Thursday, January 31, 2013

cash flow, an update

Given that I let you in on Bunny's money worries last week, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that the next weekend I had my own mini meltdown about money while I was working on the budget. Or while I was procrastinating on working on the budget, more like. Looking at numbers and not really doing anything with them.

Money's an emotional subject. Not so much for what it is in itself, but for what it represents. Money itself isn't a value or priority for Bunny and I, but it's something we need to reach our goals. All of the following require money:
  • living on our own, whether its renting an apartment or buying a house
  • going on vacation
  • our hobbies (although those are more manageable)
  • taking care of a child
Of course the money worries aren't centred about money itself, but how we manage our money and how we can live a lifestyle that makes us happy. How long can we live in my mother's basement? It allows us to save a lot of money, but there's a huge emotional tradeoff that I just can't shake. If we do move out, we are still a ways away from buying a house comfortably and it puts a long hold on that goal. How important is a house to us? Where does saving for retirement fit into all of this? At what point do we absolutely need a vacation, even if it's just a week off from work at home and how does that affect our trajectory towards a home and family?

So I cried and we talked about how scared I am and how frustrated I am and how some days everything sucks. Pretty much as soon as I got that off my chest things slowly started feeling better.

I ran the numbers, and at first they made no sense. Then I got mad at the numbers, because I couldn't fix them. And we sat down, went over them and realized that I was being way too conservative in some of the estimates I didn't have hard numbers for and things started to look more realistic. My budget estimates for income were on the low side, but we're both paid hourly and we need to use an average. It also completely ignores Bunny's freelance work since that's so hit and miss.

We spend and save pretty much exactly what I assumed we did. Our debts (mostly my student loans, really) stand exactly where I thought they did. The car is still our biggest expense, but it's not quite as much of a money pit as I thought. Since such a big chunk of our expenses are fixed it's easy to get scared, there aren't too many ways to lower them and we'd already done things like get new, more cost effective car insurance this year. Our personal spending is ugh ... well it needs some work but we both knew we were being overly generous with ourselves and we both have plans to fix it.

So at this point we're both on the same page with where our money situation stands and what it represents. We're getting a clearer a picture of which goals we want and need to accomplish first, and what we want to put off for a bit. Vacations, for example, although really, really wanted are not a top priority. Hopefully we'll find a way to make something small happen (like an all inclusive somewhere, or even a weekend away at a B&B or something). Living in a place where it's just the two of us would be better for both of our emotional health than just a week away from here (although a week away would be great, and we'll find ways for mini vacations in the meantime). We've come up with a tentative plan for tackling our personal expenses, and we've talked about starting to get into coupons and be more responsible with how we can get more for less from our fun money. We've got a major goal coming up that's going to make a huge dent in Bunny's spending and a modest dent in mine. Beyond that Bunny's been really moderating some of the more problematic aspects in his spending lately, and I haven't even been coming close to spending my personal budget.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

project macaron: take two

When my first try at macarons were so close to being a success, I figured my second go would only be an improvement on the first. I mean it only made sense that I'd improve rather than get worse, right? Wrong.

This version was a bit of a disaster. First, I couldn't find the same recipe I'd used before. Or if I did it looked really, really different. So I was off to a bad start before I even got going. Second thing I really thing I screwed up is that I overwhipped the egg whites. I was so afraid of not whipping them enough that I passed the soft peaks stage and veered right on to full on stiff peak territory and that just was a no go.

So somewhat of a disaster. What I ended up with were somewhat flat, super delicate marshmallowy cookies. Tasty still, but nowhere near a macaron.

For all that they didn't come out the way I wanted there were two things that changed that I was happy with. I found a seive deeply buried in my mother's kitchen that allowed me to try Amanda's idea of sifting the powdered sugar and ground almonds, and I was really happy with the consistent texture and size there. I also changed how I piped them out, using a cone of waxed paper instead of a freezer bag and found that I had about a million times more control that way, so I'll definitely be using that piping method in the future.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

baby quilt - piecing complete!

As of this week, both the top and back of the baby quilt are complete. How cool is that? I'm super excited about this one. Every time I look at the quilt top I like it more and I know that it goes with the Noah's Ark inspired theme that they're going with for the baby's room.

Making this quilt for the baby has really helped me feel connected to my sister in law's baby and feel more at peace with everything. I'm excited to see a little bundle of baby cute wrapped up in it or sleeping in it.

Now that the fabric layers are complete, it's time for a trip to the local long arm store to buy some batting and choose quilting thread. Other benefit of that is it will be a great chance to talk to them about the classes they run and their services (seeing as I have the gift certificate and all) and I'm super excited. I have an idea of the pattern I'd like to do the actual quilting stitches with although I'm a little unsure if it might be a overly ambitious for a first attempt. I want this one to be perfect because it's going somewhere so special to me. I'm excited for the next step!!

While puttering away on the backside of the quilt, I managed to finish up my second Scrappy Trip trip block. I don't love the second block as much as the first, which surprises me because the first block was more orange and I expected that I'd like the primarily blues block better. Oh wells, though. It's about how it all comes together in the end and I think it's going to be pretty awesome when Bunny and I move back out and we have this one draped over our couch.

The other question I'm left with is what to do with the fabric scraps left from the baby quilt. Maybe I'll use some of them to do the binding, though that's not the way I'm leaning. I've got somewhat substantial amounts of some of the fabrics left over, including a super cute, cartoony animal print and a leopard-type print. For now, they'll sit in a little box waiting for me to come up with a plan. Maybe down the road they'll go in another scrappy type quilt. Or something. We'll see.

Monday, January 28, 2013

rings and things

My wedding set is pretty much perfect. I love wearing it, feeling the weight on my hand, being able to glance down and see a symbol of my marriage, knowing that it's a fairly obvious statement to people who are looking that "hey, I'm married". That symbolism isn't everyone's cup of tea but I like it. I also like that it's a set that's designed to work together, although the shape does really take away the option of wearing just the wedding band.

What I haven't been loving lately is the fact that it doesn't fit. When Bunny purchased the ring I was about half way through a somewhat major weight loss and my ring size was an 8. In the year and a half since he bought the ring, my weight has fluctuated downwards more and even though I still have short, chubby fingers (that bit's never going to change) the sizing just didn't work.

Over the summer I accidentally flung the rings from my finger when I was dealing with an overflowing bottle of root beer, which led to a somewhat panicked hour long search around the basement. A couple of months ago while drying my hands I accidentally tossed them in the bathroom garbage at work (getting them out was fun - can you hear that sarcasm?).

So at the start of the new year we trudged into his sister's jewellery store, where we got the rings, and sent them away for sizing. When I get them back I'll actually have rings that fit which is going to be a great improvement but in the meantime I feel a little lost.

Without anything there I feel absolutely naked and I don't feel ok leaving the house. I'm a fan of wearing my rings. It bothers me to an extent that it was clear I'd have to wear a placeholder ring for awhile, and I'm lucky enough to have a few choices. A little cute gold ring with a tiny diamond chip my grandma gave me when I was thirteen, a little band with some small channel set diamonds as a grad gift from my mom years back that looks like a downsized wedding band, and two hand me down rings from my mom, both pearl. The first rings look and feel out of place and they look awkward on my ring finger so it was an easy choice to narrow it down to the pearls. Somehow my short fingers need a bit of oomph that the flatter bands just don't provide.

Thus, the last few weeks I've been walking around with a pearl solitaire on my hand. It's odd because it's so clearly not my engagement ring, although it does the job of making me feel not naked. I can't wait to get my rings back.

If you're married or engaged how do you feel about wearing your rings? Are they an extentsion of your hand, or do you ever go out without them?

Friday, January 25, 2013

quilting update

I'm getting to the point with the baby quilt where I'm actually going to have to start teaching myself a new skill: sandwiching the quilt top and back with batting and (gasp) actually quilting it.

The top is complete but for the borders and the back is going to be just lightly pieced. Of the four fabrics I've used in on the top I'll be piecing three or four large, wide strips together for the back, which is more to do with the amount of the fabrics I have left over than any other consideration. And I want to let the monkey fabric shine a little bit more, which it really can't do in the pieced front.

I've got lots of time to handle this, as we're not expecting to meet the little monkey until early June and last week I realized that I just needed some time off from this project. Happy as I am for my sister in law, during last week's anniversary I just didn't want to be working on something for someone else's baby. It just felt like asking a little bit too much from myself.

Despite all my plans to the contrary, I didn't take the time to pick up other half finished projects. In all fairness I did try. I was going to pick up the orchid cross stitch again and put some time into that but for the life of me I can't figure out where I put it. Or where Bunny cleaned it up to. I am determined to finish that one up, I just need to find it and dedicate some time into it.

Instead I broke into a jelly roll I'd recently acquired that co-ordinates with the almost finished pillows (that honestly won't get stuffed until we move out, just on space concerns) and broke into a pattern that's been making its way across almost every single quilting blog I read lately, the Scrappy Trip Along the World. It just seemed too easy and fun to pass up and I've been wanting to follow someone else's pattern. The thought with this one is that once Bunny and I do move out it will go in our living room on the main couch, so it will likely be a smaller sized quilt. Maybe four feet by four feet? That's what I'm leaning towards at least.

Once again I'm proving myself to be a great starter and a lackluster finisher. Don't worry though, I promise I'll get to it. At least I have a deadline.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

book review: sacre bleu

I've only mentioned once or twice (or ... well, a lot) how much I enjoy Christopher Moore's writing. So, when he came up with a book that name checked Vincent van Gogh and suggested he might be a main character or driving force well I simply had to read it. Suffice to say I had my hopes up high for this book.

Maybe too high. Which isn't quite fair to say; I had specific expectations that this book did not quite meet. I wanted more van Gogh. I spent probably most of the first half of the book being a little bit frustrated and feeling like the description had misled me.

About half way through the book I got over it. And once I stopped sulking about the fact that there wasn't enough van Gogh I was absolutely enchanted. All my favourite elements of Moore's writing were here, the humour and the hilarious take on the supernatural. I got involved in the storyline and realized that the characters were just as compelling as Moore's earlier characters. So let's be clear: this is a story about the made up, mythical power of the colour blue. The title maybe should have clued me in, no? It's also a book about art, and inspiration and the force that drives people to create.

As I was reading I felt like Sacre Bleu was perhaps a bit of a divergence from Moore's earlier writing, but that's not exactly true. I simply happened to catch on a particular strain of Moore's writing when I first began reading him, and while that particular little set of books is my favourite, it's not the only aspect of his style. I did feel like there was a little bit of maturation in his style though (although, really, maturity is not a word I'd use to describe his writing) and there was definite growth. There's more creative scope and a crazy massive storyline that just isn't there in the most of his earlier works.

If nothing else it's worth a read just for the afterword.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

cash flow

The other weekend Bunny and I took a little bit of an impromptu roadtrip into Newmarket. He'd been trying to pick up some paints for his model car that he's building for awhile, and for the last three weekends the hobby shop in town had been out of every single colour he needed. Finally one of the associates recommended we drive down to Newmarket and we found out that no problem, they had everything.

On the car ride down we had a few talks though about money and priorities and life. Bunny's bank account doesn't really have much in the way of buffer between his income and his share of regular expenses. On top of that there have been extra expenses lately (he had another dentist visit this weekend that kind of cleaned him out) and he's been stressed.

Part of it's my fault. We view all of our money as "our" money, whether it's in my account or his account, but his accounts look pretty sad lately. I've been procrastinating pretty hardcore on the budget and on getting all of our figures to him. I mean, I know where the money goes, I know what savings to be expecting but everything's all over the place with our money right now and I need to start untangling and simplifying.

We've been putting off joining the accounts until my name change is complete legally as an attempt to simplify. It's a little unfair though, because I bring in more money on a regular basis than he does and the expenses that have traditionally been his are way higher than mine. Essentially his regular income just covers the bills and his spending with a tiny bit to spare, whereas my paycheque covers my loans, my fun money, our joint entertainment with significant savings every cheque.

The big stuff is all in place: we have the money to cover our fixed expenses, we have freedom with our money and we save pretty aggressively. What we don't have right now is a plan for exactly what we should be expecting in savings and expenses. I know pretty well what we spend on ourselves but it's been a long time since we've taken a critical eye to it. We also have all our savings lumped into two catagories one account where we put aside money for the taxes on Bunny's freelance, and my account that is combination emergency fund, house savings and short term savings goals. We need to tease out little spots to, say, save for the vacation we've both been craving for years, even if it's just a jar on the dresser that we each stash some personal money in every other week.

So the next week or two I'm trying to dedicate some extra time into putting the numbers together and presenting things to him. We're in good financial shape, really, it's just that our different bank accounts give two very different views of things and don't actually reflect our financial philosophies.

How do you handle family money? Are accounts together, separate or a bit of both? Are you living up to your ideals?

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

dinnertime hits revisied

My mom kicked it out of the park with grocery shopping the other week. So many beautiful vegetables came home that I couldn't help but be inspired and spend almost every night in the kitchen. Which was all a direct result of me, uh, having a bit of a meltdown about the fact that there weren't any veggies in the house the week before. (Not so proud of that, really. But hey, I am the kid who screamed for broccoli.)

We had a week of some of the best dinners I've had in awhile, both things that I am in love with and family favourites that I didn't realize were so popular. I didn't make anything new, really, but sometimes innovation is not necessary. Especially after I've been in a bit of a rut and don't have any new ideas, revisiting some old favourites can help me feel free in the kitchen again, and that's where inspiration comes from.

All that being said, this week I'm simply going to direct you to some of my greatest hits as a blast from the past. There's no sense reinventing the wheel, but when I keep getting rave reviews I have no problem tooting my own horn, just a little.

Cream Cheese Spinach Dip - I made a double batch for dinner, with some baked greek pita chips. I'm a little embarrassed to report that with three people eating there wasn't really any left over. I've made this one so many times that I don't even really consult the recipe anymore. This one was way heavy on the spinach and I about doubled the red pepper. Both are changes I highly encourage.

Butternut Squash Pasta - This I did a bit of a variation on. What surprised me was that this was a special request from my mom, and I hadn't realized she'd liked it so much to start with.

Cauliflower and Parsnip Soup - I have two favourite soups, and this is one of them. Nuff said.

Glazed Carrots - The original recipe also includes parsnips, but as you can see I'd already used mine up in the soup. These were served with chicken in a mushroom cream sauce, which is an older recipe of mine but hasn't made its way onto the site yet. (Although it's somewhat similar to this chicken and mushroom dish, just without the alcohol.)

But enough about me, especially since I don't have anything new going on here. What's been going on in your kitchen lately? Are you experimenting with new recipes, or kicking back and relying on some old standbys?

Monday, January 21, 2013

hobbies: separate and together

Bunny and I don't share a lot of hobbies. Oh, he likes to cook, but not as much as I do and he's not into baking. We both like to read, but neither of us is a fan of reading out loud. So when you put together my crafting and baking against his love of combustion engines, tiny models and video games you'd think we spend a lot of time doing things apart from each other.

Over the years one thing we've gotten really good at is doing our separate things together. I'll blog or sew while he's playing video games, or watch tv in the same room that he's working on the engine in. (He once had an engine torn to bits all throughout our dining room. Apparently I won brownie points with all his mechanic friends for this.)

Time spent together is important to us. We work hours that aren't always compatible with each other, and our days off don't usually line up (although my time off doesn't really line up with anyone's, which makes social outings frustrating to schedule). So when we only have a couple hours in the morning and night together it's important to make them count, even if we don't feel like doing the same things.

Because of that we've had to work on finding ways to each do our own thing in the same space. If he's sitting at the table working on a model and I'm sitting in the lazy chair sewing, it gives us the chance to talk and laugh and plan or just enjoy each other's presence. When we're doing research or shopping for our hobbies we try to do it together and try to engage in each other's interests even if they bore us to tears. I used to go to the archery club with him and read and cheer him on when he was competing or practicing. We both also put a lot of thought into ways to encourage each other's hobbies, as reflected in our Christmas gifts to each other this year.

We do share interests, but the bulk of the things we want to be doing after a long day or week are very different and we've yet to find a hobby we equally enjoy. It's been important for our relationship that we find a strong way to each pursue our own interests and do it in a way that we still get to spend time together.

If you're in a relationship, do your interests and hobbies line up? If not, what do you do to support each other's interests and still spend quality time together on a regular basis?

Friday, January 18, 2013

sweater fail

For Christmas, I was gifted with a number of sweaters from a store that I generally like. At regular price they're slightly more expensive store than I usually shop at, but years back they sold me what has become my favourite sweater and I've fallen a little touch in love with them. Plus, sales. This year there have been so many sales.

Right now I am not so happy. See, I had the same sweater in two different colours. I wore one, washed it (following the tag's instructions), wore it again ... and suddenly there appeared a giant hole on the elbow. Took it back and they swapped it out no questions asked.

Easy enough, yes?

Except yesterday I wore the other sweater for the second time, and even without washing it what do you know but elbow hole. So this weekend there will be an excursion to take both of the sweaters back, because clearly something is defective in the material. I've had four other styles from them this year and none of this elbow-hole nonsense, but for the same style to do this to me twice I don't even want to try to make the new one work. I'm just downright disappointed.

Also frustrating: this is one of those stores whose websites includes just a "look book" so I can't even leave a comment there telling other consumers what a fail this particular style is. I don't know what's different with the material but I'm not happy. Now my big question is whether or not I'm ever shopping there again after this. Part of me wants to give them another chance because I like their style, but this experience has really turned me off and Bunny's had an issue or two with their men's clothing.

What's your most frustrating defective clothing experience? Did you ever go back to the same store?

Thursday, January 17, 2013

other people's babies

Today will be six months since the miscarriage, and when planning what I wanted to say today I thought about a lot of things. I could talk about how I'm ok most of the time but some days I'm still overcome by grief, out of nowhere. I could continue talking about how my body continues to frustrate me with off kilter cycles and hormones. I could have even made a post about what I've learned from the subject.

Instead I wanted to focus on something else. I want to focus on how this has affected my ability to relate to other women who are pregnant or have just had babies. A lot of it is hard. In some senses I'm pretty lucky though, because there is one particular woman having one particular baby that just lights up my life right now and even with everything else happening I wanted to present something that has an element of hope to it.

When I first had my miscarriage, I knew pretty much right away that it would have some affect to how I felt about other people's pregnancies and babies. When a favourite blogger announced her pregnancy and I had a crying meltdown because it just wasn't fair and Bunny actually banned me from reading her blog for a week. (Although she has some of the best pregnancy posts I've ever read and is amazingly inclusive in how she has handled the subject.) I've got a number of acquaintances whose facebook feeds I've blocked because I just don't want or need to hear about how everything is happy happy joy joy for them when some days are still just so terrible for me. Some days I can't even really handle reading about other people's miscarriages and fertility issues, or I end up a crying mess.

So when less than a month after my miscarriage my sister in law announced she was expecting, I fully expected to be in for a rough ride. She had been trying for some time, and while I was genuinely happy for her I had a feeling that it wasn't going to be easy always. Knowing myself, I felt that I would probably have moments of being resentful and jealous and not being able to be happy for her.

I made a fast decision that it was important that I tell her what I was going through. Not to make her feel bad, but to let her in on my emotional landscape and so I could ask for a little bit of leniency if I needed to bow out of events or discussion, or in case I ever accidentally let my inner bitchface out in response to her pregnancy. I was hopeful that I'd be able to be gracious and supportive, but I also needed to know that if I had a terrible moment and it came through that at least she would know that it was about my own situation.

Once I did that, let her in? Life got easier in respect to her being pregnant. Just feeling like it's ok to react poorly to an aspect of pregnancy has made it feel safer for me to engage with her pregnancy. And holy moly am I excited to become an aunt to a newborn for the first time. I've surprised myself by living up to my hopes for being gracious and kind about it.

Somehow my own sadness has had no effect on my ability to be happy for her. Am I jealous? Yes, absolutely some times I'm jealous. Am I a little devasted that we're not having babies within months of each other? Yes. It's not a zero sum game, though. Her having a baby has nothing to do with me having or not having a baby. I love this baby pretty fiercely already. I can't wait to meet him, and have been working away at craft projects just for him.

Having my own ties to this baby makes it easier. I still have a hard time with other people's pregnancies, and a lot of time I really wish I weren't so surrounded by people having babies, and people with babies. But this baby I am super excited about. And I'm proud of myself for being able to be genuinely excited.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

dark chocolate pot de creme

Pot de creme has been in my mind for a few months now. I've got a small collection bookmarked, from chocolate to vanilla and butterscotch and they all sound just about perfect and exactly like things I need to make. They always end up on the backburner because I've got other apparently "easier" things to try and the ingredients seem a little wasteful. Recently when I used three egg whites in a go at macarons I had the forethought to store the egg yolks, and when I was looking for a use I remembered that I'd been dying to make pot de creme.

It took me awhile to settle on a recipe. I wanted one that specifically called for three yolks and I needed to have all the other ingredients on hand. I browsed through dozens on recipes and was all set to go on a butterscotch pot de creme when I realized we were out of brown sugar and didn't have any real vanilla. Clearly chocolate would be the answer; once I decided that it wasn't too hard to settle on the Martha Stewart version. I don't often make her recipes, but I'm almost never disappointed. I made a few variations, some intentional others not (I definitely grabbed the wrong measuring cup for the sugar, which I didn't realize until just now) and I was delighted how it turned out.

This is just dreamy. Melt in your mouth, reminicient of pudding, flourless cake and mousse while being completely unlike either. It also took me right back to an early dinner I'd made Bunny, which featured an amazing dessert combination of chocolate mousse and red wine. The amount of effort and skill used to make these is very minimal when compared with the payoff in taste. For all that the directions are long, there's not actually a lot of work here. Just make sure you're using the highest quality ingredients you have on hand; with simplicity like this the quality is key. Pot de creme is going to be a common dessert around here, and I can't wait to try all sorts of variation.

The one thing I didn't change yet that I would in the future is the serving size. This makes four individual pot de cremes, but I'd love to play with the cooking times and ramekin sizes and make 8 to 10 smaller ones. Bunny and I split one together and with the richness of this it was still almost too much. That being the case, don't worry about adding whipped cream to the top. This is enough just on its own.

Dark Chocolate Pot de Creme
adapted from Martha Stewart

Ingredients
  • 1 1/4 cups table cream (18%)
  • 4 squares high quality, extra dark baking chocolate, finely chopped or shaved
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • 1 tsp vanilla extra
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 ounce kalhua (optional)
Directions
  1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
  2. In a small saucepan, bring cream to a simmer. Remove from heat, add in chocolate and sugar and wisk together until both are dissolved. Let stand 5 minutes.
  3. In a medium bowl, stir together yolks, vanilla,salt, and liqueur if desired. Stir the chocolate mixture once more to ensure its evenly melted.
  4. Slowly stir the chocolate mixture into the egg yolk mixture. Add just a couple tablespoons at first so you can bring the yolks slowly up to temperature without cooking them. Once the first bit is mixed in well, slowly pour the rest of the chocolate in while wisking thoroughly.
  5. Pour through a fine sieve into a glass measuring cup. (I didn't have a sieve on hand and I skipped this step. Things turned out fine but at one point I did have a mouthful that had a small unmelted chocolate chunk in it, so I would advise doing this if at all possible).
  6. Place 4 ramekins, teacups, or in my case whatever small oven safe odds and ends you have on hand including a small gravy boat (3 to 4 ounces each) in a shallow roasting pan, and divide chocolate mixture among them. Pour hot water into the pan so it reaches halfway up the sides of cups.
  7. Bake until custards are almost set in centers, about 30 minutes. To test this you'll want to carefully remove one of the ramekins from the water bath (wearing an oven mitt!!) and shake it around. You're looking for the centre to jiggle slightly and the outside edges to stay almost still - this isn't a cake and doesn't need to be set through.
  8. Carefully remove cups from hot-water bath; let cool slightly.
  9. Cover with plastic wrap; refrigerate. Allow the chill for at least 2 hours before serving.
Eat these. If you can, have a high quality red wine or a great espresso with them.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

weight woes

I spend a lot of time talking about how I like to eat healthy (whole foods, home cooking, junk food home made instead of crappy and processed). This is all true, but lately it's not the whole picture. In the past month or so my occasional forays onto a scale have been making it clear that I'm not doing as well as I'd hoped. I always forget how maintaining weight can be just as much effort as losing it.

See, I have a "weight" that I consider mine, and anytime I step on the scale I expect to see a number that's within five pounds either way of that. If things are trending significantly to the high or low end of the range I get on a scale a little more often and try to watch my eating habits more. I've been coming in on that high end more often than not, and I'm not feeling so great about it.

It's been hard staying on track with a diet that's satisfying and healthy since we moved in with my mom. (Among the many other things I've struggled with.) Lack of control of the fridge and grocery lists definitely contribute. I only cook dinner a couple days a week now, so options aren't so tailored to things I enjoy eating. When store bought crap is in the house I eat it: it's why I didn't let it come in our front door before, because it was a recipe for disaster.

Being back at work, and working rotating hours (retail hours, essentially) has also played into this. I'm not in the mood to make something healthy when I walk in the front door at 9:30 and I know it. I don't always have my mornings to leisurely have a couple of lattes for breakfast and deliver some dairy with my caffeine. It's harder to maintain good habits when my schedule is all over the place.

Let's also just be upfront and say that I've just slipped into some lazy habits as well. I'm not opposed to buying the occasional bag of chips or fancy popcorn, but it's become too common of an occurence. I don't need to keep a container of gummi bears by the tv stand. It's just poor decision making on my part because I'm never happy with the result.

So I'll be paying a little more attention over the next few months to how I'm taking care of myself, and trying to make sure that I make healthy eating a priority. Crap is still totally allowed, but no more processed cookies and cakes and convenience food that I can just as easily make myself. If I want junk I can put some effort into it. It's a rule that's served me well in the past.

Monday, January 14, 2013

projects: keeping on track

When it comes to crafting I am an absolutely brilliant project starter. Finishing, well that would be my weak point. This would be well exemplified by the pile of cross stitches that are unfinished and unframed (but I swear I will get at least two of them framed this year), the half complete orchid cross stitch I've been working on for awhile, the almost complete but unstuffed pillows sitting in my craft box and the finished quilt top that has yet to be sandwiched and quilted.

With all those on the go, starting that baby quilt was jumping the gun a little, and I'm at the point where I'm already working on sashing and borders. So buying new fabric was probably overkill. Especially since I was just given some new fabric for Christmas (although the print sizes make it difficult to decide what to do with it). I did it though, I bought some stash fabric. It's a really cute, fun jelly roll that of about eight co-ordinating prints, two of which match the fabric for the living room pillows. I've got a few different idea for the fabric, and while I know it's going to be something simple I haven't quite decided if they'll be something more like a log cabin or a granny square.

My saving grace is that I've been wanting to establish a bit of a fabric stash. At least I can say the acquisition was planned. (I even put it in my "goals" for the year, so I've got to be covered on this one.) It'd be nice to be able to have some fabrics on hand when I want to work on a little project, like a quilted pillow, or even when I want to do some scrappy stuff. The fact that they match the pillows just made it impossible to say no. The fabrics work with our couch and the pillows for our couch, so it's kind of exciting to think we'll have co-ordinating textiles in the living room one day. Plus, I had a gift card to Wal-mart so I wasn't really spending money. (Wait, does that excuse actually work?)

I've got to keep focused with all these projects and half finished projects on the go, otherwise nothing will get done. Luckily I've got a bit of a deadline going with the baby quilt that's helping keep me on track, though I'm still getting awfully distracted. It's like project ADD: right when I'm in the middle of a quilt, I'll get distracted by the need to make macarons and then I should really work on the cross stitch, and then I haven't done any reading in days and I really want to know what happens in the next chapter of my book, then I realize I never wrote up anything about the macarons so I need to go do that, and by the time that's done and I'm ready to go back to quilting I'm ready to start something new. Focus and follow through are not always my strong points.

Are you a finisher? How do you keep on track with projects and hobbies? Do you often have multiple things on the go?

Friday, January 11, 2013

kitchen project: macaron (take one)

The macaron has long been a beast I have desired to tame. It's been an elusive beast and I haven't had too many chances to get going on this. To make things worse, I'd been making a million excuses to put off trying. So I'm done putting off the attempt and I will just keep at the macarons until I get to making them perfectly.

I haven't always had the easiest time with meringues in general and while in the past I'd intended to to master the meringue before I moved on to the macaron. For so many reasons this just isn't the way to go for me. See I don't even really like a plan meringue, and there's just no sense beating myself into a tizzy trying to make something I'm not crazy about just as a self imposed stepping stone to what I really want to do.

So I've thrown in the towel and I'm just going to go straight to the macaron, and I have even made my first attempt. There's some simplicity and method to how I'm going about this. Rules, you see. Until I can fairly consistently come up with a macaron I like I'm going to stick to the same sets of guideline.
  1. Use the same recipe every time
  2. I can use a different filling/glue for each batch (to keep things fun and yummy)
  3. No food colourings or heavy flavour additives until I get the base right
  4. Never adjust more than one ingredient or process at a time
I've chosen a recipe from Anna Olsen to start with, because I find her directions simple and her accuracy pretty consistent. Plus it turned out not-terribly on my first shot, so I'm going to keep going with it.

Right now the biggest lessons I've learned are that 1) metal bowls do help when it comes to making the meringue and 2) the texture of the ground almonds probably is super important. Using my mom's mixing bowls which are all metal I came up with some pretty wicked stiff peaks, so I've solved at least one of my main meringue issues. What somewhat screwed things up though were the almonds. I ground them myself in the food processor, or maybe I just didn't use enough (what I had on hand didn't match what was called for so I kind of winged it).

I'm surprised how well it came out, all told. It wasn't perfect by any means, and there were no little feet, but they had this amazing chewy texture to the cookie itself that I'm looking forward to recreating and improving upon.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

winter necklines

Every time winter rolls around I look at all the sweaters in the shops and drool. I love a good sweater, and when it's snowy and cold there's nothing better than the warm wool to keep me warm. Inevitably about half the sweaters I like the looks of are turtlenecks, which almost immediately rules them out of my books.

Why? Well, a lot of reasons. I'm pretty busty, so a turtleneck tends to just make my boobs look busy with the way they fit close around the body and then right up to tight around the neck. Then there's the fact that I'm horribly claustrophobic, and a traditional turtleneck tends to get literally ripped apart within hours of wear. I can't stand having my neck constricted. (There's some history to that, but it's not really the point.

This would be why I'm so surprised that this year I seem to have come into possession of no less than four turtleneck inspired sweaters. This season the necks have loosened up and they seem more like shorter cowl necks, though it's still pretty clearly a turtleneck. It started with the strange almost shawl like neckline on the sweater I picked up a month or so ago. (It's this one.) After Christmas it continued though, as I needed to exchange some gifted sweaters that didn't fit for ones that did. Turtlenecks, almost without exception.

These turtlenecks have me swooning. Not only does the looser neck (like this) make them wearable in a physical comfort sense, but because the necks are lower and have more body they alleviate my other turtleneck concern. The way the necks fall creates some interest near the chest area, so I don't look like I have gianganta-boobs. It's a little more balanced for my body type.

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

period stress

My body has been kind of pissing me off the last couple months. Other than the pregnancy, for the last few years my body has been almost clockwork on a 30 days cycle. Since the miscarriage that cycle's been a little bit off, and in odd ways.

As in every other month I've been a week late. Which is stressful and hard to deal with. When I want to be pregnant being late can't help but spark this little bubble of hope in me. Then you add in the fact that the PMS stretches on and I'm moody which could mean and I'm really starting to think and hope that maybe again? Then a trip to the bathroom completely dashes everything.

It's hard having my body play tricks on me. The roller coaster of hope and expectation is hard enough on its own. Of course it makes tracking cycles and judging what I'm supposed to be expecting and when I'm supposed to be expecting it somewhat monstrous. To add to that all, I've also been under the weather off and on more than usual for the last few months. I've been cycling off and on through some pretty extreme exhaustion that's been overwhelming when I'm in the midst of it, and I've probably thrown up more in the past six months than I have in the entire past six years.

Something I really had no way of understanding before is just how consuming the idea of getting pregnant can become. I'll never properly know whether the miscarriage has made this roller coaster of hope and waiting more emotional for me, but I somehow think it has. Bait and switch, you know? Now, even though I have some huge fears and part of me feels oddly ambivalent about having a baby I've got this drive in the back of my mind and an inability to push it from my mind.

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

babies need blankets too

So the quilt I've been working on, and updating you on? It's currently on the backburner, at least for the next month or two. There are a few reasons for this. I'm not 100% thrilled with how the top has come out, although recognizing that it's a first effort and knowing I learned a lot from the mistakes is important. It was a learning process and maybe got a little more out of control (aka, bigger) than was intended.

Mostly though the reason is another project and an outside time constraint. See, I would really like to have a quilt made for my new baby niece or nephew when they arrive in about four and a half months - it's even one of my 2013 goals. I'm maybe a little bit overworried about the time, to be honest.

Just working on the quilt top, I've definitely learned a lot from the last project I had. I've made quicker work of cutting and piecing the fabrics, and while I have veered a little bit from the pattern I'd planned to follow I'm sticking pretty close to the original plan. I'm more confident marking off my seams and using a 1/4" seam rather than oversizing things. I've also managed to do some fun things, like incorporating pinwheels into the pattern which ended up being easier than I'd expected it to be.

At this point, I'm working on my final two quilt blocks and then taking a look to see if I'm going to add sashing (going horizontally but not vertically) for size and working on the pieced border I have planned.

Much quicker going this time round. Granted, baby quilts are much smaller (maybe a quarter of the size?) and granted I do have some more experience with what I'm doing, but heck this is really coming along!

Monday, January 07, 2013

guy gavriel kay's "Fionavar Tapestry"

The Fionavar Tapestry trilogy is an old favourite of mine. It sits on my bookshelf as one of my favourite fantasy masterpieces and I hold it up about as high as The Lord of the Rings. I've reviewed other works of Kay's before but this one is different. His first book, his foray into high fantasy and the work to which all his other books have a small self referential remark.

Before Christmas I was running around trying to find some reading without picking up something new because I was always taught never to buy yourself something just before the holidays. Somehow I ended up with my copy of the trilogy in hand and before I knew it I was done book one.

It's easy to forget how masterful this book is. Every hole in the plotline that bothers me and niggles at the back of my mind eventually gets closed in the end. The story propels the book forward and there are no long boring stretches.

The biggest complaint, if it's even a complaint, is that the five main characters are somewhat flat to me. The characters originating in Fionavar, who play heavily into the plot, all seem well rounded and natural. The quintet from our world though always slightly bothers me. Kevin Laine in particular always grates on me as being without any depth, though his story leads to a conclusion that does make some sense.

This is a book I don't want to review too heavily, and I don't want to get into plot points, specifically because I think if you're at all interested in it you should just read it instead of reading about it.

Friday, January 04, 2013

goals

New Year's resolutions aren't my bag, but you already know that. Even so, I think there's no reason I can't have some solid goals for the year. These are almost baby goals, you know the little bitty goals that aren't life changing but that still add to my happiness and sense of accomplishment. Small things.

  1. Life
    1. Go with the flow and accept things as they come. Stop fighting life so hard.
    2. Read more nonfiction and serious fiction
  2. Quilting
    1. Finish the baby quilt by the time my niece or nephew is born
    2. Get the finishing of quilt #1 complete
    3. Make one quilt from a proper pattern
    4. Go to quilting classes (for which I have gift certificates)
    5. Buy "stash" fabrics for future projects
  3. Other crafting
    1. Frame the wolf cross stitch for my mom
    2. Frame the butterfly cross stitch
    3. Finish the orchids
    4. Stuff and complete my pillows
    5. Knit Bunny a scarf
    6. Come up with an organizational system
  4. Food
    1. Learn Momma Bunny's banana bread recipe (it's the one thing I haven't been able to replicate)
    2. Make caramels
    3. Make a perfect macaron
    4. Find three new non-chain restaurants here that Bunny and I enjoy (so far, we have a barbeque place and a Thai place that are phenomenal in town, but anything else we go to the city for)
  5. Health
    1. Maintain my weight loss
    2. Cut out the pop (again - it's crept back into my diet since we've moved in with my mom)
    3. Do more cooking/eat more vegetables
  6. Marriage/Finances
    1. Complete the paper work for taking Bunny's name
    2. Finalize the budget and open a joint account
    3. Save another $10,000 towards the purchase of a home
    4. Go on some sort of vacation, for at least a full weekend
    5. Reach the halfway point of paying off my student loans Personal
    1. Send out the Thank You notes
    2. Send our favourite wedding picture to a friend who is going to turn it into a portrait
    3. Print and frame some of the wedding pictures
    4. Actually make and keep plans with my aunt

Thursday, January 03, 2013

PMS

There have been some articles in the past few months suggesting that PMS is a myth. I take some offense to this idea, mostly from my all to common experience of having an all out crying jagg for no reason whatsoever only to see my period arrive two days later. I don't know what the deal with it is but I do without doubt get extremely moody in the week leading up to that time of the month.

The last few months for me my PMS has been its own special kind of hell. My job has me interacting with the public, and often dealing with people who even on the best of days would get on my last nerve and I can't exactly go off on them, so I spend the week trying to talk myself down while my coworkers get a kick out of my ranting and raving. I don't have the space and privacy I used to at home to just sit quietly with a book and ingore the world, and end up being testier than usual because of that.

What I hadn't counted on was the miscarriage having any effect on my PMS. The moodiness of PMS feels an awful lot like early pregnancy did. Of course when you're a woman who wants a baby and is taking the appropriate steps to make conception happen the fact is the last week or so of the cycle is a bit crazy making anyway. Am I? Am I not? The week stretches on into forever. Add in being a snotty, irritable mess and it lasts even longer. Maybe it's in my head, but I also feel like the hormones have been effecting me more these past few months.

It's like a ticking time bomb, reminding me that I want to be pregnant but that odds are I'm not. Enough of my mind is already on the possibility of babies to begin with and with the onset of crazy moodiness I become more irritable and more fixated and grumbly about the whole situation. I've found dealing with the moodiness to be more emotionally taxing than the disappointment of going to the toilet and recognizing, yet again, that I will not be having a baby yet.

Maybe it's the edge of hope when I just feel miserable that makes it so hard. I'm not sure. I could do without the whole PMS bit though.

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

holiday spending

Our bank account is feeling a little deflated this month. Kind of par for the course with the holidays happening here, and at the end of the day we're still leaving the month with more money saved than we had at the start of the month, but still. Not the amount of savings I'd hoped for, even though I knew my hopes were realistic.

This year we had two very different Christmas celebrations. At my mom's house everything was about big gifts, and large presents (or in some cases, large amounts of presents) were given and received. Bunny's family on the other hand did away with the gift exchange entirely, except for our teenage niece because the whole fun of Christmas is giving gifts to younger people.

I much prefered Bunny's family Christmas. As much as it's fun choosing gifts for people, and receiving gifts, it just doesn't do it for me really. I mean I love picking out the "perfect" gift, but sometimes the perfect gift is really just "here's something I know you really want and I tried really hard but it's personal and so I got a gift receipt". Which is just no fun. Maybe I'm feeling grinchy because I feel guilty about the fact that Bunny and I are exchanging part of his gift to me, because while it's beautiful and thoughtful it won't ever get worn. Which makes me feel crazily guilty, and it's not the way that either of us wants to feel about the gifts we give each other. At the end of the day though the big gifts don't do much for me.

The gift I was most excited about buying was for Bunny, and it was a whopping thirty dollars but it was perfect for him. Next to that getting my brother a small collection of sports accessories and some gifts for our niece was super fun. The gifts that I was most excited about receiving were all small ones: beautiful earrings from my niece, quilting classes from Bunny (seriously! the man bought me quilting classes), a sewing box and some fabric from my mom.

Christmas wise the "spending money" bit really gets on my nerves. It seems to miss the point, sort of. Every year in my family we all struggle to come up with giant wish lists of things that we want and that fit my mom's planned Christmas spending. (Maybe it somehow goes along with how strongly I reacted against the idea of a bridal shower?) Somehow all I can think is how much more interesting might it be if we set a small spending limit ($20? 50?) and tried to be more creative within the budget.

Then again, there's also the realization that if and when babies come I may feel completely different about spending money. I'll probably want to spoil my children a little bit, at least around Christmas. Although "budget" is probably the least of the decisions we have to make about babies and Christmas, when the time comes.

Holiday budgets are hard, really. How does your family handle it? Do you do big gifts, little gifts, secret Santa exchanges? Do you wish things were different?

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

new year

Happy New Year!

I know a lot of people do a "year in review" type post around now, either going through the highlights and lowlights of the year or giving a month by month recap. That's not really my things, but 2012 does deserve some sort of recognition and send off.

Some of the moments of the year I wouldn't trade for anything. Getting married, if nothing else, made the year worthwhile. A lot of things I could have done without. (I could have done with a lot less death and loss, and I'm quite happy that a year that contained more of that than I've seen in my life is over.)

It's the year where the world didn't end, and turning on the news made me cry for the first time in a decade. It was a year of more change than I really had any clue how to handle.

It's not a year that's easily summed up, but if I had to try what I'd say is this: 2012 has been the most challenging year in my life, and has forced me to grow in ways I never knew I could. I would never want another year like it, but there was magic.