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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

This and That

We're still waiting on some consistent nice weather here, but we've had a few nice days of sunshine and almost summer-like weather. It makes me anxious to be outside! This last weekend it rained and rained and kept on raining. I thought maybe it would be a repeat of the flash flooding we had last summer! It was very warm and sunny one day, then it dropped back down to 40 degrees the next day. Welcome to spring in Wisconsin!

I went to Madison, WI on Saturday evening to attend an open recital at the University Opera at UW Madison with my mother and one of my sisters. The featured singer was a handsome young opera tenor named Steven Ebel. His grandmother is a friend of my mother's. Despite the rain which made our drive very unpleasant and the wind and rain that made the 2 blocks we had to walk from where we parked a little annoying, we really enjoyed hearing him sing. He is very gifted and has a sensational voice. 

Other events coming up this week: E and I celebrated our 2nd wedding anniversary yesterday and are going to see the New Zealand comedy folk-musical-parody duo, Flight of the Conchords, on Saturday this week at the Riverside Theatre with some friends. After noshing on some delicious pasta at a favorite restaurant in Milwaukee, Louisa's Trattoria, we are going to the 10pm show.
I also have plans Wednesday night to go to the movies with friends while E is busy with band practice. They are planning on doing some new band photos as well. E wanted me to take the photos, since I did the last ones, but I unfortunately had plans already. 
E is going to Chicago with one of his friends to see a concert on Friday night, so we have quite the busy week planned ahead!

I'm looking forward to some nicer weather and hoping to get some new pictures of my flower gardens. Most everything is coming up nicely, but I don't know yet if I've "lost" any of my plants over the winter. Some types break dormancy late, so it's early yet to tell with some! I've already started planting a couple of containers, so I will get pictures of those soon as well.

Happy 2nd Anniversary To Us!

Well, actually yesterday was our anniversary, but I wasn't home to write a blog post about it, so here I am a day late!
So, yesterday was our second wedding anniversary. It's hard to believe it's been 2 yrs since the wedding. Sometimes it seems like yesterday!
We didn't do anything really exciting, except go out to dinner at a favorite restaurant and then took a nice long evening stroll, and as is our custom, exchanged cards. E bought me the most beautiful bouquet of flowers also. He is very particular about flowers, and knowing I like pink flowers, he made sure the lady at the floral shop put pink roses and pink Stargazer lilies in the bouquet.
Here's a couple of pictures I took of my flowers.

We had made plans back in January to get tickets for a show on May 2, which we are attending with some friends, and we are considering the evening out on Saturday as our "something special" to do for our anniversary. Last year, our first wedding anniversary, we took a romantic long weekend to Door County.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Painting Project: Update

Well, I managed to complete the first phase of work that needed to be done in the East Bedroom (guest room). There is still a few things to do, but at least the painting part is done.
Here are some "after" pictures.

This lamp was the "inspiration" for the color scheme. I bought it for E, I believe at Pier 1 Imports, and then bought the bedding in similar colors as a birthday present when we were dating and still had our separate apartments.

I finally was able to hang my painted ceiling tiles! I got these free as samples 
and only had to pay shipping, which was about $7.50. I then bought some Krylon spray paint which is supposed to look like wood and spray painted them. I also added some gold detail with gold Rub n' Buff to highlight the raised areas. They turned out beautifully and have been sitting in a closet for over a year, waiting to be hung.

A picture in the daylight.  I removed the cheap crappy window trim, which we plan to replace with custom-made trim to match the trim in the rest of the upstairs. We also need to put the baseboard trim back on and also hang the closet doors. Eventually, I want to put a different bed in here and I will also be getting new window treatments at some point as well and probably a nice area rug.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Painting Project Update:

Here's some pictures of the painting progress. 
One wall, the accent wall, is a dark red color called 'Roasted Pepper. Below is a picture of the first coat, and also after I did the second coat.

The other color is called 'Mojave Sunset'.

Second coat:

Sunday, April 12, 2009

House Project: Painting the East Bedroom

Since I'm going to be on vacation from work for a week, I thought I'd tackle a fairly simple project that I've been wanting to do for 2 years; paint the East Bedroom ( guest room)!
These are pictures I took of what the room looks like now.
The previous owners had done some things to this room; most notably, they removed all the wood trim around the windows and the door, put in a laminate floor and drywalled the walls (the rest of the house has plaster walls).  They also painted the room what it looks like now. It's a strange color combination, to be sure. The bottom part of the wall is turquoise, with a wavy purple stripe above it. The top part of the wall is a pale green. Throughout the room, they also painted squares and rectangles of purple and bright yellow which you can see in the picture. Presumably, this was done because they had large, brightly colored ceramic fish sculptures that were hung on the wall where the squares are. They were actually quite ugly and garish, truth be told. I don't know the exact purpose they had in mind for this room; it was unfurnished and empty when we first viewed the house. Possibly it was going to be used as a baby's room.

At any rate, I hated the colors on sight, but we decided to leave it 'as was' for awhile. There were many other house projects that took priority over this one, but now that I'm not working on anything else in particular and I have a week's vacation, I would like to get the room painted, at least, before the weather gets really nice and I'm busy with my flower gardens. 
We also want to replace the wood trim that was removed from around the windows and door. We don't know what happened to the original trim, but they replaced the window trim with some crappy cheap stuff that looks wrong and out of place. The door currently has no trim around it at all. The baseboards (original to the house) were removed when they did the floor, but for some reason, they never put the baseboards back on. At least we have those still.( We found them in the basement.) There was a closet also put in by them, which they never finished completely either (it has no doors). We plan to finish that as well.
So, Stay tuned for updates!!!

Today's Spotlight On: Happy Easter!

For those who celebrate, let me wish you all a blessed Easter!
Like many people, E and I spend Easter with our families. This year, like most, we went to his aunt's house for the Easter get-together. I was in charge of bringing a dessert, so I made one of my favorite desserts, a Trifle.  I make my own home-made pound cake and home-made sweet custard when I make a Trifle, because it always tastes better with home-made, in my humble opinion.  Here's a picture of my finished Trifle.

I also decided to make some cupcakes for those who might not be a fan of mixed berries, pound cake, sweet custard and whipped cream (although who wouldn't be a fan is incomprehensible!!!) I made strawberry cupcakes with strawberry meringue buttercream frosting. I used my Pampered Chef Easy Accent Decorator to make the frosting all pretty and fancy, and then made these fun little spring-like picks to put in the tops.


I used different colors of  card stock and a 1 1/4 inch circle punch and a flower shaped punch to punch out shapes in the card stock.Then I stamped images on each one using complimentary stamp ink colors with different images from some of my favorite stamp sets. I glued toothpicks to them and stuck them in the top of each cupcake. It turned out really cute and everyone thought I was incredibly clever! I even saved the picks so that I can re-use them again.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Food: Brown Sugar Pound Cupcakes with Brown-Butter Glaze

I was asked to bring a dessert for E's family Easter get-together, and while browsing the web for some new recipe to try, I looked through Martha Stewart's website, and found the Our Best Cupcakes section.

Since cupcakes are always a favorite with everyone (including myself!), I clicked through the recipes and my hungry, cupcake-craving eye was caught by this recipe.

I haven't tried it yet, but it sounds so delicious, I can't wait to make them!

Brown-Sugar Pound Cupcakes:
Makes 29
3 cups sifted all purpose flour
8 oz unsalted butter, softened
2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 1/4 c. light brown sugar, firmly packed
4 large eggs
3/4 c. buttermilk

Set oven to 325 degrees. Baking time is about 25 minutes.
Sift dry ingredients together and set aside.
In an electric mixer on medium speed, cream butter and sugar until fluffy. Add eggs and blend well. Reduce mixer speed to low. Add dry ingredients in gradually, following each addition of dry ingredients with the buttermilk until well blended.
Line muffin tins with standard paper liners.Fill cups at about 1/2 full. Bake 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
Invert finished cupcakes onto wire cooling racks, flip over and let cool.  Place a sheet of parchment paper under the wire racks. Spoon the brown-butter glaze over tops and let stand until set. 

Brown-Butter Glaze:
makes 1 cup

4 oz unsalted butter (1 stick)
2 c. sifted confectioner's sugar
2 tsp vanilla
2-4 tbl. whole milk

Heat butter in a saucepan over medium heat until golden brown (about 10 min)
Carefully pour butter into a bowl, leaving the sediment behind.
Add sugar, vanilla, and 2 tbl milk and stir until smooth. If glaze is too thick, add more milk until the consistency is right. 

** From the comments section on the website regarding this recipe, some tasters preferred a more light and airy cupcake, rather than a heavier, more dry "pound cake-like" cupcake. To make it lighter, use cake flour rather than all-purpose flour. For a more dense pound-cake like cupcake, use a little more buttermilk. Others also said the glaze was better when the cupcakes were served immediately, when the glaze was still warm, although other people said they still tasted great the next day, if they were kept in a sealed, airtight container.  Other variations that were listed: dark brown sugar instead of light brown sugar, topping each cupcake with a fresh, roasted whole pecan and placing a split vanilla bean in the pan with the butter. (Discard the bean after browning the butter of course.)

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

My Thoughts: The Thrifty Life

These days, it seems to be de rigueur to be thrifty (or at least pretend to be). Everyone is talking about the economy and how bad it is. News stories are filled with examples of how people are "cutting back" and lamenting on the luxuries they must forgo. Message boards and chat groups congregate with suggestions of how to survive these lean times, as many Americans, for the first time in many cases, are really worrying about how to budget their money. 

I admit to being frankly surprised that there are so many people who have no idea how to budget their money and are absolutely clueless that they can actually cook their own meals (what?? Food can be prepared in your own home?!? GASP!) or that it's possible to even grow some of your own food. Even more so, that many people now can only buy what they can afford!!

It may be somewhat mean, but I cannot help but laugh indulgently at some of these poor naive souls. As a person who has lived her entire life being frugal, I admit to feeling a little, teeny bit smug that for people like me (us thrifty souls!) are finding little difference in our way of living. We may be tooting our own horns a bit (I know I am!), but there is some satisfaction in knowing that unlike many Americans, we thrifty folks are faring much better in this downturn in the economy. Ipso facto: I was frugal before it was 'cool' to be frugal.

My upbringing was, of course, mostly responsible for this. My parents were very thrifty folks and I learned from them some of the most important lessons I use today. Take credit cards, for instance. I have one credit card, for emergencies only. My parents were always very outspoken about the use (and abuse) of credit cards. They figured that if you don't have the cash to actually purchase the item in question, then you can't afford to buy it. Simple. Taking out a loan was only acceptable for buying a very large, expensive item, like a house, or if necessary, to go to school for a higher education. Even purchasing a car was not really deemed an acceptable reason for taking out a loan, but if necessary, then you bought  a used car (oh-excuse me--a pre-owned car)  not a new car and certainly not without putting down a significant amount of cash that you had ardorously saved for such a purchase. The result of this teaching is obvious: I am 38 years old and have never owned a new car and certainly never a fancy, expensive car. Why would I need one anyway? So I can drive around looking cool in my fancy car? All I need is a car that runs and gets me to where I'm going (and doesn't look too awful, of course.)

Unlike many of my friends, who all started getting married and buying houses in their twenties, I did not purchase my first home until the age of 36. And I had been saving money for my down payment, little by little, over a period of twelve years. I have known many people who thought I was crazy. Some may have laughed at me secretly behind my back. I'm sure some of these people aren't laughing anymore, when they are saddled with huge mortgages they can no longer afford to pay, especially when they bought a house more pricey than they could actually afford, because they wanted a big, new, fancy house like 'everyone else' has. This unfortunate affliction of buying and living beyond your means seems to have been the way of life for many people for many years, I am now seeing.  

In my parent's day and my grandparent's day, they would not have batted an eyelash at my twelve years of saving money for my future house and the waiting and waiting that went with it. Many people from that era were well-schooled in the ways of making do with very little. You had to be. That, and saving everything. My grandparents were in their teens during the Great Depression; an age that is very impressionable. A decade or more of "making do", coupled with their humble circumstances, both in the homes where they grew up and later, as young marrieds, left them with a lifelong ability to find ways to live on very little. My grandfather's parents were not rich; they were poor Polish immigrants from Chicago, lured to central Wisconsin by the offer of cheap land at the turn of the century, where they grew potatoes and were never rich. My grandmother's family were also Polish immigrants who came to America with nothing. They were city folks; my great-grandfather was a house painter who earned a meager living that didn't much support his family of five children. In all the genealogical research I've done on my mother's family and my father's family, going back generations, I have found nobody who was affluent. Just a bunch of frugal folks who worked hard, saved what they could, and lived within their means, even if their "means" were very small.

My parents were married shortly after my mother graduated from college in 1968. She worked an after school job during high school at a bakery from the time she was 16 to save money for college. She was also lucky enough to get a scholarship to help pay for college, since my grandparents didn't have money to give her. My father was in the Marines. After he finished his service about a year after they married, he worked three jobs. They lived in a tiny, rented house with two bedrooms and a big vegetable garden in back. This was their home until 1973, when they were able to build a house, using money they had been saving for the last five years of their marriage. My mother was an excellent sewer; she had used to make all her own clothes in high school and when my brother was born in 1969 and me in 1970, she sewed clothes for us too. Everything else we wore was from rummage sales, or hand-me-downs from other people who had children of a similar age. She and my father would go out only once a year; to dinner for their wedding anniversary. 
After moving into the new house in 1973, my parents put in a HUGE garden. They also planted many fruit trees. Much of my childhood was spent working in the garden in summer and picking fruit from the orchard. They grew everything. What wasn't immediately consumed at dinner, was either canned as preserves or frozen. My mother also used to make her own pickles and jams and jellies. We never had to buy these things from the store. I'm sure it saved them a lot of money. Two younger sisters were born after me, one in 1973 and one in 1976. All my rummage-sale clothes were then handed down to my younger sisters when I outgrew them. It was very rare for us to get clothing that was new. My brother, being the only boy, was lucky that he didn't have to share his clothes (or his room), but he seldom got new clothes either.

Eventually, my parents' financial situation improved. My father started his own business in 1974 and after the first couple of shaky years, it took off and became very successful. But even with success, they never did change their base thriftiness and all their frugal ways passed down to me and my siblings; lessons that I am glad I learned. And when I say frugal, I don't mean cheap. There's a huge difference there.
My husband and I are not wealthy or even affluent; we don't have jobs that pay huge salaries. We're just average, hard-working, blue collar people who occasionally splurge on a small luxury or two (like a weekend trip to Vegas), but for the most part, we live the frugal life like many before us have, not always because we want to, but because we have to.

 Sometimes I admit I get tired of coupon-clipping my way through life, always looking for sales, wishing that I could take a real vacation somewhere ( I haven't had a real vacation in over 10 yrs), envying others who have more; but right about now I'm pretty happy because when most of America is struggling with these lean times and wondering how they are going to manage to handle the 'downsizing' of their lives, this "dealing with less" is really no different than how I've been living pretty much my whole adult life.  You certainly can't miss what you never had!