Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Destroyers

As I posted earlier this morning, we had a very destructive day. Here's a bullet list of what ensued:
  • Hammers went through double layers of plaster board all the way around the room. If you ever want a small room to feel big, just do manual labor on every square inch of the space. All of a sudden it feels huge.
  • No treasures (or dead bodies) in the walls, but a pipe from an old sink did break off the second I disturbed the wall board that was holding it up. It had rusted all the way through. Good thing the water was actually turned off when they sealed it up. 
  • Trip to the dump to empty the truck. Eeeeew. Perhaps one of the top five grossest things in my life. I was the only woman anywhere near the place. I think that makes me the girlfriend of the year. Or at least the day.
  • Trip to Lowe's to scope out appliances. This is going to be ex-pens-ive.
  • Stuck in Lowe's during massive thunder storm.
  • Took advantage of the pause to inhale sausages at Lowe's. Only the finest for us. I always wondered who dined at Lowe's. Now I know.
  • Run through downpour to truck. Soaked. The plaster in my hair turned to a nice helmet-like structure. I didn't figure that out until I showered.
  • Return home to finish the last bit of wall destruction.
  • Beau feverishly grinding the upper edge of plasterboard to keep the ceiling intact. (That metal strip connects the edge of the wall to the ceiling. Not good to just yank.
  • Sparks flying. From the grinder. Get your head out of the gutter.
  • Shop vac. Oops. It has a dust exhaust and needs to be outside. I was in a cloud of plaster fumes. Probably not healthy. Good thing for that fashionable mask.
  • Sweeping bits of plaster and dust. Forever.
Since all of that took place today, we are all set to have Jim take a look at what he's working with, insulate and start sealing the walls back up. We're making progress!!!

And by progress I mean that our house has no kitchen...

Demo Days

Yesterday beau and I started the day off with a stop at Starbucks and a walk on the boardwalk. After taking a little bit of "us" time, we returned home to start demolishing the kitchen. Boy, oh boy, let me tell you, I had a great time. Seriously, I did. It was kind of fun taking it all apart.

  I know I showed a bit of the tile in this post, but you didn't get to see the whole shebang. Well, here she is in all of her glory. (Or at least what was her glory...)

It looks charming in photos. And while it was a cozy little kitchen, notice the proximity of the washer/dryer to the table. And the dishwasher to the table on the other side. It was nearly impossible to work around the table. I had to lean over the cabinets that hide the dryer to get clothes in or out. And if there was a lone sock in there, forget about it. I couldn't reach that far in. So I had to work out a strange contorted system to get lone items out of the dryer. Annoying, but not the biggest deal in the world. Heck, not too long ago washers and dryers were a luxury. Certainly when then house was built in 1947 they weren't considering how I was going to do laundry and empty the dishwasher in the kitchen.

We really enjoy eating in the kitchen at the table, so just taking that out to free up some space wasn't an option. There was still the problem of aesthetics. Remember the tile?

Yeah. That tile. It had to go. We talked it over and had a few people come out to look at the setup, and we really liked Jim Kennedy from Coastal Kitchens. I especially liked him because the first thing he said was, "That washer and dryer needs to be out of the kitchen." Yay, Jim!!!!

He redesigned the space, beau and I picked out cabinets, hardware, tile, etc. and we had a plan. We decided, though, that we would take care of the demolition. we opted to do that because 1) it could save us some money, 2) it sounded like something we could do and 3) I really wanted to get my hands on that tile.

So that's what we did yesterday. We had the help of my wonderful parents and their tools of destruction. And our friends Andy and Meagan stopped by with bulging muscles and encouraging cheers. ("Go boys, go boys.") Thanks guys! You're the best. We'd still be working on phase one without your help hauling, hammering, prying and drinking. (That part might have been more so from Andy and Meagan than my parents...)

 This tool was my favorite. I don't think it left my hands all day.

Isn't she scary? You should see what she can do.

We done did rip the snot out of everything!!!! Many of the holes in the walls were already there. Apparently they just put the bead board over whatever was there--or, technically, wasn't there. However, some of the holes were put in by yours truly and my mom. Beau and I weren't sure what the insulation and electrical situation was going to look like. Fortunately at this point it looks like the wiring is good. The insulation, on the other hand, is nonexistent. Nope. No pink fluff behind any of the walls. As soon as mom and I realized that we'd need to insulate the whole kitchen, we stopped being careful pulling the tile down.

Today's project to to tear down to studs. Beau is chomping at the bits, so I've got to get back to work. he's got his work outfit on: pants with a reflective ring around each calf. Where does one get such pants and why don't I have a pair. more importantly, why don't I have a pink tool belt?

What do you think so far? Can you believe the mess? Tell me I have no reason to fear and that our house will be back in order before we know it. Even if you're lying between your teeth I'd like to hear it...

Off to destroy more walls and then insulate. Wish me luck!

Friday, July 29, 2011

Guess What?????

Today was day one of operation kitchen renovation. Don't worry, I took lots of before pictures. While I won't be posting daily progress, I did want to say something about the start of our big project. We've got lots to do, so hopefully each day is super productive. (And we finish on schedule...)

Today the water heater went buh-bye and we are now the proud owners of a super green "on demand" water heater. There is no tank. It just kind of magically heats water as it passes by. Apparently it uses very little energy. So now the utility closet is blissfully empty and our washer and dryer will go in there soon.

Tomorrow's going to be a huge day as we are going to be taking out all of the cabinets and perhaps pull down walls. Our fear is that we'll find iffy electrical and insulation. We decided it is probably better to know about it and fix it than to hope for the best and see if the house burns down. I know, we are super responsible and if you are our insurance agent you should totally cut us a break since we are looking out for hidden dangers.

Anyway. I can't even imagine what kind of stuff we will find tomorrow. Gold? Diamonds? Mold? Water damage? The possibilities are endless, really.

I've got all kinds of mini projects planned in the mean time, so I should have plenty to chronicle while you are patiently awaiting those after pictures.

But just to whet your appetites, I may just post a photo or two tomorrow.

Have you done major renovations? How'd that go? Anyone have any advice for us? Should we be looking out for anything or going anywhere for cheap goodies?

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Happy Day

It is time to celebrate! Today is National Milk Chocolate day!!! I think that calls for mass consumption of chocolate. Yippie!

Oh, and according to Real Simple, this month is National Ice Cream month. I might just go into a sugar coma!

In honor of National Ice Cream month, I made homemade ice cream last night. Beau comes home from a work trip tonight and I thought I'd welcome him with a bowl of refreshing and delicious ice cream. I know, I really do outdo myself! Maybe I'll even pick up a nice bar of milk chocolate for him. Okay, you know me well enough to know that in picking one up for him I'll be picking one (or more) up for me. Whatever. It is the thought that counts.

There is still time. Go out and buy your favorite yummy treat. And hey, if it isn't the 28th any more, go ahead and celebrate anyway. It is the spirit of celebration that really matters.

What is the best milk chocolate you've found? I'm really open to suggestions!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Shoes Glorious Shoes

I've been such a good girl. I mean, I have really gone above and beyond what I thought were my capabilities. You see, I have this addiction. I love shoes. I have no idea where the addiction started, but it has been, at times in the last few years, a bit overpowering.

I do partially blame Carrie Bradshaw for sparking in me the love of frivolous, higher-than-high shoes that make walking painful and sometimes dangerous. But I've never been a follower, so it isn't entirely the fault of those SATC wardrobe people.

I mean, look at those black peep toes Carrie is wearing. Manolo Blahnik, of course.

Anyway, back to me being good. When I moved in with Beau, the closet space was completely unacceptable, so I took over an empty bedroom and made it my closet. Beau is not 100% happy with that turn of events, but he deals with it in his own (generally) quiet manner. The one thing he is NOT quiet about is his disgust at the number of shoes in my closet. Apparently he feels that I have far too many. And I probably do. Obviously that is an impossibility. A lady can never have too many shoes. (And in my defense, I have gotten rid of at least 10 pairs of shoes since moving in.)

Nevertheless, I vowed to lay off of my shoe buying habit. Since moving in with Beau I have purchased 2 pairs of rubber flip-flops from Old Navy for $2.50 each (Rubber is not a legitimate material for shoes, so I don't think that purchase even counts.) I also purchased a pair of silver Guess platform sandals for Angela's wedding. On sale. That's it. In six months. Amazing. (And so out of character.)

What is even more amazing is that I haven't even felt withdrawals. No shakes. No major shoe envy. I haven't creeped anyone out drooling over their shoes. And I've not even wanted to go shoe shopping.

Well, until Saturday. One of the wedding guests had the cutest pair of platform sandals (nude, t-strap, huge flower, Nine West) and I can't stop thinking about them. I'm not even exaggerating. Today I sat in a workshop on teaching and thought about shoes all day long. Not how to better instruct my students, but how to get my toes in those amazing shoes. I even thought about breaking into this poor girl's house to steal them from her closet. Which, as we all know, is totally unacceptable.

I got home and took action. Google to the rescue. Google, though, let me down. I couldn't find them. Anywhere.

I feel a little lost.

And a lot sad.

And I think that  my cold-turkey abstinence might not be as effective as I thought. I have the urge to race to the mall. Or drive to the Nine West outlet that is an hour away. Or both. I want those shoes.  I need them.

No matter how noble my attempt, I don't think I'll ever be able to squelch my love of and need for shoes. As for Beau's disapproval, well, I suppose there are worse things I could do. Maybe I can just be a social shoe buyer. You know, like non-smokers who only smoke when they drink. Maybe I can just shoe shop with girlfriends (who will presumably cut me off when I want four pairs of must-have-oh-so-cute-I-certainly-can't-wear-without-the-perfect-outfit-must-buy-them-now-ooooh-they-are-in brown-too shoes). Not that that happens ever often.

So, if anyone is out and sees my shoes, let me know where they are. And if you see any others that I can't live without, just let me know. My dry spell can't last forever and it might be time to break it...

Anyone out there feel my pain?

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Minor Oversight

Ok, so I know this little space is called Croquet & Cocktails and I have yet to address anything cocktail related. What am I thinking? Well, clearly I'm not.

Problem solved with today's post. Whew.

While I'm not a big drinker, I do appreciate a well mixed cocktail (Mmmm, mojito, please), can tolerate a watered-down light beer and adore a nice glass of wine. Mostly I enjoy the community and comraderie that is associated with cocktails. Often, events are more fun with beverages of the alcoholic nature involved. Don't believe me? Bust out the croquet mallets and wickets, whip up a pitcher of mojitos and play on, playa. That's exactly what happened over the Fourth of July weekend when Beau and I visited his family in Cape Cod. And you know what? We had so much fun. I don't think we ever finished a game of croquet, but we did laugh in excess. None of us were ever drunk, so please don't get the wrong idea about my meaning here. I'm certainly not suggesting it takes alcohol to have fun. Moreso, I think people are more prepared to have fun when drinks are around. Make sense?

When Beau's sweet mom suggested croquet and cocktails on the south lawn at four I knew that 1) I had found the title of the blog I planned to start and 2) nothing but good could come from such a proposition. I was right.

While a nice, cold, minty, sweet, lime-infused beverage is not on the menu tonight, I did want to share what is currently my most exciting splurge.

I'm a member of a wine club! Every three months I get six bottles of wine from Food & Wine Magazine's wine club. They send me two whites and four reds. In the package are tasing notes and recepies for pairing. Generally speaking the wine is from vineyards I've never heard of, or sometimes there are even varietals that are new to me.

The wines are chosen by F&W editors and the recepies developed in the magazine.  A few weeks before my bundle of joy package of wine is sent, I get an email. From that day forward I think about what kins of wine will be in the shipment. Will there be a white I love? (I tend to be a lover of red and a once-in-a-while sipper of white.) Will there be a red that knocks my socks off? Will I ever be able to find another bottle if I do fall in love? So many questions. It is a wonder that I get anything done in those long, agoniazing days I wait.

Needless to say, I've been satisfied with each and every bottle. I do, however, get so excited about driniking the wine that I have yet to prepare the dish that was designed to compliment the wine. I need to make a point of doing that soon. I'll report back as soon as I do. (Don't hold your breath for it. Construction on the kitchen will start verrrrryyyyyy sooon and I'll be 100% kitchenless for goodness knows how long.)

Interested in splurging on this relatively affordable wine club? Click here. If that's not your bag, but you want to hear about some of their selections,  I might just write about a bottle every once in a while.

Note: I am posting about this wine club of my own accord. In no way am I associated with or being compensated by Food & Wine or the wine club. A girl could dream though, right?

So tell me, what is your splurge? Got any great, but affordable wine suggestions?

Monday, July 25, 2011

Inside My Bubble

Beau and I have pretty much every modern convenience in our little house. I say pretty much because there is one that is missing. It is perhaps the most basic of conveniences: cable television. We do, however, have a very lovely set of rabbit ears behind our fantastic large screen, wi-fi enabled television. I know, it is a huge contradiction. They aren't even there to be ironic or funny, either. They are there for function. (And when I say function I mean we get all four PBS stations and a fuzzy FOX network.)

Really, who has rabbit ears these days? Don't worry, ours don't have tin foil on them. That would be a little too retro for us. Even if it got us NBC and 30 Rock, which I am in the know enough to adore.

So, because the rabbit ears are less than effective, I most frequently turn on the TV to stream my itunes through the speakers via Apple TV. (Yes, we have Apple TV, which no one has because it is pretty much useless, and no cable, which everyone has because it is awesome. Go figure.) Once in a while I'll feel a little saucy and will check out a show or movie on Netflix. And as soon as True Blood or Mad Men can be watched instantly there might be a little less Apple TV and a lot more Netflix.

Anywho, earlier tonight as I was my own business reading my book, I got a call from my mom. I thought it a bit strange since I had talked to both of my parents just a few hours prior. Mom wanted to tell me that my neighborhood was under tornado warning. WARNING. And she knew I wouldn't be watching TV to hear the beeping and see the crawl. She loves me.

Though I knew it was raining outside, I thought it was just a romantic little thunderstorm that would pass soon. Nope. Romantic little storms don't have the potential to rip our little house from its foundation and throw it. Ever.

As my mom's warning call made me fear for my life, I came to the realization that we have no interior rooms. (Remember the bathroom with the window?) Fortunately, the kitchen construction is about to start (more on that soon!!!) and I was in the process of cleaning out the utility closet. It happens to be built around the old furnace chimney in the center of the house. I knew that would be a safe little hide-out if need be.

Though it is still storming, the worst is over. There are a few small Crape Myrtle limbs in the yard, some latticework was blown down and my street is flooded, but life inside our little home is relatively unaffected. Candles are burning (just in case) and Apple TV is playing Chopin. Just as it should be.

Sometimes I feel a little out of it because I NEVER watch TV, and I don't think I've seen a movie in a theatre since Thanksgiving. I do read the paper every day and listen to NPR on my commute so that I can function in society. I do teach journalism and so know that being aware of world issues is important.

I just feel like television is so mindless and such a waste. I think my life is just as interesting as the lives of the Kardashians, the latest Bachelor or Bachelorette, or the Jersey Shore crew. OK, maybe not as interesting to anyone else, but interesting to me. Why live my life watching other people live when I could be living? You know, actually living. And doing. Instead of watching. Novel, huh?

Am I the only one out there who doesn't watch TV? Am I in a bubble for one? Am I missing something? Personally, I think I'm only missing HGTV and I can get that online... Well, maybe I'm missing the weather too.

Thanks, mom! You could have saved my life.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Happily Ever After

Yesterday I was given the distinct honor of being a bridesmaid in my dear friend's wedding. It was lovely and they are such a good couple. To say I am incredibly happy for them is an understatement.

The whole thing got me thinking about love, commitment and togetherness. (I turn into such a sap at weddings!) With a divorce rate at above 50%, I sometimes wonder why people even bother. I mean if I had a 50% survival rate when I boarded and airplane, I'd find another mode of transportation. But then this Negative Nancy mentality was forced into a flowing blue dress and amazing silver shoes and dragged to the church. As Angela and Gary exchanged their vows, Negative Nancy took a seat. Marriage is so beautiful and such a human experience. Did you know it actually predates written history? I'd never really thought about it. It makes sense. And it made Nancy think that perhaps she's wrong about the marriage thing. If it has worked for so long, maybe it is the collective mentality of our generation that is the problem.

Marriage is a sense of comfort, a source of strength, a partnership and a bond. I look at all of the successful, long-lasting marriages that surround me and I really appreciate the effort it takes to make them work. My grandparents were married for 59 1/2 years when my grandmother passed away. Can you imagine that? I know not every moment was blissful, but they made it work. They raised five kids, adored nine grandkids and now their legacy continues as their great-grandchildren are coming into the world.

Anyway, to Negative Nancy I ask: what do numbers mean in matters of the heart? Love is a wonderful, beautiful thing. Marriage is an extension of that. And anything that starts with a huge party that includes champagne, cake and dancing can't be half bad.

I became a divorce statistic a few years ago. I was devastated and embarrassed. But rather than my faith in the institution of marriage being shattered, it was strengthened. Love isn't enough for a marriage. It is a wonderful foundation, but there is so much more that is required to make it last.

In the book I'm reading right now (posted about here), Ghosh proposes to Hema and her response is "Yes, but only for a year." She goes on to explain "We have the option to renew for another year." When I first read that, I was appalled. Marriage cannot be for a year. Marriage is supposed to look like my grandparents' marriage. There was no opt out clause. It isn't a lease.

But then as the book progressed, I saw the wisdom in Hema's plan. She knew that people change and circumstances change. I don't think she ever intended to dissolve the marriage after a year, but the condition on the contract made each of them work a little harder in the marriage. They couldn't allow themselves to become complacent or take the other for granted. I think this is what successful marriages do. They may not overtly place the "only for a year" condition on the marriage, but they have the mentality that each of them needs to continue wooing the other.

Marriage is not the end of the courting process, it is the very beginning.

(The image at the top is from this great website. Had I found it a few weeks ago, my gift to Angela and Gary would have been the print in a lovely frame. I love it!)

Friday, July 22, 2011

Cutting for Stone

I'm reading Abraham Verghese's Cutting For Stone. I'm only a little over half way done with it, but I think it is absolutely lovely. It has been quite a while since I've read a book that has made me care about the characters. They are very skillfully developed. I actually got a little teary yesterday when I was reading. That is so unlike me!

Verghese's prose reads like carefully crafted poetry. His writing has this melody to it that makes me swoon. I find myself constantly highlighting phrases that I find to be delightful.

I feel like my words are completely unworthy of his writing, so I'll keep this entry uncharacteristically short.

I don't recommend books to people often. I just don't usually feel strongly enough to pass them along. In this case, I wholeheartedly recommend this book. Run, don't walk to the bookstore. Or, make a cup of tea and save the trouble of driving to the mall by downloading it on your Kindle.

I do promise to post a full report when I finish this little treat. I'll even share some of those lines that have given me chills and invoked a smidge of jealousy lately. It may be a bit, though; I'm savoring this one.

Anyone agree with me on the beauty and power of Cutting for Stone? Or do you have a recommendation for me? I'll need something soon. I can only savor for so long.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Home Sweet Home

Travel is always an adventure, but I have to admit, I'm a total homebody at heart. While I am capable of sound sleep almost anywhere, I always feel best in my own bed. I am so glad to be home from camp!

Maybe I'm just an easy going person, but I've always been able to make a home wherever I ended up. Only once in my life was I ever truly homesick. My junior year of college I had the amazing opportunity to study abroad in Oxford, England. While I loved everything about the opportunity, five and a half months away from my friends and family took a toll on me. I think, though, that part of my homesickness stemmed from the knowledge that my little flat in Kidlington, England was temporary and would never become home. Three short years later I moved moved across the country from a very amazing life in Long Beach, CA to the East Coast and didn't feel those same hollow feelings. In all honesty, I thought I would. I wasn't sure that I could survive on the East Coast without those things that made me think of home. (Though the weather this week has me reconsidering!)

Despite the difficulties in leaving behind those same friends and family members (I miss them terribly every day), I was able to make my new location my home. Since that first move into an apartment nine years ago, I've lived in four different houses and each one has been perfect for me at that time. Over the course of those nine years I've had some very wonderful events take place as well as some heart-wrenching devastations.The good and the bad have helped shape me. I feel like the homes I've lived and thrived are reflections of each stage of my life.  Finding the best in each house/location has made it much easier to make those structures home.

Basically, I know that I am blessed to not only have always had a roof over my head, but to have lived in an honest-to-God home. There is a big difference between a house and a home. Like making a good marriage, making a home requires effort and patience. Weeks into my relocation when I was still getting lost and melting in the deadly August heat/humidity combo, I wanted to run back to California. I wanted to get my little apartment that was three blocks from the beach back and pretend it was all a bad, humid dream. While my friends who are still in California think I am all kinds of crazy for staying here this long, I'm really glad I stuck it out. I managed to find the positives in my new location, meet great people, find a school I love and learn the seemingly mismarked highway system (I know I'm headed north, but I'm on the westbound highway? Huh?) Note: The fact that I just called it a highway and not a freeway is a testament to my belonging here now.

When beau invited me to share his house it was also an invitation to share his home. I think that in the seven months I've been here we have managed to turn it into more of a home. While the textured application to the glass and the soon-to-start kitchen renovation help, there is also an intangible, indescribable element to home-making. It is different for everyone, but it is so worth finding.

Dorothy totally had it right: There is no place like home. (Even if home changes every few years...)

Anyone else out there feel the same way I do about home? Or does home have to be a permanent place? Are you ever too old to feel homesick?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Happy Camper

Traveling with a crew of teenage girls can be a challenge. This year's camp crew consists of nine young ladies. So far we have had only one instance of tears, and those were really because I made an error in judgment. (Oops.) Don't worry, it'll be fixed soon.

You see, I forget what a fragile time high school is for many teenagers. I really shouldn't. I mean, aside from a four-year hiatus where I spread my wings as a college co-ed, I have spent the last twenty years in high school. (Aaak. No wonder there is something not quite right about me!) In becoming a teacher, I was given the strange opportunity to revisit those awkward years from a very different perspective. And for some reason I stuck with it. It agreed with me the second time around.

I often look at my girls and am amazed at their poise and confidence. I never had that. Or at least not to the extent they do. Many of them glide into a room certain of their belonging. Or they profess their worldviews with the absolute conviction of someone three times their age. I still feel ill qualified for such professions.

But then, there are those real moments when they go back to being confused, uncertain little girls. They wonder why they weren't named editors, or why a certain boy doesn't call them back, or they won't go to the cereal station alone because people will look at them and judge.

Obviously, there is a certain distance I keep from my students. But, on the other hand, I get very close to quite a few of them. Especially when I work with them outside of class. In the case of my yearbook and newspaper staff members, we travel together twice a year. We eat meals, explore our surroundings, plan adventures suitable for everyone, fly/train/drive for long periods of time, etc all together. The WHOLE time.

During those extended periods of time they drop their pretend selves (worldviews and confidence be gone) and turn into their real selves. Sometimes those selves are not so pleasant, and sometimes they are wonderfully sincere. Last night I saw Ellen's real self and she was so disappointed and was, well, crushed that I hadn't chosen her as an editor. The thing is, I wanted her to be one. I overlooked her because of her other obligations and assumed that because she hadn't approached me about editing, she didn't want the additional responsibility. Boy was I wrong. And I feel terrible.

But you know what, that wounded little girl came to me and asked me why. She had tears in her eyes and her chin was quivering. She sucked it up and approached the bag-bad-evil-advisor who crushed her. So brave!

Thinking back to my high school years, I am pretty certain that I wouldn't have had the guts to approach someone if my hopes had just been dashed. I would have curled up in a ball and cried. I would have pulled into myself and been sullen and hurt. My point is that I'm pretty proud of Ellen.

Overall, I'm pretty proud of all of my girls. I'm always a little surprised and pleased at their behavior and manners. I guess that's why I'm still teaching and advising. They make it fun, and more importantly they make me hopeful for the future. We need more Ellens in the world. Even if she won't go to the cereal bar alone. Baby steps, right?

Why am I just mentioning the girls? Honestly, I didn't have boys figured out when I was a teenager, and things haven't changed too much. While they do some great and amazing things, for the most part they still don't care that their feet stink or who hears them burp. That, and I don't have any boys on the trip with me. :)

Are you one of those adults who just dislikes/distrusts teenagers? Or, have you had a really great, uplifting experience that gives you hope too? Anyone out there brave enough to go to the movies alone? (Because I think that is the adult version of the college cereal bar.)

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Blame me!!!

Lately there has been quite a bit of talk about obesity in America. Understandably the high rate of childhood obesity is getting lots o' attention. (One third of all children in America! What???). Locally, there is talk of holding PE teachers accountable for this astounding statistic. (Absurd, I say!)

Forbes magazine recently ran this linked commentary about "junk-food" being made the bad guy.

Well, not to make light of such a serious topic, but I think I maybe found part of the problem.

Today, right after posting this, I will be heading off to yearbook camp. Yes, that exists. And yes, it is as cool as it sounds, thank you for asking. My yearbook girls--heretofore referred to as "girls" or "yerds"-- will get three square meals at a college cafeteria. There will be healthy choices of fruits, veggies and a spectacular salad bar. When we get back to the dorms and take over the common area to plan next year's yearbook (or, as I like to say "let the magic happen") we they will need sustenance. They will need brain food. I spent the better part of yesterday afternoon making some of their favorite and oft requested treats.

In the making of these healthy snacks I used the following key ingredients:

3 cups of sugar
1+ pound of chocolate chips
1 bag of marshmallows
1/2 cup of peanut butter
2.5 pounds (pounds) of butter (Yep, real butter. Some of it was even salted)

As I lovingly prepared these treats, I realized something big. (Ha, pun not intended, but left there intentionally!)

I am part of the problem.


Puppy Chow, "Smores on Crack" (as my girls call them) and Chex Mix

Even with this knowledge, I will bring these treats to yearbook camp. My sweet yerds will probably eat every bite and will possibly lick the buttery goodness out of the bags. I will encourage this. Heck, I'll probably lead the way.

And then, being the fitness conscious individual I am, I will force encourage my girls to join me in the aerobic activity of shopping at the local mega-mall a brisk, lengthy walk. Hey, if I'm going to teach them bad habits, I might as well cover shopping, too.

Though I make light of this, I really do know that there is a serious problem here in America. Trust me, as an educator I see all shapes and sizes of kids. I'm often saddened and angered by what I see.  And while I think teaching them good eating habits is VERY important, I think that treats are very good for morale. And, frankly, if you were a teenage girl spending three of your summer days at a college campus planning the yearbook, you'd need all the morale boosters possible. Especially now that Facebook exists. I mean, come on, the status update: "Having fun at the beach" trumps "At yearbook camp, suckahs. You wish you could be me" any day. So, a treat or two will be fine. These beautiful young ladies will not become part of the epidemic over the course of three days. They will, however, want to come back to camp next year!

Suckahs :)

p.s. I averaged out the butter consumption per person. We'll each only inject 1/4 cup. Over three days that's totally burnable. Perhaps we might go to two malls. Like I said, I am an excellent role model and example on how to live a healthy lifestyle.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Stripping escapade

I think I might have a future in stripping. You know, furniture. Come on, people. This is a wholesome blog. Geesh.

This weekend I thought I'd test my mettle refinishing furniture on a little bench. I actually have a couple of rather large pieces that need to be stripped and then stained darker to match the other furniture in the house. I'd never done anything remotely close to something like this, so I decided to start small and make sure I am capable of doing larger pieces. It turns out I am! Yippie!

Like I said, I started small with this little bench.

I don't know where it came from or how old it is, but at some point in the little bench's poor life it was well used. Just look at these poor gams.

I did a little bit of research and then went to the hardware and fabric stores to get the goods for my new project. Fortunately, beau had the exact stain color I was going to buy (Minwax Dark Walnut), as well as the wood conditioner and the polyurethane tucked away in the shed. Bonus!

I did buy stripper, rubber gloves specifically made for working with these types of chemicals (i.e. toxic), a three way scraper/nylon brush/wire brush and steel wool. When it was time to get down and dirty strip, I set up an area outside. I used a broken-down box as my work surface to absorb the spilled stripper. I also wore a long sleeved shirt (because I'm messy). Oh, and since God genetics blessed me with so-so eyesight, I wore my glasses for eye protection. All in all, it was a pretty stripper-esque outfit. Sexy to a fault. That's me.

I did learn one lesson pretty early in my adventures with toxic stripper: that little foam brush in the picture is no match for corrosive chemicals. I had to switch to a natural bristled brush that I had in the shed.

When stripper is applied to furniture it does this cool/frightening bubble-type-thing. That would be the look of toxic chemicals eating away at the stain. Yum.


Between each application of the stripper I would scrape and then brush to get as much of the destroyed finish off as possible. This process actually took quite a while. I honestly think that the huge coffee table I am going to do next might be a little faster because it is flat. Getting (and keeping) stripper on the bench legs was pretty tough. (As evidenced by the huge pool of stripper in the middle of the cardboard above.)

Once I had scraped, brushed and scrubbed (carefully) with steel wool, I ended up with this:

The next step was the wood conditioner. I didn't photograph it because it actually looked just a smidge darker. Nothin' to see here folks.

Now came the fun part! Staining. Whoo hooo. Why the excitement? Because this step looks a lot like what the finished product will look like. I like to see that I'm making  progress. I'm less inclined to quit.

See, total progress! I waited about 15 minutes for the stain to soak in, gave the bench a wipe to assess the color, and decided one coat was enough. Because the wood itself was pretty dark I didn't need two coats. I imagine my two blond pieces will need two or three coats.

I moved the bench to the shade to dry and called it a day.

I'm sure you couldn't help but notice the lovely brocade seat cushion. Stop coveting it. Not everyone can have something this stylish to call her own.

I broke out the staple gun and the fabric I bought the day before and in mere minutes I had this:

Aaah. Much better. In fact, I love the fabric so much it has made its way into my visions for another room. Yay! (And since it was on sale I'm really excited about that!)

The next morning I slapped on a layer of polyurethane and went to lounge by the pool. It was a really difficult day. Awful, in fact. Really.

When I got home the bench was dry and, well, beautiful. 

Ta-dah! Wait, don't scroll up. Let me put them side-by-side for you. I don't mind. Really.

While stripping is not my favorite thing to do, I'm pretty good at it (or I have beginner's luck) and the results are pretty addicting!

Has anyone out there done any furniture stripping/staining? Were you as pleased with the results? Anyone out there like to carry on really bad, kind of annoying plays on words (like stripping- hee hee) for waaaay too long? Sorry about that.  Nope, actually, I'm not. :)

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Privacy Please!

Not all that long ago beau had 11 of the windows in the house replaced. After the great window upgrade, we thought hanging the shabby old blinds wasn't really worthy of the fancy new windows. (Though we did put the adorable little half-window shutters back in the kitchen since I often sit at the obtrusive peninsula-table to grade and read the paper in the morning. Sometimes that morning look is a wee bit scary. And, like I said, I like my neighbors. I like them too much to  allow them to witness the bedhead and such.)

So, a vast majority of the downstairs is pretty wide open. For the most part, that's fine. We didn't need privacy in the dining room or the sun porch immediately and I wanted to weigh options and put in window dressings that we really like and that work with the room. Because, dang, those things can be pricey.

There is one room, however, where the  missing window dressing is a little bit, well, obscene. Yep. That's right:
 You are correct, that is bathroom-esque tile. (The super sized frame around the window is a long story. It works for now, though beau hates it.) And yes, that is a straight shot to my neighbors' living room. Oh, and we have only one bathroom in the house.

But wait, there's more. It is not just a bathroom window, but a shower window. What the what? Who does that? If you have put two and two together, you have just realized that the straight shot from the only shower in the house into my neighbors' living room can get a little uncomfortable, well, all the time. Because one showers in the nude. One does not want to become more entertaining than whatever the neighbors are watching on TV, either. (Well, we don't. If you think this would be a fun adventure, I'm not judging.)

In the name of decency we had a very lovely hand towel taped (yes, taped) up to cover the lower half of the window. Unfortunately, in my haste to take it down, I did not photograph that example of stylish decor. Take my word: not cute at all. But it worked and we weren't quite sure what we were going to do in there. Previously there were blinds. But they got a little rusty and the strings were constantly wet and I had images of strange microorganisms living on them and leaping gleefully on to my person as I unknowingly showered. Gross. And obviously, curtains wouldn't be super practical.

What to do? What to do? On one of my many recent trips to Home Depot I discovered a product called Light Effects. They are clingy window films that promise to "Obscure Unwanted Views." You know, views like me. Showering. The product also claims to be "Easy to Install and Remove." I'm down with that. I selected "Texture Twelve." It looks just like textured glass. Other options look like stained glass and are colorful and pretty. They also have other clear but textured options, but this seemed simple and effective. Besides, I wasn't sure how beau would feel about a clematis stained glass effect in the bathroom.

They were right. It was easy to install. Just measure, cut and slap on the window. It even came with a little squeegee to get the air pockets out. Awesome. In less than 10 minutes I had this:

I'm not 100% convinced that the texture is quite enough. We'll have to do some night time observations and such. (Creepy...) In the meantime I have lined shower products up along the window sill to cover my lady-bits until I know for sure there is nothing but a vague outline visible.

Total cost of the project: $19.95 (plus tax)
Value of being able to look the neighbors in the eye: priceless

Has a neighbor ever accidentally seen you in an embarrassing situation? Does anyone else out there have a window in their shower? What have you done about that? Have you initiated peeping experiments into your own house to see what can be seen from outside?

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Oh Crape! Crape Myrtle, that is.

There are many wonderful things about my neighborhood. At some point I'll probably blog about many of those amenities. It will be sickeningly annoying because in many ways I reside smack dab in the middle of Pleasantville. I even have a white picket fence. And I hang out with my neighbors. (And I like them!)

In November when my beau and I discussed moving in together, I think I  very rationally said something to the effect of: "Over my dead body will I move to your house. I love my condo." And, well, about two months later I was packing 7 boxes at a time into my Mini Cooper and moving out of my condo. And I wasn't dead. Didn't even have in my possession a dead body that wasn't my own. Slowly but surely I found that while my condo was perfect for me, this place has a lot more to offer--and is perfect for us. One of those things is an entire neighborhood with streets lined with Crape Myrtles. And they are blooming right now. I'm not sure there is anything more lovely than a day like today--sunny, 78 degrees, slight breeze and Crape Myrtles in bloom as far as the eye can see. Pretty much it was a perfect day. And every time the breeze blew, some of those magnificent pink petals would float down to the sidewalk. It was kind of like something you'd see in a sappy movie. But I was seeing it in real life. My life. Gosh, life is good.

Look, I'm not making this up:
That's my white picket fence. (Oh how quickly I become proprietary.) And that is what I see when I sit outside in my little oasis. (Post on that coming soon...) Or when I take an evening bike ride through my neighborhood I am nearly covered in a Crape Myrtle canopy in some areas of the neighborhood. How lovely.

See, I told you it is much like Pleasantville. Only better. It is home.

Has anyone else out there been dumb enough to try to do the majority of her moving in a Mini Cooper? Anyone else feel like they life in a disgustingly perfect place? Are you sickeningly in love with your life, too? (Feels good, doesn't it?)

Friday, July 15, 2011

Norwegian Love

Well, today's post was going to be about how amazing it is living in a coastal community and being able to go to the beach. I was going to gather inspiration and photos from- you guessed it- the beach. And then I didn't go. My plans fell through and I thought maybe it was a sign that I was supposed to focus on things that need to be done around the house instead of gallivanting off to the beach like a tourist on holiday. Who do I think I am, anyway?

After spending the morning going for a jog through the neighborhood, reading the newspaper and doing laundry, I decided I needed to get out of the house. I had been tasked with a shopping adventure for a few more vases for a girlfriend's upcoming wedding, so I ventured downtown, found the vases on my first attempt (!) and decided to go looking in a furniture store I'd been aching to visit. See, there is a sunroom in our abode that is in desperate need of a few changes. The most necessary change is a chair in which I can curl up with a book. I was thinking a cute upholstered number would do. And then I found the Mecca of all reading chairs. Straight from Norway.

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to sit in butter? Wrapped in a cloud? With a footstool? My friends, I am here to enlighten you.

I stole the image from because the salesman at the store was keeping pretty close tabs on me. I think he worried I would fall asleep in the chair and then drool on the merchandise. Hey, stranger things have happened.

I wonder though, is it wise to even desire such comfort for my reading chair? Wouldn't it then just become a napping chair? is there a problem with that? Hmmmm. Forget problems like debt ceilings; these are the issues that can boggle the mind.

All in all, I discovered that butter chairs wrapped in clouds with footstools are puh-ricey. Which means this particular slice of heaven might have to stay in Norway for the time being. Sigh.

But I can always visit the store and take a cat nap when no one is looking, right?

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Delicious Crab Dip

Whew! Yesterday two friends and I threw a bridal shower for my dear friend Angela. It was a wonderful pool side luau with tons of themed food and a delicious signature drink that morphed from a mai tai to what we dubbed "swamp water." After a few too many tastes, I think the bartender forgot an ingredient. Our mai tais turned green!

The following recipe is my mom's crab dip. Every time I host a party I realize that the last time she gave me the recipe I added it to the bottom of a shopping list and threw it away after I was done. Monday when I called her for the recipe (for what must have been the billionth time) she offered to have it tattooed on me. Obviously that isn't something I want to take her up on, but I did realize that I could post a blog about this super simple and yummy treat. Not only would I be sharing it with all of my loyal readers (ha!) but it would also always be here for my reference. Ah, brilliance.

So, with great pleasure, I give you Mom's Crab Dip!

12 ounces crab
16 ounces cream cheese
2 teaspoons powdered Italian dressing mix
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/4 cup sliced almonds (set some aside to sprinkle on top, if desired)

Usually I use fresh crab, but since I went to the grocery store long after the seafood counter closed, I had to use canned. In all honesty, it was just as good! Also, I like to use one full fat cream cheese and one that is reduced fat. Not that it makes a huge difference, but it makes me feel better when I am shoving large quantities of it into my mouth.

In a mixing bowl, mix all of the ingredients (except for a handful of the almonds) together. It should look something like this:

Spoon all of the yummy goodness into a heat safe dish. I generally use two dishes because it does actually freeze pretty well and if your guests are loving it, you can always just bake the second bowl. If there is too much other food (which is always the case when I throw a party), then you can save the remaining dip for another day!

Sprinkle the remaining almonds on top. They will brown slightly and make a nice presentation. Especially if you do more than just dump them on top. As I clearly did in the photo below. Oops. Don't worry. The taste isn't affected by sloppy almond placement.

Bake the crab dip at 325 degrees for about 45 minutes.

Serve with crackers or baguette rounds.


*Note-  Part of the reason I sprinkle the almonds on top is so that people know they are in there. I worry about nut allergies. If you have one or know that people at your party have them, simply omit the almonds. They add a subtle flavor and a nice crunch, but they aren't imperative to the recipe.

*Note 2: Did you notice the hideous tile in photo one? We're getting an all new (!) kitchen in the very near future. Don't worry. There will be plenty of before and after photos and commentary about our first major renovation project.

Do you over cook for parties? Any kitchen tile out there that is uglier than mine? Have you stripped your kitchen down to the studs and started fresh? Any advice? We start in two weeks!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

My first blog

Well, here I am. I've been pondering blogging for a while. Following blogs. Wondering if I really have anything to say that is interesting enough to take up residence in cyberspace. After much contemplation, I decided I indeed have things that I want to say!

Why croquet and cocktails, you ask? Well, I wanted my blog to be fun and a little whimsical. Perhaps pithy at times, but nothing too serious.

I want to explore the craft of writing in a carefree way and I figured my title should reflect that. This is a work in progress, so I hope you join me for the ride and give me feedback as I go.

Any salty dogs out there want to give this new gal some advice?