Sunday, October 30, 2011

Update: Sally Hansen Salon Effects Nailpolish Strips

3 weeks tomorrow, and still going strong!

(Forgive my dry, dirty toes.  This was taken after a day of painting the family room while in my bare feet. Yes, that's the wall behind my houndstooth toes.  Yes, it's beige.)

Halloween 2011

With very little bribery I convinced the kids to dress as pirates this year.  

A matching skirt and vest, a couple of hand stitched hats, and some dollar store swords later.... and we were in the pillaging and plundering business!

They collected lots of booty on Saturday night (in these parts, trick-or-treating is scheduled for the Saturday before the 31st, from 6:30-8:00pm), and even managed to stay warm with a few layers under their costumes.  

PS: The pirate password is "Yo Ho Ho". 

Don't say you never learned anything on this blog. ;)

Sunday, October 23, 2011

No-Knead Bread

I am a carb-lovin' girl.  I see the merits of the South Beach diet, but could never, ever stick to it long term, because let's face it: Bread is Life.  Take away potatoes, take away noodles, but don't touch my bread!  I know my weaknesses, and because of this, I also know better than to stock up on crusty, fragrant, yeasty fresh bread.  I'm almost glad to live so far from Trader Joe's, as purchasing a loaf of their Cracked Wheat Sourdough was sure to lead to a bread binge (lightly toasted with a schmear of real butter). But when I came across the much-talked about recipe for No-Knead Bread, I had to try it (So I'm a couple years behind the hubbub.  And?).  I'm not printing the recipe here but will leave Google to provide it for you.

The catch to the recipe is that it takes a good 14-18 hours to yield a loaf of bread.  Good for practicing delayed gratification, bad if you want a loaf with tonight's meal.  The waiting was torture.... as was trying to keep up with the steps of flouring and resting and rising.  (Not really, I just wasn't used to it.) 

I was pleasantly surprised with the result.  
The exterior was crusty and crackly.  
The inside was airy and chewy.  

The loaf was big, and after eating it with dinner, I sliced the rest & froze it.  
Perfect for lunchtime sandwiches or for quick croutons!

I was intrigued by this experiment and checked out Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day.  I like the idea behind it, but would need to invest in a 5 quart bucket and a pizza peel to give this a try.  Maybe in a few months. My waistline will thank me.    

Friday, October 21, 2011

DIY Firepit

We've talked about having a firepit for years.  Poking through Pinterest, and looking around our yard, we realized that we had everything we needed to attempt one (specifically a decent supply of  "Wall" stones).  At the back of our lawn we have two odd areas of "landscaping".  One had a sad little tree, about a dozen pieces of rotten wood, and plenty of weeds - all outlined with a double row of wall stones.   We were planning to redo it anyway, and because we didn't have to spend $1.78/ea for the stones, we had nothing to lose except a little time on a Saturday morning.  

Before, sans tree that my husband gleefully chainsaw'd down.

After, with a remnant of that sad tree being sacrificed in the name of our hot dog roast. 
This is 3 rows of the stones.  We simply picked a spot near the house (but not too near), and committed to ruining the lawn underneath.  We stacked about a dozen stones per layer. 

Enjoying our first bonfire, and celebrating with hot dogs & s'mores.  
After a few weeks, the stones settled out a bit (this is likely due to the slope on our lawn), so we do plan to restack them again.  I'd like to cap it off with matching stones, but this would be about another $20..... so I'll probably save that & put it towards a paver patio instead.  In the end, it was free, it's functional, and I think we'll put it to good use.  

Gratuitous pics of my kids: 

Monday, October 17, 2011

On Whining and Pancakes

I started writing a blog post about how we've all been sick & J has croup and every time he has a coughing fit I have a mini heart attack as I imagine his throat is closing up and then I wonder if I'd have the guts to grab a ballpoint pen and punch an actual hole in his trachea so he could breathe again (I do, but let's not test that statement).  Oh, then I was going to rant about the smattering of poison ivy that I think I picked up in the backyard, and which has now spread from my ankles to my neck & is driving me bananas.  But that's just ridiculous.

So instead, I'm going to talk about pancakes.  Cinnamon Streusal Pancakes to be exact.  I'm not posting a recipe, or even pictures because I am having difficulty typing while wearing oven mitts so I don't scratch. Let me just urge you to hustle yo self over to Two Peas and Their Pod and make these.  Soon.  They immediately rose to the top of the Family Favorites list, and despite how easy these 'cakes are to make (especially if you cheat like me & use a boxed mix), they make your breakfast special.  Like Christmas morning special.  Or brunch in bed special.

I even had some topping left over, and I saved it in the fridge then sprinkled it over waffle batter before cooking them up & they were fabulous.  Fab. U. Lous.  Yes, so good, they deserve an adjective broken into thirds.

Make them soon.  They are so good you'll want to send me money.  Feel free.    

PS: I am reading The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, and it is fantastic.  I am desperately missing book club.

PPS: I am also working my way through the Sookie Stackhouse books.  I love these because they are like the Diet Coke of literature: bubbly, delicious, and you only feel a little guilty about having one for breakfast.  I could easily read the entire series while sitting on the beach for a week. And yes, I would give them an "R" rating (mostly for violence, plus there is some *wink*wink*), but I have a clear understanding of reality vs. fiction so I choose to exercise my right to use the library as I see fit. Consider this a disclaimer on any future literature I might mention.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Halloween Deco: Are You Into It?

Halloween is just one of those holidays I don't get super excited about.  I like to decorate.  I like to dress up. I like to eat candy.  But I can do those things any day of the year (although I do get funny looks when I wear my cat ears grocery shopping).  I was having a particularly tough time feeling spooky until my Mom sent me a big box of decorations.  These mostly consist of Annalee dolls.  If you're not familiar with them, they are wool felt dolls with handpainted faces, created for a variety of holidays.  My Mom has been a collector for many years, and these dolls featured heavily in decorating for all the major holidays at our house.

When I opened that box, inspiration struck, and I got to work clearing off the buffet table.

I came up with this first:

But it was a little bare in the middle.  I knew I wanted to use the big frame I had left over from breaking the bathroom mirror, but wasn't sure how to make it less empty.  Pinterest to the rescue!  I found a tutorial for making a cute "Spooky" banner, and 2 hours later, it was hung.  Most appropriately, I made the accordion folds from paper out of a Frankenstein book.  

Much better!

PS: I love that bat garland from Martha Stewart.  I bought it on clearance after last Halloween & have been waiting for a chance to open that box.

PPS: I used Command strips to hang the frame.  Those are genius!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Product Review: Sally Hansen Salon Effects Nail Polish Strips

I've wanted to try these since they launched months ago.  The idea seems intriguing - nail polish strips - like the old press on nails I remember from junior high - but hopefully with better results.  They come in a rainbow of colors and a variety of designs including butterfly, bamboo, leopard, camouflage, glitter, fishnet & denim.

At $8.50/ box, they are not cheap.  But I was particularly captivated by the houndstooth design and I also liked the idea that they could last up to 3 weeks.  The box includes 16 strips and I was hopeful that I would be able to stretch these into multiple uses.  In the box there are 2 packs of 8 strips, in various sizes.  You also get a cuticle stick, a buffer, and instructions.

Application was easy:  Clean nails with polish remover, buff, and apply.  

The strips are generously sized, and I was able to trim them to cover 2-3 nails from just one strip.  The strips themselves are thin, flexible, and surprisingly sturdy. After doing both feet I still had 4 strips left from one pack, which means I can reasonably expect to get 4 uses out of each box.    

Please, no criticizing my Flintstone feet.

I LOVE the way these look.  I think the houndstooth is so fun for Fall. I don't think I would try a solid color, but some of the patterns are a neat way to change things up.  You could even do just one toe & paint the others. With a pedicure running $20-$30 + extra for any fancy design, I think these are a good value.  I'll add a postscript once I've had them on for a few days, but for now, I am very happy with the results. FYI, I did add a topcoat.  

Would you try these?  Do you think they are worth the $8.50 price tag? Update: There are 8 strips in each pack of nails strips (2 packs per box). Once the packs are opened, the strips WILL dry out, rendering them unusable. I don't know how long this takes, but I tried to apply nail strips that had been open for about 6 weeks, and they would not stick. So, I say share them or do your fingers and toes at the same time.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Bissel Carpet Steamer: A Review

When we moved into the house, we did so knowing that the previous owners had pets (4 cats + a dog at some point + rabbits), and that the carpet was vintage 1995 - and white!  We replaced the carpet in the Master & hallway out of necessity, but debated on what to do with the rest of the house.  I chose to DIY with a Bissell take home steam cleaner rented from Lowe's.  

I had never used one of these, but once I manhandled it out of my car's cargo area, I found it straightforward: clean water + detergent in the bottom, make 3 passes for each area of the carpet, then repeat, repeat, repeat, and dirty water fills the top..  A numbingly boring, noisy process, but much helped with a set of giant headphones & an iPod set on shuffle. 


Yes, this is the "dirty water" tank after about 20 minutes of cleaning.  I found the machine to be quite efficient - the carpet dried within a few hours of being cleaned.  

I used this in 4 rooms, and was mostly impressed with the results.  I noticed the biggest difference in the 2 rooms of white carpet.  They are not pristine, but in many places I noticed an immediate change in color.  Because of the lingering pet odor (and to be clear, the house doesn't reek of pet, but there was a noticeable smell wafting from the front room in particular), I was really hoping that there would be a huge change in the overall smell, and while there was improvement, I'd say that the follow-up dousing of Febreeze Carpet made more of a difference in the smell.  

Bottom line: For the money savings, I would do this again.  It cost about $50 for a 24-hour rental of the machine and 2 bottles of the cleaning solution.  I still have 3/4 of a bottle left, and for $23 to rent the machine, I will probably do this again in our large family room.  Compared to about $250+ for professional cleaning of the 4 rooms I DIY'd, this was a great savings.  I admit, it was made much easier by the fact that I did this before our furniture was moved in.  And I still spent about 8 hours total with all the cleaning - so it wasn't really "cheap" in the sense of time spent. Because of the difference in smell, and the overall feeling the carpet was so much cleaner, I think this was a successful DIY.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Ongoing Saga of De-Uglifying My House

aka: Adventures in Wallpaper Removal

When we moved into the house, I knew it needed work.  And I wasn't afraid of that.  Fortunately for us, the majority of the work is cosmetic: paint, paint, and yep: more paint.  Unfortunately, our new abode also contains wallpaper.  I am not a fan myself.  I think it mostly looks dated, tacky, and generally hideous.  Particularly when adorned with teacups and green stripes.  Blech.   

We've got one wall in the kitchen with wallpaper. 
This is tucked out of the way, next to the entrance to the garage, so I'm sure it didn't really disturb anyone but me.  Note where it was peeling up.  Klassy!

We also had a large wall in the adjoining dining room covered in wallpaper. Oh, of course there is a border encircling the kitchen and dining room (I will probably forever loathe teacups and sunflowers by the time this is all done). 

Immediately after moving in, I had gotten a little overeager & tried to dry strip the wallpaper.  I was really, really hopeful it was going to just pop right off.  Too bad I wasn't really, really lucky! I ended up with a "giant" on the wall. I've been staring at this for weeks, and after yesterday's Day of Sloth, I decided a little update was in order.

 I rounded up my good friends Hot Water and Vinegar & went to town. 

 First, I scored the wallpaper with one of those "tiger paw" devices.  Then I sprayed on a 50/50 mixture of hot water and vinegar.  The online instructions said to let it sit for 15 minutes.  I found this was much too long, and most of the solution evaporated after 5-10 minutes.  I averaged about 5 minutes, then began scraping with a plastic scraper. 

My first pass.  The big wall had a lot of the vinyl portion of the wallpaper already stripped off, which was a huge help. The solution soaked right into the gluey paper, and scraped off easily.   

If you look closely, you can see where the paper is bubbling up after being soaked with water/vinegar. 

Big pieces of the paper would peel right off.  

One section down....

And Done!

Then, I got ambitious and thought "Hey, that little wall shouldn't be too bad!" ..... and 2.5 hours later I had it done!  Maybe the sunlight shining on the other wall for 15 years had helped the glue to loosen.... because despite the peeling bits on this wall, the rest of the paper was solidly attached.

Done, Part II!
Check out the piles of wet, gluey, vinegary wallpaper scraps. Ugh.  I rolled it all up into the drop cloth and dumped it into a trash bag.  My "new" walls may be scraped and dirty and smell like pickles, but they are wallpaper-free and thus HUGELY improved. The only bummer is that this is Step One in a multi-multi-step process of remodeling the kitchen.  We won't have the money for months, so while I am obviously over-eager to get the changes started, I also have to temper myself with the knowledge that a) This is a project that is far from actually starting and b) You know what?  Forget about B.  I am stoked this is done and I feel like it's totally opened up the kitchen.  So yay me!

PS: I had a chemical wallpaper stripper to use, but thought I would give the water/vinegar solution a try.  With as messy and time-consuming as this process is, I am really glad I didn't have to resort to the chemicals (especially since it's 48 degrees outside & I wasn't willing to open the windows for ventilation).  Lesson learned: give the "natural" solution a try first!