Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Office Re-Do!

My office is surprisingly the only room in the house that hadn't had a paint job yet. It took me a long time to A) decide what I wanted and B) have the energy to undertake such a task, because it was a MESS. It had gradually become a catch-all space, and the goal was to make it beautiful and efficient.

Here are some before shots. Clearly, this project has been on my to-do list for quite a while, because these photos are from last May ... and horribly embarrassing. Happily, all these problems have been solved! 

Problem spot #1: Cords and routers and hard drives, oh my! When we moved in, the office was set up quickly and things added over the years. This had never been organized and was a giant sore spot.

Problem spot #2: Using the office as a storage room plus too many packaging materials and books.

Problem #3: Plentiful, but ugly and disorganized shelving.

Here's where I began ...

Color! I knew for sure that it was going to be bright. Here is a (very bad picture) of the office at my old house. Now I can admit that it was maybe a teeny too bright, even for me.

But how awesome is that rug? I had always wanted to do a painted rug, and the beat up hardwood floors in this basement room provided the perfect opportunity. This was a fun room.

Then, a few weeks ago, Dora ordered this ice cream at Friendly's, and I had my color inspiration!

The tricky part was finding a color that was definitely orange, not peach, but also not too bright. Three walls ended up orange, and one wall is magenta. It's warm and cozy and makes an impact without being overpowering. Love it!!

Problem #1 solved: We wanted to get some kind of unit to store all the electronic components by the computer table. Brainstorm: I've got all these items in storage from when I used to exhibit at the National Stationery Show sitting in the basement, taking up space. We moved a Spotgirl display shelf into the corner. Now all the little units are tucked onto the shelf, USB cords neatly corralled in another Spotgirl display basket, and bonus! An open-box, Best Buy special, tiny television that fits on the shelf perfectly.

This is my new entrance way. I used to have cork boards up on that wall, which looked cluttered. More Spotgirl items here ... an acrylic display sign and decorative lamp used for the show booth. I also gave this little dresser a fresh coat of paint.

Hey! How'd that get in here! He typically runs from the camera, but while I was taking office pics, decided to pose for me.

Problems #2 & 3 solved: I wanted to keep as much as possible off the floor. I had to make things fit on the shelf, which involved getting rid of lots of stuff. The rolls of paper in the corner bin used to be in a giant ugly cardboard flat file - this is much more attractive. Plus, the paper is now out where I can see it, so I'll remember to use it!

These shelves from Ikea have served me well for many years, but are not so attractive when they're jammed with stuff. At first, I was looking into getting coordinating storage bins for everything, then I realized (DUH!) it would be a lot easier (and cheaper!) to just cover them up. I sewed curtains and attached cafe rods and silver hanging clips.

The magenta bins up top and the green bins along the side are new. Remember the overflowing bins of packing supplies? They've been condensed into two of those pink bins. Much better.

I loved the books on the mantle, but had to pare waaay down. Two giant boxes of graphic design magazines from 1995-2002 went to a new home thanks to Freecycle. Another Spotgirl prop on the wall ... there used to be four of these, but three of them were badly water damaged from storage, rats.

Now that the cordless phone moved to the corner shelf, I have room on my paper cart (another fabulous Ikea find) for some photos.

This vase was another Spotgirl display prop, the flowers are new! My friend Beth brought me those carved wooden elephant stamps after her Peace Corp year in Nepal.

One of my favorite things that stayed: I loved these silver pots when I first saw them in Pier One, but they were crazy expensive. I kept checking the price and watched it go down and down until I finally scored them for about $3 each.

So, that's it! Everything is now easy to access and the space is relaxing and organized. The new challenge is making sure it stays that way.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Baking Monday - Chocolate Surprise Cookies

AKA: What to do with leftover candy, recipe #2!

This recipe is excellent. I omitted the pecans (because, nuts in cookies, ugh) and cut the butter to 1.5 sticks instead of two. I unwrapped all our goodies and had enough mini Reese cups, Hershey Kisses, and Trader Joe's Mini PB Cups (3/cookie) to fill a recipe. I used the mini scoop to portion out cookie dough (which, BTW, is even more delicious than the cookies), flattened them out with my palms, put the candy in the middle, and wrapped the dough around them. These took 10 minutes on the nose for baking.

You can kind of tell what candy is in each cookie by the shape. I showed Jeff the different shapes so he could zero in on the all-chocolate ones and avoid the pb.

The insides look so cool. The TJ PB got all melty and smooth, those were my favorite.

Now, happily, there are no more Easter chocolates around the house, except for a bag of mini KitKats, which I hate but the kids love. I'll be throwing them in lunches randomly for the next month and they will think I'm a rock star.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Ten Pounds

I've been writing this post in my head for the last two weeks, and am thrilled to finally be able to publish it.

I'm ten pounds lighter than I was in March!

Here's the story - last fall, I had to buy all new pants because nothing fit anymore. I was two sizes higher than I wanted to be and spent all winter feeling miserable about it, but still not miserable enough to take any serious action. As I'm approaching ages that start with a higher number, it's getting more and more difficult to indulge in junk food without consequences. (Three years of breastfeeding got me into that baaaad habit.) I knew that it was time to change things around while it was still manageable, but still lacked the motivation to do so. Then around the end of February, a few things happened at once that gave me a push.

1. My cousin wrote a book:

... so as our family was preparing to celebrate her accomplishment, I had skinny on the brain.

2. Lent was beginning ... the perfect time to cut out sweets. I'd been in a bad habit of enjoying multiple treats a day, usually mindlessly.

3. My friend Shaun writes a blog about his weight loss journey that's incredibly honest, funny and inspiring and I've been thinking a lot about his struggle and how brave he's been to report on it.

4. During a particularily low day, I posted this to FB:

... which prompted my friend Jen to invite me to join a weight loss challenge. I've never done anything to make me publicly accountable for weight loss, because I was sure I would fail. But I committed, and then I needed the tools to follow through.

So! Here's what I did.

1. I put myself in a mindset that this was a lifestyle change, not a diet. I constantly remind myself how hard it was to get started so I won't be tempted to slide back to old habits.

2. I started using this:

I really thought that just cutting out the junk food would be enough, but wanted to track my eating for a few days to see for myself. Turns out I had to cut waaay back on lots of things! I've been really surprised at how fun this is to use. If I know what we're having for dinner, I'll go ahead and enter it in the morning, then I know what kind of lunch and snacks to eat for the rest of the day. I can access it from my phone, desktop or iPad, so it's incredibly easy to keep up to date. I love that it does the calorie calculating for me and that I can add more calories by logging exercise for the day. And I log in EVERY little food, which is a big deterrent when I'm considering eating something junky. Seeing everything on screen makes it much easier to make healthy choices - now that I've been using it for a month, I can go back and look at best options for each meal.

It hasn't been easy, but there have really only been a handful of times that I've felt cranky hungry (and it turned out that two of those times, I hadn't eaten enough calories for the day, so it was warranted!) Tea is my best friend ... if I really want SOMETHING but have snacked enough, a cup of tea usually does the trick. (Caf before 5 pm, decaf after.) Peppermint tea is an excellent substitute when I have work to do after dinner but don't want to snack.

3. I also have been using this:

I really, really, hate exercising, but I love walking. Jeff got this pedometer from work and I stole it from him and have been using it since August. It has a USB connection, so I can upload my steps each week and keep track of activity on a chart. I love this!! My personal goal had been to hit at least 7000 steps / day, which I was only doing about 4 times a week consistently. However, since I've started this weight loss challenge, I've been more committed to it and have hit my goal every day since the beginning of March. In the last three weeks, my daily count has been between 8000-15000 and I've been doing it in surprisingly small ways.

• I go walking once a week with my friends, but I've also been taking every opportunity I can to go by myself or with one of the kids.

• When the kids are at the playground (and it's not too crowded), I walk around the outside. Clark and I go to the skating rink once a week and I walk laps while he plays or rides his trike.

• Doing an extra lap quickly around the perimeter of a store before and after shopping. This only takes ten minutes and adds at least another 1000 steps!

• Taking every opportunity to go up and down the stairs at home ... and there are MANY during the day. Put these books upstairs! Put these groceries down in the pantry! Take the laundry up and bring some down! Go downstairs and call the kids for dinner instead of just shouting! (The list goes on and on ... )

So, I've successfully completed my group weight loss challenge and officially dropped a size. I have more to go, but I'm halfway there and plan to be at my personal goal by the time school is out. I don't think you'll see me in a bikini any time soon, but I'm really going to enjoy shopping for new shorts!

I also want to add that this was incredibly hard for me to start - I truly didn't think I could ever be this disciplined. Turns out, I'm actually capable of much more than I thought. And I already feel a zillion times better. Moral: If I can do it, anyone can ... it's worth it!!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Baking Monday - Chocolate Caramel Streusel Bars

I tried another recipe from this site today. This one sounds good on paper, but was a bit of a crumbly mess. It tasted okay (very sweet!) but definitely needs tweaking.

The recipe called for "chopped nuts, any kind," which I found a bit annoying, because I typically dislike any nuts in baked goods, so therefore have no go to favorite. A specific ingredient would have been better. I went with chopped toasted almonds - blech. I didn't like the texture at all. And since this is the second almond recipe I've been burned on recently, I think from now on I'll stick with almond extract for baking (mmmmm) and save actual almonds for snacking instead.

So, here's something interesting ... I was doing a search on this recipe to try to find a calorie count (more on that Wednesday), I found other versions with slight differences ... but those differences might have made these better, like increasing the brown sugar and baking in a 9x12 instead of 8x8 pan. I'm not likely to try these again, but hey! experimenting is what Baking Monday is all about.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Spring Break, Woo!

Okay, there was one thing really woo-worthy during Spring Break:

I met Peter Walsh!! I love this guy. I've made many mentions in the past year about how I often fantasize about Peter Walsh coming over to my house and then I got to meet him! He was at this yard sale fundraiser last weekend in Ashburn, VA, a convenient 15 minutes away from my sister's house, where we happened to be visiting. He is SO nice and it was a thrill to shake his hand and thank him for the great advice. (One of my many favorites: Never buy patterned wrapping paper!)

Whew! Okay. On to the rest of our weekend. We went to DC with the kids on Sunday. It was their first time riding the Metro, and for $19, it was the highlight of their weekend.

Dora looks a little somber here, but this was the only pic I got during the ride that wasn't blurry. She really loved it!

Both Dora and Theo wanted to be standing and hold onto a pole - much more exciting than a boring old seat. Though they eventually had to be separated, because they were having trouble holding onto the same pole without bickering. (Sigh)

First stop was the National Building Museum. The museum was free admission (with suggested donation), but unfortunately, the Lego exhibit - the reason we went there in the first place - was ticketed admission and SOLD OUT for the rest of the day. That was a super bummer, but the kids did get to have some building time. (Yes, the same thing we were doing back at my sister's house, but at least they got to do it in a beautiful space.)

Highlight #2? Playing on this cool sculpture outside the museum. Next, we walked a few blocks (gorgeous day!) down to the Portrait Gallery / American Art Museum. One of my favorites, Jeff and I haven't been there since before it was closed for renovations in 2000. 

Definitely not the kids' favorite, but they had not been to an art museum in many years, and we did find a few things that they enjoyed. We heard a minstrel singing Civil War songs and saw a bit of American Voices in the courtyard. Dora enjoyed seeing the portrait of Juliette Gordon Low and recognized one of the George Washington portraits from a print hanging up at school and was awed to see the original painting! 

We stuck to the modern art section and they got to watch a cool 3D projection. (I was scolded two seconds after taking this pic, but I wanted to get the kids, not the artwork!)

This installation was definitely a favorite!

A great visit, I really enjoy taking the kids to see new things that they don't get to see around home. The rest of our week has been fairly low-key, and happily the sun was out yesterday ... yes!!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Crystal Kit Fail

In my experience, most kid's science kits and "make your own" whatever end up being very disappointing. But when Theo picked out this kit for Dora for Christmas, and I okayed it, because it looked like something she'd enjoy.

It required boiling water, so not entirely DIY.

Photo on the box - spectacular, right?

Actual size of grow your own crystal. Hmmmm. It's also annoying that the box is about four times larger than the size of the contents.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Baking Monday - Chocolate Mint Brownie Cookies

Okay, listen up - this recipe is seriously good.

I made a few changes to the original recipe. Did you know that Hershey's Special Dark cocoa is their version of dutch-processed? I just learned this recently, and it's much less expensive and very delicious. In addition to using Special Dark cocoa, I also substituted half the vanilla with peppermint extract. And, instead of dipping the cookies in mint chocolate, stirred in Andes Mint Baking pieces - SO good.

I doubled the cookie recipe, which then made about 90 cookies. The frosting portion of the recipe, however, makes a TON - half of the original frosting recipe covered my double batch of cookies.

These turned out super choclatey, super minty, and super soft and chewy. By the way, check out the rest of this lady's blog - great recipes and fun stuff to do with kids.