Thursday, April 30, 2009

More ducks in the backyard

Lately, we've had some backyard visitors. As the weather warms and the flocks are heading north for the summer, it seems our backyard has turned into some kind of rest area for ducks.

Of course, I prefer to think of them as my outdoor guests at the TMI Bed & Breakfast. I've always wanted to run a bed and breakfast.

Fortunately, I don't have to provide beds or breakfast for these visitors, which makes for incredibly easy hosting. The verdict is still out on the clean-up.

The Little Guy and Barley take a look at our most recent visitor through the dining room windows.
The Little Guy seems to understand that there is a very special creature in the backyard near his kiddie pool. Barley understands that there is a winged, quacking toy in the backyard. Both of them want to go outside for a closer look.
Let me make this promise to my feathered guests at the TMI B&B: the Little Guy and Barley will remain inside for a while. At least until your breakfast is over. But by lunchtime, you should really be on your way.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Dealing with disappointment

For those folks who are not following me on Twitter, here it is: I did not win the contest. I will not hear Martha's keynote address at the International Antiques Fair, and I will not have a formal meet and greet with her afterwards.

I will, however, still see her at Macy's when I have my book signed on Friday. So for my fellow Martha fans who will be in the same line, I'll see you bright and early on Friday morning! And if anyone is interested in waiting in a line outside and then inside of the State Street Macy's, just let me know. I'll do my best to tweet throughout the day.

I am working through my disappointment. It is especially rough because I don't think the winner had a winning list...

Here's the announcement for the winner:

Don't worry Henrietta-Martha fans, I saw all of your Craftaholic submissions, and per usual, I fretted for hours over which one to choose. Most made me giggle, many rang true, and all conveyed a genuine love for one Ms. Martha Stewart.

In the end, it was NOT AMANDA's submission that won me over. Her willingness to dig in the trash for Michael's coupons and play hookey from work in order to meet Martha was too passionate to pass up. NOT AMANDA and a friend will listen to Martha speak this Friday at the International Antiques Fair---and say hello to her after! As for the rest of you: Stay tuned for yet another Martha-related contest in the near future.

And here's the 'winning' list:

1. I have formally been diagnosed with Craft ADD
2. I have dug in the garbage looking for Michael's and JoAnn's coupons.
3. I'm sure I will discover a fantastic craft someday using all those plastic grocery store bags.
4. I begin Christmas crafts in January. It's a good thing!
5. Even in this economy, I would risk calling in sick on Friday to meet the craft guru, Martha Stewart.

I'm going to let that list sink in for a minute. Take your time.

Really? REALLY?!?


First of all, there's no such thing as Craft ADD. Anyone who really crafts knows you have to focus on your project: I've never met a true crafter who had ADD when it came to their craft.

Second, as another entrant pointed out, a true crafter would never let those coupons go into the trash in the first place.

Third, Martha would never make a craft project out of plastic grocery bags. Martha is very eco-conscious and advocates using reusable grocery bags. There are instructions for a few on her website--I like this super-cute one.

Number four is the only legitimate reason this "winner" can be called a Craftaholic.

Finally, as I pointed out in my comments to Henrietta, all of the entrants were willing to miss work (or whatever they had planned for Friday) to meet Martha.

So, I'll be dealing with my disappointment in my usual fashion: shopping and chocolate. The silver lining is that I will meet Martha on Friday.

When life hands you lemons, make lemonade. And lemon squares. And lemon cake. You can find the recipes here. ;)

Molten chocolate cakes

Last weekend, we had great friends over for dinner (shout out to Mary Ann, Armando and Amelia!). I was behind on dinner and dessert prep due to events that took place earlier that day, so when it came time to make an awesome dessert, I had to think fast and act even faster. I grabbed my copy of Great Food Fast from the folks at Martha's Everyday Food division and found a divine dessert.

(Seriously, that cookbook lives up to its name.)

I made the chocolatiest creation in the book: molten chocolate cakes. And yes, in TMI-land, chocolatiest is a word. You'd be surprised how often it appears in my vocabulary.

The prep work is very easy for this. Just preheat the oven, mix a few things, and bam! Chocolatey goodness is yours. Chocolatey--another word that gets a lot of use in my house.

Greasing the muffin cups with butter and coating with white sugar is brilliant. It makes a slightly crisp outside, and the cakes popped right out of the muffin tin. I'm going to start using this trick for other dessert recipes.

From start to finish, it took less than 30 minutes to make the molten chocolate cakes.

TMI note: do not over bake these cakes, or you'll lose the liquid chocolate magma deliciousness in the middle.

Another TMI note: these hold beautifully in the fridge for a few days. Just put your cake in the microwave for 30 seconds, and you are back in business. Which makes these cakes perfect for a quick and easy breakfast. If you're into chocolatey goodness first thing in the morning. Which I am.

I served these with ice cream and fresh whipped cream. Mmmmmmmmmmm.
I'm giving this recipe five gold stars--it's easy to make, impressive on the table and so so so delicious. And bonus: it requires no fancy ingredients or equipment. Try it tonight. And save one for breakfast in the morning!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

My five things to prove I'm a craftaholic

I entered the Chicago Tribune contest to meet Martha Stewart when she is in town on Friday.

Five Things That Prove I'm a Craftaholic

1. I host parties and holiday gatherings just so I can do all the crafty accoutrements: invitations, favors, decorations, etc.

2. Family/friends always give me some type of crafty gift for special occasions: paper cutters, scrapbooking paper, label maker, stamps, etc. ie. My husband just gave me “Martha Stewart’s Encyclopedia of Crafts” for an early Mother’s Day gift. Thanks, honey! (I'll craft him a thank you card!)

3. I started a blog all about how Martha Stewart inspires me to become my own domestic goddess, complete with crafts and household beautification projects.

4. In seventh grade art class, I was so intent on making my picture collage perfect that I didn’t notice the boy next to me had cut off the end of his finger with his Exacto knife. Alert: junior high craftaholic!

5. I started my son’s scrapbook while we were both still in the hospital, and I was recovering from an emergency c-section.

What do you think? Is that a winning list? I sure hope so!

And now, a bonus for my TMI readers:

Five Things That Prove I'm a Huge Martha Fan

1. I started a blog all about how Martha Stewart inspires me to become my own domestic goddess.

2. For the past 5 years, MOM2 gives me a gift subscription to Martha Stewart Living. I have saved every copy. I also have many of Martha’s holiday, craft, organizing and cook books.

3. When it was time for a new hairstyle to celebrate my birthday, I took a picture of MS to the hair salon. Now, I have her ‘do! (My husband drew the line at dyeing my hair blonde, though).

4. On Twitter, I’m miniMartha. Enough said!

5. When I’m faced with a crafting or cooking quandary, I always ask myself “What would Martha do?”

Monday, April 27, 2009

Martha Monday! Also, my quest to meet Martha

Two weeks ago, in my 100th post, I alerted my loyal, smart and beautiful TMI readers about a very exciting event: Martha Stewart is coming to Chicago! A quick recap:

1. Martha's new book is out (Martha Stewart's Encyclopedia of Crafts)

2. She's coming to Chicago on May 1st to deliver the keynote address at the Merchandise Mart International Antiques Fair.

3. After her address at Merch Mart, she'll head over to the State Street Macy's for a book signing.

4. I made the subtlest of suggestions to those who might be married to me that Martha's new book would make an ideal early Mother's Day gift.

(TMI Note: My wonderful husband received the message loud and clear! Martha Stewart's Encyclopedia of Crafts arrived on my doorstep last week. Marital bliss continues!)

Originally, my plan was to be at Macy's bright and early to see Martha, get my book signed, and exchange some witty comments with my idol. And to do it while wearing stylish yet sensible shoes and not make a fool out of myself.

Now, I have a new plan. A bigger plan. A better plan. Here it is:

The Chicago Tribune is hosting a contest. The grand prize? Two tickets to see Martha deliver her keynote address at the Fair, and then a meeting with Martha afterwards.

Readers, this is it. This is my chance to fulfill my destiny and MEET MARTHA STEWART. My plan? I have to win this contest.

However, this contest is not just a simple "Let's find Martha's biggest fan in Chicagoland" because as we all know, that contest would be over in a second because I am clearly her biggest fan in the Land of Lincoln. No, for this contest, you must submit the Five Things That Prove You Are A Craftaholic to Henrietta @ Home on Facebook. The best list will win.

The contest is two-fold: the second part involves making a project from Martha Stewart's Encyclopedia of Crafts, submitting it to Henrietta @ Home by May 15th, and Martha herself will help pick the winner. The winner of the second part of the contest will recieve an autographed copy of her Cooking School book.

I'm working diligently on my list. I must win this contest! Stay tuned...

To buy Martha's Encyclopedia of Crafts, click here.
To buy her Cooking School book, click here.
To read all about Martha's trip to Chicago, click here.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Home-made vs. store-bought

I ran across an interesting article, "Scratch That," on Slate. The author did a cost/benefit analysis to find out if making bagels, yogurt, cream cheese, jam, crackers and granola is cheaper than buying from a store, and if it's worth it to do so.

Sentence of TMI note in the article: "Obviously, homemade bread tastes better than Wonder, but does playing Martha Stewart really save you money?"

For some items, yes! Baking from scratch can save you a tremendous amount of money, making the time and trouble well worth the effort. Plus, the results are almost always better than what you can buy in the store.

The author includes her results, as well as links to her favorite recipes. Check out the article here.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Chocolate Mint Cake

I first experienced this cake while in high school. I was invited over to a boyfriend's house for dinner, and his mom served this cake. One bite and I was in heaven. I had three pieces and begged for the recipe. The boyfriend's nice mother shared the recipe with me. And now, my dear TMI readers, I'm sharing it with you: here's the recipe for the most wonderful chocolate mint cake. Ever.

Step One: Bake two 8" or 9" rounds of devil's food cake. Go ahead and use a mix. I won't tell Martha if you don't.

Step Two: Mix an 8 ounce container of Cool Whip with 2 teaspoons mint extract and a tiny bit of green food coloring. I think they actually make mint-flavored Cool Whip during the holiday season, but in the event that's not lurking in your fridge in April, the mint extract will do.

Step Three: When the cake has cooled, slice each round in half horizontally. Try to keep the cut as even as possible. And if you are interested in knowing how to level cakes properly, don't look to me for answers. As you can see from my layers, I have no idea what I'm doing.

Step Four: Put a layer of the minty green Cool Whip between each layer of cake. Spread each layer of Cool Whip to an inch from the edge--it will spread to the edge as the other layers are added.

Seriously, look at those crazy layers! While it may not be structurally sound (let's all give thanks I'm not an architect or construction worker), it is structurally delicious.

Step Five: Once the cake is assembled, cover it in creamy chocolate frosting. Again, it's okay to use the canned stuff. Your secret is safe with me.

Step Six That Is Really Crucial To The Success of This Cake: If you are not serving the cake right away, then you must freeze it overnight. Leaving it in the refridgerator is okay, but the layers really tend to smash the Cool Whip and then slide around, leaving you with a lopsided cake. And if your layers are really uneven, that only makes the storage problem worse.
I make the cake, put it in my cake carrier, and then put it in the freezer overnight. Take it out a few hours before serving, and it defrosts to perfection.

Note: my cake is really messy. That can happen with this recipe. Between uneven layers, really soft Cool Whip and assembling it at an ungodly hour, my cake looks like a wreck. This is okay. Once people take a bite, they'll think it's the most beautiful thing they've ever seen.

With the mint and the green, this cake works wonderfully for Christmas and St. Patrick's Day. But it tastes great 365 days of the year. In fact, it would taste great tonight! Give it a try. You'll thank me for it later.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Visit to the Four Seasons Chicago

As part of my job, I occasionally tour various hotel/meeting sites in Chicago to scout an event locale. Today, I went to the Four Seasons Chicago, located across from the John Hancock building, for a tour of their renovated ballroom and lunch.

The staircase up to the ballroom is amazing. It might be my favorite feature.

The baby grand piano overlooks the stair landing. The piano is available for use by any group coming into the Four Seasons--just bring your own piano player.

The artist behind the renovation did a skyscape as the background for the chandelier in the ballroom's lobby.

The renovated space includes a built-in registration desk for groups needing to do their own check-in of event guests. As someone who has spent a great deal of time doing just that, it was nice to see that the Four Seasons had put some thought into this.

This lobby area, right outside of the ballroom, is perfect for a cocktail reception. The bar set-up is behind the mirrors, and there is another at the opposite end of the room.

The renovated ballroom is beautiful. I toured the space last year, and the main color scheme was pink and taupe. Nice for a wedding in the 80's, but not very useful for other events.

Now the color scheme is a nice tan and muted green, with accents of gold and blue. It is much more neutral and can be a suitable background for a greater variety of events. For those who think background things like wallpaper and carpet don't matter, I would tell you to think again. When you have a beautiful, well-kept meeting space, you don't have to spend much money decorating it. The room will speak for itself. And in this economy, things like this can make a difference when choosing an event site.
The Four Seasons Chicago has a variety of furniture throughout the various lobbies and spaces, including lots of china cabinets that showcase antique dishware. It is both elegant and homey.
I was impressed with the renovated space. Lunch was nice, too. :)

Monday, April 20, 2009

Martha Monday!

I had high hopes, because not only did he have a five-star rating and a bunch of views of his picture, but his picture was also tagged ("face") by the judges!

Sadly, Barley didn't win, nor did he make it as a finalist.

Instead, this borderline psychotic pup won...

Seriously, I am just not impressed with that dog or the picture. It's so staged! Where's the soulfulness, the longing, the look that says "Why are you making me wear bunny ears?" I think Barley conveyed that last thought especially well.
Let's take another look at the dog that should have won the Easter pet contest:

How could we not have won this contest???
Out of all the finalists, and if Barley hadn't been in the running, I would have picked this guy for the winner. Seriously, a dog dressed as a lamb? That's hilarious!

You can view the winner and finalists here. Next time, I think Martha should judge the contest and not her website lackeys. With her good taste, I just know she would have picked Barley as the winner.

Now, how do I break the news to Barley? Maybe a doggie treat will soften the blow.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

A good week for saving

For those in the Chicago area, this is a great week for couponing. To get the most bang for your buck, know the rules before you walk into the store.

KMart stores are doing Super Doubles.

The last time our area had KMart Super Doubles was November 30, 2008. Not that I keep track. On a calender. In the top drawer of my nightstand. No way--that would just be weird.

Rule #1: They will double most manufacturer's coupons up to and including $2.00.
Rule #2: No expired coupons and no internet coupons.
Rule #3: No more than four like coupons in a transaction.
Rule #4: KMart stores will not give overage with the doubles. Example: if you buy an item at $1.29, use a .75 off coupon, it will take off the $1.29 price of the product and not $1.50.

TMI Tip: Look for coupons with high values, and match them with the cheapest version of the product to get the most savings. You can get many items for free or next to free this way.

Dominick's is having a great "Living Well, Feeling Great" catalina promotion going on through May 5.

If you spend $30, then you'll get a $10 catalina coupon to use on your next transaction. To get started, read the post at Moneywise Moms. This promotion covers over 3,000 items from food to health/beauty to basic household supplies.

Rule #1: Dominick's catalina deals go off the sale prices, not the shelf prices.
Rule #2: Dominick's does take expired coupons and internet coupons. And expired internet coupons. Yay, Dominick's!
Rule #3: You can stack manufacturer's coupons with Dominick's coupons for greater savings.
Rule #4: You can roll the catalina coupons, so after your initial investment, you'll be spending very little out of pocket.

TMI note: Plan for this before you go to the store. Get items you'll use, hit the $30 total, and then use coupons to bring that number down. Rinse and repeat!

In bad coupon news, Jewel-Osco stores will no longer accept expired coupons after May 1st. They've sent letters to their employees stating that they will lower overall prices by 20% to offset this new policy. HA! Jewel marks up their prices so much, that even with 20% off they cannot complete with other area stores like Ultra Foods (which takes expired coupons) and Super Walmart. I will be shopping at Jewel a lot less after May 1st and I've already called corporate to voice my dissatisfaction with this new policy. Boo to Jewel!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Backyard visitors

We are very fortunate to live right next to a wetland preserve. No neighbors at all behind us, just a field, a stream and a lot of wildlife.

Of course, right now it just looks like a field of weeds.

Sometimes the wildlife comes right into our backyard. Earlier this week, Mr. and Mrs. Duck stopped by for a visit. There was a puddle in the sand pit (former owners had a pool there) and they were using that as a bath.
The pictures were taken through the sliding glass door in the kitchen.
As soon as they spotted us spotting them, they decided to find a backyard with more privacy. And less photographers.
Mr. and Mrs. Duck aren't into having their private moments documented for TMI. If they come back, we'll have to be more discreet with the camera.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Have you registered yet?

This summer, I'll be teaching two community education courses at Waubonsee Community College:

Public Speaking Skills for Career Advancement
June 24 - July 15 (Wednesday) 7 - 9 pm

We'll cover interview skills, sales presentations, elevator speeches, client meetings and more. If you are looking to get a leg up on the competition in your job search, starting your own business or just want to sharpen your public speaking skills, then this is the class for you.

Secrets of Savvy Shopping
July 14 - 28 (Tuesday) 7 - 8:30 pm

If you follow my blog, then you know I am a big coupon fan and regularly get great deals on groceries and health/beauty items. In this class, I'll go over the "rules" for area stores, how to combine sales and coupons to get the best deal, how to stack coupons and get rebates to make items free, and how to successfully shop at drugstores to get many personal care products for free.

If you are interested in either class, or perhaps you are just a stalker looking wanting some face-to-face time with me (Just kidding, Mom! I don't have any stalkers!), then follow the links to find out more and sign up for the classes.

Happy Friday!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Happy Birthday to an Artist

Today is Mom2's birthday. Not only is she an amazing woman, but Mom2 is also quite the artist. In celebration of her spirit, her artistry and her all-around super-awesome mom-ness, I'm sharing several pictures of her art:

Mom2 is just like her artwork: moving, original, surprising, creative and loving. Okay, maybe the artwork isn't loving, but she sure is. Take a look at the artist with her new favorite subject:

I think next year's birthday gift for Mom2 is going to be matching smocks for her and the Little Guy. And finger paint. Lots and lots of finger paint.
Happy Birthday, Mom!