Monday, December 31, 2012

It's that time again: 2013 Resolutions

2012 was okay.  I made $21 blogging (yes, that's an annual figure),  we completed a few house projects and planned a late honeymoon, and the kids decided to be a little less babyish and a little more mature.  I managed to ignore my formal resolutions (except the reading one--I read over 100 books this year without even breaking a sweat. Some of them were quite hoity-toity, so now I can proudly shove my nose in the air when discussing post-modern fiction).  Katie did not learn how to read, although I never meant that seriously.  Early reading is for the birds!  Instead, we worked on deriving the quadratic equation, which is obviously much more important.

So this year, I've got to get more reasonable.  Be a little less ambitious.  Shoot for the top of the house rather than the stars.

Here goes.

1) Drink more wine.  A few nights a week, I'll have a glass of wine.  Thank goodness for Trader Joe's Two-Buck Chuck (which is more like 3 bucks these days).  It'll do. And if you're feeling snobby about your fermented grape juice, I've read studies showing that even experts are often unable to distinguish between cheap and expensive wines during blind taste tests.

Sparkling wine counts, too.

2) Train the kids to clean the house top to bottom.  I've been cleaning for years. I resolve to stop.

3) Meet and foster relationships with my neighbors.  My area is actually called "Neighborville".  And yet I only know a few of my fellow street-mates.  I plan on bribing them with beer and spinach dip.  And a nude-y dance.  By Ryan, of course.

My neighbors' house. I've met them walking by, but otherwise, know nothing about them.
That shall change, by golly!
4) Paint one room in my house gray.  Everyone else is doing it, so it must feel really good.  I'm thinking the girls' room with pink and white accents.  Of course, everyone's painting over their gray rooms now that the trend is dying, so I'll avoid being overly trendy by virtue of the fact that no one else is following the gray room trend anymore.

5) Make more money blogging.  I resolve to sacrifice my principles and morals, up to and including shilling for products I would never ever use in real life, over-processing my photos so that my children resemble stepford kids (whitewashed photos popped with colors not found in nature drive up pageviews, y'all), and hosting giveaways for useful items I found while dumpster diving.  Then I'll just sit back and watch the pennies roll in.

That hair is worth millions!
I hope that you, too, can come up with reasonable and worthy goals for 2013.  I think I'll get a head start on goal #1 tonight.  Bubbly for all!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas!

I hope Santa brings you great toys and your relatives don't drive you to drink.

 Merry Christmas from our home to yours!


The Kiefer Cottage

Friday, December 21, 2012

The Best Yellow Cake {Single Layer}

Yesterday was my son's second birthday.  It snowed that morning, and I thought he'd be thrilled.

Like these smiling beauties.

I mean, I was happy about the garden getting covered. We need the moisture badly.

 But no.  Drew didn't just not like it. He hated it with every inch of his body and cried the entire time we were outside.  All ten minutes of it.

So I had to make it up to him.  The kid loves treats (like any sane person), and during a healthy dinner, he'll turn to me, break into an adorable smile, and ask, "May I have ____?"  Usually, he's requesting cookies, pretzels, crackers, cheese, bread, or cake.  And usually, I say no (and the hide in the closet later while eating cookies myself).

Not on his birthday, though.

To celebrate, I made a single layer yellow cake from scratch.  The single layer meant we didn't have oodles of leftovers, and it also meant that I didn't have to frost it if I didn't want to.

This cake is moist, a little dense, and tastier than you can believe.  You will want to slap your momma it's so good.  It's not going to taste like a box mix, though. You won't get the spongy light corn-syrupy taste of Betty Crocker.  This is a different experience altogether.  You'll be reminded a bit of pound cake, yet without excessive weight.  And you'll want to eat the whole damn thing in one sitting because it's that good.  I served it with whipped cream, but it's delicious nekkid, too.

Enjoy it, y'all!

Side note: If you replace any of these ingredients with things like applesauce or wheat grass or cardboard trimmings, you're not allowed to complain.  

Single Layer Yellow Cake
1/2 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
4 egg yolks
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons milk
1 cup flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour one 8 inch round pan. In a small bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
  2. In the mixer (or using a hand mixer), cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Don't skimp on this.  Let those babies get a good beating in the mixer. (Confession: I had to soften the butter in the microwave and accidentally melted some of it.  The texture of the cake was still awesome)
  3.  Beat in the egg yolks one at a time, then stir in the vanilla. Beat in the flour mixture alternately with the milk, mixing just until incorporated. Pour batter into prepared pan.
  4. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes.  Mine needed 30 minutes, but our oven errs on the cooler side.  Watch yours carefully because if you over-bake it, it will be dry.  If it's done correctly, it will not be dry at all.
  5. Cool for awhile and then serve. I left it in the cake pan (I know, I know, serious bakers would dump it out the pan and cool it on a rack, but I never claimed to be serious about anything except the fact that butter is so much better than margarine).  If you want, you can make frosting and use that or serve the cake with whipped cream.  

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Dining Room: Part 2

Note to readers: the past couple of days have been pretty horrendous with the news from CT.  I won't tell you how or what to feel, especially since I can barely express my own feelings about it.  Thoughts, prayers, good wishes to everyone.

Way back around the time I started this blog, when I had about two loyal readers (rather than the dozen I have and appreciate now), I shared some dark, dank photos of our dining room.  Even painted a light color, it was sadly shadowed and drained any positive energy a person might have.

This year, after reading about how bold colors are often a better choice for rooms that lack natural lighting, we went for a bright yellow.  And now you, lucky reader, get a full view of the room in its current state.

The room has been through a drastic metamorphosis, and that's not to say it's become an ugly bug.  Instead, it's cheery..and no longer suited for dining.

It's hard to visualize properly, but the room is a glorified hallway from the living room to the family room.  The footprint of the basement indicates that the family room was an addition (gloriously wired and half-assed constructed by cousin Larry), and that's why there's a room in the middle of the house without any good natural light.  Because we have a glorious table in the kitchen well-suited for daily and formal dining, we decided to transform the space into an office/rec room and moved the awesome pub table to the family room for puzzles and other fun stuff.

You'll see our motley collection of furniture and wall-hangings, most of which were gifts or craigslist (free) rescues (note: the map was hung months ago and that's why the placement is awkward. We don't know where to put it and the plaster is kind of delicate there, so we'll leave it for now).  The desk looks great up against the bold yellow.

And the wardrobe, which we just painted "New Grass Green" (Glidden), adds to the fun of the room.

The kids' desk now fits right in.

We left the trim both white and wood toned to complete the eclectic look.
The fan is a place holder for something more attractive--the price was right (free) so that's why it is there now since the old fixture hung down way too low and was not adjustable enough.  (I always think of my friend Jeffrey from college when it comes to free stuff.  He was a vegetarian unless the food was a gift.  Free steak? No problem. Free fan? Up it goes!)

The art, however, stays.  I love the pieces.  The baby on the left was a gift from my artist friend because she said the baby in it reminded her of Winslow. The burnt orange and lime green stripes go well with our furniture, and I have a feeling that anything more mainstream would look kind of goofy here.  And then, of course, there's the funky portrait my mom found on the side of the road...I can't stop looking at it, so she'll keep on guarding the hat collection atop the wardrobe for now.

And one day we'll have more decorative items and accessories...not now, though.  Anything of value is almost immediately touched by sticky fingers and sometimes completely destroyed within a matter of seconds, so we'll go minimalist.  It felt dishonest to post photos of fussy decor when we all know I don't live like that at all.

So a last look at BEFORE:

Great table, great art. Sucky everything else.

 Even if it's not to your taste of gray and white and beige all over, anything is better than the dull and dreary "before".  I find myself sincerely whistling a happy tune every morning as I descend the stairs into this cheerful room.

Wardrobe {free from friend}: Glidden's New Grass Green
Desk {free off Craigslist}: Clark-Kensington Paint plus Primer's Incandescent Red
Kids' desk {$50 from vintage market}: Came painted that way
Walls: Glidden's Warm Gold
Rug {heirloom}: Turkish wool

Sharing over at Savvy Southern Style, The Shabby Nest, and No Minimalist Here.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

I've missed you...

We've all been sick.  Croup, colds, jungle rot, yellow fever, just fill in the blank.  I held Drew for 6 straight days while he recovered and managed to mess up my left shoulder again, and then I got the crud myself on Monday.

The only one happy as a clam is this stinker:

Do you like my Danish Kringle mustache?
Katie goes to preschool four days a week, is exposed to tons of germy little kids, and yet has only complained of a minor runny nose.  She's been helpful, cooperative, and generally pleasant.  Thank goodness for five year olds.

The rest of us have been eating cookies for breakfast and too many chicken nuggets for lunch, watching lots of Netflix (thank you, Disney, for making your movies available streaming.  I may not like Alice in Wonderland, but the kids sure do), moaning and groaning a lot.

I did type up a post for Broke Monday and realized I was boring even myself, so I won't subject you to it.  Instead, you get another photo of happy times.

May we return to health quickly.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

No Playroom? No Problem.

Once upon a time, I wrote about not having a playroom.  And I accused myself of not loving my children enough to purchase a house with a dedicated play space.  But I've had a bit of a problem despite knowing that playrooms are, well, not that necessary.  While my children have managed to live without primary colored walls and furniture, I've gone a little looney tunes with all the toys everywhere all the time.  Ahem. Not that I was ever crazy before.  Moving on.

About a two months ago, I told Ryan we were going to find some kind of storage solution that wasn't hideous, breakable, or plastic.  And it wasn't going to involve ottomans (which we don't need) or overpriced pressed wood.  Plus, it would be affordable.

Apparently, that is asking for the world.  I searched and searched online and found nothing but stuff that was on my "aw hell naw I can't accept that" list.  You know the stuff I'm talking about. I won't post a picture for fear that I might be sued for slander.   So I decided that perhaps I'd prefer to find something at the vintage furniture markets where I found my dining table, my TV console, my kitchen hutch and table, and various other things I adore.

I really love this hutch.  It's not a fine piece (hence the holes we punched in the back for the electrical wiring), but it's solid.  It was going to be my inspiration for finding toy storage.  The only thing missing was hidden space. I wanted doors and drawers, if possible.

But the universe smiled down on us and kept me from having to search for months for the right piece.  My friend Kathleen (known her since high school) emailed me, writing that an upcoming move meant she had furniture to unload, and she thought I could use it.  So I wrote back, saying I'd need detailed photos, measurements, and appraisal documents to see if these pieces were worthy of The Kiefer Cottage.

Or maybe I just said "YES I'LL TAKE IT ALL" sight unseen.

One of the pieces was exactly what I had imagined for hiding toys and various kid minutiae.  We've been testing paint colors on it, so ignore the shade of green, but here it is...

It's a small wardrobe, part of a bedroom set (two more pieces of which also were given to us).

And look at the inside!  I can store costumes AND toys.

A dedicated drawer for dollies, princesses, and magic wands.

Space on top for hats and ugly portraiture.

Space under the costumes for Drew's many "Tuks".

And now the old toy corner has space for a chair and the costume accessories trunk (which will be painted some day. Probably not soon.  I need to talk about it for at least another year).

So think outside the playroom and ugly kids' furniture box if you're feeling overwhelmed by toys.  We don't even own a ton of toys and it was getting to be too much, so I understand (BTW if you haven't done the before Christmas toy purge, I highly recommend doing it now.)  I needed it all put away, especially since the kids' rooms don't have a lot of space for their things.  I'm feeling less crazy these days, and it's not all due to the holiday desserts I've been eating.  This lovely wardrobe helped save the day, too.

Thanks, Kathleen and Shane, for your generous gift (they even dropped it off at my house).  It's been a pleasure adding it all to our motley collection of furniture.

I'm linking up to Miss Mustard Seed's Furniture Feature Friday.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Man, I'm Broke Monday: Christmas Decor That's Awesome and Cheap

Friends, I've been away for two weeks because blogger told me I didn't have any free photo storage left, and I've spent all this time debating whether to ever post a photo again.  The problem is that people really like pictures (people also like donuts), and I can't just offer free donuts to everyone.  So here I am, back to my usual shenanigans, a little broker just so you can have a few photos to look at (you'd better be grateful).

It's Christmas, y'all!
Today, I'm going to teach you how to decorate your house for Christmas without requiring a second mortgage to pay for it all.  To my regular readers, I know you expect a certain level of tongue-in-cheekiness, but let me warn any newcomers that my advice is, well, um, extremely valuable and carefully considered.  Martha Stewart worthy, in fact.  And I'm never known to exaggerate or tell complete lies. Ever.

So here are my priceless tips.

1)  Have an appreciation for vintage items.  You must like older things that may or may not be falling apart in order for the rest of the advice to really work.  So if you must have new, shiny decor, stop here. I can't help you.

From Ryan's collection.
2)  Never ever ever throw any Christmas item away. Keep it all.  This goes against my usual mantra of "throw it away if it's rarely used", but for Christmas, sometimes the only way for a broke citizen to decorate is to use last year's stuff. Or maybe even stuff from before you were born but your mother painstakingly stored on the off chance you'd want them as an adult.  All Christmas crafts you ever attempted, including the pretzel wreath you made in 1st grade (part of which was decimated by roaches the year you lived in that hovel on Dell Drive in Columbus, GA), should be kept.  If you have kids, do the same for them.  I've only thrown away one big Xmas decoration and it was also a victim of said roaches (a dried apple Santa or something like that.  It was so messed up I couldn't bare to look at it).

The roaches only got one of the pretzels.

3)  Buy a live tree.  But an inexpensive one.  In years past, we've had small Charlie Brown style trees, but this year I wanted bigger without the bigger price tag.  So we headed over to a local church where they had many varieties at all price points. We opted for a 6 foot Scots Pine (our ceilings are only about 7.5 feet tall, so we can't go crazy anyway).  It looks like it was picked straight out of a fantasy forest.  And just like in fantasy books, this tree will flat out attack you.  It's spiny and painful, but it was only $30.  The upside is that its branches hold ornaments very well not only because they're pretty hefty but also because any child who dares to put their hands near the tree will pay.  I know my arm hurts from decorating this nasty beast.  I also keep waiting for it to grow legs and start walking around the house screaming it's going to eat me.

There should've been a disclaimer to sign for this prickly cactus-like tree.  

4)  Never say no to free stuff.  When my mom offers me old Christmas decorations, I take 'em.  She also sends me things she found on clearance, like the 72 feet worth of lit garland we just hung up outside.  Yeah, I know it's unfair that I'm telling you it's easy to be cheap when you're given stuff, but I read advice along these lines all the time in Bloglandia.  You read "tips and tricks" on some site about frugal home decor, and lo and behold, it turns out the blogger was comped every item she recommended (I say "she" because they're almost all chicks).  That is infuriating!  But apparently, it's accepted practice, so I'm just jumping on that bandwagon.

Yes, I'm old!  But that makes me awesome!
5) Use vines and plants from the yard rather than purchasing garland.  Just don't bring in poison ivy or get caught trimming your neighbor's evergreens.  A rash, while a gift that keeps on giving, isn't that Christmas-y, except that it's red.

Nativity, gifted by my mother.
6)  After Christmas this year, prowl around expensive neighborhoods looking for decor castoffs.  You're doing the environment a favor by keeping it out of the landfill, and you're embracing "vintage" when you re-use.  I find it's best practice to do this in pairs, that way the driver can slam on the gas while you run for the van after the police start advising you that perhaps it's illegal to sift through the garbage.  (Related story: when we moved from Memphis, we put bags out on the street the night before we headed out of town.  That evening, a car drove up and tossed a few bags in the car and sped off.  Turns out they took our garbage and left the goodies.  Lucky folks!) You can also try garage sales and thrift stores, but that involves spending money, and I know I don't have any.

7) If you're feeling inadequate, buy some holiday nog and drink some.  But only buy it on sale. Or ask your mother to give it to you.

Hope this helps, broke people of America!  Even us little peoples can enjoy Christmas decor!
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