Monday, December 26, 2011

Most Popular Posts of 2011

I started this blog three years ago the day after Christmas. Each year it takes on new topics as my interests and my life evolves. 

Every blogiversary I like to run a report in Google Analytics to find out the most popular posts for the past year.
Just as my wedding dominated my thoughts this past year, so too did it dominate my blog visitors'. The most viewed post of 2011 is a how-to for making luminaries from soup cans. I did this project for my wedding and am happy other people found inspiration for making their own.
The next most popular posts were also wedding-related, covering topics such as flowers, cake, and my honeymoon to Istanbul. Part of the fun of planning a wedding is searching online for ideas and pictures; I hope the brides that came across my blog during their search were able to find a little bit of help and inspiration for their own big day.
 With the wedding behind us, stay tuned for new topics and adventures in 2012. Thanks for viewing!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Winning Money for Buying Used Paper Lanterns

Best news I have received in a while...I won $100 for sharing my story about how I scored a bunch of cheap paper lanterns from Recycled Bride! 

Recycled Bride is an online wedding marketplace for searching and getting great deals on used and new items for ones wedding. It's kind of like the "Craigslist" of wedding items--no wonder I like it.
Winning stories and other comments can be viewed on Recycled Bride's blog here.  I included a photo our reception venue decorated with the lanterns. 

I knew my obsession with lanterns would pay off someday!

Friday, December 16, 2011

What To Do When You Can't Do Anything

Sometime this winter I have to have surgery on my toe. Even though the surgery itself will be quick and dirty, taking just under an hour, the recovery time is estimated to be months. 
As much as sitting under a blanket, watching episodes of Dawson's Creek while eating cupcakes for several months sounds great, it really loses its appeal when I'm forced into it. Even I have my limits.

I don't do well sitting still. I literally can't look around the house without thinking of something that needs to be done, getting up and doing it. Each day I have a checklist in my head of chores and projects and I can't imagine not being able to do them. Tommie can try to help, but dirty dishes and dog toys on the floor just don't bother him the way they bother me. I am a woman, and I am insane.

Before surgery I will clean and prepare as if I am going to be in a coma for six months. The next thing I need to do is come up with some really good ideas of projects I can work on while sitting still. Making a photobook/s of our recent trip to Turkey is one thing I already plan to do, but I need more ideas. Any one out there have suggestions? Sadly, there just are not enough episodes of Dawson to keep me entertained for months.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Showing My Age

For the majority of my life, I graciously accepted the fact that I was born an old lady: I make statements that are best suited for conversation in a retirement community; I text whole words instead of abbreviations (that is, if I even text at all); I forget my granny panties in the laundry room where my landlord embarrassingly finds them. These are idiosyncrasies I can handle, but the actual physical process of aging in my 20's is something I did not sign up for.

This time last year, I was busy getting one bad root canal after another on all my back bottom teeth, making it abundantly clear that I'm at least a quarter of the way to needing dentures. This year, I found out I have a calcium deposit on my toe bone that I need to have surgically removed. Now I'm staring at my current collection of cute flats and flip-flops--perfectly suitable for normal young adults--and debating what ugly orthopedic shoes to replace them with. The other day I had to use the cart in Target like a walker. I've seen 80-year-olds move faster than me. 
I'm afraid this is my life. The old lady in my soul is manifesting herself in the form of crappy bones and spider veins before I hit age 30, and that really gets my goat.

Friday, December 2, 2011

The Nice Thing About Paint

The nice thing about paint is that it's easy and inexpensive to repaint if you change your mind--good thing for a Libra who changes her mind a lot.
I bought this unfinished cupboard from Craigslist for something like $25. My first paint job was bright and bold. It didn't matter that it didn't match anything because I kept it in the front hallway to store canned foods.
Then I brought it into the living room during Christmas last year for extra surface space and it stayed inside. The red and turquoise tones were a bit rambunctious for our living room and the small wooden knobs on the cabinets bugged me.
So, I decided to repaint the interior face a more subdued tan and sage green. When painting furniture, Behr's 8 FL OZ sample jars are a good route to go; costing less than $3.00, they provide plenty of paint for the job and you can choose any Behr paint color.
The green came out lighter than I wanted, but it's growing on me especially with the new brass knobs in place. My color snob husband isn't a fan of the three-color scheme, so I'm entertaining the thought of replacing the light tan with the light green, making it only two colors. After all, it's just a little paint.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thankful

With Thanksgiving upon us, it's as good a time as any to reflect on the things we are most thankful for. 

For all the griping that I do, I have a lot of big things to be thankful for this year such as....
A miraculously warm and sunny wedding day.
My mom's recovery from kidney surgery.

Beginning a job that affords me more time and writing experience.

 A safe and memorable trip to Turkey.



















I can only hope the upcoming year is full of equally grateful, sunny moments.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Holiday Shopping on a Budget

There are plenty of ways to save on holiday gifts for family and friends without getting trampled in a Wal-Mart. But first, you have to come to terms with the fact that being thrifty isn't going to be easy--it requires time, creativity, and a certain "game" mentality, but getting a good deal is also satisfying and fun.

I'm making it my personal goal to keep credit card statements at an all-time low this December. Here are some tips I'm using to save money this season.

1. Make gifts. I have a long way to go before I'm cranking out handmade presents for everyone, but I am planing to make a beach glass pendant necklace for my grandmother and homemade doggie treats for the family dogs. If you don't have time or skills for DIY but like the concept, talented artists and crafters on Etsy offer unique handmade gifts.

2. Sell stuff to get stuff. All it takes is a little "winter cleaning" to get some extra cash in your pocket for the holidays. By selling things on sites like Craigslist and Ebay, you can get instant cash or have money deposited into your PayPal account, which you can then use to purchase gifts for others. It won't make you big bucks, but it will help offset what you spend. 

3. Use gift cards and credit card points to purchase presents. This prevents you from dipping into new money to pay for gifts.
 

4. Search, then search some more. If I know what I plan to get someone, I search online for the lowest price (excluding the aforementioned evil empire Wal-Mart). This includes doing Google searches, but also looking on sites like Ebay. Free shipping usually factors into the final decision.

5. Always try a coupon code. One of my favorite resources is RetailMeNot. It is always worth the extra minute it takes to see if there is a discount code for any online retailer. On occasion, I have even had luck just typing in a presumed discount code, such as "FREESHIPPING." 

6. Black Friday without the lines
. A lot of places are catching on to offering Black Friday deals online for those of us who avoid crowds. I've found some particularly good deals for Maya at Petco.com on Black Friday, and this year I intend to search for other enticing cyber sales.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Winterizing

It snowed last night, and though we refused to turn on the heat in protest of the early onset of winter and the thought of an early spike in heating costs, we did take other measurements to winterize the place--like pulling out storage bins full of scarves and mittens (I'm wearing both as I type this); putting our heated mattress pad, down comforter, and flannel sheets on the bed, and rearranging the bedroom so we'll be closer to the heater when we do cave in to the thermostat. 

We moved the bed from this side of the room...
To this side (which was seriously lacking in feng shui)...
 So that now, it looks like this...
We even found a multipurpose use for the aforementioned storage bins...by placing them at the bottom of the bed, we can set up our computer there and watch television shows and movies under the comfort of  warm blankets.  
The rearrangement also provided me with the perfect excuse to hang up my lantern from Turkey. Prettyyyyy.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Fall Along the Ipswich River

A few weeks ago, Tommie and I used a Groupon to rent kayaks from Foote Brothers Canoes and paddle a few miles up the Ipswich River. We went back to the area on Sunday to walk along the paths that wind through Bradley Palmer State Park and explore the footbridges we had recently paddled alongside.

We took Maya with us because she loves woodsy paths. She does not, however, love horses, and apparently this is a popular spot for riding. Tommie thinks her growling and barking is a "short-man complex"--that she's jealous of their long, lean legs. We tried to avoid the riding trails, but at one point had to outrun a pack of riders like we were trying to escape from the headless horseman. 
We won't be able to take these walks for much longer with winter on the way. We haven't minded the mild weather this fall, even if it's yielded unimpressive foliage for coastal Massachusetts. Soon everything will be covered in white anyway. It's important to enjoy the last few weeks before hibernation begins.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

For the Love of Lanterns

In college, I had visions of covering the entire ceiling of my dorm room with lanterns. Those white cement cells were just begging for some lively pops of color and cozy accents. At the risk of being a one-woman fire hazard, I didn't cover the whole ceiling, but I always strung a few lanterns from the corners to brighten up the space. I think this is where my obsession began.
I admit, I'm easily distracted by cool lighting, which is why Tommie had to literally drag me out of the lantern shops in Turkey. I bought one--and would have bought more if I had a better way to transport them. They were really pretty with intricate glass mosaic patterns and copper-colored bases. Some day, when I'm old and completely off my rocker, my ceiling will look like this. Tommie gets scared when I say things like this because he knows I mean it.
I have a bunch of lanterns left over from our wedding as well. Our venue was a blank white space, and I knew from the onset I was going to liven the place up with lanterns. I got an awesome deal buying used turquoise lanterns on recycledbride.com and placed bids for different sized yellow lanterns on Ebay. My parents helped put little LED lights in them so they flickered at night without needing to be plugged in.
If the innkeeper would have allowed it, I would have hung 100 more from the ceiling (I think Tommie and my parents are thankful we were capped at 40). You can never have too many lanterns if you ask me.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Travel Observations

On our way home from Turkey, I made a list of quirky observations that weren't necessarily listed in our guidebooks. Here are some things we came across that we didn't necessarily expect.
* Turkish people didn't like, or did not understand, my first name: Amber. If I introduced myself, I would have to repeat it several times. One man asked if that was a popular name in America. All the hotels I checked into insisted on calling me by my middle name "Elizabeth." My theory is that Elizabeth is an acceptable and better-known English name, while Amber doesn't necessarily sound like an English-speaking woman's name.
* Turkish dinner typically starts with some kind of lentil soup and always ends with tea. They drink tea consistently throughout the day.

* Aside from "street food," the cost of meals is more expensive than you might think. Chicken and bread is affordable, while most other meals are on par with what we would pay in Boston for dinner.
* Every mosque emits the Islamic prayer from megaphones perched on the marionettes five times a day. It's part of the sensory experience of being in another country with a different dominant religion. Typically, the prayer lasts for about five minutes and we got used to it, but on the last day of Ramadan it lasted for an hour during the wee hours of morning--at least it did where we were staying that night. It got the dogs, donkeys, and roosters in a tizzy, and the pillow on my head did not drown it out.

* When it comes to driving in Turkey, it's every man for himself. They have rules, but I think they are only made for breaking.

* Public transit in Turkey is leaps and bounds ahead of us. The trams were modern and ran often--the buses too. Our train ride to Selcuk was the nicest train we've ever been on.
* Some toilets (such as the one in our hotel in Olu Deniz) could not handle toilet paper. Hotel management requests that you throw all waste tissue in the trash. Gross! Never become a cleaning lady at one of these places.

* If you are an animal-lover it's sad to see all the stray dogs and cats around. At least it's minorly encouraging to see how the dogs buddy up with other dogs and even people, like the vendors who frequent certain streets. Also, the stray cats pose and sleep in the cutest places--I think it is their ploy to get fed.
* Do not attempt to walk on the Mediterranean beach sand without flip-flops in mid-day heat. Tourists, like us, look really stupid making a mad dash to the water while screaming, "My feet are on FIRE! THEY'RE ON FIRE!"
* Cigars and cigarettes are censored on T.V. with a little flower icon. Ironic since almost everyone in Turkey smokes. 

* There is an underlying prejudice against interracial couples, even from the younger generation of Turks. We explained to one young man that it didn't bother us, and that it is becoming more acceptable in many parts of the U.S., but he told us even seeing interracial couples portrayed on American T.V. shows upset him. The funny thing is this man supports Obama, and wasn't keen on us reminding him that Obama is the child of an interracial couple.
* People stay up late. I know I have the stamina of an 85-year-old, but when I went to bed at midnight, there were still tons of families hanging out in the square below us. Hoards of young children would be playing on the playground until 1:00 a.m., maybe even later, I don't know...I was sleeping. We do commend the city for having a playground smack in the center of Ortakoy--their "rich neighborhood." That would never happen in snobby sections of America. It was nice to see families down there interacting and gave the area a strong sense of community.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

More Craigslist Finds: Kitchen Island

With the new kitchen gadgets Tommie and I received for our wedding this summer, we were in desperate need of more cabinet space. Our kitchen has only two functional cabinets for storing pots and plans, and we had already piled them up so that every time we needed something it was like playing a game of Jenga to pull out a pan and not cause an avalanche. 

Since we rarely eat at our dining table (pictured above), we opted to replace it with a big kitchen island. I found this beast on Craigslist for $200.
It's a solid piece of furniture that's even wired for electricity should we ever need it. I rarely spend this much on used furniture, but decided since this is not some rickety, fake wood island on wheels--and I saw some of these listed for more than $200--we were getting a good deal. The owners also threw in a large marble cutting board for us. On top of that, I sold our Ikea table and chairs on Craigslist for a profit of $75. Luckily it fit in the back of the Forester and when we got home we just gave it a good cleaning and decided to replace the old country-looking drawer pulls with more modern brushed silver hardware ($15 for six at Home Depot).
Now we have a proper place for our mixer, dutch oven, blender, and pressure cooker and a much better, counter-height surface for food prep.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

It Must Be Fall

From far away foods in my last post, to local fall favorites--we couldn't resist hitting up Russell Orchards (in Ipswich, MA) to get a taste of fall. 

I love that the smell of warm, fresh-baked cider donuts permeates the entire parking lot as you arrive. It even overpowers the smell of the farm animals, and I'm thankful for that. 

I know everyone says their orchard makes the best apple donuts...but these really are the best  :)  

Friday, September 23, 2011

Turkish Food

One of our favorite things to do on vacation is to eat...heck, it's one of our favorite things to do when we're not on vacation. When we visit a place we have been to before, we make sure to hit all our favorite restaurants; and when we visit somewhere new, we sample the cuisine to get a feel for what the locals enjoy. Food is definitely part of the cultural experience.

It makes sense then that we came away from our trip to Turkey with some international favorites. Who knows if we'll venture to that area of the world again, but if we do, we know what kinds of things we'll be looking for...and what kinds of things we won't.
Our honeymoon happened to coincide with Ramadan. Those who celebrate the month-long holiday, fast from sunrise to sunset. During our first night in Istanbul, we had no idea where to go or what to eat until we saw a long line of people outside a bakery. We got in line and waited for our turn to get a warm loaf of flatbread (called pide) for only 1.50 TL (less than $1.00). We quickly learned that every night during Ramadan, the bread shop starts firing off hundreds of loaves of flatbread from their brick oven just before sundown, as the line begins to form. This was the best time to get a warm, fresh loaf of bread and it wasn't the same when Ramadan ended, so we felt lucky to experience it when we did.
Prior to our trip, Tommie watched Anthony Bourdain on the Travel Channel and was intrigued by his review of lahmacun. Lahmacun (meaning "meat with dough") is like a Turkish pizza. It is flatbread with minced meat and finely chopped/minced tomato, onion, garlic and parsley. We also really liked the cheese pide (basically pizza/flatbread with no sauce; just really good cheese on top). It was also affordable--the lahmacun in the picture was only 4 TL (less than $3.00 each).
I love olives, so it's no surprise that during our journey I was happy to discover that olives (zeytins in Turkish) are a staple starter for many meals, and they are also almost always part of a traditional Turkish breakfast. Since olive trees grow abundantly in the southern parts of the country, they are fresh and delicious.
Yes, we went all the way to Turkey and one of our favorite stops was a hamburger joint--silly Americans. We were initially drawn inside Mano Burger (located along ─░stiklal Caddesi aka Independence Avenue) in Istanbul because the style of it reminded us of San Diego burger places like In-and-Out and Burger Lounge. Come to find out, the creator of Mano Burger spent years in southern California and wanted to bring some of the vibe and food back to Turkey. He did well! We enjoyed flavorful burgers with caramelized onions and special sauce, and we loved their spicy fries.

Of course
kebabs (chicken, lamb, etc.) are a hit in Turkey as well. Our favorite local place to go for kebabs was Kafe Restaruant located down a side alley/street in Ortakoy.
Turkish people always finish their meals with a cup of tea. We weren't a fan of the strong black tea most serve, but being the sugar-centric American's we are, we fell in love with their apple tea which is like a sweet, warm cider.
We know gelato is an Italian thing, but we weren't complaining to find that it has made it's mark in Turkey as well. Just to be clear, we did try Turkish ice cream and thought it was gross--we recommend sticking to the gelato. Surprisingly our favorite kind was cinnamon, which had a really good flavor to it.
One food we did not care for was the Turkish version of ravioli. Tommie claims it may have even taken the #1 worst food spot away from my mother's pumpkin soup. It was warm, small ravioli with some kind of meat (we presume) inside, and instead of warm tomato sauce on top, it was floating in cold, plain yogurt. Let's just say the stray cat under our table was well fed that night.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Traveling Turkey (Part II)

(Village of Sirince, near Ephesus)
With the help of a travel agent recommended by our friend, we booked a six-day side trip from Istanbul down to the Mediterranean coast.

Again, we relied mostly on public transit to get us from place to place--taking planes, trains, and automobiles. We rented a car for a short while but gas is extremely expensive in Turkey so we didn't drive ourselves the whole time. At moments we were glad to be at the mercy of bus drivers who knew their way around windy mountainous roads; other times--like the five hour bus ride I spent next to a really stinky chain smoker who kept making smacking noises with his mouth--I would have rather been walking to my next destination.

Each place we visited was like a different country in itself, with varying geography, climate, culture and people.

(Breakfast at the Nisanyan Houses--yum!)
The Nisanyan Houses in Sirince (a small village on a mountain above the ruins at Ephesus) was a pleasant surprise. While the ride up the side of the mountain on the minibus was terrifying, and the hike up to the hotel strenuous, it was a beautiful little retreat up there. They also had the best breakfast ever with fresh fruit, jams, bread, olives, and cheese.
("The Library," ruins at Ephesus)
(Pamukkale; looks like snow and ice, but it's warm mineral pools you can walk in)
Our next stop to see the calcium pools of Pamukkale was by far our most difficult excursion. The buses going to/from were few and far between. The Richmond Hotel was hot, stuffy and outdated, and the people there only seemed to view tourists as big, walking dollar signs. The ruins of the ancient city of Hierapolis and the "cotton castle" were very cool sites, it's just too bad everything around them was not.
(Ancient tombs at Hierapolis in Pamukkale)
We quickly discovered that the Turkish coastline is a major summer destination for England; local workers told us it's rare to see American's there. We enjoyed our time at the Kano Hotel on the river in Dalyan and at The Oyster Residences right on the beach in Olu Deniz. These were our couple days of "relaxation," though Tommie might still be scarred by our walk (that quickly became a sprint for fear of blistering) on the scorching hot sand which he likens to walking across hot coals. I guess that enjoying our swim in the calm, warm sea water could be considered our reward.
(River boat taking people to the beach in Dalyan; above are ancient tombs carved into the cliff)
(Driving down to Olu Deniz)