Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Gauche Alchemy Blog Hop With RAK

If you've stopped by the  Gauche Alchemy blog today, you'll see that a brand-spanking new team has been announced, and in honor of that, all the Gauche Girls are Opening Up.  How easy are we..to figure out that is!  If you haven't started at the beginning of our hop, Hop on back to the Gauche Blog and start in the fun there. There are RAKs up for grabs along the hop, so make sure you comment on each Gauche Girls blog for a chance to win some serious yumminess.
Now for the fun part: Each of us Gauche Girls has chosen a word that best describes Why we're so Gauche! Honey, this is where you need to work it a little!  Here's what you do:  Find all the words and which  hoppin' hunny they belong to, head back to the  GA Blog & post a comment with your answers - if you get it right, you get a shot at a kick-ass prize pack from The Head Honchettes themselves! See, it's EASY. If you have already started on the hop you should have come from Andrea's Blog.

My handle, as most of you know, is Perky Nihilist as I am a study of opposites and contradictions that peacefully coexist. So my word is Perky it describes both my personality and has a naughty boobies connotation. *grin*


This LO is a good example of my attitude towards creating in general. I like art best when it has bits and pieces of real life throughout, especially when you can use things that would normally be discarded. The fabric is all the selvages and bits left from straightening fabric pieces to cut for a project I am working on. All those wedge-shaped slivers were too pretty to toss in the trash.


I also used bright, bright colors - lots of red and orange - as that is what you see most in my work.

Making feminine pieces is my only "girlie" outlet. I added frayed, messy bows to reflect on my life as a women in an all male household.


Here's the RAK I'm offering for commenters on my blog. I am de-stashing some of the awesome mixed-media goodies I have on hand and would love to share them with you.


Please head over to Lara's blog to see more Gauche Alchemy goodness and get to know the rest of the team.
******* You Are Here *******
Amy
Note: Leave a comment on my blog to be eligible to win my RAK.

And on a completely different topic - aren't you excited about Easter? Avery and I made these:


Monday, March 29, 2010

April Stash Bust

Hello Everyone,

I've been lying pretty low the last few days - stomach flu ate my life... again. It's been a bad year for bugs.

We had a lovely Earth Hour on Saturday night. Chris and I had gruyere (it's G Fortnight) fondue by candlelight and then sat on the couch and talked by the light of our fireplace. Bliss. Makes me want to turn off the lights more often.



Another great Earth-Friendly thing going on is April Stash Busting Month. This was brought to my attention by DollarStoreCrafts and I think it's a great idea.


If you click on the link above, you'll find lots of tutorials, challenges and prizes in association with busting your stash. I'm all over this - it's gonna rock.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Success, Failure, and Cupcakes

When I sent out my missive to the brave hearts of A-Z Year I included this suggestion:

Fail. Seriously consider attempting something you might not be all that good at. As adults we rarely take risks or put ourselves in positions where we might look Foolish. Take a dance class, try painting, bake a souffle - do something that might not work.

I firmly believe in walking the walk so I decided to tackle a few new recipes this fortnight - sketchy ones that I couldn't quite grasp the food chemistry of. All four recipes involved came from highly lauded internet foodies and if pictures don't lie, then they had great success with them. I won't post links as I'd hate to sully their good name with my incompetence.

Here is Buttermilk Vanilla Cupcakes (I forgot to take a pic of the praline frosting. Sorry):



Look at that sway-back, hollowed out nastiness. Ugh! And they were hard work and expensive too.

These are the Coke Cupcakes with Coke Frosting (forgot to photograph this frosting too - there was a repairman, I was teaching homeschool, the bread timer was announcing it needed punching... photos weren't a priority):


Before I continue, let's discuss flavor. The coke cupcakes were billed to taste like chocolate coke. But, instead, they tasted like watered-down cupcakes with a corn syrup after taste. Ew. The buttermilk vanilla ones were an outrageous sugar bomb and very crumbly. Ick. ( An aside: We were worried from step one about the buttermilk because the house had this horrible animal meets chemical stench as soon as I started cooking them. Turns out I had sat my leather-bound recipe book on an element set to low for over an hour. It was slow-roasting. *shudder* The page protectors are fused together; time to redo my recipes.)

I thought, and thought, and thought some more as quitting just isn't my style. Cake Pops were on my March To-Try list and they required crumbly cake and frosting - BAZINGA!

So I de-papered the mess, and crumbled the few bits that were baked hard enough to stick together:



And with a little effort, candy melts, sprinkles and lollipop sticks; we ended up with these:


Wanna see a close-up:


Yeah, that's some sort of oil that sweats through the cracks - appetizing!

The boys claim they are truffle-like and delicious. I had one bite of each flavor and fearing a sugar coma sat them back on the plate. Not for me.

Fortunately, for "F" Fortnight I made Fancy and Fabulous French Toast to save Face after all that Failure. I added 3/4 tsp of cardamon to my regular bread recipe. When I was forming the loaves, I pressed the dough into rectangles, sprinkled with cinnamon and rolled it up to make swirls. It's delicious and so pretty. I wish I had a picture but I have three boys, one teenaged, so the picture I do have was snatched out from under their fork.


We gilded the lily a bit with fresh warm cinnamon syrup. Delish.

Here's my bread recipe, it works well for whatever flour you prefer. I usually use half fresh-ground wheat and half all-purpose.

Finnish Cardamom Braids or Home Baked Bread
For regular bread, omit the cardamom and skip the italicized steps.


2 TBL yeast (two packages)
1/4 C warm water
2 C warm milk (we use soy milk, vanilla soy if making cinnamon rolls or any sweet breads)
3/4 C sugar
1/2 C softened butter
1 1/2 tsp salt
* 3/4 tsp ground cardamom (optional)
2 eggs
7-8 C flour

Dissolve yeast in warm water. Add milk, sugar, butter, *cardamom, eggs and 3 C of flour.
Beat until smooth.
Stir in enough remaining flour to make soft dough.
Knead 6-8 minutes.
Place in greased bowl and rise to doubled (about one hour).
Punch down and shape into three loaves.

*If making cardamom braids: Divide dough in half and braid each half.

Cover and rise until doubled (about 45 minutes).

*
If making cardamon braids: Brush with egg wash and sprinkle with Finnish Sugar (it looks like rock salt - big crystals)

Bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes or until golden.

Brush the tops of the loaves with butter when they are still hot from the oven if you prefer.

I blogged at Gauche Alchemy today, I had the extreme pleasure of interviewing the amazing Melanie Testa. She rocks my socks off with her art quilts and mixed media projects. Wow.

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Issue of Expectations

Today was my appointment with the pain clinic. Last time I saw them was in December, I was still having my tail bone removed and I didn't even know about tethered spinal cords and the fun of having them freed. The pain clinic is supposed to be the banner all my care falls under, their role in my life is to coordinate my care - making sure surgeons, physical therapists, pharmacists and whoever else is involved all have one point of contact. In theory it's a great system but today, not so much.

Imagine you have been dating your beau for a couple of years, you've talked about wanting a family together and you are actively planning your future. One night, he asks you to don your best dress, takes you for dinner at a very tony spot and nervously sets a small velvet box before you. You open it and see a beautiful diamond pendant hanging from a thick gold chain.

This is a very nice gift, right? But it wasn't what you were expecting. The expectations made a very thoughtful gift less than and even possibly unappreciated.

I went to my appointment today harboring fantasies of exercise programs, physical therapy, stretches, yoga, therpeutic swim classes... SOMETHING... and I got, rest a few more months, keep your schedule limited, take your meds - and hey, speaking of meds, do you need more?

This irked me beyond belief. I have been fighting each and every day to reduce my dosages; aiming to be free of pain killers entirely. Instead, the best I could do, was ask to have the amount they prescribe reduced.

They act like I'm somehow unappreciative of the progress I've made. Which is funny as I'm the one working as hard as I can to make that progress and they haven't even seen me since last year. It still hurts so bad I cry. My life is still limited at every possible turn. I'll be more appreciative when my life is more. More in ever way.

It doesn't help that my doctor didn't know a thing about TSCS. According to him, he "Googled it" before my appointment. I assured him (pleasantly) that I probably know a lot more about the topic than he does. He agreed and said no one in the building knows much about it. Great. He also said that it's so rare that there is no known trajectory for recovery. I really want some steps to aspire to. This rest and see business is maddening.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Eclairs Tales of a Young Bride

Back in 1989 I made eclairs for the first time. I couldn't cook anything fancier than ramen or KD; but eclairs, being made with simple stuff like boiling water, flour and eggs, didn't look too daunting.

I don't remember if the inspiration came from a Home-Ec class or from one of my mom's Good Housekeeping magazines. Either way, I set to the project with the kind of faith and spirit wholly reserved for youth naive of the kitchen and it's many pitfalls (see previous post).

I made them and they were good. (Nicole's Genesis 1:3)

Throughout my pre-marraige years I had two things I could cook: eclairs and chicken vinegar soup*. After a whirlwind courtship, I was a new bride to a young husband who was heading out the door to his first day of work. I kissed him and was left standing in a tiny apartment galley kitchen with not a clue as to how to set it up or what to make in it. Time was ticking. He'd be home in eight hours.

Tick-Tock.

Tick-Tock

*Dials the phone*

" Honey, do you like eclairs?"

To my horror he said no. So the one thing I knew I could woo him with was a bust.

Last night, on the final day of "E" Fortnight ( you've joined the fun at A-Z Year, right?) I made eclairs with my boys. They found choux pastry just as magical as I did at their age.

It goes from this boiling goo:


To these airy shells:


We made thick sweetened whip cream in a blender ( have you tried that? fast, easy, not messy.) and melted chocolate as the base of our frosting. My boys all experience love most profoundly through their stomachs and their love tanks were full.

My Chris came home, now fifteen years past that galley kitchen, and I nervously offered him the best eclair of the bunch. I held my breath hoping that he would accept it and love it - I mean really, what's not to love about pastry, whipping cream and chocolate.

He took a bite and his eyes rolled back in pure unguarded rapture.

It turns out he doesn't remember telling me he didn't like them and he is pretty sure he thought eclairs were something else.

Here's a simple choux pastry recipe. They can be filled with anything fluffy: whipped cream, mousse, ice cream etc. and topped with frosting or drizzled with syrups.

Choux Pastry:

Ingredients

1/2 cup butter
1 cup water
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 eggs

Directions

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F (230 degrees C). Grease a cookie sheet.

In a medium saucepan, combine butter and water. Bring to a boil, stirring until butter melts completely. Reduce heat to low, and add flour and salt. Stir vigorously until mixture leaves the sides of the pan and begins to form a stiff ball.

Remove from heat.

Add eggs, one at a time, beating well.

With a spoon or zip-loc bag with corner cut off, pipe dough onto cookie sheet in 1 1/2 x 4 inch strips.

Bake 15 minutes in the preheated oven, then reduce heat to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C) and bake 20 minutes more, until hollow sounding when lightly tapped on the bottom. Cool completely on a wire rack.

* I won't divulge the glory that is Chicken Vinegar Soup aside from the fact that it's a delightful blend of broth, curry, pepper, garlic, soy, vinegar and much more. No one ever forgets it and you crave it for life. Yeah, it's that amazing. But that'll have to wait for a different post.

Dear New Oxford American Writing Thesaurus

Dear New Oxford American Writing Thesaurus,

This morning, our homeschool family was finishing up a writing assignment and we used the dictionary feature on our MacBook Pro to find a synonym for pitfall. Imagine our surprise and disappointment to open the thesaurus and read:

pitfall
noun
home schooling has its pitfalls: hazard, danger, risk, peril, difficulty, catch,snag, stumbling block, drawback.

Homeschooling? That's the best example you could come up with? Alienating 1,273,089 registered Americans who are the very people who still use dictionaries and thesauruses seems poorly thought out.

I'm wondering if when looking up a synonym for stingy we'll find a reference to judaism or when exploring intelligence we'll see, " Men exhibit greater intelligence than women". What other biases and prejudice should I expect to find within your pages?

Your example is offensive and does hard working families like my own a disservice.

Perhaps you need to look deeper into the homeschool movement. It stands to reason that if home schooled youth are courted by all the best post secondary institutions then perhaps this mode of educating is not as hazardous and rife with peril as implied.

Warmly,
Nicole

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

E is for Easter Candy

Does "stretching" the candy by putting it on a cupcake make it healthier? LOL


We made chocolate cupcakes and topped them with a peanut butter cream cheese frosting. Yum!

Sorry for the quiet, I have been mostly off line as I haven't been able to manage all my responsibilities (homeschool, house, marriage, special time with each of my boys, home cooking, sleep...) and being online was the lower priority item in my schedule.

This healing up business is hard slogging. My nerves are regrowing and the pain and sensations are very intense. I am thankful for the "pain training" the last few years have put me through or this would have brought me to my knees.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Blog Award

My sweet friend, Glittery Katie, a fellow Bombshell gave me this sweet blog award. I know there have been a few others (Carmen, Gabby, I'm sorry) but with all the surgery/meds/pain whoo-ha I've been bad about keeping up with things. That said, I really, really appreciated them and felt a little thrill at being mentioned. Thank you.

The way this works is:

1. Copy and paste the award on your blog.
2. List who gave the award to you and use a link to her blog (or hyperlink).
3. List 10 things that make you happy.
4. Pass the award on to other bloggers and visit their blog to let them know!
5. I am not such a stickler for rules if you are like me: do as you please with it!!!

I'd like to give this award to Cheryl - one of the most talented card makers I've ever had the privilege of knowing and an absolute sweetheart as well.

And to Maggi, I really can't say enough wonderful things about the positive, creative force that is uniquely Maggi. She's the real deal.

10 things that make me happy!

1. Coffee
2. Bombshell Stamps and Pin-up culture in general
3. Gauche Alchemy and the fact that I can be vintage and eclectic in my crafts without shopping. Yahoo. And my Gauche Girls.
4. Stripy Socks!
5. My friends in Portland. Who I love with all my heart. You know who you are.
6. Mountains. Snow. Mountains with Snow. Being snowed in up the mountain
7. Jason, Estela and Benjamin.
8. Being a boy mom, which means life is filed with zombies and dragons, not Barbie and ballerinas.
9. Bubby. The very, very best dog in all the land
10. Being married to a guy who still rocks my world and takes my breath away each and every day.

************************************************

We are still working on our March-April budget and it is seriously kicking our butt. Squeeze as hard as I can and I can't get our spending below 70% of our income. Grrr. This month we have no health spending account to fall back on, so prescriptions, doctors co-pays etc. are all cash categories. We also have a Costco membership due and last month we ate the cupboards bare (on purpose for the sake of freshness) so groceries are going to be spendy. This should be an interesting month money-wise.

I share this, because I sometimes worry that I haven't put a wholly honest spin on the TMMO - debt reduction journey. It hasn't all been a happy scamper from spendthrift to miser. Thousand dollar bills haven't fallen from the sky (although it was nice to sign the check from the tax man as opposed to writing him one) and we've worked hard every day. This week alone we've spent at least two hours a night scouring our bills and budget trying to decide if a category with twenty dollars in it can be moved down to fifteen. It's a lot of work and sacrifice. We're just Go Hard or Go Home people so we've made crazy progress.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

E is for...

Eggplant: We went out for Baba Ganoush
Eight Seconds: One of my favorite movies ever and now my boys like it it too.


Ebelskivers: We bought the pan and are gave them a go. Delish!


Cinnamon Bun Style:



Chocolate Filled:



Today the boys new Escher puzzle arrived - 1000 pieces should keep them busy.



Next up is homemade eclairs - YUMMY! - I used to make them all the time in my teens but haven't since.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Healthy, Wealthy and Wise Plus Painting

Chris and I found five 16x20 canvases for five dollars on our date Saturday so we spent our evening painting and goofing off. It was so much fun! We played around with the new stencils from Tulip's Fashion Graffiti line. So awesome! Here's a glimpse:

Nicole:
Chris:
Chris:
Nicole
I've since cut mine into strips for cuffs and the rest into posies for a wreath I'm making. Knowing a project is going to end up in pieces takes the pressure off in terms of final result. It is important to remember to play. It's been awhile since I've done one of these posts so I thought I might as well.

Healthy:

I was doing great. Really. Down to 15-20% of my daily meds, getting stronger, doing more each day. Then BLAMMO!!!! right back to eight on the out of ten on the pain scale, massive muscle spasms and lots of pain meds. It's a little frustrating. Normal, expected, "appropriate" to the situation. But grrrrr. It feels like a set back. I think my head was in the game better when it was so terrible. Now that I've felt better, I want to keep feeling better.

I need to start eating well again too. This past eight months has taken a chunk out of all the weight I lost and I don't feel as good about myself as I did a year ago. I know what I need to do, but adding another thing to my schedule feels impossible right now.

Wealthy:

Dave Ramsey says when you take control of your finances you become a money magnet and I believe it. It's actually not so much a money magnet as all those streams, trickles and windfalls really exist. Many a bonus, tax return or rebate was frittered away before our big money overhaul. This year everything - even three dollar returns and rolled change - has gone onto debt. We've sold huge amounts of stuff and been really, really diligent in our spending. I'm thrilled to report that we've paid off 40K leaving us 26K to go.There have been some great windfalls in there - a bonus, tax return etc. But most of it was beans and rice and rice and beans. The best month we've had, we put 74.7% of our income on debt and the worst we put down 37%. Huge change from last July when we were spending 110% a month.

In other money news, the surgery bills keeps going up. All those nice "it's all covered" and "max of $1250 out of pocket" conversations were omitting that while the surgery may be covered, the hospital, anesthesiologist, x-rays ... were not. We've paid it all, but the ever-growing total was a bit of a bear to figure out. Again, I am incredibly grateful for the way we are handling our finances now. It wasn't a scary thing to have to pay my medical bills. It just meant we put a little less on debt than we'd planned. There is a deep peace to what we're doing. I can't say enough good things about it.

Now that we know we can finish this, the boys are getting excited about our trip to Europe. Our plan, since before we began is to pay off our debts, is to keep living the beans and rice lifestyle and finance a big trip to Europe. We want to go before the kids leave home and the way we were heading it would never have happened. We are hoping to go in 2011. *Squeal*

Now that I am making friends all over the UK the trip will be all the sweeter.

Once back, we have more financial stuff to do - six month emergency fund, college, retirement... but this trip is important to us and I can't wait.

Wise:

I am reading again. The reduction in meds helped me clear my head and be able to retain snippets of books. As a mom I rarely get to read more than a few pages at a time. With all the pain, that didn't leave enough of an impression for me to follow a long and make those stolen moments worth it. I've been blowing through the Song of Fire and Ice series and I finished Snow Flower and the Secret Fan. Next is The Help and then hopefully one of Nick Hornby's new books - Slam or Juliet, Naked. Reading is such a joy.

We also are back to our regular homeschool schedule. Avery seems to have suffered the worse for the gaps in teaching. Trenton and Brayden picked up right where we left off. Trenton has a full day writing class later this month that focuses on the SAT essay and writing your personal essays for college applications. It'll be his first full day at a class without me nearby. We're all excited for him.