Saturday, February 27, 2010

Good books

Again with the travel talk. I know it's getting to be pretty frequent on this blog that I talk about past, upcoming and dream trips. It shouldn't be surprising then that my current reading materials consist of travel narratives. I like reading about travel, whether it be an actual guide book, articles in magazines or snarky tales of travel gone bad.

Two authors that stand out as my favorites for not-your-average-travel-narratives are Chuck Thompson and J. Maarten Troost. Both tell hilarious but true (or at least mostly true) tales of adventure and mishaps while traveling and living abroad.

I read Smile While You're Lying on the plane to and from Colorado last weekend and it was really good. As a traditional travel writer for an array of publications, Thompson was tired of glossing everything over and not telling the more interesting and colorful tales, so he wrote this book. I have a few of these tales myself - losing my friend down a dark alley in Bangkok, getting bit by a gibbon in Phuket and many more. These are the stories that, at the time scare the hell out of you but you know, should you make it out unscathed, are going to be a great story later. After all, my motto is "bad decisions make good stories!"

I am now reading Thompson's newest effort, To Hellholes and Back. The author decides to take on his four most dreaded locations that he's managed to avoid through decades of traveling and writing. I've only made it though the Congo section (where the story of a near witnessing of a hippo fight had me in tears from laughing so hard) but I am really look forward to the rest of the book. I can't wait to hear what happened in India, Mexico City and, of all places, Disney World. I highly recommend this book.

The only other travel narratives that I have read and loved as much as Thompson's hilarious tales are by J. Maarten Troost. The author penned Getting Stoned with Savages (best one), Sex Lives of Cannibals (still great) and Lost on Planet China (least favorite, but still a good book).

Do you have the bug?

It's no secret that I have the travel bug so I was really excited to be invited to apply, then accepted as a Lonely Planet Travelers' Pulse panelist. Basically you take a short survey on your traveling history and habits and if they don't already have too many people of your demographic, you're in. If you're accepted they'll send you a free Lonely Planet calendar and start emailing you surveys about travel and guide books. I took my first survey yesterday. I must admit, I am a sucker for surveys and enjoy taking them, but I think these are especially fun because you get to take a trip down memory lane while filling them out.

They will also send you promotion, discounts and deals. Plus, when you take most surveys, you're entered into prize drawings for Lonely Planet products and Amazon gift cards. Everyone loves to win and get free things!

If you think you'd like to join Travelers' Pulse too, click here to apply. You've got nothing to lose; even if you don't qualify, they'll give you a discount to the online Lonely Planet shop. Good luck!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

I'm back

I've been MIA from this blog more and more lately, but I think it's time to get back into the swing of things. This weekend (Sat-Tues) I took a mini vacation to Colorado Springs to visit friends. I really wanted it to be a brain vacation as well. No thinking or complaining about work, money, health issues, chores, to-do lists or anything day-to-day really. For the most part, it was a success. Thanks, Staci, for the brain vacation and couple days of sloth. It was much needed and I am feeling refreshed and ready to take on the world again.

I know a lot of bloggers have a more strict routine than I do (i.e. Mondays are for recipes, Tuesdays are for product reviews, etc.) I don't do that well with routines, rules and restrictions. I am more of a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants kind of gal. But lately I've been thinking that this blog needs a little more structure. I'm thinking I'd like to keep the variety in the types of posts, just have them be a little more structured time-wise so I can plan better and you readers can have a tiny bit of predictability from me.

Topics I definitely intend to keep are recipes, DIY projects, my Etsy site and fabulous finds/wants. Any suggestions for things you'd like to see? Don't want to see? Would it be best to separate themes out by days or just be sure to have X amount per month of each subject? I need feedback!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Eat this, not that

We've been in a dinner funk lately. Every night it's a struggle to figure out something to make. I feel like "Dinner? We just ate dinner yesterday! Do we have to do it again?" I found a recipe for Spanakopita (Greek spinach pie) online that had potential but wasn't quite there. I asked my friend Andrea, also known as the Kitchen Witch, if she had any suggestions. She had several but the one that sold me was to switch out half the spinach for artichokes. The end result of combining the online recipe, my own ideas and Andrea's suggestions was delicious.

For some reason I cannot seem to remember the name spanakopita. I keep thinking spina bifida, which is clearly not right! Anyway, here's the recipe so you can try spanakopita, not spina bifida.
  • 1 (10 ounce) packages chopped spinach, thawed, drained and squeezed dry 
  • 1 can artichokes, diced
  • 3 green onions, chopped
  • 4 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 cup cottage cheese
  • 1 (4 ounce) package crumbled feta cheese
  • 1/2 cup mozzarella 
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon dill
  • 10 sheets phyllo dough, thawed
  • Cooking Spray or melted butter
  1. Preheat oven to 350*
  2. Spray an 8x8 baking dish with cooking spray. In a medium bowl, stir together all the ingredients except the phyllo dough spray/butter.
  3. Lay one sheet of phyllo in the baking dish, allowing edges to hang over. Spray completely with cooking spray or brush with butter. Repeat with 4 more sheets of phyllo, spraying and alternating the direction of each sheet. Transfer spinach mixture to phyllo lined dish. Spray and layer remaining sheets as directed for bottom layer. Turn in edges to form a rim. Spray rim and top layer.
  4. Bake for 35-45 minutes or until golden brown. Let stand 15 minutes before slicing into 4-6 pieces. 
This was super simple to make and one of my first tries with phyllo dough. It's a really fun ingredient that seems to have great results. I think I'll use some of the extra to make turnovers. Mmmm.

Ronald Raygun

Winter brings out the grump in me and I have a tendency to get pretty down on Iowa and the frozen tundra - I mean the Midwest. The reality is that it's not so bad and I actually love some aspects: the downtown farmers market, the genuinely nice people (most of them, anyway) and several of the local restaurants and stores are really unique and wonderful.
There's a t-shirt store in the East Village of Des Moines called Raygun. Their shirts are mostly Iowa/Midwest themed and always snarky. They used to be called Smash, but as the t-shirt above explains, they had to change it. We have several of their shirts at home and have given even more as gifts. Every last one cracks me up. 

I have this one. You've seen my picture and know just how gansta I am. 

This one we gave to a friend who lives in Colorado, but has lived in Iowa before.

My parents have a lake house in Missouri, so I bought this one for my dad for Father's Day so he can wear it down there.

 If you have an Iowa or Midwest connection, or even if you don't, check out Raygun's website. If nothing else, they are good for a laugh.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Unpack, repack

I like to go. Don't really care where or when you're going, but I'll go with. Visiting your great uncle in Prague? I'm in. Job interview in San Francisco? Take me with. Destination wedding in Jamaica? I want to be your date. Going to the bathroom? Um, well, that's a bit awkward, but I supposed I'll go too.

My favorite pastime? Shopping for plane tickets to anywhere. I get on kicks and right now it's Spain and Morocco tickets and anywhere else that has a good deal. I day dream of cheap tickets and more vacation time. I treasure my passport stamps and travel photos. So far I've hit over half the states and 3 of the 6 visitable (is that a word?) continents.

The problem with this hobby, or possibly addiction, is that the closest "international" airport is Des Moines and although I really like flying in and out of there, it's very small - two terminals small. Typically it's pricey too. We're 2 hours from Omaha, but that airport isn't much better. 3 hours to Minneapolis and 5 to Chicago, but who wants to get off a flight only to have to spend hours more in the car in order to be home? Not me. I've done it a few times and unless the ticket price difference is HUGE, I'm not doing it again.

Some of my favorite people in the world live in Colorado Springs. Unfortunately, the COS airport is just as small and pricey as Des Moines and going between the two always costs significantly more than making the 11 hour drive. I was super surprised when my friend said she found me a cheap ticket for the end of this month, but it was a weekend we have company coming from out of state, so I couldn't go. I started looking for other weekends and found a round trip ticket for this Saturday through Tuesday for $180! That is about 1/2 the price I've ever seen them. So I bought it over lunch and head out Saturday morning. Hooray! Ready or not, here I come Staci & Andrea.

I just got back from California, less than two weeks ago. There are a still a few random items in my suitcase from LA that I can just leave in for this trip. My coworkers think I'm a little crazy, but I don't care. I love to go - anywhere, any time.

Bulguksa Temple in the North Gyeongsang province of South Korea

Riding an elephant through the jungle in southern Thailand

Mayan ruins at Tulum in Mexico

That looks familiar

I'm on Tip Junkie today!

Imagine my surprise when I opened an email titled "Home Decor Wall Art Ideas" and saw my living room wall! I'm the 4th picture. There is also a link this post on my blog.

There are several other really great ideas for affordable DIY art. I love typography so I think my favorite (besides mine, of course!) is How Does She...'s ABCs with vinyl
It could be very cute in a child's room too. 

Anyway, check it out. Thanks, Laurie.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Lessons learned

Top 10 things I learned in & about L.A.

10. LAX is not as bad or confusing as people tell you it is.
9. I once read a post by a New Yorker that claimed Des Moines has a creepy lack of graffiti, California has a strange (but wonderful) lack of litter
8. Driving a Malibu through Malibu is apparently tacky, better rent a Bently
7. 55 degrees and drizzle qualifies for a "major winter storm"
6. California sets their speed limits too high, but surprisingly everyone understands this and goes about 5 under every where you go
5. That shirt that is $150 on Rodeo Drive is $15 on Melrose and just as cute, but the store is right next to the friendly neighborhood S&M shop
4. Driving in LA is not terrible but it's best if you bring Mary Poppins (or another strangely named GPS)
3. If it is below 70 degrees, all females must wear tights with a skirt and snow boots
2. Unlike Des Moines, if you think that's Snoop Dogg in the airport, it probably is
1. The weird man standing outside the restaurant you are eating in may put on a Statue of Liberty costume and dance on the corner down the block

Welcome back to the frozen tundra

I'm back from California and I have to say, I'm not that happy about it. It's 50 degrees colder here and we got another 8-10 inches of snow while I was gone. But California was amazing and beautiful and fun. I want to go back soon; I'd go this weekend if I could.

On Saturday morning we got up, had some coffee and headed out shopping. Our first stop was Mood - the fabric store in Project Runway. I've been to the Mood in NYC and was expecting something similar. It was, but on a much smaller scale, which didn't stop me from spending an hour and a half in there!

Then we went shopping on Melrose in West Hollywood. I think this was the best shopping of the trip. Lots of smaller boutiques, reasonable prices and unique finds. This area is a little racy, so maybe not the best place to take the kids shopping.

We went to Kamin, a Thai fusion restaurant in LA for lunch. It was very good and very affordable. We had salads, pad thai and kai kua. It was supposed to rain all day on Saturday, but we were lucky and the only time it rained was when we were in the restaurant eating lunch.

After lunch we headed to Santa Monica to Main Street for more shopping and wandering. The shopping was good but the wandering was better. It was 65 degrees and mostly sunny. We are used to living in the frozen tundra and it felt like summer. The locals, however, didn't seem that impressed with the weather and were dressed rather warmly in our opinion. We got the giggles when we saw a woman wearing her snow boots, down coat, mittens and stocking cap. It's all relative and depends on what you are acclimated to, but that seemed a little extreme.

Saturday afternoon we were tired from all the walking and shopping, so we hopped in the car, turned on the GPS and just drove around. We ended up in Tonpanga State Park. We drove through on Decker Canyon Road and came back on Mulholland Hwy. It was beautiful. Mountains and valleys and amazing views of the ocean and Malibu. We even saw a mountain goat. We decided he or she must have been a wealthy movie star goat in order to be able to afford to live in Malibu.

We stopped in Malibu on our way back into LA for dinner at Plate. I had seafood black spaghetti with shrimp, squid, fish, mussels and enoki mushrooms in lobster sauce. Very, very tasty and not that expensive. I think it was about $60 for both of us to have dinner and wine.

On Sunday, we drove north on the Pacific Coast Highway. We went through Santa Barbara all the way up to San Luis Obispo. The entire drive there and back was beautiful. Mountains, coast, valleys, vineyards as far as the eye can see, strawberry and cauliflower farms, cities and more. It was a long drive, but totally worth it.

I have recently become obsessed with San Luis Obispo and really want to go and see it. It's a fairly small community in a breathtaking area, about half way between LA and San Francisco. It is home to California Polytechnic State University and a community college, so it's a pretty young population. The shopping and food in the "college town" area were great. My suspicions were confirmed: I could definitely live there.

On Monday we had a big breakfast at the Omelet Parlor in Santa Monica. Another place I'd highly recommend. For $10 we got enormous omelets, fruit, potatoes and an English muffin. It is a good thing we ate so much for breakfast because the plane trip home ended up taking about 3 more hours than expected, but that's a long story for another time.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Oh how I miss you

Stilettos, peep toes, sandals, flip flops, sling backs and wedges. I long for your shiny patent leather, strappy sexiness and daring heights. I miss how you make my very short legs look long (well, at least longer) and sleek. I long to see painted toe nails peeking out. I want to hear the "flip flop flip flop" sounds of thongs. No more black and brown, I want red, pink, purple and blue!

This has been a brutal winter. Early December brought us so much snow that we haven't seen the ground since. Des Moines broke the record for the most days in a row to have at least 5" of snow on the ground, and keeps breaking it everyday. The few places that aren't buried in snow are covered in ice and I have been forced to alternate mostly between four pairs of boots: two pairs of snow boots and two pairs of ankle boots with low heels. My feet are sad and drab.

Although I do not miss my last job, I do miss having covered parking and a skywalk so I could wear whatever shoes I wanted to work without having to worry about falling on the ice and breaking a leg or freezing my toes off.

I am a bargain shopper and love a good sale but one of the things on my bucket list is to blow an exorbitant amount of money on an amazing pair of shoes. I'm talking about some Jimmy Choo's or Manolo Blahnik's that cost the same as a mortgage payment. If tomorrow, I should get hit by a bus and not achieve this goal, please use some of my life insurance policy to buy me a pair to be buried in.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

268 days!

I am considering being Medusa, Urusla from The Little Mermaid, Malecifant from Sleeping Beauty. Apparently I am feeling like a villainess this year. The problem with these costumes is that we host a big Halloween party every year. In order to be a good hostess, I can't have a really cumbersome costume and I don't like to wear things over/on my head except witch hats. I also dislike face/body paint. For liking Halloween and costumes so much, I sure do have a lot of restrictions and dislikes!

I need ideas for villainesses that don't require face paint or elaborate headdresses. Ideas?

Here's a list of things I can remember off the top of my head that I've been for Halloween as an adult: Cheer Bear from the Care Bears, Velma from Scooby Doo, a witch (several times), Mrs. Lovett, Sally from Nightmare Before Christmas and the Queen of Hearts. I know there are more but I can't think of them right now. 

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Only 269 days

Until Halloween! I know that's really not a normal countdown to start in February, but it's already on my mind. I make my Halloween costumes and sometimes they get a little elaborate. If I don't get started early enough, I run out of time. Typically it's about this time of year when I decide what the next costume will be. This year, I'm stumped. The past two Halloweens, I used Helana Bonham Carter characters as inspiration.

Witch in 2007

The only idea I've come up with so far is Medusa and I'm not that enthusiastic about it. I was a Carebear with a group of 3 others back in college, so I was trying to come up with 80s cartoon inspiration too. Maybe Judy Jetson? My fall back is typically a witch because I love witch hats and I could never have to many. It's hard to justify buying a new one if I'm not going to dress up as a witch for Halloween though! Ideas?

Monday, February 1, 2010

I've got what you want

I have been neglecting my sewing machine and my Etsy shop since Christmas. I had so many orders to fulfil in November and December that I think I ended up getting a little burned out. I have a dozen totes in the shop right now and tons of fabric at home, waiting to be totes. This week I am guessing I won't have anything new because we leave on vacation on Friday! HOORAY! Cabin fever has set in and we're ready to get some warm air. The forcast is for mid 60s in LA, but that still about 50 degrees warmer than we're used to right now. I can't wait!


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