Friday, January 25, 2013

Cruising Alaska

By Sheila
Carnival Cruise Ship - An amazing floating hotel!

The three of us have been on some adventures over the years, and in looking through photos this past week, I came across the pics of our Alaskan Cruise.  We went over the 4th of July holiday a few years ago and our husbands were along for the fun on this trip.  We flew into Seattle a few days early to enjoy the sights there and all in all had a magnificent time!
Pat, Heather, Tom, Sheila, David, and Ann at Pikes Market in Seattle
Ann, Sheila and Heather stopping in for a glass of wine
We were on the Carnival Cruise Line, primarily because their dates fit everyone’s rather complicated scheduling conflicts.  We have cruised a few times before.  Enough to know that one of the things we enjoy most is sitting on our own private balcony watching the ocean and wildlife.  For this reason, I can’t imagine wanting to cruise without a balcony room.  I know you can really cut your costs by selecting an inside cabin, but this is not worth it to me.  This is one area where I will definitely spend the extra money.
Ann zipping through the rain forest
 We sailed out of Seattle to the Inner Passage, with our ports of call being Skagway, Juneau, Ketchikan and Victoria, BC, Canada.  We went on a zipline through the Alaskan rain forest, watched whales and bald eagles.  We went in for a close look at icebergs (very Titanic), and mostly entertained each other.  We had happy hour daily in one of our staterooms, and from there headed out for the evening.  Since we had such a great group on our own, we kept the late seating for dinner and had the same table all week.  Dinner was always a fun highlight, and we kept the wine flowing. 
We were at the aft of the ship with the best view in the house - Lucky!

What I like about cruising is you see many places without wasting your vacation time traveling (you do this while you are sleeping). You only have to unpack once, and are not hauling your luggage around.  Also, you can get some very good deals on cruises.  There is typically a variety of on-board entertainment, which can vary from exceptional to so-so.  Different cruises cater to different groups; families, singles, retirees, etc.  This is worth investigating, so ask before you book. The disadvantages are that the “excursions” can be pricey and touristy.  If you are willing to do just a little research, you can often set up or explore your own adventure in port.  Be careful though; when you do your own thing, if you don't get back in time, the ship can (and will) sail without you.  We had a very close call on another cruise, but that is a story for another day.  I am not a big fan of days at sea; I prefer to explore the ports, but some people enjoy unwinding or doing activities on board the ship, so check your itinerary against your preferences.
Happy Hour in our Room
All things considered, I think cruising can be a fun way to relax and enjoy travel, especially if you don’t want the hassle of having to set up your own itinerary, or are not the type to enjoy traveling with no schedule (or advance hotel reservations) or a rigorous schedule of trains, planes, and automobiles, lugging your bags.  It’s a good option for people who like different activities, because you can select from a variety of options within your group.  I do think it is especially fun to travel with friends.  I’m ready for our next adventure….who’s in?
Victoria, BC Canada

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Winter Decor

by Heather

It's time to strike the Christmas set and I'm glad. Christmas decor is usually packed away by the first weekend in January but this year Ann, Sheila, and I were in Las Vegas for Blog Expo so it all had to wait another week (or two or three...). At least it comes down faster than it goes up.
Taking the decorations down would go faster if I didn't get sidetracked by starting to redecorate before Christmas is packed away. I just don't like to see empty tabletops -- and designing vignettes is a lot more fun than carting boxes and cartons to the garage. For a few minutes after the Christmas decor gets put away, the house looks empty and bare. The hubby enjoys the minimalist look, but to me it appears sterile and unloved. Accessories that have been stored during the Christmas season come out once again and I keep moving items around until I find something that clicks. Love it when I put accessories in a spot just to hold them and it turns out to be a better look than something I had planned.

The living room is the starting point and I like to add green plants and candles to the winter decor. Anything vintage looks better by candlelight (me included) and candles during the winter months (or as my niece says, "winter week" in Phoenix) add a warm glow to the room.
Creating vignettes on the shelves of the baker's rack takes time, but it's something I enjoy. I keep tinkering until I run out of time or energy; then I'm done until the next change of season. 

The top shelf of the baker's rack has two vintage (maybe antique?) brass candlesticks with crystal prisms that belonged to my English grandmother. I love seeing them up there; reminds me of visiting her for teatime. She taught me to sing "God Save the Queen" before I learned "My Country, 'Tis of Thee." 
The middle shelf is my favorite. It's outfitted for the winter with gold mercury glass candle holders and small lanterns.Tucked behind the plant and candle is a new tray with a mirrored surface and rubbed gold leaf sides.
If you look closely, you can see the decorative design that's etched onto the mirrored surface of the tray.
The lower shelf has the pair of wings that have been floating around the house during the Christmas season. I think they've found their final resting place -- at least until winter is over.
Yay! Another surface to decorate. I like to layer home accessories but this narrow chest presents a challenge
The bust of the woman is holding court on the small chest. I'm liking her too much to relegate her to the dressing room upstairs. The little vase is filled with holly branches from the tree in our yard.
The round mirror-topped table holds books, birds, and candles. With a couple of golden pears and moss balls, I think it's complete.

I'll continue the tour of the winter decor next Thursday when I'll show you what I've done in some of the other rooms. Maybe by then I'll have the wreath off the rocking horse that's perched high on a plant shelf. Or should I just add a red heart to it and call it Valentine's decor?


Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Frugality; Not Just Penny-Pinching

My iPad defines frugal as "sparing or economical with money or food" or "simple and plain and costing little".

A Goodwill find - at half off day, no less

I don't know about you, but to me being frugal is about more than just money. Don't get me wrong here, I do like getting good value for my dollar, but it's more than that. For me, It is about maximizing all of my resources, and that includes time, energy, and even health (which is really the most important resource of all). I also think it is important to do this without the feeling of deprivation. Of course that makes everything just a little more complicated, doesn't it?

I impact my health and my wallet in a positive when I do get it together to cook at home.  When I work in my yard I save money that I am not paying a maintenance company, plus I get a workout.  But this is also something that I enjoy, so it is time well spent.  I also go to Jazzercise (like Ann), and I appreciate that it is a good value; lots of class options for a reasonable monthly fee.  Plus, maintaining my health in this way is likely to keep my health care costs lower overall.
Thrift store dresser I painted, stained & added hardware to create my buffet
I think that being creative is the key to living frugally without feeling deprived. I don't necessarily embrace the "plain" aspect of frugality. I like a little glitz here and there. I don't like paying a lot for it, however, unless it is something I am sure to love for a long time. I love my diamond stud earrings (a gift from my husband); wear them almost every day. To me this is simple and a reasonable expenditure because I wear them so much. I like them equally well with jeans or the ever popular little black dress. I am not willing to pay a lot for trendy clothes, but will occasionally add something inexpensive and trendy to my wardrobe.
Classic white shirt, gold silk sweater, my one good watch with thrift store belt and inexpensive trendy necklace

I apply the same principles to items in my home. I purchased a quality sofa and love seat in a neutral color that I plan to have for a very long time. I look for colorful and sometimes quirky accessories like throws, pillows and so on to add some seasonal color and personality.  I also love to find cool stuff at Goodwill, or even better; on the street as a discard, that I can work into my home or garden in a fun, fresh way.
Stained glass I found at a salvage store; my brother framed them for me and I hung them as art!
These cool finds give me a thrill from several vantage points.  I like that I have saved money.  I like finding something and "up-cycling" it, when it might otherwise have been thrown away.  I like tapping into my creativity to take something I like and re-creating it, or re-imagining its function or potential.  And I like funky one-of-a-kind things.  I know from other blogs and Pinterest that I am not alone.  I love seeing the things that you are doing to bring creativity, function and beauty into your life - on the cheap!
Update on previous post(s): 
My thanks to so many of you that sent kind words my way regarding the death of my dear friend Tami from cancer.  The weeks and months leading up to this time have been difficult, and I know that many of you have had similar experiences and have expressed your sincere sympathy.  For that I thank you. Also thanks to my dear friend Ann for her willingness to come over and get her hands dirty helping me prepare for the memorial, and bringing her delicious chicken salad (see yesterday's recipe), Cathy who also offered her helping hands and heart and especially my Mom, who helped me get through everything, as always.
I also received some great suggestions and ideas regarding my post on Cooking At Home.  Needless to say, that fell apart in light of this recent tragedy, but I am planning to get back on track, and will occasionally update you, as promised.  Once again, thank you for your kind words and encouragement!
By Sheila 

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Go-to Chicken Salad Recipe

by Ann

What a busy week this has been.  Lots of sadness with the passing of Sheila's dear friend, Tami who you hopefully read the tribute to last Wednesday on our blog.  Throughout the years Tami became a friend to all of us in the book club, and will be greatly missed.

Sheila hosted a memorial gathering at her home on Saturday, to which well over a hundred people from all walks of Tami's life came.  Everything about it was perfect, and we are convinced that Tami was looking down at the many, many people who care so deeply for her, and that she was pleased, but not surprised that Sheila put on such a lovely event.

With busy lives it is hard to avoid conflicts, and coincidentally the same day was the bridal shower for my dear niece, Megan.  I had previously agreed to make chicken croissant sandwiches for the party, so figured that since I would be in the salad-making-mode, I should make the same thing to bring to the memorial.

When people say, "I want your chicken salad recipe," my thought is that "chicken salad is chicken salad -- how hard can it be?"  Yet originally finding this recipe was a process for me a few years ago when I was hosting a baby shower for Sheila's daughter, Liz.  My goal at the time was to make one similar to what Costco sells in the big tubs, so through an Internet search, I found a recipe that someone had developed to mimic Costco's, as well as the one I prefer which is similar.  The difference I remember is that the Costco knock-off had honey in it, which was good, but not needed in my opinion.

I used to collect cookbooks.  Each time we'd go someplace new I'd look for a regional book from that area.  Now I have a large book case filled with almost nothing but cookbooks, yet when I need a recipe or inspiration for something new to make, I look online, which is how I came across the original version of this recipe on years ago.  I have since tweaked it, but it is definitely my go-to chicken salad recipe!  When I dug it out for this round of salad-making I was hesitant about the recipe calling for a cup of mayonnaise, yet by the time all of the other ingredients are added, a cup is not "too-mayonnaisey" at all!

Chicken Salad

4 c cooked chicken breast, cut into small cubes (1/2 - 3/4 inch)
1 c mayonnaise
1 t paprika
1 c dried cranberries, chopped a bit
1 c diced celery
2 green onions, sliced thinly
½ c diced bell pepper (any color works)
½ - 1 c chopped pecans (depending upon taste)
1 t seasoning salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste


In a large mixing bowl combine mayo, paprika, salt and pepper.  Blend in remaining ingredients to mix well.  Chill at least one hour.

A full recipe fills 12 large croissants very generously.  

For the two events I made this recipe four times.  I have learned that when I double (or heaven forbid quadruple) recipes I tend to get into trouble with mistakes.  It's a safer bet to make the recipe over as many times as needed than to try to deal with quantities that are too cumbersome.  I cooked the first of four batches of chicken in the crock pot, which turned out to be a mistake.  Once cooled it shredded rather than cut into nice, consistent cubes, so I put that aside for chicken enchiladas.

The theme for Megan's shower was "Eat, pink, and be married!" 

Three generations of the women in our family: Amanda, my niece; me; Megan, the bride; my mom; and my sister Susan, the mother of the two beautiful young women.  (Note the pink attire!)

Megan and Amanda
Oh yeah, I'd made the chicken salad for Amanda's bridal shower two years ago.
It is definitely the "Go-to recipe"!

Monday, January 21, 2013

Buy the Batmobile or the Fashion Accessories?

By Heather

We attended the Barrett-Jackson Auto Auction Saturday night ostensibly to look at classic cars and to watch the serious collectors bid for them. If you've ever been to this type of function, you know that there are also rows of vendor booths selling everything from jewelry to jet planes. Because I wanted to enjoy a little shopping, Tom and I split up for an hour so I could meander slowly through the maze. I stumbled upon a booth selling exquisite handmade Italian leather purses, belts, and bracelets by designer and craftsman, Roberto Mantellassi. It had been a slow day for the salesgirls and they were eager to help me find the right item. My attention was first captivated by a black eel skin bracelet with a unique silver clasp. It fit as if it was made specifically for my wrist. But then my gaze fell on a narrow mustard-colored leather and Swarovski crystal bracelet sitting in front of a beautiful belt in the same color.
I had been thinking just the other day that I needed a mustard belt with a silver buckle (I have one with a gold buckle but I don't love mixing metals) and here it was. I couldn't make up my mind between the black bracelet and the mustard items, so the girls made it easy for me -- if I bought both bracelets and the belt, they could offer them at a reduced price. In the next room over, the original Batmobile was selling for $4.2 million while I was negotiating a lower price for my modest purchases. I love it when I find something unexpected and at a good price!  I wonder if the new owner of the Batmobile feels the same way?
The Batmobile
The mustard pieces will be big players in my spring wardrobe (I'm liking navy with pops of yellow for the warmer weather) but I want to wear them now as well. Here is what I put together for today:
The mustard and brown print scarf is from Francesca's Collections; the yellow crystal ring is from the Swarovksi Store in Scottsdale; and the tortoise shell Michael Kors watch is from Nordstom. These pieces along with chocolate brown pants and boots topped with a long medium brown cardigan from Target gives me a comfortable Phoenix winter outfit. The purse is a color-blocked tan, mustard, and navy Coach shoulder bag and the sunglasses are by Kate Spade. Looking at the above picture, I think I'd like the outfit a little better if the seatbelt shoulder strap wrinkles were ironed out of the scarf!
The Barrett-Jackson Auto Auction is over now, but the Arabian Horse Show is coming up and the vendor booths will be even more fun. See you there!