Thursday, January 31, 2013

Dunking Skillz

My cat can dunk better than your cat.

Hi, crazy cat lady here.  Yeah ... my cat is better than your cat.  As a matter of fact, my cat is better than your honor roll kid.  Honestly Jules = 1.  Proud parent of a human = 0.  My blog, my rules.

But my cat does dunk ... his toys.  After he's done playing with his little toy mouse he dunks it in his water bowl and then places it in his food bowl.  I never understood why until I googled it.
Infamous toy mouse having a tea party at the food bowl.
Cat whisperer, Saundra Collins, explains "... some felines plunge their favorite toys in their water bowl or even on top of their food. The most probable reason seems to be the cat sees the eating area as the safest and most central place in his/her indoor terrain and therefore stocks his/her toy there after playtime."  The full article can be found here.

Ain't that interesting?!  My cat may in fact be smarter than your honor roll kid.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Video Editing Practice

I'm venturing into a place where I have no idea what I'm doing.  That place is video editing.  I'd love to be able to do wicked cool graphics and eye popping visual effects but I have to learn how to crawl before I can roundhouse kick.

So I've been practicing.  I captured the infamous Attila the other morning playing with a toy on the bed.  Figured I might as well try out my editing software, Adobe Premiere Pro, and become a crazy cat lady all at once.  Killing two birds with one stone ... EFFICIENT.

Plus, I found some great tutorials online during this process.  Even better, I stumbled upon Free Music Archive for background music.  Follow my "work stuff" board on Pinterest to find the tutorials I used.


Saturday, January 26, 2013

Don't Feel Deprived

I've mentioned before but I'll mention again ... I'm on a budget.  There are a lot of things I want to accomplish in 2013 that require money so I'm doing my best to stick to my budget.

I'm a student of Dave Ramsey (on Twitter @DaveRamsey) and his common sense take on money management.  To sum it up: Use your money the way grandma and grandpa did.  If you don't need it, then don't buy it.  And what you think you "need" you really don't.  It is not a revolutionary plan.  But with marketing geniuses knowing how to tug at the heartstrings of your pocket book it is a great reminder of how to manage money.

Please keep in mind that I have never bought any of Dave's books or materials.  Not that I'm against it but I figured if I can check out his books from the library to get me started then I'll keep doing that until I find I need to purchase his material.  (I will take his money management class whenever I get engaged because being of the same financial mindset is important to a strong relationship.)

Moving on ...

For a very long time I stressed about my finances and thought if I had a better paying job my money problems would go away.  We all know that is not how it works.  Instead, I buckled down, read Dave's "The Total Money Makeover", and was determined to not let something as frivolous as money stress me out.

It is now towards the end of January and I've religiously stuck to my budget since December.  I know exactly where my money is going and how it is being used.  I don't use my primary debit card at all (I use cash for my purchases).  I do have a secondary debit card that I use for sporadic car needs: fuel, repairs, registration, etc. but I don't access that account routinely.  I make conscience decisions about what I do such as taking my lunch to work, riding mass transit to save on gas/car maintenance, making homemade laundry detergent, DIY projects around my house, and sticking to a grocery list.

I thought I would feel deprived if I became strict about only using the money I set aside from each paycheck to live my life.  But the feeling of deprivation has not come.  In fact, I feel relaxed and empowered.  I still go out to restaurants but I limit the number of times each week.  I still get my nails done at my favorite nail salon but I lengthen the time between visits.  Heck, I ordered a pizza the other day because it was "one of those days".  My new money management system accounts for all of it.

The best thing ... I look at my bank account and know I'm on target to meet my 2013 goals.  What's even better, I'm not going to jeopardize 2014 or beyond.  I'm making my future more exciting.  I'm living below my means so I can live beyond my dreams.  I don't think that is a bad trade off. 

Friday, January 25, 2013

Battle of the Guest Bedroom

There is one place in my house the cat is not allowed to go and that is the guest bedroom.  I do it as a courtesy to house guests and there is really nothing in there for the cat except another place to sleep.  I usually keep the door closed so he doesn't feel tempted to go exploring.  The "out of sight, out of mind" things works wonders with him.

However, earlier this week I opened up the windows in my house to let in the cool breeze and freshen up the place.  This also meant leaving the forbidden guest bedroom door open.  Since my home office desk faces the hallway I figured I could steer a curious cat away from Switzerland (aka cat free zone).

And I did a good job of it.  He sat at the guest bedroom's doorway.  Patiently waiting for me to look away.  However, I knew what his game plan was.
This was before our staring competition.
Cat: As soon as she looks away ... I'm making a run for it.  I'm going to explore the hell out of that room!
Me: I don't think so fat cat. (Staring him down.)

He finally walked away from the doorway.  And I thought it gave me ample time to run to the powder room (ladylike, aren't I?).  As soon as I had shut the door I could hear him make a break for it to the guest bedroom.

Sneaky little cat!  He's more clever than I thought.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Blowing It!

I just looked at my blog happenings in 2012.  I only wrote 77 postings.  WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME!  That is only 21% of last year written down.  I totally blew it and to those that follow me I will say this only once ... "You should have put a ring on it".

Seriously, though.  I feel like I have let myself down for not taking part in one of the things that let's my creative demons flourish.  I love writing.  I love writing about nothing in particular.  I love writing about me doing nothing in particular.

I vow to make 2013 a better blogging year for me.  I can do better than 21%.  Heck, I can do better than 22%!

Below are my Top 3 most popular posts from 2012.  Enjoy reliving the past and hold on to your britches for the future!

3. Lunch Meat Fiasco
I'm the crazy lady in the grocery store.

2.Fuzzy Teeth
I'm a busy person.  Sometimes brushing my teeth is not a priority.  Or I'm too sleepy to remember these things.  (Editors note: I'm making a conscience effort to brush teeth early in the morning.)

1. Who Runs Barter Town?!
This blog posting gets a lot of attention throughout the world.  Russia must have an infatuation with Rufus Sewell.  I know I did.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Quick Dish: Mock Street Tacos

Have I mentioned I'm on a budget?  Pretty sure I have but just case you forgot ... I'm on a budget.  In order for me to stick to the budget I have to cook at home and take my lunch to work.  I like cooking so it ain't that big of a deal.  However, I don't want to do sandwiches every day and I like to have variety in my meals.

So I created mock street tacos.  I don't know how to put this politely but they are FREAKIN' AWESOME!
Chicken mixture
4 chicken breasts, frozen
24 ounces of salsa (I used Mild Pace Chunky Salsa)
1 cup of sodium free chicken stock
Coleslaw mixture
4 cups of angel hair coleslaw
1 cup of Greek yogurt
1 lime, juiced
1/4 cup of sweetener (I used Splenda)

Corn tortillas
Avocado (optional)
Sriracha sauce (optional)

For the chicken, place the frozen chicken breasts, salsa and chicken stock in a crock pot.  Set on low and let cook for six hours.  Once the chicken is done, take it out of the crock pot and shred it with a fork.  Place the shredded chicken back in the crock pot and continue cooking on low for another hour.

For the coleslaw, mix the Greek yogurt, lime juice and sweetener in a bowl.  Once incorporated add the coleslaw and mix.

To serve, place the chicken mixture on the corn tortilla followed by some of the coleslaw mixture.  I topped mine off with avocado and Sriracha.  It was amazingly fantastic, light and filling!  The coleslaw has a slight tang to it but the sweetness mixed with the spice of the chicken and Sriracha made my taste buds happy.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Ivory Soap Cloud

I have seen the Ivory soap cloud pin on Pinterest way too many times to not try it.  They say it is a fun experiment for kids.  Well, you know what?!  It is a fun experiment for adults, too!  Especially an adult who needs to clean her microwave.

Here is the before shot.

The instructions I saw said to water the bar then place it in the microwave for two minutes.  I took a video of the action but it didn't turn out very well.  Plus, I couldn't Photoshop the dirty microwave in the video.  So, the video got trashed.

The opening of the microwave.
The cloud will deflate some as the cooler air hits it.
Yes, I did Photoshop the above picture.  No Southern Lady would ever be caught with a dirty microwave.  And since I was going to clean my microwave after the experiment I needed to get rid of the pre-cleaned microwave evidence.  Photoshop works miracles when creating a picture perfect life of Southern living.

The after shot.
The soap turned out quite airy and flaky but it was REALLY cool to do.  My microwave was cleaned shortly after this experiment so it was a productive experiment!

Monday, January 21, 2013

Follow Up: Homemade Laundry Detergent

Back in 2011 I wrote about a recipe I found for homemade laundry detergent here.  I figured I should do a follow up post about how the homemade stuff compares to the store bought detergent.

There is no difference between the quality of clothes being clean.  They smell clean and no stains.  If the comparison was left at that I'd say buy the detergent in the store because you don't have to make it.  However, I can't just leave the comparison at how clean the clothes get.
I bought my gallon containers at Dollar General. They have a spout and handle. Great for pouring.
I have a front load washer and dryer.  Prior to using homemade detergent my bath towels always ended up with a mildew smell after being washed and dried.  Kind of embarrassing when guests used them.  "No, trust me, they are clean!" is not something a proper hostess wants to tell her guests.  After using the homemade detergent, the mildew smell is gone.  Plus, my washer stays cleaner for longer.  I cleaned it last week following the user's manual and it was in pretty good shape.

Last week I bought three bars of Ivory soap for $1.50 at the dollar store to make another batch of detergent this weekend.  That is the only extra supplies I've had to buy since starting the homemade detergent journey. In total, I've spent $15 on laundry detergent since August 2011.

I made a batch of detergent in July and just made a new one this past weekend.  That is six months of laundry detergent!  Granted, I don't do as many loads of laundry as a family of four (I'm averaging two loads a week) but that is still impressive.  I use about a half cup of detergent for each load of laundry.  Each batch I make creates two gallons of detergent.  It really does last awhile.  And it only takes me 20 minutes to make. I usually do multitask while it is heating on the stove so I do feel like I'm saving time by making my own laundry detergent.

I think I have enough ingredients for two more batches of detergent.  If this latest batch last another 6 months I won't have to buy more Borax or washing soda until 2014.  In my opinion, the homemade detergent is the way to go!

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Quick Dish: Mizuna Stir Fry

What the heck is mizuna?  I received a bunch of mizuna in my latest box from Greenling (@GreenlingDFW). I love getting things I have no idea how to cook because it requires me to expand my horizons and be adventurous.  So began my quest to figure out what mizuna is and how to cook it.
Beginnings of a great, healthy dish!
Wikipedia has a good reference for it here.  The description for it states "a piquant, mild peppery flavor ... slightly spicy, but less so than arugula."  Whoa.  I don't like arugula.  And, honestly, I had to look up the word "piquant".  Damn you, Wikipedia, for making me learn stuff!

However, I drudged on in my research of mizuna and decided to take the plunge into cooking it.  Folks, this stuff is pretty tasty!  It originates from Japan and is considered a winter green.  It is a mix between arugula and mustard greens but not prominent in either taste.  It is quite mild and holds its color well when cooked.  If you get the chance to try some mizuna, DO IT!
Mizuna is a bright, leafy green.
1 tablespoon of Chinese Five Spice
1 teaspoon of ginger powder
1 teaspoon of cinnamon
1/4 cup of low sodium chicken stock
salt, to taste
1 small cabbage, cut into 6 wedges
1/4 cup of low sodium soy sauce
1/2 onion, sliced
2 carrots, sliced
1 cup of mushrooms
3 cups of mizuna
2 cups of uncooked shrimp, diced
sesame seeds, sprinkled (optional)
Sriracha sauce, to taste (optional)
Mmmmm ... tasty!
Heat the first three ingredients in a dry pan.  Once the aromatics are released add the chicken stock and salt.  Incorporate the spices with the liquid.  Over medium-high heat, add the cabbage and cover for 5 minutes.  Remove cover, turn the cabbage, add the next four ingredients and recover.  Once the carrots are cooked add the mizuna and shrimp, reduce the heat to low-medium and cover.  Once the shrimp is cooked (about 10 minutes) serve.  I added sesame seeds and Sriracha to my serving.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Shout Out: Hotel Monaco in Alexandria

I love comfy hotels.  Especially when I travel for business because I need somewhere I can unwind and relax away from the comforts of home.  My company has an office in Alexandria, Virginia and I traveled there a few months ago.  It just so happen that my favorite hotel in Alexandria was running a special rate for the holidays and turned out to be the most economically feasible to stay at (good steward of my company's money, I am).
Leopard print robe ... YES!
Hotel Monaco (@KimptonInDC) is part of the Kimpton Hotel chain.  Boutique hotels that really know how to cater to guests and make any length of stay enjoyable.  For a business traveler, they offer more amenities that make being away from home not as challenging.  I'm part of their loyalty program (free to sign up for) and receive freebies with each stay like Internet access and complimentary goodies from the mini bar.
During my stay (beginning of December) they had hot apple cider in the lobby during their evening complimentary wine reception as well as mints in tins for special guests.  They also offer a pet friendly atmosphere and some months have happy hours for dogs traveling with guests on Tuesdays and Thursdays in the courtyard.
The Kimpton Hotel loyalty program is great, too!  When filling out their online form the questions asked include what kind of pillow I prefer, what music I like, do I prefer a quiet space, etc.  All of my answers are taken into account when I book a room.  When I arrive to my room I have extra pillows and blankets (LOVE), the iHome docking station is set to classical music and turned on, and I'm high enough in the hotel to not hear street traffic.  Their furniture is comfortable, fashionable and smart.  I love their desks because they have electrical outlets built in ... great for those of us using a laptop on a continuous basis.
Plus, their folks are just dang nice.  I've had the opportunity to attend a conference at this hotel in the past and they really do cater to your every need.  Visitor comfort is always a priority and their customer service is excellent.  If you have the chance to pick a hotel to stay at in Alexandria I'd recommend Hotel Monaco.  Great location in Old Town and the perfect home away from home.
Instead of a Bible you'll find Washington, D.C. travel books in the desk.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Quick Dish: Coconut Curry Soup

I wanted soup the other day but I wanted something different.  Plus, I was craving curry but am out of stock on the curry paste I buy at the Asian market.  So, I concocted a coconut curry soup.
Super simple to make and even easier to eat.

1 tablespoon of curry powder
1/2 teaspoon of ginger powder
1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon powder
2 cups of chicken stock (or vegetable stock)
1 can of coconut milk (use lite coconut milk to reduce calories)
1 teaspoon of red cayenne pepper (or to taste depending on how spicy you want it)
Sugar, to taste (I used Splenda and measured about 2 tablespoons ... adjust for your tastes)
Salt, to taste (I use sodium free chicken stock and use about 2 teaspoons of salt)
Various Vegetables (Use what you like.  Below are some options of what I have used.)
  - onion
  - sweet potato
  - carrot
  - mushrooms
  - celery
  - Napa cabbage
  - frozen peas
Shredded chicken (optional)
1 tablespoon of dried basil
Juice of 1 lime

As the pan is warming, add the first 3 ingredients.  The heat will release the aromatics.  Once the aromatics are released add stock and coconut milk.  Stir to mix then add cayenne pepper, sugar and salt.  Taste the base and determine if you need to add more spices, sugar or salt.  Add the various diced vegetables, chicken and basil.  Bring to a boil.  Once the soup starts to boil, turn the heat to low-medium, cover and let simmer until the vegetables are soft.  Right before serving add the lime juice.

The soup is great on cold winter days and quite filling.  It is also great for those that are recovering from a cold or suffering from nasal allergies.  The spicier you make it the more it will open airways.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Office of the Traveling Desk

One of my passions in life is traveling.  I love to explore new places, crazy adventures, and beautiful cultures.  I don't work for the weekends ... I work for the trips.

I have a home office that has yet to be decorated or organized.  If you were to see my home office you would think "she has a desk in a bedroom".  For the record, I don't like your judgmental tone.  But I am making progress on the room.  Over the Christmas break I created a piece of furniture that ties in my love of travel and offers room for organization.

My home office has (will have) a travel theme.  I like to buy artwork on my international travels and I plan to have all of them hung with care in my office.  Having a travel theme in my home office reminds me why I love my job (I have a boss who encourages my travel and a flexible career that offers me time away) and why I want to work harder at being the best for my company.  Plus, each item from my trips remind me of fond memories with friends and relaxing days enjoying new surroundings.

The furniture piece is made from repurposed material.  Some of the material I had on hand and others I bought at Home Depot.  The entire project cost me $55.  In addition to the materials listed below I used Mod Podge to attach the maps to the filing cabinet.
It was super easy to make and kind of fun to do.  My home office is finally starting to take form!