Category Archives: ambitions

one/twenty six: croquembouche

Croquembouche

The Croquembouche is the first of 26 French recipes I’m endeavoring to make before my next birthday. Here you can find my complete list and each recipe I’ve completed so far.

I have to admit that I felt a tad bit silly tackling a croquembouche as my first 26 before 27 installation.    It is, after all, a tower of cream puffs.  I have never made pate a choux, or crème pâtissière. There were a thousand ways this could go wrong (like melting my hand off in boiling sugar) but somehow, everything went smoothly come December 24th. (Did I mention this was the dessert I was preparing for Christmas Eve?)

Croquembouche translates to “crunch in the mouth” and it is characterized by the crunchy caramel that adheres puff to puff and the threads that encircle the tower in a spindly sugar halo.

The first thing I’ll say about a croquembouche is that it is crazy beautiful, and a total conversation starter. However, with its awesomeness comes a certain level of fussiness when it comes to actually eating it. But don’t let that deter you–it was a blast to make (my husband even had fun!) and was far easier to create than I expected!

Here’s the run down on everything I used and everything I learned:

Supplies:

Besides your typical tools (mixing bowls, wooden spoon, etc.) you will also need a large baking sheet, parchment paper or a Silpat, a cake stand or other display, and a pastry bag. You’ll use a 1/2 inch tip to pipe 3/4 inch rounds of choux pastry, and a 1/4 inch tip to fill the puffs. If you’re uncomfortable with a pastry bag, a 1/2 inch cookie dropper works fantastically for forming uniform puffs, and a condiment bottle can be used to pipe the pastry cream. Optional supplies include an oven thermometer (crucial for my oven that runs anywhere from 25 to 50 degrees hot), and a candy thermometer to reference while making the caramel.

Recipes:

The first batch of puffs I made were far to eggy and not sweet at all. I decided to try out another recipe that used fewer eggs and more sugar, but still found the puffs too savory. For the third and fourth batches, I modified the recipe to up the sweetness.

Pate a Choux
Adapted from Martha Stewart
makes 24 puffs

  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 6 eggs plus 1 egg white for wash

Heat oven to 400 degrees. In a saucepan, heat the butter, water, milk, sugar and salt over medium heat. After the butter melts, and just when the mixture starts to boil, remove from heat and add the flour. Mix until incorporated, and return to heat. With a wooden spoon, mix until the dough begins to form a ball and pull away from the sides of the saucepan. Allow the dough to cool until you can handle it with your fingers. Crack six eggs into a separate bowl and give them a mix. Add the equivalent of one egg to the dough and beat. The dough will separate a bit and get slimy, but eventually the egg will incorporate. Continue adding eggs, one at a time, incorporating fully before adding another. If you’re arm feels like it’s going to fall off, you’re doing it right!

After piping (or spooning, if you’re using a cookie dropper) the dough into 3/4 in rounds, mix together one egg white and one teaspoon of water. Smooth the pastry by dipping the back of a spoon into the egg white mixture and lightly coating the tops. Bake on the top rack for 15 minutes. Reduce the heat to 350 degrees and bake for another 30 to 35 minutes, or until the puffs are a golden brown. At this point, turn off the oven and crack the door. After five minutes, open the oven completely and allow the puffs to continue to cool slowly. When the oven is mostly cool, remove the puffs and let them cool completely before filling.

For the pastry cream, I whipped up the Chocolate Pastry Cream from Joy the Baker and a vanilla version from The Kitchn. I followed Joy’s technique for both, though. Both were delicious.

Things I Learned:

1. Vary the Shape and Size of Puffs: Don’t fret if some of your puffs are a little oblong rather than round. While assembling the croquembouche, I found that the occasional ellipse was helpful in filling certain spaces. You will also need to have plenty of smaller puffs. Before filling and assembling, I sorted my puffs into large (for the bottom), medium (for the middle) and small (for the top). Unfortunately, I ran out of pastry cream and only got to fill about 1/4 of the smaller puffs. I thought I’d have enough puffs, so I went ahead and began assembling the croquembouche. Along with the misshapen puffs, tiny puffs would’ve also been handy to help fill gaps after the first level was created and the tower began to take shape. So, make sure you have enough pastry creme to fill all of your puffs before putting the croquembouche together, or fill about the same amount of medium and small puffs.

2. Oven Temperatures are Important: My first two batches kept deflating after removing them from the oven, or would be dreadfully crispy on the bottom and uncooked on top. I learned from this guy that the puffs need a super hot oven at first, and a cooling period. His recommendation for oven temps and times was spot on.

3. You’ll Need a Lot of Puffs: I had exactly 48 puffs, and I deemed about 6 of them unworthy. I got about 3/4 of the way up the cone (just one that I made from poster board) and was out! I had to bring the flat ones and funky shaped ones back in. This was when I learned that funky shapes can be helpful.  The short of it: 48 puffs, using approximately 3/4″ scoop/piping diameter, barely fills a cone that is 11″ tall.

4. A Croquembouche Has a Short Shelf Life: I assembled the croquembouche in about an hour, then photographed it, and then put in on display until dessert. By the time we cracked into it, the caramel had started to melt in the humidity. The time between completion and dessert was 5 hours, but I’m not sure when the sugar started to weep. I certainly would not wait beyond 5 hours, in moderate humidity, to dive in. 

5. Cleaning Up Hardened Caramel is…Hard: Luckily, my husband took on the task while I bustled around prepping the rest of the food for our Christmas Eve dinner. His system: add water to your pot and throw in any sticky utensils, and bring to a boil. Pour out the water and continue the process, melting and diluting the sugar with each round.

For Next Time:

Next time I make choux pastry I’m definitely going to try making it well in advance. I stored my puffs in an airtight container for about a day and a half, letting them get some air to dry out periodically. I would like to try freezing them for a longer period of time.

Croquembouche

Can you squeeze a little room into your New Year’s resolutions for one of these delicious pastries?!

–Cat

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26 before 27

Le Relais Gascon

Another birthday is right around the corner and my heart is all aflutter as I ponder an updated yearly to-do list. (Check out my 25 before 26 list to see last year’s goals!)

The first item on the first draft of this year’s 26 before 27 list was “really, seriously try to master a sewing skill.” Sewing is one of those things I keep thinking I’ll enjoy. I want to sew an elaborate quilt or alter a vintage dress, but the fact is that I can barely sew a straight line–still! And when it comes down to it, I certainly don’t enjoy practicing the skills necessary to be successful at this art form.

I’ve since tossed the first draft and decided to come at my 26 before 27 list from a different angle. What if, this year, I stopped traveling down creative avenues I think I might enjoy eventually and instead, dedicated a whole entire year to something I know I enjoy doing everyday?

Mind. Blown.

If there is one thing in this world I love doing day in and day out, it’s cooking and baking. (I also love shopping equally that much but probably shouldn’t embark on 26-ways-to-end-up-declaring-bankruptcy-before-27!)

I have this strange motivation to master the art of carving a turkey. I’ve penciled my 18th attempt at French macarons into my calendar for next Sunday. I flip over the vibrant colors of fresh vegetables. I feel no stress in the kitchen and often spend an entire weekend in there. I also have a husband that is glad to eat anything and clean up any and all messes I inevitably create in the name of good food. It’s a win-win.

Because I love a good theme, I’ve decided to embark on 26 French recipes. Wes and I spent a couple of days in Paris two years ago, and it was by far my most favorite stop during our belated European honeymoon. Because pastries. And cheese. And wine. And pastries with chocolate. And baguette!

I want to make it all. I’ll start with the following 26:

Baguette

Boeuf Bourguignon

Charlotte

Confit de Canard

Chouquettes

Galette des rois

Coq Au Vin

Crème Brûlée

Croquembouche

Croque Madame

Croque Monsieur

Duck a l’Orange

Éclair

Gratin Dauphinois

Madeleines

Oeufs en Cocotte

Petits Fours

Pot-au-Feu

Quiche Lorraine

Saint Honoré

Soufflé

Soupe a l’Oignon

Tarte aux Fraises

Tarte flambée

Tartelette

*promptly renews gym membership*

…Bon appétit!

reasons why you should get up early

Because coffee is delicious and early bird parking spots are the best.

But if you need a more elaborate argument, read on. This is coming from a night owl who finally learned how to wake up before afternoon o’clock.

…because there is nothing better than sipping a morning beverage in peace and quiet. I do coffee. You might do tea. A hot chocolate definitely has a place here. Brew, sip, think. Letting the day start slowly rather than harried has done wonders for my mental health.

…because you’ll have an endless supply of with-it-ness. Did you know that while studying education, I’ve actually seen the term “with-it-ness” appear in the academic literature? Teachers just have to have it. Have to be on the ball. Be able to multitask. Manage a professional and personal life without missing a beat. So do most professionals. So get up, get organized, and get out the door on time.

…because it allows for more free time in your day. I spend about 30 minutes browsing Instagram, Bloglovin’, and Twitter in the morning, usually while lounging in my covers. It feels lazy but I have time for it because I get up early. Building in the amount of free time that I want helps me choose to do more important things later in the day, like writing this blog post instead of marathoning three Parks and Rec reruns between class.

…because you just get more done. Like making your bed, slashing through your to do list, updating your blog, killing it at work, a coffee break with a good friend, and a quick living room spruce.  Sleep the day away or achieve your dreams. Do it to it!

P.S. On a related note, Joy the Baker and Tracy Shutterbean shared their number one tip for waking up early on the Joy The Baker Podcast. Love those girls!

five ways to be frugal (and still have fun)

If you’ve been reading Goodbye Bernadette lately, you know Wes  and I have embarked on a year long journey to pay off as much of our debt as possible. We are using And Then We Saved as an inspiration and guide. I first blogged about the why’s and wherefore’s here, and this is just a little update about our progress.

The first month was challenging. We quickly learned that curbing our spending would take a lot of conscious effort, a lot of communication, and the ability to move on if we spent a little too much on something we didn’t need. I’ll be the first to admit that I spent every single penny in my coin purse that’s designated for metered parking on coffee from Starbucks! Oops. And when that ran out, I turned to bartering with my sis: one small coffee in exchange for me cleaning her bathroom? Done deal.

As January wore on, however, I got a little more creative and stopped searching the house for nickels and dimes. Here’s four things I’ve been doing to eliminate spending and still enjoy my free time.

1. Find a way to maintain a costly ritual that you truly enjoy. 

I’ll let you in on a little secret. I really (and I mean really) love to grocery shop. I like to go by myself. I like to drive the same route to and from. I like to methodically weave through each aisle. And I really, really  like to buy a small Caribou Coffee to fuel my grocery inspired therapy session. Unfortunately, a weekly $3 is not on the needs list. So, I decided to use  a Starbucks gift card that I got for Christmas to invest in a to-go mug. Now, instead of purchasing coffee, brewing a small pot of my own at home has become a part of my grocery shopping ritual. It doesn’t take long–I just brew while I’m writing my shopping list. Sipping on my coffee while I grocery shop has helped me reframe the chore into something really look forward to each week, and it was important to me that I continued this ritual without spending money!

2. Turn something you consider a need into a luxury.

For me, this was changing up the type of conditioner I buy. Is it just me, or do you also go through your shampoo a million times faster than your conditioner?  It takes me up to six months to use up a full bottle, but I find myself purchasing a new bottle to match my shampoo every month.  (Am I  falling for some sort of sneaky marketing scheme? You bet!) I’ll usually stash the half empty bottle in the bathroom closet, but sometimes, I  throw it away. This is a shameful habit, and I decided to use my new found frugality to try and battle it. So, instead of buying a matching brand of conditioner with every new bottle of shampoo, I’ve decided to opt for a brand or a scent that I find particularly luxurious. Something that’s just a few dollars more. Now, instead of spending $4 every month on conditioner I just waste, I’ll be spending about $8 every six months and feel much more compelled to use it all up. The math works out in my favor, and I feel like I’m treating myself.

3. Discover all of the good and free things your city has to offer.

Springfield’s art museum has tons of exhibits, and there’s no admission fee. Try finding a small history or art museum in your town that’s also free. Seek out festivals and multicultural events–these are great events that are often zero cost. I also like to window shop at flea markets and antique stores, and one thing I’m really looking forward to is browsing the farmer’s market when it reopens! There’s always opportunities to volunteer, and Wes replied “Heck yes! They have free snacks!” when I suggested donating blood for our next date night. And don’t forget about your local library! Besides it’s obvious use, the library usually has a good magazine collection, which helps me curb my habit of purchasing two or three magazines every month. A cheaper habit, and a greener one, too! And although it’s impractical for us right now, the library could deliver on your internet needs if you can manage with about an hour a day. A technology fast and a spending fast at the same time? Go you!

4. Perfect a new skill instead of paying for someone else to do it.

I’ve never had a professional mani or a pedi in my life, but I recently decided to keep my fingers and toes a little more polished and a little less Where The Wild Things Are. Spending money at a nail salon was not in the budget, so I’ve been learning more about nail shapes, cuticle health, and painting techniques. I’ve gotten a lot better at doing my own nails and now it’s something I enjoy doing while watching SNL. Before this journey, I would’ve just gone out and payed for a service, but know I stop and think–can I do that myself? This is a great opportunity to learn something new, practice something you’re not good at, and find new hobbies. Maybe next you’ll see me changing my own oil. (But probably not.)

5. Catch up on all those projects you bought supplies for.

Not allowing myself to spend money on things like hot  yoga or shopping sprees to entertain myself has forced me to tackle some creative to-do lists. When I decided I wanted to learn how to sew nearly two years ago, I quickly started stockpiling fabric for an endless list of sewing projects. Last month I made six couch pillows (too much?) and new covers for my mid-century chairs, projects that were a part of my 2013 goals but never got started. As each project nears completion, I feel less and less guilt for filling up a closet full of craft supplies and never actually using them. And my living room is looking a lot cuter now, too! Next up? I’m diving into the 8 Dresses project I outlined a while ago. I was afraid to take a seam ripper to a lot of the dresses, but there is no time like the present. I’m currently deconstructing the Samantha Dress and will be rebuilding the bodice soon! Wish me luck.

What creative ways have you found that help you spice up life when money is tight?

P.S. Becca says hello! She has been ridiculously busy with homework–I mean, “homeplay,” as they call it at Paul Mitchell. She’ll be back soon! In the meantime, read about her journeys in the world of cosmetology at The Teacher and The Stylist!

embrace your failures

I am a planner, a dreamer, and thinker upper. I love nothing more than to settle into a little nook on the couch with a notebook and plan things–vacations, semester schedules, weddings, science lessons, website layouts. I keep mini clipboards stationed all around–in my purse, on my bedside table, in my car–for planning purposes only. I research, I outline, I draft, I brainstorm, all the time. It’s what I do best and it’s how I solve problems.

Do you have a problem with keeping your closet organized? I can make a plan for that.

Do you have trouble eating enough vegetables? I can make a plan for that.

Do you want to learn Spanish in seven months? I can make a plan for that.

I can plan until the cows come home.  The planning comes easy, but the doing takes practice. And when the stars align and the planning actually becomes doing, there is a hard truth that I have to try and accept: eventually, my plan will fail.

Plans are tidy. Plans are square. Plans are black and white (unless you use fancy pens to write them).

Life is unpredictable. Life is messy. Life does not always ever go according to plan.

So. Let’s talk about fitness plans. Do you have one? I did. I’m working on a new one. From August to December, my fitness goals were threefold: eat something green at every meal, drink at least  5 bottles of water a day, and do at least 30 minutes of HIIT or strength training.

I made a list of things I could eat for breakfast that included something green, because I usually default to oatmeal or cereal. I washed my Brita and bought a 24 pack of water to keep in my car in case I ever left my water bottle at home. I  made coordinating fitness and  cleaning schedules to make sure that the living room was always tidy on a day I needed the TV for a DVD workout.

My goals had plans and my plans became actions. I lost 7 pounds and earned the ability to actually do ten pushups in a row. I maintained through Christmas’ roast beasts and chocolate feasts. And then a cold, aimless winter set in. My plan, which had centered on a busy school schedule, quickly gave way to sleeping in and eating awesome sandwich concoctions made from left overs. A new semester started, and panic set in. My plan had run its course. What if life had finally gotten the best of me?

So what did I do? Did I settle? Nope. I made a plan for when plans fail. (I like to make Inception jokes at times like these, when I find myself making plans for plans or checking my to-do lists of a to-do list To-Do List. But I’ll spare you.) Here are the steps I’m taking right now to get my fitness goals back on course:

1. Identify why the old plan stopped working.

Is it a matter of motivation? Did the plan lose relevance? Can a tweak here or there put the plan back into motion? If you’ve noticed your eating habits have become a little more “fast” and a little less “fresh,” but you’re plumb fed up with spinach salads, you might just need to up your creativity when it comes to planning lunch. And definitely don’t include spinach salads as your go-to when you devise your next healthy eating manifesto.

Why did my fitness plan stop working? Simply put, it became a matter of the winter blues, blahs, and blargs. And while I tried to keep up with the program, my lack of motivation totally derailed my success. It was time to embrace a physical and mental break.

2. Let go of your feelings of failure.

In case you’re familiar with the if-you-fail-to-plan-you-plan-to-fail adage, let’s reflect. Making a plan does not eliminate the possibility of failure. Planning is important, doing is necessary, and readjusting and adapting is crucial. So when you plan, plan to fail. Get comfortable with it. When a ball comes at you curvaceously, plan to catch it. But when it hits you square in the nose instead, readjust and adapt. You aren’t failing. You’re learning. If you’re in a failure funk, reflect on why and just trust that you’ll find your groove thang again.

Letting go of failure–real or perceived–is especially hard for me to do. It’s January 26th and I’m still a little angry at myself for taking what has now become a 30 day respite from all things gymnasium. But a new plan is in the works, and I’m focusing on mini successes, like making it to the gym once a week and tackling Insanity here and there. Did I tell you I finally made it  through the entire first week with Shaun T? For the first time ever?! I’m raising the roof over here.

3. Give yourself time to determine the best course of action.

If your plan isn’t working anymore, it’s probably because your life is different. How have your circumstances changed? How have YOU changed? What are your current struggles? What is inspiring you? Have your goals evolved? Answer these questions and forge a new path, but realize that finding what works best again might take a long time. Usually just long enough for your life to change again. C’est la vie!

What is my new plan? My general goals still include daily workouts and maintaining a healthy diet, but my schedule for this semester is, in a word, wonky. Morning classes here, night classes there, and long stretches of time that could easily be filled with reruns of Parks and Recreation. January has been a month of trials and errors. I tried getting up at the crack of dawn to work out, but the temptation to sleep in was just too great. I tried working out in the middle of the day, but the temptation to just schlep around in sweaty workout clothes all day long was just too great.  My next work out move? Nighttime workouts. Typically, my drive to sweat it out after a day of classes is not remarkably high, but I think this might be the ticket–for now, anyway!

This week’s fitness highlights…

Addicted to: Lime flavored Greek yogurt. My favorite is Oikos. I eat it everyday for breakfast–it’s delicious and portable. Eating this for breakfast is one holdover from the old fitness plan of last semester!

Something new I learned: Definitely check out this series on beginning weightlifting. I’m trying to learn as much as possible to boost my confidence and frequency with the free weights.

Confession of the week: I definitely admit to fast forwarding through any instance of globe jumps during Insanity. I hate them. Do you ever allow yourself to point at the TV and yell “NOPE, NOT DOING THAT, YOU CAN’T MAKE ME!” Because I do!

Don’t forget to pay Samantha a visit and see how her fitness journey/Insanity marathon is going!

–Catherine

To read each post in this series, click the links below.

Embrace the Uncomfortable

embrace the uncomfortable

On Sunday, January 5th, 2014 I began my fourth attempt at Insanity.

I don’t know what it is about this program. I can’t seem to get into the groove yet can’t seem to stay away from it. So time and time again, I start over with stars in my eyes, imagining a Memorial Day beach romp in a teeny bikini sixty days in the making.

I get through the fit test. I get through Day 1. And then, I quit, formally parting  ways with Shaun T by yelling expletives at the screen and stomping through the house yelling about how much I hate working out.

Well, here’s the thing. After taking an enormous break from any physical activity and generally eating a little more and little worse than usual during the Holidays, I began Insanity (again) with the wrong intentions. This is my Insanity mantra:

“I don’t want to do this. This is uncomfortable.”

And lo and behold, I never get past Day 1.

But I will forge on. I just want to get it done. Maybe so I can high five myself for finishing something I currently associate with failure. Definitely for the physical benefits. So I will pick up Day 2’s workout come tomorrow and move forward from there. I think the most important thing for me to remember is that Insanity (or any other workout program) is not a bullet train to achieving some fitness goal. I look at the 60 day calendar and mentally check off each workout and imagine that any and all health and body image problems will be solved forever. That is not a sustainable mindset.

Instead, I’m trying to keep the following  things in mind:

1. I am physically capable of doing anything.

2. I am content to work out even if I knew my body would look the same day in and day out.

3. I can embrace the discomfort.

4. I can integrate Insanity into my fitness plan any way I want–it’s not all or nothing.

My overall goal will be to just move–and move hardcore–everyday, whether its Insanity or not. So maybe it will take me four months to finish. Or maybe I will hit my stride–Samantha promises I will find a  groove. And you know what? I think I believe her. I think that maybe if I can just get past Day 1 and  positively align my mentality, I could maybe, possibly learn to love Insanity. We shall see.

Regardless, here’s some fitness tidbits from this week:

Favorite (fitness) article: This one reminded me that the only person I need to compete with is myself.

Goal for next workout: To battle the bore by practicing mindfulness during my workout.

Biggest mini-success: Doubling the number of switch kicks since my October Fit Test.

Workout saboteurs: Insanity is loud and my poor neighbor let me know in the middle of my first workout. Well, at least I think that’s what she was going to tell me. I quickly shied away from the peephole and hid until she went away, and then moved the workout upstairs. Thank goodness we have a loft. (Also, I know, I’m very mature for not answering the door).

Favorite pin: This is definitely my mantra for next week!

Sorest muscle:I hardly moved my bod at all this week. But dang. My calves feel like a monster truck ran over them.

I will be back next Saturday with an update. Please send good vibes my way!

Catherine

goodbye debt: the needs vs. wants list

On our way home from family Christmas festivities up north, Wes and I talked about our goals for 2014. I mentioned the things on my 25 before 26 list, of course, and thought about the goals that might be declared as New Year’s Resolutions. I saw no purpose in making another list of goals that included things like tackling baking challenges or mass closet organizations. So, Wes and I decided to tackle something together for 2014: our debt.

In our relationship, Wes manages the money much more than I do. When we got married I had this idea that I couldn’t relinquish any of that control over to Wes. I might have some trust issues–definitely working on those. The truth is, he is better at budgeting, investing, and generally keeping track of passwords, and the busier I became with school and work, the more he just took over. And thank goodness for that–someone has to keep track of it all!

Unfortunately, because I don’t pay attention to our finances, I tend to overspend. You know how they say most committed couples tend to fight about money most often? It’s true. We often argue about where our money is going and who spent what and why. It’s not fun to talk about money when you aren’t swimming in it, and when you’re the frivolous spender in the relationship (me) those discussions are often filled with a lot of guilt and “you’re not my mom!” accusations towards the other person.

Last year we tried to tackle our spending habits, but it’s very hard for us to find the time to evaluate our spending together. We did set a budget, and tried meeting once a month to discuss where we overspent, and establish small goals for the next month. Truth be told, we just didn’t find the time to have these discussions, and both of us continued to overspend in various areas at various times.

This year, we have decided to force ourselves to budget by tackling a very concrete thing: the mountain of debt we have accumulated as students. To begin, we started researching tools that both of us were interested in using to help us with our task. Things like Mint.com and online billing became buzzwords, and we started reading And Then We Saved, a blog about eliminating large amounts of debt in a short amount of time. As of January 1, 2014, we will be embarking on The Spending Fast ® and plan to eliminate 20K+ in debt in about a year and a half.

We recently put together our Needs vs. Wants list, and in an effort to remain accountable, I am sharing it with you today!

We thought making this list would be pretty challenging, but it developed pretty quickly. The hardest things to justify on either list were gifts and Hulu/video games. We’re having a hard time putting the kibosh on any birthday gifts, baby shower gifts, Christmas gifts. So while we’ve added it to the WANTS list, we decided it would be okay to reevaluate this decision on a case by case basis. Perhaps we’ll have spending room around one birthday and not another, or will be able to budget $10 a gift around Christmas instead of the usual $20. We also had a hard time justifying our Hulu subscription and the occasional video game purchase from Steam.com, but on the NEEDS list it remains. TV is my default form of entertainment and Wes games more than anything. We realize that it might be desirable to use this opportunity to diversify the way we spend our time, but also see that as an entirely different kind of challenge, and maybe one we’re not willing to tackle right now. So I suppose we’ll remain sedentary in our hobbies and selfish in the fact that we didn’t swap gift giving with our entertainment subscriptions.

There you have it. I’m getting ready to go print that list and then spend every last penny we have before I’m allowed to spend no more. (Kidding!)

Catherine

in which the chronic non-finisher actually accomplishes a goal + giveaway winner

With December quickly rolling towards the New Year, it’s officially time to review last year’s resolutions and start dreaming up some new ones. Last year, I made a pretty comprehensive list full of things I wanted to tackle. After reviewing, I’m pretty impressed with my progress, considering I am notorious for starting things without ever actually finishing them. Like ever. Here’s a quick highlight of what I actually accomplished.

establish a morning routine

I have officially become a morning person. No longer can I sleep past 9AM. This is definitely the result of no longer working nights and just wanting to have more hours in the day in general. Also coffee. I just up and decided to like coffee.

listen to more music

I don’t really know how I did this, but I think I was just desiring to listen to a larger variety of music as well as break out Spotify a little more often. I tend to listen to the same stuff over and over again, and I tried really hard to take Becca’s recommendations seriously, and not just revert back to the tunes I could hum along to. I only wish I’d listened to a lot of these bands sooner (some were producing music when I was in high school, but I stuck to Britney Spears for a long time…). Wes also got me a record player for my birthday so we’ve been having a lot of fun finding records and stand to inherit a large collection from his dad this Christmas!

make time for friends

A little progress here…I’ve hosted a handful of craft days here and there. I got together with some great friends for a Christmas present wrapping party. That’s pretty much it. I think this will probably remain as a resolution for 2014!

become a better budgeter

Nope. I added an event to my Outlook calendar for the last Saturday of every month and ignored the alert every. single. time. Maybe it shouldn’t be on a Saturday. How many 25 year olds budget on a Saturday night? Obviously not this one. Going into 2014, Wes and are planning on doing a Spending Fast from And Then We Saved. We’ve made a wants vs. needs list, documented all of our debt, and will hopefully be debt free in about 18 months. Depending on whether or not I find a job and how committed we are to curbing spending, we could have it eliminated in less than 10…I’ll keep you updated!

organize files from a few old laptops and hard drives

Done and done. It was boring. It took hours. My left butt cheek went numb. But I did it. Now to tackle the photos on my current laptop. Egads.

get to the salon and have my hair did

You know how this went down. The Pixie of 2013. I hated it while I had it, I miss it now that it’s gone. I think I will forever be mildly dissatisfied with my hair. Oh well! These days I’m rocking a short bob and I’m excited to try this style soon.

limit TV watching

This actually happened. Except for marathoning Alias while bingeing on homework, I can truly say I whittled down the time I spent in front of the TV to one to two hours a day. This is a huge accomplishment for this sitcom junkie!

curate library

Ahh yes, the epic book purge of 2013. I’ll tell you what, when it came right down to it, I donated a lot more than I actually read. At least books no longer cover the stairs and collect dust bunnies while stacked in the corners. I tried my darndest to just keep books that I truly loved or wholeheartedly intend to read! Interestingly enough, my favorite read, The Serpent and the Scorpion by Clare Langley-Hawthorne, wasn’t even from my own books–it was originally Becca’s. These days,  my current book obsession is collecting vintage Agatha Christies.

develop ideas for an Etsy store

Ehh. This may never happen. I can dream the idea but have poor execution. I think I expect to be able to sit down at a sewing machine and draw upon the sewing skills of ancestors past. That doesn’t happen.

make a quilt

Again with the whole inability to actually sew without ending up bawling in the corner for hours…perhaps this goal will be set again for 2014.  I really want to buy this eCourse by Elise Blaha Cripe, even though she warns that you should be pretty comfortable with a sewing machine. But this is how I do things–go in with no know-how and come out with…a half sewn quilt and…a melted ball of plastic that used to be a sewing machine before I set it on fire. 

make some new kitchen towels

I think I might try to whip this one out before the year is over…I’ve been wanting to play with some bleach pens. You know–go the no sew route. In the meantime, I’ve accumulated some lovely material to make some new couch pillows with. Perhaps I’ll tackle those too.

spray paint a large accumulation of thrifts that I intended to update with a can of Krylon

Done and done. I spray painted a bedside table, some bathroom storage solutions, and a metal hamper that stores yoga mats in my living room. Next up: the orange chairs at my dining room table. I’m terrified to do this–I’m really nervous I’ll hate the color, but I don’t want to paint the plastic shell over and over again…

procrastinate less

I don’t know what it was. Maybe I’m older and wiser. Maybe it’s called “Oh hi, school with no job, nice to see you.” Or maybe it had something to do with watching less TV. Regardless, I had zero all nighters and zero melt downs. This turn of events is a far cry from my end-of-semester-freak-out last Spring in which I tried bargaining with the higher education gods: I spent a solid two hours during finals week trying to reconfigure my Fall 2013 schedule so that I could eliminate summer classes, and, thus, find the drive to complete a 20 page term paper I’d had all semester to tackle. Not pretty. Something else that’s  not pretty? Wearing sweats to class on a daily basis. Procrastinating less helped with my sloppy student look quite a bit, too.

 limit mental health days (read: skips) for seated classes to three per class

This goal came out of skipping an art class countless times and worrying whether or not I could actually be kept from passing. I had a whole speech ready. “Seriously? I graduated from Drury already. I have this college thing D-o-w-n with a capital D.” I would then prove that I had learned something by correctly pronouncing chiaroscuro. This time around, I just plain went to class.

work on organizing and decorating bedroom

I purged a lot. Got rid of a stodgy comforter that was too hard to actually wash and then get dry in this humid hell we call Missouri. I also repainted our dresser that had fallen victim to the most horrible DIY of all time.

develop a home cookbook

Kinda sorta? I made a file on my computer. I typed up a couple of recipes. I realized I don’t really come up with very many new recipes to warrant a fancy home cookbook.

buy a bookshelf

I found this great industrial shelf at an estate sale a while ago. I hemmed and hawed about purchasing it for a solid 30 minutes, and have decided it was definitely worth the six bucks!

reupholster my living room chairs

That sewing thing again…

limit Coca-Cola and drink more H2O

This was hard. I love Coke. I grew up on Coke. I drank Coke for breakfast every day during college. But I did it, and I credit swapping Coke out for coffee (with no sugar, I might add) with losing 6 pounds in November.  Buh-bye, Coke (and most other sugary drinks!)

train for a half-marathon

I want to love running. I try so hard. But I think, deep down, I actually hate it. This does not bode well for running any sort of fraction of a marathon. Ever.

eat a fresh salad a day

Since the semester started I have packed a huge salad full of veggies and a little bit of chicken for lunch every single day. Add some homemade avocado dressing and I’m full for HOURS. I was also happy to discover that I totally love green bell peppers, and now I eat them plain all the time. Love them.

take more pictures of Wes and I

Nope. Still working on this. Perhaps our coupledom will be the topic of my Photo a Day challenge I put on my 25 before 26 list. Or was it Photo an Hour? Hmm. Either way. I’m sure Wes will just love it!

have more date nights

Date night still mostly consists of trying to find a movie we both want to watch on Netflix. Why is this so hard? We recently mandated that one of us would have carte blanche in the movie choosing  every other week. Last week Wes chose Red Dawn. I am happy to report Wes  now holds the title of Worst Chooser Of Movies In The History Of Movies. Previously, I was a lone contender, after suggesting Christmas With the Cranks during the last holiday season. I predict that with a Spending Fast in effect for 2014, we will have to get particularly creative when it comes to dates.

make my wedding scrapbook

I’m not even sure where my wedding photos are. This makes my tummy hurt. I’m pretty sure Wes uploaded them to Dropbox, backed them up on an external hard drive, and then stashed the disk somewhere. I really need to sort this thing out. In the end, I’m pretty sure one of us will have grey hair before I actually get the event scrapbooked. And that person will be me, because by then Wes will have no  hair. (I love you, Wes!)

Alright. Apparently I favor decorating my apartment over improving upon date night, but…short hair don’t care! I know you made some resolutions last year, too. What were they? Did you make it happen? What’s on your radar for 2014? Comment below!

And before I forget, the lucky winner of the Happy Birthday Berndette giveaway is…

I would LOVE to win!

Posted by: apartment136|December 6, 2013 at 12:41 pm

Congratulations, Andrea! I’ll email you shortly and get your goodies shipped in no time.

Until next time,

Catherine

25 before 26

It is that time of year again. Autumn makes me feel full of ambition. Can we combine “autumn” and “ambition” somehow? So when the first day of school rolls around and I look like a nutter with all of my to-do lists and new school supplies I can just throw some slang out and continue on? *tries desperately to combine autumn and ambition. fails.*

Just when the first-day-of-school buzz starts to wear off, my birthday rolls around, and then it’s New Years. All of these events either motivate me and/or make me think about the life I want to live. So, fall and winter can be a super inspirational for me, if I manage to harness that energy. So, another to-do list it is!

Here are 25 things I want to accomplish before I turn 26.

1. run a 10k
2. buy 3 pieces for my Pyrex collection
3. add another plant to the house
4. reach a healthy BMI
5. remake a vintage dress
6. create a more organized studio space
7. find a bed spread I don’t hate
8. do a photo-an-hour photo challenge
9. complete 2 months of Insanity
10. have a booth at a local craft fair
11. grow my hair long enough to jump on the ombre trend
12. make a Kagan cooperative learning resource hub
13. bake a tres leches cake
14. start recycling in our home
15. collaborate with another blog
16. find three go-to photo spots for any season
17. try project life
18. do my wedding scrapbook
19. learn (like, really learn) at least 1 sewing skill
20. add a staple piece to my wardrobe
21. learn macrame
22. make a set of coasters for the living room
23. create a cinderblock garden on the balcony
24. make curtains
25. blog at least 1x per month

weekending: NaNoWriMo

The weekend is here and today marks the start of National Novel Writing Month!

I first heard about NaNoWriMo while a sophomore in college and thought to myself “There is no way I could ever write a novel, let alone in 30 days!” Secretly though, I’ve always wanted to write a book and even more secretly secret…I think I might be good at it.

Aren’t those always the things were most reluctant to try? The things we might be good at?

Well. I’m still reluctant to fail, but I’m no longer reluctant make an attempt. Worst-case scenario, I spend a month typing until my fingers bleed and then laugh so hard at my poor use of adjectives that I pee a little. Or a lot. A lot is definitely worst-case.

And best-case? My novel is an interesting story with relatable characters and no glaring plot holes. Or a ridiculous piece of Chick Lit that keeps your eyebrow raised skeptically throughout. I like those too.

I started at midnight and went to sleep at 1AM with 730 words. Typing this now, it’s 9AM and chapter one is done, coming in at nearly 2100 words. I’m very pleased, but forcing myself to stop for the day. I have an outline and a schedule armed and ready  to get me through the next 48k.

If you would like to take a whack at your own manuscript, create an account here. The whole day is still ahead of you, and it’s definitely not too late to start!

Happy Friday, and Happy Writing!

xo, Catherine