Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Big projects coming up

Hooray! We're getting a tax return this year! Of course, we can't just save it like normal people. No, we're going to sink some of it into home renovations. Three projects will, hopefully, be tackled and make a huge difference in our house.
First project: The stairs
I'm not even going to post a current picture of our staircase. Lets just say I saw one too many painted staircases on Pinterest and went balls-out tearing up carpeting while Jeremy was away one weekend... a while ago... okay, it was in September. So yes, we've had a horrible naked staircase for a few months. This is how they looked before I got my hands on them:
Why didn't I just finish the project? Well, I made a discovery underneath our carpet. Our treads are nice solid wood, but the risers are the shittiest particle board you could imagine. So that stalled me in my tracks and left us looking for options with regards to what to do with our risers. We've settled on just cutting wood and fitting it over the particle board, so we have a game plan. The risers will be white, and the treads and railings will be a dark espresso brown. This won't be an expensive project, but it's labor intensive. It also really needs to get done, so it's at the top of our list.
Second project: The patio
I'm not 100% sold on this project, but J really wants it so we're doing it. Our patio now consists of a walkway to the garage, a tiny slab off of the back door, and some large paving stones behind the chimney. It's a hodpodge of surfaces that are awkward in shape, and don't afford very much room for seating and grilling. Our grill is currently located on the section of miscellaneous paving stones, our picnic table is actually on the lawn, and we have a chair and side table on the actual patio. So okay, maybe we do need this project.
What we'll be doing is having a new slab poured next to what we currently have. It'll add on a good chunk of space and extend the patio out into the yard, instead of just hugging the house. I don't have a good current picture of the yard, so we'll use these for now. Also, 3 out of 4 trees are now gone... Guess which?
The grass area in the first pic (nearly up to that first tree on the left) will all be patio. It'll extend over and replace that part with separate stones, and it'll be next to that walkway in the second pic. We're going to angle the new corner as well (instead of laying down just a square), to avoid interfering with drainage and to give the whole patio a nice shape. I know, its hard to visualize. Once it's installed I want to get it stained. I hate how regular concrete looks... all boring and gray. So making the patio bigger isn't going to sit well with me aesthetically if its just a big, ugly, gray mass sitting in our yard.
Third project: The kitchen
I love our kitchen. It's big, it's open, everything works, and the cabinets and floors don't need to be changed. The things I dislike about our kitchen are the bathroom-esque tile backsplash, the horrible countertops, the cabinet hardware, and I'd kill for non-white appliances. Here she is from when we first moved in, in all of her bright white glory:
Sure, it's big and clean looking, but it's totally 90's style. The first part of our plan is new countertops. However, with the new countertops comes the need for a new cooktop and sink. We want to get the counters done in dark stained concrete, so a white sink is kind of not hot with that style. The cooktop, in addition to being white, is also coil burners and the bane of my existence in the kitchen. I hate coil burners with the white hot passion of a thousand burning suns. Eventually we'll have our gas line run to the kitchen so I can have a gas cooktop again, but that's a project for a full kitchen renovation... not just some simple updating. So the cooktop will be replaced with a sleek black glass-top.
Since we'll be getting the counters done, we'll obviously need a better backsplash. Preferably one that doesn't look like it belongs in a public bathroom. For this, we'll be taking out the tile and replacing it with Airstone in this color:
Check out the website for the lowdown on Airstone. I have a feeling we'll be covering the tile around our fireplace with it as well. It's lightweight, simple to install, able to be cut with a hacksaw, and only $50 for 8 square feet. The tile I originally wanted was $10-12 per square foot, so this is considerably cheaper and I love the look.
The final part of our kitchen renovation will be new hardware. I want the cup-style handles on all of the drawers, and all stainless will be changed to oil-rubbed bronze. We're slowly converting our house to the bronze, so anytime we replace metal hardware we upgrade. Sometimes an upgrade is buying new stuff, sometimes it's spray painting with Rustoleum's "Oil Rubbed Bronze" paint. Either way, it looks great. I hate the brass stuff that was left in the house, and I've never been a big fan of stainless steel.
So that's the plan. All written out like that, it looks like a ton of work. And I guess it kind of is, but it's going to be SO worth it. These are big updates we've been thinking about for a while, so to finally take the steps to get it done is huge. I'm incredibly thankful that we got a tax return this year that allows us to do these things, and still have some to set aside for savings. Definitely thankful for that.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Piggy cupcakes

These are some of my favorite cupcakes to bake. They're really quite simple to do, but the reactions when people see them are what's best!
Plus I can be sloppy with the frosting and just plop it on top, because once rolled in sugar I can hand form it into a neat and tidy little dome. Anything that doesn't require me to break out my cake decorating stuff is great.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Fast and cheap bathroom update

We have 3.5 bathrooms in our house. Are they livable and functional? Absolutely. Are they my style? Not really.
Our house was built in 1994, and while it was used as the model home for our development, that didn't motivate the builder* to use anything other than cheap, builders grade materials. The previous owner also had the house white-washed (well, warm-beige-washed to be exact), so everything is very neutral. Turns out, she had them paint over hideous wallpaper in two of the bathrooms, but that's an entirely different project.
Anyway, we had made some minor changes to one of the upstairs bathrooms already, but all of the others have been left untouched. This past weekend I decided to tackle the half bath on the first floor. This is just a guest bathroom, and if the door isn't closed (it usually is), then this is generally what you see:
It's not terrible, but it's dated. Next to the sink is a window, and across from the sink is the toilet and a large, white cabinet that looms above it. Why? I don't know, but it's big and it's there. I hated the cabinet so much that I don't even have a "before" picture of it.
Since this is just a guest bath, I wasn't about to put money into drastic renovations. We need that money for a new patio and kitchen counter! With this room, if I do one big thing, I have to do it all... If I take out the vanity I have to replace the tile floor, tear out the wallpaper, and rip the cabinet down. Any combo of these tasks results in the others needing to get done as well. Solution? Paint and Pinterest.
I read about painting cabinets on Pinterest and was intrigued. Testing it out on the least amount of cabinets was also right up my alley. So, off came the doors and everything got painted with Valspar's "Fired Earth" in a semi-gloss finish.
I decided to salvage the dated brass hardware, and gave everything a coating of Rustoleum's Oil Rubbed Bronze spray. The hardware style is still kind of dated, but at least it's not brass.
We haven't replaced the faucet yet, but it's an inevitability at this point in time. It sticks out like a sore thumb now, and J knew I'd be begging him to change it as soon as I got everything else done. This is what I'm thinking for the faucet:
Aside from that detail though, it's done! If I had time and money I'd gut the whole bathroom and update everything, but for now this will do just fine.
And for good measure... A side by side comparison:
*Fun fact: The home builder for our development is actually in jail because he used the crappiest, most half-assed materials he could find on ebay. Apparently there was a thing with him vs the homeowners, court, lawsuits, etc. Luckily, while our home has flaws, it was spared the worst defects. For example: We have full exterior brickwork over wood, as opposed to wood filler with siding glued on top. Yes, it really happened to our neighbors.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Learned I could do this...

...with iMovie: Make movie trailers. I can't wait until we have kids. Our home movies are going to be so action-packed now!

Monday, January 21, 2013

Tax time

I used to look forward to tax return season... I was single, my withholdings were correct, and I always got both federal and state returns. Easy money right into my pocket.
Then I got married (the first time), and my filings went to hell in a hand basket. I lived in NY, worked in NJ, and the jackass' my ex's withholdings were way too low. We owed, big time. Then I was filing as single again, but had been married part of the year, and moved back to NJ from NY... Owed a little, basically broke even, started dreading tax season. After that, we moved to Texas halfway through a tax season, so that fouled things up again. Plus J owed some money after moving, selling/buying a house, etc. I felt like I'd never get a return again.
So, here we are getting ready to file our 2012 returns. I've used every calculator I can find... They all say we're getting a refund, but I can't bring myself to believe it. Our withholdings are correct (even with us now filing jointly), we've been in our home the whole tax season, and we don't have state income tax here so we're just dealing with the fed. I'm still wary though.
Our tax appointment is on Monday, so if I post on Tuesday that we're going to Disney World getting a new patio and kitchen appliances, then you'll know those calculators were correct. If I start blogging about extreme couponing, just assume that we're now broke and need to live off of whatever processed food we can buy en masse for $0.50 with coupons.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Cherry berry dump cake

I'd like to preface this recipe by saying that I loathe the term "dump cake." Loathe it! It doesn't paint an appetizing mental picture for me at all, and contrary to that, this cake is tasty and super easy. Seriously, our dog could make this cake, but since he can't operate a can opener he's just shit out of luck. You, however, can make it...
  • 1 can blueberry pie filling
  • 1 can cherry pie filling
  • 1 box yellow cake mix
  • 1-1/2 sticks unsalted butter, melted
  • Chopped walnuts
Almost every ingredient is able to be substituted. Swap cherries for pineapple tidbits, yellow cake for chocolate cake, pecans for walnuts... Seriously. As long as you have 2-cans of filling to 1-box of mix, and the butter (that's the key ingredient), you're good to go.
Preheat oven to 350F
In a large baking dish, mix together fruit fillings. Layer about 3/4 of the dry cake mix over the fruit mixture. Important: Do not mix your mix! You want it the way it is straight out of the box. Sprinkle nuts on top of cake mix layer.
Pour the melted butter on top of everything. Gently tip your pan to distribute the butter evenly. If you notice any spots that seem extra soggy, or have pooling butter, add the remainder of the dry cake mix to those areas.
Bake, uncovered, for 45-60 minutes. You want the entire top of the cake to have a light, golden brown crust, without any moist areas. It could be baked for less time at a higher temperature, but you risk the edges burning and the cake getting hard and tough.
Allow to cool slightly before serving, as the filling is akin to molten lava immediately upon removal from the oven.

Thursday, January 3, 2013


I got Jeremy the Sopranos series for Christmas. When we first moved to Texas, A&E was running Sopranos episodes every Sunday morning. We'd sit around, eat breakfast, and enjoy a little bit of familiarity in our home. A&E, of course, bastardized the show with crazy censoring and commercials, but we took what we could get. Then they stopped running it. So, just like that, I was able to check off a Christmas gift idea from my list.
We've now been working our way through the series, and it's the only thing that's been on our tv in over a week... And we're only about halfway through. Anyway, we enjoy watching and pointing out the places that we know (Bada Bings is a real place, by the way. It has a different name in real life, but Jeremy someone from our household has been there.) In addition to places, we frequently drool over the Italian food that we miss so much down here in Texas. Sfogliatelle, cannoli, peppers and eggs... You get the idea.
Last night an episode came on and Carmela is in her kitchen with a pastry box. The first thing out of Jeremy's mouth? "What's in the box?" They could've said any line, or revealed any plot twist and we wouldn't have noticed. We wanted to know what delicacy we were about to have paraded around in front of us.
It was struffoli. Honey balls. Fried bits of dough lovingly coated with honey and stacked into mountainous arrangements. I needed it, and I needed it bad. So I popped into the kitchen and made a mess whipped this up:
And since I can't feed all of y'all, here is my recipe so you can make your own at home.
  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tbsp lemon zest
  • Oil for frying
  • 1-1/2 cups honey
  • Cinnamon to taste
  • Lemon or orange zest to taste
  • 3/4 cup pine nuts or slivered almonds (optional)
  • colored candy sprinkles (optional)

In a large bowl, mix 2-1/2 cups of the flour with the sugar, baking powder, lemon rind, and salt. Make a well in the middle and drop in the eggs and melted butter. Mix with a wooden spoon and then with your hands until dough leaves the sides of the bowl.
Turn out dough onto a floured surface and knead in the remaining 1/2 cup flour, as needed until dough is no longer sticky. Break off pieces of dough and roll into ropes about the diameter of a thick pencil. Cut into pieces 1/4 inch long. Roll these pieces into little balls (optional) and set aside.
In deep frying pan, pour oil about 1-2 inches deep and heat. Fry balls until golden brown (1-3 min depending on oil temperature). Drain on paper towels.
In a large saucepan over medium heat, bring the honey to a slow boil. Add in cinnamon and citrus zest, if desired. Allow honey to gently boil for a couple of minutes. Add the balls to the honey and stir gently until well-coated.
Remove balls from honey and stack onto a platter so that they form a large mound. Sprinkle with nuts and/or candy sprinkles, if desired. Allow to cool.
Place a glass in the middle of a platter. Remove balls from honey and stack onto platter so that they form a ring around the glass. Sprinkle with nuts and/or candy sprinkles, if desired. Allow to cool and remove glass.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Happy New Year

It's that time of year again... Time to make a ton of promises that you'll never be able to keep.

"New Year's resolutions? Well sure! This year I'm going to stick to that diet plan that I start every January, go to the gym every single day, teach my dog to communicate with squirrels... Oh! And fly. Yes, I'm going to learn to fly. But with wings, none of that airplane crap for me. That's for pansy asses who lack dedication to their resolutions."

I myself will be pseudo-pledging to eat better, exercise more at all, and update my blog more often. I figure if I can keep one out of three resolutions, I'll consider 2013 a success. And since dieting and exercise involve more effort than I generally care to put forth, I'm pretty sure that I'll be able to stick to a rigorous schedule of sitting on my ass and typing nonsense onto my iPad. I even installed a blogging app in preparation of my resolution. I am such a capable adult member of society.
So, with that being said, I'm going to go sit down, have a cookie, and publish this blog post.

...See what I did there?