Thursday, September 30, 2010

One Thing Thursday: Madrid

One summer, I was itching for a big adventure of the independent lady variety, so I booked a plane ticket to Spain. Like most of my solo-gal trips, this one was part of a group tour of the rowdy US/Canadian/British/Australian twenty-something variety, but that didn't make me feel any less awesome when I landed and had to find my way to the tours meeting spot alone.
Me, on a bus at the Madrid airport. Likely soundtrack in my head:
Girl, I di-in't know you could get down like that; Charlie how your Angels get down like that? Throw your hands up at me.

One Thing to Do in Madrid: Navigate the subway

OK, I know this one is lame. But, the sands of time and a few too many sips of sangria whisked away most of my Madrid memories. However, I think that maneuvering through public transportation in a country whose language you claimed to know, but hadn't actually heard since senior year in Senora Ruiz' class; with a giant backpack; alone is a soul-building activity.

I remember getting off the plane, exhausted and with ankles like tree trunks, and examining the subway map. Rojo, azul, verde lines scrawled all over a huge wall in the airport. I consulted the little note card I'd jotted my tour information down on and found my stop. It didn't look that hard and I'd only have to transfer once. Off I went into the bowels of the Madrid public transport system.

I felt so proud as I stepped back into the sun right in front of my hotel. I may have celebrated with a slice of chocolate cake from a bakery next to the hotel we stayed at. I had come to Madrid and the city was happy to have me.
You know it was 2004 because I clearly thought a jean skirt, some Diesels and a little beer gut were in style. Weren't they?

For the rest of our short stay in Madrid, I led our bizarre little group through the subways to the bars they found in guidebooks, after the tour guide had gone off duty.  We had tapas and mojitos and danced until the sun came up, only to get up a few hours later to stroll through museums and soak up some culture. Despite all the good times I know I had in Madrid, the tiny victory of finding my own way around a strange place is what stuck with me the most.

If you have time for two things in Madrid, see a bullfight.
I'm in there, trust me.

Now, I hate to see an animal in pain as much as you, but dude, bullfights are amazing. They are hypnotic and graceful and at the same time, horrifying. The crowd watching is just as good as the fight, too. Families are there, just hanging out for the afternoon and having a great time. It's sweet.

So, there, I said it. I like bullfights. Please don't go hatin' on me. My cat is from a shelter and I  always buy free-range chicken and eggs. Does that balance out?

Monday, September 27, 2010

Deckstravaganza: I thought you guys were done?!?

Well, you thought wrong, grasshopper. While the deck has been fully constructed for about two months and legal since mid-August, we've been squabbling with Mother Nature in an effort to truly, truly check this beastly project off our to-do list. 

We still need to stain the wood so all of our handiwork isn't eaten away by bugs and rot. But, seeing as how it has rained about every 36 hours this summer, we couldn't get the window we needed to clean the deck and apply the stain. Now, with a stretch of seven dry days ahead of us, we are ready. We spent Sunday scrubbing the deck down and tonight, we'll stain it! Then, it's just two days of drying and we're officially DONE.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Weekend O Fun

It's set to be a very busy weekend round these parts! It will all start today, when my meddle will be tested at the first event with my new employer - the Go Red for Women Luncheon! I'll be running around, manning the PowerPoints and music, directing media to interviewees and making sure everything runs smooth on the communications side, which you know it will because I clearly implemented the seven Ps (that's Prior Proper Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance, of course). 

As if that wasn't exhilarating enough (trust me, for an event and PR nerd like myself - this is golden), I'll be swishing around in this dress, also known as Go Red perfection. 

It breathes, so I won't sweat and look less than professional. It is modest, so I won't slip and look less than professional. It fits like a glove and was only $40. I'm not sure what more I could have asked for. Rest assured, my new co-workers will see this dress a lot. A lot a lot.

Then, I was lucky enough to win two tickets to Oktoberfest with this classy little tweet:
@alexson: Beating another bride and groom in a boot race before heading to our reception on our wedding day! @OktoberfestDSM
So, we'll definitely be out, German-icizing it up this weekend, as we did 321 days ago!
With that moose on our side, how could we loose?

We've also still got to take down our pool and futz around the yard, too.

What are you up to?

Thursday, September 23, 2010

One Thing Thursday: Tremont, PA

My people are originally East Coast people. Back in the way-back times, they hung out in the hills of Pennsylvania, mining coal, farming like crazy and running a little bar that opened around 6:00 a.m. for all those thirsty miners. Now, they go to flea markets and dance polkas and hang out at the Legion because our family bar shut down. I figure if you're ever lucky enough to be in Tremont, PA, you might like a few things to do there.

One Thing to Do in Tremont: Grab breakfast at Behm's Family Restaurant. You won't find much anything online about this place, but it does exist and it is delicious. Order some hunky eggs (that's eggs, home fries, ham, onions, green peppers and kielbasa all mixed up together) and make friends with an old guy who can get you into the American Legion bar (the number two thing to do in Tremont). It will be fun, I promise.

Things three, four  and five to do in Tremont:

Hike your hieney out into the woods. If you're awesome models, like my two sisters, then go ahead and strike a pose.
Fend off any bear attacks and you just might find the falls. Pretty nice, right? (Stop judging me for the torn jeans. It was 2006 and times were tough.)
Wave hi to the family-owned bar that I'm named after (not really, I'm named after the guys the bar is named after) - Alex's Place (true story: before I was born, my mom's baby shower was held in this bar. Where else would it have been?). Next door is a pizza place that may or may not be open and if it is, I highly suggest you grab a slice. And a Yuengling, which is brewed just a town or two away in Pottsville.

Was that not enough to get your interest piqued? Check out this delightful Flickr pool I dug up, just brimming with pictures of Tremont.

Have you ever been to heard of Tremont? What are your small town picks?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Pimp My Office: Cork Cutie

When I moved my brain to a nonprofit job, my brain was rewarded with an office. I'm talking four walls, a solid door and a huge window with a view that includes trees, y'all. This office has potential.

I'm hoping I can get permission to spend a weekend de-wallpapering the place and slapping up some soothing pale paint, but in the meantime, I'm making due with what I've got. I've put the requisite wedding pictures up and have my little box of tea bags out and bought myself this mousepad as a first step toward office greatness.

Next up, I needed a cork board like real bad. I have been taping post-its to the wall by my phone for the past month and it looks so ghetto, I'm ashamed every time I dial a number. So, I headed to Goodwill, where I picked up a sweet gold frame containing this lovely piece of art.

Sorry for the blurriness, it was incredibly humid and my camera hates that.

I popped out the print and spray painted the intricate frame. After two days and two coats, it was looking less than pretty, so I brought out the same light turquoise that I used on the bottom of my corner shelf (which, again, does not photograph as turquoise but it really is, I swear).

I picked up a cheapie cork board at Target and cut it to fit the frame. I secured it with a bazillion nails and then covered it up with some paper, lest I scratch that totally rad wallpaper.

Now, it's all set to hold onto all my vital papers. For $20, I'd say it's about a million times better than your standard issue Office Depot board, wouldn't you say?

Be on the lookout for more workspace beautification projects - my brain works better when it's surrounded by incredibly easy DIY work.

How do you snazz up your office?

Linked on Domestically SpeakingBlue Cricket Design and Gettin' Crafty on Hump Day.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Chopping Tips, A Cautionary Tale

Lights up. Sunday night. Husband and wife are preparing dinner. Husband is making burger patties and wife is standing over a mandolin slicer, a small pile of sweet potatoes beside her. A fryer bubbles away on the counter.

Wife: Have you seen the finger guard for this thing? Slicing without it makes me nervous.
Husband: No, but don't worry about it. I'll slice the potatoes when I'm done with this.
Wife: (picking up a large washed and peeled potato) I can do it alright so long as it's a big potato. (Begins using the mandolin to slice the potato for potato chips).
Wife: (examining the chips she has sliced) Shoot. These are too thick. They won't be very crispy. (Turns dial down to make slices thinner) Are you sure you haven't seen the finger guard? I'm getting close.
Husband: No, but just wait and I'll do it.
Wife: (slicing quickly because clearly, she found her groove and can do no wrong) EXPLETIVE! (begins jumping up and down) My finger! I lost my finger!
Husband: (turns to her in a panic, then to the counter top, presumably to find the missing finger bit) Where?! Are you OK?
Wife: (looking at finger, notices a not small chunk is missing from the tip of her right index finger) OK, I didn't loose it, but I can't look at it anymore. I have to lie down. What if I'd left it on the thick setting? This could be much uglier. We need to clean the baseboards in here like whoa.
(Husband brings tissues and wife lays on kitchen floor, holding finger in tissue above her head. Husband returns to mandolin to ensure no finger parts will be on the menu and to finish slicing chips. Her view:)
(After the husband has chopped and fried the potato chips, the wife slowly gets up and tries a potato chip. She smiles in approval, knowing that at least her digit-mangling resulted in a tasty batch of spicy sweet potato chips.)

And scene.

Seriously, people, this is not, could not be a work of fiction. Typing is slow going up in here.

Lesson: either find the damn finger guard or wait for a pro to step in. Impatience for fried foods maims.

The 9.5 Finger Bandit

Thursday, September 16, 2010

One Thing Thursday: Wellington, New Zealand

For five months after leaving the hallowed halls of Drake University, I hung out on the opposite side of the globe, working two jobs, living below the poverty level and wearing turquoise suede boots in Wellington, New Zealand.

One Thing to do in Wellington: Grab a coffee.

Kiwis are dead serious about their coffee, man. As a fledgling barista (I put in a few good months at Caribou before taking up shop and brewing down under), I realized this like, real quick when disgruntled Wellingtonions would spit out the flat white I had just ruined. It took me at least four months of full time barista-ing at the national museum's cafe before I could pull a decent Kiwi-level coffee. It's just no joke down there.

I heard once that Wellington has more coffee shops per capita than any city on earth. Every corner has a funky little shop with highly skilled baristas ready to pump your veins full of caffeine. Truly making a good coffee is an art and I think Kiwis might know that better than anyone, even Italians. They steam milk perfect, they roast, portion and grind beans perfect. They tamp perfect. No wimpy press-a-button-and-BOOM-coffee machines down there. Just lovingly pulled perfect shots of roasty espresso and creamy milk (fun fact: skim milk in New Zealand is called trim milk. Isn't that adorable?).

If you have time for two things: find a little round building down off Courtney Place near the city center and if it still a vegetarian cafe/coffee shop, get a chocolate cake and flat white. OH. GOOD. HEAVENS. I'll never ever forget that cake. It was my day-off ritual. Also, the reason I brought an extra ten pounds back stateside with me. But, I digress.

An extra freebie for you: for a third thing, admire Kiwi women's fashion. They are way, way ahead of us. They were rocking skinny jeans in 2005, at least a year before I saw them here. I don't know how they managed to lead the pack in skinny jeans and have that cake in their nation, bless their hearts.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Fall florals

One of my favorite parts of our house is the front stoop. There's nothing overly special about it - just a concrete step, a red door and (right now) tons of huge and gnarly spider webs (which I'll take down just as soon as I work up the nerve. I'm not in the business of ticking off giant spiders with HUGE. FANGS.).

I added these two little pots this weekend to replace the summer pansies we had out there, greeting guests.
Don't mind the pizza flyer we clearly dropped before photo time.

I love the little (inedible) peppers and the tall, feathery flowers! I scooped both up for a song and used pots we already had to make this a budget project. AND, as if the cheapness wasn't enough reason to love 'em, there's even a bit of personality here: Hubs flips for peppers and we actually used dried versions of the flowers in the centerpieces at our wedding reception last fall.

How do you personalize your plants?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

You gotta want it!

As a competitive gal with nary a sporty bone in my body, I tend to see the world in points. Ran three miles? You get points. Spaz out and spill a coffee on a stranger? You lose points. There's no logic and I'm not so nutty that I'm charting my daily net points in the mother of all Excel sheets, but it's just the way I roll.

Example: The cat's fifth birthday (last Thursday)
  • Remembered the impending birthday on Monday and made plans with Hubs to shop for a gift (gain one point for memory).
  • Five years ago, claimed 9/9 as T-Biz's birthdate because it would be easy to remember (lose one point for bad cat parenting).
  • Thursday, forgot the signifigance of the day until 5:30 p.m. (neutral points. I'm a tres busy gal who uses French words to sound cool).
  • Bought a gift designed to help recipient loose weight (negative forty six points for tactlessness).
  • Felt guilty and tossed some little felt mice into the mix at the last minute (negative one point for impulsiveness).
  • Posted a video of my cat online (negative sixteen points for crazy cat ladyness).
    • So, yeah. The packaging of the foodball showed trim and slim cats frolicking about, burning calories. Clearly, Trip has different ideas.
  • Had a good hair day and Hubs made a delicious homemade pasta (noodles and all, children! The man made noodles. He's a keeper.) with a smoked tomato sauce (win back all 64 points for general life radicalosity).
How do you celebrate the graceful aging of the hairy beasts in your life?

Thursday, September 9, 2010

One Thing Thursday: Reader Recs

I'm writing this post from a Hampton Inn, with my feet crossed on the bed just like in the commercials. I've got one of those businesswoman suitcases that folds in half and I shined my shoes with the free shoe mitt. You guessed it, I'm on a business trip.

In my new job, this will be a much more common occurrence for me - solo trips to the same slice of Iowa. While I've taken business trips in the past, the night times were usually full of get-to-know you dinners and activities because the trips were for retreats and group stuff. The trips I'll be taking now are a little more low-key. I've spent the past two nights lounging on a king sized bed, watching Bravo and "pampering" my face (hint: do not buy your facial products at the dollar store. Unless you like the red hot, scaly look. Then, go for it, you weirdo.).

While a little me-time is nice, I'm curious about what you hard-working folks do with free nights on business trips. Do you venture out for a solo dinner at a nice restaurant? Head to the mall? Watch a few too many episodes of Golden Girls (I swear I've never done this)? See the local sights?

What's One Thing I should be doing on business trips? Help a newbie out!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

It's not a special occasion if you didn't gain three pounds

Hubs and I trekked over to Chicago for Labor Day weekend for non-stop celebrations. Friday was our 300 day anniversary, so we stopped for a nice dinner in Iowa City at Atlas. While my sweet corn bisque was good, the service was totally lame (the waiter had the audacity to take our appetizer plate before I had finished the pesto drizzle! I had my last bite in my hand, about to re-dip when he snatched it. The guy is lucky he didn't end his shift with a black eye) and Hubs' jerk chicken was flavorless.

Saturday we shopped around a bit and picked up some staples we can't get here in good old Des Moines. (Three buck chuck is considered a staple, right?) A little family party capped off the night.

Sunday was our big day - we'd been holding off on celebrating my new gig and Hubs' well-earned promotion until this trip. We headed to the west loop and brunched at the Publican, where we had some amazing food and equally amazing beer (beer with brunch? Not normally, but it was vacation). If you're ever in Chicago and have a hankering for a hard-to-find brew and some bacon, I highly recommend this place.

The rest of the afternoon, we bounced around bars and restaurants, meeting up with Hubs' hometown pals.

How was your Labor Day weekend?

Thursday, September 2, 2010

One Thing Thursday: Alton, Illinois

If you're from the St. Louis area, you know exactly where this one is heading.

Alton, Illinois is a little old town on the river, just a bit north of the city. It's cute and has lots of old houses on steep hills, but if the weather is remotely nice, that's not why you're going to Alton. Nope, you're going to hit up my One Thing.

One Thing not to miss in Alton: Fast Eddie's

Gotta getta coozie.
Fast Eddie's is amazing on so, so many levels. We'll start at the most basic and slither up from there.

Hubs, me and Miss D, patio-ing.
  1. The food is good. The chicken wings are amazing and I'm not really a chicken wing girl. They aren't buffalo wings, but they come on a kabob stick and have some kind of hauntingly delicious dry rub. There's peel and eat shrimp, burgers and kabobs. When Alton Brown says it's good, you should listen.
  2. The food is cheap. Like, we're talking the most expensive thing on the menu is $2.99 (it's the Big Elwood on a Stick - steak and peppers). When you can stuff your little Midwestern face for less than $5 per person and the quality is tops, well you know I'm happy.
  3. There's a huge patio. With fans so you're never stuck in a sticky pit full of strangers, which I really appreciate.
  4. There's live music, which means a lot of dancing.
  5. There are characters galore. Fast Eddie's just pulls in all types. 
One of these ladies got her shirt as a gift from a gentlemen character we met. Hint: It wasn't my sister.

If you have time for two things: Go to Raging Rivers. You'll drive by a cool Native American mural and then, you get waterslides and Dippin' Dots. What more could you possibly want?

Who's been to Fast Eddie's? 

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Presidential DIY Do-Over

Have you seen the redecorated Oval Office? I was watching the Today Show and Ann Curry was interviewing an editor about the redesign. Basically, Obama had some new wallpaper put up, a custom rug (turns out, it's tradition for each new president to design a rug with the presidential seal. Who knew?), had some chairs reupholstered and got a new couch.

It looks nice and modern, but personally I find it just a touch boring. But, then again, I guess it should be boring and kind of serious because you know, there's kind of some serious stuff going on in there and a menagerie of driftwood pieces or starfish probably wouldn't look right when you're discussing the fate of the free world.

Anyway, I'm not here to give my two cents on the design of it all, but rather the price. Ann Curry asked the editor how much, as a designer, she thought the re-do would have cost. "Hundreds of thousands?" Ann asked.

Jaw. Drop.

Seriously? Hundreds of thousands for wallpaper and new couches? I don't care who paid for it, whether it was donations or what, but come on. Any DIY-er worth their painter's tape could have whipped that office into shape for a few Benjamins. Sure, a custom rug must be pricey, but the rest of it would be easy-peasy. I bet even the rug could be made by some enterprising young individual with some carpet squares and maybe some paint. Not me, but maybe you.

This is as political and we'll get here, I promise. I was just shocked sweet little Ann Curry threw out such a huge number for changes that don't seem that substantial.

Do you like the new look? Would you have dropped such fatty cash for it?
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