Snow day Home Repair

Remember my last attempt at home repair?  Yeah.  Well, this week I had another project on my hands, I was pretty sure it would be easier than the inside of a toilet.

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My secret hope is that someone from HGTV reads this post and decides I need a new bathroom ceiling.  I don’t really mind it, actually, which is why I’ve never proposed the project to my landlord.  But if HGTV wanted to do it for free, I wouldn’t say no.

Anyway, that’s the ceiling of my shower.  The plastic ceiling panels needed replacing from the very beginning, and my landlord did it for me when we moved in.  But that corner has always given me trouble — when I have my patio door open in my living room, the air makes that panel flap up and down (even though it’s down the hall and around the corner), so if I don’t remember to shut my bathroom door, it can get pretty crazy in there.  Those panels crack pretty easily, so that one cracked a little and then cracked a lot, and then started falling out. Whoops.

So one day it had just given up.  It was not going back in.  So I decided I could be an independent single woman and replace it.  Today was that day.

Walking into a hardware store, even my favorite one, can be intimidating as a girl.  You might know what you want, but you know you probably look like you have no idea. And as I’ve mentioned before, the guys that work at the hardware store tend to be my age and good-looking, so it’s doubly hard to not look dumb.

“Um, hi.  I’m looking for that clear plastic ceiling tile for drop ceilings?”

Confused look.

“You know, if you have a drop ceiling and have ceiling tiles, you can cut this plastic see-through stuff down to fit into the ceiling tile so that you can cover fluorescent lighting…”  I was getting flustered, even though I knew exactly what I wanted.  Dang, this was supposed to be easy.

If only I had googled it and whipped out the phrase “polystyrene lighting panels” on him.  Luckily, he caught on (although he didn’t know the name for them either! ha!) and asked a coworker, who knew exactly where they were – at their other store.

So I drove there and had to go through the little charade all over again.  He directed me in the general direction and told me he’d send someone to help me, but HA! I found them before anyone came.  I am a woman, hear me roar.

So now I just needed to cut it down to size.

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old tile, new tile (in potentia)

It’s harder than it looks, because you can’t just cut the thing-  it breaks and splinters all over the place.  So I decided to x-acto-knife-it, scoring it a few times, and then trying to cut it/break it evenly.  (and don’t worry, landlord, I didn’t cut it without protecting the floor!)

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Not perfect, but not too shabby, if I do say so myself.

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Much easier than the inside of a toilet.

Mission accomplished.

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I’d go enjoy the snow now… if it was still around. Welcome to Tennessee.

 

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Culinary Adventures

Food is not a new topic for this blog – just check out the category cloud at the bottom of the page. But I’m usually just eating other people’s creations.  Last week I had the most tender chicken I think I’ve ever tasted at Josephine’s- a relatively-new-ish restaurant, although they come so quickly around here it’s hard to keep up.

But this blog post is different.  Rather than talking about other people’s creations and adventures, I’m here to talk about my own.

Let’s start with beverages.

Everyone knows that Pumpkin Spice Lattes are the fad drink.  If Starbucks and their incorrect Italian lingo didn’t already bother me, they started calling an incorrectly-named drink (it should be caffe latte, if you want more than milk in the drink) by an acronym.  PSL?  Brother.

But more than just annoying, Starbucks’ pumpkin spice lattes don’t contain any pumpkin. And that’s slightly alarming.  I love me some pumpkin, though, so when Bobby Flay tweeted a recipe for making your own pumpkin spice syrup, I thought it would be worth a try.

It was.

I don’t have any pictures, but you can find the recipe here.  So far I’ve only had it in coffee, but once I finish this post I intend to put it in ice cream and celebrate the first Sunday of Advent with a pumpkin shake.

The second adventure was making cranberry simple sauce for a thanksgiving cocktail.  It was delightful – cranberry simple syrup, rye whiskey, and bitters.  You can find the cocktail (and the simple syrup) recipe here. I think it was a hit.

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Which brings me to my final and greatest culinary adventure of the week. Thanksgiving.  I didn’t get the Wednesday before Thanksgiving off, so it was going to be hard to go to Virginia like usual.  I think this was the first time in five or six years I didn’t spend the holiday with my sister and her family, and I definitely missed them all weekend.  But when I realized I was going to be staying here, I decided to host dinner for any of my friends staying in town.

I offered to make the turkey, and everyone graciously chipped in the side dishes.  We tried to make sure everyone’s traditions were covered, and even though it was a pretty laid-back day, it was a lot of fun.  The added treat for me was that I went over to the Motherhouse for morning Mass and I got to sit with Sr. Mary Grace at Mass!  So that was an unexpected gift.

I was worried about the turkey … mostly just because it’s a lot of pressure.  The main dish is something you only make once a year (or… have never made…) and it’s not just the main dish, it’s sort of the center of the entire holiday. I suppose some people have Thanksgiving without turkey, but I can’t imagine it.  So there’s just a lot of pressure around a single dish.  But I figured if people do it every year, it couldn’t be that hard… right?

I read a lot of food blogs and tweets from Alton Brown and gathered tips and tricks … so by Thursday, I was feeling pretty good.  I combined two tactics — this recipe for apple-bourbon gravy and then Alton Brown’s advice from his Good Eats episode.  It ended up turning out pretty well!

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I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving!  Happy Advent!

 

mail time!

I don’t check my mail every day.  I’m generally walking into my condo building with my hands full, and the thought of walking down the hallway to the mailroom and trying to balance everything while opening my mailbox, only to be rewarded with surveys from the Republican National Committee, is enough to make me head straight for the elevator.

Today I ran downstairs to meet my friend Liza, who was dropping sugar off for me (because she’s awesome like that), and I swung by the mailroom on my way back upstairs.  I wasn’t too surprised to see it full, since I had been out of town and hadn’t checked it in five or six days.  I sorted through the catalogs, the surveys from the Republican National Committee, charities asking for money, and then … I saw it.  Lying innocently at the bottom of the mailbox.  An envelope with the return address Jenny Uebbing.

Yes, that Jenny Uebbing.  You may know her from this magical moment a year ago, or from her awesome work with Heroic News, or perhaps from her writing found in various places like Catholic Exchange, 0r from her upcoming appearance at the Edel Gathering, or maybe even from her husband.

But I can say I knew her when – before Edel, before Catholic Exchange, before Rome, before she was even Uebbing.  (In fact, when I first typed this, I typed her maiden name, and it stayed like that for awhile before I realized what I had done.)  I knew her back in the day, when I was a bookkeeper and she was an office assistant at this little place called the St. Paul Center for this guy named Scott Hahn.  (Jenny, I promise that link is as far as I’ll go.  Although I have some pretty sweet pictures from Halloween circa 2007.)

I digress.  I saw the envelope in my mailbox, and I knew exactly what it was.  It took all my willpower not rip it open right then. Why had I not checked my mail earlier?  This was waiting for me – for how long?

But I had waited over a year, and I could wait a few more minutes.  In my apartment, I threw my mail on my kitchen table and ripped open the envelope.  And there he was.

I had almost completely forgotten about him.  Jenny certainly had plenty of other things to worry about — a pregnancy, two little boys, a transatlantic move, childbirth, a newborn… I’m not sure this would have ever gotten to the top of my to-do list. If it would have survived the move.

But that’s the kind of friend Jenny is… she comes through for a friend when it counts.

Hello, Padre Georg!

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Dreaming HGTV Style

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Shortly after hearing a powerful homily about poverty by a Franciscan friar, I headed north of town this afternoon to the Southern Living 2013 Idea House.  Or shall I say “dream home”?  Sitting on the fabulous back porch, I had to keep reminding myself of that homily on poverty.  Because suddenly I wanted it.  All.

The place is gorgeous.  It’s obviously unrealistic for everyone who desires a family (there were no playrooms) or isn’t independently wealthy. (You would have to work so much to pay for the house you’d never be home to enjoy it.)  But it made for a fantastically fun afternoon on an absolutely beautiful day.  And it was a great way to get ideas for my own home — which was the whole point. Yes, I’ll never be able to afford anything they have in there.  But I just may have convinced myself to consider window treatments for my floor to ceiling windows.

There were five buildings in all, three of which were connected with a marvelous front porch.  (I feel like my friend Luke right now, because all I want to keep saying is “fantastic.”  Because everything was just that.)

The staff made sure we knew to make ourselves at home — everything could be touched, opened, sat upon, turned on.  (Except the water closets.  They made sure to put on the door that you weren’t supposed to take advantage of those.)  I may have even curled up on one of the beds…

From the minute the house(s) came into sight, attention to detail became evident.  Check out these “gutters” — awesome.

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It took us awhile to even go inside… when there are beautiful porches to enjoy, why rush?  (Manda was much more excited than she looks in this picture.  In fact, this was her favorite part of the house. I think the look on her face is “contentment.”)

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Sorry the picture below is rather blurry — it’s the only decent one I have of the awesome doors that separated the large living room from the beautiful kitchen.  Huge barn doors on rollers.  Awesome.  They popped up in a few other rooms, too.  That plus the exposed beams?  Gorgeous.

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On the thing was really impressive in this front room was the beautiful mix and match of patterns while not being over the top.  The color pallet was simple and clean – white, blue, green – and they chose to have fun with the materials and patterns instead.  It was perfect.

And all the built-ins on the wall — fantastic, if I can use that word again.  You almost didn’t notice them, and yet think of the amount of storage that gives you.  One of my favorite features of the house.

And if you look through that door, you’ll see the room that made me squeal…

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This one.  Built in bookshelves?  Yes, please.

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It was a little too green for me, but I loved the layout.

I thought I had wanted to save money and not buy a “real” bed — just a bed frame from Sam’s and a mattress and save money for things like couches… until I saw the four poster.  I need to find one at an estate sale, stat.  My room is calling out for a four poster bed.

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And everyone needs a good bathtub.

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Don’t worry, I’m not going to show you every room in every house.  But here are some highlights from the guest houses.

Another barn door showed up in the lower floor bedroom of the bigger guest house:

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Some elk showed up in one of the “bunkies”:

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The bunkies were the smallest buildings — basically a single hotel room, with two double beds (maybe they were queens?), a little nook with a refrigerator and dishes, and a bath.  There was one on either side — one decorated more femininely and one on the masculine side.

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And I couldn’t pass up this weathervane.  Because of course a house this perfect needs a Westie.  (the doghouse was sponsored by Cesar.  Natch.)

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The Idea House is on the grounds of Fontanel, Barbara Mandrell’s former home.  It is now a concert venue and a nice tourist destination.  The grounds were really nice — lots of places to wander and sit and enjoy the beautiful fall day.  Oh, and there’s a Goo Goo Cluster store.  Genius.

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So the beautiful day was topped off with Goo Goo Cluster ice cream.  Of course it was.

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All in all, it was definitely worth the drive and the price of admission.  I don’t think I’d ever want a house that nice … I’d rather have a house that could be lived in and loved, rather than displayed and kept clean.  But it’s fun to dream.

Five Favorites – on the right day! (I think)

Here’s a first!  I decided while making dinner that I wanted to post a mishmash of favorite things on the blog tonight, and I thought, “Too bad I don’t ever feel like doing that when Hallie does her Five Favorites.”  So I entered the blog world to see when Hallie usually posted those, so I could joke, “Haha, it’s not ___day, but I felt like doing some favorites…”

And it’s the right day!  The stars have alligned and I’m doing my first “link-up.”

In no particular order, five things I’m loving right now…

1. This video.

2. Fix You by Coldplay.  Yes, I know it’s probably playing on the oldies station these days, but I fell in love with it again and want to make that a soundtrack to something.  I love how it starts mellow and then builds.  It’s kind of funny that I don’t have a particular memory to attach with “where was I in 2005 when Fix You was on the radio” — of course, my very fond memory that has “Yellow” as its soundtrack is from 2006, so I suppose I’m just a little slow.

Anyway, it’s my song of the moment right now.

3. My balcony.  Some days it’s just a normal balcony.  Other days it’s the front seat to a gorgeous display of God’s love.  When I saw this last night, how could I not stop what I was doing and go outside to pray my rosary while the sun set?

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And I love how quickly the sky changes.

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Those hardly do it justice, of course.

4. Rock star mics.  You know, those microphones that go around your ear instead of clipping on to your lapel?  I used my first one a few weeks ago when I was teaching close to 400 catechists in the diocese of Lexington.  If you’re a guy, lapel mics might be easy to use.  But even then your tie might hit it or it might be clipped to your tie and your suit coat hits it or it’s too low or it picks up your heart beating wildly because you’re nervous (okay, maybe not), and if you’re a girl, it’s hard to find a good place to pin it if you’re not wearing a powersuit… etc, etc, etc.  Well, I loved the rock star mic.  You kind of forget they’re there — you can talk in a regular voice and not worry about it picking you up and you can wave your arms and beat your breast and do all sorts of things without worrying about the microphone.  I always kind of made fun of them, especially when priests wore them, because they remind me of Britney Spears.  But they’re awesome.  And I want my own personal one.

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Here’s a random picture of Lexington because it’s beautiful.  Sorry it’s crooked — we were driving down the highway. (I wasn’t driving, don’t worry.)  I’m not posting the selfie I took of me with the rock star mic, because I was trying to take it inconspicuously in front of 400 people and so I have a double chin.

Teaching in front of 400 people was pretty fun — it was only the second time in my life I’ve spoken in front of that many people, and I’m not entirely sure the other group was that large.  So it may have been the largest group I’ve ever taught.  In the middle of my third talk I saw a bride taking pictures in the garden of the church (she was standing where I could see her from the stage but everyone else had their back to her), and I exclaimed — mid-sentence — “Aww, a bride!”  and everyone turned around and laughed. Keepin’ it real, folks.  That’s why they love me.  I’m unpredictable.

5. Leftover mashed potatoes and cottage cheese.  “Weird,” you’re thinking.  That’s because you haven’t tried it.  If you had, you would be thinking, “Awesome.”  I actually made extra mashed potatoes the other night so that I could have leftovers.  I have to give credit to my sister Jill for teaching me the trick.  Something about the warm mashed potatoes and the cold cottage cheese, the difference in texture…  Winner. And that’s my dinner tonight.  (With fresh green beans, of course, for color.  And for manganese and vitamin k.)

Hmm…. Okay, so I thought based on the dates of Hallie’s former Five Favorites posts that it was Tuesday, but maybe it’s Wednesday.  Oh well!  These are my favorites and I’m stickin’ with ’em.

Making a condo a home

I need to be in the blogging mood to blog, which I suppose is why I’m not a professional blogger.  After a great stretch of daily blogging, I fell off the wagon and have had a hard time coming back.  So I’m coming in easy — rather than blogging about something important, I’ll just blog about what I’ve been up to in my absence.

Two weeks ago, Mom and Dad came down to help me paint my apartment.  I already had a color picked out for the main room, hallways, and guest room.  I found a nice gray through a fun blog called Young House Love, and I had gotten a sample can and affirmed my love for the neutral color.  My kitchen was posing more of a dilemma, as I mentioned here in the past, and the second orange sample I had purchased wasn’t doing it for me.   While we painted the main room, I went back and forth about what to do with the kitchen.  Mom suggested red, and since I had given up hope matching this color, I thought red was a pretty good idea.

On one of our many trips to the hardware store, I found a bright red I thought I liked and bought a quart.

What was I thinking?  Until now, I had been so practical — always finding a color online, buying a sample pint, testing it, analyzing it… and here I had just purchased an entire quart of a red I had only seen on a paint sample card.

We painted the whole kitchen “tricycle red.”  There really isn’t much to my kitchen that isn’t cabinets, so it didn’t take long.

Thank goodness.  … Because it was bright.  Very bright.

But maybe I liked it.  Maybe I didn’t.  Arrrgh!  I debated it all night and the next morning.  Unfortunately for my father, since I’m a woman, I analyzed it out loud.  Back and forth. Back and forth.  Did I like it?  Was it too bright?  Was it cheerful?  Was it garish?

Arrgh.

Mom and I headed back to the hardware store, picked out a red that was slightly warmer, slightly more orange.  I purchased a sample pint and brought it back home.  While dad was finishing up the guest room, I painted a swatch of “claret rose” over tricycle red.

Dad walked into the kitchen.  “Dad, what do you think?”  Pause.  “Where did you paint?”

It was difficult to tell, but I knew I liked it more.  So I returned to the store, purchased claret rose, and came back to repaint the kitchen.  My dad is such a trooper.

Mom named this picture “Indecision”:

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So I guess we can call this picture “Decision”….

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The wall around the doorway on the right is my gray (“Collingwood”) although next to that red it doesn’t really look like anything!  I really love it, though.  Since I have crown molding in the main room, the white really sets the gray off nicely.

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Here’s another view of the red kitchen with the Collingwood main room.

I can’t say enough how much I love my home.  Now that almost every room is painted and the concrete floors are almost a distant memory, I might love this place too much.  I loved it when I moved in, but now it feels like home.  How has the place been transformed?  This is the answer in a single picture:

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From the very first painting project- that green bathroom – to my blue bedroom to the wonderful new laminate floors and carpet… I love it.

As you know, my mom spent the last week with me while the new floors were installed.  We had a great time and it was hard to let her drive away with Dad after it was all over.

Some of our time together was spent moving furniture from one room to another to prepare for the floors.  And moving books.  I have a lot of books…  Picture this, times twenty…

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But just like Dad, Mom is a trooper.  I owe them so much.

We also had time for fun, like a run to Jeni’s for ice cream.  As soon as I saw on Twitter that they had Sweet Corn & Black Raspberries ice cream as one of their summer flavors, Mom and I were too intrigued not to make the trip over to the east side of town.

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It was worth the trip.  Definitely strange — it really tasted like corn — and I don’t think I could have eaten a pint of it, but it was delicious.  I paired it with Roasted Strawberry Buttermilk and Mom paired it with Ndali Estate Vanilla Bean.  All winners.  You got to love Jeni’s – where else do you find Green Tomato Frozen Yogurt?

She also got me addicted to Brother vs Brother, so I’m ending this boring post to go see who’s going to win tonight.

Because dinner was too pretty not to blog about

My mom saw an eye-catching picture in her Martha Stewart magazine for a pasta recipe that claimed to involve simply throwing a bunch of stuff in a pot with boiling water.  That’s it — no draining.  Just boil it all until the water disappears.  When she told me about it, I was definitely intrigued.

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My kitchen is not for the self-conscious.  If you don’t like seeing yourself, you should probably find a different kitchen.

IMG_4850Someone decided that mirrors would be a great backsplash in my kitchen — over places like stovetops and sinks — because after all, it’s not like mirrors show oil splatters and water drops … oh wait.  Yeah, not a good idea.   Oh well — the prevalence of mirrors all over my apartment just means 1) the place looks twice as big as it really is,  2) I never walk out the door in the morning with my skirt tucked in my pantyhose, and 3) it’s really easy to take selfies.

While we’re talking about my apartment, I wish I could get everyone’s opinion on this paint color, but it doesn’t come out quite right in this picture.  I’m worried it’s a bit too bright.

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This picture was my inspiration.  I think I need something a tad more orange.

Where were we?  Oh, yes, the one pan pasta.  So you throw everything in a straight-sided skillet and then add 4 1/2 cups of water.  Bring to a boil, stir frequently, and wait for the water to boil off.

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This is where I was skeptical, of course.  No draining?  Supposedly when the pasta was al dente, the water would be mostly gone.

I like my pasta pretty al dente, so not all the water was gone by the time I wanted to eat it.  I let it go a little longer than usual, but there was still a fair amount of water left over.  I will probably try the recipe again with 4 cups and see what happens.  Maybe 4 1/4.

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The verdict?  Delicious.  The flavors were fresh and found their way throughout each pasta noodle.  The recipe boasted, “Once the water has boiled away, you are left with perfectly al dente pasta in a creamy sauce that coats every strand.”  I was skeptical of the creamy sauce bit, too.  It’s just water!  But it’s true– there was a fresh, pure coating on each linguine noodle that was saturated with the garlic and basil and red pepper flakes.

As a word of caution for those of you cooking for children – or for those of you who don’t like the kick of red pepper — you might want to go light on the red pepper flakes.  The recipe calls for 1/2 teaspoon.  I like red pepper, but I might even cut back a little bit next time.  It was definitely a prominent note in the dish.

One of the best pasta dishes I’ve ever made, hands down.  It took me right back across the ocean – although the recipe claims to be from Puglia, and I never made it there (Puglia is the spur and heel of the boot).

Now I just need some nocciola gelato.

You can find the recipe here.