Friday, February 8, 2013

The house the sadists built.

So, when I met and married my wonderful husband - he already had a house.  I knew right away - this house wouldn't work for our family.  It was already too small for his children and it needed some serious work.  He bought it as-is in an effort to "get a house" - any house. 

Suffice to say, we're moving as soon as we can sell this one.  We've done a ton of work, gutted and replaced the kitchen.  Gutted and upgraded both bathrooms.  Structural work has been completed, new boiler, furnace, and the list goes on.  We're down to the final prettying up - painting, trim, a couple door replacements, deep clean the carpets and voila - put a sign on the lawn!

So of COURSE, we run into stupid issues.  This house has been full of them.  The people who "upgraded" it last in say... 1963... did not build to any code in the US.. or possibly Earth.  The electrical was put in by blind maze builders who want you to guess which circuit an outlet might be on and leave random electrical prizes in the wall.  The plumbing has outlived it's age and has been a pain to fix.  But the walls - the basic structure of the walls always leaves us astounded (and frankly a little defeated).

Fast forward to my hubby deciding that the bumpy plaster effect in the entryway is an eyesore and it has to go.  He has already decided to remove the paneling in the basement because "That's what Jonathan and Drew would do".  I have to admit, this makes me smile.   When we first started working on the house, he assured me he wasn't the "handyman" kind of guy.  Now he's pulling down panels and putting up sheetrock.  Swoon!

I decided to tackle removing the paint or plaster mess.  I used plastic sheeting to protect as much of the house as possible from the dusty mess that the area was sure to become.  After some advice from the guy at Lowe's, I started off sponging water onto the wall and hoping it was wet enough to scrape.  This was a: time-consuming; b: messy; c: stupid.  So I decided, if moisture is what's needed - wouldn't the steamer work better?  I have a small steamer iron and a larger clothing steamer.  I started with the small one and Lo and Behold - A Faster Way Was Born!  The paint gets wet and starts to pull away on it's own. Using the metal scraper the pieces came off fast. 

The hubby got the big steamer out and between the two of us, in an hour, cleared most of one 4' by 8' wall.  We have one more and the ceiling to do, and it's done.  Then it's fix any uneven / holes (sometimes you get a ltitle energetic with the scraper and gouge a wall.  Oops.), sand and paint time!  YAY!

I am so excited to get this done. 

Oh - and to clean the carpets - I have a Kirby.  I sold them for a short stint in college (don't you judge me, I needed money!) and love them.  They are solid and last forever.  Someone on Craigslist was selling theirs for $100 bucks.  It retails for close to $3000 so... I took that deal and ran with it!  Even with depreciation of being a couple generations old, it was worth at least 500 bucks.  It has every attachment and works GREAT!  I know for a fact the carpet cleaner is amazing and can't wait to clean the carpets in this house. 

I know it will be more work than hiring someone, but it will save us money.  We have paid for every renovation in cash - no credit debt or anything from the house - so every bit of savings is a godsend. 

Hey, if you want to come over and help - just let us know... as you can see, it's not boring!

Chopping Block Recipe #2

Let me begin by saying, the salad was still tasty and we cleaned our bowls.  Now then, lessons learned:  Don't dress the salads when you chop them unless you are eating them that night.  Chopping ahead - smart.  Dressing ahead - soggy.  However we added in some crushed chips and taco sauce and that was wonderful!

If you haven't guessed, it was Southwestern(ish) salad night!  Also, a quick correction - the premade salad bases are actually 615 calories total.  Apparently one of those bowls is meant to serve 5!  Are they kidding?!  Two maybe, but 5??  At any rate, I'm still not upset about a salad that even with the additions totals between 300 to 400 calories per person.  Remember, not using the cream-based dressings - or using only a small amount for the entire salad is a loss of many of the calories.  Replacing their dressing with something healthier is always a better choice and will keep those calorie counts down around 300.

Southwestern(ish) Chopped Chicken Salad

Started with Marketside Southwestern Salad
Add 1 cup arugula
green portion only of green onion (Save the bulb!)
2 Taco Sauce packets (Taco Bell!)
1 tsp habenero pineapple sauce (from Costco)
Crushed fresh chips (Taco Bell - 47 cents for a little bag)

Now, things I would add for next time - more chicken, or just make my own altogether.  More tomatoes! (Or salsa, but we were out...)  More corn!  Some chopped chipotle peppers.

Chop greenery and chips, toss in bowl, add wet ingredients, toss some more... salt and pepper, then eat!

Now since having a cerveza with this counterbalances the benefits of the salad, we recommend Crystal Lights new liquid water flavor drops - this round, Southern Iced Tea!


Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Chopping Block Recipes #1

I'm not entirely sure I'm going to actually do a lot of recipe stuff here, but I'm so excited about this latest thing we're doing in our house - I have to post it.

First, let me be very clear in stating - Until 2004 I hated salad.  In 2004, I began to learn an appreciation for fresh veggies and their taste because a lot of processed foods left my normal diet.  I even *GASP* liked some salads.  Now lettuce by itself still doesn't thrill me, but I've learned of a lot of varieties and discovered I like some of them (not Iceberg - blecch).  Sometime between 2009 and now, I stopped eating as healthy as I was.  There's a whole line of pyschological reasons based on events in my life that sum up to:  I stopped taking care of myself first and backburnered my health and eating choices. 

My husband and I have both been working on reversing that trend in our household.  So part of that plan took a turn when we discovered a fabulous restaurant called Chop'T Creative Salad Company.  We went to the one in Chinatown but there are several in DC, one in Reston and one in Bethesda (you lucky people!)

There are none in Woodbridge, Dahlgren (HAHAHAHAHAHaHAHA... sorry...whew... If you worked down here, you'd know why that makes me laugh), Waldorf, or basically anywhere not right in the core DC Metro area.  

The salads and sandwiches are awesome.  The premise behind the shop is genius.  The prices are a little higher than "fast food" but it's healthy and you get ginormous portions so it makes a couple meals easily.  In short - we love it.

However, we'll rarely get to eat there - but with a purchase of a mandolin from Bed, Bath, and Beyond (Thank you wedding present gift card...that I still need to send thank you cards for.. crap!), our flexible cutting boards at home, and a large mixing bowl: we can make our own!  Why is this better than normal salad?  No huge pieces of lettuce leaf, no toppings all trapped on top and sad lonely bland leaves on the bottom, bite-sized pieces which make it manageable to eat and it makes a large portion full of flavor without feeling like you're depriving yourself of anything.  Salad is ok, even good at times - chopped salad is awesome!

So to test the theory of "How hard can it be" I purchased some ready made salad kits of varying flavors, a bag of spring mix (Hubby likes Arugula) and combined that with the farm-fresh green onions and spinach we already have at home.  I added in salt and pepper (and some other seasonings depending on the salad), chopped them up, lightly dressed them and put them in containers in the fridge.  We ate the first one, the seafood chopped salad last night - It. Was. AWESOME.  I have a few edits I want to make next time around, but here's the recipe:

PS:  For the purists, I didn't buy all the veggies separate and clean and chop them myself because I have a 3+ hour commute, work a full-time job, and like sleeping.  When I can afford personal servants to shop, clean veggies, and prep my meals - I'll let you know what channel I'm filming on.

Seafood chopped salad:

Seafood salad bowl from Walmart: 130 calories containing iceberg lettuce (normally ick, but it was fine chopped up), carrot strands, imitation crabmeat, cheese, tomatoes, a lemon (I squeezed over the bowl at the end), and remoulade dressing.
1 cup spring mix
1 bulb green onion (don't omit, it gets chopped so fine you get the flavor and no not the texture)
1 cup spinach
Old Bay Seasoning

Chop all ingredients (except lemon and dressing) on chopping board with mandolin until small.  (I might have made mine too small, could have probably eaten this with a spoon!).  Toss into bowl, squeeze lemon over ingredients.  Toss with tongs and using 1-2 oz of dressing, coat the salad.   Dust mixture with salt, pepper, and Old Bay to taste.  Toss once more.

Perfect for two people.

Things I will change next time.  Add real lump crabmeat and small shrimp.  I dislike imitation crabmeat anyway and it just had no real flavor in the chopped salad.  Add something a little crunchy.  I need to research low calorie options for this, but I'll take suggestions.  A little extra crunch would have been wonderful.  We cleaned our bowls, were full, and didn't feel weighed down. 

Next on the list - Southwestern Salad...

Marriage Files #100: Love is Easy, Marriage is Hard

Love is a choice.  That’s the name of a book my mother had on her shelf for many years.  I used to think it said, “Love is alcohol” and made myself really look at it when I was in my 20s.  While the latter is a funnier title, the former is pretty accurate.
My maternal grandparents were married over 65 years.  My paternal grandparents were married over 40 years when my grandfather died.   I have maternal aunts celebrating over 50 and 60 years of marriage while my parents were married for 36 years when my father passed away.   Both sides of my family are filled with people who are full of love for others.  There have been divorces, more so in recent generations, but the number of lasting strong marriages outnumbers the broken marriages. 
Divorce is a hard topic, it happens and no one can judge why or if it should, except the couple and God.  I used to assume it was because they just didn’t love one another enough.  The fact is, I think it’s more about the willingness to put in the work than a lack of love.
I’ve been observing marriages my entire life, from the fights to the fun times and many gray areas in between.  I’ve always assumed I would do well in marriage because I’ve learned a lot from my observations.  I’ve recently gotten married and I want to share what I’ve recently come to realize.
1.        Looking ain’t doing:  All the observation in the world couldn’t prepare me for the unique, intimate and complicated relationship that is my own.  I can apply some of the things I learned along the way, but many of the rules are made up as we go.  Love is a choice – a very personal one that looks different for every observer.
2.       Marriage requires work:  I know living with someone can be challenging.  Sharing space and routine with another human being is tough.  But when that person is someone you have pledged to spend your life with, to trust above all others, to protect and consider before everyone but God and yourself – that’s a whole other level of challenging.  Every word can break down or build up the relationship and there’s no escaping the fallout of a disagreement.  You can’t run off to friends and complain about your roommate – that’s your mate to protect.  There’s no cooling off until next week when you meet for dinner – this is your most trusted friend with whom you make your life.  Making the daily rollercoaster work requires creativity, humility, and mercy.  Fatigue / Health, outside people (including family – especially family in some cases), and pressures of the daily grind required to survive can wear you down like sand against a stone.  The question is whether it will erode your relationship or smooth it out?  Love is a choice – one that comes with requirements and consequences.
3.       Relationships need nurturing:  Much like having a newborn child, new puppy, or even a young plant - relationships require tending.  Even if they get to the point where they seem “self-sufficient”, they require the extra effort that got them to bloom in the first place.  The extra nuances and small things which seem superfluous are the very things that allow the work of the relationship to come easier.  Appreciation, admiration and availability can be tough to remember to provide.  They are easily taken for granted, but without them – you stop being loving partners but more like friendly roommates.  Love is a choice – one that you make every day in the small things you do or choose not to do.
So, those are my three big lessons so far.  I don’t have solutions or magic suggestions on how to do these things with raging success.  I’ve only been married a short while, but from what I’ve seen of the relationships I’ve been exposed to it all requires work from both parties.  A willingness to communicate – even when you don’t want to talk about it – combined with the ability to not always get your way (I’m working on this) folded into the knowledge that “This too shall pass” seems to be a major part of the equation.  Feel free to chime in if you have anything to add to this. 
If you’re married or about to be married or longing to be married, I can only suggest thinking about these three lessons I’ve learned.  Expect the hard times, revel in the good times, and keep your eye on the biggest piece – you’re with the Love You Chose.  And isn’t that the best part of all?  If you’re still looking for that person, I will tell you that the way he (or she) looks, where they work, or what politics they have matter little when it comes down to the real challenges of life – those things can change on a dime.  Who they are deep down when no one is looking; What beliefs they build their lifestyle and choices on; How they treat those who are in a lesser position, and Whether you can fight with them without personal attacks and cruelty are much more important.
As a small aside, for all the fighting and nonsense I saw my parents go through (times when we kids even said, “Just get divorced, it’s easier”) they worked together on every single issue and were stronger for it.  When my Dad died unexpectedly, they were at the best place they had ever been – and loved stronger than I had ever seen.  My Mom may take a long time to get over losing my Dad, and who can blame her?  Her marriage wasn’t movie perfect – it was real.  I’ll take that, any day of the week.