Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Bring On the $avings

As I talked about earlier, I found great motivation to go out and do some yard work after receiving a quote from a local landscaper. So, last Saturday I got up at a reasonable hour, had some breakfast and headed out to trim the privacy hedges in the back yard and the vines that grow over our deck.
The privacy hedges have basically gone untouched since we moved into the house except for my husband cutting back a few branches here and there so he could mow the lawn. Needless to say they needed a LOT of trimming.
Clearly there's still more work to be done, but it's definitely better. Will is going to have to trim the tops of the hedges - I'm not tall enough. Also, right toward the end I accidentally got the extension cord caught in the hedge trimmer.
I took it as a sign that I should stop trimming those hedges. So, I decided to move on to trimming the vines.
I don't think the second picture shows just how many vines I cut back. Most of the trimming happened underneath so there weren't vines hanging down onto the deck. And I know it's important to make sure the vines don't reach the house (otherwise they could wreak havoc in any number of ways) so I cut back the vines that were getting unsettlingly close to the house.
Thinking about the quote from the landscaper kept me going. And now I'm glad I did the work. Who knows, maybe this will inspire me to do more work in the yard.
Considering that it only took me about an hour and a half to trim the hedges and the vines I'd definitely say I saved us some money (I think somewhere around $400!) - even if I did ruin an extension cord.

Friday, June 24, 2011

7 Quick Takes Friday (Vol. 20)

7 quick takes sm1 7 Quick Takes Friday (vol. 130)

1) I love my pampered chef "cool and serve tray." It rocks my socks off. I love how versatile it is. I love that it keeps food cool. I love everything about it. I've only had it for a few months now and have already used it a bunch. I have used it to serve fruit, deviled eggs and store/transport cup cakes. And the fact that it's dishwasher safe ain't too shabby either :)
2) I learned this week to never let fruit juices sit for a period of days enclosed in a serving container on your counter. When I finally got around to washing my "cool and serve tray" after taking fruit to a dinner this past weekend, I was greeted by quite an unpleasant smell not to mention some weird growths. You can be sure I won't make that mistake again!

3) I have a newfound drive to go out and do some yard work after getting an estimate for how much it would cost to have a landscaper come in and clean up our yard. And we're not talking anything fancy - just weeding, trimming bushes, and various other basic yard maintenance things. The estimate was easily three times what I would be willing to pay, so...yea. I guess that leaves me with a lot of work to do! Although, I am considering offering to pay the neighbor's kids to come over and weed a bit. We'll see how that pans out.

4) The car seat has been installed and checked. That means we're officially ready for baby Joseph. Yay!
KeyFit 30 Midori Car Seat
5) I've been working on putting together this TV stand for a couple weeks now. It's taking a while because I can only do so much at once before I get winded/exhausted. Assembling this thing is taking more squatting and crouching than I anticipated. Hopefully it'll be done before Joesph gets here so the extra TV in the living room can finally be moved.

6) Does anyone else get frustrated/overwhelmed with the sheer number of papers that come into your home? I feel like this is something my mother used to make comments about, and she was always ready to toss any papers that she deemed useless. I think I'm beginning to understand her sentiments. We get so much junk mail. And even the papers I need or want to keep for whatever reason seem to pile up. I just don't understand where they all come from. And speaking of random papers - let's talk about getting put on mailing lists you never signed up for. I've been getting all this stuff from Enfamil and I don't even plan on using formula for Joseph. I get something in the mail from them about 2-3 times a week. Talk about useless papers. Sheesh! This is a battle I will continue to fight, and one day I will WIN!
Go to fullsize image
7) My favorite Facebook post of the week goes to Emily. If you'll just take a quick glance at #6 you'll know that I can understand where she's coming from - minus the exhausted part. I doubt I'm nearly as exhausted as her seeing how she has two kids to deal with every day.
"organized, and exhausted. i wish i had the energy to purge 90% of my stuff!"

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Nine months and still going strong

A lot of women get fed up with pregnancy by the ninth month. And a lot of people in general seem to assume that I would naturally fall into that category. But the truth is, I'm still enjoying the pregnancy - I still feel pretty good. I still don't have any major complaints. There's nothing about this pregnancy that bothers me so much that I want it to just be over already. I think my biggest complaint/nuisance throughout the whole thing has been my back pain, but even that has been manageable. I just have to limit the amount of time I'm sitting throughout the day in order to control the pain  (I've had upper back pain - sitting relieves lower back pain, but seems to exacerbate my upper back pain).
Even a foot in the rib doesn't bother me too much - although it can be a bit painful. And I already feel like I'm getting a glimpse of his personality. For example, last week he had his foot in my rib so I pushed him down as I always do when he's in my rib, but this time he pushed back! Holy cow! We went at it for a couple minutes. It was crazy to me that he actually fought back (in a way) like he was saying "no mom, I want my foot there" and I had to respond by saying "sorry buddy, but you can't have it there."
I still love feeling the baby kick, and in the past month or so he has started getting hiccups, which is kind of cute.
I also enjoy going to my doctor's appointments because I get more updates (they're weekly now and are looking for signs of your body preparing for labor). I can't wait to meet our sweet baby, but I'm also in no rush. He can take as long as he wants to finish baking in there. I'm pretty sure I'm going to miss being pregnant once he comes. But by that time I'll probably be too busy and sleep deprived to think about what it was even like having him inside me. So, I think I'll just take these last few days (weeks?) to enjoy being pregnant and try not to worry too much about when he'll make his appearance.

Friday, June 17, 2011

7 Quick Takes Friday (Vol. 19)

7 quick takes sm1 7 Quick Takes Friday (vol. 130)

1) I reorganized all our gift wrap this week. I sorted through all the bags and boxes we have and threw away anything that I would think twice about reusing. (And if you're going to ask if I reuse gift bags the answer is heck yea!!) I also sorted the bags according to occasion. So, now we have four main sets of bags: wedding, baby, Christmas, other. Who knew organizing all that gift wrap would be so satisfying?

2) Finding a pediatrician that meets my requirements (there are only two!) is harder than I anticipated. I don't feel like I'm really all that picky. The hardest part so far has been finding a group that has both male and female doctors. I want my kids to have the opportunity to see a doctor of the same sex if they prefer when they get older - is that too much to ask? Who would have thought this small criteria would be such a limiting factor in choosing a doctor/practice? Two of the practices I've looked at were all female. One other doctor who was recommended to me is a male, but he works alone and really only does pediatrics on the side (he specializes in food allergies or something). Another group that was recommended to me has one male doctor and four or five female doctors. This group would seem to work except the one male doctor is older which probably means he'll be retiring soon and I'm not convinced they would hire another male doctor in his place when he leaves given the makeup of most of the other practices I've looked at. I have an appointment with a practice next week that seems to have a decent mix of male and female doctors and was recommended to me by a friend. Hopefully this practice will meet my one other criteria: offering Pediarix as an alternative to Pentacel (you can read about why I want this in #6 here).

3) I've recently been searching for curtain rods for both the nursery and one of our guest rooms. I've been sorely disappointed with the selection available. Everything I find seems to be made of metal. I would really like a wooden rod - I would even go for faux wood. Do they just not make those any more? I don't understand. I finally caved this week and just bought a couple rods from Target, but I'm still holding out hope that I'll find something I like better and will be able to return those rods. Maybe I'm just too uneducated in the world of interior decorating to know where to look.

4) Now that the baby is almost here, I have a serious itch to go on a vacation. Every time I get one of those Living Social or Groupon emails that features a trip I take the time to actually look at it - as if we're actually going to be traveling in the near future. To a warm, sunny place. A foreign country perhaps? Yea, right. A girl can dream :)

5) I will be chaperoning a middle school field trip for our parish youth group today. This should be fun...and interesting. I love that middle school kids are so quirky. Here's to hoping I don't topple the canoe.

6) Did I mention the field trip is outdoors? Yea. Not sure how that's going to go over. My goal will be not to die of heat exhaustion, but luckily it's only a high of 84. So, the "short hike" should be the worst part because I'm going to have to exert myself physically outdoors and wear tennis shoes. I haven't worn tennis shoes for several months now - it's just been too hot. Regardless, it *should* be a fun day :)

7) My favorite Facebook post of the week goes to my cousin, Melissa. She has three adorable sons. George in their middle son - he's 3 years old (I think). This status made me a little bit nostalgic and want to go home to good 'ol Rocky Top!
"George where do you live? : Tennessee. Good, what city? : Rocky Top! ; )"

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Stuffed Grape Leaves

A couple weekends ago Will and I got together with some friends for a Greek feast. We had grilled lamb and vegetables, two kinds of hummus, two other dips that I can't remember their names, stuffed grape leaves and baklava. I volunteered to bring stuffed grape leaves because I figured I should try to make something that would(could) be onionless for Will...and I was clueless how much time it would take to make these things.
I have a friend, Michelle, from waaay back (we met in 1st grade - she was my maid of honor at my wedding) whose mom is Lebanese. She makes the best food. So, I knew exactly who to ask for a good recipe when I was searching for a recipe for stuffed grape leaves. I had her stuffed grape leaves growing up and remembered them being delicious (along with everything else she ever cooked). 
Because her mom makes most of her dishes from memory her ingredients and directions can sometimes be a little vague. So, I've tweaked the recipe just a little to make it more clear for someone who is trying to do this without being able to speak directly with her (or her daughter) for clarifications.
As I mentioned earlier - this recipe took quite a bit of time to prepare. And, while I had anticipated that it was going to be fairly involved, I didn't realize just how much time it would take. I had allotted about 4-5 hours to prepare this dish because I knew I needed to soak the grape leaves for an hour then cook them for an hour at the end. I think if I make it again I'll make the filling the day before then stuff and cook the grape leaves the day I plan to serve them. A couple pairs of hands would also make preparation much quicker - I'll point out specifically where extra hands would have been helpful in red.

Stuffed Grape Leaves
1  large jar or can grape leaves (From Greece or Lebanon)
1 (29 oz.) can Chickpeas
1 bunch of parsley
1 cup burghul wheat
2 cups water
6 green onions (including ends)
2 large diced tomatoes
1/4 cup fresh mint, chopped (2 T dry)
1 ½  tsp salt
½  tsp pepper
1/3 cup lemon juice (or to taste)
1/4 cup olive oil
Juice of 1 lemon

1. Remove grape leaves from jar and soak 1 hr. in bowl of water. Replace water a few times to remove brine. Squeeze excess moisture off each leaf. Dry with a paper towel. Set leaves aside on a plate. (If using fresh leaves, wash them and let them stand in hot water 15 minutes to soften.) 
If you plan on preparing this dish over 2 days wait to do this step until day 2. Also, it takes time and patience to separate and dry the grape leaves, so having an extra pair of hands for this would be helpful.

2. Soak cracked wheat in water in large mixing bowl 5 minutes. Cup in your hand and squeeze out excess water as tight as possible. Set aside.

3. Wash parsley well and drain well. Remove stems and chop very fine. (I usually use kitchen shears.) Add to wheat.

4. Drain Chickpeas and roll each pea between thumb and fingers to remove skin. (It slips off quite easily.) Add to wheat and parsley. This step takes a while simply because you have to remove the skins one by one for every chickpea. Extra hands (even little hands!) would be super helpful here.

5. Chop onions fine and along with remaining ingredients, add to parsley and wheat mixture.

6. Take a leaf and place 1 tsp. (1 Tbsp. if leaf is large.) of mixture in a thin row across width of dull side of leaf with stemmed end closest to you. The shiny side of the leaf must face down to roll well. Fold the outside edges of the leaf 1/2" toward the center (envelope style) and roll firmly into a finger shape. Place in pot, alternating direction of each layer. Do not overfill the leaves - they will fall apart once they are cooked if you do. Having extra help on this step would be an extremely wise decision as this step takes a while.

7. Sprinkle lemon juice on top. Add water to just below top level of rolls. Bring to a boil, and then lower heat. Cover and allow to simmer 1 hour.
As you can see some of my grape leaves were falling apart, but they still tasted good!

Friday, June 10, 2011

7 Quick Takes Friday (Vol. 18)

7 quick takes sm1 7 Quick Takes Friday (vol. 130)

1) I'm officially due one month from today! That's a little crazy to think about. But Will and I are excited and ready to meet our son whenever it is he decides to make his grand appearance.

2) My Fuzzi Bunz came in this week! I waffled back and forth with whether I really wanted to go with cloth diapers for a while, but my thrifty side eventually took over and I decided we're just going to dive in head first. My sister uses Fuzzi Bunz and loves them. And I was able to get some experience with them when I watched my nephew for a week, so I'm not too worried about whether I'm going to like cloth diapering or not. Plus, the long-term savings seriously spoke to my heart.
Joseph is going to have the most stylin' diapers on the block. I'm so excited to get started using them. How will I decide which color to put on him first? ...I guess I shouldn't agonize over that too much as I'm sure he'll have the opportunity to try out each and every color on a daily basis for a while :)

3) I told you about our dusty vent earlier this week, but what I didn't mention is that I also got around to dusting our baseboards. You see...it never really occurred to me that baseboards needed dusting on any kind of regular basis. Sure, I dust the baseboards in the bathrooms when I clean the bathroom floor. But none of the other baseboards in our house had been touched - until last weekend, that is (except for maybe a quick wipe down in preparation for painting). Needless to say, they were pretty gross. I'm glad I got around to cleaning them before the baby arrives, sticks his little hands all over those dust/dirt covered baseboards and then sticks those same adorable hands in his mouth! I also decided while in the midst of crouching down to clean all those blasted baseboards that this would be a great chore for little people, and may very well be Joseph's first assigned chore when he gets older.

4) This is the first week in nearly a year that I didn't babysit little Alexis. It was a little weird. My days were all thrown off, and I miss her adorable self. But, I did get a fair amount done around the house and had extra time to relax. I also was able to finally schedule those appointments with pediatricians and run some long distance-ish errands. Although, I have yet to find the energy to put together that TV stand for the basement....maybe next week.

5) Last weekend Will and I got together with some friends and had a Greek feast. Each couple contributed a dish. We (read "I") decided to bring stuffed grape leaves. Until Saturday I had never in my life made stuffed grape leaves. It was an experience to say the least (in a good way!). Keep your eye out for a post detailing this adventure soon!

6) I had my first pediatric/prenatal consultation yesterday. The visit went well. I really liked the doctor and the practice. During my "consultation" I brought up some concerns I have regarding vaccines - most of which I have already talked over with my dad (also a pediatrician). I thought some of you might be interested in an article my dad wrote regarding the connections between four vaccines our children get and abortion (4 standard vaccines given to children are grown on aborted fetal lung cell tissue). In the article he discusses an ethical alternative for one of these vaccines. For a more complete explanation you can check out his article here.

7) My favorite Facebook post of the week goes to Dave. I liked this post for a couple reasons: 1) "Do the Right Thing" was filmed in Bed-Stuy where I lived for a year while volunteering with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, so I *heart* that movie, and 2) he's totally right, the heat has been insane this week.
"Man, that is some Do The Right Thing type heat out there..."

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Our Dusty Vent

I've been trying to clean the house in anticipation of baby Joseph's arrival. Nesting instinct? Well, I wouldn't say I'm gung ho with this whole process but it is constantly on my mind. So, I figured I should at least do some random things as far as cleaning goes. One particular cleaning task my mother pointed out when she was here for my baby shower was that the return air vent upstairs needed some serious TLC. Ever since she mentioned it I have noticed that disgusting vent every single time I walk up the stairs.
Yesterday I had my husband help me take down that large ceiling vent so I could clean it. It was in pretty bad shape. It's a return air vent, so there was ALL KINDS of dust and dirt on it....
That picture doesn't do it justice. It almost looks clean there compared to what I remember it looking like...you'll just have to trust me when I say there was dust literally just hanging off it.
The first step in the cleaning process involved me simply running water and my hand over the vent to remove the large chunks of dust - blech! I then took a rag to it and quickly realized that I needed to actually get in between every single vent hole. So, I broke out the q-tips.
While the q-tips did a great job cleaning, it was taking forever and making quite a mess in the tub. Even though I was making progress I just didn't have that kind of patience and my back and legs just weren't going to let me continue much longer. You can see the "before" and "after" cleaning with q-tips in the picture below.
In order to spare my back from crouching/kneeling and leaning over the tub any longer I decided to whip out the pressure washer to clean the vent. Why didn't I think of this sooner?
I wish I had thought to take a picture of the cleaned vent before I uploaded this series of pictures. Alas. I did not. Perhaps I'll post one later once I get a chance to put the vent back up.
Until then I need to clean the tub....

Sunday, June 5, 2011

At long last...

After many days of searching. After many days of me asking my husband if he knew where they were, and him consistently replying that he, in fact, did not know where they were. After lots of thought and searching through every room in our house multiple times. I finally decided to do a "thorough search" through the house going room by room, drawer by drawer, cushion by cushion until I found them.
I searched the den. Nothing.
I searched the kitchen. Nothing.
And then....I searched the dining room. It is here that I found them.

My scissors! My mind is now at ease. I knew they had to be somewhere. Who knew "somewhere" would be on the dining room table between the diaper bag and a basket full of baby toys?
Now I can go clip those coupons that have just been waiting to be clipped. Now my week can go on without that nagging thought - where could they possibly be!? - constantly running through my head. Now I can stop asking my husband if he knows where they are. Now I can get a move on preparing for baby Joseph's arrival.

Friday, June 3, 2011

7 Quick Takes Friday (Vol. 17)

7 quick takes sm1 7 Quick Takes Friday (vol. 129)

1) I can't find my scissors. I lost them a few days ago somewhere in the house and now I can't find them and it's driving me crazy. Who knew scissors were such an integral part of my life?

2) Will and I went strawberry picking on Monday. I really enjoyed it. Will? Well, he survived. I would love to go again, but I'm not sure my sinuses would tolerate such a thing (unless I want another sleepless night). But the 2 lbs of strawberries we did get were delicious. We consumed them by the end of the day on Monday.

3) My belly is starting to get in the way. Before it was just large and sorta there, but didn't really bother me too much (except for making it difficult to find a comfy sleeping position). Now, it just seems to get in the way, and it seemed to happen overnight. That coupled with my joints continuing to loosen has made for a very clumsy Betsy lately. From gouging my arm on the bookshelf after attempting to get my stomach out of the way to spilling peaches all over the table, myself, the chair and the floor to just dropping things (constantly it seems). Oi!

4) I finally got around to putting together our wedding album. Right now it just has pictures in it, but that was a huge step! Now all I have to do is go through and label/annotate things. It was so fun looking through all the pictures. I can't wait until the whole thing is finished.

5) After filling nearly 300 slots with pictures in our wedding album I still have a nice stack of photos I would like to do something with. I can't decide if I should just stick them with all the other "wedding stuff" or if I want to do a smaller album that just has all the extra pictures in it. If I do the latter there will be no annotation and would require me to get another photo album. I'm not sure which way I'm going to go with this one.

6) I *think* my nesting instinct is finally kicking in, but I'm going to give it another week before I deem this to be true. I recently hung a few things in the kitchen that I've been meaning to hang since we moved in. And I've started to think seriously about where everything in our front room (which is currently covered with random stuff) is going to go, then moving items accordingly. Hopefully I can keep up the momentum.

7) My favorite Facebook post of the week goes to Grace. Her adorable daughter, Seraphina, was baptized this past weekend and this is a conversation that occurred at the baptism. "The other one" she is referring to is her son Gabriel.
"quote from Sera's Baptism-
Fr. LaHood-she was very good, and 2 weeks old!
Mom-of course, she was named for the Angels.
Me-Well the other one was was also named for an Angel.
Fr. LaHood-They do come in two kinds."