Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Happy holidays, from my blog to yours!

I can't even lie, y'all. I am checked out of blogging this Christmas. Work is busy gearing up for Heart Month in February (because I think January lasts maybe three hours and then BAM! Busiest time of the year) and I'm spending every spare second soaking up all the festivness one gal can (festiveness does equal that marshmallow-flavored vodka, right?). Plus, I've got my eyes on the prize: nine succulent days off between the holidays in which I'll be staying up late, eating lots of pizza and playing more (active) video games than any 9 year old on my street. And painting the trim in the living room, which is sure to be a par-tay and a half.

I haven't been posting much because honestly, the holidays are SO MUCH about tradition for me. We decorated the same and baked the same cookies and watched the same movies so it hardly seems worth it to rehash it all on this poor blog. If you want to see how I'm rollin' this Christmas, just check out last year's posts (minus all the body-wracking-sob-inducing stories of the basement reno (from Hell!)) and that about sums up not only this Christmas, but many before and many after.

One new thing I have this year is a gift to all of you.

Here it is:

And that my friends is what I call the beauty of the flippin' season.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Finally not a redneck

Here we are: December 2011. My Christmas lights have been up on my house for one full year and it's officially not awkward anymore if anyone sees them during the day.

It wasn't even that painful, but I do fear this is the start of a very slippery slope. What's next for us lazybones? Leaving the blow-up pool out all winter? Rotting pumpkins on the doorstep until they biodegrade back to the land? Trucks with horns on the grill? Gold teeth? Ill-conceived tattoos? A growing propensity for High Life Lites when cutting the grass or baking cookies?

Damn it.

Please keep an eye on us.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Beer for dinner

Being the loyal Bigger, Better, Best reader that I know you are, you've born witness to the culinary creations made my Hubs, me and our friend Guy. We're the proud creators of Oktoberfest pizza, Thanksgiving pizza and  the home version of Chopped. We're bloomin' food geniuses up in here, friends.

This past weekend, we got a hankerin' for kitchen tinkerin'. The theme for this one was a three-course beer dinner. Here's what we came up with:

Round One:
The booze? Crispin cider
The dish? Ok, so, you know chicken fries at BK? Well, these are pork fries in a tempura/Crispin batter, covered in: cumin gouda, green onions, dried cranberries and a sauce containing the following effed up shizzle: horseradish, cinnamon applesauce, more Crispin, dijon mustard and curry powder.

Did you just gag a little? Well, seriously guys, gag not. This was amazing. It all worked somehow and we were quite taken with this dish. It was like nachos, but classed up and on meat overdrive. Which sounds really appetizing, right?

Round Two:
The beers? Widmer IPA and Murphy's Stout
The dish? We poached orange roughy in the IPA and made a risotto with the stout and some mushrooms. The sauce is a lemon and caper mayonnaise. It was good, but not very photogenic.

Round Three:
The beer? Bell's Porter
The dish? A hodge podge. Now, it is important to remember that we were obviously having healthy samples of all these beers as we dined and so by the time we were ready to make dessert, I was feeling a tad impish. I took a chocolate cake mix, subbed in porter for water and dumped in a boat load of hot cinnamon and cayenne. Hubs tried to scoop some of the cayenne out, but I just put it back in. I'm a sneaky chef.

We topped it with a porter and chocolate ganache and served it up with some Ben and Jerry's Cinnamon Buns. The cake was more warm and roasty tasting than spicy and I can attest to it's deliciousness as I took the leftovers to work today and received hundreds of glowing compliments.

Plus, this might be the single most enticing food picture I have ever taken.

We did decide in the course of this dinner that we desperately need a fourth food-minded person to attend these loopy dinner parties because no one, even you dear reader, ever believes us when we recant the wonders of the tastiness of our meals.

We're taking applications. 

Monday, November 14, 2011


A few weeks ago, I snagged this darling little stool from my aunt's basement. It used to my part of my Grandma's vanity, but it has clearly seen better days.

I had big plans to slap a fresh coat of crisp white paint on the wood and do the top in a bold, modern green, but the prospect of painting and sanding all those curves frankly exhausted me. Finding a snazzy burlap print on sale for $6/yard didn't help.

And so, Hubs and I headed outside on our anniversary weekend to take up a past time long forgotten around these parts: I stand around in inappropriate footwear, hold the giant T-square and lean on things so the circular saw doesn't slip and Hubs does the measuring.


 We used a nice cushy memory foam from Hancock ($7 for a giant rectangle - thank you, friends and family sale!) and spent about 20 minutes stapling fabric to the plywood.

So, for about an hour's worth of shopping, cutting and waxing + $15 = we had a bench. Perfect for thuggish cats to perch on and affect the facial position of those weird little kids dressed like adults in portraits from the 1700s.

Seriously. Don't you see the resemblance between crazy Niles and that little creepster on her lap?  

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Bad at math, good at champagne drinking

This about sums up our three-day anniversary weekend, I'd say. This particular pour was from a bottle we bought on our first anniversary trip to Napa last fall. Ain't we a classy pair? (as demonstrated by my artful use of black and white on my camera phone)

So, I have this handy countdown/countup app on my phone that tells me how many days it's been since our lovely wedding (also! It tells me exactly how many days I must wait before I'm strolling French side streets, eating macaroons and coveting French girls' boots) and I'm constantly wishing Hubs a happy 481st or 667 or 715 day-a-versary.

You might see my strategy in this. If every day is a something-versary, there is always a reason to celebrate, no? What can be said? I like to keep a good party going.

So, imagine my surprise when our two-year anniversary also landed on our 730 day-a-versary! How fun is that, I thought. How magical.

Until I came to my senses and realized that - like duh-oy - 365+365=730. Goodbye, magic.

Here's what is magical:

A random turret plopped in Winterset, Iowa in 1926 to commemorate the Clark family, who were among the first crazies to live way out here.

Having the turret to ourselves and ending up with a photo that somehow looks like we were in Scotland in 1974.

Things worth celebrating are everywhere these days!

Sunday, November 6, 2011


Living out of town from all my family is good for one thing: stealthy holiday knitting projects. I imagine that if my mom lived 20 minutes away, she'd be apt to stop by and more likely than not, she would catch a glimpse of my top-secret holiday knitting. With her safely a 16-hour drive away, I'm free to leave my yarn and needles scattered throughout the house with not a care in the world.

(Note to family: am I knitting you something? Or is this a giant ploy to steer you in the wrong direction? Only time will tell.)

I'm super jazzed about my next stealthy, yarn-fueled endeavor. I found an awesome (and free! and easy!) pattern on Ravelry and can't wait to get my knit on, yo. I'm hoping these are easy to crank out because I really, very much would like one for myself.

I'm considering your interest to be piqued, readers. As such, I will share details and the pattern post-holidays. Unless you are a knitter and looking for a simple but face-meltingly awesome gift to give, in which case, leave your email in the comments and I will pass this pattern your way, too.

Also, can we just take a moment and admire the post title here? I'm bizarrely proud of it. (What do you call a sneaky knitter? A knitja. A knitting ninja. Hiiiiii-yaaaa!)

Friday, November 4, 2011

Family holiday

Next Monday, Hubs and I will celebrate two whole years of marriage. We decided way back when we were new at this married gig that we'd treat November 7 like a family holiday, which basically means we take the day off work and do whatever we want. This year, it's shaping up to look a lot like this:

Best day of the ye-ar!

Over our long weekend, we're hitting up a preview of a local cheese shop (also, I believe Des Moines' first cheese shop and a place I plan on frequenting like all the damn time), having a game night at a friend's place, getting massages (treat yo self!), having fires, possibly reupholstering a tiny bench (because nothing says romance in this house quite like some primer and a staple gun) and capping the whole extravaganza off with dinner at the best (also, only!) French restaurant in Windsor Heights.

This family holiday is all about celebrating the ups and being grateful we were there for each other in the downs of the past two years and looking forward to a very upp-y third year of rocking at life as husband and wife.

So, Hubs: here's to us! And to many, many more happy years. May they be filled with love, joy, gratitude, and like everything else good in this world, cheese.


Monday, October 31, 2011

Halloween let down

Halloween in Des Moines is straight up bizarre. There are very set times for trick or treating and they almost never fall on actual Halloween. They call it Beggars' Night and it looks like this:
  • It's almost never on actual Halloween, which is a definite buzzkill. For us, it was last night.
  • Sanctioned trick or treating lasts from 6-8pm ONLY. No surprise high schoolers in masks at 10:00 'round these parts. 
  • Kids expect to tell jokes. (Really, this one doesn't bother me because I remember always having a joke ready for those few stubborn old folks who wouldn't give me a Reese's without hearing a lame knock-knock joke first)
No matter how long I've been here or how much I flat-out love this place, nothing about Beggars' Night will ever make sense to me. 

Add to this cultural conundrum the fact that I live on what I can only assume is the least fun street in the entire city. It's a long, long block and I can see about seven houses in either direction. You know how many had our lights on last night? Three. Three measly little houses catering to just seven groups of kids.

Bah humbug, Des Moines!

Here at Bigger, Better, Best, we refuse to go down without a fight and we shall keep our Halloween humor til the last.

 28.5% of the kids who came to out door declared a definite desire to say hi to the kitties, which was not met with matched enthusiasm by the cats.
Our jacks!

 We made spooky scene with a giant spider and paper bats that flew around on fishing line. They looked pretty awesome in the wind, but where tough to capture in pictures.

Dracula showing off his teeth.

I've got to know: Is your Des Moines neighborhood so lonely at Halloween? Out-of-towners: can I sell you 7 lbs of candy for real cheap?

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Cookies you make when it's autumnal out-of-doors

First off, thank you readers for your thoughtful words on my last post. You are just the sweetest.

Second off, and speaking of sweets, I need to share with you this recipe, which came my way via Pinterest, which is the source of far too many outlandishly amazing fusion dessert ideas for this gal.

For instance: caramel apple cookies. Oh!

I tried unsuccessfully with three cookies to take photos beautiful enough to show you how delectable these gems are. My low success rate is due in part to my heavy reliance on a camera phone as well as the fact that, in actual life, these cookies looked too good to be merely admired and so I showed them the proper respect and ate them post haste.

For a more accurate visual account, please refer to the original recipe post, linked above in Paragraph Two.

For a more accurate digestive account, please make these cookies, microwave them for 8 seconds before consuming and report back.

Your urgency in this matter is appreciated.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

A life well satisfied

Last weekend, my family gathered in a hospital room to be with our Nana, who had been sick for a while and late last week, took a turn for the worst. We sat with her, ate pizza, played Sequence and told stories. Sunday afternoon, Hubs and I began the drive from St. Louis back to Des Moines. About half way there, my sister called and asked me to turn around. I did and about 30 minutes after I got back in the hospital room and just one inning shy of the Cardinals securing their spot in the World Series, Nana passed away peacefully.

It's been a hard week with lots of little logistical frustrations made worse by our raw grief and coming to terms with what happened that night. But, through the sadness, we've been able to see the small signs and signals which remind us that someone is most definitely looking out for our family. It began with me spotting a billboard on my drive down for a podunk little airline - the same one that would later fly me over the hospital and return me to my family at the exact right time. It continued with a "Welcome" balloon given to Nana when she moved into a nursing home a few weeks ago rushing out of the car and sailing away as my Mom arrived at the church for the funeral. It happened again at the cemetery, where we arrived early, allowing my sister to be near her phone when, at the originally scheduled burial time, she got a phone call with good news about a potential job.

Small though these are, they have given me and my family the peace we need to move forward. We'd known this was coming for a while; Nana was diagnosed with cancer about 18 months ago. Thanks to her medicine and the care my Mom gave her, she was able to enjoy much of that time. If you look at her obituary, you'll see we asked for donations for the Chronic Disease Fund in lieu of flowers. That's the non-profit that paid for her meds, which was one of the greatest gifts we could have received. They help with medical costs for all kinds of chronic diseases: cancer, MS, heart failure, ALS and more. The treatments for these diseases can be incredibly expensive and can wipe out savings in just a few months in some cases.

Now, go send your Nana a letter. If she's anything like mine, she'll stash it away with all the others. Nanas are excellent stashers, as well as superb readers, skilled free-drink-getters, perfect knowers of current events, really good salad connosuiers and irreplaceable encouragers.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Wherein smartphones save my basement

I've lived in a different town from my parents for the past ten years. In that decade, I've taken up residence in four different places in Des Moines and it seems like every time they visit, we take on some tiny project that invariably requires a trip to Ace Hardware. From fixing a broken futon sophomore year to getting nails to hand pictures in our first house, family time is also fixin' time.

(Fun Fact: I'd totally forgotten that Hubs clued my dad into his plans to ask me to marry him at our neighborhood Ace. If our life was a movie, that scene would have had some definite foreshadowing music.)

This time, we were hellbent on hanging our TV on the swivel mount we bought back in February, when a finished basement was but a distant dream. The mount itself weighs about 80 pounds since we wanted the fully swivle-able kind, so we had to do some serious drilling.

The sight of all these half inch holes in the drywall I had so lovingly hung, mudded and sanded broke my poor little heart.

It was here that we first ran into problems. Having wired the basement on our own, we kind of knew where wires were. We had placed them behind thick metal stoppers under studs so we wouldn't do something stupid like drill a half inch hole into a wire and have to re-electrify the entire basement and heavily self-medicate for the next six months.

So when that middle hole was blocked by metal, we got nervous. We knew the metal plates where much larger than the area where there was actual wire (or in this case, cable), so we needed to figure out if the wire was truly behind where the hole needed to be or if we were good to just bust through the metal since that particular half inch wasn't protecting anything.

Problem was, it was really hard to see through the tiny cable box opening to see down inside the wall. 

Luckily, Dad saved the day with his idea to angle his phone in the cable opening and snap a few photos.

Just so you know, we tried all four of our phones, hoping for better angles and it seems my Mom's Motorola was the skinniest and therefore best suited to getting the perfect shot. Just in case you ever find yourself in this exact same situation, which I'm sure you will.

Here is the inside of our basement wall in all its glory.

We were safe! The hole missed the cable by about an inch and a half, so we kept on keepin' on.
Good job, guys!

Once we got that figured out, it was a group effort to get the bracket mounted and then place the TV, but now we have a bar-worthy TV set up.
The entertainment stand is now looking pretty naked without that honkin' TV sitting on it, so I'm on the prowl for something cute to jazz it up. I'm thinking seasonal crafty-things would be good, but I haven't seen anything that slays me just yet. 

Agree or disagree: hanging TVs is a terrifying experience?

Thursday, September 29, 2011

The $5 fix

With my dear and darling Ma and Pa visiting us this weekend, I decided to get my tookus in gear and fix up the woebegone wall I shared last week. The fact that I scored three $1.47 frames from a Target clearance rack also helped.

Better, right? I'm no professional, but I see vast improvement and the darker frames add good balance and I'm pretty sold on them because they required no painting and were ca-ra-ra-ra-zy cheap. This is what we in the decorating world call "justifying."

We've got a nice shot from our first anniversary outing to Russian River Brewery.

The best fortune ever written, placed on some scrapbooking paper from the Hob Lob.

It says "You are the greatest in the world!" and it makes me quite happy.

I learned while we were engaged that if you send the President a wedding invite, he will send you a nice congratulatory card. I framed ours because it seems so quaint and like something grannies would do.

Yes, these are all camera-phone pictures taken in the dead of night. I not only never claimed to be a decorator, I also never claimed to be a photographer or person with enough patience to find the camera and wait for daylight.

Not bad for a $5 project, right?

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Dirty Little Secret

For as much as I blather on and on about doing awesome kitchen things like making my own cheese and stockpiling homemade cinnamon rolls, I'm actually a sad little mess when it comes to making main dishes on my own. That's Hubs' job. I'll help here and there, but the concept and execution is just not my gift.

True fact: I have ruined the following dishes in my culinary lifetime (in chronological order): Pop Tarts, Kraft mac and cheese, instant mashed potatoes, couscous, all manner of chicken dishes, tuna salad,breakfast-for-dinner, etc. My epic kitchen failures far out way my triumphs, but I choose to think those who love me find this endearing and good for their waist-lines.

This week, Hubs decided to play soccer with fellow science folk after work, which meant I was - at the last minute - left to my own devices in the kitchen.

Here's how it went down, internal monologue style:

(looking through pantry and fridge, calm as all get out) Hmm. Seems like Hubs won't be home for a while. It'd be so nice of me to have something at least started so he can finish cooking this dinner. Because surely he'll be home soon and I won't have to actually think up and make an entire dinner. Surely!

(I find a giant bag of rice) Oh! We never make rice, even though we buy rice like hoarders. I'll start some rice.

Rice and (look in the fridge) green onions? carrots? frozen veggies? bacon? No, That doesn't even sound right. Let's try the old freezer and see what happens.

(sneaky peeky in the freezer) Chicken! Rice and chicken - that's a real thing. Hmm. Rice and chicken and bacon? No. No. Get off the bacon train. Rice and garden tomatoes? Perhappppps. Oh, but self! How's about some kind of southwestern chicken bake! We have gross condensed cream of chicken soup in the back of the pantry. This sounds familiar! This might become food!

(Google how to thaw a chicken, make sure I use the USDA regulations and not some shady blogger's tips)

(Google "southwestern chicken and rice bake" because if that doesn't sound like real food real people in real kitchens make, I don't know what does. Find this.) Get crackin'!

And so I followed the recipe and made dinner. And it was ready right as Hubs got home. And everyone liked it and it was officially added to the list of things we can eat for dinner. And I spent the rest of the night basking in the glow of main dish success.

And that is the story of how I made my very first dinner for poor old Hubs since we got married in 2009.

The end.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

In which perfection shockingly alludes me

I've had this little hall mirror since 2004. It was purchased for less than $5 at Burlington Coat Factory in an effort to spruce up my crumbly sad college house.
Here is my wee little dark mirror, circa 2009. Waaay back before the new windows and back when two unruly felines had yet to destroy the upholstery on my green chair.

After living with the dark mirror for seven years, I got the itch. It was time to shake things up with my little discount store mirror and the only kind of excitement I could bring to the table was a pale gray paint left over from an old project.

This chip has been there as long as I can recall. It was likely earned during a legendary house party. 

 Taping mirrors always sucks because you I can never get a crisp line. If you look closely, you can always tell I just slapped some lipstick on a pig of a mirror. Nevertheless, I tried to wedge my tape corners down with a screwdriver and look of serious concentration.

Painting time! 
I failed to realize just how sticky-outtie the designs were until I was really trying to get in there with my brush.

I almost left the mirror in this stage of shabby chicness after just two coats of paint before realizing shabby chic has no place in my home. Mostly because the shabby rings just too true.

So I rolled on a third coat and called it good.

Today, the mirror hangs where it always had and I've got to admit - I'm underwhelmed.
 Missed a spot or two.

It just disappears.

Be honest, aren't you underwhelmed, too? It's just too light and airy that it fades away. I'm hoping that once I get my act together and paint all that trim white, it will be a little better.

Maybe I just need to gallery wall this shizzle and get my pops of boldness that way. What say ye?

This ye says that between my lame painting and having reflected hundreds of hard-partying accountants and pharmacists: That poor mirror has been through the ringer.

What paint mistakes have you made lately?

Monday, September 19, 2011

Pack it up, pack it up, you got it, you got it

As a gal who was once known for her tendencies to blow this joint and head for shores unknown, I have long coveted suitcases as decor. So, imagine how stoked I was when I found this sturdy old guy at the bi-monthly antiques showcase, Urban Finds. I nabbed the case and the antique valet it sits on for a cool $25! I topped it with a rad little mercury glass lamp from TJ Maxx and a woodsy candle since this corner is dangerously close to the litter box hideaway.

Perfect for our basement's so-called talking chairs, where I imagine guests sipping wine and discussing the news of the day. This has yet to happen, but these chairs give a great vantage point to the action on the foosball table so I think we are getting close. 

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

I think we are intermediate now

Since I got my sweet new purple bike, Hubs and I have been riding a lot. We've been spending Saturdays going 20, 30 then 40 miles all leading up to a little bike-cation over the long weekend.

Somehow, in the week leading up to this ride, it never dawned on us to check the weather for Saturday, so we were a little dismayed that as we got ready to roll, the news announced that several other outdoor events were cancelled that day because of rain.


I can say that because Hubs and I persevered, as we tend to do when faced with minor setbacks like a failed inspection or paint that needs four coats to cover.

Between downpours on the way to Martensdale.

Our plan was to coast down the trail that stretched from our house to a little town called Martensdale. From there, we'd be on county roads to St. Mary's and St. Charles and over to Winterset, where we'd stay for the night. All in all, Saturday would be 50 miles.

This route came from the latest Central Iowa Cycling map, which was probably the best $3.99 I've spent in some time.

Sunday we went north on 169 before getting on a rural road and getting back on the trails at Cumming - going just about 39 miles.

I know I wrote that like maybe we didn't stick to the plan, but you know what? We did stick to the plan and if you don't believe me, you can ask my poor hamstrings. They won't lie.

So, Saturday was rainy, but not as bad as I expected it to be and for that, I give all my credit to the two beers I downed at the Cumming Tap, seen here on our return stop, while we waited out the rain.

After that little knock-back, we were off to Martensdale and along the way, we met this guy:

His name is Bishop and even though he was very friendly, he wasn't 100% on board with our my idea of riding in the backpack for the next two days.

Once we hit Martensdale, it was lunch time. I went with a sensible salad and Hubs made another decision.

I suppose when you burn 2500 calories in one day, you really don't need to feel bad about eating a fried tenderloin the size of your face. Hubs sure looks happy.

After lunch, we tried desperately to not be killed by cranky drivers on two busy roads. We weren't doing anything wrong, but clearly the awesomeness of my purple bike threw some pick-up drivers into a blind rage as they loved honking and flying by at 80 on a 55 mph road. 

Luckily, our next stop was soothing and filled with gentle old people from Missouri - the oldest covered bridge in Madison County.

Sadly, things really started going downhill (even more sad, in no way do I mean that literally) after this charming stop. We had to take a detour on a gravel road for about two miles and then we hit the hills. Oh! Did we hit them! And the rain was raining. And we were sad. But the drivers were much nicer.

And soon, we saw this:

The lovely Madison County Winery and Twisted Vine Brewery vineyard and tasting room. We saddled up to the bar and ordered a beer flight ($3 for three samples! Hello, deal!) and a cheese platter while we recovered from a yucky ride. 

While we sat and recharged phones and ate giant chunks of Gouda, the sun was totally out. The owners were harvesting grapes that day and so they (being way smarter than us) got to work while the sun was out. Once we had downed our beers and were ready to go, the sky got dark. 

It is 11 miles from the winery to the bed and breakfast we were staying at and in the rain, that's not really all that fun. Zero fun, in fact. 

As we pulled up to the Heavenly Habitat, I was delirious. I wanted to be off my bike and done pedaling. So when  Steve, the owner, showed me this:

I very nearly fainted on the spot. Then, he showed us a washer and dryer which was hallelujah good news because Hubs and I only packed one pair of bike shorts each since a) that's all we own and b) we were our own UHauls.

Here we are the next day, fully healed from the rainy ride and ready to scoot out!

Sunday was a much quicker ride since there weren't a whole lot of places to stop at. Just lots of this:

One more quick stop at the Cumming Tap and we were practically home!

 It was an awesome ride and we're hoping to make it an annual trip. With my trusty Grown Up Bike, I can do just about anything.

Any other tips for fun weekend rides around these parts?
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