Taking the House by Storm

The trials and tribulations of the average gal trying to navigate through life, love and the pursuit of domestic bliss.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Where does the time go?

Really, the title should be: WHY AM I SUCH A FREAKIN’ PROCRASTINATOR??? I am driving myself insane. The latest: FSA – our flexible spending account.

After my miscarriage early last year, everyone told me I’d get pregnant again right away. I believed them. So when I took a new job that offered an FSA, I jumped on it to the tune of $2K.

I figured since the insurance my hubby’s on makes us pay $2500 out-of-pocket for delivery expenses, that it was a good round number. Coupled with any of the dental work the Rickster was planning to have done, it probably really wouldn’t even cover it.

Well, low and behold, I didn’t birth any babies last year and as it turns out, his insurance is pretty good (at least it was last year), so we didn’t really have to pay for much, much to my surprise. So we’ll be lucky if we recoup 75% of what we squirreled away.

To make matters worse, we have until the end of March to turn in our receipts. Of course, we don’t have any. So I’ve been calling around to every healthcare professional I can think of to see if they have a record of us paying anything. So I got those together.

There are a few holes. I need some info from Rick he can’t seem to put his hands on. Also, I’d like to go through my drawers full of receipts to scrounge up any over-the-counter medications I might be able to claim. And what is today? March 29th. Tomorrow is my last chance to fax over the paperwork.

Nothing like waiting til the last minute. Tick-tock, everybody. Wish me luck – I think it’s going to be a late night.

Monday, March 26, 2007

A Dying Art

When Rick and I moved into our house two and a half years ago, I was naïve enough to think our neighbors would make a conscious effort to stop over and introduce themselves. And, I’m embarrassed to say, I actually expected at least one of them to bring over a cake or other baked good to welcome us to the neighborhood.

Let’s just say if I’d have held my breath for that one, you wouldn’t be reading this blog right now.

As a result of the less-than-Mayberry treatment we received, I swore to do better. I would be that good neighbor, not only introducing myself but treating our new neighbors to a delicious, made-from-scratch delight that would charm the pants off them and make them feel like part of the hood.

Alas, I have proven to be no better than my non-baked-good-bearing streetmates. But I still hold out hope that one day I will get around to it. I have about five houses to hit, but by God, I will make it there with one of my mom’s famous recipe crumb cakes in tow.

If you have a tried-and-true treat you like to welcome new neighbors with, please share it. I’m always open to new (and hopefully easy to prepare yet sure to dazzle) ideas.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Small Victories

You’d think with 3 weeks to get things done, this would be the world’s longest post. Fear not. It’s me we’re talking about here. However, I feel okay about what I’ve accomplished and I believe I’ve found that not making out a to-do list actually works in my favor.

Since we last discussed, I have:
• actually started posting again! Hooray for me!
• caught up with a friend I hadn’t talked with in months or even told I was pregnant yet
• picked up another baby outfit for my friend Angie’s new baby that hopefully will get in the mail before he outgrows this one, too
• made a home cooked meal tonight for the first time in a while
• went through the last of the Good Will boxes and dropped them off
• had one fabulously motivated night of cleaning during the past week
• tried strawberries with balsamic vinegar for the first time, something I’ve been wanting to do
• went through the fridge and got rid of a lot of the old stuff
• took out some stuff to defrost for future meals this week (usually I forget)
• finally dumped out the old mop water so I could actually mop again (haven’t gotten that far yet)
• vacuumed the upstairs
• ironed all the clothes that needed it and put them away
• started administering kitty Prozac to attack kitty Jake. Unfortunately, had to promptly stop this because after the first night of it going down easy, it has since turned into a crazy foaming at the mouth situation no matter what I try (ice cream, milk, shoving it down his throat, hiding it in treats or soft food. If you have any tips I could try, I’m all ears. As funny as the foaming can be to watch, he’s still psycho, which isn’t funny).

That’s all I’ve got because one of the things I was hoping to do – keep an ongoing list of accomplishments as I went along – has yet to happen. And my memory ain’t for crap lately.

Hope you’ve been productive and are getting in the mood for spring cleaning. I still have plans to keep you apprised of my iVillage adventures, but it won’t start for a few days. So be patient, grasshoppers. Good clean comes to those who wait.

New Recipes

Hey, campers. I finally made a home-cooked meal this evening and I tried a few new things I’d like to share. The first thing being Lemon-Sesame Asparagus from my friends at All Recipes. I actually followed the suggestions of Spyce (in the reviews section) to cut back on a few calories. It was tasty and pretty easy. If you like asparagus, I’d give it a whirl. Just be careful and don’t overcook them like I did. Still good, but a little mushy.

Rick had been craving lemonade all day. The only mix I keep in the house is the light version, which he swears he can taste the difference. So being the super sweetie that I am, I whipped him up a batch from scratch using this Thirst Quenching Lemonade recipe from the same site. It was the only one that didn’t specifically call for fresh lemons, which I didn’t have.

I found it to be sweet, but all I had to do was add more water to mine. Rick liked it as it was.

On Friday, I made strawberry shortcake for my birthday buddy at work. I didn’t go so far as to make the shortcake from scratch, but I did make two different batches of strawberries.

One with Splenda only, the other with Splenda and balsamic vinegar. I’ve heard of adding vinegar before, but never actually tried it because I’ve always been a little scared. However, since I was making two batches, I figured “what the hay?” and it was pretty darned tasty. I would do it again.

If you want to try it, use a similar ratio of sugar and vinegar as this, depending on how many strawberries you have: 3 tablespoons of sugar or Splenda to 2 teaspoons of the vinegar. Let me know what you think.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Miracles Do Happen

Holy crap, no one will be more shocked than I was to learn that I was actually productive tonight. Honestly, I can’t remember the last time I’ve gotten anything accomplished on a weeknight after work.

Either I’m working late or have some sort of commitment or have to do some sort of shopping or something. Then, next thing you know, I get home after 10 and all motivation has drained from my being.

Not tonight, Alice.

Got home around 6:30 and the Rickster made the mistake of mentioning Popeye’s chicken to me. I don’t know about any of you moms or other preggos out there, but my cravings work this way: if I hear about it, see it or smell it, I want to eat it. Suffice it to say, I had a 2-piece spicy with mashed potatoes, gravy and a biscuit. Mmm-mm. Love dat chicken.

But I digress…

Even though I was disappointed we were so close to Victoria’s Secret where I need to return a $50 bra I bought out of guilt a few months ago, but I forgot to bring it with me, my spirits were soon lifted by other events.

We got back home and instead of sitting on the couch to relax, unwind and lose my soul to the TV, I went upstairs to our bedroom and gathered all my loose clothes together. The ones that escaped the hamper were ironed and hung up.

I finished unpacking my bags from our trip and put the stuff where it belonged. Then I straightened out one of our closets so I could store some clothes I can’t wear for awhile as well as our luggage. And I vacuumed ¾ of our bedroom (Rome was not built in a day) and the hallway.

Once all that was done, I headed back downstairs and called a good friend I hadn’t talked to in months and went through some mail before sitting down to watch Lost, one of my guilty TV pleasures.

To top it all off, after washing my face and brushing my teeth, I even used the water pick, which I semi-promised the dental hygienist I would do after she finished shining up my choppers today. I wasn’t going to, but the guilt of this blog got to me. And, of course, I’m actually doing another post.

All in all, I would say the evening was a rousing success. Let’s hope the momentum continues tomorrow night…

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

I'm Baaaaack!

Whew. It's been awhile since I last posted. It's true what they say about that road to Hell, but I feel like I do have valid reasons for falling so far behind.

For one thing, I was on vacation last week. Which doesn’t mean I didn’t plan on keeping up with the trials and tribulations of home life. I was somewhere, after all, wreaking my usual havoc. However, where I was did not have any wireless Internet access, so I couldn’t use my computer, access my files, etc. So that covers last week.

The week before last was yet another week from hell at the old work place. I tell you, it is always the storm before the calm. Whenever I’m planning to take some time off, I wind up working late and not even having time to get ready for my trip. It was business as usual that week, not even leaving the office on my last day – Friday – until 7 p.m.


But I’m back in the saddle now, babies, and I’ve got some exciting things on the horizon you’ll have a front seat to.

Today, I received an email from iVillage.com encouraging me to tackle my Spring Cleaning with their handy guide and checklists. According to them, they’re giving me everything I need to know to get my home in tip-top shape.

We’ll see about that.

As usual with iVillage, they tease me with many interesting links and promises of intriguing information I can’t live without, but oftentimes, I have trouble accessing or even finding them.

So far, I’ve only been able to print out their Spring Cleaning Checklist and haven’t quite been able to get to the tips, but I’ll keep trying. And I’ll keep you posted.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Prepare to be Dazzled

I like to try new things.

On Martin Luther King, Jr. day I was hanging out with my friend, Cara, and flipping through her Parents magazine while watching Oprah. Chick overload, I know.

The magazine happened to be the February issue containing all sorts of Valentine’s Day crafts, recipes, etc., including a recipe for something they called the Kiss-Me Cake. What made this cake so special? The fact that when you cut into it, it looks like a checkerboard.

I’ve always been fascinated with these types of cakes and before I knew any better, I envisioned there were special cake pans with lots of tiny compartments one used to create the effect. But thanks to this magazine – and Cara letting me have it – I now know the secret. Cara suggested I try it for our monthly GLOJAG – our version of girls’ night out – so I did.

Holy cow! It was a success! It actually looked like a checkerboard and the cake itself was delicious. So as you can imagine, I’m feeling pretty good about myself. You can, too. Just give this recipe a try; I’m sure you can adjust the colors to meet your preferences/occasion.

Unfortunately, there’s no link to the cake on the Parents magazine web site and I couldn’t find another one in the brief Google search I did, so you’ll have to just use my pictures as a guide.

Kiss-Me Cake
1 box French vanilla cake mix
1 cup buttermilk
4 large eggs
Pink and purple food coloring (I use the paste kind from Wilton)
2 containers whipped vanilla frosting
Large candy conversation hearts (I didn’t use them; I made my own out of icing, though I did have a small box of small conversation hearts I pressed into the sides of the cake)

1. Spray three 8” square cake pans with vegetable cooking spray and dust with flour. (Personally, I love the spray with flour – it doesn’t get any easier than that.) At first I thought I’d just use round cake pans because I have three of those, but only one square pan. Then I saw three square foil pans at my local grocery store for 99¢, so I figured I’d splurge. But I digress…

Prepare cake mix according to package direction, but substitute 1 cup of buttermilk for the water and increase eggs to 4.

2. Spoon half of the batter into a freezer-weight zip-top bag. (Good luck with this; you may want to measure. I didn’t do a great job at eyeballing it.) Stir a few drops of pink icing color into remaining batter. Spoon pink batter into another bag. Snip a ½” corner from each bag.

In two of the cake pans, pipe a 1½” wide strip of white batter around the outer edge of the pans, then a 1½” wide strip of pink batter; fill the center with white batter.

For the third pan, pipe a 1½” wide strip of pink batter at the outer edge, follow with a 1 ½” wide strip of white batter, and fill in the center with pink batter. Bake as directed for 8” cakes.

(This I completely disagree with. I mean, you’re spreading two pans worth of batter between three pans, so I would cut way down on time. My cakes were supposed to be in there for 29 minutes; I checked them at 20 and they were way done. I may check them earlier next time)

Transfer to wire rack; let cool 5 minutes. Invert onto wire rack and let cool completely.

3. To assemble cake, place one vanilla-centered cake layer on plate (I cut one of my cake boards down to 10” square and covered it with waxed paper first, then foil since I was traveling with it); spread with a thin layer of frosting (I did more than a thin layer – you have two tubs of icing; you may as well use them). Top with the pink-centered cake and ice; then finish with the final vanilla-centered cake. Frost the whole darned thing.

4. Tint half the remaining frosting pink, and the other half purples. Spoon frostings into freezer-weight zip—top bags fitted with #5 round pastry tips. (I have some pastry bags, so I just used those.) Pipe grid design on cake, then pipe large dots of frosting, alternating colors, around bottom edge of cake. Place candy hearts on cake like checkers. Makes 16 servings.

Good luck and enjoy!