Friday, July 27, 2012

Scrabble Cake: Fondant overload

My office celebrated our company's seven year anniversary this week.  Sushi luncheon, lottery cards, and a webcam session with all of our virtual folks across the country made for a rather enjoyable hour.  Last year for the anniversary party I made a simple cake adorned with our company logo. This year, I had to step it up and I put together a Scrabble cake filled with the acronyms we in the government consulting world use on a daily basis. 

To start, I made a simple 13 x 9 red velvet cake. Let it cool and then plopped it on my carrying tray. 

Next, I pounded out some vanilla fondant and rolled it out onto my new fondant rolling sheet. I skipped the $20 fondant roller at the craft store and used a regular ol' rolling pin.  I don't know if there's a better way for transferring the rolled fondant to the cake, but the hubs and I left it on the rolling sheet and flipped the sheet over the cake.  Then I just peeled off the rolling sheet. 

Then, I just used a simple paring knife to trim the fondant around the cake.  I did the big cuts first, formed the fondant, and just kept trimming as I went.  I smoothed out the fondant once I was done trimming.  Tiny knicks can be fixed with just a drop of water. 

While the fondant on the cake was hardening up I prepped for making my Scrabble tiles.  There are 100 tiles on a standard English Scrabble board.  Since the board is traditionally square and I had a rectangle cake I was going to make a 8 x 8 board on my cake.  Since a Scrabble board has 15 tiles on each side I figured I would save myself the math headache and just make my tiles half in squares.  A 6 by 6 inch square of rolled fondant yielded 144 tiles, which was more than I needed, but I actually planned on my last row being all messed up from dragging my paring knife.  Then, I figured I'd have a few leftover tiles to spare incase I messed up writing a few letters or made any other errors. 

My rolling sheet was labeled with 1 inch squares so I cut my vertical lines first on the 1 inch lines and then just eyeballed cutting them in half.  Did that on the horizontal lines and I was good to go.  I think the hubs was actually impressed with my math skills and dedication at this point.  

I drew on paper a Scrabble board and where I wanted my letters.  I used my paper template as a guide to place the board on the cake.  To finish I used a small tube of chocolate frosting to draw on the board lines.  I pierced the frosting tube with a sterilized safety pin that way I had a super small hole to control the flow of frosting!  I used the same frosting tube to write on my letters.

Unfortunately, I used my company's name in a prominent location on the Scrabble board.  I didn't think about that until writing this post and I thought, "crap, do I really want to broadcast where I work?" So that's all you get to see up there! 

  1. The bigger the cake the better!  The bigger the cake, the bigger your tiles and half inch tiles were way too small to write both the letter and the point value. Not having the point values on the tiles really bugged me.  A standard Scrabble board is 15 by 15 inches and I think a 12 x 12 cake would have been a great size for the cake.
  2. Details matter people! I actually made all 100 Scrabble tiles and left the remaining pieces on the cake tray.  Some of my co-workers were like, "oh, you could have made this word here." My response, "really, where are you getting the 'H' for that? There are only 2 'Hs' on a Scrabble board."  Having that type of detailed cake really mattered. The hardcore Scrabble folks were impressed for those level of details.  I even included the two blank pieces and people loved that. 
  3. Everything takes more time than you think it will.  I didn't finish my cake until 11:30pm! I completely underestimated how long it would take to write out all of the letters.  Perhaps it's my fault, but I played a ton of words on my board and that might have been a huge part of the problem. However, back to point #2.  There are four separate center divisions at my office and I wanted to make sure that all four of them were represented on the board.  I am not kidding you, but I was on the CDC website while making this cake trying to find an acronym that worked for my board. 
  4. Your hand will hurt after squeezing a frosting tube for that long. Swear to goodness my hand was sore the next day and I could barely grip a pen.  The trials and tribulations of baking are sorely unappreciated. 
  5. Don't stress out and just eat some cake! 

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Dear Mike Holmes: We're above code!

Back in April 2011 when the hubs and I had our mellow yellow house inspected prior to purchasing the little fixer-upper we were told that the roof would need to be replaced within 3-5 years. Not the greatest news, but our little foreclosure was still priced $80k less than other houses in the neighborhood and our house had an addition and much larger yard.  We weren't going to give up the house because it needed a new roof.  Or a full kitchen remodel and two bathroom remodels. Oh wait, make that two full bath and one half bath remodels.  It's not like we're counting or anything! 

If you asked me, the gameplan was  to buy the house, continue saving like crazy, and renovate the kitchen within the first two years of living in the house.  In my mind that made sense since every system in our house, except for the roof, came with a two-year warranty because it was a Freddie Mac foreclosure.  

The hubs, the structural engineer in the family, had other plans.  Dude became an HGTV addict after we bought the house and it was only natural that he became a fan of Holmes Inspection.  I swear to goodness if I hear, "we need to be above code" one more time I'm going to go up to Canada and give Mike Holmes a piece of my mind. 

This is what the roof of our house used to look like.  Yes, we were growing a small vegetable garden in our gutters.  That was our take on a roof top garden! The hubs made a pitch for putting gutter guards up on the gutters.  I gotta give him some credit because that sounded like a good idea in my book.

One side of our house used to be tree lined with some weird looking really skinny pine trees.  They were super tall and skinny, but not cedar trees.  I don't know, that's all I got. I didn't even have time to take pictures of them when the hubs cut them down and got rid of them.  It would appear that those trees were a bit too close to the house and would knock into the side of the house from time to time.  And by from time to time I mean all the darn time it seems.  There were a million tiny little holes and cracks on the one side of the house.  I'll be completely honest, I totally forgot about this defect because I never go on that side of the house! Out of sight, out of mind! 

We also had two lovely satellite dishes on our roof when we moved in.  The hubs called both DirecTV and Dish Network and was told by both companies that the dishes belonged to the house and we had to remove them ourselves.  Guess who didn't go on the roof and play with either dish - that's right, this chick!

One Friday in mid-May the hubs took the day off from work and had three separate roofing companies come to the house and give us quotes on a new roof.  Or at least that's what I thought was going on.  He called me a few days later when the quotes were in and told me, "okay, the one company I liked the best said it's going to be $12k to do everything."

Um, WHAT?!?!?!?!  I thought we were just getting a new roof.

Hubs: "That's for everything - the roof, a new ventilation system, additional insulation in the attic, new siding on the side of the house that will be custom color matched, and new gutter guards."

Truth be told, I kind of forgot about those "other things."  You know, the ones that comprised of 40% of the total cost of the project.

Well there went any fantasies I had about custom Knotty Alder kitchen cabinets in the near future.

Fine, sign on the dotted line and let's do this already! I told the hubs, "you better make sure that every single thing that goes in our house is environmentally friendly and made in the USA."  Dude knows me and immediately countered, "Shingles are 50 year grade, top of the line, and made in Hagerstown, MD.  Insulation is 85% recycled paper product and produced in Laurel, MD."

Supporting local business ... sign me up!

Thankfully, I was out of town when most of the work was done on the house so I didn't have to physically face any of the materials or workers and think ill thoughts about how much money they were costing me.

 Some of the materials. 

New shingles and new protective coating for the chimney.  Fine, it's black and shiny which means I like it. 

New roof and new gutter guards.  I'm actually really a fan of the gutter guards because now I don't have to worry about the hubs dangling off the side of the house in an attempt to clean the gutters.  One less way he can die doing home maintenance is off the list! 

Brand new siding on one side of the house.  Perfectly matches the rest of the house. 

I'm sure there are more technical terms for this, but they also re-hung our downspout and fixed the craziness that was going on around our meter. 

Voila! New roof!  No more ugly and broken satellite dishes!  And, the hubs wasn't harmed in any of the home repairs! Three cheers all around! 

Siding - $2350 
Gutter Guards - $1500
Roof - $6487 
Attic Insulation - $1134
TOTAL: $11,471

The roof actually came in under budget because zero of our wood support beams had to be replaced.  Honestly, with how old some of the other systems are in our house the hubs and I were shocked that there wasn't some type of water damage in the attic. Don't get me wrong, none was found during our inspection and we're thrilled, but we're just pleasantly surprised.  The old shingles were chipped, frayed, and well past their shelf life.  We're actually hopeful that the new attic insulation will pay for itself over the next few years based on lower heating and cooling costs. 

There were a ton of deals involved like $2k discount for leaving a sign in our yard for two weeks, discounts for combining services, scheduling in advance, etc. I know I gave the hubs a hard time about adding on everything now rather than doing it later, but I will say he was right.  The Baltimore area was hit with a massive heatwave right after our new roof was put on and it was actually so cool in our house that we had to turn our AC down.  Our master bedroom used to get a tad warm at night and it's been much cooler since we've had the additional layer of insulation and the new roof put on.  

I gotta give a bit of credit where credit is due: hubs you were right. It's better to be above code! 

If anyone in the Baltimore/DC area needs a new roof, insulation, gutter guards, or siding I can definitely provide a positive recommendation for a company.  Just let me know. 

The hubs and I did not receive a discount for blogging about our experience. 

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Window shopping at the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale

If you haven't gathered by now, I'm a bit of a bargain shopper.  I don't have a ton of money leftover in my wallet for clothes shopping after spending money on home renovations and running related expenses. I have to maximize my limited shopping budget as best as I can.  There is also this guy who lives in my house who makes a few subjective comments from time to time about how I have too many clothes.  The only downside to buying things on sale is sometimes the selection isn't the greatest or the items are on their way out of fashion.  

However, one time a year a glorious event happens that every bargain shopper like me gets ready to dig deep into a wallet and pick up something on sale before its season!  Fall is my favorite season, which makes the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale the perfect excuse for me to pick up something on sale before the season begins.  Let's be honest though, I don't have a ton of money this year lying around, which means I can probably only convince my husband that I "need" one of these things (sorry Burberry coat, I still think you're priced a bit too high, but I'll covet you anyway.) 

Here's my wish list of items from the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale. Hurry prices go up August 6th! 

Tory Burch 'Horsebit' Satchel will be $450, but now $298.90 

Stuart Weitzman 'Accumulate' Boot (Nordstrom Exclusive) will be $625, but now $399.90

Vince Camuto 'Gettila' Boot will be $239.95, but now $159.90

Vera Wang 'Royce' Bootie will be $350, but now $229.90

Via Spiga 'Yardley' Pump (Nordstrom Exclusive) will be $225, but now $129.90

Burberry Brit Double Breasted Trench Coat  will be $1,095, but now $695.90

Movado 'Bold Chrono' Small Bracelet Watch will be $650, but now $434.90

French Connection Colorblock Crepe Sheath Dress will be $288, but now $191.90 

And I even picked out something for the hubs! The hubs has a few pair of AE shoes and he loves them. Allen Edmonds 'LaSalle' Oxford will be $295, but now $199.90 

I love everything on the list above, but I think my best chance of bringing something home is either one of these two items below. 

Rebecca Minkoff "MAC" Crossbody Clutch will be $295, but now $169.90

Tory Burch 'Noel' Ballet Flat (Nordstrom Exclusive) will be $225, but now 

The age old question - pair of shoes or a purse!  Which would you get?  Anything else you're eyeing at the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale? 

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Theory Pants Score! Thanks Nordstrom Rack

I was out and about last week running a few errands when I found myself at a Nordstrom Rack. Don't you just hate when that happens?  I wasn't really looking for anything per se, but these amazing black, ankle cut, trousers fell into my hands.  One glance at the price reduction sticker had me running for the dressing room.  I've never been more happy to size up to an 8 in my life!  Thank you bubble butt because these Theory pants fit beautifully.  85% off, don't mind if I do! 

Top - Annalee + Hope (TJ Maxx)
Pants - Theory (Nordstrom Rack)
Shoes - Cole Haan (Rue La La)
Necklace - Ann Taylor (old) 

Pockets! You don't say! 

And I can sleep soundly at night knowing that my new top was made in the USA and my new pants were made in the USA of imported fabrics. 

I can't remember the exact prices on everything, but I'm pretty sure the Cole Haan Shoes were $50, the shirt was $16, the necklace was $15, and of course the Theory pants were $34.  That's $115 total for the whole outfit!  It's not my cheapest outfit ever, but I'm pleased with what I paid for it.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Annapolis, Baltimore, and Washington DC: Trifecta complete

One of the reasons the hubs and I bought a house where we did is because we live in the little triangle between Annapolis, Baltimore, and Washington, DC.  We're 15 minutes from Camden Yards, 25 minutes from the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, and 45 minutes from Verizon Center.  We can get our sports fix in under an hour for every major sporting event Maryland/DC can offer!

Saturday I went for the trifecta and spent some time in each city.  Started off bright and early for a 13 mile run in Annapolis where it absolutely poured for the last five miles.  Honestly, running in a downpour was such a relief after running in ridiculously hot temperatures the week before.

Then in the afternoon the hubs and I met up with friends for a brewery tour at Heavy Seas on the south side of Baltimore. Learning about the beer making process while sampling on locally brewed beers was a 90 minutes well spent in my book.

Finally, the hubs and I ended our night at Verizon Center catching the Michael Jackson "The Immortal World Tour" by Cirque Du Soleil.  The hubs is not only a huge Michael Jackson fan, but he's seen almost every Cirque Du Soleil show in Las Vegas.  It was the perfect end to a Saturday night to cap off a late birthday celebration.

So yes, on Saturday I hit up all the major cities in the Maryland area.

And on Sunday I was lazy and watched the hubs pitch a hell of a game.  I came thisclose to getting absolutely DRILLED by a foul ball and I'm still not sure how I got the heck out of the way.  The hubs was pitching and the umpire said, "wow, that could have hurt and that lady looks pissed."  The hubs responded, "that's my wife."  I told the people I was sitting with, "just watch as soon as this game is over he (the hubs) is going to give me hell about not catching that foul ball."  Sure enough, that's what happened.  Although in privacy later he told me that I probably would have broken a few fingers if I tried to catch that thing because it was moving!

Overall: a great weekend!

What did you get into this weekend?

Thursday, July 12, 2012

What the heck is that?

This thing fell off my patio chair the other night and literally scared the daylights out of me.  That has got to be the ugliest moth/insect/bat/creature/alien I've ever seen.

I did the only rational thing I could think of - picked up my camera and took a few pictures of it.  From as far away as I could because I would scared it would bite me or something.  I would have screamed like a little girl if it even touched me!

Then, after a few minutes of bewilderment it opened its wings to reveal really pretty back portion of its wings.  I tried to muster up some strength to get a bit closer and when I did that sucker threw out some nasty green colored slime. 

I screamed so loud someone in my neighborhood probably thought there was a crime being committed. I didn't even come through the back door of the house because I was so scared this thing would get in the house, which meant the only logical thing to do was to run around to the front door and let myself in that way.  

Seriously though, now that it's gone and I've come to peace with the understanding that I don't know where it is, does anyone know what the heck that thing is? 

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Happy 29th Birthday Hubs!

Happy Birthday to my dear husband.

The guy who has made me laugh so hard I've cried and is the primary reason I have permanent laugh lines.

I highly encourage everyone to go to 7-Eleven today and get a free slurpee.  Then, lift a slurpee to the hubs because he gets a double slurpee on his birthday.  It's just the perk of sharing a birthday with a convenience store.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

It's always hotter in Arizona

The Baltimore area has been crippled by extreme heat over the past two weeks and it's been just miserable.  Good thing I've been prepping for the heat because three weeks ago I was on a site visit in three areas of Arizona and the coolest weather I encountered was a mild 105 degree day in Tucson.  It was absolutely brutal.

I actually attempted to walk 6 blocks in downtown Phoenix to get back to my hotel from a meeting on a Friday afternoon at 2pm.  I'm not kidding you, I had to dive inside a building lobby for a few minutes half way through my walk because I thought I was going to pass out. The things I'll do to save on cab fare!

I will give Arizona credit where credit is due: Arizonans recycle and they respect water! Every where I went someone was offering to either give me a bottle of water, recycle my bottle, or refill my bottle.  Each of the three hotels I stayed in had recycling containers in every room.  Public parks, street corners, and gas stations even had recycling containers at every garbage can.

I also met with a variety of housing developers and they were incredibly proud of the green building measures that they were putting into place in their projects.  Everything from recycled concrete roof tiles to gray water systems were utilized.  It was really amazing to see.

The only thing interrupting the clear blue sky is the framework of a house. 

Recycled concrete roof tiles.  50 year lifespan and roughly the same cost has shingles.  Perfect for long-term sustainable housing. 

I don't think I actually met Bob, but I'm thankful he could lend me a clean hard hat.  

Not my idea of a garden, but sure why not. 

Wait, is this sign warning me that there are warring factions of scorpions and snakes waiting to battle?

I think I could feel the water evaporate out of my veins it was so dry out.
Did you know that it takes roughly a 100 years for a cactus to grow an arm?  Some folks in Tucson told me that little tidbit of information. 

So, so, so hot. 

You know things are warm when you see a city park and there isn't a kid in sight.  I kept waiting for an alien ship to come down and put all the people back in their places. 

I was probably a bit too excited that I was able to pack for a full week of site visits (flew out Sunday night and returned Friday night) and fit everything into my carry-on bag.  Unfortunately because of all the sand I left the heels in the bag the entire trip! I hate when that happens because they took up valuable suitcase space. I was pretty ticked when my bag had to get gate checked on my return flight.  I hate online check-in because if you don't do it promptly 24 hours before your flight time then you're stuck at the end of the pack and I wasn't even flying on Southwest!

Friday, July 6, 2012

50 closet classics: Time to go shopping

I came across this image on Pinterest the other day.  It was one of those, "with these XX number of pieces of clothes you can have an infinite number of outfits."

Of course that led me to whine, "but I don't have any of those pieces!" Well, actually I have quite a few similar pieces, which means I should really cut down on the dramatic, "I have nothing to wear" moments I seem to have every day. 

This outburst led to more time spent on Pinterest and led me to finding an image from Matchbook Magazine titled, "50 classics for your closet: the go-to basics every matchbook girl should own..."  Well I don't consider myself a Matchbook girl or a girl for that matter, but I was hooked by the pretty polka dot umbrella and the purple loafers. 

I checked off the things in my closet that I have and like for the grand total of 26 items.  Technically, I have a few more of the items unchecked, but I'm not really a big fan of the piece I have so I hope to get a more classic piece instead.  Although, I don't think I'll ever own a black bikini ... I just don't see that ever falling into my closet. 

I don't think the hubs is going to want to hear this, but it looks like I'm short on quite a few classic pieces. I guess that means it's time to go shopping :)

Oh who am I kidding? I'm on serious shopping lockdown after a few indulgences last month.  Sigh, it looks like I'm stuck on window shopping for my remaining items.

How about you? What classics do you still need to add to your closet? 

If you want a blank list, then click here.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Born in the USA

I believe if you were born in New Jersey in the 1970s or 1980s there was fine print on the back of your long-form birth certificate that required you to make references to The Boss whenever a reference was possible. Rumor has it now the fine print pleads with newborn Jersey Boys and Girls to avoid future participation in any reality show that may negatively impact the glorious reputation of the Garden State.

But I digress.

There have been numerous tiny events in my life that slowly formulated a conscious decision to try to bring in more American made products into my home. The largest spark for this decision occurred last spring when the hubs and I signed an offer to purchase our home. That was it; we were finally adults because a bank said they trusted us enough to keep sending them payments for the next 30 years. If that’s not a sign of adulthood, then I don’t know what is!

With such a life changing event happening I pulled the hubs aside and told him that in our new forever home, I wanted to bring in more goods stamped, “Made in the USA.” In that same discussion, I also said I specifically wanted to bring in less goods stamped, “Made in China.” There had been so many recalls on children’s toys, pet foods, drywall, and a host of other goods coming from China at the time that I singled the country out. Yes, I felt bad about it. I’m not a fan of prejudices, but the last thing I wanted to do at the time was bring something into our house that was potentially dangerous. 

I won’t go into all my reasons for making this decision, but I will say that it was a long-time coming. 

As usual, the hubs put up with my craziness and endured my shenanigans as best as he could. He was very
straight with me and we both understood that we would, “do our best, but costs and logistics would prevail.”

More often than not, "costs prevailed." I don't know about you, but have you ever really looked at how few items are labeled, "Made in the USA" these days? It's disheartening. In addition, the cost for most items made in this country are significantly higher than those imported; especially for lights! If you find an American made light company that is reasonable, please let me know! 

Then, in January of this year the hubs was given the flag that draped his grandfather's funeral casket.  When that box showed up on our doorstep the hubs and I knew we had to find a case to keep the flag preserved for memory sake and save keeping. 

Off we went to find a flag case.  Ten stores later the hubs was about to lose his cool in the middle of a big-box craft store. This particular store had an entire row filled with shadow boxes and flag cases specifically showing pictures of holding American flags.  But guess what? Every single case and box was labeled, "Made in China." 

The hubs wasn't on "Team America" at the time, but he quickly came over to my side.  He was actually shaking while talking to a customer service representative who was absolutely flabbergasted and embarrassed that every single item in the aisle was made in China, yet advertised itself as being the perfect item to hold an American flag. 

I felt so bad for the hubs that he wasn't successful in finding the perfect case for his grandfather's flag that I actually posted a short summary of our frustrations on the craft store's Facebook page. In less than two days my wall post received over a 150 likes and 50 comments.  Three days later I received an email from a regional manager expressing his concern with my wall post and informed me that he would take my concerns up the chain of command.  

I went back into that craft store this weekend and you know what I found. Nothing had changed. Every single flag case and shadow box on their shelves was still made in China. 

The hubs ended up finding a nice store online that specializes in making flag cases. Every single case is made in North Carolina and is made by hand.  

In the meantime, the hubs and I are still struggling to find American made items for our house. I've almost given up on buying clothes made in America because I can't find a shoe company that makes a fashionable woman's shoe.  All but two pairs of my Cole Haan shoe collection is made in China. Same thing for all of my J.Crew dresses!  

Here's what we've found:

  1. The big home goods stores (Pottery Barn, Restoration Hardware, Crate & Barrel, West Elm, Z Gallerie, Lowe's, Home Depot, etc.) will specifically say, "Made in the USA" if a product is made here in the states. If it says "imported"  or nothing at all then there is a solid chance the item is coming from China.  Most of the stores above are very open about where their items come from and have country of origin on their website (Crate & Barrel wins in this department).  Other stores will openly say in the item description if the item is made in Italy, India, Brazil, Canada, or Mexico.  I've actually emailed Restoration Hardware in the past and had them send me a list of everything in their current inventory that was made in the USA.  Restoration Hardware definitely gets a point for amazing customer service, but I'd love them more if any of their window hardware was made in the USA. 
  2. Just because something is reclaimed wood doesn't mean it's made in America.  I fell in love with a gorgeous reclaimed wood table at Williams Sonoma Home and was pretty bummed to find out a table costing over $2k was made in China. 
  3. Ceiling fans are not made in the USA.  Seriously, I've been looking for an American made ceiling fan for over six months.  If you find one, let me know.
  4. Don't automatically assume a company that makes things in the USA makes everything in the USA.  Libby glasswares makes a ton of things in the USA and also a ton of things in Mexico.  I don't quite know why one glass shape is made in the USA and the other is made in another country, but it's frustrating that the ones I want aren't made in the USA.  Our GE Cafe fridge is made in Canada and the USA and we went with it because of it's amazing reviews and knowing that we could buy some GE things that were made in the USA.  
  5. Many online shopping stores (Crate & Barrel, Overstock, Wayfair, Bellacor etc.) allow you to search for items made in the USA.  One careful caveat is on Bellacor you'll only get items that have "Made in the USA" in the item description.  Some companies keep that piece of information in their company description and not in their item description.  I bought a floor lamp from Bellacor that was listed on ten different sites as "Made in the USA," but wasn't coming up in searches on Bellacor. 
  6. Some items lend themselves to being made in the USA more than others.  North Carolina is known for upholstered furniture and it's not difficult to find a ton of quality couch options that are made in the USA.  However, the hubs and I have yet been able to find a pretty bathroom garbage can that is made in the USA. The only ones we can find are the generic clear plastic ones. 
  7. Room & Board is the coolest store of all time.  They don't just list the country of origin for every single  product on their website, but for all USA made items they list the specific state where the product is made and artisan that makes all of their products.  The hubs and I bought our bed from Room & Board in March and it's been one of our favorite purchases. 

If you've found any companies for either home or fashion items that are made in the USA, please leave me a comment.  It's really been a struggle for us and we need to buy curtains ASAP!