Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Work on Your Project (aka DIY Penny Tray)

Assignment #9 was to work on my selected project -- my DIY penny tray for the living room. My first task was to order the supplies needed to complete the project. It took a few days for everything to get here, but now we're ready to get started.

I forgot to take a picture of all of the supplies together.  The supplies for this project included: 209 pennies, one tray, one sponge brush, wood stain, epoxy, and clear coat spray. I must say that the bank teller gave me a funny look when I asked for four rolls of pennies. Thankfully, she didn't ask what I needed them for. Meanwhile, hubby commented on the fact that this project was supposed to reduce the number of pennies in the house. I had forgotten that we donated all of our pennies to one of his work charity fundraisers. That's what I get for trying to do the right thing. 

Next, I stained the tray. It only took one coat of stain to achieve the color I was looking for. We have some leftover stain from the door finishing project in a color that I'm fond of so this didn't add to cost. After waiting eight hours, I sealed the entire tray with a clear coat spray.

Pre-epoxy tray
When I started arranging my pennies I found that all of the pennies from the rolls were brand new. Since it took more than $2 to cover the bottom (209 pennies to be exact), I had to carefully mix in the darker, used pennies.  Then, I mixed the epoxy and carefully poured it into the tray. Be extra careful with this stuff. It was extremely sticky. The epoxy took 24 hours to cure.

Finished penny tray
Total Cost: $27.62

The cost breakdown is as follows:
  • Pennies: $2.09
  • Epoxy: $13.93
  • Foam brush: $0.21
  • Tray: $3.42
  • Clear coat spray: $7.97
I really like how this tray turned out. It fits in nicely with our living room style and adds a much needed flat surface for holding drinks and snacks. I have four trays left and I need to think about what I want to do with them. Strangely enough, Apartment Therapy just ran an article about how to control clutter with trays. It's almost like they are watching me.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Stuffed Bell Peppers

Hubby has been telling me for a while that he really loves stuffed bell peppers and that he wanted me to make them. The stars finally aligned and I did so last night. They turned out super yummy and now hubby wants them on the regular rotation.

Our local farmer's market had green peppers on sale, so today seemed like the best day to give it a shot. Since I hadn't made stuffed bell peppers before, I did look at a few recipes first to get a feel for what normally goes into them. Then I went through our refrigerator and pantry to see what I could whip up.

Time: 1 hour
Serves: 2 adults

  • 2 green bell peppers
  • 1/2 yellow onion, diced.
  • 2 tsp dry garlic
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 tbs olive oil
  • 1 pound ground turkey
  • 2 cups cooked white rice
  • 1 tomato, rough chopped
  • 1/4 cup cheese

  1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Cook rice according to instructions.
  3. Meanwhile, cut the tops off the green bell peppers and clean out the insides. Reserve the tops.
  4. Parboil the green peppers for 5 minutes.
  5. Heat the olive oil at medium high in a large skillet. Dice the green pepper tops. Add the diced green peppers, onion, garlic, salt, and pepper to the skillet. Cook until onions are translucent (~5 minutes).
  6. Add ground turkey to the skillet and good until the turkey is browned.
  7. Add tomato and cook for another 2 minutes.
  8. Add cooked rice and mix well.
  9. Stuff mixture into bell peppers and top with cheese.
  10. Bake in a pan with a tiny bit of water on the bottom for 25 - 30 minutes or until cheese is melted and everything is cooked through.
While I cooked the rice at the same time as the turkey mixture, you could precook the rice. We actually keep cooked rice in the freezer for quick fried rice. We had some rice and turkey mix left over that we plan to eat with biscuits during the week. 


Monday, January 5, 2015

Sweet Potato Risotto

Hubby and I have been working on trimming our grocery budget -- and our waistlines. While neither of us are willing to give up meat completely, we have agreed to start "Meatless Mondays." My plan is to share the recipes that we come up with for these days.

Today's meatless Monday dish was Sweet Potato Risotto. I have a love/hate relationship with risotto. I love the creamy texture, but it requires constant attention and near constant stirring for the 45 minute cook time. I was inspired by the Framed Table's recipe, but, as usual, did my own thing.

Time: 45 minutes
Serves: 2


  • 1 sweet potato
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons fat (I used bacon grease, but olive oil would be fine too)
  • 1 cup arborio rice
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 4 cups vegetable broth
  • pinch nutmeg
  • pinch thyme
  • 1 tablespoon margarine 
  • salt & pepper to taste
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Pierce sweet potato with a fork several times and bake for at least 1 hour.
  3. Let cooked sweet potato cool until you are able to handle it. Then remove the skin and mash in a bowl. Set aside.
  4. Heat fat on medium and cook garlic until everything smells yummy. Don't brown the garlic.
  5. Add the rice and stir to coat. Allow to cook until most of the fat is absorbed.
  6. Add the wine and stir. Allow to cook until the wine is absorbed. Stir frequently.
  7. Add the mashed sweet potato and two cups of the vegetable broth. Stir to combine. Allow to good until most of the liquid is absorbed. Stir frequently. (See what I mean about the stirring?)
  8. Add the nutmeg, thyme, and remaining broth. Stir.
  9. When the remaining liquid is absorbed and the rice is creamy and yummy, remove from the heat. Stir in the margarine.
  10. Salt and pepper to taste.
  11. Enjoy!
Best wishes.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Why do you crochet?

About a year ago, I was sifting through our winter clothes bin and happened upon the first scarf that I made for my husband. Though the scarf was originally white, now faded through use to grey, it reminded me of how much I loved him then and love him now. That scarf was the last item that I knitted – over 5 years ago. For some reason or another, the hobby just didn’t stick. Not being one to give up on yarn crafts, I asked hubby if he would like me to crochet him a new scarf. Of course, he said, “Yes!” and I set out to purchase my materials and to learn how to crochet.

Hubby wearing his new scarf
I learned how to crochet by watching YouTube videos. I like being able to stop, pause, and rewind as needed. One of the best sources of videos that I have found is the Crochet Crowd (link here). Mikey, the creator and owner of the site, is incredibly easy to learn from. I love his tips, tricks, advice, and giggles. It’s almost as if he’s sitting in my office with me.

Soon after finishing the scarf, I found out that my sister-in-law was expecting. I didn’t know the gender of the baby, but I must have been secretly hoping for a girl because the yarn that I picked for the baby blanket ended up reading more girl than boy. Even though it was comprised purely of double crochet stitches, the resulting baby blanket was my most ambitious project at the time. I ended up shelving my plans to send a basket of washcloths after realizing that I’m the world’s slowest crocheter.

Finished baby blanket
After returning from a weeklong visit with my in-laws, I decided to participate in Stitch-cation (link here), hosted by the Crochet Crowd, and create an afghan for my mom for Christmas. Even though stitch-cation was supposed to last for two months, I knew that it would easily take me six months to finish this project. The afghan was comprised of 20 squares with 10 different patterns and 9 different colors. There were times when I wanted to give up because particular squares were quite difficult, but I persevered.

My Mom with her "Sandy Sunset" afghan
So, to get back to the original question:
  • I crochet to show the people in my life how much I love them.
  • I crochet to stretch my creative mind.
  • I crochet to show myself that I can accomplish things that seem impossible.
  • I crochet to feel connected to my work.
  • I crochet to calm my mind.
  • I crochet to keep my hands busy while thinking.
For me, crocheting isn’t just about the items being made. This is a hobby that I can turn to when I need some quiet time in my day, when I need to clear my head, or when I need to do some serious dissertation thinking. As I told my husband when he asked about my hobby, “I study crime. Not the bad behavior of individuals, but differences in state crime rates. There is nothing tangible about my work – the thing I’m studying only exists as numbers in an excel spreadsheet and the words I produce only exist on my computer. With crocheting, I can hold the hook and yarn and actually make something.”

The Quiet One (1952)

*Note: This post was written by the infamous, hubby. After 3 years about blogging about him and our doings, he has agreed to share his review of the movies that we're watching.*

I love video games. Some of my earliest memories are of those playing my Gameboy to pass the time on our family trips between Anchorage and Fairbanks (360 miles) as a child. As I grew older I never grew out of my fascination with video games and in time came to see interactive media as an art form (Roger Ebert’s disapproval is noted). Nowadays I would say I clock more than 1000 hours a year on my hobby of choice and that’s probably being conservative.

Recently I checked the online statistics of an action game I’ve been playing since early 2012. The database revealed that I had played this particular game for 200 hours in the past two years. Of course I remembered snippets of where that time had gone. A quick match before heading off to work or to unwind when I got home. A lazy Sunday afternoon could turn into a three hour session and so on. Month-by-month the hours had climbed. I had a blast and I don’t regret a thing, though the realization forced me to put in context how I had been spending my free time.

The thought came to me, for the time I’ve spent playing this one game I could have watched close to 100 movies I’ve never seen before. While I have no intention of giving up video games any time soon, I proposed to Amanda that we put together a list of the best movies to date and make an effort to watch the ones we haven’t seen over the months to come.

We put together the collection below of 148 titles which is a concatenation of the “best movies” lists from the American Film Institute and AMC. I was surprised to realize I’ve seen only a handful of the movies on the list and only around five since Amanda and I met. Some (e.g. E.T.) I haven’t seen in over 20 years.

We began our cinematic journey with a 1952 romantic-comedy The Quiet One, starring John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara. I had never heard of the movie and Amanda’s reaction was less than enthusiastic.

“I’ve never liked John Wayne, I think his acting tends to be a bit wooden” she grimaced.
“Well in that case, woodn’t you like to get this one out of the way first?” my first bad pun of the evening.

The Quiet One is set in 1920’s Ireland as an Irish-American Sean Thornton (played by Wayne) returns to settle his family’s ancestral homestead. His new neighbors, the Danahers, are a brother and sister pair played by Victor McLaglen and Maureen O’Hara. Thornton’s attempts to court the sister Mary Kate Danaher are led astray by her brother Will’s refusal to her give consent to marry.

A common theme throughout the film is the clash between American and Irish customs, usually at Thornton’s expense. These misunderstandings are the source of many of the film’s humorous moments, but also the recurring conflict which is punctuated by the final confrontation between Sean and Will.

The humor is still crisp six decades later and more than once I caught myself laughing out loud. I will avoid spoiling the ending and let it suffice to say that we were both pleasantly surprised by this romantic comedy after all. While the 129 minute runtime seemed daunting at the outset, the film is well-paced and fills those two hours with a seamless narrative. In short, we wouldn't hesitate to recommend it for a date night with someone special.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

New Year

It looks like the last time I posted was back in July. A lot happened during the second half of the year and I learned a lot about who I am. 

Over the last six months I attended two national conferences, continued work on my dissertation, entered the job market, visited my brother's family in North Carolina, graduated with Sisko from doggy obedience school, had an amazing visit with college friends, completed some home improvement projects, got the go ahead to vaccinate Scooter, treated Sisko's heart worm infection,   tried my hand at gardening, and had a wonderful holiday with my family.

I did all of this while feeling constantly tired and rundown.  I haven't written about my health problems because it would force me to acknowledge that something is wrong. For the last year, I have been frustrated because my primary care doctor was unwilling to determine the cause of my exhaustion and racing heart beat, among other symptoms. It took my annual trip to the gynecologist for someone to actually listen to me. Six vials of blood later and more blood tests than I care to count, we finally got a few answers and a referral to a rheumatologist. At this point, we suspect that whatever is going on with me is autoimmune related. We haven't seen the new doctor yet, so it will be a while before we have a definitive diagnosis and some sort of treatment plan in place. 

A few people know what has been going on, but I haven't broadcast it on FaceBook or the blog until now because it has been easier to "fake it until I make it," than to deal with how crappy I feel or how it is hurting my relationships and life. Truth be told, I'm tired of faking it. 

So where does this leave us? I have good days and bad days. On the good days, I feel mostly like myself and on the bad days I can barely force myself out of bed. The main thing that I have learned is that I have to accept my limitations and make the best of it.

Serenity Prayer
I strive to accomplish the most that I can every day. That might mean that I just make it to the shower or do some reading or work on the dissertation or some housework. I can't beat myself up for not finishing everything on my to-do list. So, I am back to blogging, but at my pace. This will probably mean less regular updates, but it could also mean that I feel less guilt for not keeping up my end of the writing bargain.

I don't make resolutions, but I do have some goals for 2015:

  • practice mindful self-care,
  • finish the dissertation,
  • continue working on the house -- one project at a time,
  • crocheting to my heart's content,
  • read 50 books,
  • cultivate my relationships, 
  • revive the garden, 
  • doodle more, and
  • blog.

Best wishes.