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.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Small Victories

This week, I didn’t get a whole lot done because I had so much going on in the evenings, I wasn't home that much. That’s my story, anyway. But I did make some more progress on cleaning out my office and some other things, so I’ll go ahead and list them all here.

• finished going through my filing cabinet
• went through the 3-drawer cabinet Rick got to ‘organize’ my stuff a few months ago
• did all our laundry
• actually made dinner three nights in a row and we even ate at the table after Rick cleaned the kitchen
• tried a few new recipes, including a sauce for sweet potatoes that was part of this Orange Sweet Potatoes recipe and Garlic Dill New Potatoes, though I just used regular potatoes – yummy!

That’s it. Looking forward to making a few more accomplishments this week, though it’s another full one. Good luck to you and your endeavors.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Game On

My husband, Rick, and I had one of our usual arguments last night about the state of the house and who does more to try and maintain it. Of course, he insists he does just as much as me. This simply floors me, as my disbelief floors him.

Whenever we have this ‘discussion,’ he likes to site an article he read recently that highlights survey results. These results illustrate that husbands actually do more than their wives give them credit for but less than they think they do. Not exactly sure what this proves, but he is bolstered by it.

Personally, I’ve never said that Rick does nothing around the house, though he often accuses me of doing so in the heat of our little chats. So last night I suggested we keep track of everything we do for a week after which time we could compare notes and see what really goes on.

He didn’t think that was long enough, so we agreed on a month, starting today. I’ll keep you posted on our results.

So far, I made dinner, cleaned up, emptied the dishwasher, cleaned out the old food from the fridge and gave the cats fresh water in a clean bowl.

What have you been up to, honey?

A Work In Progress

Four of my friends volunteered to come over last Saturday and help me transform my office into the baby’s nursery. Cheryl, God love her, showed up at 7 a.m. to go to a Mommy Exchange Sale out in the ‘burbs that was basically a bust.

I guess I had unrealistic expectations. I’d heard how great these types of sales were in general from my sister, Kathy (who lives in Charlotte) and this particular sale happens regularly and got rave reviews.

Basically, turns out as a new mom, I’m not very comfortable putting my baby in used clothes. I’m sure I’ll get over it, much like I’ve watched many of my friends go from germ-a-phobic first time moms who wouldn’t let you even look at their kids without washing your hands first to simply blowing on a pacifier after it’s fallen on the floor.

Not quite there yet, though.

Plus, I had my heart set on finding a rocker of some sort. I was completely floored by how much they were at Babies R Us. They were totally comfortable, but so pricey! And the ottomans cost extra.

Didn’t find any.

So by 8 a.m., I was ready to leave and I felt horrible for dragging Cheryl out of bed for nothing. But she has a great attitude and decided we would find ourselves an affordable rocker somewhere, and we did. Got one at Walmart for about $80 that included an ottoman. What a bargain! We haven’t put it together yet, but here’s hoping it comfortable.

After making a few more stops, we were back home by 10:15 and got to work. Kelleen showed up around 11, then Paulette and Sara arrived around noon, with some fantastic vittles from Findley Market in tow. Yummy, but I digress.

We all worked our tails off downsizing, reorganizing and relocating. I even managed to let go of enough stuff to fill about 4 large-sized trash bags. No small task for a pack rat like myself. But the room is still nowhere near ready.

I’m just completely amazed by how much crap I have and how 5 people working for several hours couldn’t do it all. It was a great start, though, and I have high hopes for this weekend. Our first baby gift arrived in the mail today, so we’d better get crack-a-lacking lest we have no place to put it all.

Thanks to my pals for all the awesome help – you rock! Now here’s hoping I can finish what we started.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

More Spring Cleaning Tips

Inspiration can come from the strangest of places. Take AllRecipes, for instance. Kind of the last place I'd expect to see spring cleaning tips. But they've got them! So if you want to read another article on how to tackle your dust bunnies, take a peek. They've even got a few special kitchen-related articles, like how to sanitize the germiest room in the house and reorganize the fridge. While you're there, check out their great Cinco de Mayo party planning tips and recipes. I, for one, plan to whip up Margarita Cake for our work Cuatro de Mayo party next Friday. I'll let you know how it goes.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Small Victories

My memory isn’t good enough to say whether or not this has been a particularly banner week for me home front-accomplishments-wise, but it’s sure been one hell of a productive weekend.

Yesterday was my intervention. Full story on that later, but to give you a sneak peek, the festivities got me a good start on turning my office into a nursery. And in preparation for the girls to come over, I actually cleaned our disgusting half bath in the basement. That, too, warrants its own story.

I also cleaned up the laundry area, including getting all the lint off both the washer and dryer and vacuuming the little carpet in front of them. While doing so, I uncovered a tarantula-sized spider lying in wait when I moved a dustpan. HOLY CRAP, THAT THING WAS BIG!

In case you’re wondering, Rick captured it and re-released it into the wild, which is basically located at the top of our basement outside stairs, so I’ve been keeping my eye out for his (or her) return.

Fast forward to today. Rick had to get up at the butt crack of dawn (at least by our standards) to go to the airport for a work trip. That means I was pretty much up, too. So I went to 8 a.m. mass – yes, you read that right. On my way home, I stopped at Target and returned a shelf I bought that was too small.

Next stop: Home Depot for some shelf supports to fix the shelf above our stove that broke when Rick put ALL the flours from my flour article photo shoot on it instead of back in the basement.

Then I went to Bigg’s to pick up some groceries for my work lunch and stopped at Home Emporium to see if they still had any porch swings, something I want really, really, really badly. They didn’t. Big story here, tho, I did it all by 10 a.m.

Got home, changed the sheets, washed the old sheets and all our dirty towels. Cleaned up the leftover lunch dishes from yesterday. Went back to Home Depot for steel wool to stuff our fence post holes with (I’ve been told this helps keep the carpenter bees from nesting in there), washed our kitchen and laundry garbage cans and finally hung the bathroom curtains I bought in the hopes of getting them up before our annual Christmas party in 2006.

Whew! Now it’s time for bed.

An Interesting Phenomenon

Something strange happens almost every time I go a-looking for something. Of course, I look in multiple locations, but there are some singular locations I’ll look in multiple times.

I can’t explain it, but almost every time, I’ll find what I’m looking for in one of those spots that I’ve already checked.

Take my camera, for instance. I looked in my office/future nursery probably three times. For some reason, on the fourth time, there it was, right in front of my face. I’m pretty sure someone from the great beyond is fucking with me. But at least they generally give me my stuff back.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Feeling Motivated?

If you're off to a rousing Spring Cleaning start, maybe you'd like to take your motivation to the next level by getting organized. If you want some inspiration, iVillage can get you going with some Organizing Tips for the Overwhelmed.

You can even sign up for the iGet Organized Community Challenge. In just four weeks, you'll learn how to organize and simplify.

I actually signed up for this challenge back in '02. Back then, it was 6 weeks long. I made it through the first three and if you can believe it, I still have the other 3 emails in my inbox waiting to be tackled. No lie. Here's hoping you're a little more focused than me.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Small Victories

It’s been awhile. You know, I just never really feel like I get that much accomplished. Even though it’s generally because I have unrealistic expectations of myself. Even if I get a lot done, it usually barely just scratches the surface of my to-do list. I’m trying not to be so hard on myself.

That’s why I’m feeling pretty good right now. Yesterday, the Rickster and I spent some time in the basement. I know I mentioned that some friends from work are coming over this Saturday to help me transform my office into the nursery. Everything is so convoluted around here that in order for that to happen, the basement really needs to be clean first.

Sounds crazy, I know, but it’s true. Rick concentrated on his office. He did a great job. It looks as nice as it can in there since the previous owner was what we lovingly refer to as the Half-Assed Handyman. So this one ‘finished’ room in our basement looks like a dump. But now it’s a nice, neat dump.

Which is important since I’ll be moving my books down there and we needed a spot for our new bookcase to go. I’ll be putting my filing cabinet down there, too. And in a weak moment, Rick mentioned that I could possibly set my drums up in there. Much to his chagrin, that is a statement I won’t soon forget.

Rick was previously very opposed to me putting anything down there; he’s afraid I’ll turn his office into what mine is – an oversized storage closet you can’t even really walk into. Valid concern, but not my plan.

Anyway, while he did that, I worked on the rest of the basement. My main project was to erect the new plastic shelving unit I bought for our pantry items that were strewn all around the room. There is another shelf down there, one of those nice metal units, which looks great but isn’t very practical for canned goods, etc. Stuff is unstable and falls off. Including new bottles of Smucker’s Boysenberry Syrup.

But I digress. Once I got that project done, I organized our painting materials and put stuff where it belonged in the coal room, which I also straightened. That’s where I keep holiday decorations, athletic equipment and some other stuff.

Funny side story. A couple of months ago, the coal room smelled like Squishy. Squishy was the dead squirrel stuck somewhere in the attic of my friend Merrick’s old apartment in Atlanta. She couldn’t find him, but we sure could smell him. At least for a while.

Same thing in the coal room. I did a cursory scan for the offending smell back when it started, but couldn’t find anything. Eventually, it stopped smelling and I forgot about it. Until yesterday. I picked up this hammock chair I have and was contemplating whether to try and hang it up somewhere or just get rid of it. As I picked it up, I noticed a funny smell. That would have been enough for a normal person, but not me.

I had to put it to my face to get a closer smell. What can I say, I have this strange obsession with odors. And the hammock definitely smelled foul. As I pulled it away from my face, I noticed something furry in it. And dead. Squishy Jr. I dropped the hammock and screamed, belatedly, because that seemed like the thing to do.

Rick didn’t exactly come running, and he didn’t come exactly prepared to dispose of said creature. After much prodding, he did finally take a closer look and determined it was a baby mole. Makes sense since we found a regular sized mole burrowing into our basement about the same time the smell began. That lucky guy was re-released into the wild. This little guy, not so lucky.

Long story long, decided to shitcan the hammock chair.

Coupled with the rest of the organizing and downsizing we did, our basement is looking pretty fine. I’d love to show you a picture, but I still can’t find our digital camera. And it’s only 80% done. When it’s finally finito, I’ll treat you to some before and after shots.

In the meantime, I’m going to keep celebrating the small – and sometimes not-so-small – victories. Cleaning the basement was a major accomplishment. I’m proud of us.

A Monkey Would Have An Easier Time

How does one go from a ‘simple 2-bowl, 1-spoon banana cake’ to a 4-bowl, 2-forks, 1- sifter, 2 sets of measuring spoons, measuring cups’ banana cake? It’s easier than you think.

It all starts by overbuying fruit. The plums had to go, but luckily, rotten bananas are practically a delicacy. My usual fallback is banana bread. But whenever I have overripe bananas, I always think longingly about this delicious banana cake they used to serve back at the athletic cafeteria on LSU’s campus, where I worked for a semester.

I’ve always looked for a recipe (or at least I did for awhile) but could never find one like I remembered. Maybe I just didn’t try too hard, because I found a bunch of viable options today.

At first, I decided on Katrina’s Banana Cake from AllRecipes.com. I had all the ingredients; the only thing I didn’t like was it called for a bundt pan (I had to look up ‘tube pan’ which was in the directions; I tell you, I learn something new every day). Plus, it didn’t really come with any kind of icing directions, though the picture and a reviewer suggested a chocolate glaze.

The cake I remembered was a single layer with a nice white icing. So I kept looking and found Amy’s Banana Birthday Cake on ChowHound.com. This one was right up my alley. The ‘2-bowl, 1- spoon’ cake. I had everything but the buttermilk, and it said you could use plain yogurt instead. Something I did have on hand.

Or so I thought. Apparently, that horse had turned, but I didn’t find out until I had already mashed the bananas in one of the two bowls this recipe called for – one for wet and one for dry ingredients. Needless to say, I had to go back to Katrina’s recipe.

Instead of using the bundt pan, I just made two 9-inch rounds. Put the ‘dry’ ingredients in a bowl before realizing I had to sift them; thus another bowl. Blah, blah, blah, I won’t bore you with the details of exactly how I dirtied so much stuff, making this simple little cake that a monkey probably could have prepared with less trouble.

But I will tell you the results were fantastic! I cooked the cakes for about 25 minutes, then iced with the recipe from Amy’s Birthday Banana Cake after they cooled. Normally, cream cheese icing isn’t my first choice, and it’s not how I remember my LSU-days cake, but I had what I needed and gave it a whirl. Pretty tasty.

I’d show you a picture, but I still can’t find my digital camera. So you’ll have to take my word for it – and Rick’s. I was planning to take the finished product into work tomorrow, but he wants me to leave it here.

Red Velvet Cake, Anyone?

On Easter Sunday, I invited a few friends over for dinner. The usual two couples we host every year and there was also potential for two newbies to show up. One of them was to bring dessert if she came. She didn't. So I had to figure out something to make.

Originally, I was going to attempt Carrot Cake. There's a great recipe in this Cake & Icings cookbook my friend Kristen gave me from Williams Sonoma. Luckily, I proved to be a thinking person for once and decided that it was too involved to make from scratch just a few hours before my guests were to arrive, what with having to make everything else and clean.

That, and I couldn't find the cookbook. But I have every confidence that even if I could have put my hands on it, logic would have prevailed.

Second choice was this Amaretto Cake that I found on AllRecipes.com a few years back. Pretty simple to make, yet tasty. Unfortunately, I didn't have the yellow cake mix it called for. The white one I did have on hand probably would have worked fine, but I decided instead to finally make the Red Velvet cake mix I had. What better time than the present, right?

Since I had planned on making the Carrot Cake, I had a lot of cream cheese on hand and figured I would make some sort of icing of that nature. Instead, I made this lighter, non-cream cheese version I found listed under this Red Velvet Cake recipe, also on AllRecipes, that called for 'cooking' flour and milk. It turned out pretty well, so I thought I would share should you find yourself making a Red Velvet Cake one of these holidays.

I’m A Veritable Neat Freak!

As I was sitting here on the couch, waiting for Rick to get tired of playing Snood (and trying to beat my score – haha) I started flipping through the channels. I originally stopped on America’s Next Top Model or whatever it is.

Don’t ask me why; I’ve never seen one episode and tonight, the winner was going to be revealed. Maybe it had something to do with my lunch conversation Friday with my friend Cheryl. But there were too many commercials while I continued to troll the guide, so I found something else: How Clean Is Your House?

Never heard of this show before, but as someone who kind of already knows the answer, I figured I’d see what it was all about. It’s on Lifetime Real Women – another revelation for me this evening.

After just half an episode (I came in 15 minutes through as Kim and Aggie [Britain’s Grime Ministers and the show’s protagonists] helped a gay bachelor straighten up), I was hooked. I mean, these people are slobs! Disgusting, dirty slobs. Makes me feel like the freakin’ Queen of Clean herself.

This particular gentleman had e-coli in his bathroom. In another episode, a woman was sleeping in a bed with actual dried up cat poop. Another couple slept in a bed with 12 – yes, you read that right: TWELVE! – dogs. The sheets were completely and disgustingly stained. Yet another episode featured a woman with dead mice scattered throughout her apartment. I think they died from the mess.

Good grief! Have these people no shame? They’re on television, for God’s sake. Cable, it’s true, but still: television!

That aside, how do they live like that – and with themselves? As you all know, I’m not one to cast stones, but good gravy, at least my house isn’t a health hazard.

The program only lasts half an hour, which is nice because sometimes, I think they drag out the likes of Clean Sweep and Clean House. But in other ways, I wish the show went a little more in depth, showing more of their secrets on how they do the cleaning. But I guess you have to buy the book for that.

Overall, I highly recommend tuning in. It will make you feel better about yourself (unless you live in a barn) and it will make you laugh. Kim tells the culprits straight up how disgusting they are, both women wear these fabulous faux-fur-lined latex gloves and whoever writes the voiceover copy is a freakin’ genius. Or at least one not afraid of writing the cheesiest, most cliché stuff ever – but it’s hilarious, imho.

So check it out. And feel superior.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

My First Intervention

Yesterday, three of my girlfriends at work came into my office, closed my door and told me they were intervening. Intrigued, I couldn’t wait to hear what exactly they were talking about.

While I do have a larger than is probably healthy affinity for Jack Daniels, I haven’t had one in about 7 months now, courtesy of the parasite currently residing inside my stomach. And I was never into illegal drugs – I’m just too cheap and would much rather spend my dough on shoes or clothes or lipstick.

Turns out, they were offering their services to come to my house and take a clean sweep approach to getting the baby’s room ready. Another work friend had already offered to come by a week from Saturday, when the Rickster is out of town, to tackle the same project. Now it’s turning into a veritable party!

How nice it is to have good friends willing to take on such a major undertaking. Then it hit me: maybe they have no idea what they’re getting into. So to ensure that we’d still be friends afterwards, I showed them pictures of the ‘nursery’ as it stands today.

As you can see, it’s been hit by a hurricane. It is in no way, shape or form even close to being ready for our little future tornado. (Much like me and the Rickster’s mental state.) They weren't scared off, so I’m happy for the help.

But also a little stressed – I now have a week to do a cursory cleaning before they come over lest I find all my stuff out on a tarp in the front yard with 30 minutes to decide what to keep, sell or toss.

The One That Got Away….For Now

There’s a reason I named this site Taking the House by Storm. I stated in my very first post that the reason was that everything I touch turns to shit. Since then, I’ve had a few spectacular disasters that I just didn’t have the wherewithal to photograph while they were occurring.

Then there are the few things I’ve touched that have turned out surprisingly well – I can’t get over my recent foray into the wonderful world of crepes.

But on Easter Sunday, I had a Storm moment in all its glory. It was so monumental that I couldn’t even find my digital camera to take a picture of it that I could post relatively immediately. I actually had to use my film camera, so no telling how long that will take to get developed.

So in the meantime, you’ll have to just take my word for it. I’ll give you the basics of what went down.

For the past seven years – ever since my first Easter here in fabulous Cincinnati, OH – I’ve prepared Easter dinner for my friends Seth and Julie, who moved up here with me, another couple, Toby and Chris and along the way, my wonderful husband, Rick.

Every year, it’s the same thing. And I don’t just mean the menu, although I always make my mom’s ham with brown sugar and pineapple juice. Yummy.

What also happens every year is I stress out, cleaning and cooking frantically up to the minute my guests arrive.
• Giving our one bathroom a convincing whore’s bath.
• Firing up the Dyson to get as much cat hair off the furniture as possible.
• Peeling potatoes and opening cans like a madwoman.
• Throwing together the little Easter goodies I put at everyone's plate.
• And usually, decorating for the holiday because for some reason, I never get around to it before Easter Sunday itself. (This year, I was smart enough to say it wasn’t worth it.)

Generally, they all get here a little late and quite frankly, I depend on that (for all my gatherings, really). I need every freaking second I can get.

But what amazes me even more than all my last minute preparation is the aftermath. You’d think I was cooking for an army; not a mere 6 people. Either that or a band of wild banshees descended upon my kitchen. Dirty dishes, utensils, countertops, table surfaces, floors – you name it, it’s covered in crap.

You really have to see it to believe it. But I guess you’re going to have to wait.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Viva la France!

When my husband, Rick, and I were in Paris last September, one of our favorite memories is enjoying crepes from a street vendor. A lot of people had told us about them prior to our trip, and we finally had our first one while waiting to go up into Notre Dame.

Because I don’t speak or read much French, those guys in general aren’t exactly clamoring to help, and I was cognizant of how weak the dollar is, I simply got a crepe with sugar on it. Oh my gah, was it tasty. And in many ways, it marked the beginning of the changing tide of how we felt about our trip.

Up until then, we were lukewarm on the whole experience due to a variety of reasons I won’t get into now. Suffice it to say, this first crepe put us on the rebound.

Our second and final crepe (we were only there 3 days) was had in Montmartre. It’s that quaint, artsy-fartsy part of town where a lot of Paris landmarks are located – the Sacré Coeur, Moulin Rouge and the little café where scenes from one of our favorite movies – Amelie – were filmed, to name a few.

I got more adventurous – and loosened the old purse strings – with this one and ordered one with Nutella and bananas. Even better than the first! I had vaguely heard of Nutella before, but never actually had it. It’s a chocolate hazelnut spread. Who’s the genius that came up with this idea? Fantastic!

Not a day has gone by where we haven’t thought longingly about these crepes. We’ve even gone so far as to research crepe carts, sure we’d make a killing selling these French delights in downtown Cincinnati during the various festivals.

Last week, I was shopping at Costco when lo and behold, what do I see on one of the shelves but a double pack of Nutella. I promptly picked one up and decided to recreate the culinary treat we loved so much in gay Paris.

When I got home, I typed ‘how to make crepes’ into Google and the very first choice that came up was a great link to an in-depth, step-by-step, picture laden how-to created by someone at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

I followed this recipe and, despite the author’s warnings that one shouldn’t expect too much of oneself, that the first one or two would be ruined, I created the perfect batch of crepes from start to finish. I hate to brag, but facts is facts.

From the first crepe onward, they turned out textbook perfect. Perfectly browned. Perfectly rounded. And perfectly flipped. Yes, that’s right, I even flipped them, something the author said she couldn’t even do. [All that egg flipping is paying off in other areas.] And finally, perfectly rolled. I couldn’t have been more pleased –or more surprised – by the results.

So if you’re in the mood for a taste of Paris, I highly recommend firing up this crepe recipe*. And even if you don’t have Nutella, sprinkle a little sugar on it, fold and eat. C’est magnifique!

*I halved it and it made 11 crepes, which were way more filling than I thought they’d be – we could only eat 2 each. Next time, I’d cut it down to ¼ recipe just for the two of us. It's true, an 8" nonstick pan does the trick; and resist the urge to spray Pam in there. It doesn't need it.