Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Big Bully

I looked at the calendar this morning and noticed that it was January.  Still.  Like a house guest who has overstayed his welcome, January keeps hanging around.  Of all winter months, it is by far the rudest.

November is considered the beginning of winter around here.  While technically still fall, November is the month that ushers in colder temperatures and the first snow of the season.  Even so, I don't dislike November because it has fairly good manners.  It only sticks around for thirty days and rewards us with a holiday based, mostly, around food and football.  Even if your Thanksgiving get together doesn't turn out well, it's an extra day off work, right?  Maybe even a long weekend.  You have to give November points for that.

December isn't bad, either.  There are so many things to keep you busy that it usually flies by.  With all of the holiday shopping, decorating and partying, you almost wish December had a few extra days.  The holidays may promise more than they deliver, but, December never does. 

February is the most polite month of them all, in my opinion.  It doesn't stick around very long, humorously looks to a groundhog for prognostication and midway through, it rewards us with a holiday that celebrates love and chocolate.  What's not to like?

March marks the beginnning of spring.  Buds start to appear on trees and tender green shoots bravely poke their heads out of the ground.  Warm or cold, rain or snow, March is a month of optimism.  Even when it doesn't feel like spring, you know it's coming.  It may be fickle, but you've got to give kudos to March.

That brings us back to January.  We celebrate it's arrival every year with parties, champagne and fireworks.  Crowds gather to watch a giant ball drop to mark the very second it appears.  No wonder it has a superiority complex.  January knows that it can behave as despicably as it likes and we will still welcome it when it comes back next year.  I can't wait to say good riddance to it, the big bully.

Five more days....


Monday, January 17, 2011

Not Exactly A Bucket List

This afternoon, Mr. Willoughby and I were making a verbal "bucket list".  Well, sort of.  We weren't so much making a list of things we want to do before we die, as much as places we would like to go if we had the time and money to travel.  Our list included the typical places you'd expect; Paris, London, the pyramids of Egypt, Tuscany (where we would visit my friend Elvira), the Swiss get the idea.

Next, we talked about places we would like to travel right here in the U.S., and from there, places we would like to go closer to home in Michigan.  We tried to think of all the "must see" Michigan attractions so we could rule out any that we've already visited.  Sadly, we couldn't think of very "must sees" in our own home state.  We ended up resorting to a Google search.

Once we had a list of cities and attractions staring us in the face, we remembered how many great things there are to see and do, here.  There were some surprises, too.  Places we hadn't heard of that we added to our list.  This summer, we're hoping to revisit our "Cheap Thrills" day trip challenge and, perhaps, include a few weekend trips.  The term "camping" was even mentioned (remember me, the germophobe with minor OCD who hates spiders and bugs?).

My question to you, blog friends, is what are the "must sees" in your state?  Whether the state you grew up in or the state you currently live in, what should I be sure to see and do if I visit?  From restaurants, museums, and tourist attractions to natural wonders, I want to know so I can add them to our not-quite Bucket List.


Thursday, January 13, 2011

I Have A Confession To Make, I'm Afraid Of My Bathroom

A few days ago, I was standing at the bathroom sink when, out of the corner of my eye, I saw something move.  I looked down and found a huge, furry spider in the sink.  When I say huge, I mean gigantic.  Ginormous.  Herculean.  Immense.  Jumbo.  Mammoth.  Brobdingnagian (my new word of the day).  It had a leg span of at least five inches.  Or maybe it was five centimeters.  All I know is that it was big.

I have no idea where it came from, but I think it dropped from somewhere above the sink.  It could have been on the medicine cabinet or the wall, or maybe (gulp) it was on me.  Could I have had a spider chilling out on my shoulder or my arm and not have known it?  Seems unlikely, but anything is possible.

My first thought was to grab something large and heavy and squish him, but there was nothing handy in the bathroom.  I didn't want to go looking for something in another room because, knowing how tricky spiders can be, I was sure he disappear while I was gone.  The only weapon I could find without taking my eyes off of him was water, so that's what I used.  I turned the faucet on and tried to splash him toward the drain.

At first he did nothing but laugh at me (he was laughing with his eyes, anyway).  He gave me a look that said "You may be bigger, but I'm faster.  Splash away, silly woman."  Then he began to run up the side of the sink, making a break for the countertop and potential freedom.  It was then that I spied the cup my daughter had left next to the sink after brushing her teeth.  I snatched it (with Ninja like speed and agility) and filled it with water.  I doused the intruder which caused him to lose his footing and surf toward the drain on a mini wave.  A split second later and he was sliding into the drain and out of sight.

This was not my first (spider) rodeo, however, so I was not about to fall for that hiding-under-the-drain plug trick.  I pulled up on the lever that closes the drain and filled the sink with water.  If there was even the tiniest gap around the plug, he was going to need mini scuba gear to escape.  After twenty or thirty minutes, I released the lever and let all two or three gallons of water slide down the pipe.  I figured that was certainly enough water to wash him down the drain and on his journey toward the water processing plant.

Or was it?  Since then, I've wondered if he could have gripped the underside of the drain plug and found a little air bubble to keep him alive (do spiders have lungs?).  In his little spider brain (do spiders have brains?), he could have concocted a plan to hide out and wait for me.  When the bathroom light went off, he would have known that the coast was clear to make an escape.

So now, when I flip on the light in the bathroom, the first thing I do is look for him.  I look in the sink, on the walls, the floor, the toilet.  I haven't found him (yet), but sometimes I think I feel him watching me.  Or maybe it isn't him at all, but a spider friend or family member bent on making me pay for what I did.  Spider revenge......I'm afraid.  I'm very afraid.


Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Spring Cleaning (Sort Of)

I often get teased about my house cleaning habits.  My son even says I'm obsessed because I tend to like things done a certain way.  I may be particular, but, obsessed?  I just don't see it.  I was thinking about this while I scrubbed the toilet seat hinges with an old toothbrush.

It's true that I do a lot of cleaning.  I put the dust rag, vacuum and various antibacterial cleaners to work every day, but I also have this quirky personality trait that allows me to procrastinate about things I can't see.  This quirk applies to closets, drawers and spaces that I don't have to look at on a regular basis.  It's like selective OCD.  If I see it, it must be clean, but if I can close the door, I can forget about it (for a while).  Eventually, it gets to me and I go on an organizing bender.  Over the weekend, I did just that.  It started when Mr. Willoughby and I finally installed the shelves in a cabinet that we built for glassware (over a year ago).

I look at that cabinet every day because it's in our dining room.  You can't get into the kitchen without walking past it, but it was easy to put off installing the shelves because our glassware was being stored in various other places (we have a LOT of glassware).  When we received our new margarita glasses, just before Christmas, though, there was no place to put them.  The kitchen cabinets and the china cabinet in the dining room were all full to capacity so we could procrastinate no longer.

I couldn't get a photo straight on because
the flash reflected in the glass and whited out the pic.
As I said, we built the cabinet over a year ago.  We bought an old, handmade cabinet at the flea market because we wanted the vintage leaded glass door.  It was poorly constructed and falling apart so the seller had a price of $8 on it, but immediately offered to let it go for $5.  We brought it home, took it apart and used the door, the hinges, the knob and some of the original wood as well as new wood, and trim molding to build a new cabinet.  We ordered glass shelves from a local glass shop.  It's been sitting in the dining room, empty for the most part, since it received the final coat of paint last summer.

Close up of the pattern on the door.
Along with the new margarita glasses, it also holds some of the pilsners and various cocktail glasses that were being stored in the kitchen.   That, of course, meant that we had newly available space in some of the kitchen cabinets, so we tackled that next.  Everything was sorted and organized.  We also got the new kitchen goodies we got for Christmas put away.

The most daunting task, however, was cleaning our home office.  That room has become the "catch all" for everything that doesn't have anywhere else to go.  Piles of paperwork, boxes of craft and project supplies, books, photographs, ebay items, the list goes on and on.  It's a small room to begin with and it was bursting at the seams.  It took an entire day for two of us to get through it all, but two bags full of trash and one box full of donations for the Salvation Army later, it's clean and organized.  Would you like to see the photos?  Yeah, that's not going to happen just yet.  Presently, it's furnished with cast offs that I'm anxious to replace.  There are two old bookcases that have seen better days, a shabby chic tin-topped table (much more shabby than chic), a computer armoire that's far too big for the room and a few other pieces I could live without.  I adore the vintage office chair, but it's not very comfortable, so that needs to go, too.  We're not even going to discuss the wallpaper.  I couldn't find what I wanted at the store the day I bought it, so I chose the pattern I hated the least.  Stupid thing to do, I know.

Not kind to the behind!
The future plan (very near future, I hope) is to rip down the wallpaper, paint the walls, install built in bookcases and replace the computer armoire with a desk that fits the size of the room.  When all of that happens, I'll post some pictures.

For now, the organizing continues.  The closet in the laundry room is calling my name.


Monday, January 3, 2011

Experiment Completed - The Result? More Experimentation Necessary

I was bouncing around the internet the other day when I stumbled across something that caught my attention.  It was a recipe (more of a method, really) for transforming humble choice grade supermarket steak into superbly tender and delicious gourmet works of culinary art.  The pictures that accompanied the method were food porn at its best.  Thick slabs of perfectly cooked beef, pink in the middle with a seasoned crust, topped with a pat of ever so slowly melting garlic and parsley butter.  I was seduced.

Mr. Willoughby is the steak-lover in our house, so we do have it from time to time because he enjoys it, but the kids and I don't normally get too excited about steak.  New York Strips, Porterhouse, T-bones and Ribeyes can be tasty, but also tough even when we marinate them.  Filets, though, are a different story.  Diminutive as they may be, I'd rather have a tender, juicy, four ounce gem of steak than a twelve ounce piece of shoe leather any day.  Sometimes, we'll buy a whole tenderloin and cut it into a dozen or more perfect little filets.  The only down side is that it can be expensive.

So back to the method of transforming cheap steaks into heavenly deliciousness.  It looked simple and inexpensive.  It involves generously salting both sides of each steak with coarse salt, letting them sit at room temperature for an hour per inch of thickness, then rinsing, patting dry and grilling (click here for complete instructions).  There is a scientific process that supposedly takes place to transform and tenderize your steaks.

We followed the instructions to the letter.  Our steaks were New York Strips, just under and inch thick, so we let them process for about 45 minutes.  As he took them out to grill them, Mr. Willoughby said they felt as tender as filets.  Our hopes were high.  A short while later, when he pulled them off the grill, the steaks did not look very promising.  They had shrunk to less than half of their original thickness.

Cutting into them was disappointing to say the least.  They were tough.  Not kinda tough, sorta tough or a tiny bit tough.  They were really tough!  I didn't get a picture, but I found one on Google Images that comes close.
On a tenderness scale, I'd give them a rating of shoe leather.  The flavor was nice, seasoned and flavorful yet not overly salty, but the texture made them nearly inedible.

We're not quite ready to admit defeat on this intriguing method.  We're willing to concede that the steaks were overcooked.  It had gotten dark outside and a flashlight doesn't give the best light for accurately  determining how cooked a steak may or may not be and the charcoal did flare up once or twice.  Beyond that, more experimentation is needed before we can say whether we may have over or under processed the meat before cooking or if this method simply doesn't work for us.

On a more positive note, I decided to make Yorkshire Pudding instead of bread or rolls to go with our steaks, and it turned out wonderfully.  I had never made Yorkshire Pudding before and I was worried that mine wouldn't puff up like they were supposed to due to my inexperience.  

My fears were unfounded.  They were puffed, airy and delicious!  You can find the recipe I used here.

Now that you've heard my experimental steak story, I want to hear from you.  Have you tried this method?  Did it work for you?  What is your favorite way to prepare and eat steak?


Saturday, January 1, 2011

And The Winner Is.....

I know there are all sorts of high tech ways to draw a random winner when you're having a giveaway, but I prefer the low tech approach.  I think it's more fun and so does my daughter.

Here's what we did.  We put the names of all the entrants on little slips of paper, folded them in half and then put them all in one of my new hand blown margarita glasses (seemed appropriate for this giveaway since I got them from Novica, don't you think?).

We gave them a good stir and then my daughter reached in and chose a name.

It's a little blurry, but I think you can clearly see who the winner is.  Congratulations, Kerrie!  I hope you enjoy your shopping spree!

I'd like to thank everyone who entered my giveaway as well as the wonderful people at Novica for giving me the opportunity to share the talented artists and artisans with my blog friends.