Monday, December 31, 2012

New Year's Eve Sparkle

December 31, 2012

by Heather

I like sparkle at any time, but especially for New Year's Eve.  I'd like to say that I'm going to wear the outfit tonight that's pictured below, but I don't think I will. We're entertaining at home with a small dinner party, so perhaps something more comfortable would be appropriate like a fitted black sweater set with sparkly silver metallic trim -- something I've had for several years but still enjoy wearing at this time of the year.  However, I did want to share my new shoes with you, so I put this outfit together  -- and if I go somewhere on New Year's Day, it may get some action then. I also wanted to try out my new camera which was the perfect Christmas gift from the hubby.
The Nikon takes a decent picture but here is an issue: it reveals just a little too much in those close-up pictures -- even more than the naked eye can see.  I wanted a close-up of the watch I'm wearing, but the picture shows that the poor thing is way overdue for a cleaning. I was also hoping that the new camera would make me look taller, younger, and thinner, but it doesn't have that kind of magic. I guess my New Year's resolutions will be (again) to eat more healthfully and exercise, although Ann and Sheila say that the dieting can't start until after our Vegas trip.

Chico's black sequined jacket and black jeans; Prada sunglasses; Gucci watch; White House Black Market purse

Marc Fisher shoes from Macy's; 
the black and white snakeskin purse converts to a clutch

Ugly or cute?  I love 'em and they're actually comfortable! You can just make out my black lacquered big toe with a white and gold design. Aren't I the audacious one in my old age?!

I'm proud of myself for re-organizing my closet over the last few days, sorting out clothes and accessories for storage or donation, and finding this white-on-white tank with wide stripes of white sequins.   For a few minutes it was in the pile to give away, but at the last minute I rescued it.    
One of my favorite rings from Harley of Scottsdale 

The wider blingy bracelet is from a vendor at Bike Week (motorcycle week in AZ) last year; the black bracelet is from Ann Taylor

Taken just before the rain started.  Hardly ever rains here so we enjoy it when it happens. Time to put on a fire and get cozy.  The temps are going to dip overnight to 36 degrees!

We're serving king crab legs with lemon butter and a classic Caesar salad
accompanied by slices of crusty sourdough.  Black and white plates  and black wooden square chargers are from Banana Republic (remember when they used to sell home goods?); napkin rings from Saks; stemware from Pottery Barn; Lunt Eloquence sterling flatware.

And a final sparkle to end the evening.

Happy New Year to everyone!  And happy birthday to my Minnesota buddy, Gerri P.!


Friday, December 28, 2012

I Love Paint Part II

December 28, 2012

By Sheila

Yesterday I introduced the first steps of my dining room makeover.  Today I will show the finished product and share some of my painting tips.  As I said yesterday, paint is my all-time favorite decorating approach.  I have painted my own home inside and out and love the dramatic change that paint brings with a relatively small investment. 

In my opinion, it is not the painting itself that is the challenge, it is primarily the preparation.  Getting the room cleared, dropcloths in place, holes in the wall spackled, and areas taped off are the tasks that are not fun, but critical to a quality finished paint job. 

One of the handy tips I have used to rearrange my furniture for painting or otherwise are these furniture sliders pictured below.  They allow you to slide larger, heavier objects without damage to carpet or furniture.  I also use them on my travertine, but be careful you don't get "grit" under them, as they can scratch.  This is what my Mom and I used to move my dining room table with the ladder on top (my scaffolding).

The cutting in (painting all edges next to the ceiling, floor trim, etc.) was a challenge, even with my 8 foot ladder on top of my dining room table (scaffolding).  I had a hard time getting close enough in all the corners because of the angle of the ladder.  To solve this, I simply taped my paintbrush to a wooden handle, making my own extension.  This was a simple solution that allowed me to paint a neat line without compromising safety. 

Another item that really made painting these 15 foot walls easier is my Wooster Sherlock extension paint pole.  This has a quick and easily adjustable handle that allowed me to reach within 4 inches of the ceiling - close enough to"cut in" with my paintbrush at the edges. And the final product that my Mom swears by is Frog Tape for a clean line on even heavily textured walls. 

Step 4:  Final Paint.  The really fun part!  The color emerges and changes the look of the room so much!  (6 more hours)

Step 5:  Restore Order.  Put all furniture, glassware, mirrors, etc.  back in place (1.5 hours)

Total time start to finish:  17 hours.  This is a lot of time, but my dining room has 15 ft vaulted ceilings, an arch in the middle, and lots of nooks and crannies to paint around.  It requires placing my 8 ft ladder on top of my dining room table as a scaffolding, and it still is a stretch for me in the highest points.  But worth it, of course!   

Total money spent:  $197.  This included 2 gallons of primer, 2 gallons of paint, 1 gallon of ceiling paint, 3 new roller covers, frog tape (the best), a lightweight roller cage, and a new paint extension pole, which I love.  I already had ladders, screwdrivers, drop cloths, spackle to patch holes, and good paintbrushes (Purdy is worth the extra money).  I don't buy cheap paint or tools.  I think it is worth a little extra to make your project go more smoothly, and remember, I am the frugal one!

So for two days' work and about $200 my dining room got a complete transformation.  Of course, I did have help from my Mom.  She is amazing at "cutting in" and the added bonus of being my project photographer.  She was also my "spotter", since I promised I wouldn't get on top of my rigged scaffolding ladder without someone around to call 911. Thanks Mom!  Merry Christmas to me.  Am I lucky or what?

Thursday, December 27, 2012

I Love Paint Part I

December 27, 2012

By Sheila

Red.  Really red.  Time for a Change
My hands down favorite decorating option is paint.  It has huge impact.  It is relatively cheap.  It isn't really difficult to do, although practice does improve technique.  And the way I see it, if you get tired of it, change it.  That's what brings me to my most recent dining room makeover.  I am going to bring you this transformation in two parts; today and tomorrow.

Bye Bye Red
First, a little history.  When we bought our home (about six years ago), our dining room was an outdoor atrium.  It was pretty cool, but we already had enough outdoor space, and no dining room, so we converted it.  Of course this included adding a roof, skylights, raising the floor, and so on.  These are the activities that I find entertaining, and I come by it honestly.  My parents have built three homes, and I don't mean with a contractor.  I mean with their hands.  Beautiful, large homes.  They have passed this genetic disease on to their offspring, and there you have it.  The good news is, they are the first people I call when the going gets tough.  And they are the first to lend a hand even when I send out an SOS.  Or even a not-so-innocent, "what are you up to tomorrow?".  Thanks Mom & Dad!
Mom (Janet) hard at work

Back to the dining room.  This room was first painted what I call "default beige".  This is the color I painted the whole interior of the house after we moved in and refinished the wall texture.  The hallways and living room have remained this color, but everything else has changed over time (some walls more than once).  The dining room then became red.  A deep intense red.  I love this color, but grew tired of it in my dining room over time.  I am tired of dark colors.  I want lighter colors throughout my house.  I love the new greys, and this is what I settled on.  My inspiration came from my granite counter top in my kitchen.  It has grey/silver, golds, and creams in it.  Overall it is light, and I love it.  My floors are a warm travertine (mocha), so I needed a warm grey  50+ paint swatches and three paint samples later, I made my choice. 

For your information, I tracked my expenses and my time.

Step 1:  Clear the room.  This included lots of glassware, switch plate covers, some wine and spirits, and the removal of one cabinet on the wall.  (1.5 hours)

Where was all this stuff?
Step 2:  Primer.  I used Lowe's Valspar High Hiding Primer for drastic color change.  Worked great! (6 hours)

Love that scaffolding - my dining room table!
 Step 3:  Color Selection.  Normally I would have done this first, but I had to cover the red to decide on a new color. (2 hours, but I already had collected lots of swatches!)   I brought the swatches home and looked at the colors in the room.  The light in each room really affects the color.  The color you love in the paint store may look completely different when you get it home in your space. Look at the swatches at different times of the day and select your best options. Back to the store to buy actual paint samples, and paint them on the wall.  I know this seems like going to extremes for a slight shade variation, but when I have not done this, I have often regretted it.  I would rather spend the $3 on several paint samples and get the color that looks best than $25+ for a gallon of paint and a day of labor, only to be disappointed in the end result. 
My quest for the perfect warm shade of grey

#2 was the hands-down winner.  Lowe's Valspar "Filtered Shade"

That was it for day one. My Mom volunteered to return the next day to help me finish the project, since we ran out of steam and daylight at about the same time.  This room has odd architectural features (an arch in the middle), which casts shadows that make it difficult to paint at night.  Lucky for us - we needed a break anyway. 

Here is a sneak preview of the finished product.  Check in tomorrow for the finishing details.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Relaxation on Boxing Day

December 26, 2012

By Sheila

Well, we did it, once again.  Another Christmas come and gone. Anything you didn't get done doesn't matter now, which probably means it never really was that important. If you are so inclined, this is the week to get out there and get next year's gift wrap and cards and decorations and Santa sweaters at steeply discounted prices.  I'm not sure there is much I need, but then again, you never know.  As for those Santa sweaters; Ann's policy is not to wear any clothing that has a face on it, and I have been smart enough to adopt that as well.  So you can take us out of the competition for the cat sweaters with the Santa hats, and even the ever-popular Rudolph sweatshirts.  Pottery Barn holly pillows are a different story, however. 

I worked December 23-25 flying you and yours home for the holidays.  Although I generally don't have to work over Christmas, I missed getting my December bid in on time (really bad move), and so I worked the days no one else requested.  Imagine that.  I decided to make the best of it and do what I could to make it as pleasant as possible for all the people I came into contact with.  After all, I have a great job and am very thankful for that.  From my wonderful crew to the vast majority of the passengers I encountered, it was a great trip. Spending Christmas Eve in a hotel with people you just met the day before can make you feel sorry for yourself if you are not careful, but really, December 25th is not in itself magic.  The important part is celebrating the reason for the season when you can make it happen with your favorite people.  My son was working those same days, so it all works out  Thanks for cooking Christmas dinner after we got home, Mom!

I have to confess that as much as I look forward to Christmas, I am also always glad when it is over.  I'm one of those people, that when it's over, it's over and I am ready to take down the decorations immediately.  But I don't.  Mostly 'cuz I'm tired and just want a day or two to lay around and do nothing except eat leftovers and cookies. Or at least nothing related to the holidays.  Maybe go for a bike ride, see a movie, or hang out in a bookstore with a latte.  All my idea of a good time.  And much more fun than hauling the Christmas boxes down out of the attic..

Today is Boxing Day celebrated by our friends in the UK and other places around the world.  My husband is from Scotland, and his memories of Boxing Day was casual fun with family and friends.  Sounds good to me.  I am all in favor of adopting more holidays that include casual fun.  Today is also Heather and Tom's Anniversary.  Happy Anniversary Friends! 

Tune in tomorrow for part one of my dining room makover.  Yep, I started this last week.  Yeah, that was the week before Christmas and days before I left on my 3 day trip.  I sent photos to Heather and Ann of my work in progress and they agreed that I am certifiably crazy.  Even better, my Mom was my assistant and took lots of photos for me so I could entertain you with my progress, so check it out tomorrow!

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Celebrate the Season!

by Ann

I’m grateful for many things this holiday season including the fact that the Mayan’s prediction that we wouldn’t be around to celebrate Christmas this year was not founded.  Really??  Was anyone buying that??  J It seems like just yesterday that we were more seriously concerned about the Y2K millennium problems that would arise at the stroke of midnight December 31 thirteen years ago.  How could it be that long ago?  These unfounded worries and so many real things that are happening around me make me take a step back to appreciate all that I have – with the focus on family, friends, health, and fun meaningful things to do.
Some of the friends I now value include ladies I have not met who have become faithful readers of our blog, many of which left sweet, encouraging comments after my post last Friday about retiring.  The blogging process is a new adventure to the three of us, and we are committed to figuring it out, one step at a time.  So, Jann, please be patient with us.  I don’t even know the difference between a “follower” (although one person has figured out how to follow our blog), and a “subscriber,” of which we have many.  In January we are going to the New Media Expo in Vegas (should have fun things to blog about from that!), and hopefully will learn ways to improve our blog.

My guess is that our dedicated readers will be catching this a day or two after the post, when the holiday chaos has settled down.  The recipe that I am sharing would be a quick, easy, and delicious contribution at a New Year’s Eve party snack table.  Heather mentioned that she had served a cranberry/nut/cheese dip at her house for our December book club.  Our friendship has spanned so many years that she had forgotten that the recipe had come from me, so I feel justified to share it on my post-day!  ;-)
When I made this recipe for the picture, half of it had nuts, and half without since there are some family members who aren’t nut-eaters. (Huh??? Nuts are the best part!!)  I made it a couple of days before bringing it to my sister’s for Christmas, because it holds well and is one of those recipes that is actually better the second day after the orange zest has infused into the cheese.  If you do not have a microplane - you need one!  My dear friend Teri gave me one a few years ago, and I don't know how I managed without it once I started using it.  You can get the very outer edge of the peel without getting any of the bitter part of the rind.

Holiday Cranberry, Orange, Walnut, & Goat Cheese Dip


4 oz goat cheese, softened

8 oz cream cheese, softened

¼ c fresh orange juice

½ T finely minced orange zest

1 T honey
1/4 c finely chopped dried cranberries
1/4 c chopped toasted walnuts
1/4 t salt

  1. Using an electric mixer, cream cheeses together until smooth.  Add half of the orange juice and mix again until smooth.
  2. Add the orange zest, honey, and remaining orange juice, and mix until all of the orange juice is well incorporated.
  3. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and then add the remaining ingredients until incorporated.
Serve with crackers, celery, or crostini.
This dip will keep in the refrigerator for up to a week.
I hope that you and your families can stay safe, happy,
and focused on what matters this holiday season!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Have yourself a merry little Christmas...

by Heather

"How lucky I am to have had something that 
makes saying goodbye so hard." 

 - Winnie the Pooh

Christmas always brings bittersweet feelings as I remember those who are no longer with us.  My heart is broken for the people who have been affected by the tragedy in Connecticut. It's difficult to lose a loved one at any time, but at Christmas, when all is supposed to be "merry," it seems particularly painful.  My hope is that someday they will be comforted with the memories of the wonderful times they spent with their loved one.

I find decorating the house for Christmas is one way of bringing the past into the present, and reliving good times.  Memories come flooding back...

...when Tom hangs an ornament (the only one left) from our first Christmas..

...when I find the perfect places for the small, hand-stitched felt ornaments I created with my mother when I was a teen just several years before her death...

...when I add greenery to Nana's clock that was brought by ship from England when they moved here to be with their daughter, my mother -- the clock that I thought was soooo big when I was little...

...when I put Christmas cookies on the gold-embossed plate from my mother-in-law...

...when we decorate the upstairs tree with ornaments that represent our hobbies over the years...

What becomes really important to me at this time in my life is making new memories for the next generation so that they may recall good times with loved ones when they celebrate Christmases years from now....
We're set up and ready to go, making chocolate-covered marshmallows dipped in red and white sprinkles

Granddaughter Peighton and great-nephew Rowan waiting patiently while I'm microwaving the chocolate...

...tasting the sprinkles to make sure they're edible...

...concentrating to get just the right amount of sprinkles on the chocolate coating...

...admiring their finished product -- ready to be dunked in their cocoa on Christmas Eve

and a little relaxing ride after all their hard work...

And later in the evening, when it is just the two of us again, a cup of tea and a little quiet time...

And then to bed.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!


Friday, December 21, 2012

Life Changes... Retirement Pending!

by Ann

Change is exciting and scary at the same time; depending upon the change, one more than the other.  After a 31-year career first as a teacher, then as an instructional coach, and finally as a professional development specialist with the same school district, I am retiring! 
Me with my WONDERFUL director, Marlo as I recieve the compulsory retirement placque.  To the right is Judy who is new to our office and has added so much energy and fun to our group.  To the left is Sue, one of my Friday happy hour buddies.
Here’s the list of why I’m excited:
·         More time to do what I want to do.

·         I won’t feel like I am constantly transitioning from one place or activity to the next.

·         The retirement system for teachers in Arizona is good, so it will be nice getting a “paycheck” without having to go to work for it.

·         I won’t have to get up early and rush out in the morning.

·         I won’t feel like I need to be in bed by 9:30 each night.

·         I am hoping that new doors of opportunities will open once I have more flexibility.

·         I can finally clean out closets, drawers, etc.

Here’s the list of why I’m scared:

·         I like my job and the people I work with a great deal.

·         I keep current on technology and other aspects of life in general because of what I do at work.

·         To a certain extent my identity, purpose, and sense of contribution have been defined by my career.

·         I have to figure out the world of insurance, where it has always been part of my benefit package with no choices up to now.

·         The word “retired” makes me think “old.”  --  Can I say I am just making a career change?  (Ok- I guess that won’t work unless I get another career going, and I’m not ready to do that yet.)

·         I’m so used to being crazy-busy that I may not know what to do to fill my time (although I really don’t think this will be a problem.)

·         I’ll have no excuses for not clearing out drawers, closets, etc!
As pictured above, Marlo, the  fun and fabulous director of my office planned a retirement happy hour in honor of Elaine, our office secretary, who is also retiring, and me on the patio of a local Mexican restaurant on December 13, which in Arizona is typically a safe bet for an afternoon outdoor get-together.  Threats of rain were present, but the weather held out for our event, which was wonderful.  I asked my dear friend, colleague, and former student teacher, Kathy to take pics for this post, for which she did a fabulous job.  As I just looked at them tonight getting ready for this post, it once again made me realize how fortunate I have been to work in such a wonderful district and have many opportunities to shift gears in my career to stay excited and fresh with what I have done throughout my career.
Even though today, December 21, 2012 is my last “official day” I am so lucky to be able to continue to work for a 2/5 contract, which means that I will work two days (four half days?) on a retirement contract.  The best of all worlds!
If you have the energy to indulge me, take a look at Kathy’s pics from the happy hour below!
Kim, Ed, and Stephaine from our Career and Technical Education office.

In spite of threats of rain, the weather was wonderful.  The ladies next to Sue are more of my pals in the CTE office, Cindy and Martha.

Kathy, Michele, and Kim are my partners in crime at the CTE office.

Peggy, from our office, and Denis,one of our valued Industrial Tech teachers. 
Don't the snacks and margaritas look wonderful?

On the left is Kathy, the photographer (huh?) and my dear, dear friend Lisa who was my student, then my student teacher, then my colleague, and at one point my boss!

And finally, another dear friend and colleague, Kim.  I am so lucky to have such wonderful people in my life.

On to the next adventure in life!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

We Need a Little Christmas Now

by Heather

Come on in and gather 'round the tree...I'm getting organized for Christmas Eve when family and friends will gather with us to enjoy our traditional menu of Tom's seafood chowder (a magnificent creation of scallops, shrimp, cod, red-skinned potatoes, bacon, and sauteed onion in a bechamel sauce), a crisp Caesar salad, loaves of sourdough bread, and various wines.

The table is set for the occasion.  I changed out the gold accoutrements (see December 17 post) for silver all the way from the chargers to the chandelier decorations. A new centerpiece filled with silver and glass ornaments and lit from within by battery-operated mercury glass globes is surrounded by a small herd of sparkling reindeer standing among mercury glass and crystal Christmas trees.
This little tree functions as a place card holder and can be taken home by each guest to be used as a tree ornament.

Along with the old traditions of Tom's chowder and exchanging pajama presents on Christmas Eve, my nephew's wife suggested that we wear our pj's this year.  I loved the idea but added "sweats" to the suggested attire for those whose bedtime nightclothes are either non-existent or R rated. Of course, this added to my dilemma of what to wear. I had already bought my pajamas for this Christmas (don't get me started on how we buy presents in our household -- I usually buy and wrap my own and just say thank you to him when I open them -- I've never been disappointed yet!) but they weren't appropriate for this gathering. Most of my current nighties aren't for public consumption, but neither did I want to wear any of the flannel pj's I save for ski vacations (don't ask when the last time was that we went skiing). And my sweats are seriously not pretty. But ah ha...found a long black "lounge" gown packed away that I bought on sale from Soma several years ago but never had the occasion to wear (when it's just the two of us, I don't drag out this type of look -- that's sad, isn't it? Why did I buy it and what the heck am I saving it for?).  It will be perfect for Monday night...except what shoes/slippers to wear? And does one add accessories to nightwear if you're wearing it in public?  Might have to go shopping...

The other new tradition this Christmas Eve will be the addition of a hot chocolate bar. I'd been seeing all sorts of pictures of hot chocolate bars on Pinterest such as the one below from the delightful blog, Dear Lillie.

I've done a hot chocolate bar before, but just for 20 preschoolers. This Christmas Eve cocoa bar will be for three-year-olds to eighty-one year olds so I've included an "adults only" section complete with different liqueurs for those who wish to amp up their cocoa -- after all, it might be a bit chilly outside.

I had a false start setting up the bar.  Initially I placed it on a counter top in the kitchen, but I'm dealing with a small kitchen, so the bar got moved to a table in the family room just off the kitchen.

For anybody who might be new to the cocoa bar concept, it's a set-up with lots of different toppings, add-ins, or stirrers to be used with the hot chocolate. The cocoa is prepared first and then the children can point to what they want; the older ones can do their own thing. I'm placing a large coffee urn filled with hot water as part of the set-up so we won't need the stove to heat up the water while Tom is busy with his chowder.

The add-ins and toppings that I decided needed to be a part of this Hot Chocolate Bar:
  • cinnamon sticks
  • candy canes
  • mini chocolate chips
  • whipped cream
  • white chocolate chips
  • crushed mint chocolate Oreos
  • cinnamon marshmallows
  • mini marshmallows
  • large marshmallows dipped in chocolate and red and white sprinkles (this is an activity I'll be doing with my granddaughter and great-nephew on Sunday)
  • South Pole sticks (toffee sticks dipped in milk chocolate from WmSonoma)
  • North Pole sticks (peppermint sticks dipped in chocolaty candy coating from WmSonoma)
Adults-only Section of the Hot Chocolate Bar
Adults-only section can include but is not limited to:
  • Peppermint schnapps
  • Kahlua
  • Baileys
  • Baileys mint chocolate cream liqueur
  • Creme de cacao
  • Creme de menthe
  • Creme de banana
  • Chambord with fresh raspberries (could be my favorite especially with whipped cream)
  • Grand Marnier with fresh orange peel (or maybe this one)
  • Cointreau
  • Frangelico
  • Coconut rum
  • Cognac with orange peel
  • Butterscotch schnapps
  • B and B
  • Strawberry vodka
  • Cinnamon vodka
The list could go on and on, but you get the idea.  Anything that would taste good with chocolate...bacon stirrers?

I have a recipe for a huge batch of rich and creamy cocoa mix that can be used all winter long. I'm keeping the cocoa in the large glass jar with the red and white ribbon on it.

Hot Chocolate Mix Recipe

  • 1 16 oz non-dairy creamer
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 8 qt box instant nonfat dry milk
  • 1 2-pound can instant powdered chocolate drink
  • Mix all ingredients well
  • Place in large tightly covered container
  • When ready to make a cup, place 1/3 cup chocolate mixture in each cup
  • Add enough hot water to fill
  • Stir well
  • Top with mini marshmallows and/or other toppings
Come back and visit with me Monday, Christmas Eve.