Sunday, December 30, 2012

Pinterest Successes

Originally I found Pinterest fun to pin cool fashion finds, dream home pictures and whimsical quotes.  Lately my pins have moved in a much more practical direction.  I've been obsessed with all of the do-it yourself ideas.  I recently tried out two that I am thrilled with.

I love all natural spray cleaners but they can be really expensive at almost $4 a bottle.  I love cleaning with vinegar so when I saw a pin that made a citrus vinegar all purpose spray I was willing to give it a shot.  I added a bunch of clementine and lemon peels in a jar and filled the jar nearly to the top with vinegar   This was during a week when I was eating a ton a clementines and I always have fresh lemons on hand so this not only let me try a new cleanser but it helped me reuse some peels that were otherwise headed for the trash.

Here is the jar:

I let it sit for 10 days.  Every couple of days I gave it a quick shake.  The result was a very concentrated, dark colored,  citrusy smelling solution.   I poured the diluted liquid into a spray bottle about 1/4 to 1/3 full and then topped the bottle off with water. I wish I had a prettier spray bottle but this one certainly is functional.

Then came the real test: I tried it on my kitchen counter.  It worked like a charm.  It didn't leave any sticky residue, it had just a slight fragrance of citrus and no scent of vinegar.  I seldom have really big, messy spills so I think this one is a keeper!  I kept the original jar, added a few new peels, added more vinegar and I have a new batch brewing.

My other big project was trying out homemade powdered laundry soap.  I know, I know -you are thinking that it's all very crunchy or overly pioneer woman.  Well, again this is about trying to use fewer, simpler products that are less expensive and work just as well.  There are a ton of sites out there that will guide you through the "recipes" for making your own so I will spare you that but here are my assembled supplies all ready to go:

The hardest and most time consuming part of this project was hand grating the soap in the same manner you would grate cheese.  I had to do three bars so it took a while but here is the "cheesy" result:

I was then ready to mix everything together. I used a large bucket and began layering the ingredients a little bit at a time mixing well as I went. Here's everything in the bucket mixed together:

I was able to then portion it into smaller containers.  The one I will use for carrying back and forth to do laundry with is an old orange juice container.  The top is great because it has a small cutout that holds exactly one tablespoon.  That makes for very easy measuring.  You are supposed to use 2 tablespoons for a regular load of laundry.

The container is a little bit emptied since I immediately had to try the stuff out.  I knew a good test for me would be to wash my bed linens.  It's important to have soft, fresh clean sheets and comforter.  I am not someone who needs or wants a ton of fragrance left on my laundry.  I know many people do and you should be aware that this laundry soap has very, very little fragrance.  I added some of the purex crystals for softness and fragrance but I used only about 1/4 a jar in this entire batch.  That probably isn't enough for most people but I loved the results.  The linens smelled fresh and clean but they didn't smell perfumey.  Everything was soft and this is coming from the relic of a washer and dryer in my basement which doesn't do a great job.  I can't wait to try this stuff at my usual laundry mat.  Another pinterest success story!

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Holiday Weekend

This has been the most amazing 4 1/2 day holiday weekend ever!  Here are a few highlights.  I'm tired but very happy!

  • Started the weekend with a very rainy trip to Local 188 where this was the reward:
Photo: Rainy Friday drinks!

  • Playing elf for my sister in Colorado who had ordered my parents a new 47" HDTV
  • Ken telling the Best Buy delivery guys that they must be wrong-he wasn't expecting a delivery!
  • Best Buy set everything up, no cables to fiddle with, no old TV to discard, no box to recycle, worry free!
  • New Blu Ray player with Amazon and Pandora set up and ready for watching/listening entertainment.
  • Upgraded a decades old cable package to include all the new HD channels and Showtime for less money than they started with.
Here's the old TV on it's way out:

And here's the new setup.  The picture is deceiving since it's before we got the HD channels so there is a wide black bar around the picture.  And you really can't see the Blu Ray since it's black and small:

  • Amazing lobster stew! (my only cheat meal in the past two months!)  I inhaled the first bowl and had to go for a second.
  • Yummy homemade bread just perfect for dipping in the lobster broth AND whoopie pie for dessert.
  • Spending time with my niece who is amazed by the little things "A snowflake!  I can't believe she painted a snowflake on my toe!"
  • Seeing mom get a well deserved pedicure and a gel manicure.
  • I love my toe color Midnight In Moscow!  It's charcoal dark with a hint of maroon shimmer.
  • Girl's lunch at On The Border following the spa treatments.

  • Setting a beautiful, festive holiday table.
  • Making a comforting, yummy vegan Christmas Eve meal.
  • Screeching in delight at my gift from my cat-he has such great taste :)
  • Festive champagne toast.
  • Christmas Day snow giving me the perfect excuse to relax and read all day!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Books 2012

I decided this year to keep track of the books I read.  I really had no idea how much or how little I read.  I still don't know how my number compares to the average reader but I must say I was surprised at the volumes of books that I managed to make my way through.  Earlier this year I posted books I had read through August 2012.  That list is here: Previous list of book read as of August 2012.

I did not include a handful of books that I began but was unable to finish.  I also didn't include any non-fiction reference type books.  That includes cook books, travel reference, finance how to etc.  

My final total is 42 for the year. Here is the list from the rest of August through December:

Don't Look Back
Where Is The Baby
Sh*t My Dad Says
The Lifeboat
The Hour I First Believed
Call Me Princess
The Hypnotist's Love Story
Best Friends, Occasional Enemies
By Their Father's Hand
Letters From Alcatraz
Think Twice
Tales From The Stage
The Light Between Oceans
To All My Fans With Love From Sylvie
Meet Me At Emotional Baggage Claim

Here are my highlights from this list:

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail (Oprah's Book Club 2.0)

Wild:  Yes, This book got a lot of press because Oprah loved it and started up her book club again with it but it really is a worthwhile read. It's a book about a flawed individual who begins a journey that is both literal (on the Pacific Crest Trail) and internal.  She starts out damaged and becomes physically battered before beginning to heal a little bit. This was a memoir but she also has a book of fiction out that I would like to try.

The Hour I First Believed LP: A Novel

The Hour I First Believed: I had forgotten how much I love Wally Lamb.  The book is timely as it incorporates the school shootings at Littleton, Colorado but it is mostly about a couple who have had troubles and how this tragedy continues to challenge them and impact their lives.  

Unsaid: A Novel

Unsaid: This book is about (and I'm not giving anything away by saying this) a woman who is a veterinarian and she dies leaving her animals and a husband behind.  It was a very touching book that has a final couple of pages that left me weeping.  In fact I'm teary just thinking about it.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Friends Help Friends Help Friends :)

This past week I got an "I need help!!" email from my co-worker friend. She attends a weekly gathering of woman and this week was her turn to cook the main dish. But the trouble was that one of the ladies had very recently announced that she can no longer eat soy or dairy. The friend said "oh it's fine. I'll just bring my own dish". My friend wanted very much to make something that everyone could enjoy. I have been in the same position of offering to bring my own meal and being perfectly happy to do so. But when a friend goes out of their way to include you I know how humbled and thankful you feel. I told her that we would come up with the perfect recipe.

I gave her a couple of cookbooks and re-grouped with her a couple of days later. I asked if anything jumped out at her. She said it hadn't and I could tell she felt a bit overwhelmed. I asked if she would like me to pick a recipe for her. She said yes but her face said "oh please don't let it be too weird and freakish". So, I paused, thought and then asked what she would have made for this mid-week event if there were no restrictions. She responded "Shepard's pie". And with that I knew we had a meal she could be comfortable with and would please her entire group of friends.

She was initially hesitant that we could make a great tasting Shepard's pie with no butter or milk in the potatoes. She mentioned how she always uses cream style corn and was worried about a work around for that. But as we talked I could see her getting excited. When I came back from the store with soy free, dairy free almond milk and Earth Balance "butter" she immediately ran to the kitchen to toast a bagel and try out the butter. It was so good she licked the knife!  That night she made a trial run of mashed potatoes and told me how perfectly they fluffed up. It was so great to see her go from completely paralyzed at the notion of trying this to excited, on board and experimenting.

We had learned from her friend that a lot of canned goods have preservatives that contain soy. We didn't feel comfortable with a couple of unrecognizable ingredients on the back of the can of creamed corn and once again I could see her begin to deflate a bit. Thirty seconds and one Google search later we had a quick, easy recipe for homemade cream style corn that would incorporate her already purchased Earth Balance and almond milk. And just like that she was back in the game. The night of the get together I got a text declaring "best cream style corn everrrrr!!"

This is what I love. I helped a friend make a friend feel completely included and loved. I helped my friend learn that eliminating some dairy (aka cow's puss) wasn't scary or weird   The best part is that I learned a ton. Soybeans are a plant product so they are on the list of things I eat. I had no idea of the places that soy lurks... gravy mixes, canned foods, almond milk, spice mixes etc.

I was so inspired I had to try out that creamed corn. Here is the link Homemade Vegan Cream Style Corn to the recipe and here is the final beautiful product!

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Books I Bought

I love having a stack of books that I'm excited about just ready and waiting to be read. It's very rare that I actually buy books.  I love getting them from the library.  But every now and then there are books worth buying.

In the Pleasure Groove by John Taylor.  I can't wait to read about the misadventures of John, Nick, Simon and Andy.  Plus there are a lot of great pictures throughout.  And yes, you can borrow it if you like :)

I've said before how much I love Kris Carr.  She just came out with a new book and that was a definite must have:

I don't know why but I had recently been thinking about this book that I loved when I was a kid. I definitely didn't remember the author or title. Yet somehow through the power of Google I managed to search "book girl foster home runs away" and I actually found it.  It is a used copy that someone was selling on Amazon and it is exactly like the one I had back in 1983!


I also heard about this book since I have "liked" on Face Book a couple of artists featured in the book.  Ron Keel was actually offering a pretty big discount to get people to check out the book and when it arrived the author had personally signed it!  It's a quick fun read and once again fulfills my fascination with rock stars.


Sunday, November 25, 2012

All Decorated

It must have been the previous night's tree lighting festivities that made me be right on the ball and in the mood to decorate.  I pretty much do the same thing every year so at this point it doesn't take a ton of thought or effort to get everything together.

Before I had barely gotten started Lou curled up and took a nap:

Here is the finished tree:

And here is the mantel:

After I decorated I continued listening to Christmas music while making a pumpkin spice cake with chocolate glaze. My favorite holiday song is Little Drummer Boy but being a child of the 80's I never feel like the season begins until I hear "Do They Know It's Christmas?"

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Tree Lighting

A bit last minute a friend and I decided to head down to Monument Square to watch the annual tree lighting. 

We passed by this at Longfellow Square:

The library has its annual open house the night of the tree lighting.  This year they have an art exhibit that has been going on all fall.  I'm open to nearly any kind of art.  This guy had very whimsical works that told little stories.  Some of the stories were funny and some were just plain weird.  We also enjoyed a bit of live Jazz music before heading outside into the not at all cold air.

After a verrryyy long musical set by Rick Charette and his Bubblegum Band we were rewarded with this:


Here are a couple of cool light displays as we made our way back up Congress Street:


Earlier in the night the when deciding where to have a post-lighting drink the comment was made "I would like a good martini". There's only one place to go in town if you want a good martini.  So, Kathadin it was:


The night got a bit crazy after that.  Let's just say we ended up in Scarborough at the beach with me dipping my fake Ugg boots in the water at high tide! This is what the beach looks like at night in November!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Embarrassing Cabinet

When I moved in to my apartment the kitchen was brand spanking new including pristine, beautiful cabinets.  They have mostly stayed that way except the one under the sink.  I keep trash under there and various messes have leaked and spilled.  Here is the disgusting result:

I decided to pick up some of that shelf liner paper. I was pleasantly surprised that some of the patterns were fun and pleasant to look at.  I am not the best at measuring and getting stuff just so but I figured that for the space under my sink perfection wouldn't be noticed.  Here is the result:

I was thrilled with the result.  Here is everything back in its place.  That big box is filled with place mats, table clothes and holiday dishes.  I would love to find a better place for it but for now at least everything looks clean and tidy!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Why didn't I do this years ago??

As Lou has gotten older and has had issues with thyroid and kidney disease he has needed frequent meals of canned cat food.  It has made going away on vacation a stressful proposition for the both of us.  I can't expect a pet sitter to come by the house 4-6 times a day and so I worry about Lou getting enough to eat.  Even a few weeks ago I left for Foxwoods at 7am and didn't return until 9pm.  He was fine but I felt bad leaving him without food for so long.

The more immediate concern is that he has suddenly stopped being able to make it through the night without a snack.  He eats about 9pm and then again about 6am.  Lately he has started yelling at the top of his lungs starting around 2am and it continues until I get up to take care of him.  My mother said "what about one of those automatic feeders?".  Well, call me stupid but why had I never thought to try it?  I suppose I thought that they were a gimmick that wouldn't work. But really anything was worth a try.

I did my usual research on Amazon and found this:

Pet feeder

The night I received it I decided to try it out without the timer just to see Lou's reaction to it.  Here he is hungry waiting for food and the feeder is in the background with the feeder doors shut:

And here he is with the door open.  It's food, he's eating, not a big deal to him:

It's really easy to take the trays out to clean them.  There is also a blue ice pack that sits in the bottom to help keep the wet food fresh.  It has two feeding trays and each has it's own timer.  You can set each to go off from 1-48 hours in the future.

The past couple of nights I have set one time for a 1:30 am feeding and since it's the weekend I've set the other one for about 5:30 am so that I can sleep in.  It has been a dream.  He has still been coming up to get me out of bed but it's much later, he isn't screaming and we are both much happier and more content!  I hope it keeps up!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Reebok Freeport

I have a friend and former co-worker whose husband works for Reebok.  In the past she would offer up "Friends and Family" coupons that gave 40% off.  I always need sneakers so I would take advantage of those coupons and get a great deal on a new pair of sneakers.  I had seen her post that the Reebok outlet in Freeport is going out of business.  I hate that for many, many reasons.  Still, I was thankful for the heads up as she mentioned a while back that things were 50% off and she didn't think they would go much lower.

I was headed north up I-295 yesterday so I decided to veer off the highway.

I even managed to find a parking spot right in their little lot out front -a good sign:

I had been expecting 50% off so it was also a good sign when I saw this:


There was still a surprisingly good selection.  I was a bit amazed to see that the clearance section was really full of sneakers even in my size which is a popular size and tends to sell out.  The 60% is off the lowest price.  So, basically you take the regular retail price, lower it to an outlet price, lower that to a clearance price and THEN take 60% off.  I walked away with two fantastic pairs of sneakers for 15.99 each.  I also got a sports bra and two pairs of socks:

Here's the proof:

I will be very sad to see Reebok leave Freeport.  I will be very sad to miss out on great deals.  I take peace in the fact that it will be some time before I need new shoes :)

Friday, November 2, 2012

Food I'm Loving Right Now

The past couple of weeks I have had a bounty of fresh, delicious, healthy food.  I have been coming to terms with the cliche middle age spread that occurred at precisely the moment I turned 40.  I have also been paying more attention to the fact that some of my favorite extremely healthy foods are not low calorie...bummer.  It's frustrating to think that I could eat junk food and calorie for calorie come out ahead of fresh plant based food. 

Here are some food wins from the past week.

I seldom eat ice cream these days.  There are some good substitutes using soy or almond milk but the variety of flavors isn't very wide and I usually just pass it up.  I had a recipe for frozen banana ice cream that seemed to simple but when I tried it...magic!  Freeze a couple of bananas and then process in a food processor.  Keep scraping down the sides.  You might think that nothing special is happening and then...poof...the magic happens!

I also love baked kale chips.  They are ridiculously expensive to buy and pretty darn easy to make yourself so that is the route I have tried to take.  It has taken several rounds to perfect the baking time, oven temperature etc. but I think I may have finally gotten it!  I take washed and dried kale, sprinkle it with sea salt and garlic powder and add a drizzle of olive oil.  I bake it in an oven at 225 degrees for as long as I can stand it (about 30 minutes) before I think that the smoke detector (which is extremely sensitive) will start going nuts.

I've been experimenting with having different homemade wraps at lunch.  I've been taking nuts and processing them into a spread.  Last week it was almonds with celery and pickle.  This week it was cashews with garlic and oregano. 

On a separate note-I would like to report that Lou and I weathered the storm without any worries.  The lights flickered a couple of times and the wind howled like crazy.  This is Lou at the height of the storm.  Unimpressed it seems:

Monday, October 22, 2012

Things I'm Loving Right Now

Lou is  not always the friendliest cat.  He is definitely a one person cat.  He needs one to love, snuggle, boss around and beg food from.  Everyone else he does his best to ignore but he isn't beyond biting or hissing if someone gets in his space and annoys him.  Let's just say that he hasn't always been the nicest to my parents.  They adore him and would do anything for him but he just doesn't have a feline ability to reciprocate.  But look what happened yesterday:

Put us in any situation and we will have fun.  Put us in a casino with free food, free slot play, and free drinks and it's a no brainer!

A co-worker has a daughter with fickle clothing tastes.  She has very nice and slightly expensive taste (by my standards anyway).  Sometimes she brings in cast off clothing and it makes its way around the office.  The clothing is in impeccable condition and always a treat to see.  Today I scored two pairs of Ann Taylor Loft dress pants that appear never or seldom worn.  They actually still have the security tags on the inside.  They fit perfectly although the tan pair will need to be hemmed about 1/2 an inch.

It's no secret that I adore Kris Carr.  She's coming out with a new cookbook and as a promo she did a video about a day in the life of what she eats called A Peek At My Plate.  She mentions having "tuna" salad wraps for lunch.  I am grocery shopping tomorrow and trying this out immediately!