Monday, May 30, 2011

A New Rug, An Adventure in the Pouring Rain

Our living room rug had stains on it.  The beautiful, subtle pattern and creamy color were no longer the focal point.  And after a lot of SpotShot and many comments from both sets of our parents, we decided we couldn't stand it any longer.  The rug looked worn down, while the rest of the room looked new and nice.

I had scoped out some 8x10 rugs via catalog at Crate & Barrel and Pottery Barn.  Heeding my mother's advice to go see the rugs in person to feel them and look at them unrolled or on display, we headed out into the rain yesterday.  Since we still have some Crate & Barrel gift cards from our wedding a year ago, that was our first stop.  We found the rug section on the 4th floor in the Michigan Avenue store, and I loved the natural sisal and jute rugs... but then we noticed the prices.  Those were not the ones I had seen in the catalog for $200!  The lady working in that section directed us to the 2nd floor, but those rugs were not nearly as comfy (of course!).  I mean, we knew the natural fiber rugs would require a tradeoff of being less plush in order to be more durable... but we like to walk around barefoot in our home and these were not going to cut it.

After we paid for a microplane grater/zester and a little teal vase (yay for using some of those gift cards!), we headed out, only to find Chicago was experiencing a complete downpour.  Wind whipping umbrellas, torrential rain, everyone on Michigan Avenue huddled inside stores or under awnings...  An umbrella, Hunter rain boots and a hooded jacket were no match.  Scott was nice enough to run for the car and pull it up, but we both ended up wet (well, he was drenched).  After a morning of playing softball, he was hungry too, but we wanted to get something accomplished so... on to Pottery Barn!

I had been stalking the Pottery Barn catalog for rugs too and found a couple I liked that were around $300.  As always, they had some lovely ones that were closer to $450 (the salesperson's favorite was in that range), but I made it clear I wanted to stay around $300 and find one that was lighter in color but not too light.  We didn't need dirt and stains and our messy life showing up on our new rug.  And there it was... the color-bound flat-braided jute rug.

Bordered in a light beige, full of different browns, braided in a soft and comfortable way, I made a quick decision.  At this point, Scott had stopped talking out of starvation and was simply standing there, dripping and hungry, so he just nodded in agreement.  (Please note, no husbands were harmed in the purchasing of this rug.)  They had the 8x10 rug in stock (the last one... isn't that always the case?) and we took it home!
via Pottery Barn
via Pottery Barn
Considering the speedy decision, I was a little nervous.  I had already mulled over the rugs in the catalog and examined them in the store, but it's different after you have plunked down $300 and driven it home and unrolled it under your huge couch and extremely heavy coffee table.  I shouldn't have worried... we rolled it out and the rug was just right!  And I think that was around that time that the rain stopped too... thank goodness.

Even today, Scott mentioned how much he likes the new rug.  We spent some time in the sun this afternoon with friends... it's a beautiful day finally!  Hope you enjoyed the holiday too.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Cake Pops for my BFF's Birthday!

My best friend since 5th grade celebrated her birthday last weekend, hosting a fun BBQ at her new apartment. With her fabulous deck and the whole gang of friends, we enjoyed one of our first outdoor evenings of the year. Sure, we zipped on our jackets once it got darker, but thankfully the rain that had been forecasted did not happen. The sun even attempted to come out at some point in the afternoon.

I asked my BFF what I could bring to the party and she suggested a birthday dessert, maybe cupcakes. But I wanted to try something new... and that's when I decided to make cake pops for the first time. I had tasted a couple of Starbucks' version, so I searched around the web for some how-to instructions and also discovered that this delicious trend was made famous by Bakerella. Taking bits and pieces from here and there, I figured out the necessary ingredients and basic steps... and dove right in.  Though the recipe doesn't require many ingredients, it is a bit time intensive and fairly hands-on.

photo by Andrew Ward
Cake Pops

1 box of cake mix (and the ingredients needed to bake it - eggs, oil, etc)
3/4 to 1 full can of frosting (you can add as much as you need/want)
Candy Melts (available at Michael's... I bought four different colors and used about 1/2 bag of each color)
50 lollipop sticks (available at Michael's)
Styrofoam "stand" to dry and display the cake pops

1) Bake a cake
Since Walgreens was closer than the grocery store, I picked up a couple boxes of Duncan Hines Moist Deluxe Confetti Cupcakes (per box, it yields 12 cupcakes or one 8x8 or 9x9).  Combining the two boxes of mix with egg whites, oil, and water, I baked a basic 13x9 cake.

I let the cake cool off a bit in the pan and then inverted it onto a cooling rack.  Meanwhile, I whipped up some buttercream frosting using a full stick of butter, lots of powdered sugar and a few splashes of milk.

2) Crumble the cake, mix in frosting, and form cake balls.
When the cake cooled completely, I crumbled it and mixed in the frosting. Once the consistency was right for rolling, I formed the "dough" into about 40 balls and arranged them on a baking sheet before sliding them in the fridge overnight. (You could probably continue the process after 30 minutes to an hour later, but it was late and I was tired...)

Crumbled cake
With frosting mixed in

3) Melt the candy coating, dip each lollipop stick and insert them into the cake balls. Once lollipop sticks are secure, coat each cake ball completely with candy.
The next morning, I melted Candy Melts of different colors in the microwave, working with one color at a time (following the package directions, I used the defrost setting for about 1 minute, then 30 seconds at a time, stirring frequently). I simply dipped the end of the lollipop sticks into the melted candy and inserted them into the cake balls, allowing a couple minutes for them to set.  Using a spoon to guide the candy coating and scoop the pops gently, I coated each ball and stood the stick in styrofoam while the candy hardened.

Purple Candy Melts prior to melting

Yellow Candy Melts prior to melting

Since the pops needed to be spaced out to "dry," I rotated the first round from the Styrofoam stand to a plate in order to make room for the just-dipped ones.  Once the candy had hardened, I arranged all of them back onto the stand.  Don't they resemble strange-looking flowers?

The cake pops were a hit at the BBQ (if I may say so myself)!  I loved the pretty colors, and with their rich flavor and unique shape, the pops turned out to be a super fun birthday dessert.  Happy birthday, N :)

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Summer Shoe Shopping Spree

I love shoes... as evidenced by the large number of them I have in the closet, on the bedroom floor, and right inside the front door.  And I love Target.  Last weekend, Scott and I went on a little shopping spree and I added three more pairs to my collection.  Despite the cooler weather this week, I had to wear a couple of them.  ("Oh, open-toe shoes!  You must be freezing!"  No, I'm just willing to sacrifice for fashion... at least when it comes to shoes.) 

Believe it or not, these shoes are not only cute and fun, they are actually super comfortable... no blisters on the first couple wears!  I wore the wedges and heels twice each this week - paired the wedges with black cropped jeans and slightly-boyfriend jeans cuffed at the ankle, the heels with dark-wash boot-cut jeans and black pants.  With some warmer weather, I'll try out the flat ones... with shorts, dresses, skirts, pretty much anything.  I live in flat sandals in the summer.

What do you think?

Xhilaration Tawny Wedge Sandals in Brown

Mossimo Paz Strappy Heeled Sandals in Natural

Post-shopping excursion, we cooked up a delicious dinner that made me even more eager for the days of eating alfresco.  After searching for marinade ideas for our pork tenderloin and realizing we had next to nothing, I found an easy combination that only required two ingredients: yellow mustard and apricot jam.  We actually had both items (strange, I know) so I mixed them together and spooned the tangy-sweet topping onto the pork when it was close to done cooking.  The result: a yummy glaze with just the right amount of sweet and spice.  (You can change the proportions based on which flavor you prefer to be stronger.)

A caesar salad and grapes were great, crisp sides and a bottle of sparkling wine served as the perfect complement.  Shopping and shoes and dinner and wine... what more could a girl ask for?

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

My Exercise Goal

I've never been one to regularly work out. Sure, I was on drill team (aka dance team or pom squad) in high school. I discovered yoga in college, was involved in a dance company and performed in several on-campus shows. Last spring, I trained for and completed a walking half marathon.

But I typically go through phases here and there, and I don't always make working out a priority.  When I say I am setting an exercise goal, most people would probably tell me I don't need one.  Yes, I may not need to lose weight... but I do need to get in shape.  I want to (dare I say it) enjoy working out... and I have found that I love dance, yoga, and walking.  I want to push myself a bit harder. I want to feel strong and have energy.  The biggest obstacle though is finding the ever-elusive time to hit the treadmill, practice yoga, or maybe even sweat it out with Just Dance 2 and our Wii.

To give myself a little trial run, I worked out this past Friday through Sunday.  Weekends are the best time for me to work out, but there was something different this time around... I tried to run a little.  On Friday, I wanted to see how long I could run before slowing to a walk.  I didn't time myself, but after a few minutes, my heart actually hurt and felt like it might beat out of my chest.  I knew I was okay, but I didn't want to risk a heart attack on the treadmill, so I walked for the rest of my session.  Saturday and Sunday went better since I paced myself a bit with shorter intervals. 

The perfectionist in me wants to just go for it, but I realized I need to take some time and build up strength and endurance.  I don't think I will ever be a runner, but I want to be healthy, no matter what activity I choose or what weight the scale reads.

The bottom line... I know myself.  I want to do it all, make plans, and fill up my calendar with anything but exercise.  In talking with Scott, I realized that there is really only one way I will dedicate time to exercise... bribery.  Yes, it's a method that has worked throughout my life.  I got M&Ms while being potty-trained, stickers and "free desserts" for good behavior growing up, and allowance for doing chores (hey, Mom and Dad, I guess it worked... though I am now quite a lover of chocolate after the M&Ms and free desserts!).

So here is my goal:
Work out three times a week for the next four weeks.

And here is my bribe...I mean, my reward:
A new item of athletic clothing/gear from Lululemon!

Start date: Monday, May 16
End date: Sunday, June 12

Three times a week might not sound like much.  But with class two nights a week, homework, work events, parties and trips, this next month is already looking booked.  I have the last couple weeks of classes and my finals due during that time period, as well as a trip to ND for my 5-year college reunion.  I wanted a realistic but somewhat challenging goal.  And now that I have told you all about my plan and I have a reward as an incentive, I am ready to take on this challenge.  I'll let you know how this adventure goes!

A fun, unique way to work out...
Flirty Girl Fitness class for a bachelorette party
Great way to strengthen arms and abs!
Flirty Girl Fitness class for a bachelorette party

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Look Good and Feel Good, Weekend Edition

Sometimes the weekends feel just as hectic and jam-packed as the weekdays.  Maybe that's because I think of the weekends as "free time" and then keep adding items to my Saturday and Sunday to-do list.  I usually barely get out of pajamas or workout clothes, unless we are going out at night.  Or if I have lots of fun lined up, I end up overindulging to make up for the stress of the week, and Sunday night finds me worn out and the opposite of relaxed.

Two recent articles reminded me how to savor my downtime and make the most of those two days off each week.  Shape's May issue shares tips on how to "Lose Weight this Weekend" while still enjoying happy hour, shopping, the movies, dining out, brunch, and TV marathons--you know, all those opportunities to cancel out your hard work at the gym and dedication to eating right.
By making smart choices, it is possible to have fun and feel good doing it.  Here's a peek at the tips you can find in Shape:
1) Happy Hour: Opt for a tart, spicy, or strongly flavored beverage (you'll sip more slowly).  Position yourself away from the snacks and order an appetizer or meal to prevent mindless munching.

2) Shopping: Rather than fall victim to the food court, stash a snack in your bag.  Or if you need to grab lunch, just pick a restaurant that allows you to build your own meal.  Stick to lean protein and steamed veggies.

3) Movies: BYO treats or split a small popcorn or some dark chocolate with a friend.
4) Dining Out: Choose dishes with names that denote a healthy cooking method: au jus (cooked in broth), braised, broiled, baked, and grilled.  Or share, since most entrees are larger than a single serving.

5) Brunch: Eat a piece of fruit and some lowfat yogurt first thing in the a.m. to curb your hunger beforehand.  If you are facing a brunch buffet, scan the spread and select two or three things that look really good.  And remember that eggs keep you fuller than starchier breakfast staples like bagels or waffles.

6) TV Marathon: Reinvent your Sunday by scheduling a fun, calorie-torching activity, like a hike, bike ride, or a beach volleyball game with friends.  Or try a new class at the gym or workout DVD at home.
So what about looking good?  I would love to be the person who jumps out of bed and into the shower, actually getting dressed for the day.  But in the meantime, I can dream about these fashionable outfits, tailored for each weekend occasion.  Thank you to the May issue of InStyle for the inspiration... 
The "Your Look: Instant Style" section hits on all my favorite activities: grabbing lattes, hitting the gym, strolling the farmers market, running errands, walking the dog (if I had one), recovering over brunch.  Too bad I don't look nearly as fashion-forward as these pages, but hey, wouldn't it be nice?  Happy weekend to you all!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Relax with Time-Saving Tips and a New Nail Polish

A couple weeks back, I was reading through the May issue of Women's Health magazine and found some time-saving tips.  Every magazine these days seems to boast that it has the secrets to help you save time, get a hot body, cook a gourmet meal, and have an amazing sex life (um, I wouldn't mind looking like Julianne Hough!).  Now, you all know how much I love magazines so I am not putting any of them down, but what was so refreshing about the Women's Health article was that the tips were actually useful... to the point that I already (try to) put many of them into practice.

To see the full list of 8 tips, you can check out the slideshow on the Women's Health site. A couple of the ideas don't make sense for me (ie. I don't need to know how to reduce my driving commute time since I take the bus; and it's too tempting to use any website that makes it easier to find clothes on sale).  And a couple are still yet to be tried (ie. making and freezing smoothies for the week on Sunday night; or doing intervals at the gym... because I need to make it to the gym first). However, I have found success with the below... when I actually follow through:

#3: Take Five - Focus on something for 25 minutes without interruption, then take a five-minute breather before diving back in.  It sounds counterintuitive, but a pause can actually help you move faster.  Taking breaks improves mental agility and boosts your output, says productivity expert Francesco Cirillo.

Prior to coming across this article, I had read about the Pomodoro Technique, which Cirillo created.  On the surface, it is simply timing oneself to complete tasks for 25 minutes, followed by a 5-minute break.  It gets someone like me, who is easily distracted by email, facebook, cleaning, painting my nails (see below), basically anything but the task at hand, to actually focus for 25 straight minutes.  I just used a web-based timer I found through Google but the actual technique can be more complex if you want to try out the real deal.  Let's just say this simple technique enabled me to crank out my 30-page novella draft last week in a pretty limited timeframe!

#5: Use the OHIO Method - OHIO stands for Only Handle It Once--and it is the best way to tackle emails and voicemails.  "Decide immediately what to do with each message the first time you look at it, so  you won't waste time going back to it later," says organization expert Peter Walsh, star of Enough Already! With Peter Walsh.  That means trashing junk mail, taking care of any two-minute tasks right away, and adding the more time-consuming items to your to-do list or delegating them to someone else.

I'll admit that Scott would think he had died and gone to heaven if I used the OHIO method at home (shoes... magazines... mail...), but I do often employ this method at work to save time.  By staying on top of my email inbox and my to-do list, I can manage my time more efficiently and be out the door at a decent hour.

#8: Move the Clock - Waking up a mere 15 minutes earlier pads your morning with precious time to leisurely drink your coffee as you open your mail or pick out what to wear.  To keep from hitting the snooze button, put your clock in the bathroom, says Kyle Pott, cofounder of Bowtie hype, a personal productivity and goal-setting consultancy.  You'll have to get out of bed to turn off the alarm, and hey, the shower's right there.  Hop in!

Okay, I would worry about not being able to hear my alarm going off in the bathroom, but this tip is so true.  It reminded me of my post about small steps to a calmer day.  If I can get out of bed the first time my alarm goes off, or allow myself a few extra minutes to read in the morning, I feel so much calmer and more refreshed during the morning rush.

And to end this post on a fun note, I wanted to share a great summery shade of nail polish - Essie's Status Symbol.  Between homework assignments tonight, I did my own little at-home manicure...  This hue is pink with a touch of coral and looks cute even though my skin hasn't seen sun all winter.  The color just brightens my mood... or maybe it's the unbelievable weather we are having in Chicago.  Either way, I'll take a burst of color and some sunshine any day.


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