Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Spooky Birds in Honor of Stephanie

It has begun. I couldn't wait until October 1st. So this past weekend the spray paint came out, the decorations made their way out of the attic and Hocus Pocus played loudly in the background. It was heaven. Spooky heaven.

As I surveyed my decorations, I decided to be a little more discriminating about what I used. When you have a living/dining room, it's easy to over-do it. Basically, I just didn't want the house to look like Halloween 'threw up' in it.

As you might have noticed, I have a link on my sidebar for donations for the Nielson family. I've been a 'lurker' on Stephanie's blog for the last year and have always found her family and style so inspiring. She and her husband were burned in a plane crash and have four young children. It's a great opportunity to give to a very worthy cause.

I've always been super inspired by Stephanie's last Halloween post. She spray painted branches and birds black and decorated her mantle with them. But since my mantle resides in the man-room, a place I promised my husband would be his and his alone, I had to make some adjustments. So, I made a bird tree instead. I spray painted two little birds, used a crow I already had, a can of black spray paint from my stash and pulled a few limbs off trees in the backyard, leaving a few straggly leaves on to be spray painted as well. Super cheap and fun.

So thanks for the inspiration Stephanie. We're all praying for you and your husband here at Mabel's House.

Monday, September 29, 2008

What Diet? A Cheater's Crostata

A long time ago I watched a Semi-Homemade show where Sandra Lee made a really simple crostata. Actually, I remember thinking, "Hmmm... that's like a cheater crostata." Or as Matt calls it, a "pie pizza." Either way, it's ridiculously easy and yummy. And NOT helping my diet.

All you need is:
Refrigerated roll-up pie crust
A really yummy jam/jelly
Fresh fruit, your choice
Ricotta Cheese
Powdered Sugar

Roll out the pie crust (on parchment or wax paper) and smear a thin layer of jam around it. Be careful that it's a fairly thin layer, think dessert pizza. I had WAY too much jelly on this first try, it was way too 'full.' Then add little dollops of ricotta cheese in the middle.

Fold over the edges, brushing them with a little bit of butter and egg white. I cut up some grapes (since I used grape jam) and pressed them into the crust. Bake at 375 for 20 to 30 minutes depending on how crispy you prefer your desserts.

Afterward, let cool for a few minutes and then sprinkle with powdered sugar. Which I forgot to do in these pictures. Rats. I've made this a few more times and have a 'system' now that makes it a little more pulled-together looking. But either way, this makes a yummy dessert or a great breakfast pastry.

I'd also like to give a big shout out to my lovely sister-in-law Melissa who took those pictures of me in the last post. She's been all over the world and has some fantastic photos to prove it, I think she'd make a fabulous professional photographer. And thanks to everyone who commented on the last post. I read every one, it was fascinating to hear so many different stories and points of view. I guess having children/not having children is truly a universal experience for all women, no matter where they are in the world. I didn't realize I'd touch such a big nerve by addressing what it meant in my own life. Thanks again for the encouragement, reassurance and jokes. It made for some great reading this weekend!

Friday, September 26, 2008

A Liz Quiz

I'll confess. I'm the world's worst at answering email questions. I also get tagged in fun quizzes from time to time and never seem to get around to doing them. There are several possibilities for this, most of which boil down to my dingy forgetfulness. Anyhoo, I went through my emails from the past few months and wrote down some questions and attempted to answer them here in quiz form. So please, everyone, consider this my formal apology.

1. You've been married for a long time, when are you going to have kids?

OK, I get this question a lot. From family, friends, the little old man that sweeps the sidewalks in front of my building. Yes, we've been married a little over seven years and no kids. For a while we were unsure as to whether we wanted children, but now we're leaving the possibility in God's hands. A lot of my peers seem to be sweating bullets about the 'ticking clock.' I shrug it off. My mom didn't have her first child (me) until she was 31, and her last child came ten years later. Also, adoption has always been something close to my heart. But, I would like to say that we should all be sensitive when asking questions like this. I wasn't offended in the slightest, but I do have friends that struggle with fertility issues, and questions like this (while well meaning) can be upsetting.

2. What kind of camera do you use?

It's a Kodak C743, my trusty old point and click.

3. Are you going to get another schnauzer?

Once upon a time there was a little black schnauzer named Elvis. His elderly owner was going to a nursing home, so Elvis paid our house a weekend visit to see how well he and Mabel might get along. I was sure Mabel would love having a little brother. Instead, Mabel's bark turned into a very shrill screech whenever Elvis sat in my lap. She also stood between Elvis and his food/water bowl so he couldn't eat.

Elvis left and Mabel lives happily ever after. She's an only child.

4. How old are you and when will you have children?

I'm 28. See question #1

5. What is your day job?

I'm a personal assistant. I arrange lots of travel, manage the office, schedule meetings and sometimes get to talk to senators on the phone. Once I spoke with Hilary Clinton's assistant. My bosses are important, I am not. I also write books. But I don't get paid for that.

6. Where do you go to church?

We currently attend a non-denominational Christian church that we love.

7. What, no kids?

See #1

8. What made you choose to buy a 50's ranch?

Mabel's House won me over with its yellow brick exterior and pink tile bathroom, a total throwback to my grandparent's home. When we walked inside, it just felt right.

9. How much weight are you trying to lose?

Ideally, 10 pounds would make me happy. Sounds simple right? Not really, I have an immovable metabolism.

10. Kids?

See #1

11. Who are you voting for?


12. Can you send Matt over to cook my dinner?

Mitts off ladies. He only cooks for me, it was in the vows.

13. Can you recommend a good literary agent?

(Chuckling into my sleeve) Uh, no. I can, however, send you a list of the ones that have rejected me.

14. If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be?

Cannon Beach, or anywhere on the Oregon coast (where these photos were taken). It was the most breathtaking place I've ever seen.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Croque-Madame Night

Thanks for all your well-wishes regarding Mabel's bad night. For anyone that might have missed it, that was a bottle of Urine-Gone in the first picture. Yep, my precious little schnauzer momentarily lost her mind.

I was pretty hacked actually. I walked past the carpet toward the kitchen and took a whiff, pausing mid-stride.

"Matt, I smell pee!!!" I yelled.
He leaned around the corner and shrugged, "I don't."
I got down on all fours and sniffed the carpet, "Come smell this!"
He frowned, "Do I have to?"
Me: glare
Matt obligingly smelled too, shrugging his shoulders, "I don't smell anything."
"How can you not smell that?"
"I just don't."
"Well, it's PEE!"
Matt grinned, "Well, I didn't do it."
And then we both started to look for Mabel, who was mysteriously absent from our all-four-leaning-carpet-smelling party.

And then that's when we spotted her, hiding, eyes rolling, totally guilty.

I still don't have any idea what happened, it has been years since she went to the bathroom in the house. But, Urine-Gone did work.

And now that I whetted your appetite with the lovely food picture/dog pee story, I'll discuss Matt's latest culinary venture; Croque-Madame sandwiches (or Croque Monsieur depending on who says it).

Firstly, I'd like to reiterate that I'm a fan of any grilled sandwich. Don't care. If it has melted cheese, I will eat it.

Mabel too.

It's fairly easy to make (I say that since I had no hand in it what-so-ever) and is a very 'fallish' food. Super yummy. On the other hand, I'm totally spoiled. I can cook, but why would I want to with lovely things like this coming out of the kitchen all the time? Evidently I need to reserve my energy for other important matters, like detecting dog pee in the carpet.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Dinner With Friends

Sometimes, pictures are so much better than words.

This past week our friends Kyle and Ashley invited us over for dinner. Crepes to be exact. For the life of me I cannot remember the exact recipe, but Ashley talks about it here. Rest assured, it was delicious. And yes, our diets went on hold after the second helping.

Not only was it delicious, but it was also such a joy to catch up with them. Whenever we get together, the fun is effortless. There are no gaps in conversation, no lack of laughter.

Of course, their breathtaking house (and Ashley's talented knack for design) always enthralls me. And, I would be fibbing if I said getting to hold their new baby wasn't a big perk for me. There's just something about holding a baby, their soft little heads, their shallow quick breaths as they sleep. Somehow, when I force Mabel to lie on her back and she glares at me, her back rigid with indignation, it just doesn't have the same effect.

Many thanks to you, Kyle and Ashley. We love you both.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

The Fall Decorating Obsession Begins

Ok, it’s time for fall. Maybe those of us in the south are still wearing shorts while sweating the makeup off our faces as we dutifully water our wilting lawns. Maybe it still feels like June. Maybe the pumpkins I bought today will rot on my sweltering front porch before Halloween gets here. But it’s time for fall, whether mother nature likes it or not. I’m simultaneously running the air conditioner and burning my pumpkin candles. I don’t care.

Every year around this time I get the itch to do something different from the year before. I think about throwing away all the cheap fall décor I bought on a dime as a poor married college student and stage my house like an Anthropologie store. And then I balance my checkbook.

But still, the itch to do something ‘different’ this year is calling me, especially after seeing this picture in Country Living. Now, my love of this is probably due to the fact that I covet that turquoise picnic table, but nevertheless, this is fabulous. I adore the white candles, the orange roses.

I’m also always inspired by this little shop, run by the talented Jerusalem and Jeannetta. Somehow they make Halloween fun and sparkly, magical and pretty. Their little shop makes me long for some ambience in Halloween as opposed to the plastic figurines that yell “BOO!” at Wal-Mart. Anyone else feel that way?

So I’m plotting and planning for fall and Halloween. I'm on a quest for decor that's a little more cheerful than dark, a little more sparkly than spooky. In reality, I’ll probably end up buying a black crow, some white twinkle lights and the fall edition of Home Companion before the ‘frugal’ side of my nature shuts the entire venture down. And thanks to mother nature, I'll be doing it all in a pair of shorts and flip flops.

Did I Buy Anything?

Oh ladies. I'm chuckling.... of course I bought something. I ran around the store six or seven times in anguish of course, trying my best to figure out how to fit four quilts and ten frames in my carry on bag. But after the sweat on my forehead cooled and I practiced deep breathing to bring my blood pressure down, I settled on a bar of soap (it smells like rosemary) and this sweet little frame.

There were several frames made by this company throughout the store. They're all made from reclaimed lumber from old houses, so the shapes and paint colors are all different. This was one of the smallest, Saint 2 (my sister-in-law) got a larger one with a lovely weathered wood/beige finish.

I also put the black rocks and broken sand dollars I picked up on Cannon Beach in the mason jar to the left. They're all currently on my desk, where I'm hoping they'll inspire me to start writing something fabulous. But mostly I just sit and stare at them.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Oregon Goodness: Beautiful Shop, Stinky Fun

First and foremost, I want to thank that precious anonymous blogger that recommended I visit the Pacific Crest Cottage in Gearhart, Oregon. I was able to read the blog comments on my phone over vacation, and when that one came through I was uncertain. Our family vacation was fairly packed with activity, and I didn't want to inconvenience everyone by asking to shop. BUT... my mother/sister-in-law (let's just refer to them as Saint 1 and Saint 2) were good sports and agreed to visit it.

The minute we pulled up in front and left the men sitting in the van (yes, we were very cruel that day) I swallowed hard, gripped my pocketbook and said, "Uh Oh." Saint 2 began to eye Saint 1 and myself with caution. It was obvious she would be the only level head in the shop.

And uh-oh was right.

You see, I was faced with the horrendous realization that this was the shop of my dreams and whatever I bought would have to ride home inside an already bulging suitcase.

As I sampled the free M&M's, my brain began to spin into overdrive. Perhaps I could throw all my clothes away and pack the entire suitcase with purchases? After all, I didn't really have to have those six outfits and two pairs of good jeans.

Then I scrapped that idea and decided to throw all of Matt's clothes away and use his suitcase instead. Surely he wouldn't mind.

But since neither of those options could ever happen (it turns out Matt likes his clothes more than I thought he did), I began to search for a 'pack-able' purchase instead. Overall it was the most exciting shopping excursion I've had in a long time, even if I didn't get to go crazy and even if there were three patient, but mildly unhappy men waiting in the van.

Let's talk about comfort zones shall we? I've never been an exceedingly girly girl, I can kill a spider if I have to. On occasion, in darkest of times, I 've even killed a roach and picked it up with paper towels. But when the family decided to take a 'crabbing' trip, I was hesitant. But I lectured myself, "Come on Liz. This is a new experience, it'll be fun." But deep down inside, I knew that 'crabbing' meant actually having to touch a crab. And since I didn't want my family to know what a wiener I really can be, I went.

Have you ever been crabbing? Let me fill you in. First, you pile into a fishing boat with wonderful accessories. These accessories consist of bright orange life jackets and giant nets with dead fish heads wired to them as bait (big, stinky fish heads with dead, jelly-like eyes). You troll around, dropping these nets over the side (which are attached to buoys). After you've dropped over all the nets in miscellaneous places, you look for the buoys and pick them up, dumping lots of skittering little crabs on the bottom of the boat.

Somehow, through an ironic twist of fate, I ended up on the side of the boat where all the action is. At first, I'll admit, I was not very excited.

But then, something happened. I realized that this was something I'd never done, or might ever do again. In fact, the closest I'll ever get to this is stepping on a craw-dad in a creek somewhere. Yeah, not the same. And so, after an hour of cringing and sidestepping the crabs while Matt and his brother did all the work, I decided it was time to touch a crab. Deep breath.

It wasn't so bad. Basically, you have to grab them on the butt so the giant pincher claws in front don't clamp onto your fingers. Just remember:

crab butt = safety.

All in all, it was blast. I love it when that happens; when I step outside my comfort zone and end up really enjoying myself. I'll admit, it rarely happens. Three cheers for beautiful shopping and stinky crab fishing. Never in a thousand years would I have expected it; but they were equally fun.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Bewitching Astoria Part 2: A Cheerful Kind of Spooky

While in Astoria, the ladies (and two very patient men) decided to tour the Flavel House. Now, I've toured my fair share of Victorian houses, mostly in this town, but this one was particularly impressive.

It was built in 1885 for Captain George Flavel, the man basically responsible for navigating the sand bars on the Columbia river and in turn helped make Portland the major city it is today. He also married his wife when she was 14, and he was in his late 30's (it could have been early 40's, I'll have to reread the brochure). Either way, ew.

I noticed a difference in this house and the ones built in the same time period here in the south. The Flavel House is a little less frilly, a little more 'sea-captainy' in its slightly more reserved interior. The woodwork was amazing, even though I had my usual irrational, all consuming urge to paint it white. Matt refers to this as a sickness, but I cant help it. I just submit as evidence the saying of one wise Christopher Lowell, "Just because it's wood, doesn't make it good." It probably also has something to do with my slight case of claustrophobia and the need to live in a well-lighted cottage by the ocean. Anyway.

My favorite part of the whole house was the back servant stairwell. I loved the simplicity of it, the sweet little curve and built-in china cabinet next to the window.

Astoria reminded me of the perfect Halloween town. Winding streets full of old homes, foggy weather, the magnetic pull of history and charm. October and Halloween in our neighborhood means motorized-life-size zombies on front porches yelling, "Woooo" in mechanized voices. But I much prefer my Halloween to resemble Astoria. Spooky, but cheerful.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Ike and Salsa

Tropical storm Ike (because that's what he was by the time he reached us) came and went past Mabel's House this weekend. I, for one, am a weather nut. I turn on the tv and watch the warnings, listen for signs of fear in the meteorologists' voices and constantly check out the window. Basically, I'm Chicken Little.

My husband (who has never experienced the full brunt of a tornado like moi) is a little more blase about severe weather. But he did give me some valuable advice this weekend when he said, "You're going to lose the whole weekend in front of the tv waiting for a tornado. Just turn it off and go do something, we'll hear the sirens." I blinked self righteously four or five times until I realized, "Blast, he's right."

So we turned on a little Dean Martin, opened the windows to the sound of rain and made salsa. Sure the sky was dark purple and the wind whipped branches across the yard; but somehow the dulcet tones of Dean made it all seem much less ominous.

I'd like to say there's a brilliant beyond brilliant recipe behind our salsa, but the truth is we're a little like mad scientists in the kitchen. A dash of this, a pinch of that, the old trusty colander to strain out the gallon of excess water (that was a tense moment). Matt was the leader in this cooking expedition, but I took a mighty hit for the team when I rubbed jalapeno in my eye and nose.

We consoled ourselves that this was a diet savvy venture. After all... how could it not be with all our fresh ingredients? But the little nagging voice in my head said, "That giant bag of chips you ate with it.... that's why."

I hope all of our neighbors to the south are faring well after the hurricane. Wish we could send you some salsa, it was pretty darn good.