Wednesday, September 30, 2009

What have I done?

Today, I wore a gray jumper/dress to work over a white blouse. Save for the length, which was a little on the slutty side for office-wear despite what John thought this morning, I looked like a nun. Especially when I added my black cardigan. My nun similarities didn’t bother me, however. You can’t dress flashy every day, right? I really try to be conscious of outfit color schemes throughout the week. Where was I headed with this? Oh right, nuns. Actually, that was just to describe my outfit to you. Here’s where I’m really headed.

After seeing myself in the work bathroom mirror I noticed that my blouse was causing an unsightly lump under my dress. The next time I went to the bathroom, I tucked my blouse into my pantyhose and then I realized, it’s official: I am becoming my mother. I love my mom so this news isn’t really disappointing but I thought it wasn’t supposed to happen until you had kids and you started parenting like your parents. My mom is a total shirt-pantyhose tucker and now, apparently, so am I. That’s just ONE small step from tucking my shirt into my underwear, which I am vowing here NEVER TO DO.

I suppose I’ve known for quite some time this was coming. Certain comments by me elicit comments from John of the “that was so your mom” nature. They always give me pause to realize, yeah that’s something she would do. My oft-used nickname is Mom Jr. Thanks, honey. How thoughtful of you. Again, I don’t know why this irritates me because there are plenty of other people I could be like besides my mom that would be way worse. I’m going to have to ask my brother-in-law if my sister has mom characteristics as well. I’m certain that she does but I’d like to see to what extent they have infiltrated her general everyday living.

In other news…..could this work week be any longer? Pretty sure time is now moving in reverse and before I know it, Monday will be back again.

Monday, September 28, 2009


I feel like I’ve been reading Dismantled by Jennifer McMahon for forever! But really, it’s only been about a week. My sister recommended this one to me as something “different.” Not having much else on my to be read pile, I found it at the library and jumped in. This is going to be a rough plot summary because there are a lot of elements and I don’t want to give anything away. Dismantled is about some renegade artists who form a group in college called the Compassionate Dismantlers. They perform pranks and rage against the man, and all that jazz. Something horrible happens when they’ve just graduated due to their pranks and schemes and the story begins as we see them again 10 years later. It mostly follows Henry and Tess (two of the Dismantlers), their daughter Emma and her imaginary friend, Danner. In an attempt to get her parents back together during their separation, Emma and her friend contact the old Dismantlers, who have since been disbanded, and things start to get pretty creepy from there. See what I mean about a crappy plot summary? But really, you’ll see why if you end up reading it. I liked Dismantled because it dealt with themes I don’t normally see in fiction, well, the fiction I read anyway. And like my sister said, it was definitely different. I suppose I would classify it as somewhat of a psychological thriller. I absolutely had to see where the book ultimately ended up and it kept you guessing up until the end, which I liked. If you’re looking for a departure from the norm, pick up Dismantled.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Fall Recipe

For Sunday dinner tonight I made Apple and Brie Stuffed Pork Chops from Crank up the Oven. I am not the biggest pork fan but I tire of beef, chicken, turkey and fish, thus, the pork chops. I am in a very autumnal mood these days and to me, anything with apples says fall, right? They turned out pretty tasty but I will say, the recipe suggests baking at 350 for 25 minutes. Your chops will not be done after only 25 minutes. I think I ended up baking mine for at least 40-45 minutes. Anyway, if you're a brie lover like me, you'll love the melty goodness in these chops for sure.

Yesterday, John and I went to the Country Applefest (am I sensing a theme here?) in nearby Lebanon. It was a dreary, drizzly day but the promise of apple fritters was too strong to keep us away. The fritters were tasty, the crafts were crafty and other than that, it was a pretty boring festival. Next weekend we're going to a Cider Festival. Stay Tuned! We love a good festival.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Accidental Zumba Affront

I think I may have offended some people in zumba. At class on Thursday, there were two girls who were clearly new because they didn't know any of the songs. During the last song, Guantanamera (sp?) which is a line dance of the latin persuasion, I noticed that the instructor's mom was WAY off. She stands in the back corner and she's never off because she comes to every class and therefore knows all of the songs. Somehow, she had gotten about four beats ahead of the routine. When we were turned around, I pointed to her and said to the instructor, "What is your mom doing?" She laughed and made a joking comment about how she had maybe been drinking. However, right at the time I pointed at her mom, the two new girls turned around and it looked as if I was pointing at them because they were in front of her mom. Oh no! They too were WAY off but that's to be expected since they had never done that song before. I then became very concerned that they thought I was pointing and laughing at them. Oops! I was doing nothing of the sort.

After class as we were all gathering our things I said hello to one of them to prove I am nice and not mean like my nemesis. She was friendly back to me so hopefully she knows I'm not a horrible person. I would only make fun of a crappy zumba-er if they deserved it. But, I still feel badly about it. Oh well, life goes on.....onto the next amaretto and coke, which is how I'm celebrating my Friday night.

Thursday, September 24, 2009


I have this problem. In recent months there have been a number of deals on magazine subscriptions that have just been too good to pass up. When I see an annual subscription for $5.00, I, apparently, go for it, giving no thought to what the magazine actually is. My logic for this is infallible. One issue of a lot of magazines is nearly $5.00 anyway so why not get 12 for basically the price of a couple, right? Winner winner chicken dinner! And I love a good deal. Here's my problem: because of all of these subscriptions, I'm piled in periodicals! A myriad of magazines comes my way each month. So many, in fact, that I often forget I've subscribed to some of them. That's pretty sad. At present, I receive:

-Real Simple
-Marie Claire
-Good Housekeeping
-Woman's Day
-Diet and Nutrition (this one was free!)
-Redbook (I don't like it but it was only a dollar!)

Eight is a bit excessive, no? I really only like a few of them but since I receive them, I feel like I should read them. This is cutting into my book reading time, which is upsetting. I'm pretty proud of myself that most recently, I turned down the $5.00 In Style subscription. I love In Style and I used to have a subscription but it's so darn thick that it takes forever to get through! No mas. I'm not sure what to do about this. My gut tells me to cancel half of them, specifically the ones I don't like, but they were so cheap that it seems like bargain blasphemy to do so. What's a girl to do?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009


I saw the saddest thing today. I was getting on 75 to come home at the end of the day. On the on ramp there was a male hitchhiker. That wasn't the sad part. Traffic was a bit backed up so I was waiting my turn and saw that he had a sign but didn't have a chance to read it because I noticed something moving on the ground next to the man. I looked closer and realized it was a doggie! He was a big guy. Black and brown with short hair but I'm not sure of the breed. Here's the kicker: the poor little guy was wearing a back pack! A doggie back pack!! And it was raining and he was just sitting next to his hitchhiking owner waiting to be picked up.

I was past them before I thought of eschewing all hitchhiking rules and picking them up. A cute doggie trumps a potential axe murdering hitchhiker, right? Then I was sad the whole way home for this pitiful pair. Where were they headed? Were they really homeless but the guy is a good owner and didn't want to leave his best buddy behind? I should have turned around and gotten them as far as Dayton. It was raining, for crying out loud. I bet his doggie backpack was getting wet and heavy. Now I'm sad about it all over again.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Pillow Cover Tutorial

As you may know, throw pillows can be expensive. Because I'm already over budget on my living room makeover, I was hoping to save money somewhere. So, I covered two existing pillows with a yard of fabric. Cost: $6.00

I started with one yard of home decorator fabric and 2 - 19" pillows. It's from JoAnn's. I had a coupon.

1) Cut two rectangles, 18"x44". Dog tail and foot not necessary for project.

2) Turn up the short ends an inch, iron, and sew under. This leaves a nice edge when overlapping in the back. This cover is more like a sham, in nature.

3) Once your ends are sewn, fold them in so that they overlap, right sides together. Your square, before sewing the side seams, should measure one inch less than the size of the pillow. In my case, the square was 18"x18". Don't worry. You'll be able to shove your pillow in, no problem and it will seem fluffier, which is nice when your pillows start to flatten.

4) Stitch down each of the side seams.

5) Before turning cover right side out, snip the corners at a diagonal. This allows for a crisper corner but be careful not to cut your seams.

6) Once right side out, shove that pillow on in there taking care to pull the pillow corners into the cover corners as far as possible. Your pillow may require some punching and fluffing into shape. This is great for taking out aggressions.

Ta-da! Before, brick red microsuede pillow. After, printed pillow to match the new accent color in my living room makeover. You'll be done in no time!

Rules for the Restroom

The bathroom at work has become a constant source of consternation for me. I like to be the only one in there. This is not always easily accomplished, as you can imagine, in a busy office building. My one female staff member and I have an unspoken bathroom agreement: if one of us is in there (despite there being 4 stalls) the other one waits. This works swimmingly. Unfortunately, said agreement does not hold for all of the other offices in the building and their numerous guests. Sometimes, if I see someone walk into the restroom ahead of me, I'll go upstairs instead. That bathroom is always empty. ALWAYS. I like to pee in peace. I don't think there's anything wrong or unusual with that.

If you should find yourself in the bathroom when I'm there as well, here are some things you should keep in mind:

1. No talking on your cell phone in the bathroom, and especially not in the stall while you're going. I'm sure the person on the other end of your call probably doesn't want to know that you're taking care of business while you're taking care of business. When people are on their phones in neighboring stalls, I always flush the toilet, even if it's premature. I like to prove a point passive-aggressively.

2. You should not breathe loudly while in the stall next to me. Are you having some sort of problem? You should be able to conduct your business without exhaling at an excessive volume.

3. Please do not speak directly to me while either of us are in the stall. Questions such as, "How are you today?" should be reserved for co-handwashing time only and even then, I'm not going to make eye contact with you. If you're in the stall talking to me while I wash my hands, know that I will walk out of the bathroom while you are still talking because conversations of this nature make me uncomfortable.

4. Please wipe the seat after you're finished. I don't know what some of you are doing in there to manage getting water (I hope) on the seat but save the rest of us the grief and be a sweetie, wipe the seatie.

This, in my opinion, is only proper etiquette and should be observed by all bathroom goers, whether you're peeing in the Blue Ash Business Place or elsewhere.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

It's Pretzel time!

Before football season started, I promised John that I would make snacks to eat while watching the games. I did it under the guise of being a good and thoughtful wife but really, this was an excuse for me to make and eat things that you wouldn't normally have other times, foods of the appetizer nature. I missed the first week of football, oops. And the second week we were out of the country. But the third! Ah, this week was delicious. I made the soft pretzel recipe from my Diet & Nutrition magazine. I'm sorry I don't feel like re-typing the recipe here but if you leave me a comment telling me you want it, I'll be happy to oblige. I cut the recipe in half which made 8 puffy, palm-size pretzels. (Alliteration Alert!) They were pretty easy to shape too. I made regular salty ones and also cinnamon sugar, John's fave. While eating them, I thought to myself, "Well, they don't taste like the ones at the mall, something's missing." Then I realized, oh yeah, they're not swimming in grease! Health score! I think they helped the Buckeyes win yesterday, but our beloved Browns, at press, are not doing so well. Maybe I should have sent some pretzels to Brady, no?

Guys, the knob broke off my crock pot. I'm making a roast today sans knob and I'm a little nervous. It was difficult to tell if I had set it on Low or High. I'm going to assume that because my roast, after 6 hours, is not a charred brick, that I set it correctly. Also, Meijer had cider on sale 2 for $4 today! WE LOVE CIDER, but it's often very expensive. It was $5/gallon at the farm market downtown yesterday. Pass. I have many recipes that call for cider which I have overlooked because of cider's price tag. No more! Cider meals are coming, as well as apple butter (which does not have cider but I am super excited to make. YUM!) Happy fall, y'all!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Always Looking Up

Always Looking Up: The Adventures of an Incurable Optimist is Michael J. Fox’s second memoir. Two memoirs in a row, what’s up with that? I selected it because I thought it would be an interesting read and my hunch was correct. His first book, Lucky Man, deals more with his career, alcoholism and diagnosis of Parkinson’s Disease. I guess, I haven’t read that one yet. Always Looking Up addresses his life post PD diagnosis and more recent years. It chronicles his PD research foundation and all he’s done to raise funds and champion stem cell research legislation while discussing how he deals with the disease on a regular basis. I really enjoyed this book. Most celebrity books are not particularly well written but this one was very well done and engaging, in my opinion. So much so that I am going to look for Lucky Man at the library next week. Parkinson’s is touching my life in ways I’d rather not go into here but I will say it was great to have his perspective on the subject. To hear from someone with this affliction was very enlightening. He has such a positive outlook -- the main theme is optimism -- that the whole thing was quite refreshing. This one gets a thumbs up from me. It was a relatively quick read, though I had multiple car trips to devote to it. Check it out if you’re looking for some good non-fiction.

Last night, John and I celebrated Oktoberfest at our local liquor store, Arrow Wine and Spirits. They were also thanking customers for 75 years of drinking in Dayton. They had all kinds of food (not a brat fan though). They also had beer and wine tasting. We tried the Hofbrau Oktoberfest, which was so so, and the Great Lakes Oktoberfest, which was awesome! It's so smooth and the color is a rich amber orange. So pretty it almost matches my living room makeover. And the tastes were only a buck for a whole cup. Score!

Speaking of my living room makeover........big things are happening this weekend on that front. There is one linchpin holding me up and that is candlesticks. I have lowered my standards on those and I still can't find anything I like. I'm considering hitting up the Goodwill to find some that I could spray paint. We'll see. I have a load of clothes to take anyway so, two birds. Ashley out.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Niagara - Partie Deux

We awoke on day two to overcast skies and mild temperatures but, no matter, we had breakfast in bed coming! This consisted of coffee, juice, croissants, granola, yogurt and ham and cheese roll ups. It comes with the room so you don’t have a selection but you do get to pick what time it’s delivered. I passed on the roll ups; I’m not a swiss fan. We enjoyed a lazy morning while getting ready and noshing and then, having decided half a small carafe of coffee was not caffeine enough, we walked down to our local Canadian Starbucks, a few short blocks away. Good thing we didn’t order ventis, yo. Those were more than $6.00! The pumpkin spice latte is just as good north of the border, btw.

Saying goodbye to the Sterling Inn at check out, we were on our way down the Niagara Parkway. If you’ve never been to Niagara on the Lake, you really must make it a point to visit. From the falls, it’s a short 15-20 minute idyllic drive. We stopped at the floral clock to take pictures and did the same at the Whirlpool Aerocar. We did not, however, risk our lives (and $20) to ride over the whirlpool. We’re no fools.

Having spent the first day/night by the falls for sight-seeing and casino-ing for John, the second part of our journey was for me. Though truth be told, John had just as much fun doing the following activities as well. If you’re not aware, we were right in the heart of Ontario’s wine country. There are probably about 30 wineries right by Niagara on the Lake, henceforth to be known as NOTL. My goal was to visit at least 4, but hoping for as many as possible. There are many bus, trolley and bike tours that will take you around but, considering a budget, we forged ahead alone. I knew of a few I definitely wanted to see and I had done massive amounts of research regarding tour/tasting times and costs. I was armed with many brochures and maps. We were set.

One of the first ones we came to was Marynissen Estates. Everything I read about this region recommended visiting a mix of the larger establishments and also the smaller wineries as well. You’ll have a very different experience at both. Marynissen would be considered one of the smaller ones. I don’t think they had tours so we just tasted. I had lofty goals of describing to you everything we tried and only now did I remember that I wanted to make notes and did not do anything like that while swilling the vino. I do remember we spent about 20 minutes tasting here, bought a bottle of Cabernet Merlot and headed down the road.

Remember those complimentary tour and tasting passes we scored from Andre? We put them to use next at Inniskillin, one of the big boys and my favorite of the entire trip. We decided to tour here and to our delight, there were only 2 other people on the tour with us! This allowed for much question asking and we were allowed to taste in their special Riedel (you know, the wine glasses?) Room as opposed to standing around the tasting gallery. Inniskillin’s set up is quite impressive. They bottle more than 100,000 bottles annually of all varieties of wine, their most popular being ice wine – a delicious dessert wine made from frozen grapes. The tour lasted about an hour and we got to taste a $110 bottle of Cabernet France ice wine as a trade off for not getting to tour the barrel cellar, which is under construction. Well worth it! Inniskillin has acres of beautiful vineyards. We even tasted a grape off the vine, much sweeter than I expected. We learned a lot (for instance, if you ever come across a 2007 Ontario wine, buy it! That was an optimal year for climate and everyone’s grapes did famously, you won’t be disappointed) and then tasted some more in the shop. Ultimately, we settled on a bottle of Pinot Noir Rose for us and a small bottle of Ice Wine for John’s parents to try. Ice wine carries a hefty price tag because the frozen grapes produce so little juice that it takes many more of them to fill just a 200 mL wine bottle. Oh yeah, because we’re special, we also got to try their special edition ice wine benefiting the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. I thought they were letting everyone try it but when some Asian lady asked about it, they denied her a taste. After her, we were given ours with no question. Coincidence? Oh well.

We kept on down the road to Joseph Estates winery. This is just a little boutique. I think their vineyards are elsewhere. We just tasted here and purchased a shiraz. After perusing their brochure, I think the man serving us was actually Joseph. A brush with grape celebrity!

By this time, we were famished and suffering from slight tipsy-ness. Well, I was. John was the driver so I hope he wasn’t. On the Niagara Parkway closer to NOTL you will find Kurtz Orchards. Do not pass this opportunity by! They have many dips and spreads and other goodies for you to taste. They also serve soup, sandwiches and salads to weary wine drinkers. We picnicked outside there (a trip goal of mine – I even packed a blanket, although we sat at a table). Nourished, we continued on to Peller Estates.

I had really fond memories of Peller having toured there a few years prior. John was with me on that trip but didn’t make it to the winery for reasons I will not divulge. OK, I will. He was hungover. I remembered a very informative tour and a beautiful building and grounds. I hit the location, dead on, it was still beautiful. We opted out of the tour because the timing wasn’t matching up right. We went to the tasting room and store instead and were met with a very abrupt, not super helpful or friendly, staff. This was disheartening. The highlight here was tasting their Baco Noir. I had never come across this before but the pourer, imparting the slightest bit of wisdom before disappearing with haste, said it tastes like barbecue in a bottle. We were intrigued. She was right! I’m going to search for a Baco Noir this weekend at my local wine shop. The problem with Ontario wines is that you can’t buy them online (only their ice wine). In the states, you have to try to get it through a distributor. I’m going to do my best though. We left without buying anything because they left a sour taste in our mouth, the people, not the wine. The wine was delish.

By this point, it was nearing 4:00 pm so we decided to go the extra couple minutes into town to check in. John had never been to NOTL before (see previous paragraph) so we drove down Queen St. (the main drag) to take in the sights. It’s the cutest little town with the most beautiful flowers and the street is lined with shops and restaurants. It’s also home, from April – October, to the Shaw Theatre Festival. It was our original intention to see a show while there but not interested in forking over $60 to see something we were only mildly interested in, we chose other means of evening entertainment. More on that later.

Consulting the map, we made our way to the bed and breakfast that was “walking distance” from the town center. Sure, you could walk it, if you didn’t mind no sidewalks and a mile plus. We were a little disappointed by its proximity to town and also semi-apprehensive at the idea of the B&B anyway. On our way I told John if we pulled up and it was shady, we’d just go back to the Sterling for the night. I hadn’t put any deposit down as payment was expected in cash (that part is a bit shady, eh?). A brick Georgian, two-story, the Almar House Bed and Breakfast is run by Chris and Sarah (last names promptly forgotten). Remember this is our first attempt at a B &B. As Chris showed us to our room I thought I was going to die from the daggers John was shooting at me. Small would be a generous description. See below for the bathroom.

We dropped our bags and laid down on the squeaky bed. Fabulous. Anyway, we just said we’d make the best of it and it would be a good story. Both of us were pretty tired so we rested a bit and then headed out to our last winery of the day to try and make their last tour.

Barrel Cellar at Jackson-Triggs

Jackson-Triggs is another one of the big guys. They have another establishment somewhere else in Canada that’s even bigger than their Ontario vineyards. FYI – most wineries only grow a portion of their grapes. The rest are purchased from grape growers throughout the country. I think this is cheating but whatev. Our tour at Jackson-Triggs was good (and free!) But our guide, Hugo, had a heavy Colombian accent and I found myself having trouble keeping up with him. I was tired and tipsy. We did just a couple tastings here, bought a bottle of Riesling for John’s parents and went into town for a little shopping.

Back at the Almar House we could hear the other guests (3 bedrooms total) in the common room but decided we’d rest instead of introducing ourselves. That would come the next day at breakfast. Taking a dinner recommendation from Chris, we supped at the Irish Harp Pub, which serves traditional Irish fare. Boy was it tasty! I never turn down good fish and chips though. John had the Irish stew. Did I tell you we were not considering calories on this trip? Well, I had been all stoked to pig out on desserts and the only one we had was the cookie the day before. After the previous night’s dinner and here at the Irish Harp, we were too full. So sad.

In lieu of the theatre, I found a walking ghost tour. OoooooOOOOOooooo. That was a spooky ghost noise, eh. It was only $10/person and we were to meet the cloaked guide carrying a lantern by the Olde Angel Inn. Mysterious, yes? It turns out, NOTL is extremely haunted, hence the tour. Apparently, many tour goers have caught apparitions, orbs, etc on camera during the tour so it was suggested that we take lots of pictures. The tour lasted 90 minutes and took us all over creation. It was actually way better than I thought it would be. I was expecting cheesy, I got historical. A fair trade. See the orbs in my picture below? Could just be dust. You decide!

We slept okay, despite the creaky bed when turning over. The room even had a 13” mounted TV in the corner. Shades of a hospital but the other guests were quiet and all was fine. We were sort of dreading breakfast. Not for gastric reasons but for conversational ones. We had been told breakfast was served at 9:00 am so we promptly headed downstairs at the appointed time to find an empty table. Drat! We had hoped others would pick seats first. We waited a few more minutes until Chris welcomed us and delivered coffee. Then, another guest walked downstairs. I only wish I had my camera with me at that time so that I could show you this person who could easily have been taken for either half of the Tim Burton/Helena Bonham Carter marriage. Lady’s hair was kuh-razy, yo! She was quickly followed by an older gentleman and another old couple. All other guests easily had 40 years on us. They talked a lot, John interjected some, I said almost nothing. Conversation quickly turned to health care, the merits and pitfalls of their system (they were all Canadian) and our pending system in the states. This bored me to no end. John loved it. On the upside, this was easily one of the best breakfasts I had ever eaten. Hands down. The starter was strawberries and cream with these sweet cookies and mint. Oh mah gah. Heaven. The main course was eggs benedict. I had never had eggs benedict before so I was skeptical. Already anticipating just a few bites and then pushing the rest around my plate so as not to offend, I was quickly surprised. It was delicious! I ate as much as I could and left only a few bites because I was stuffed to the gills.

We packed up our things and checked out (this consisted of saying goodbye). John’s view of B&B’s did a 180 in our time at the Almar House. From, “We don’t ever have to do this again” on Friday night to, “I would definitely try a B&B in the future” on Saturday morning. I should note that in NOTL, you cannot spit without hitting another B&B. They are EVERYWHERE, in all price ranges. The Almar House was only $103, a fair shake, even if the room was small.

Queen St.

Before we headed back to the states we did a little browsing through the stores and bought many maple flavored things. Then it was onto a few more wineries.

We had tasting coupons left over at Hillebrand so we headed there. It was lovely. I wish we had had the time to tour. Maybe in the future. I forget what we tried but we bought a bottle of their Trius Red. The Trius being one of their lines and not a grape. I forget what grapes are in it but it was tasty.

Pillterri came after Hillebrand. This was a mid-sized winery. We tasted here, first two tastes free, subsequent 50 cents. Wheee!!!! We ended up purchasing a Gewurtzraminer-Riesling Fusion which was quite crisp. Also, up to this point I don’t think we had bought any whites for ourselves so we were lacking.

Finally, we stopped at the Reif Estates on our way out of town. I had visited here before with my sister and mom. I didn’t really remember anything about it but we had time so we thought we’d check it out. It was very pretty and they had a neat garden that I wouldn’t have minded sitting in but we headed straight into the main building. Intending to taste, we never made it to the bar. There were far too many people there and no one interested in paying attention to us. Pfft. I didn’t want to buy your wine anyway. It was then that I realized we were wise in visiting the others on a weekday, same with the Falls. Because Niagara is such a short drive for a lot of people, I would imagine their weekends are pretty crowded.

On the road again and we were home before we knew it. Well, that’s not true. The sun was beating through the window on my legs and the drive on I-90 is boring. It still only took 4 hours but, it felt longer. Customs were a breeze. They didn’t even ask if we bought anything.

We had a wonderful time and while I would have liked to take more time off from work to relax, there really isn’t anything we missed out on doing only having been there 48 hours. An extra day probably would have just meant more wineries…..I suppose that’s not a bad thing. Remember I said day two’s activities were for me? Well, John is now enamored with wineries and wants us to plan a Napa trip ASAP. Keep dreamin’, baby. Although I do hope to take him to Texas Wine Country in November. On to the next adventure!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

What a difference 20 years makes

I promise to recap our second day in Canada soon. We're booking our tickets for the next vacation deep in the heart of Texas. Spending lots of time on the phone with Chase's Rewards Center (thank you, triple points) is not conducive for blogging. But for now here's a blast from my past: my first trip to Niagara Falls, Circa 1990. That's my sister with me. I'm on the right with the mushroom haircut.

I don't know if this is a new tallest man but they've redone the statue if he is the same. They added his chair too, obvs. I suppose it's possible that the Guinness Book could have recorded a new tallest man since 1990. We didn't actually fork over whatever ridiculous prices they were charging to tour the museum but they let you take your pictures for free. There's also the fattest man on a scale and you can put your head on his body. John wouldn't let me do that though. Spoil sport.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Niagara Falls, eh!

Last Thursday morning, we set off at the crack of 7:30 am for fun and adventure in Niagara Falls in Ontario, Canada. Mapquest said it would take 4 hours and 51 minutes. I thought this was a fair assessment but as we trucked up I-90, we started to realize this was a gross overestimation. We made it in 4 hours flat. Crossing the border at the Peace Bridge was a snap. And as the customs officer perused our passports he said, “Oh, new passports, eh?” No joke. I was beaming. Our first “eh” and we hadn’t even made it across the border yet! This was a splendid sign of things to come, I thought. (Let the record show I drove the first leg, a whole 3 hours until we made it to the rest stop in Angola, NY.)

We swiftly found our hotel. The lovely Sterling Inn and Spa just up the hill from the falls. Should you decide to stay here, know that the view isn't very pretty out the window but that didn't matter to us. It was an old creamery, hence the milk bottle in the center. I selected this hotel for its numerous reviews on Trip Advisor. It’s rated #1 on there of the Niagara hotels but don’t let their posted price fool you. It only cost $130/night and in the week prior to the trip, Orbitz was showing it at $80 (I cursed myself for booking in advance on that one.) It was still early, 12:30pm, so I didn’t really think we would be able to check in. We were, however, able to leave our car at no charge and get a lunch recommendation (which we actually ate for dinner) and free passes for tours and tastings for the next day from Andre, the concierge. Merci, Andre!

Having snacked on a McDonald’s hamburger only an hour earlier, we weren’t quite hungry for lunch yet and decided instead to embark upon the falls and take in our one and only falls-related attraction, the Maid of the Mist. John has never ridden the Maid. I rode on it when I was 7 on a trip with my dad and sister, although she has no recollection of this. (B – I confirmed with dad. We rode it.) After forking over our $28.00 (hey, fun’s not free, people!) we donned our blue hooded garbage bags and boarded the boat.

Look at the Little Maid. So cute, right? She doesn’t go to the falls though. She's just for show!

The weather was lovely. 74 degrees and a day filled with sunshine. We didn’t have to wait at all and we were at sea. The boat cruises over to the American falls first. These are smaller than the Canadian (horseshoe) falls but still magnificent. I enjoy the Bridal Veil falls to the right. I think the name is clever. At this point, it wasn’t so misty. I somehow convinced John that the most advantageous viewpoint would be on the upper deck of the Maid. Silly boy. Remember, I’ve ridden before. I was worried about the water ruining the camera so I don’t have any pictures really while on the boat. Onto the Horseshoe falls in all their glory. At this point, things were getting a bit wet. I was having trouble keeping my hood on and John was cursing me for being on the top deck, although I offered to go below with him. I think he was afraid of letting go of the rail to make our way to the stairs. The seas, they were a-rockin’.

If you have never ridden the Maid of the Mist, you must try it. At least once. I will warn you. Once you’re hanging out under the horseshoe falls for a good 10 minutes, you will note that it’s not so much misty as monsoon-like. You cannot look up because there are so many drops pelting you. Also, I recommend wearing something of a sandal in nature and NOT socks and shoes (more on that later.) Anyway, continually cursing me, John was finally convinced that we could go down the stairs to the main deck. By this point, my hood had long left my head and I was afraid at what my hair might have looked like. My one pant leg was soaked through and half of my purse, though under the raincoat, was also wet. I was worried John would be mad. Apparently, my memories of the Maid at age 7 did not include wetness of this extent. We were down below on that ride, something to keep in mind in the future. Back at the dock (the whole ride lasts about 30 minutes, max), we could only laughed at our sopping misfortunes. Perhaps you will find it funny too, eh?

By this point we decided we were pretty hungry. I’d also like to point out that our tennis shoes and socks were making lovely squish-squish noises with every step. Not a comfortable feeling considering we had more miles to walk before check-in. We headed up the other hill to the Fallsview Casino, a lovely establishment that I didn’t feel like forking over $200 to stay in. We had burgers for lunch at The Famous, a diner within the casino. $25 later and we were back to sight-seeing. (P.S. The fries at the Famous were delicious. The burgers? Not so much.) I should mention that in the bathroom at the Famous, I wrung out my socks in the sink. I have no shame. $20 lost dollars in the casino later and we headed back down to the falls in search of dessert. We were not paying attention to calories this trip as you’ll come to find out. Dessert was found at the Hershey/Coke Store. It was a cookie sandwich, double chocolate cookies, peanut butter filling and it was TREMENDOUS!

Back up the hill again to check into our hotel. Mon ami Andre showed us to our room. Holy cow. This hotel only has 40 rooms and is known as a ‘boutique’ hotel. That fact should never deter you from staying at the Sterling. The room was HUGE! We booked just a standard but were upgraded to a deluxe which included a fireplace. It had a king-size bed, Jacuzzi and shower with 4 shower heads (that took some getting used to and was rather like being back on the Maid). It was then that John and I took the best nap – nearly 3 hours – and awoke quite refreshed and ready for the evening. Remember, this was supposed to be a relaxing vacation too. Nothing says ‘relaxed’ like a 3 hour nap.

We changed clothes and set off in search of the Spicy Olive for dinner. This was Andre’s lunch suggestion but we weren’t near it when we were hungry for lunch. It’s a modern, moderately priced Italian restaurant. There were only about 5 tables of people in the whole restaurant. Let me say, I’ve only ever been to Niagara Falls in the summer when it’s teeming with tourists. This was a nice change. The streets were practically empty since we were only a few days past the holiday, and it was a Thursday. Dinner was tasty, though nothing spectacular. I did have a yummy martini (Bailey’s, Kahlua, Amaretto and vodka). It was called the Sexy Lady. A sexy lady for a sexy lady, eh?

Back down at the falls to see them all lit up at night but my pictures didn’t turn out very well. It wasn’t the weekend yet and therefore, no fireworks show either. That’s ok. They were still pretty.

Then it was casino time. I think this was the part of the trip John was most looking forward to. I don’t mind a casino but it’s never first on my agenda. I can put $20 in the slots and then be done for the night. We didn’t win any money and there was also an unfortunate tipping incident at the bar where John forgot that not all coins in Canada are quarters. Some of them are worth $1 (loonies) and $2 (toonies). Oh well! Back to the hotel and we turned in for the night. And because this was a lot of reading and I commend the two of you who are still with me…….stay tuned for adventures of Day Two!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Pretty in Plaid

I owe you a trip review of our FABULOUS vacation to Niagara Falls but I don’t have it in me today. Instead, I’m going to review the book I finished while on vacation. But, stay tuned for travel tales in the coming days!

Pretty in Plaid is Jen Lancaster’s fourth memoir. Having enjoyed the first 3, I figured I’d like this one and put myself on the Hold list at the library for it some time ago. Slowly I worked my way through all other holders (and slow readers) and was able to pick it up last week! Pretty in Plaid recants Jen’s life according to wardrobe. Her humorous voice adds color to stories from childhood all the way up to the present and how various pieces of clothing and accessories play out in her memories from those times. I don’t have much more of a summary than that because there’s not much more to add but I did laugh out loud a number of times. I enjoyed Pretty in Plaid because I was already familiar with Lancaster’s style and in this memoir, she has even more entertaining life lessons to convey to the reader. However, if you’ve never read Lancaster before, I wouldn’t necessarily start with this one. One of her earlier books will probably endear you to this one a bit more after getting to know her other trials and tribulations. I do recommend it, two thumbs up! But, I didn’t really relate to a lot of it as I can barely remember what I wore last week. Whereas in some of her other works, specifically Such a Pretty Fat, I felt like I could relate to her life struggles. Anyway, whether you read this first or last (of her books) I think you’ll enjoy it all the same.

Look at what we saw in our very backyard pulling into the drive from vacation on Sunday! It ended up landing at the school across the street, narrowly missing trees and many cars. We had seen it from the highway and then, much to our surprise, this cheerful little dirigible made its way to our street. We put off unloading the car to go see where it ultimately landed, taking Sadie on the little walk up to the main road. She promptly rid herself of dinner in the grass and we, not having a bag for clean up, skedaddled right on out of there. Bag dog parents. Anyway, back to the grind.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Duffle Bag How To

I've never written a sewing tutorial before. If you are a sewer (sew-er) trying to make your own duffle bag, just let me know if you have questions so I can explain in further detail. I also slacked on the pics at some points. Sorry. Here goes!

Out of 2 yards of double sided quilted material, cut the following:

-13"x13" squares (cut 2) for the ends
-22"x34" rectangles (cut 2) for the sides/top
-13"x34" rectangle (cut 1) for the bottom
-3"x72" strips (cut 2) for the straps
-3"x53" strips (cut 2) to go between the sides and end squares

You will also need a 32-36 inch zipper, 4 yards of nylon straps (not required but very helpful), and, if you want some structure, a rectangular piece of plastic canvas for the inside bottom of the bag.

1.) If you're not using the nylon straps, fold strap fabric pieces in half length-wise, right sides together, and stitch a seam all the way up. Do it for the other one as well. Then, turn straps inside out. You can make your straps thicker if you want to save your fingernails for this part. The thinner the straps, the longer and harder the turning process.

If using woven nylon straps (I bought a coordinating color) they will look like this.

When folding your straps in half length-wise, wrong sides together, stitch the side seam.

Iron the straps with the seam in the middle. You sew them wrong sides together if you're using a nylon strap because the seam will be sewn to the strap. This saves having to turn your straps right side out and also makes the straps sturdier since they're double layered. It looks like this after you've stitched down the sides of each fabric to secure the fabric on the strap:

2.) Place and pin the straps to the ride side of the sides of the bag. I placed them approx. 12" apart on each side. Then stitch up from the bottom to 13" from the top on both straps. These rectangles are the sides (where your straps are sewn) and the top, which will fold over and you don't want the straps sewn all the way up to the zipper or the bag would look funny. Leave an inch of overhang at the bottom. This will be to the interior of the bag and can be trimmed but you want the bottom seam to cover it.

3.) Next sew the bottom rectangle to the matching length on each side. Pin right sides together and stitch. (No picture of this, sorry.) When you have both sides attached to the bottom it will look like a U-shape.

4). Pin end strips to end squares. This means the strips will be sewn to the squares on one side and then attached to the body of the bag. I chose for the ends to be polka dot and the main part of the bag to be paisley. This was not a very good description of the ends. Maybe this picture will help?

See how it's stitched all around the square? Then, it gets turned right side out and you have your end. Do it for both ends.

5.) Holding the wrong sides together of the strip around the squares, top-stitch as close to the seam as possible. This will give the bag a bit more structure around the ends. Warning: this is not the easiest thing to do around the corners. Mine didn't look very pretty at some points but it was worth it to finish the ends nicely. Sorry about the flash. I think I need a better camera.

6.) This was the trickiest step, sewing the ends to the body of the bag. Pin right sides together all around the squares on each end. I should have taken a picture of this so you could see. Hopefully you get what I mean. You'll be sewing the body of the bag to the strip on the square, not the actual square itself. Again, sorry for the lack of illustration here. But, this is what it looks like when you're done with that part. Except, I cut off one of the ends in the pic. Way to go, Ash! But, you can see that it's starting to stand up on it's own. See at the top where the polka dots are? That's one of the ends. Underneath that is the interior of the bag, which is also polka dotted, because the fabric is double-sided, as previously stated. You can also see here how the straps fall correctly away from the top of the bag.

7.) The zipper! I hope your machine has a zipper foot. If not, invest in one. V. helpful. Now, I didn't take pictures of my mistake but my tops just barely met at the ends and I had to add a little piece of fabric at each end so that it matched up. The measurements given above account for this and should overlap enough for the seam allowance at the zipper. Here's the zipper:

8.) After you stitch the zipper to both sides, zip it up and marvel at your accomplishment! If you want a stiffer bottom, cover the plastic canvas in excess fabric or felt. You can just place it in the bottom or glue it, if you want. However, if you glue it in, the bag will most likely lose it's washability. Your call.


As you can see by the finished product at the top, and by the previously posted picture of me sitting in the bag, it's a tad big. As much stuff as it will hold, the next one I make will probably be a bit scaled down in size. Perhaps only 30" long as opposed to 36". Have fun with it! Double-sided quilted fabric can run about $20/yard at JoAnn's but if you have a coupon, then you've got a bag for right around $25. A steal! The nice thing about this bag, in addition to its LARGE size, is that it can become very compact (i.e. under the bed storage, overhead bins in airplanes, car trunks). It's squishability is unmatched! Let me know if you have any questions. Happy sewing!

Back to Beauty School

Do these look like side bangs to you? Yeah, me neither. On Saturday, I had an appointment with JP, the man filling in for my stylist while she's on maternity leave. I've seen him at the salon before and he had cut John's hair the week before (leaving it a bit long, I should mention.) My bangs have been driving me crazy and I figured it was time to clean up the ends anyway. JP was very nice, although there was some weird shoulder touching (he did this to John too!) When I said, "I usually part my bangs and then angle them to the side. See how they are now? Just shorten them up." This was not what I had in mind. These, as you can see, are full bangs. FULL bangs, not side bangs. I wish I had a photo-strator to show where they should have been. Anyway, not sure what's left to do except deal with them until they get long enough so I don't look like a fool when I pull them off to the side. Ay, me. And right before vacation pictures too. Better pack the bobby pins. (Sorry this pic is creepy)

Friday, September 4, 2009

The Center of Everything

The Center of Everything, Laura Moriarty's debut novel, was recommended on a book board I read so I picked it up at the library having exhausted most of my other wish reads. It follows the teenage years of Evelyn Bucknow growing up in a single parent home in Kansas. A poor girl with a young mother and few friends, Evelyn strives to do well in school, pines for the boy next door, and faces the many tribulations of being a teen. It's kind of hard to sum this one up but I really did like it. I thought Evelyn was a great character, as was her mother. Actually, since it was so character driven, I really liked all of Moriarty's portrayals. I'm sorry I've been slacking on the plot summaries lately. This one definitely had its sad moments and many 'I sure feel sorry for her' moments as well but, I think you'll be pleased with the ending. Not necessarily a fast read, The Center of Everything moves along at a good pace because I enjoyed the whole story. Pick it up and see for yourself!

Ladies and gentleman........a 3 day weekend has commenced. Let the rejoicing begin! The advent of college football season is upon us which means many a Saturday crafting, for me, while keeping half an eye on whatever game John is watching, typically OSU, obvs. This weekend I'll be working on my living room makeover. They just don't make the things I'm looking for so I'm having to substitute. We'll see what turns up. I'm also having a really difficult time adhering to my $50 budget. I'm doing my best. And, I finished my duffle bag! Pics and tutorial to come. Have a good Labor Day if I don't venture back here before then!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Shopping Sucker

Just put a big sign on my forehead that says “sucker.” I’m supposed to be on a shopping ban until our trip seeing as how we’ll certainly be spending money on overinflated restaurants, tourist attractions, etc. in Niagara Falls. But, where did my shopping ban take me last weekend? To the brand new outlets and IKEA, and then the mall after that! You’ll be happy to know that I didn’t buy a single thing for myself at the outlets. I made one purchase, a birthday present for John. Proud of my restraint, I did pretty well at IKEA too, spending less than $25 most of which went towards my living room makeover budget. I spent a bit more at the mall but all sale items. These are not the things that make me a sucker. I am a sucker because in my e-mail this morning, there was a message from the Banana Republic Outlet about a “Mystery Sale” where your bar code would give you $5, $10, etc. off and possibly up to $500. Now, I in no way think I would actually get $500 off but I start thinking to myself, “That pumpkin colored pullover that I passed up last week because it was still full price would be a whole lot more attractive at even $5 off. And, since it’s Labor Day, I bet it will be on sale by then.” Then, I receive the same Mystery Sale message from the nice folks at the Gap outlet. What luck!

Hastily, I e-mail John confirming that we shall, indeed, revisit the new outlets (only 20 minutes south!) this very Sunday. And then it hits me, what a sucker I am. Bravo, marketing geniuses at some of my favorite retail venues, you’ve done it again! I had all but talked myself out of a return so quickly under the pretense that I wasn’t supposed to be spending money. I had prudently decided not to go back for the across the body Coach bag that I think would be so useful on vacation but that I would never carry at any other time. Now these coupons and the promise of surefire discounts. You win.

I figure, I shouldn’t feel too badly about being suckered like this. Stores need consumers like me that they can woo in with their coupons and promises of discounts, sidewalk sales and the like. When I told John this he responded, “You and your ilk are the last bastion of hope in an otherwise dark economic outlook for retail stores everywhere. It is your American duty!” So, as long as my better half is with me, “to the outlets!” I say. Armed with coupons and the hope of severely discounted merchandise, I hope to have much success, and not spend too much money.

Only 4 more work days until vacation!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009


Because of my brief hiatus this weekend (and because John left the laptop at work last night..... way to go!) here is a sneak peak of my duffle. Pardon my hair, I had worked out and showered. And my nose is sunburned but look how big it is. The bag, not my nose. I can sit in it! More to come when finished. Including my first tutorial, since I made the pattern myself. :)

This sucks.

Arthritis....that is. Seriously, people, I'm 26. I should not already have arthritis. My great toe joint has been achy all day long. At zumba tonight, my feet were killing me. Does anyone have any tips to relieve arthritis pain? Your feet are kind of important. You use them everyday for your whole life. I am not interested in getting shots in my feet either. Pass. For now I guess I'll just continue on with my stretches and keep popping the Advil.

I know you're all wondering how the weekday drinking ban is going. Swimmingly, thanks for asking. While I don't necessarily feel more rested in the morning, I'm certain that I don't wake up as often during the night. Sooner or later those missed calories will add up to pounds down, right? Fingers crossed anyway.

In sewing news, I should be able to unveil my duffle bag this weekend some time. I only need to put the zipper in and it's done!