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Archive for November, 2009

Thanksgiving

Growing up, I always hated Thanksgiving. My mom would drag me to someone’s house to eat a bunch of food that I didn’t really like (cranberry sauce, mystery casseroles, dry turkey) and the only TV in the place was turned to football. Always football. I hated football.

The year we bought our house, I thought it would be nice to host Thanksgiving for a change. It would give me something to do. Little did I realize how much work was involved. Not just the cooking, but the cleaning – before and after – and all the STUFF that has to be dragged out – turkey roaster, giant serving platters, the nice dishes, etc. Fortunately, I had received most of that stuff as wedding gifts, so we were pretty much covered minus a few things – like nice serving spoons. Also fortunately, my mom was there to help me. She makes the best homemade stuffing and gravy. She also knows how to cook a turkey so it stays juicy. And ever since that first year when my grandma burned the sweet potato casserole, mom makes that now too.

This year was our fourth year hosting Thanksgiving at our home, and I dare say it was the best one yet. Everything was delicious and we all sat together at the kitchen table. No one ran off to go watch football. And my grandpa, who hasn’t been feeling well due to his chemo treatments, even helped himself to two plate-fulls. I was worried he wouldn’t eat much at all.

Also four years ago, my mom and I started our new Black Friday tradition. After the dishes are done and the leftovers put away (most of which we send home with the family), we get out all the ads, talk about what to get everyone, and then plan which deals we think are worth getting up at 4 am. I remember the first year we went to Target and I walked out with two flat screen TVs (for us) and two digital cameras (gifts) for ridiculously good prices. This year, I stood in the checkout line at Wal-Mart for an hour and a half only to spend $10 on two New Moon games (for my aunt and SIL). Not my best Black Friday purchase ever but we also hit Kohl’s and Sports Authority and picked up breakfast for the boys. Then later, my husband actually wanted to brave the crowds so we went to Target and the mall. I’d say we’re about half way done with all of our shopping now. Maybe this year I’ll actually have time for baking too.

 

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I really didn’t mean to abandon this blog, especially when I was doing such a good job of posting nearly every day. But my mom came in town last Thursday and all things Thanksgiving and Xmas shopping related have consumed my life ever since. 

And of course, there was the Great Guest Bathroom Redo – Part Deux. Let me show you it.

Here’s what our guest bathroom looked like when we bought the house:

Ugly cast iron tub and ugly old blue tiles with moldy grout. Actually, these two things were the only “original” items in the house.

A jack hammer, four grown men (husband, FIL, grandpa, and step-dad), a hole in my wall, and a couple of months later, we had a handicap-accessible bathroom for the cost of about $1,000. (side note: My MIL has MS and can’t walk, so we needed a handicap-accessible bathroom that she can be wheeled into for showers so they don’t have to stay at a hotel when they come to visit.)

So here’s how it looked after the first renovation:

At first glance, it looks fabulous. But if you look closely and remove the blue rug, you would see the tile floor is not level and the grout lines are uneven. None of the corners match up, and the tiles around the toilet are a botched job of piecing together a couple of broken tiles to make it all fit. So when my in-laws came back the next year, and my FIL rolled my MIL into the bathroom on a 400 lbs contraption that picks her up and sets her on a seat (in the shower), it shouldn’t be a huge surprise that one of the tiles cracked in two places under the pressure.

So what do you do when your bathroom floor looks terrible? Well you tear down the wallpaper and repaint of course!

But then you eventually realize that if you’re ever going to be confident in selling your house, you better have the floor redone. So we went to Home Depot in hopes of just paying someone to remove the old floor and reinstall the new one for a reasonable price. It’s a small bathroom, so it should’ve only cost about $450 for everything. Except when the contractors came to tear up our old tile, they said the subfloor was uneven and that they had to tear that out (it’s concrete) and re-pour it. And that would cost an additional $600. We talked it over but decided to cancel the job and finish it ourselves. So we paid $175 for professionals to remove the old tile floor and deliver our materials. Not bad I suppose, since the removal was the part I was worried about most.

The contractors left us with an uneven slab of concrete. Fantastic. Of course, not their fault. I actually blame my husband and FIL for not leveling it out when they poured the concrete subfloor during the first renovation. Note to anyone planning to install their own subfloor: LEVEL IT OUT! 

So I went to work with the chisel hacking away at places that were too high and then used patch and level where the floor was too low. This was pretty much trial and error for a few weeks – waiting for the patch and level mixture to dry and realizing I needed more in some places and less in others. Oh, and I had to do this BY MYSELF since my husband was out of town for work at that time. So that was fun.

When he came home, it was time to lay the tile. Except, the bathroom is kind of small and it’s hard for two grown people to fit in a space smaller than 25 sq ft. So I ended up spreading the Quikset and laying the tile while the hubs went to get more Quikset and cut the tiles. I’ll say this about laying tile: It is tedious, time-consuming work. Your measurements need to be precise, your Quikset needs to be spread evenly on the floor (sort of like frosting a cake to perfection) and you MUST USE SPACERS in your corners to make sure each corner comes out to a perfect cross. This is especially difficult if the space you’re working in isn’t a perfect square or has walls that are not at a perfect 90 degree angle.

Sometimes the toilet and edge pieces need to be cut by a professional because a regular tile cutter just won’t do the trick. So one stormy night after work, I took three pieces of tile with my measurements drawn on them to Lowe’s for cutting. The Home Depot near me does not cut tile but the guys at Lowe’s were kind of enough to cut my tile FOR FREE even though I didn’t buy my tile there and even though they don’t like to do that because if they break it, they can’t replace it. But I begged them and promised that if they broke it, I would not complain and I would just go grab another one from my massive stack at home for them to try again. Lesson learned: buy your tile from Lowe’s. Or wear a low-cut shirt and do some sweet talking.

So here it is pre-grouting:

During grouting:

And post grouting:

All that was left for my husband to do was put up the wall base border, put in the threshold and put back the toilet and sink. Since I was going to see New Moon on Saturday with the girls, he had a few hours to accomplish these few simple tasks. I expected him to be finished when I got home, but instead, I found a GIANT cardboard box with a picture of a porcelain toilet on the front and a very grouchy, sweaty husband.

“Don’t ask,” he said. So I didn’t. Instead, I peeked into the trashcan that had made it’s home in my living room to find my beautiful old toilet in pieces. The cursing from the bathroom made it pretty obvious. Apparently, in his struggle to put the toilet back on the pipe and wax ring, he dropped the tank and it shattered. Also apparently, tanks aren’t often sold separately, and the few that are, don’t fit our particular toilet bowl. So he had to buy a brand new toilet. Except it wasn’t quite as nice as our old one, which I probably shouldn’t have pointed out so soon after seeing it, because that did nothing to help the stream of cursing from the bathroom.

But you know how sometimes, some people are just sort of…accident prone? Think Chevy Chase in Christmas Vacation? That’s how my husband is when it comes to this bathroom. In addition to the broken toilet, he dropped a screw down the sewage pipe, which he had to dig out. Then he hit his head on the towel rack, knocking it into the water of the open toilet tank – twice. He also managed to get wax from the wax ring seal ALL over the bathroom. I’m pretty sure he thinks this bathroom has some sort of vendetta against him. I’m pretty sure I agree. But we finished it. And with a minor toilet seat upgrade, we decided not to take back the smaller, cheaper toilet. So the guest bathroom is now complete.

A word about the tile and grout choice: In the first renovation, we went with a gray/white tile and gray grout, thinking it would match the blue tiles in the shower better than a cream-colored tile. We didn’t want solid white since that’s so hard to keep clean. But the problem with gray grout is that it darkens the room and if you have any imperfections at all with your tile work, gray grout makes it that much more obvious. This time, we went with a cream/off-white colored tile and “alabaster” grout – which is basically off-white. Though it doesn’t quite match the blue and white decor we have going on in the rest of the bathroom, it matches the hall tile just outside the bathroom, the kitchen tile, and the upstairs bathroom tile. So we just continued the theme throughout the house. Plus, I think it makes the bathroom a little brighter and less like a cold dungeon. We still have to seal it to make sure the grout stays nice and white, but it’s ready for our Thanksgiving Day guests. And it’s one less thing I have to worry about when the times comes to sell our house.

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Thankful

As much as I’ve been Christmas-obsessed lately, I want to take a moment to remember Thanksgiving and focus on the things that I am thankful for in my life.

Just some of things I can think of right now:

My husband. Even when I’m having a bad day, he always reminds me that he’s my biggest fan and that no matter what, he loves me. Even when it feels like the rest of the world doesn’t, I know he does.

My dog. He’s always there for a snuggle and NEVER gets sick of being petted. Another one that loves me no matter what.  

My home. It’s not perfect and I don’t plan to stay in it for 30 years, or even another 3 years, but as far as starter homes go, I love it. I like taking good care of it. And I hope that whoever owns it after us takes just as good care of it. There’s a lot of love in that house.

Food on the table. Food pantries are busier than ever (I should know, my aunt works for one) and I’m so grateful that I’m not someone who has to visit them and instead, can find ways to contribute to them. Such as giving a bag full of canned goods to the Boy Scouts this weekend when they come around to collect their bags for their “Scouting for Food” drive. No one in America should ever go hungry.

My job. And not just because I have a job, but because I have a job that – despite any previous complaints you may have heard from me – I truly do love. I conduct a lot of intern interviews from time to time and I’m always reminded of how I felt, sitting in that interview seat, praying to God to please let me land this internship and eventually, this job, and I will never ask for anything ever again Amen. I remember that prayer, and I am still just as thankful as I was the day I signed on the dotted line more than five years ago. Though a raise never hurts.

And lastly, I am thankful for Pandora, because not only do they play pleasant Xmas music that makes me happy, but they even play Xmas music by HANSON, which is all kinds of awesome. Heh.

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Bathroom Update

Progress continues on the Great Bathroom Floor Retiling Project of 2009.

Here’s where we were Sunday afternoon, around 5pm.

And here’s where we are now:

Still left to do:

  • Grout
  • Install floor/wall border
  • Install threshold
  • Replace toilet and sink

I have a nice long list of dos and don’ts when it comes to tiling. Lessons learned the hard way. But despite all the challenges, I have to say that so far, I’m very happy with the way the floor is turning out. Hopefully this weekend I’ll be able to share final before-and-after photos. And my mom won’t have to walk up two flights of stairs to use the bathroom during her visit.

 

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Other People’s Kids

Last night we hosted the neighborhood Saturday Night Bonfire. We’ve only officially hosted it maybe one or two other times, and we really didn’t expect to host it this week, but it was getting late and no one had really offered so we stepped up to the plate. After the last one, I now realize it’s a wasted effort to spend much time cleaning only to have your house practically trashed by the army of children (ages 4-12) running wild inside while all the adults hang out around the firepit outside. But, at least it serves to be great birth control.

Case in point: two little girls run up to me and ask me to make them some popcorn. Okay, easy enough. I make it and dish it out in little PLASTIC bowls (I at least know that much about little kids). I go about my business refilling my drink, making dip, setting up a DVD for the boys downstairs, when I suddenly hear “Hey, let’s play kick the popcorn!” Before I could yell “NOOOO!” and run in slow motion up the stairs to stop them, I see the little plastic bowl filled with popcorn go sliding across my hardwood floor, crashing into the tiny foot of a little 5-year-old girl, spilling the entire bowl onto the floor (thank goodness it was popcorn and not something like spaghetti). And then the little girls laugh, because apparently popcorn scattering all over the floor is hilarious.

About a half hour later, I’m called into the house because I’m told one of the girls knocked a picture frame over on the couch. The couch is soft so I think it’s no big deal. I walk upstairs and was suddenly completely confused because all my picture frames were displayed nicely on the end tables. And then I looked up. It wasn’t just some little picture frame that was knocked onto the couch, like I’d been told, but the giant art work that hangs ABOVE THE COUCH was knocked sideways, hanging by a thread, almost crashing to the floor or on top of some kid’s head. Lesson learned: even pictures that are hung 5 ft in the air, mounted above a couch, are fair game in the war between little girls and breakable things.

But rather than chase other people’s kids around all night, fetching popcorn, and chips, and marshmallows, and drinks, and searching for “things that aren’t breakable and might be considered toys if you think creatively”, I’ve found it works much better to just add another shot of vodka to my drink and go out to the firepit, completely ignoring the tornado that is occurring inside my house at that moment.

This tactic doesn’t work so well for my husband. He has a much different way of handling other people’s kids. But before I get into that, I should give you a little background. You see, my husband likes to tell people that I hate children. He says that I don’t like kids, that I don’t want kids, and that he will one day be the one initiating the whole “let’s have kids” conversation because I never will. Of course, he exaggerates a tad, but he truly believes that he is way more into kids than I am. And therefore, much better at handling them. Well, we all know that saying, something about actions speaking louder than words?

My patient, child-loving husband, found himself cornered by two little girls begging him for marshmallows (ZOMG! MARSHMALLOWS!) So what does he do? He tells them to sit – on the floor, in the kitchen – and tosses marshmallows at them like treats. I think my poor husband has confused little children with furry pets. The funniest part? The girls actually did it and seemed to enjoy it. But when one marshmallow fell to the floor and a little girl scurried to pick it up, I’m proud to say that my husband was thoughtful enough to tell her not to eat. Instead, he told her, to go downstairs and give it to her brother.

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Dreaming

A co-worker of mine recently went to Spain with his wife (before she got pregnant. Or maybe that’s when she got pregnant. Hm.) But I was browsing their pics on Facebook and I felt a pang of jealousy, as is often common when I look at someone’s pictures from any vacation that involves crossing an ocean. It’s not like we don’t travel and take vacations. We do. But the window of travel opportunity is getting smaller as we think about the future. There are so many places I want to see now, as opposed to when we’re older, and I just get overwhelmed thinking that we only have a couple more years to do these things.

If I had to rank them in order, the top five places on my must-see list include:

Scotland

London

Ireland

France (not just Paris though. I’m more interested in seeing the smaller towns.)

Switzerland (or Germany, Belgium, Northern Italy…just someplace that looks like THIS)

I’d also love to go back to Spain and not only explore Barcelona more, but also visit Madrid. And I’d like to go back to Italy, spend more time in Rome and Tuscany, and maybe see Venice or Milan. So many places to see!

Of course, come January, I’ll be craving the beach instead. My top five beach escapes would have to be:

Maui (we went to Oahu in May, LOVED it, and now want to see the rest of the islands, starting with Maui)

Costa Rica (with beaches, volcanoes, rainforest and water falls, we’d never get bored)

St. Thomas

Puerto Rico

Turks and Caicos – just because all the celebs go there.

::sigh::

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Countdown: Two Weeks

Hey, um, you guys? Do you realize Thanksgiving is exactly two weeks from today? Crazy right?

And so let us commence with the running around all scatter-brained and busy-like.

I have a menu to plan for 8 people, which isn’t an army by any means, but it’s a bit of a challenge when three of those 8 people are diabetic. So recipes have to be adjusted, carbs need to be watched, and Splenda needs to be purchased by the bag-fulls.

And then there’s the decorating. I still have yet to put away my minimal Halloween decorations, and the Fall things will stick around until Black Friday, but sometimes I gaze longingly at home magazines featuring gorgeous dining room place settings and think that maybe I should try to do something like that. Then I realize that my table only seats six and the men only sit at the table to say grace and eat quickly before heading back  downstairs to sit in front of the big TV watching football and Lord only knows what else. So a buffet style meal has always been the tradition at my house.

So instead of wasting my time worrying about table settings, I’ll focus on the menu. We’re pretty traditional around here so some of the staple items will be: turkey, stuffing (my mom’s recipe), green bean casserole (trying a new Weight Watchers recipe), hashbrown casserole (a light version I made last year that seems to be a big hit), sweet potato casserole, pumpkin and pecan pies, rolls, and since we typically eat around 3 or 4, we’ll have some appetizers like shrimp cocktail and cheese and crackers or chips and dip. And let’s not forget the wine! I bought three bottles in Napa exclusively for the holidays.

And now…I’m hungry.

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