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, October 28, 2007


Well, here it is, Halloween 2007, and the only decoration I have out is a towel in the bathroom. Pathetic, especially since I made a vow to myself that I would get it all out around the first of the month after waiting until a week before the blessed event last year. I have a couple of boxes worth of stuff in the basement but no will to get it up, so to speak.

I got some new stuff at Illuminations, but didn't want to unpack it until I found out whether or not they would give me some sort of price adjustment since what I got went 75% off the day it arrived. There seemed to be some sort of message on the machine from them today but couldn't understand it and don't see any credits on my bill.

Anyway, I can only hope things will go better next year. But what I lacked in decorating I made up for (sort of) in treats, so I'll share those recipes for you to enjoy in the future.

Muy Delicioso

Need a quick and easy way to make a good Mexican rice? You'll enjoy this one from allrecipes.com. Rick was going to pick up a box at the store to go with the beef fajitas he was making for dinner, but it didn't make the list. So I did a quick search and found this one that I actually had all the ingredients for.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Sad For Me, Happy For You

But mostly, sad for me. Got an email from Illuminations today – they've reduced prices on their Halloween wares up to 75%. So if you haven't already ordered and you want to, you can get even more for your money.

Some of us, not so lucky. I'm not even sure why they'd send such an email to someone who has already purchased a few items because it just gets under my skin. I knew I should have waited and I was going to hold out, but last year I waited and waited, and never got the prices I wanted. *sigh*

Anyway, better luck next year.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Scary Savings At Illuminations

I love decorating for Halloween, though you wouldn't know it by looking around our house. I had big plans to get our Halloween goodies on display the first weekend of October, but it didn't happen. Surprisingly, our house is a mess right now.

Not all of it is completely my fault. We got new furniture, so all the stuff that was shoved into our former, cavernous end and coffee tables is now on our dining room table, a popular area for Halloween decorations. And our new end table hasn't arrived yet, so that precious real estate is not currently available, either.

Suffice it to say, I was planning to dazzle you with all the ghoulishly cool stuff I've collected over the years, a lot of it from my favorite Halloween decorating haunt, Illuminations. Then I was going to tell you about their sale.

But I guess I'll just get to the good stuff. Right now, they're offering 25% off their Halloween stuff and giving $15 off orders of $60 or more pre tax and shipping, which isn't hard to do, when you use the code 999201332. (Hopefully, that code isn't of the single use persuasion. If so, my apologies.)

One of my favorite items is my tea light haunted mansion. They don't carry the exact same one any more, but they do have equally enchanting haunted village pieces. Plus, there are tons of neat candles and candle holders. So check it out. The $15 discount ends October 28, but you'll want to order soon so you can use it this season. Happy shopping!

Monday, October 15, 2007

Don't Try This At Home

I'm famous for my lists. I make them everywhere. In various notepads. On scraps of paper. Across Post-it notes taped to the front door. One of my guiltiest of note pleasures is writing things I don't want to forget on our bathroom mirror in eyeliner.

This particular habit drives my husband, Rick, crazy. He hates it because it is such a pain in the pratt to get that greasy eyeliner off.

So how excited was I when I read somewhere that you can write on mirrors with those dry erase pens, then just wipe them off. What a fantastic idea! I get to keep writing my little reminders where I'm sure to see them and they'll wipe off easily.

Not so fast. Turns out, the marks look erased to the naked eye, but take a shower, and shadows of all the former notes reappear. Yes, all of them. It's very Stephen King and also very annoying.

Regular old window cleaner does not get it off, nor does kitchen cleaner, but it sure leaves a nice cloudy film on the mirror. Apparently, I'm not the only one who's had this problem, so I've read cyber suggestions to use a baking soda and water paste (could scratch); acetone (heard it doesn't work), and some genius suggested blacking out the whole mirror with the marker, then erasing it. I don't think so.

I've also been told the type of pen makes a difference, which may or may not be true, but it's certainly too late for my purposes. But I will keep trying. And once find a solution (haha) that works, I'll let you know. In the meantime, if you have any ideas on an easy way to leave myself notes that don't create more problems than they fix, I'm all for it.

Monday, October 08, 2007

An Interesting Concept

My friends over at Working Moms Against Guilt recently blogged about an interesting online meal planning service called emealsforyou. It includes recipes, shopping lists, wine pairings, techniques and ideas. A 6-month membership is $36, so for just $6 a month, you can spend more quality family time at the dinner table minus the hassle of planning it all yourself. And if you use the code on WMAG's site, you'll save $5.

What Is Wrong With People?

In honor of Columbus sailing the ocean blue back in 1492, my TV has been stuck on the Food Network all day. I caught an episode of Sandra Lee's Semi-Homemade Cooking and was interested in the recipe for Reggie's Sweet Potato Pie. So I looked it up online and was amazed, not for the first time, by how rude people are in their reviews of this poor woman.

Rose from Dallas, who gave the recipe 2 out of 5 stars, wrote: This looks good, but I'm afraid to try it until I see other reviews. Why not fresh sweet potatoes? Did Sandra Lee have to put her own special touch on it?

Now it's God's own mystery how Rose came up with 2 stars for a recipe she didn't even make, but in answer to her question: yeah, Sandra had to put her touch on it because it's her freakin' show – called semi-homemade. As in, everything is not made from scratch, you maroon.

For some reason, Sandra Lee really rubs people the wrong way. The first time I noticed this phenomenon was back in January when I was looking up some of her recipes from her Indian Dinner episode and decided to check out the reviews.

For a minute, I would have sworn I had somehow jumped over to a Jerry Springer chat room. These people were brutal. Taking potshots at other reviewers as well as poor Sandra. And I mean personal insults that were completely and totally uncalled for. I couldn’t believe it.

It’s one thing not to like the recipe but quite another to start talking about people’s broken marriages and drinking problems. Check out these comments for the Chicken Masala (which I thought was pretty good):

Anonymous wrote: Sandra isn't responsible if the people at FN can't spell her recipes. Anybody who has watched her show more than once knows how much she loves the bottle - obviously this is her rendition of Chicken Marsala. After all, even she wouldn't be silly enough to use condensed cream of anything soup in an 'Indian' dish.

A second anonymous reviewer wrote in response: Didn't care for the recipe, 'cause once you've had real authentic Indian food, everything else is just a cheap imitation. And PLEASE MS. Anonymous get your facts straight you Olive- Garden-eatin-ignorant-American Cow, this dish not to be confused with Italian Marsala!!

Tough crowd.

And under the headline "AA Is Waiting For You", another anonymous viewer wrote: Sandy, if you had any integrity to stay true to real ethnic cuisine, not the booze-induced trash you throw together, you would have found that the preferred alcohol libations in Indian cuisine are beer or gin. Vodka and yogurt?? No wonder your husband left to seek more sober pastures. Please Sandy, get some help.

Did I miss an episode of Inside Edition, did Sandra just make a few more than her fair share of enemies in high school, or does she has a pin up calendar these ladies' husbands are spending too much time with out in the garage?

Either way, I’m curious to see if people are so hard on Rachel Ray or Giada De Laurentiis. You can bet your sweet ass no one would take that tone with Paula Deen.

Anyway, I made all of the recipes from this episode, including the Chai Ice Cream – yummy! – and thought they were pretty good. Check them out, if you so desire. But if you don't like the recipes, please direct your comments to the food - not the chef.

Friday, October 05, 2007

What A Bright Idea

After reading my entry about her kick-ass first birthday party, my friend Kristen provided a link to the recipe she used to make the adorable Flip Flop Cookies.

It was on BrightIdeas.com, the M&M's web site. You can sign up to receive their newsletters full of fun things that generally involve some type of Mars product.

I've been getting them for a couple of years now and while I've never actually made anything from the site yet, I have seen plenty of cute ideas. Including a NASCAR-inspired cake for little race fans and a fun Halloween idea that I went so far as to buy the ingredients for but somehow became too busy to make last year.

Who knows? Maybe this will be my year.

Home Improvement For Ladies Only

Home Depot offers clinics for women only called Do It Herself Workshops. On Monday, October 22, the topic will be an intro to power tools. You'll learn how to use a variety of saws, drills and other power tools safely and confidently. Class runs 7 - 8:30 p.m. All you have to do is register online.

Texas Governor's Mansion Cowboy Cookies

I can't remember the first time I had these cookies. Either my mom made them during one of my visits or she brought them to some family function. But they left enough of an impression on me that I knew I would one day want to make them myself. They're big, just like everything in Texas. They're chock full of all your favorite cookie ingredients have in them. And they're so good, even liberals will like them.

If you do decide to rustle up a batch, take my mom's advice: Make sure you use a big bowl –you'll end up using your hands to mix the oats, etc., in.

Take mine first: wash those hands!

Texas Governor's Mansion Cowboy Cookies

3 cups all purpose flour
1T baking powder
1T baking soda
1 T ground cinnamon
1 t salt
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) butter room temperature
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
3 eggs
1 T vanilla
3 cups semi-sweet choc. chips
3 cups old fashioned rolled oats
2 cups sweetened flake coconut
2 cups chopped pecans (8 oz.)

Heat oven to 350˚. Mix flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt in bowl. In 8 quart bowl, beat butter on medium speed until smooth and creamy, 1 minute. Gradually beat in sugars; beat to combine, 2 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, beating after each. Beat in vanilla. Stir in flour mixture until just combined. Add chocolate chips, oats, coconut and pecans.

For each cookie, drop 1/4 cup (yes, you read that right) dough onto ungreased baking sheets spacing 3" apart. Bake in 350˚ oven 17-20 minutes until edges are lightly browned; rotate sheets halfway through. Remove cookies to rack to cool.

Yields about 42 cookies.

Note: for 6 dozen smaller cookies, use 2T dough for each. Bake at 350˚ for 15-18minutes.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Useful Tips?

You'll have to decide that for yourself. Just got this email from a friend and most of these tips sounded interesting enough. The deviled eggs idea intrigues me as my mother-in-law has been requesting I bring these to most family functions (not because they’re so delicious, mind you), and there’s a lot of them.

The cheapskate in me likes the icing idea, though I usually make my own, especially if I’m going to be doing any cake decorating. The broken glass tip doesn’t make sense – if the shards are so small you can’t see them, how is something as tiny as a q-tip going to magically find them?

But I have used conditioner to shave my legs before and I am looking forward to trying the chalkboard eraser trick as well as washing my lint screen. If you have already tried any of these (or do in the near future), let us know how they worked out.

1. Reheat Pizza: Heat up leftover pizza in a nonstick skillet on top of the stove , set heat to med-low and heat till warm. This keeps the crust crispy. No soggy micro pizza. I saw this on the cooking channel and it really works.

2. Easy Deviled Eggs: Put cooked egg yolks in a zip lock bag. Seal , mash till they are all broken up. Add remainder of ingredients , reseal , keep mashing it up mixing thoroughly , cut the tip of the baggy , squeeze mixture into egg. Just throw bag away when done easy clean up.

3. Expanding Frosting : When you buy a container of cake frosting from the store , whip it with your mixer for a few minutes. You can double it in size. You get to frost more cake/cupcakes with the same amount. You also eat less sugar and calories per serving.

4. Reheating refrigerated bread : To warm biscuits , pancakes , or muffins that were refrigerated , place them in a microwave with a cup of water. The increased moisture will keep the food moist and help it reheat faster.

5. Newspaper weeds away: Start putting in your plants, work the nutrients in your soil. Wet newspapers put layers around the plants overlapping as you go cover with mulch and forget about weeds. Weeds will get through some gardening plastic they will not get through wet newspapers .

6. Broken Glass clean up: Use a wet cotton ball or Q-tip to pick up the small shards you can't see easily.

7. No More Mosquitoes: Place a dryer sheet in your pocket. It will keep the mosquitoes away.

8. Squirrel Away: To keep squirrels from eating your plants sprinkle your plants with cayenne pepper. The cayenne pepper doesn't hurt the plant and the squirrels won't come near it.

9. Flexible vacuum nozzle: To get something out of a heat register or under the fridge add an empty paper towel roll or empty gift wrap roll to your vacuum. It can be bent or flattened to get in narrow openings.

10. Reducing Static Cling: Pin a small safety pin to the seam of your slip and you will not have a clingy skirt or dress. Same thing works with slacks that cling when wearing panty hose. Place pin in seam of slacks and -- ta da! -- static is gone.

11. Measuring Cups clean up : Before you pour sticky substances into a measuring cup, fill with hot water. Dump out the hot water, but don't dry cup. Next, add your ingredient, such as peanut butter, and watch how easily it comes right out.

12. Hate foggy windshields?: Buy a chalkboard eraser and keep it in the glove box of your car. When the windows fog, rub with the eraser! Works better than a cloth!

13. Reopening envelope: If you seal an envelope and then realize you forgot to include something inside , just place your sealed envelope in the freezer for an hour or two. Voila! It unseals easily .

14. Hair Conditioner: Use your hair conditioner to shave your legs. It's a lot cheaper than shaving cream and leaves your legs really smooth. It's also a great way to use up the conditioner you bought but didn't like .

15. Goodbye Fruit Flies: To get rid of pesky fruit flies, take a small glass, fill it 1/2" with Apple Cider Vinegar and 2 drops of dish washing liquid , mix well. Those flies will be drawn to the cup and gone forever!

16. Get Rid of Ants: Put small piles of cornmeal where you see ants. They eat it , take it "home", can't digest it so it kills them. It may take a week or so, especially if it rains , but it works & you don't have the worry about pets or small children being harmed!

17. INFO ABOUT CLOTHES DRYERS : The heating unit went out on my dryer! The gentleman that fixes things around the house for us told us that he wanted to show us something and he went over to the dryer and pulled out the lint filter. It was clean. (I always clean the lint from the filter after every load clothes.) He told us that he wanted to show us something; he took the filter over to the sink, ran hot water over it. The lint filter is made of a mesh material - I'm sure you know what your dryer's lint filter looks like. WELL....the hot water just sat on top of the mesh! It didn't go through it at all! He told us that dryer sheets cause a film over that mesh that's what burns out the heating unit. You can't SEE the film , but it's there. It's what is in the dryer sheets to make your clothes soft and static free - that nice fragrance too, you know how they can feel waxy when you take them out of the box, well this stuff builds up on your clothes and on your lint screen. This is also what causes dryer units to catch fire & potentially burn your house down with it! He said the best way to keep your dryer working for a very long time (& to keep your electric bill lower) is to take that filter out & wash it with hot soapy water & an old toothbrush (or other brush) at least every six months. He said that makes the life of the dryer at least twice as long! Note: I went to my dryer & tested my screen by running water on it.! The water ran through a little bit but mostly collected all the water in the mesh screen. I washed it with warm soapy water & a nylon brush & I had it done in 30 seconds. Then when I rinsed it the water ran right thru the screen! There wasn't any puddling at all! That repairman knew what he was talking about!

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Never A Pampered Chef Party When You Need One

Don't you just dread those invitations to the in-home, over-priced parties?

I know I do. It's not that I don't enjoy the socialization and the products, not to mention the snacks. It's just that I want everything and it's all so (generally) outrageously priced.

But now I'm actually jonesing for a Pampered Chef party. When I was making Texas Governor's Mansion Cowboy Cookies the other night, I remembered my chopper was broken. I was reminded the hard way when I went to chop pecans. Apparently, I put it away thinking maybe I could fix it next time.

In a nutshell (haha), it won't come apart anymore so you can't clean it. Big problem, especially when nuts get stuck up in there.

The chopper was purchased at Home Goods for a song - about $6.99. It served its purposed while it lasted and I always thought it did a pretty good job until I was at my sister Sharon's back in March.

I was making Banana Crunch Muffins and used her Pampered Chef version to chop the nuts. Wow. What a difference. Smooth. Fast. Efficient. Everything I didn't realize my Zyliss chopper wasn't.

So now that I'm in the market for a new one, nothing but a Pampered Chef chopper will do – even at $29.95 (choke). Like they say, you get what you pay for. If you're planning a party, you know who to invite.

Back In The Saddle

Before I got married, I learned how to do things for myself. Considering I didn't tie the knot until I was 34, it seemed like there would be no knight riding by to help me fix the garbage disposal, hang pictures, etc. So I was always figuring out one thing or another.

Plus, back when I lived in Atlanta, my roommate, Mary, was a do-it-yourselfer, so she gave me even more reason to help myself. And this mindset was pretty well in place right up to my wedding day. But the second that ring went on my finger, I went on fix-it-up-strike.

I mean, that's what my loving husband was for, right? Well, not always.

Stubborn as I am, I've been in denial, still thinking that because I'm a wife, it's my God-given right to have my husband fix every leak, lift every heavy object and hammer every nail.

After three years of wedded bliss, I've come to the realization that it ain't necessarily so. So after a week of hemming and hawing, I've finally taken one matter into my own hand.

Thanks to the Great Drought of '07, our house has experienced dramatic settling, causing our front door to become askew. There is a plan in place to get the front of the house jacked up and return everything to its proper place, but in the mean time, I wanted a little extra security.

The estimate I got for installing a chain lock was $141 - are you f'ing kidding me? The lock itself was under $5. Screw that rip off. So I dusted off my utility belt, grabbed my drill and got to work. Yay for me. Hopefully, this is the restart of something beautiful. But Rick, keep that shining armor handy.

Monday, October 01, 2007

My Own Worst Enemy

So, I have a list of things to do today. I create these often, usually the night before, though it's rare for me to actually consult them until a few weeks later, only to find out I still haven't done most of it.

Today was one of those days where I consulted it off and on, but out of the 15 things I had on my list, I only achieved 6 of them, one of which was putting a 'test beer*' in the fridge. Woo-hoo.

This isn't to say I sat on my ass all day, though based on the fact that Ian and I didn't even get out of bed until 10:45 this morning – just in time to head out sans shower to meet a friend for lunch around 11:45 – that scenario would not have been surprising.

The problem is I make these lists, then proceed to do a bunch of things not on them. For instance, I checked two things off my list on my way home after lunch, then got home and decided to clean up all the leaves on the street in front of our house and on the sidewalk – not on the list. But thanks to the drought, we have the only tree on the block that has shed most of its (tiny, annoying) leaves and I've been feeling guilty about how crappy it looks.

And I had a brilliant plan – I'd use the wet/dry vac to suck them up. I couldn't wait to get started.

Ian went down for a nap (hallelujah), so I figured I'd just put in a load of laundry before heading outside – not on the list. Once I got down to the basement, I noticed the rug in front of the washer and dryer could use a vacuuming, so I did that – not on the list. Then proceeded to clean up around the litter boxes – not on the list. While I was at it, I vacuumed all the floor that wasn't piled high with coal room stuff and the stairs leading up to the kitchen – not on the list.

I made the mistake of looking up and decided to vacuum all the disgusting cobwebs that had reappeared since the last time I did it in early September – not on the list. Miraculously, Ian was still sleeping, so I was able to go outside and take care of the leaves – still not on the list. I even got so far as getting the leaves up from the back stairs and around our back porch – not on the list, either.

Then I took out the garbage and recyclables (the first time in two weeks - good grief!), did some more laundry, took a shower, called a friend, talked to my husband, paid some bills, played with and read to my child, made a crappy dinner for myself and cleaned up yesterday's and today's dishes – not on the list, not on the list, not on the list.

Whew. It was a big day. And while I feel good about what I've done, I don't have that sense of accomplishment that would come with checking off everything that actually was on my list. Tomorrow is another day...

* A cooler full of beer has been on our back porch since Ian's baptism. There were two coolers, but one I could actually lift myself, so that has long since been brought in, its contents put in our basement fridge. This one, however, is heavy and waiting on Rick. So I thought I'd try one of the beers to make sure they're not skunked before bothering to unload them, provided Rick does, one day, bring in the cooler. Thus the 'test beer.' Exciting, eh?