Monday, December 19, 2011

Trees That Will Make You Happy

Maybe it's because we don't have a tree up this year or it could be because I saw a tabletop tree outside Stop & Shop that I am coveting hardcore.  Maybe it's just how joyful these old, leafless branches look, but I'm crushing on these gift-covered trees in a big way.  Leave it to the lovely Swedes to be whimsical in freezing weather. 

Or maybe I'm picturing how hysterical it would be if Anthony and I tried to pull this off ourselves.  I wish the display was closer so I could see the decorations in person. 

Images courtesy of Tottinyon

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Hello, my name is Crystal...

...and I am a compulsive gift buyer.  No matter how many presents I get for the people on my list, it never seems like enough.  For my parents, I always feel like I should buy them more and tend to lose track of what I've already purchased.  For my brother and sister-in-law, they are so easy to buy for that I can't stop myself sometimes.  And for someone like Anthony, I just want to show him how much I love him, and get him the best presents ever since he is so generous and wonderful year-round. 

I know this doesn't sound like a huge problem, but I wind up spending tons of extra money on additional gifts that don't have a designated recipient.  Then, at the end of the holiday season, I wind up with a bag in my closet full of presents that I didn't give out (right now, that bag includes a Crate and Barrel vase and two Hello Kitty ornaments).  For the entire month of December, it's like I'm on a constant quest for the perfect gifts. Am I too generous or am I am obsessive shopper?

This only happens to me around Christmastime; I am cautious to a fault with my purchases throughout the year.  But I can't be the only one with this problem, right? How do your shopping habits change around the holidays?

Image courtesy of weheartit via imyeritgirl

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Holiday Cards for Sweet Messages

I'm trying to finish writing out my Christmas cards this weekend, but can't help falling in love with these cards I found on Etsy.  I'd love to get one of these in the mail.

Also, I feel like I'm thisclose to finishing my holiday shopping but I've kind of hit a wall.  Sometimes, I just run out of ideas.  We don't have a tree up but tonight, we'll hang stockings and add some cheer to this apartment.  I can't remember a year when I've had so many festivities happening weeks before Christmas.  It's hard to believe December 25th is only 2 weeks from today!

Top image from Erindollar via Etsy; bottom image from finestimagery via Etsy.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Unexpected Marathon Shopping

Last weekend, we were on our way to breakfast when I asked Anthony to stop at Marshall's.  I wanted to see if the store had something specific for Christmas and since I almost never spend more than 10 minutes in the store, I didn't think it would be a big deal.  Anthony kindly obliged, and we then proceeded to fill a shopping cart with some really great gifts for the next hour and a half.  I was fully aware while we were there that this was probably the last time Anthony would ever step into Marshall's again, but he tried to make the best out of the trip. 

His reward was breakfast at IHOP, and it was well-deserved (my scrambled eggs and pancakes could not have been greasier or more delicious--it's a good thing we only go there once a year).  And for the record, I kind of wish we bought that giant ornament.  If only we had a giant tree to hang it on. 

Monday, December 5, 2011

Gift Guide Adoration

The end of the year means it's time to start buying Christmas presents.  It also means that some of my favorite sites and blogs (like Design*Sponge and Cup of Jo, etc., etc.) start posting gift guides.  These bloggers and writers always have the best taste and find the most creative things to feature.  More often than not though, the things on these lists are items that I love and want to buy for myself, but that I don't think I can give to anyone on my list (like I can't think of any friend or family member who would want this awesome wood wall art but I'd love it for our apartment!)

Below is my own amateur attempt at a round-up of great stocking stuffers I've seen online the last couple of weeks.  What's been your favorite purchase so far? Mine is a cookbook for one of my bosses called All Cakes Considered by NPR's Melissa Gray, which I found at Chronicle Books

Adorable dog balloon animal ornament via Urban Outfitters

Mixed tape stamp kit via Yellow Owl Workshop

Saturday, December 3, 2011

The Brave Little Christmas Cactus

I do not have a green thumb.  In fact, I think that both of my thumbs are probably red, signaling to unsuspecting plants that I will most likely cause them harm.  Plants enter our apartment healthy but don't stay that way for long.  It's sad, and even though I've placed a fair amount of blame on our old apartment's mold problem, I just don't think that I'm a nurturer of potted plants.

But...last year, a sweet co-worker gave me a Christmas cactus for the holidays.  I loved this little plant but knew its days were numbered.  It looked great until February, then it started to wrinkle and shrivel.  No amount of water or sun could save it.  When we moved to our new place in May, I took the plant with us.  What harm could the move do since it was already pretty dead?

Here is a look of this brave little Christmas cactus today, almost a year after I received it:

I don't know what happened, but it somehow beat the odds.  I feel like a proud mama every time I look at its beautiful bright pink flowers.   Let this be a lesson to us all to never underestimate a little bit of perseverance, although part of me hopes that I don't get another plant for a long time.  My success with this specific cactus might very well be a gardening fluke, aka a gardening miracle.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

My Favorite Holiday Treat, Artificial Coloring and All

It's no secret that I lovelovelove cheese.  A visit to a place like Murray's Cheese is really the perfect fieldtrip for me, but my love isn't relegated to fancy cheeses.  For as long as I can remember, my grandmother buys a cheeseball and puts it out with crackers before dinner on Christmas Eve.  You know the kind of cheeseball I mean; it's a solid sphere of brightly-colored, almond-covered spreadable cheese that has to be unhealthy when consumed in large quantities.  It's a once-a-year treat and I look forward to it for months before the holiday.

This awesome post on Chow has me majorly craving the taste of a cheeseball (they are dubbing their creation the 'turducken of cheese').  The tutorial on how to make a gourmet version has really piqued my interest.  There are several types of cheese layered on top of one another and the finished product is rolled in almonds, pecans and bacon.  Nom nom nom for real. 

Even if the Chow creation promises to melt in my mouth, I still can't wait for the traditional port wine cheeseball, courtesy of my awesome grandma.  Only 25 more days to go...

Photo via Chow (via Culture)

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Holiday Season Rolls On...

Last Thursday was Thanksgiving, and Anthony and I hosted dinner at our apartment. Despite the cramped quarters and the shortage of plates and utensils (we had nine people over, but it seems like everything we own comes in a set of eight), there were few glitches.  And now, Christmas is barreling towards us.  I normally love the holiday season but this year, things seem rushed and muddled.  I wish sometimes that there was a way to slow life down a bit so that the great moments are easier to enjoy (wow, what a cliche that was, almost worse than a catchphrase in a movie trailer--ha!).

There's so much to look forward to in the coming months but I still find it hard to ignore the not-so-good stuff.  I'm hoping that some Christmas carols and marshmallowy hot cocoa will help alleviate some of my worries.  Tonight, I will finish working on this Christmas ornament project.  Perhaps I will start writing out Christmas cards.  Above all, I will try to be merry and slow down enough to appreciate the joyous season.

Thursday's centerpiece and handmade placecards

Saturday, November 19, 2011

A little Saturday morning announcement...

Wouldn't this be a beautiful bouquet for a bride?

I've been thinking about things like flowers and cakes and dresses a lot during the past few weeks because...Anthony and I are engaged!  The proposal was absolutely perfect and couldn't have been sweeter (and it was a complete surprise, which was exactly what I wanted!).  Now after being together for almost eight years, we get to plan a wedding, which is daunting and extremely exciting all at once.  We're so happy and really looking forward to this next chapter in our lives.

So what do you think about peonies? We're looking to get married in March or April and I'm not even sure what flowers are in season in early spring.  These are things that I would have never thought about just a mere three weeks ago, but I'm loving every second.

Photo via Robyn Michelle Lee Photography

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Books: Bossypants by Tina Fey

I just finished Tina Fey's Bossypants and I feel like I was the last short, quirky, Saturday Night Live-loving, New York City-obsessed white girl with glasses in America to read it.  People said that I would laugh out loud in public while reading, which I kind of doubted, but when I found myself giggling in the corner of a coffeeshop during my lunch break, I realized they were right.  Not only was this book funny but I loved how Fey was open and honest about all parts of her life, even if it didn't paint her in the best light.

My absolute favorite part of this book was the two-page "Rules of Improvisation."  It was in one of the first few chapters when Tina (we're on a first name basis now, apparently) was discussing her time at Second City in Chicago as an improv actor.  These rules obviously apply to improv and performance acting but I found them so helpful with regard to my own writing.  My takeaway is that no matter what you're writing, you need to go with it and at least give it a chance.  If you have some lady walking into a dark alley, make something happen.  Even if she doesn't get attacked or robbed in that alley, something should happen that propels the story, or scene, or skit.  Don't just stand there and let your story flounder.  Give it the assistance that it needs.  If that lady gets through the alley without anything happening, perhaps the story isn't worth telling.

Tina Fey is a talented writer, which is really not up for dispute in my mind.  It isn't easy to make a reader laugh and cringe and still stay interested while you talk about crazy co-workers and horrible hairstyles from the 1980's for 300 pages.  If this wasn't a library book, I might be tempted to rip out a few pages, highlight them and stuck them on the wall above my desk.

*Note: I lovelovelove the chapter on Tina's honeymoon cruise/disaster. I thought that it was so funny that I made Anthony read it before bed one night and he laughed for ten straight minutes (proof that this book has universal appeal).

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Hello Kitty, Deconstructed

I walked into the kitchen at work today to see this:

So sad and adorable at the same time.  I wonder why someone poked one of the whiskers into her forehead though.  And I wish someone would make a Hello Kitty cake for me.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Fancy Cookies for Happy Occasions

I went to a baby shower yesterday and found myself surrounded by tons of strangers (and a few of my favorite people), more presents than I could count, fake diapers with melted chocolate stuck inside as some kind of weird 'party' game, and half a dozen beautiful pregnant women.  It's so thrilling to think about how many people love this little baby boy who isn't even born yet. 

I'm never one to turn down helping with a party.  I dug up some great printable banners and made these adorable cookies:

Too bad there aren't more reasons to make baby onesie cookies.

Also, the best salad in the world was served at this shower and I've been thinking about it for the last twenty hours so tonight I made an exact replica for dinner.  Who knew that blue cheese, pears, walnuts and this easy, delicious homemade salad dressing would mix so well?

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Not Your Average Rack (Bike Rack, that is)

Public art brings such character to a city.  In Stamford, new installations are featured yearly on the downtown streets, and in La Jolla, California, there are awesome giant cows on almost every corner, all painted different colors and designs.  In Washington DC, art has merged with function and there are some really great bike racks popping up throughout the city. 

I wonder how many people don't even realize that these are for bicycles!

Images via dcist

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Grown-Up Halloween

Monday was Halloween, not a favorite day of mine.  I don't like dressing up and I don't like being scared, which are the two major components of this holiday.  And we never get any kids for trick-or-treating so my brother and sister-in-law invited us over to their home last night to hand out candy.  I'm glad we went.  Nothing is better than watching a bunch of adorable toddlers trying to walk around in butterfly costumes and funny hats.  And there was no shortage of candy either, which is always a plus.

At work, it was business as usual, except for the mini cupcakes I brought in.  It never hurts to be festive when most of your co-workers are grumpy, right?

I hope you had a fabulous Halloween--any interesting costumes to share?

Friday, November 4, 2011

Little Celebrations (and Hats with Ears)

I once told Anthony that when we have children, everything he or she wears is going to have ears attached.  Hats, hoodies, onesies...all clothing that can possibly have ears will have ears.  I just love babies when they look like little bears.  It sounds weird but I can't be the only weirdo because so many stores/companies make items with ears.

In any event, I was just asked by one of my close friends to help her decorate/organize her sister-in-law's baby shower next week.  It's sort of last-minute but involves all of the stuff I love the most: crafting, celebrations, cute cookies, and possibly balloons.

Here are a few of my ideas so far (by the way, she's having a boy!):

Balloon Banner via Design Mom

Heart Cookies via Bump Smitten 

Pom Pom Garland via Say Yes! to Hoboken

And as a special treat, this is the hoodie I bought for the guest of honor.  How cute is he going to be with these little ears?

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Netflix Movies: The Graduate

The Graduate came out 15 years before I was even born but it's one of those classic movies that is supposed to stand the test of time.  The epic scene at the end when Dustin Hoffman bangs on the glass window while his true love gets married to another man is still wholly recognizable over 40 years later.  It was one of those movies I knew I'd love, the same kind of feeling that I had right before I fell in love with Annie Hall

So why didn't I really like The Graduate?  My first thought is that it was too slow, but I typically like slow-moving films as long as their interesting.  I've narrowed my dislike down to two reasons.  One, Dustin Hoffman cannot pass for 22 years old in this role as Benjamin.  He was actually in his early thirties when they shot the movie and honestly, I think he could easily pass as at least 37 years old.  It took the believability factor down a few notches for me.  Two, I didn't see the chemistry between Elaine and Benjamin.  Why did he want her so badly?  After reflecting a bit, I think it's merely because he couldn't have her and that made him want her more. 

Anyway, the ending was completely ambiguous and that I loved that.  I'm so disappointed that I wasn't an instant fan of this classic though that I'm willing to watch it again.  Besides the awesome Simon and Garfunkel soundtrack, what do you like about The Graduate and why do you think it's still relevant? Personally, I think that Anne Bancroft's portrayal of the polarizing Mrs. Robinson has a lot to do with it.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Adding Some Spice

 Bon Appetit's Texas Beef Brisket Chili

I'm not sure about the average person, but in my kitchen, I have very few spices.  I use a ton of black pepper, and sometimes, I use garlic powder.  I stay away from salt for the most part, and only use some fresh parsley when my grandparents have too much from their garden and make me take some home.

When I see recipes like this one for unbelievable-looking brisket chili, my mouth waters but there are so many ingredients included that I'd have to go out and buy before I could even start to cook.  Would I ever use these spices and condiments ever again?  It's hard to say but I'm pretty sure I won't be adding coriander and cumin to every meal.  I mean, these thyme gougeres look delicious, but how often do people use thyme and what does it taste like?  What if I made an entire batch and hated the herby taste?

I can't be the only one who hasn't been exposed to a huge variety of spices.  I try to cook simply and by doing that, I appreciate the actual taste of the vegetables/pasta/meat that I'm eating.  Lately, I've been thinking that perhaps extra spices only enhance the flavor of food though, and I've been missing out all these years.  I love flavorful and spicy foods when I'm at a restaurant or a friend's house--why have I never experimented in my own kitchen?

What's your favorite thing to add when cooking a meal? And do you think I should expand my spice collection?

Bon Appetit's Thyme Gougeres

Monday, October 24, 2011

Lazy Days

This was the weekend that Anthony and I were supposed to be in Chicago.  As much as we were looking forward to an actual vacation and to exploring a new city, real life got in the way and we had to cancel our trip (we now have a cool JetBlue credit to use--the possibilities are practically endless, at least until it expires).  Instead, we spent an extended weekend together doing very little but have a great time.
We finally went apple-picking:

I tried to make Halloween cards but my 'scary' monsters all wound up looking like Elmo:

I went through the IKEA catalog and tagged a bunch of things that would definitely help organize our apartment:

And finally, a homemade apple pie, lattice-style:

Could I use a few more days off? Of course.  But I'm happy we had this time together and that we were able to enjoy some autumn activities.

And I know I've been slacking with my posts.  The past few weeks have been insanely busy, at work and at home.  This week, I promise to be a better blogger (and to write more, and to read more, etc.). 

I hope you all had wonderful weekends.  Happy Monday!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Pet Prints

I just finished the cutest post on dog and cat prints for the Best Buddy Biscuit blogCheck out some of these very stylish, pet-related posters that I compiled from Etsy.  Which one is your favorite?

Image via Wallfry

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Pie Crusts Galore

We're going apple-picking this weekend.  At least, I think we are going apple-picking.  We've had plans to go to the orchard two weekends in a row, but we've had to cancel both times for various reasons.  Now, all I want to do is pick apples (preferably Golden Delicious), take our annual 'arm-shot' photo in front of some fruit trees, and make a bunch of pies. 

I can only hope they will look half as good as one of these Martha Stewart creations

Image courtesy of Martha Stewart

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Real Cooking

I love soup. It sounds like a random statement, but I realized the other day that I eat soup at least three or four times a week but have never tried to make it myself.  I'm a decent baker but not a good cook so soup has always just seemed too complicated.  How do you make the broth?  And more importantly, my 'spice rack' consists of salt, pepper and cinnamon--what do you do to soup so that it doesn't taste like hot water?

Armed with this awesome recipe from Food 52, I set out to make a large pot of chicken corn chowder that would last for a couple of hearty lunches, and maybe one or two dinners. Instead of a heavy cream mixture, I used light half-and-half.  I didn't have chicken broth so I used beef broth.  Red peppers and fresh herbs?  Nope.  I only had a green bell pepper to dice and throw in along with the onion.  But amazingly enough, the soup was delicious even with all of my substitutions.

Chicken corn chowder with shredded cheddar and bits of bacon on top, per recipe

I couldn't get over how truly healthy the chicken corn chowder tasted.  It was oddly satisfying to add all of these ingredients together and have a complete meal after a few hours of simmering.

It's not even winter yet, but I'm already excited to try other soup recipes for cold-weather meals.  Maybe chicken tortilla next?

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Always in Style

I'm not a fashionista by any means but it's so weird when things that I always do are suddenly 'in style.'  For example, take a look at my nails:

This is basically what they've looked like since I was in middle school.  I either have no polish on at all or my nails are an odd shade of blue/green/gray.  I even remember this one time (circa 1995) when I had on an egg-yolky kind of orange/yellow and my father, who never notices stuff like nail polish, made me take it off because he thought it looked like I had 'horrible nicotine hands.'  At any rate, how surprised do you think I was when I saw this featured on Refinery 29? And the nail polish rack at Sephora is filled with pearly bright colors that look so funny next to the light pinks and blood reds.

Apparently, I'm stylish right now.  This has also happened with winter hats (my love of wool hats is a major reason I'm looking forward to cold weather) and black ballet flats (which are due to become unfashionable at any moment).

Once the styles change, I'll then look washed up and behind in the times once more, trying to be cool in fashions that are months old, but at least I'll be on the cutting edge when all of these trends return again three years.

What are some of your fashion loves and do you wear them even if you know they aren't stylish?

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Garlic Trick

I'm a pro with cleaning, peeling and cutting onions, but not so much with garlic.  It takes me forever to just get the thin skin off of the entire head of garlic, nevermind the actual cloves, which is why I can't wait to try this really awesome technique which promises peeled garlic in 10 seconds or less.

How to Peel a Head of Garlic in Less Than 10 Seconds from on Vimeo.

Watch the video, then try it yourself and see if it works.  I'll do the same and report back here.

Via thekitchen, via Saveur

Thursday, September 22, 2011

On The Path to Extinction


This Friday, ABC will air All My Children for the last time, and One Life To Live will soon follow with its last episode scheduled for sometime in January 2012.  It's been several months since the network decided to cancel these two long-running soap operas (unless there's a miraculous internet return, which I'm doubting), but I'm still sad for reasons that I think will make sense to many loyal soap watchers and hopefully some non-daytime television lovers. 

I will preface this by saying that it has been a while since I've regularly watched daytime television myself but I grew up watching ABC soap operas every day.  My grandmother took care of me and my brother when we were young and every afternoon, she would make us lunch in the kitchen and we'd watch hours of Loving, All My Children, One Life to Live and General Hospital on a small black-and-white antenna television, right up to when it was time for her to start dinner. The stories were drawn-out family dramas or quick love affairs, and every character was linked to every other character in one way or another.  During school vacations or summer breaks, I resumed my soap-watching and loved that after several months of being away, I was still able to keep up with the storylines (although sometimes new actors would come in to replace already-established actors in the same role and how confusing was that?).

In high school, I loved General Hospital and would tape it every day since my after-school job made me miss it.  In college, even with at least five classes a semester, a job and internships, I always either recorded the episode or caught part of it as I was dashing off.  One of my roommates was obsessed with GH and every night, we would recap together in our shared kitchen.  (I know General Hospital isn't canceled yet, but there's reason to think that it's only a matter of time).  Being a soap fan is like It was like being part of a group that had millions of members of all ages, who tuned in just to see what was happening in fictional Port Charles.

But I guess things have changed.  I don't like change, and I'll be the first to admit I revel in routine.  I'm upset that these two shows have been canceled, but perhaps I'm more upset about what it means overall. Instead of watching television to escape into made-up worlds, we are watching reality television shows featuring 'real' people who volunteer to be filmed.  No matter how crazy the Buchanans and the Quartermaines were, it's nice knowing that they were created for entertainment purposes.  Individuals eager for fame actually create 'real lives' and then turn a camera on for all to see. 

Now, these entertainment mainstays are being replaced by more talk shows.  Starting next Monday, The Chew takes over All My Children's slot, bringing more quasi-celebrities and manufactured camaraderie to network television.  I'm not knocking the format or the hosts as much as I am the sheer volume of extremely similar shows.  How many self-help, instructional programs does America need? 

Susan Lucci doing her thing as Erica Kane

Soap operas are companions to viewers; Susan Lucci disappears into her character, Erica Kane, and becomes a constant in so many lives.  People who are comforted by routine or even just the familiarity of the shows themselves are bound to be distressed.  I keep imagining a nursing home filled with senior citizens all waiting for their program to start so they get their daily dose of Pine Valley gossip.  In any event, I doubt it will be comforting when a 90-year old woman turns on her TV next week to watch her stories and instead sees Mario Batali dancing behind a stove in orange crocs making pasta sauce.   

Where are the protesters (except for a few small groups that banded together like this one outside the ABC studios after the announcement)?  Remember when Chuck on NBC was on the cancellation bubble and fans started sending in Subway sandwiches to the network?  Other shows with less of a following have also had viewers protest.  And in this situation, there could not be a more perfect thing to send to the network execs: SOAP!

I think that most people are embarrassed by their love for soap operas but there's nothing wrong with loving these shows, or the routine that comes along with being a loyal viewer.  At this point, I don't think I'm alone when saying that I'd rather watch 60 minutes of General Hospital than back-to-back episodes of Jersey Shore.   In real life, I'm not at all like the privileged people on soaps, but I'm not like the crass exhibitionists on MTV either. At least the stories and characters on General Hospital are fictional.  

So tomorrow, plan to watch the last episode of All My Children ever and enjoy every minute of it.  Wear your pearls, get comfortable in that silk negligee you've been saving, and have your favorite alcohol beverage close by.  It truly is the end of an era. 

Image courtesy of Deadline

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Three Things Learned from a 2-Hour Sewing Class

I love this workspace. If only I could be so organized and color-coded...

Two years ago, Anthony bought me a sewing machine for Christmas and I've been dying to learn how to use it.  Instead of just jumping in and reading the manual like I would normally do, I signed up for a class at the local JoAnn Fabrics to learn the basics.  In addition to learning to thread the machine, I also learned these three important things during my two-hour class.

  1. Darts in dresses and shirts are back in style.
  2. Fleece is apparently made of recycled plastic, which is why is dries so quickly and also why you can't iron it.
  3. Even though the supply list for the class included a yard of interfacing fabric, we never actually learned what to do with it. I did, however, learn how to hold a seam-ripper the correct way, which will come in handy when I make all of those mistakes.

Does anyone have a favorite sewing website?  I promise to share my first project with you once it's done, which at this rate will probably be mid-February.

Image courtesy of Apartment Therapy

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Ingredient Inventory

Note to self: next time, before planning to make bread with the overripe bananas on the counter, check to make sure you have all of the ingredients in the house.  You cannot make banana bread without eggs.  Also, buy walnuts. The bread isn't the same without them.  True story.

Photo courtesy of LCBGlenn via Flickr

Monday, September 12, 2011

Movies: Our Idiot Brother

I've loved Paul Rudd for a really long time, ever since I was 13 years old and my friend and I begged her mother to rent Clueless at the video store, only to make her regret her decision when she walked in on the part when Cher is smoking up at a valley party (oh, Rolling with the Homies....).  Anyway, he made the movie for me with his weird but sweet crush on Cher, and then he made me love him even more with his bit parts in Romeo and Juliet and The Cider House Rules, and later co-starring with Jennifer Aniston in The Object of My Affection.

The point is that I knew I'd like Our Idiot Brother even before Anthony and I went to see it.  The cast rules with Rashida Jones, Elizabeth Banks and Zooey Deschanel, but Paul Rudd steals it with his awesome portrayal of Ned.  He's naive but not dumb; he's kind-hearted to a fault.  Ned tries to see the best in everyone and loves every part of life, and even though his sisters think he's an idiot, he doesn't necessarily come off that way to the audience.

Perhaps his optimism is refreshing because I also try to look on the bright side as much as possible, and I don't think people really understand that a lot of the time.  The movie is not for everyone but for me, it rang true and proved to be entertaining as well.  The end wraps up a little too nicely, but I thought the rest of the movie was so messy that I didn't really mind it.  I have a feeling that Our Idiot Brother will wind up in our permanent DVD collection in a few months, but until then, I'll continue to get my Paul Rudd fix by watching The 40-Year Old Virgin every time it's on television, which is like 90 times a week. 

Friday, September 9, 2011

Status Report: 2011 Goal List

I don't like the idea of New Year's resolutions; to me, they seem like a a set-up for failure.  I can't possibly accomplish an entire list of things to learn and places to see in a short amount of time on a limited budget without putting an extreme amount of pressure on myself, therefore sucking most of the fun out of the items on the list that are supposed be enjoyable.  I do think that setting goals for the year is acceptable, though.  At the beginning of January, I wrote out a list of things that I wanted to do this year.  The year before I turn 30 years old seemed to be the perfect time to branch out a bit and do things that I've always wanted to do. 

So how am I doing? Not bad at all actually. I attended a literary conference this year (#1) and I've been writing and submitting more of my work (#9).  One of my goals (#2) is to have something published before the end of the year and I'm still working on that.  The novel outline (#10) is slowly developing but I could definitely dedicate more time to it. 

I wanted to visit three new places (#12) and by next month, I'll have accomplished that (Savannah, Northern Vermont and Chicago).  Also on the list is to go to 3 new museums in New York City (#13) and see two plays and/or musicals (#15), both of which I think are doable.  And next week, I'm taking a class at JoAnn Fabrics to learn to sew (#6)--Anthony bought me a sewing machine for Christmas last year and I'm so anxious to use it.

A few things that haven't been crossed off the list: watching one old movie a month (#7) and donating blood regularly (#3), although I did join the National Bone Marrow Registry.  I'm also struggling to keep my email inbox as clear as possible (#14). 

Overall, I'm pretty excited about working on the rest of the list.  I think I've been looking at it as a loose syllabus for life that's full of assignments I actually want to do.  There's still almost four full months left in 2011, too.  And if nothing else, my goal list has gotten me to floss my teeth at least four times a week (#18) and for that, I'm grateful. 

Image of awesome Goals Chalkboard courtesy of MaryKateMcDevitt via Esty

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Art of Bringing Dessert

Whenever someone invites me to their home or to a party, the first words out of my mouth are always "What can I bring?"  I tend to feel uncomfortable showing up empty-handed, even when I visit family and close friends (kind of weird since I never expect people to bring anything when they come to our place for a visit!).  Plus, I think it's just plain nice to bring baked goods when you are meeting up with people.  And before you ask, I do realize that (1) this makes me sound a bit crazy; (2) I'm probably really annoying my loved ones with my constant dessert offerings; and (3) I kind of follow the social rules of a 1950's housewife.

This weekend was humid, just like the last hurrah of summer should be.  For the long weekend, we had plans to see friends and family so I decided to make some bar type treats for each gathering.  On Saturday, I made delicious blondies (I always use this adapted recipe from Smitten Kitchen and add pecans and chocolate chips) and I'm happy to say they were all gone by the time we headed home.  On Sunday, I decided to try my luck with homemade lemon bars, having bought a few bags of lemons at Trader Joe's the night before.  I've only made them once before and because I baked them too long, the top fruit layer was a weird, rubbery texture.

After squeezing lemons until my fingers were pruney and itchy from the citric acid, I was determined not to overbake them this time.  Once the top layer seemed to be set, I pulled them from the oven and let them cool.  They were perfect lemon squares, complete with sprinkled confectionery sugar, and best served when cold, I discovered.  Again, they were devoured at dessert time, but I managed to take a few home at the end.

I guess what it comes down to is that I love that I have old-fashioned tendencies; I like spending time in the kitchen, with or without an apron, getting my hands dirty with flour and chocolate and butter, and concentrating on creating something scrumptious, even if I am reading the recipe from a computer screen like a true twenty-first century girl.

Photo of my lemon bars on a pretty plate

Top image via from

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Painting Project Planning

Last night, I went to a store I almost never visit, Home Depot.  I always feel out of place among the power tools and giant spools of carpet.  We can only dress up our small rented condo so much, which means we have little use of much of what the store sells.

But, in preparation for the shelves I'm going to buy, paint and hang above our desk in the living room, we picked out a couple of Martha Stewart paint colors and this awesome Martha paint texturing kit.  Do we want the shelves to look they are covered in linen wallpaper? What about wood grain?  These decorative tools look so cool--I can't wait to try them out, although I'm not disillusioned.  I know it isn't going to be easy, and the results will probably be uneven at best without practice, but it'll be a fun weekend project for fall.

Has anyone ever used texturing tools? And who else loves Martha's paint line as much as I do (so many colors to choose from!)?

Image via Martha Stewart/Home Depot

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Movie Time Away from Home

A few weeks ago, before Hurricane Irene ran through and destroyed so many parts of the great state of Vermont, Anthony and I were there during a stretch of rainy days.  We wound up spending a lot of time in our hotel room during the last couple of days of the trip, buying some choice alcohol from corner gas stations and watching HBO movies.  I'm a bit embarrassed to admit that we were pretty excited that so many of the movies we watched were on our Netflix queue; it was almost like we were accomplishing something and not only eating chips while watching cable television.  

But enough about Date Night and Dinner for Schmucks (the former was okay, the latter not so much).  The night before we started our vacation, we watched our Netflix DVD, which was Up in the Air.  I want to say up front that I've never enjoyed an opening sequence as much as the one at the start of this movie.  With vivid clips of sprawling prairies and gushing waters as seen from an airplane above, the movie starts off in a great way, with an overview of sorts of the country.  This is perfect for the main character, played by George Clooney, who isn't fully-engaged in anything but his job, traveling to his next assignment and racking up frequent flier miles.

There are many loops and sidebar-type details in Up in the Air, and there are some surprises near the end, the kind that I knew were coming about five minutes before they happened but I still softly gasped.  I thought that this movie would be simple: the story of a man who travels around the country as a consultant firing people, who freaks out when his job is threatened.  It is about that, but also about so much more.  The supporting characters are important, too.  Anna Kendrick is wonderful, but it was Vera Farmiga who won my heart (embarrassingly enough, I looked her up when the film was over and it turns out she grew up in an insular Ukrainian community in New Jersey, not speaking English until she was six years old--so interesting!).

Here are the opening credits from Up in the Air.  Do you like it as much as I do?

Image above found on

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Cloud Cookies

I've been looking for a cloud cookie cutter for about two years.  Every time I'm in a kitchen store or a craft store, I'm fumbling among the cookie cutters looking for just the right one.  This past week in Vermont, it seemed like there were racks of cutters in almost every store we entered, but alas, no clouds (I did buy an adorable mini mitten cutter for winter though!). 

It's like it was meant to be that I came across Forty-sixth and Grace's Ice Cream Cloud tutorial yesterday.  Not only is the idea adorable but I love the detailed instructions that Nikole included, complete with perfect illustrations by Melinda Josie. It's so pretty that I kind of want to print it out and hang it on the refrigerator for inspiration!

Now, all I need is the cloud cookie cutter...

Image courtesy of Forty-Sixth at Grace

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Vermont Highlight #1: Breakfast at Lou's in Hanover, NH

This time last week, Anthony and I were in Hanover, New Hampshire, walking around Dartmouth and eating a delicious breakfast at Lou's Restaurant. Since I grew up only a few miles from Yale University (and actually work there now), it was nice to spend time in a different college town.  Hanover seemed extremely laid-back and there were tons of families on the green and walking downtown.  Lou's had a very long line but there wasn't a wait for seats at the counter so we were able to skip the queue and get a front row seat while the waitstaff prepared drinks and sandwiches right in front of us at an unbelievable speed.  

Anthony ordered a sampler of sorts, complete with fresh-squeezed orange juice, pancakes, a blueberry muffin, home fries and bacon.  I decided to go for something that I wouldn't normally order: the cruller french toast.  Basically, my meal consisted of three homemade crullers which were then made into french toast.  I've never had anything more delicious, even if it was the richest breakfast I've ever had.  It's such a simple, albeit unhealthy, idea for a twist on traditional french toast, and I'm still thinking about the warm, gooey inside and the sweet glaze on the outside of the doughnuts.  For a couple of hours, we actually felt like locals in Hanover, and Lou's gave us a good start to a great day.

Photo courtesy of Tripadvisor