Making Stuff

You guys, you guys, you guys! I don’t cook often and when I do, I consider simplicity and easiness of paramount importance. I made the BEST pot roast last week and I have to share because it checks all the boxes. Except for the box that makes it Weight Watcher friendly. But honestly, when it tastes this good, who cares?

I had seen recipes for Mississippi Pot Roast floating around. It looked so weird that I knew I had to try it. Mom was coming into town and she is my favorite Guinea pig so I gave it a go. All you do is sprinkle a packet of Au Jus and a packet of Ranch Dressing on top of the pot roast. Sprinkle around some pepperoncinis (I used chopped pepperoncinis instead of whole because I didn’t know what they heck they are. I still kind of don’t). Don’t skip the pepperonchinis. I can’t take spicy food but these don’t make it spicy, it just makes it very flavorful. I erred on the side of less but next time I won’t be afraid to do more. Top the whole thing off with a stick of butter.

That’s right. a stick of butter. It sounded kind of gross (I’m not a huge butter fan) but I also knew it was probably just there to act as a fat to break down the meat. Sure enough, it melted almost right away and the pot roast just simmered in it.

The gravy this creates is so flavorful, you can serve it with mashed potatoes but I saw a recipe for crock pot Parmesan risotto and wanted to try that. It ended up being a great pairing because the risotto was actually kind of strong so you didn’t want to have a lot of gravy. This reduced the butter consumption. After I refrigerated the left overs, the butter separated and solidified at the top of the dish (it actually looked just like butter again). I just popped it all off and threw it away. It had already done its job and everything tasted wonderful. This made me feel a little better about cooking with a whole stick of butter. You aren’t actually consuming a whole stick of butter.

The risotto turned out wonderful too and it is also a super easy recipe so I highly recommend it.

Both of these were so good my mom went back for thirds. She was uncomfortably full but couldn’t stop standing over the crock pot and eating a little more. I hope she doesn’t read this post.

What else am I making? Well, since I’ve gotten control of the yarn stash, I can knit again!

A friend at work is pregnant so I started a baby blanket. I noticed her phone case is a chevron pattern so I thought it would be fun to do a chevron baby blanket. This is such a fun pattern. I love how it looks but it is already getting to that point where I can’t wad it up in a little bag and haul it around everywhere. I’m just using up some left over Lion Brand Microfiber (it’s discontinued). It makes a super soft fabric that is kind of a pain to knit with (it’s multi-stranded like embroidery floss) but it is totally machine washable/dryable so it is perfect for leaky babies (is there any other kind of baby?).

It feels like I haven’t been able to make stuff for a really long time so I was really happy this weekend, eatin’ pot roast and knittin’ chevron.

If Things Have to Change, Can I Make Them Better?

Life is falling back into familiar patterns. Even if we are one man down. I can’t wait to put the holiday behind us. I’ve been ruthless about cleaning the house which is VERY unusual for me. Mostly it was to have something to do and to remove sad reminders of Frankie (and probably a control thing too). It ended up being absolutely the right thing to do as we got back test results on a culture from Frankie and found out that after his surgery, he had a couple of different strains of infection; one of them MRSA. For the safety of everyone in the house, super-cleaning was critical and I’m so glad I was doing that well before we even took the cultures.

I had house guests over the last week which was lovely. Family from the UK. It felt easy and was a wonderful distraction. We had a big birthday celebration at my house for my stepfather and I made two pies: coconut cream (his favorite) and a sour cream apple. Another evening we brought in take-out Greek food and had a lot of fun trying out the different dishes, flavors, and talked and laughed over each other. It was very nice.

Fun can be exhausting.

Today I drove the UK contingent of family to the MAX station (our local public transport train system) for their journey to the airport and, finally, back to their home. I get to begin the process of working my way through leftovers of all the wonderful meals we had which is one of my favorite things to do after holidays/celebrations. Great eating combined with memories of the people I want to hold close. It was really foggy this morning as I dropped them off and now it is crystal clear with blue skies. It truly seems like a new year today.

I don’t generally make new year resolutions because birthdays always seem more like an annual marker for me. But after a big change, like losing one of the family, it all feels different anyway so I can’t help but feel resolute about things.

  • I want to be smarter with my money this year so I’m not always feeling like I’m in a bind. Specific goal, build up my savings so I have at least two months mortgage payment on hand.
  • I want to do better at prioritizing things I do. More time with family and things I love and less time trying to catch up on chores. Chores are necessary but they can also be stupid. I’m just going to hire someone to help with chores now and then so it isn’t this THING hanging over my head all the time. Specific goal, hire a plumber to fix a couple of leaks we have, hire an electrician to fix the outlets and lights that are offset in the bedrooms, hire a cleaning service at least once a month for a good, deep clean of the house.
  • Finish things. Finishing things just isn’t fun so I don’t do it and then it becomes another thing hanging over my head. Specific goal, paint the fourth, and final, wall of the family room, touch up the paint in the kitchen, install the backsplash in the kitchen.
  • Socialize with my friends more. Specific goal, try to do something with friends at least once a month.

Nothing earth-shattering but these have all been difficult for me and all would make my life a little better/easier. It’s great to fall back into familiar routines but it seems like a good idea to shed the routines that aren’t healthy or helpful.

All meals should have jokes and prizes.

Any plans for the year to make your life a little healthier or happier?

Like taking more naps.

 

I’m Just Going to Crawl Back Into Bed, OK?

I can’t say this has been a great holiday. I can’t say it was a good year. In fact, it was a pretty crappy year.

The Great Yarn Giveaway was a success. My knitty friends did an admirable job and all staggered out with more yarn than I believe they planned to take. A very good friend did me the greatest kindness and took everything that was left over to a local charity. I cannot emphasize enough, the satisfaction of not having to deal with any yarn after the giveaway.

DR

It looks like someone shrunk the table.

In addition to having my dining room back, I have my living room back too. The next task is to replace the broken shelves with bookcases so all those books can come off the floor.

I should probably think about putting away the wrapping paper since I’m not likely to give more Christmas presents soon.

The 1/4 left that I kept is still a very respectable amount. I will never lack for great knitting material. However, I at least have my arms around what I have and can actually make use of it now.

This small victory aside, the holiday has been overshadowed by the loss of my beloved Frankie. He was diagnosed with osteosarcoma. Unfortunately, it is not an uncommon disease for greyhounds and big dogs in general. I had to say good-bye only yesterday. I’m cleaning up the house for house guests but there are so many painful reminders of his illness and my caring for him 24/7 for nearly two weeks.

Oscar and I are sticking close to each other.

The bar has been set pretty low 2015. Try to do better than your predecessor.

Yarn Bomb

It’s been a really productive weekend. Not only did I go through ALL of the yarn, but I was able to organize the stash that is staying. I definitely made my 50% goal (get rid of at least half) and I think I managed to hit the 3/4 goal I had really wanted to make.

I will organize the stash that is going and I’ve invited every knitter/crocheter within 50 miles to come by and take what they want. I was very liberal with what is going so there is some primo yarn in the go pile.

Scarlet had the best time during this whole process. She had to sit in every basket and bin I went through. Each one was explored, sneefed, and bitten when needed.

Predator

Getting this done is an enormous relief. I’ve been dreading it for so long (a few years) that finishing it up is just a huge weight off my shoulders.

It’s also a big relief to get so much of it out of the living room. It feels like I conquered a giant.

Now I just need to get the holiday decorating done and I might feel like the holiday won’t overwhelm me.

Zen Kitty

The Stuff in the Middle

All the time, I hear people say that big projects get much messier in the middle when everything is in flux. That has certainly been the case for me and all my projects around the house. The problem is, my middle takes F O R E V E R because I have so much regular life going on. I lost the use of my living room while I worked on the home office which I was pretty patient about until now. I want it back for the holidays. I don’t decorate a lot but I do like to have my dining room and living room sparkly. It makes me happy.

So I made a big push over the last few weeks to get the last of the office crap combed through, disposed of, and put back. There is still some work to be done in there to organize everything and finish getting shelves up on the walls but I hope to do that this weekend. The important thing is, the office crap is out of the living room!

That is not all of the yarn against the wall in this picture. There is an equal amount of yarn on the opposite side of the room too.

Mostly.

There are a few, small piles that I need to deal with (where do I put the pile of old electronics that need to go to the hazardous waste drop?) and there is a crap-ton of yarn still. Seriously. I’m mortified about how that stuff accumulated. I had originally planned on selling it but it looks like such an overwhelming job, I may just donate it and write it off.

This is not even all the yarn in the house. There is more in the guest room and garage. I’m a little gobsmacked myself. The office feels full now too so I’m not even sure where I’ll put the stuff I’m keeping.

I did indulge in a new rug and coffee table for the living room. This is a fairly big deal for me because I tend to stay with the same furniture forever. Apparently I have to do that because all my money goes to yarn. The rug and coffee table were great incentives for pushing to finish the clearing of the living room.

The rug is very different from anything I have and have decorated with before. I have been a bit obsessed with big graphic prints like this for over a year now. My love for them does not seem to be abating and when I saw this rug, I absolutely fell in love with it. When I was first looking at it, it was pretty expensive (it fluctuated between $500 and $800). I kept looking at it (oh no, I just saw it in brown and white and I almost love it more) and coveting it but I just couldn’t bring myself to spend so much on a rug. I have pets (sometimes 5 and 6 dogs at a time when family is visiting). We are very hard on floors and rugs. But finally, I saw the rug go up for sale on another website and it had come way down to about $300 so I decided I couldn’t pass it up. I feel so grown up! And also, why did I spend so much right before Christmas? Idiot!

It’s a pretty good size for a game table.

The coffee table was something I was hemming and hawing about for a while. I knew I wanted something fairly large because the living room space is kind of big and I don’t have a lot of stuff in there. I wanted something two-tiered because I had ideas about keeping games and books on the bottom tier and using the table for games. I love board games. I’ve seen different iterations of this style with different manufacturers and while I kind of liked the rustic/industrial look, it was kind of contrived and so overpriced. Then it popped up all of a sudden at Cost Plus and for a decent price. They had a 20% off sale online so I pulled the trigger and got it for under $200 (but they still let me pick it up at the store saving me shipping charges). This is another big, grown-up expense for me. I’ve always had thrift shop coffee tables which may be why they never quite worked for what I needed them to do.

This has ended up being the exact right size and I love that it is on casters so I can pull the table around where I want it when playing games.

A better shot of the two sides of the room. Tons of yarn, and a small pile of electronics and CDs. I don’t quite know what to do with either of them.

I wonder how everyone in the family would feel about getting a box of yarn for Christmas?

I’m Not Noble After All

I’m trying to get a handle on Christmas early this year because, for some reason, it always takes me by surprise; like it moves around the calendar or something. But this  year, I’m shopping early. I discovered Groupon Goods which has had a few good ideas and good prices (we’ll see about the quality). Something that annoys me though is that all the shipping boxes have “I’m here to make you happy!” printed on the side.

My initial response was to react negatively. “How superficial do they think I am?” I thought, “I mean, I’m not as shallow as that to have a THING make me happy.”

But then I opened one of my boxes and I had forgotten that I ordered this:

DiscoShowerhead

The auto-change, 7-setting, disco light shower head

And then I realized that yes, yes I am that shallow. Because this thing made me very happy.

Fancy and Not Fancy

I was in a job interview once for a big cooking website. I was perfect for the job and I was getting along with the interviewers and it was looking like the job was in the bag. Then the interviewers started mocking Nilla Wafers. I’ve probably bought two boxes of Nilla Wafers my entire life but it really bothered me that they were making fun of them just because they are not fancy. I couldn’t let it go for some reason so I defended the Nilla Wafer. Just because something isn’t fancy, doesn’t mean it isn’t awesome. I did not get the job and I knew that’s what would happen when I defended the Nilla Wafer but for some reason, this was my Norma Rae moment.

NormaRae

Years ago, I created an anti-Bond character named Kevin. Kevin lived in his parents’ basement and drove a Pinto. I love James Bond and have watched all the movies multiple times but I also love Kevin. I love the little guy who is awkward, not talented, but still somehow succeeds once in a while because he just keeps trying. Kevin is basically the Nilla Wafer of spies. He’s not fancy, but he gets the job done.

I’d like to say I’m fighting for the little guy but the truth is, I just like to be contrary. Especially if someone is trying to set something up as a new standard. We have such short memories. Today, Nilla Wafers are “common” but they used to be a southern delicacy until Nabisco figured out how to preserve them and mass produced them. We normalize things until we decide they aren’t exclusive enough. That just chaps my hide for some reason.

OK, this is not a rant against fancy. I can actually whip up a mean spicy peanut sauce and I have garlic aoili and Sriracha in my fridge. I like me some fancy.

I just believe we should appreciate our Nilla Wafers too.

So, What’s Going on with the Home Office?

Has it been abandoned? Has everything been crammed back in that single room in order to reclaim the living room? The short answer is no. I chip away at it when I get a chance which means it is very slow-going and I’m starting to get embarrassed that the living room has been unusable for about a year. Wow. I’m not going to win any awards for DIY of the year.

On a positive note, everything “big” that belongs in the room has been moved back in so the configuration of the room is set and I think it works pretty well. My grandparents and I used to have a tradition where they would come spend the night at my house for Halloween so they would get to see the trick or treaters. We haven’t been able to do that the last couple of years with all the changes they have gone through so I was excited that I thought we’d get to be able to resume our tradition this year. This forced me to get the office kitted out as a guest room which is what that room is supposed to be able to do when needed. Actually, it was probably a good time to try it out as a guest room to ensure things were right for that function before it gets “completed.”

I took all the pictures this morning on the run before work (as I tend to do) which aligns with my refusal to stage anything. I also appear to refuse to even straighten stuff. I’d like to think that comes from a noble honesty but I don’t think I’m fooling anyone.

The walls are still a little bare. There are a couple of shelves that will go up and then I can start hanging artwork. Also, Clorox, I’m available for product placement revenue. Your wipes can be featured in charming vignettes like this in every room of my house! Often next to a dog mess. Also, the bed is already rumpled because a certain greyhound who lives here believes this is his bed.

Setting up the guest room configuration required a bit of re-jiggering of the room but I’m really pleased with the final setup. I think it’s warm, inviting, and still really functional for the office role. I replaced the bookcases that collapsed with some simple Ikea Billy bookcases.

Around my house, we all get in on the fun of building Ikea furniture.

I painted the back of the bookcase a pretty, dark teal. I really wanted to stencil some design on it but it became impractical for time’s sake. I also decided to put them in the closet. Since it isn’t an occupied room, the closet becomes a major storage area for me so I figured why not make it more functional for storage? When I sell the house I can easily install a closet kit but in the meantime, I’m the one living here so I need it to work for me. I will re-hang the closet doors when they get painted (have I mentioned that dark stain that all my trim and doors sport is a ginormous pain to paint?). I don’t think they look bad which will be nice when closet doors are left open.

Grandpa believes every room needs a chair so that you can put on your shoes. He is apparently against sitting on the bed to put on your shoes and doesn’t like my office chair for the job because it is on wheels so I have to keep a little chair in here for him.

The futon is big and I would, in the future, like to replace it with a pull-out couch but I bought a new mattress a few months ago so this will stay for a while. It’s comfortable and that’s what counts.

Much of the little stuff has come back in the room. This is what we have so far.

A couple of these things might also get moved to the shelves that I will hang so these two bookcases should be sufficient for my crap. Which is how it should be!

The living room looks better but it is still full of crap. One of the things that is slowing this project is that everything gets reviewed and considered before it goes back in the room. I accumulated a ton of stuff because I was going to “deal with it later” but later just never happens. So everything gets touched, considered, and over half of it never goes back in the room. It is either tossed or donated. A lot what you see here is yarn. I have more yarn than one person should ever have. I’m not putting it back in the office until the very end.  I want to have it all in one place so that I can sort through it. Like the rest of the crap, most of it will never go back in the room. I’ll either sell some it or donate it. Not only is there more than I can ever knit but I’ve changed my taste and knitting skill since I bought much of it. Also, access to patterns has vastly improved since I started collecting all of this. When I want a pattern, I almost never go through my books and magazines anymore, I look online. So most of the books and all of the magazines are going.

I circled the last bit to sort through. The rest is yarn/craft stuff that will be culled in the final big review. The stuff crossed out is garbage. Note that I’m finally giving up my Coca Cola penny holder that I’ve had since the 70s. Go me!

Painfully slow going but it feels so good to get rid of so much stuff and be able to put my hands on what I need in the office. Before, anything I needed was impossible to find which means the room didn’t function. No one’s space is big enough to live like that.

Halloween Decorations for 48 Hours

I just had so much going on this year, what with all the conferences and going to jail and all, that I didn’t get around to decorating for Halloween until Halloween day. Which means my beloved decorations go up and down faster than something fast on something faster (fill in the blanks).

I had a little Halloween lunch for the family. As Chief Quality Officer, Scarlet was all over (literally) the table to make sure things were up to snuff. Apparently, in her opinion, the napkins are better in my bathroom (I have retrieved three of the four so far from my bathroom. Don’t worry, this was after we ate lunch.), at least half of the individual salt and pepper shakers should be knocked over, and the leaves of the bouquet should be well chewed.

Not to mention what I consider straight for runners and placemats and what she considers straight.

I’m disappointed I have to take the decorations down so soon. Some of them I’d love to leave up year-round. I love the little, tin, haunted house and it is hard to see, but there is a crow in the second from the left, top cubby. He’s peeking out just like a crow would if he was hanging out with me in the family room. It’s made me jump a few times.

The bookshelves are new this year and have proved to be a great addition. They aren’t quite what I wanted or what I would want on a permanent basis but they are really good for an interim solution until I have the money to hire a carpenter to build permanent “built-ins.” The cubbies aren’t all filled yet. I’m taking my time and thoughtfully putting in books and accessories I want there as I come across them in other places of the house. It could be really easy to make them junky so I’m being careful. Those bright corners are lamps. They aren’t really that bright in person, they just look that way in the picture. Those are probably the best improvement because this is a really dark room. Even in the summer, the porch roof outside the sliding glass door in this room cuts out all light. This means I need to artificially light the room year-round. These lamps in these corners help a LOT in making the room brighter (that’s not the smartest thing I’ve ever said).

The dogs and I have very different ideas of how their blankets should be on their beds. I straighten them out and three seconds later they’ve done this. Also that rug moves around the room a lot. It is really annoying and I’m looking for a more permanent replacement. Something that can endure the mud and dirt we get in here most of the year.

I turned off the lights so you can see the lamps (sort of) in the corners and get an idea of what the room looks like, in full sunlight, without them on. Ugh. This is with a lamp on across the room and the kitchen light on so it just how dark that half of the room gets.

The lamps are modern-looking leucite lamps which is really a change for me. I love them.

Because I hate traveling around a room to turn off and on lamps (especially when I have to step over dog beds and toys) I found this simple remote system. By plugging the lamps into a receiver, I can turn them both on and off with this remote. It is one of those little things things that makes everyone happy when they get to turn the lamps on and off.

Never underestimate how fun people will find it to have the “power” to turn on a light from across the room.

It’s an inexpensive option for remote lighting. I saw a kit the other day where you put special lightbulbs in the lamp and then you can control them with your phone. That was tempting (because I do love the gadgets) but if you have to buy special bulbs every time they burn out, that could get expensive (and annoying because I’m all about the Costco multi-paks for convenience). I’d rather just tuck these remotes around the house.

So Halloween has come and gone and I have to put away the skeletons that were in the yard, I’m trying to look forward to the next holiday now. Considering how long it is taking me to get things decorated for a holiday, I’m thinking I should start decorating for Christmas today.

How I Went to Jail Yesterday. Sortof.

I’ve been reading a book series lately that has been around for a while but I missed it somehow so I get to dive in after there are already a ton of books which means you are immersed in the world this author has created. It’s lovely.

However, the lead character, Amelia Peabody, is starting to influence me and this could either go well, or badly. I find myself thinking I need to “take things in hand” and fix them like Peabody. If I started doing this, I would be exhausted because it seems like I’m in plenty of situations that should be better!

For example:

The situation

I went to a conference for work yesterday. Conferences are uncomfortable. The wee conference chairs are too small. Conference tables are also unmanageably small and somehow there is a table leg every three inches so no matter where you try to sit, it is always right at a leg.

What Peabody would do

March the hotel manager to one of these wee places and tell him or her to sit so they can experience this for themselves. The hotel managers that Peabody set straight would be horrified and ashamed that things were so uncomfortable. They would rectify it immediately and every time she came back to that hotel she would be treated like a queen. I’m pretty sure if I tried this they would dismiss me and avoid me for the rest of the day. I would be the crazy lady they talked about when recounting bad events.

The situation

The little things are neglected at these conferences. You’re lucky if you have a water jug at your table but after the first session in the morning, it is usually empty so it just sits there, taunting you, as you try not to cough during a presentation. I probably didn’t even really need to cough until I realized the jug was empty and then all I can do is cough. Be prepared when you leave the room looking for a beverage though. The coffee and tea station has regular coffee cups. Not a disposable cup with a lid but a coffee cup so if you have a bag and a purse and the hallway is chock full of people jostling each other, you quickly realize you can’t have coffee or tea because if you try, you will just spill it somewhere on someone. A can of soda seems like a good option and they have a little tub of them for you but there are no ice and cups. It’s like they expect you to drink it lukewarm, out of a can. OUT OF A CAN! That is just uncivilized.

What Peabody would do

She would never tolerate uncivilized behavior. She would take that empty jug to the nearest hotel personnel, shake her parasol at them, and demand that all the jugs be tended to and by god people would hustle to make it happen. The coffee/tea and cups would be brought to the individual rooms and all soda would be accompanied with glasses and ice. Everyone would thank Peabody for efficiently seeing to this and the hotel would never let it happen again for fear of the dreaded parasol shaking. If I tried any of this, one wait staff would bring me cranberry juice and disappear while I try to figure out what just happened. Then I would have heartburn the rest of the day because I drank the cranberry juice. Hotel 1, me 0.

The situation

The final straw yesterday was the lunch. It was dreadful. I’ve thrown away food that was better than what they served and trust me, I’m not picky about food. I may require a glass with ice for soda but I’ve dined on airplane food and thought it was delicious. Even I couldn’t stomach the horrendous mess they gave us. The hotel also only had about three people serving a ballroom of hundreds of people (cramming 10 people around tables for 8). It was awful watching them run to get everyone some terrible food.

What Peabody would do

She would march up to management to defend the poor over-worked servers, produce a four-star chef to whip up something more appetizing, and move some of the people into the conference rooms so we actually had room for our elbows. The serve staff would love her and hail her as their champion. The attendees would support her by telling hotel management that unless they adopted her methods, they would never come back. The only thing I managed to do was find an abandoned tray of ice teas and make sure my table all had one. So I was a bit of a champion to two or three people.

After the dreadful lunch, I was even looking forward to a tepid soda in a can but they were out by then. The vendor booths were also out of Halloween candy so I was a little concerned the conference would turn into Lord of the Flies but we managed to keep it together. It does help to leave early which I can’t help but think was the hotel’s goal all along.

I guess it was the ultimate Peabody act to stay civilized and I did. I’m thinking I really need a parasol though that I can shake at people. That would make me a better Peabody. Or just get me arrested for brandishing a weapon. I’ll bet they don’t have glasses of ice for soda in jail either. Come to think of it, they aren’t big on elbow room. Or jugs of water.

Congratulations hotel, you have the same accommodations as a jail.