Sunday, March 30, 2014

Surprising Mom for Her Milestone Birthday

Friday was my mom's 60th birthday. Dad asked if John and I could host the party at our place, and we were more than happy to! So we gathered up some of the Long Island gang to surprise her.

With more causal planning over the last month, I spent every night over the past week feverishly baking and crafting and cleaning to make everything as special as possible. I strung up a birthday banner, made floral arrangements, whipped up a festive drinks station, and of course bakes desserts. With all of that going on, we let Shop Rite's catering department take care of the meal (a no-frills-necessary hoagie tray, plus potato- and macaroni- salads and a tray of chicken fingers).

As for dessert, I made Mom's requested cake (she thought she was coming over just for a special dinner with me and John...mauh ha ha) as well as a batch of rainbow cookies. I spent Wednesday and Thursday nights making the rainbow cookies, which came out way better than my first attempt at Easter last year. While the makings of the cookies went just fine the first go-round, when it came to slicing them, it became a hot mess. So I Googled and YouTubed around earlier this week for tips and tricks, and discovered how to avoid another slicing massacre: firstly, I realized I had used too much chocolate to "frost" the cookies last time. I also think I just dumped it on top and smoothed it out, so there was little to no control over portioning it. I also made the mistake the first time of frosting, chilling, and slicing the whole shebang while it was intact as one sheet cake of a cookie.

So this time I was armed with better knowledge and a real battle plan. I sliced the sheet into 4 even bars, then I used the spatula to paint a nice, thin, even coat of chocolate onto the tops. Because the cookie was chilled, this set pretty quickly. Then I flipped the bars over onto their side and painted the "front" and "back" edges with chocolate. By the time that was done, I was able to trim off the unfinished edges and slice then bars into neat and equal individual cookies. Hot damn, they looked so perfect. Badda bing.

Friday night I baked Mom's actual birthday cake, which was pistachio honey cake frosted with a whipped mascarpone vanilla cream. Oh my gosh this felt like such a breeze after the cookies. My hands and forearms are still recovering from the exhaustion of it all.

The party was amazing and wonderful and to see Mom's shock at the smiling facing screaming "surprise!" was just perfect. I know I complained about the amount of work of the week, but that moment truly made it all worth it, as I knew it would. After hearing about all the surprise parties I pull off at work, I think Mom was tickled pink to be the recipient of one herself.

When the last guests trickled out around 9:30, John and I did the last bits of tidying, then flopped onto the couch, under blankies, and heaved huge contented sighs of relief and happiness. For reals, why is throwing parties and baking not my "real" job. Sigh. Maybe someday I can open that tea house by the ocean...

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

A Small Journal Entry of a Home-Owner

Two things are guaranteed to happen twice a week in our house without fail: running the dishwasher and doing laundry. We run the dishwasher about twice a week (we seem to be roughly on a Wednesday/Sunday cycle), which I suppose isn't too bad given we're 2 grown-ups who cook and eat in our home 5-6 of the 7 days of the week. We also only have dish, drinking glasses, and silverware service for 8, so when you divide that by 2 people, we burn through the entirety of of cabinets' bounty in 3-4 days.

Laundry. Man, what a Sisyphean task. I'm hoping this will alleviate itself come warmer weather (that's a thing that will happen eventually, right? I mean, it's almost freaking April, and we got a dusting of snow last night!!!!), but every time I do laundry I do no fewer than 2 loads, and it is often in the 2-4 load range! In addition to going through essentially 2 outfits per weekday (workwear and then at-home/going-out wear), since it has been such a long and terribly cold winter, we have been wearing tons of layers, and tons of big, bulky, warming, tundra-ready things. I'm not gonna know what to do with myself when we're down to shorts and tee shirt weather. Scratch that, I know just what I'll do: rejoice in doing less frequent and smaller loads of laundry. Amen!

What also seems to happen without fail is that the midweek laundry necessity overlaps with the midweek dishwasher necessity. Because I'm crazy and paranoid, I refuse to run any more than one water-consuming thing (shower) at the same time as another (washing machine), toilets and sinks being the exclusions. So I will typically do laundry first and then run the dishwasher once the clothes are in the dryer.

What is my point? My point is that while both of these things, doing dishes and doing laundry, are two of my most loathsome chores (always have been, always will be), I say a prayer of thanks every time I use one of these appliances because they are my own. I do not have to wash every piece of servingware by hand. I do not have to share my washer or dryer with strangers. I pay a water bill instead of scrounging quarters for a communal machine.

So thank you, appliances, for all of your hard work! Just disregard my grumbling.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Retrospective: My First Year as a Runner

Arriving at this year's St. Paddy's 5K offered a glace at the finish line.

Last weekend marked the official one-year anniversary of my being a "serious" runner. I use quotation marks because I know I will never be first, I have no desire to complete a marathon, and I am sometimes very lazy about training. But that's okay: I run because I love it.

Running is a means to destress and to explore new trails and new places, a way unplug the constant whirring of my mind and free up some mental RAM. I do it because it feels good and it makes me happy.

Along the way, though, I've definitely made strides (see what I did there...?) and am definitely a different runner than I was last March. I am stronger, fitter, and faster. While my calves are rock solid strength-machines, because I don't really cross-train, that's about the biggest difference I've seen. haha I realize I'd be an even better runner if I committed more to eating well and adding strength to my core and upper body. But the truth is I hate ab workouts, and then there's the recurring theme of my simply being lazy.

Once the U switches to summer hours, though, I do plan on taking advantage of a local yoga studio--yoga is a full-body workout I can get behind way more than joining a gym, and the mental benefits are just ones you can't get from an elliptical or rowing machine. And as for eating...well, let me put it to you this way: I run so I CAN eat! I may not be losing tons of poundage, but as long as I'm also not gaining tons, I'm happy as can be.

As far as how running feels now compared to then, the shin splints that killed me the first few months have been non-existent for so long I can't even really remember struggling with them. The biggest pain hurdle I'm having now is hills--oh man are my quads pissed at me after a few miles on the slightly hillier terrain I've been running! But I know this will help make me faster in the long-run (pun intended) as well as working new parts of my body (ugh, hello core). The biggest mental hurdle is adding mileage: I have a 7K in two weeks, then a bunch of 5Ks over the next few months (I'm still on the lookout for at least 2 or 3 10Ks), and then in October I will cross off the first major milestone since that first step out the front door: the all-women Perfect 10-Miler in October. Last year I ran this event, but I chose the 5K over the 10-miler. This year...yeh, I'm taking a bite out of a near-half marathon. My plan is to then turn my current training into completing a half marathon in the fall of 2015.

Crossing my first finish line ever in last year's St. Paddy's 5K: you see the visible pride and relief on my face!

What I have also learned in my year as a runner is that spring races scare the sweat-wicking pants off of me! While I managed to get in at least one, and in most cases 2, runs a month during this ridiculously cold and snowy and never-ending winter, those runs reminded me of how much fitness I had lost. So I'm easing into the season--easy runs whenever I can fit them in, and lots of races scheduled to keep me goal-oriented.

When I again don this bib and medal in October, it'll mean I've completed 10 miles woven through Mercer County Park.

Crossing the finish at the Susan G Komen 5K last October--until now it had been the PR to beat. It was also the first time I ran the entire thing continuously, with no walk breaks. HUGE!

So while I do crave medaling (it'd be kinda awesome to score a bronze in my gender age group at some point!), I'm also okay if that doesn't happen. Because I don't race the other runners when I'm out there. I race the clock and myself. My biggest opponent is the voice in my head saying "You can't do this...what were you thinking? It's okay to lose sight of your PR goal this one time." And damn it, it feels really good to flip that voice the bird and zip across the finish line knowing I just bested myself again. Oh, and also, that there are snacks waiting for me at the finish fest.

I eat PRs for breakfast: 3/15/2014 was my fastest finish time yet. What's next?

Monday, March 17, 2014

Spring Break(ing the weather pattern, please?)

I find it crazy that I'm sitting here in my office on March 17 and there is snow on the ground. Is this the latest in the season it's ever snowed? No. But after the winter we've had I think we are all facepalming and ready for the snowdrops and crocuses to tell the frigid temps and frozen precip to take a hike!

I also find it crazy that it's my first day of spring break stay-cation and I have been awake since 6am. John had to work today, so I decided to wake up with him and make us a special St. Patrick's Day breakfast to eat together. We had such a nice weekend celebrating with my parents that I wanted to keep the party going, despite the fact that our dishwasher was full and I could barely see our countertops (really, I should have taken a was quite a sight!). I made us what I have dubbed a "Half Irish," in the spirit of the full Irish breakfast. The Full Irish consists of eggs, grilled tomatoes, bacon, black and white puddings, and beans. I skipped the puddings (we ate them while abroad because it was truly part of the experience, but I have no real desire to eat them here). I also skipped the beans because I simply forgot to look for them. I did, however, pick up some Irish bacon (rashers), and did indeed grill up tomatoes, grilled up some brown bread left over from last night, and grated a little leftover Dubliner cheese into our eggs. We also ate some fruit that was left over from yesterday, and washed it all down with some piping hot Irish breakfast tea.

I sent John off to work, started the dishwasher, and attacked all the things that needed to be tended by hand (lots of huge, heavy pots and pans and fine china). After about half an hour, I had everything cleaned and dried, and plopped into the couch to relax with the last few sips of tea. Even when I'm not multi-tasking it takes me forever to drink hot beverages. And now here I am. Let me share some photos of our day-early celebration with you. I didn't snap any pics of breakfast, unfortunately, because I was racing the clock a bit to make sure John had enough time to clear the snow off his car and head off to work safely. But I'm sure you can imagine what breakfast looked like.

Centerpiece to encourage spring to arrive! I styled the grass fronds to resemble rainbows.

Kitchen sink windowscape. So cheery!
Cheese board with home-baked soda bread. Yes, I know I forgot the raisins. Sighhhh.

Afternoon snacking upon my parents' arrival.
Dinner: Guinness stew, fruit and nut spinach salad, and colcannon and brown bread in the back there.
One of our Guinnsesses lending some festivity to the tablescape.
Apple-cinnamon skillet cake for rustic appeal.

OMG nommmmmmm!

We demolished cake, tea, and homemade Irish cream. Fitting end to a wonderful celebration.
Slainte. Erin go bragh. Slan abhaile.  Happy St. Patrick's Day, everyone.

(Translation: Cheers. Ireland forever. Safe travels/safe home.)

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Writing this from my new office space!

Phase One of the office facelift was completed this afternoon. John and I settled in at about 10:00 to start in on our three builds. We had completed two of them by 2:00: the wide bookcase and my desk. The narrower bookcase will have to wait until next weekend for two reasons, but hold that thought.

You'll remember we bought furniture last week (Hemnes bookcases--small and large--and the coordinating Hemnes desk; plus this Ingolf chair, which came with a seat cushion--I totally scored the chair from the as-is clearance room!), which then lived in our hallway for the week. On Friday night we cleared and painted (Sea Pine by Benjamin Moore). We had a lot of talk about the birdie wall. Initially, I loved it and John couldn't wait to paint over it. Then John slowly grew to love it and I got less attached. Then, as the office design started to come together in a charming way, I liked the idea more and more that the trees and birds would peek out over my desk. So they stayed.

Also, we hit a minor design speedbump at IKEA when they had the desk and chair in white, but the bookcases we needed were sold out in the white finish. Faced with having wasted $100 on a UHaul (the bookcases were too large for even friends' SUVs/trucks) and making a return trip for the exact ones we wanted, I said, "Stop, collaborate, and listen," and decided to get the bookcases in the brown-black finish. I was nervous about the darker tones, but then again, our bedroom is a bit moodier than the airy downstairs and we love how cozy it feels, plus we keep it light with crisp white accents. That's what we're employing in the office as well.

This was the initial vision:

But this is the final product (of course, the actual wall behind the desk is the mural, but I wanted to see how the paint looked with the darker finish on the bookcases:

Assembly, for the most part, went as well as you'd expect when the instructions are a bunch of terrible illustrations with no words. After lots of head-scratching, some cursing, and finally victory, we had two gorgeous finished pieces.

Then the wah-wah. My pre-install measurements said we'd have an inch of wiggle room on the wall based on the claimed dimensions of the finished pieces (I even rounded up to the nearest full inch, giving us a little extra to spare. But alas, the large bookcase and desk take up pretty much the entire wall, with no room for the skinny bookcase. So again...some head scratching. What we will do over the course of this week is to put John's side of the office back together and then assemble the narrower bookcase and house it on his half. We can then shuffle the rest of John's furniture to get it all in.

So we're still very much in flux, and the guest room, while emptier, is still babysitting a lot of crap to be loaded into the office here.

But--but!--it is a much happier space! I will just wander in here and stare. Here is the pictorial journey:

Sea Pine: you know how we roll!

Sea Pine on the left with the inherited mural on the right.

Hammy, as usual, offering his own brand of help and supervision.

The desk build was a study in hinges! It was actually much simpler than we worried about. John very intuitively figured it out, so I was gratefeul to sit back while he snapped it all together.

These are the hinges for the doors to the lower cabinet part.

Then there were these horseshoe-type hinges to allow the lid of the secretary desk to open and close.
These are the knobs the desk came with, which are cute and provide a nice contrast.

But I remembered I had extra knobs from the bathroom cabinet re-do, so I did a quick swap-out!

And though they don't contrast, I love the personality they bring.

 Finally, we have the sort-of finished and styled products:

More to come as we continue working in here, but I'm calling these a 90% improvement already!

Still on my radar:

Of course, re-configure and load in John's side (it's still a mess, so it's not pictured here yet!)
Get a goose-neck lamp for the top of my desk for in-between light when I don't want the overheard
Get some light white curtains to hang on the window
Hang up art and stuff to punch up the personality

And here's where we started and where we are at a quick glance:

Ahhhhhh! The chaos!!!