Monday, April 29, 2013

Scents of Childhood

A couple weekends ago, we had a few friends over for some Saturday morning socializing. Now that we have a new oven, I wanted to bake something tasty. I'd been thinking about cinnamon bread since Easter, so I wanted to bake either a New York Crumb cake or a cinnamon sugar pull-apart bread. Joy the Baker's pull-apart bread won.

While baking the bread was baking, John commented that the kitchen smelled like Cleveland. Meaning, it was smelling like something my Mom would bake (apple pie, anyone?). My Mom and I were texting back and forth at this point and I told her what I was baking and John's observation. She responded that Grandma (her mom) would have loved it.

And it clicked. My grandma would bake and bring cinnamon bread to brunch-y family gatherings like Easter or Mother's Day. While we had strata at Easter, there wasn't any cinnamon bread.

Like John, the smell of the cinnamon sugar pull-apart bread reminded me of my Mom's baking during Thanksgiving and Christmas. And it had me thinking, what sort of scented memories will we create with our daughter? I imagine the cookies and pies we'll bake together in the future. And I bet the smell of garlic and onions will permeate her childhood.

As for the pull-apart bread, I didn't make any changes to Joy the Baker's recipe, so here it is for your baking pleasure. The only thing I recommend doing is placing a baking sheet below the loaf pan while the bread is baking. The cinnamon sugar and butter between the layers of dough bubbled over started smoking...oops.

Do you have any favorite smells from childhood?
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Thursday, April 25, 2013

Saving Money for a Rainy Day

Who knew we'd be taking the phrase literally? The past week has been quite eventful thanks to torrential downpours in Chicago. Last Thursday morning, John woke up at 3am and heard some strange noises coming from the basement. Turns out a pipe for our sump pump burst and water was spraying out of the drainage well and all over the basement. And since the sump pumps connected to that pipe were compromised, water started pooling on the basement floor.

John yelled upstairs to wake me up. I began calling plumbers at 3:30am while he tried to stop the leak. I left several voicemails and finally talked with someone at 3:45am who could be at our house in 10 or 15 minutes, but not before talking with a plumber that said he could be there at 6 or 6:30am. And no, he wasn't servicing anyone at the time. Dude, if you're answering the phone and not working, why can't you come to our house? 

About 15 minutes and $150 later, we had a fixed sump pump pipe. Unfortunately, the inflow of water was still too much for our sump pumps. At its worst, the water was about ankle-deep. We were bailing water into 45 gallon storage tubs and tried our best to keep the flooding out of the finished part of our basement with towels. At one point, we had 4 of the tubs and our slop sink full of water. That's about 200 gallons of water!

Eventually the water reached the carpet. Once the water level receded, we naively thought we could buy a wet/dry shop vac from Ace Hardware, Home Depot, Target, Menard's, or anywhere else on such short notice! Thankfully, a neighbor (without water in their basement) lent us one. 

In addition to the shop vac, we had two fans and our dehumidifier running to dry out the basement. We (Yes, I helped do all of this while 34 weeks pregnant. No I didn't go into pre-term labor) also pulled up the carpet that morning and threw out the soggy carpet padding. Thanks to our quick work, we were able to save the carpet itself and later replaced the carpet padding.

As for the unfinished part of the basement, John mopped the floor a few times with antibacterial liquid cleaner. He also sprayed the affected area with liquid bleach. Even though the fans were running and the windows were open, I made sure to stay out of the basement.

All in all, the only thing we lost was a box of textbooks John used to study for an insurance designation. John's fortuitous trip to the bathroom in the middle of the night definitely saved us. Plus, most of the stuff near the sump pump was in the giant plastic storage containers. John joked that a flooded basement is like a homeowners' right of passage. I hope we never have this problem again, but we'll probably get a wet/dry shop vac and a few more shelves and plastic storage bins just to be sure. And now we know which plumber to call in an emergency.
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Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Prayers for Boston

I was thinking about writing about baked goods or something baby-related, but it didn't seem right in light of yesterday's events at the Boston Marathon. While I've been saddened by other recent tragedies, this one hit me differently.

I've been to Boston and have seen the Finish Line painted on Boylston Street.

I know friends that have qualified for and run the Boston Marathon. A friend's husband was running yesterday and (thank goodness for social media updates) they're safe and back home.

And being a runner, I can't imagine this sort of thing happening while finishing the Chicago Marathon. And having trained for a marathon, I'd be disappointed and angry if I couldn't finish after putting in all of the hard work because of a bomb.

While reading news updates, I kept thinking, "Who would do such a thing at a marathon?" And at Boston. The race that runners train for years in the hopes of qualifying. And why would someone do this at the finish line when the charity runners and other "regular" runners were finishing?

These events also make me sad to know that our baby girl will grow up in a world where we have to worry about school shootings and other random acts of violence.

On the positive side, there are so many stories of runners, spectators, race volunteers, and random individuals coming together and running into the smoke and mayhem to help the injured. The news blurb that touched me the most was hearing of runners crossing the finish line and continuing to run to the hospital to donate blood. I could barely walk after finishing a marathon, so if that was me, I hope I would have the strength to do the same.

Please keep the city of Boston and those affected by this disaster in your prayers.
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Thursday, April 11, 2013

My Signature Accessory

Chicago earrings by urbanite jewelry, Banana Republic Evan canvas satchel,
J. Crew neon pink Darby leather loafers, Old Navy striped gauze dress

As I've mentioned a time or two before, I have a bit of a thing for pink shoes. One might say they (or scarves) could be my signature accessory. Just this past week I've worn two different pairs of pink shoes. Pink sandals to a baby shower and pink flats to work. The pink flats definitely helped me feel put together after a less than restful night. I woke up at 4am to go to the bathroom, tried to go to sleep, and then decided I needed a snack. Which prompted our daughter to have a 4:30am dance party in utero. I may have had bags under my eyes the next day, but at least my outfit looked good!

If I didn't have to worry about swelling feet, I'd love to make a pair of those J. Crew neon pink loafers my own. I'm sure we'd have all sorts of fun together dressing up and dressing down. Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, they're all out of my size.

Playing with accessories has also been a life-saver with extending my maternity wardrobe. My sister gave me a (now retired) Jess LC silk scarf for Christmas, which I recently wore with a basic black T-shirt. Instant outfit upgrade!

Do you have a signature accessory?

Have a great Friday and stellar weekend!

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Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Price Matching is the Best

Hey there! How was your weekend? We had baby shower #2 and are feeling completely showered with love. Our baby girl is one lucky lady :)

Now that the two big showers are under our belt, we have a better idea about what we need to buy and have on hand to bring our baby home from the hospital. One thing I wanted to get sooner rather than later was our stroller: an orange BOB Revolution SE, to be specific.

We're registered at Buy Buy Baby, where the price of the stroller is the most expensive ($450). Fortunately Buy Buy Baby price matches, so I checked things out online. Amazon had a great price of $319, so I brought the Amazon listing showing a price of $319 with us. Buy Buy Baby matched the price right at the register.

What's better is that they accepted a 20% off coupon on top of the price! So the $450 stroller now only cost $255 before tax, plus we didn't have to wait for the stroller to be shipped.

In addition to baby gear, we bought a new oven this past week. Our old oven started beeping and showing an error message in the middle of the night. We eventually had to unplug the oven to stop the beeping. It was a nice little reality check because we won't be able to "unplug" a crying baby in the middle of the night.

Back to the topic at hand...a repair man checked out the oven and told us the replacement part would be about $250 before labor. Totally not worth it for our 1990's oven. John researched new ovens and found a middle-of-the-road (and reasonably priced) stainless steel GE oven at H.H. Gregg. At the time, the list price was $800, but on sale for $740. We knew that H.H. Gregg price matched, so we did one last Google search before heading to the store. Turns out, the same oven was on sale (but only available online) for $719 at Home Depot. Regardless of where we purchased the oven, we wanted to check it out in person before buying it.

Buying from H.H. Gregg ended up being the best of both worlds because we got the lower Home Depot price and the free (after rebate) H.H. Gregg delivery, haul away, and installation. All we had to do was print off the Home Depot price for a little price matcheroo.

The moral of today's story is to check if a store will match competitor prices. We ended up saving $212 (before taxes and the 20% off coupon to Buy Buy Baby) just by spending a few extra minutes going a quick search of prices. That's much more efficient and effective than driving out of your way to save 5 or 10 cents on a gallon of gas!

Do you have a price matching victory story to share?
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Thursday, April 4, 2013

Ham and Cheddar Cheese Strata

Phew! I finally feel like I've recovered from Easter weekend in Cleveland! Between the traveling, eating, socializing, eating, sleeping in a different bed, more eating, and being pregnant, I was feeling a little off kilter. Though it was totally worth it to spend time with my family and celebrate Easter together.

My Mom made this strata with Canadian bacon and cheddar cheese for brunch on Easter. I think the first (and maybe last) time I made strata was in college for a women's swim team brunch. I'd love to make it more often, but we don't usually have a big group at our house for breakfast or brunch on the weekends. And I don't trust myself with having such a large pan of goodness sitting around.

In addition to being in Cleveland for Easter, we also had our first baby shower! Which had me feeling a little emotional and anxious because we're now less than two months away from the due date and there's still so much to do! After our second baby shower, I anticipate going into full-fledged nesting mode.
Maybe I should make another strata to keep my strength up ;)

Ham and Cheddar Cheese Strata
6 slices Texas toast (or other thick bread)
2 cups cheddar cheese
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 pound total of any combination of diced Canadian bacon, ham, or cooked bacon
6 eggs
2 cups milk
1/2 cup diced fresh onion (or 2 to 3 tablespoons dried onion)
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon dill weed
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
Preheat the oven to 350*.
Grease a 9x13 inch glass baking pan.
Place the bread at the bottom of the glass baking pan.
Layer with 1 cup cheddar cheese, 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, and the meat.
In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, onion, salt, dill weed, dry mustard, and Worcestershire sauce.
Pour the egg mixture over the bread.
Top with the remaining cheese.
Bake for 45 - 55 minutes, or until the strata is puffed and set in the center. Let stand 5 - 10 minutes before cutting.
Note: The strata can be prepared the night before and baked in the morning. Simply prepare the whole dish, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate. You will probably have to increase the baking time.

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