day off right more than swan-gazing.
We spent one day rolling around the valley in a bus with a few other folks (you know, they type that wears sweaters and knows everything about everything.) on a wine tasting tour. While we didn't stop at the ritziest places, they were indeed tasty and gorgeous and generous with their pours.

At our lunch winery, V Sattui, we (predictably) got a loaf of bread, two cheeses, some salami and a bottle of Chardonnay for a little mid-day snack. No leftovers were had (predictably).

Our last stop of the day was Rubicon Winery, which was really pretty but plagued with a snot-tastic wait staff, who also knew everything about everything. I guess the educational system in California is like, really good.

We ended the tour at Chandon, where one of our tour mates got a little sloppy and hit on the poor tasting gal. He failed miserably and we enjoyed truffled popcorn and the show. So much for knowing everything about picking up ladies.

Of course, after a day of winery gallivanting, we needed a good dinner. Driving around downtown the day before, we saw that Moriomoto (of Iron Chef fame! Squeal!) had a restaurant here. We snagged reservations and fell in love.
We ordered a platter for two that included a nice combo of rolls and ngiri. It was all chef's choice, so we got adventurous with eel, roe and some new-to-us fish.

It was totally amazing and every single item on the platter was so fresh and bright, I couldn't even stand it.
We were stuffed afterward, but decided to order a dessert of a ginger cake, caramel sauce, chocolate cream and a banana milkshake. Oh holy heavens. It left me speechless and fat and even writing about it now makes me crave a little bit of the ginger cake and a healthy smear of smooth chocolate cream.
They even gave us a little anniversary shout out in chocolate! Of course, as soon as we left, my button popped off my jeans. No joke. I'm only telling you so that I am motivated to workout tonight.
The next day, we had to head out of town, but before we did, we had to hit up Bouchon Bakery in Yountville. We sampled a croissant and pistachio macaroon (the macaroon that made me get macaroons. Yes, this craze is justified.). Even the Diet Cokes we got were in fancy glass bottles. Oo la la. How very French.
I love Napa. I could live there. I could die there. They have flowers like this in November! What's not to love?

*We also stopped into Bottega for lunch, but it was highly disappointing. The food was great, but we were seated next to wholesale plate dealers peddling their wares to the chef and the waitress ignored us, making our little pit stop last well over two hours. 
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