Friday, January 11, 2013

Girls' Trip to Vegas - Keeping Our Eyes on the Prize!

by Ann
A week ago today I was shopping and packing to leave the following day for a girls’ trip with my two partners-in-crime, Sheila and Heather to Las Vegas for the New Media Expo (formerly known as Blog World Expo, a name which we like better).  Six months ago I was packing for a get-away with the aforementioned friends with the sole purpose of planning this blog, projected to be live three months later.  Twenty five years ago in May the packing was for our first annual San Diego shopping trip to celebrate the end of the school year. At that time we were all teachers, ready for a treat for making it through the year.  The adventures that the three of us have had have spanned a long period of time; about half of my life.

It has been a while since we have had classroom experiences and outrageous teenager stories in common since Sheila left education to become a flight attendant, and even though Heather and I have continued to be in education, I’ve been out of the classroom for seven years and Heather spent many as an administrator.  Bottom line – even though we continued to be good friends, we didn’t have as much in common, hence starting Friendship, Life and Style.  After our book club read a A Homemade Life a result of the successful blog, Orangette by Molly Wizenberg, we decided that by starting a blog we would have a common goal to give us excuses to get together more often (a trip to Vegas perhaps…), a challenging task (figuring out how the heck to enter the blogsphere), and force us to do interesting things to write about!
While exploring anything-and-everything-blog on our planning trip, we came across the site for the New Media Expo to be held in January, 2013.  Fueled by enthusiasm (and most likely wine) we whipped out our credit cards to register for the event.  Knowing that we had the conference in our futures we were committed to our blog-launch before attending so we would have questions and be able to ask them coherently.  Our October start date came and passed, but we were pleased to launch Friendship, Life and Style a month later.
The conference was fabulous.  We learned how much we still had to learn:  Why being active in social media is critical….  What SEO stands for, and why it’s important… The significance of our web host and that WordPress might be preferable to Blogger… That “the story” behind each post is important… The value of link hops and parties… How diligent bloggers can eventually gain financially from all of their time and effort… And that we still have a long, long way to go!  We met many new-media friends who are willing to help us move Friendship, Life and Style along. 
The five-plus hour car ride back to Phoenix gave us time to process all of these things, and to bring up some concerns.  Is the name of our blog too long and difficult to remember?  Does the fact that we blog about so many topics make it less likely to have loyal followers who might be more interested in one topic than the others?  What are our goals, and are we still committed to them?  Information overload would be a good way to describe how we were feeling as a result of all we learned. 
Back to the title of this post; the prize that we need to keep our eyes on is undoubtedly our long lasting friendship (after all, it’s the first word of our blog's title), which means more to me than any of the decisions we need to make related to the blogging adventure. If any of our readers who are also bloggers have recommendations for this phase of our process, or answers to any of our dilemmas, we would appreciate gaining from your insight.
Let's raise our glasses in a toast to friendship!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Accessories Storage Solutions

by Heather

I had a little room off the master bedroom that I used to call the "English Room."  It was a sitting room with a comfortable chaise lounge positioned by the front window and filled with books and English objects handed down from relatives or picked up on travels.  Over the past few years, however, this space has morphed into a dressing area/storage for jewelry, purses, and scarves.  I'm always on the lookout for ways to store accessories so that they're visible but organized. In my next life, I'd like to have the type of walk-in closet/dressing room one sees in the interior design magazines, but in the meantime, here are a couple of inexpensive and not labor-intensive ideas that are helping me stay somewhat organized.

A 3-tiered stand holds bracelets that are organized by color.

An antique handmade blanket chest handed down from Tom's great-grandparents provides storage for out-of-season clothing as well as a base for additional jewelry storage.


Purses are sorted by color and season.  Summer purses (wicker, white, straw, etc.) are stored while current purses share space in an inexpensive Target shelf system.  Small chests with drawers help keep earrings and rings organized by color.  The bust (between the two chests) is a good place to host a hat and a few necklaces.
The turquoise drawer

Tom created a storage area here by enclosing the space with molding and adding hooks for necklaces, which are then organized by color and length. I think I need to add a more decorative frame for it, though.  Any ideas?
Can you tell I like the Hamilton purse from Michael Kors?

Our house used to have an upstairs linen closet.  Tom built deep shelves at one end of his clothes closet for bed linens, and table linens are stored downstairs in a linen cupboard so I've always used the linen closet as a shoe closet instead.  Finally got around to re-organizing it this past week.  I took the last pairs of summer shoes out to be stored for the winter (remember, this is the Valley of the Sun and winter just started - or perhaps I've been procrastinating), decided which shoes and boots to donate, and rearranged what was left.  I guess I could have been more careful when tossing the "to go" shoes out of the closet, but the resulting piles made for funnier (or scarier?) pictures.
These are the shoes that either went into hibernation or got put in the donation box.

The newly organized closet:

Small Purses:
Bamboo ladders from Steinmart serve a useful purpose to organize my scarves by color.

Still haven't solved the problem of what to do with my hat collection.  I have cowboy hats with which to hide helmet-hair after motorcycling and other hats for both winter and summer. Tried putting small round plastic containers on the wall from which to hang hats, but that didn't work.  Any ideas?

Would love to see or hear about any ideas you have for storing and/or organizing your fashion accessories!


Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Cooking At Home

By Sheila
As part of our efforts to improve our lives in 2013, we are planning to get better about cooking at home and therefore eating out less.  By "we" I mean me and the hubby, of course.  We both know this will provide better nutrition, less fat and calories and will save us money.  We have pretty chaotic schedules, and we tend to use that as an excuse for not preparing meals at home as much as we could, and we both would like to change this.  Good for our health and our wallet - a win/win.  Now for the hard part - execution.

I know what to do; plan, shop, prepare.  Just like we all know how to lose weight; eat less, move more.  The hard part is the doing.  And while my husband will "help" with dinner or shopping on occasion, the real execution is up to me.  I work fewer hours than he does, so it is a fair trade.  However, years of putting dinner on the table most nights for a family of five has left my creative genius in the kitchen at a standstill.  I've basically had it.  So in order to get motivated I need lots of support and encouragement from my husband.   For example when I say "How does blah, blah, blah sound for dinner",  he needs to say "Fabulous, honey.  Great idea".  Or better yet, "That sounds delicious! How 'bout I make the salad?"  Okay I know I am dreaming, but work with me here.

My first step is to brainstorm a list of dinners we like to prepare at home.  Basic, I know, but too often I stand in the kitchen and all I can come up with is grilled chicken.  Again?  Really?  Is that all there is to eat for dinner?  Also, I really don't  like to grocery shop, so this is another hurdle.  I tend to buy too much so I won't have to do it again real soon, and then I end up throwing away food which I really hate to do.  So I think that basic menu planning with a list is going to be the key for me.  In the words of Nike, "Just Do It"!  I will pick Ann's brain and would be interested in any recommendations you have for easy dinners at home. I can do it!  (Do you ever have these weird motivational conversations with yourself or is it just me?)  Send me your hints, tips, helpful suggestions.  Anything that works for you I am interested in.  Thanks for your input!  I will track my progress and keep you posted.  Don't expect miracles overnight.  Remember, baby steps.

Now, what's for dinner? Ugh! Okay, chin up.  Positive thoughts....just not another grilled chicken! :)

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Crab Quiche

by Ann
If you asked my friend Robin what first comes to her mind about me, my bet would be that she would say something about what she has dubbed my “famous crab quiche.”  I would prefer that she’d say that I am fun or entertaining to be around, but my money would be on the quiche reply!
I have always liked quiche, and find it to be an easy brunch food to prepare to serve as a main dish.  In a previously mentioned post I said that I am part of a women’s organization that is either fundraising or eating.  We kick off eating each club year with our “Fall Coffee,” which is really a brunch.  The club was started in 1954, so there are many, many former members who are welcomed and celebrated at this event.  The club’s Board of Directors provides the food, and for the first time in my memory this year I was not cooking for and dragging food to the event.  The last few years I have made the “famous crab quiche,” and want to share the recipe because I’d also call it the “easy crab quiche.”
Ok – so let’s talk about the easy concept.  I can make a pie crust, and as I’m typing this, I think that I should try it again – but it’s hard to get motivated to do so when the Pillsbury refrigerated crusts are so good and come out perfect each time; yet I have a cautionary tale about refrigerated pastry. A couple of years ago my dear niece Amanda got married and my sister wanted me to make quiches for the brunch the following day.  Faced with needing to buy multiple packages of crusts, I cheaped-out and opted for the store brand, thinking, “How much different could pie crusts be?”  The answer is A LOT!  I already had one box of Pillsbury at home, so did my own “test kitchen” comparison as I baked.  The store brand did not brown nearly as nicely, and was far less flakey.  Lesson learned; I will never buy a store brand crust again.
As I have read through quiche recipes some do not require prebaking the crust, but that sounds like a soggy mess to me.  There are some baking accessories that facilitate the pre-baking process.  I would suggest pie weights and a shield to protect the top of the crust from getting too brown.  Prior to buying a jar of weights I used dried beans (and reused them), but after several bakings they put off a funky smell that I feared would permeate to the crust, in spite of the parchment paper lining.  Bottom line – if you don’t have pie weights, beans work fine but eventually need to be tossed and replaced.  See below for a pic of the weights that I use over and over.  I got them at Sur la Table, and would guess that they cost about ten bucks.

Be sure to cut a piece of parchment paper about the size of the pie pan to place the weights on.  Not only does it keep the surface clean, but also facilitates the process of moving the weights back into the jar after baking the crust.
Last year I bought a metal ring that goes over the top of a pie crust as it bakes which is oh-so-handy.  Prior to owning this, I used strips of aluminum foil crimped around the edge, which worked, but would slip off easily, so I am glad I made the minor investment for the ring.  I have used it on several different pans, and even though they don’t all look the same size, the ring seems to fit all of them.

Once the shell is baked, put the weights back in the jar until they are needed next time, add the fillings, and bake until golden as pictured above.  Delicious!  See recipe below -- Robin, I have the coffee on!  Can't wait until you get here!

Crab Quiche
9 inch baked pastry shell
6 oz pasteurized crab meat *
¼ c green onions, cut into small round slices
1 ½ - 2 c shredded Swiss cheese
2 eggs, beaten lightly
1 T flour
1 T chopped fresh parsley
½ t seasoning salt
¼ t white pepper
pinch freshly grated nutmeg (ok if it comes out of a jar, I guess…)
1 c half and half**

Prepare the crust according to package directions or the recipe.  Prebake it with outer edges shielded, using weights to keep the bottom from puffing up.  Do NOT prick the bottom of the crust! 

Reduce oven temperature to 350 to bake quiche.
Spread the crabmeat, green onions, and Swiss cheese on the baked crust.

In a bowl, combine remaining ingredients and stir well.

Pour over cheese and crab.  Keeping the shield on the edge of the crust, bake for 35-45*** minutes, until the center is set.

Cool to desired temperature prior to serving.  Quiche is good at room temperature, or warm, but should not be served piping hot.


*I use the crab meat that can be found in the refrigerated section of Costco or most grocery stores lately.  The canned variety is “ok,” but not exceptional.  Fake “krab” is NOT ok according to me!  Phillips is a good brand.  If you don’t use it all, it can be frozen, in spite of the warning on the container not to do that.
**If you have cream on hand, use half heavy cream and half milk.  One recipe I looked at listed evaporated milk instead – I have never done that, but it may be worth a try.
**Baking time will depend partly upon the temperature of the egg and cream mixture.  When baking, it is usually best to bring eggs and other refrigerated ingredients to room temperature prior to baking.


Monday, January 7, 2013

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Dress

by Ann

If you share my enjoyment of Young Adult literature, you most likely read The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants several years ago by Ann Brashares.  If you didn’t, it’s a cute story about four teenage girls who, in spite of their differences in size can (and do) wear the same pair of jeans, and when they do, great adventures occur.  My story today is similar, but rather than pants, it focuses on a magic dress that can fit almost anyone and is very flattering to all.  (Adventures, we await!)
My work as a professional development specialist for a high school district is both rewarding and fun, as I mentioned in my “retirement post” (where I said I am only sort of retiring) a few weeks ago.  Today’s post will illustrate why the ladies that I work with are such a great group.  (We only have one man in our office, versus ten females; poor guy – he leaves the office quite a bit.) 
Michele, our Ed Professions Coordinator was singing the praises of a dress that she had ordered online from  to wear to a fancy Christmas party for her husband’s office.  She chose it based upon rave reviews from pleased customers, in spite of the fact that all cautioned to order the dress two sizes larger than usual.  Below is the model pictured from the store's website -- none of us are that young and perky looking, nor was this photo taken in a crowded office!
When Michele got the dress out of the box it looked tiny and scrunched up, even though she ordered a size 12 for her size 8 body.  Thinking it would never fit, she put it on and was thrilled with the results, so she brought it in for us to see for ourselves.  This is where the magic fits in – each of us are different in size, but the dress looked great on everyone that tried it on! 

Michele, pictured below, was a good sport and modeled it at work for us -- my guess is that it looked better without the black socks!   I was the only one that it was too large for in the shoulders and bust, so since we had this dress-sharing concept going, she offered to bring me another favorite dress of hers to borrow for my niece’s upcoming wedding that is much smaller in those areas. 

The following day we were telling the story about the magic dress to those who hadn’t been in the office for the fashion show the previous day, so naturally they needed to try it on!  By “day two” it had occurred to me that I had missed some photo ops for a blog post that would encompass many of our blog’s topics – fashion, fun, and frugality (why not share a dress that will only be worn once or twice with your friends, in hopes that they will reciprocate?).
So, out came the camera and pictured below are a couple of my officemates in the magic dress.  More of us tried it on, but I hadn't come up with the idea to get pics until these lovely ladies were the models!

And finally me in the dress that I plan to wear to my niece’s wedding in March! 
(Do you think I need to get a different bra?  Ha!)

P.S. -- If any of our bosses are reading this, we SWEAR that we get our work done!  Enjoying the people you work with makes you more productive....  I'm sure there must be a research study out there somewhere to prove it...