Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Kids Say the Darndest Things

Kids say the dardnest things.  While this one isn't so much of a "oh that's so cute" thing, it's more along the lines of "girlfriend, you have no idea".

In Northern Minnesota over Labor Day weekend we were told of the most amazing sandy beach, recommended by our front desk clerk.  A beach where all of the summer resort employees and locals go about 20 minutes away.  Yes please!  That's the one I want!  Screw the tourist shenannigans.

While relaxing in the shallow water I noticed (hard not to) my husbands visually appalling feet.  I find they represent hard work and being outside a lot in the summer, but, I'm sure others would be more inclined to describe them differently.  As we were in shallow water on a 100% sand beach I scooped up some wet sand, put it on his feet and told him to rub his feet with it. And here comes the choir:

Dialog:
Eight year old girl (who doesn't think we can hear her 15 feet away): "Ewwwww!  That's disgusting!"

My initial reaction was "Yeah, feet are disgusting.." then I realized it.  She was freaked out by the wet sand!  While I could have explained this on the beach to her, to avoid confronting a child in a public place and her mother calling the cops, I thought my message would be better represented in a letter to her on my blog.

Letter 
From: Ann Marie 
To: Eight Year Old Girl Who Things Sand On Feet is Disgusting

Dearest grasshopper with so much more to learn,

So you think that sand on feet is disgusting, huh?  Girlfriend, you're in for a big shock about the real world.  In less than 10 years from now you'll likely be asked a question that will define your arrival into womanhood, "Would you like a deluxe pedicure or just the regular?".  You will answer "Deluxe".  Because damnit, you deserve it.

Then, not only will they slop wet sand on your feet.  They will proceed to slop warm mud on your feet and legs, vicariously shred the bottom and sides of your feet with a tool (that I'm still not entirely convinced isn't a kitchen microplane at some spa locations) and nine times out of ten, burn your feet and legs with those too damn hot towels.

So, the next time you go into that spa you'll tell yourself "I'm not going to get the deluxe pedicure.  I came in here for the $22 midweek pedicure and by god that's what I'm walking out with".  The thing is, you're wrong.  They will ask the age-old question mid way through (what you indicated was a regular pedicure in the beginning), "Would you like a deluxe pedicure or just the regular?".  They will always make you feel like a second class citizen with the infliction in their voice when they ask, to make you feel JUST crappy enough about your life outside of those walls to get the answer that they want.  Then this game will go on, year after year.  Deluxe pedicure after deluxe pedicure.

The best part  is they're not only are they throwing sand and mud on your feet and shredding your feet with kitchen utensil, they're also charging $10 extra to do it each time.

So, hopefully when your day to become a woman is upon you, you will be wise and brave enough to have the same response today on the beach of "Ewwwwwwww!!! That's disgusting!" and save yourself hundreds of dollars over the course of your adult life.

Best of luck, you'll need it.

- Ann Marie

Kitchen Microplane
Foot Microplane, can you see my confusion???








Monday, September 2, 2013

I'm back! But where have I been? Why now?

Q: "Why didn't you blog for soooo long?!".
A: "Ummm...two things."

Q: "Why get back into it now?"
A: "Easy, football season."

While the answers aren't very interesting, it came down to those three things: life, technology and football.

Life & Technology
Here's the background.  I've been working in software sales for nearly two years now.  It's the most fulfilling job I've every had, and the best company I've ever worked for...and is an opportunity of a lifetime.  While it sounds a little cheesy, every week I'm challenged mentally and the people around me are some of the quickest and most talented I've ever worked with.
Just a typical Thursday at my desk, with one of my talented team nehhhhhs.
But we're always "on", even though it's not a requirement.  Everyone has an iPhone, iPad and MacBook, literally.  While we're not required to respond to emails or always be "on", you don't want to let your team or customers down.  Well, last year I found myself checking emails when I normally wouldn't have, responding to requests well after 9:00 at night and making work phone calls while in the car with my family.

Then it started.  The dog got depressed when he saw me pull the computer out and my response time to the husband's questions were delayed and often half baked because of doing two (or five) things at once.  Then the guilt kicked in and it was time.  I deliberately stopped bringing my computer home after work last winter. Admittedly I still checked Facebook, cruised online and read on my Kindle...but work emails, blogging (and anything requiring a keyboard) waited.
Mom, put the computer down and take me outside! Even if it's snowing in May!
In short, it's known disconnecting from technology after work is beneficial, and I've been trying over the last year to get better about it.  Because I do NOT want to be one of those people addicted to their smartphone that live for picture to post to Facebook and Twitter (instead of the actual moments).

While I had a lot less to blog about because I wasn't snapping pictures or being obsessed about taking notes while out to dinner, it was a great reality check on what's important, and based on my other obligations, blogging did not make the list at that time.  But why am I picking the baton back up if I had such a great time fully engaged in real life?  
Living in the moment....hotdog leg style.

Football
NFL football is why I'm back to blogging.  For the next 17 weeks have all day Sunday, Monday nights (and for half the season) Thursday nights of quality time to myself (outside of when the Packers play).

Thanks for understanding everyone!  
While my posts may not be as detailed as they have been in the past, I'm going to do my best to provide my readers (by readers I mean my family...literally) with some exciting adventures, misadventures, commentaries and reviews in the coming weeks!  Thanks everyone!

PS: To the best of my knowledge and records, I've updated my 2012-2013 reading list.  While there aren't full reviews, feel free to check the updated list out!

Thursday, January 31, 2013

"Raving Fan" of Audible

For two years, 1.5 hours of my day were filled with: idiot drivers, post snow storm rush hour traffic, BMW drivers that thought they owned the road, white knuckles, a clenched jaw, and a rather well exercised middle finger.  Because of this commute, those of you that knows me well, knows that this is how I learned to love me some Audible.

Well, since my commute has been cut down dramatically...so has my audiobook time.  Which is clearly good and bad.  It's now gotten to the point where I've reached my max in roll over Audible credits, and am making sometimes unwise choices about purchasing audiobooks when I need to burn credits.

Crap...I need to burn some of these credits! 
So as I was going to explore my options to cancel on the site, I came across something that quickly changed my mind and reminded me again as to how I originally fell in love with Audible.com.  Their stellar as hell customer service, great pricing for members, and shockingly fair and logical policies.


This makes way too much sense to have no "gotchas", right? 

Oh yeah, and there is a phone number that you can actually call and talk to a person about getting your credit back on the the audiobook that you don't like!  At anytime!  


Talk to a real, live, person?  Anytime?  Can it be true?

What's even crazier is that it all worked like they said it would.  

I called the number above at 9:00 PM CST.  A live person picked up.  I talked to them about how disappointed in myself I was about over-committing to the Game of Thrones series (and sounded like a crazy cat lady)...and that I wanted to know if I would be able to trade books 2, 3 and 4 in for other books.  They said "absolutely", let me know that the books would no longer be in my library, that I would be seeing credits on my account and we cordially parted ways.  Then as soon as I got off the phone I refreshed my browser...and it was already done!  The credits had been applied to my account within seconds.  

Honestly, how can I unsubscribe when I have an experience like that?  I just won't do it.

Moral of the story: If all of the places people spent their hard earned money had customer service like this, the world would be a much happier place.  

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Extreme Makeover: Entertainment Room

Blah.  That was the feeling that came over me when I thought of our downstairs.

Ever since Adam removed the sports memorabilia on the walls, they have stood naked.  It's been over five years since the walls were painted, they have lived through many roommate moves and there was enough tan in that room to make even Snooki jealous.

Tan couch, tan wall, wood built ins, wood trim...make it stop already!
Don't mind my little helper.
When I asked Adam about re-doing the downstairs after he removed his sports stuff, he told me that I couldn't paint, but that I could decorate the walls.  Well, quite frankly, the walls were what killed me the most.  No matter how many times I begged, the answer was still "no" week after week.  So what does one do in that situation?

Then the light bulb went off.  Well, as long as Adam wasn't the one that had to paint...then it was probably alright.  Right?  So why not just wait until he's out of town and then re-do the whole downstairs?  He'll be so happy that he didn't have to do anything...and he'll love it!  Can you tell that I'm a newly wed yet?

In the weeks following up to his trip I picked up ideas on Pintrest, made a list of "to do" bought some things off of Etsy, made some trips to Home Goods and made my final stop at Target and Home Depot.  
I might have done a project management course or two in my day...
Then the weekend came.  Instead of leaving on Friday he announced the night before that he wasn't leaving until Saturday morning and was coming back on Sunday afternoon.  This put a HUGE wrench in my plans, as you can see from my timeline.  

But, good thing I have great friends! While this wasn't the original intention of my friends coming over, Terren and Amber saved the day.  We got the room painted by the time we went to bed Saturday night and decorations hung on Sunday morning.  Only thing left was "the big reveal" to Adam!  I was so excited! 

Here's how it went: 
Adam arrives home, hungover with 4-6 hours of sleep.  
Ann Marie:  "I want to show you the crafts that me and Wallace did this weekend!".  
Adam: "Sounds great! I know you were excited to decorate for Christmas!"
We walk downstairs
Ann Marie: "Tah dah!!!"
Adam: Looks around with a serious look on his face,  "What did you do?"
Ann Marie: "Do you like it?"
Adam:  "Didn't I tell you not to paint?  I hate the color.", turns around, shakes head, walks back upstairs and takes a shower.

Now that went well (NOT).  The good news is, after the hangover wore off he admitted he liked it and was very happy with what we had done.  While next time I will consult with the other half about large design decisions before making them, this time, it turned out great!
Tah dah!  Oh wait, you hate it?  Oh, fabulous
Purchased a large stencil to stencil the backdrop of the book shelf and a pillow case to match, with Martha Stewart gold paint
Lamp, shade, frame, and bookshelf from Target.  You can see the stenciling a little better here.  The Christmas decor is from antique shopping in St. Cloud.  
Frames and TV tray from Target, prints from Dizzy Rhino Designs, has a store on Etsy
And they lived happily ever after in their new entertainment room..luckily!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Homemade Basic Potato Soup

I openly admit it and everyone close to me knows it.  I have a soup addiction.  This time of year is always quite difficult for me.  Especially when it snows.  Being trapped in our house with heavy snow falling outside, with the temptation of homemade soup is like brining an alcoholic to an all-you-can-drink New Year's party.  It's just not a good place for me.  With the 15+ inches we got this weekend, I did what I do best.  I made WAY too much soup.
Snow = Soup, Soup = Leftover, Leftovers = Wallace's Favorite
What I'm sharing below is by no means a perfectly measured recipe.  But in order to be a become a good cook, you need to taste your food.  Which is highly encourage towards the end of this recipe.  Also, this is "pick your own adventure" base soup that can be made to include your personal favorites from the list below.

Basic Potato Soup
Serves 8
Print a copy of this recipe here

Ingredients
4 medium russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 inch cubes
5 strips of bacon, diced
8 TBSP butter
Flour
10 cups milk
2 TBSP dry sherry
Chicken bouillon - to taste
Salt - to taste
Pepper - to taste

Choose your adventure options:
Onion (cook with roux), frozen corn, frozen peas, cubes of ham, frozen broccoli, shredded parmesan, shredded cheddar, green onions, dill, parsley

Directions

  1. In a small pan, fry bacon until brown and crispy.  Reserve grease and bacon bits.
  2. In the bottom of a large pot, melt the butter at medium heat.  When melted, gradually add flour one tablespoon at a time, while whisking continuously to create a roux.  Shouldn't need more than 6-8 TBSP of flour but may vary slightly.  Your end roux should look like the picture below.
  3. One cup at a time, add milk and whisk.  
  4. Add potatoes, bacon, bacon grease, dry sherry, salt and pepper.  Don't over do the salt at this point since you can always add it at the end.  Cook on medium heat for 20-30 minutes until you can easily stab the potatoes with a fork.  
  5. Add your "adventure" options.  I usually do the following (corn and cheddar) or (peas and parmesan).  Cook until all ingredients are warm.  
  6. Garnish and serve!

Here is a picture of what your goal roux should look like
Potato soup with peas, green onions and parsley

Monday, December 10, 2012

"Outlander" by Diana Gabaldon

Where Did I Find This?
I found out about the Outlander series from an old coworker of mine, Stephanie.  Since we have a similar taste in books and love for historic fiction, I knew I had to check it out.

What is the Book About?
Outlander is the first of seven novels under the same name.  Claire Randall and her husband Frank retreat to the Scottish highland in order to rekindle their marriage after being separated for years by World War II.  Frank, being a history professor, is excited to learn more about his ancestral roots linked to the area.

With Frank is occupied with old paperwork and dusty bookshelves, Claire decides to go and check out Craigh na Dun, a group of old standing stones, to find a rare flower that she is interested in.  While it's rumored to have been linked to mysterious powers and pagan rituals, who can really believe all of that?

While collecting the plant specimens, Claire starts to feel dizzy.  When she fully wakes, things look the same but different.  The landscape looks strange. Then, the people that she meets in the next hour spin her life in a completely different direction than what she was intending.  In the year 1743, 200 years before the morning that she had woken up from.

Would You Recommend it to Others? 
When I was about half of the way through the novel I recommended it to my grandma.  The woman might be a Catholic saint but I knew that she read novels that had a little bit of romance smut in them.  Right up her alley!

Then it happened about 3/4 of the way through.  Think sadistic, torture, disgusting...and the whole thing was totally unnecessary for me.  In a shocking turn of events, it was no longer grandma appropriate.  I told her at Thanksgiving NOT to get it!  When she asked what it was, I told her that it was too gross to even explain.

I did enjoy the following:
  • The characters
  • Bits of historic information
  • Descriptions of Scotland in the 18th century
  • The love and romance aspects
Liked it so much that I'm reading the second novel.  But, I'm having a hard time deciding if I'll be reading the third...and it all links back to the extremely dark scenes that surround a certain character.

So, while I want to recommend it, I'm just not sure it's possible because of the disturbingly graphic scenes.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Grand Theater, Wausau: Our Wedding Venue

This August we were married and I haven't shared anything about how it went on my blog yet!  So I thought I would do a few posts on some of the highlights and tips that I have for other brides planning their weddings.  First was the venue...and choosing a wedding venue was SUPER duper tough.

Adam and I both grew up in the country but we love our lifestyle in the Twin Cities.  So, picking a wedding venue back in Central Wisconsin was really difficult.  We wanted a vibe that we'd be able to find in Minneapolis but didn't want it to be so cutting edge that we scared our families and friends back home.

So after looking at a lot of expensive and boring bowling alleys, hotels and hall rentals decorated with antlers and cedar logs we had one last place to check out.  While we never knew anyone that's had a wedding there, we toured the ARTsblock/Grand Theater's "Great Hall" in downtown Wausau...and fell in love.
These pictures were taken by me when we were scoping out the location
For the first time throughout the whole venue search I could see myself in a wedding dress and could envision the starlit ceiling, the bar lit up with old neon and our guests hanging out on the patio, and the whole thing finally started came together.  In addition to their gorgeous backdrops, there were a few other things that made the decision easy for us:
  • The staff was extremely accommodating and willing to work with all of my non-standard ideas and requests.
  • The area around the Grand Theater is gorgeous.  Cobblestone streets, a park, a water fountain and a bright red British telephone booth...what more could you ask for?
  • The Grand Theater allowed us to choose our caterer.  While they had a list of preferred vendors, they worked with us and were extremely flexible.  At many other venues you are given a limited list of choices (all of which are typically overpriced).  In those situations, they know that you have to choose one of them and are most times unwilling to negotiate pricing or work with you on a custom menu.
  • You can choose your dessert.  You want an ice cream bar, cookie bar or brownie bar?  Great.  Also, you can choose who you want to cater it.  No cake cutting fees or any of that shenannigans that couples can get wrapped up in.
  • Reasonable alcohol prices.  There were other places that wanted to charge us nearly $4/glass when you take gratuity into consideration, with no options for half barrels.  Based on the fact that we went through six half barrels that evening, and we had warned them that it could that or more, we're confident we made the right choice.
  • We had a rain backup, since we were able to rent out the theater if we needed to with a few days advanced notice
Grand Theater's bathrooms, among many other things, are gorgeous!
The outdoor patio is fenced in and gives your guest a LOT of room to go outside .
So it was decided, the Grand Theater it was!  Now, how in the world am I going to do this?  Since I've never been to a wedding there...I had no ideas to work from and literally started from scratch, and only knew one thing...  DON'T FIGHT THE VENUE.  What I mean by that is:
  • If there is a prevalent color, don't try to pretend it's not there or that you can cover it up
  • If it has a certain style, don't try to pick something drastically different 
  • If it has a certain aspect or flair, don't try to fight it
  • If you don't like what it has to offer, then don't choose it
While I had originally imagined a rustic chic style wedding, that quickly changed when I saw the art deco elegance of the Grand Theater, and I decided not to fight it.  But instead flatter it.  Thus started my "art deco", "theater", "gold" and "1920's" wedding search.  Since I love that time period and musical theater, I decided to 100% embraced the direction that the venue was naturally drawing me towards.

In terms of the themed details, here were a few of my favorites I plan to talk about in other posts:
  • Wedding Playbill
  • Favorite Things Menu
  • Cookie Cart
  • Popcorn Bar
  • Photo Booth

Here's a few of the details in pictures:
Can't wait to share more details in the next few weeks!  Here's the venue information in case you're interested in learning more.