Thursday, December 30, 2010

Christmas Cards Reviewed

I've gone through the stages of grief over these darn Chirstmas cards.  If I was still in the anger phase perhaps this post would be longer and more sarcastic.  Now, I'm just writing it because the situation was pretty ridiculous and I'll be trying another company in the future to compare results.

So I blogged about Shutterfly's holiday cards way back when and proceeded to choose photos.  Then I ordered the cards.

I couldn't believe it when they came in - there were orangey/pinkish halos around the cat and on the wall behind us.  I emailed Shutterfly's customer service and they immediately said they would reprint them and send me new ones.

Then the second order came in . . . with orangey/pinkish halos!  I was tired of dealing with customer service, so I sent in the big guns: Mr. Palindrome.  He called and spoke to a customer service rep for about 20 minutes.  The rep was very nice, assured us that they would reprint them and give us free overnight shipping.  Mr. Palindrome kept emphasizing that the reds were off in the printing and that they needed to have a human inspect them.  Yes, yes, they'd put that note in the file.

And the third order came in . . . exactly like the first two.  At that point, I needed to just get the cards out in the mail.
This picture shows one print of each round of printing.  The following pictures are close-ups of Round 1, 2, and 3.

While we were disappointed with the turn out, my mom said that she didn't notice at all and instead proudly displayed our card on her kitchen counter.
Even though we only paid for the first printing to be shipped, the 100 extra cards to recycle and the hassle of having them reprinted has made me want to try another company in the future.  

Did your holiday cards turn out the way you wanted?  What other companies have you used to print photo cards or photos?

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Going Home for Christmas

"I'll be Home for Christmas" hits me hard every year.  When Mr. Palindrome was in the military, I would get weepy hearing it.  Not like, sniff, sniff, tear, tear, NO!  Weepy I tell you, weepy.  It's still bad, but I'm a glutton for punishment and sometimes search the song out so that I can let out a long sigh and concentrate any sad feelings into the song.  

Thankfully, this year being home wasn't just in my dreams.  We spent the long weekend at my parents' house outside of DC.  It was quiet.  Calm.  Full of family, food, and gifts.  

A few years ago, they made the switch to the fakey tree.  In retaliation, I bought my own real tree this year and vacuum my own pine needles off the floor.  The joke may be on me.
With 6 of us exchanging gifts in person and a few proxies, the gifts spilled from beneath the tree and across the room.  Santa had been very good to us.

I began to look for my favorite ornaments.
My first Christmas as a chubby 9 month old is immortalized with photographic evidence.
My brother was spared the trauma of having his chub brought up during the holidays, so he feels free to gobble up Christmas cookies with abandon.
This little sweetheart was a gift to my parents for their first Christmas together.  We have to put her in a prominent, eye-level spot so we don't lose her.  She's made it through unscathed for over 30 years now.
And yes, we're those kind of people who have ornaments for their pets.  
My mom does a beautiful job of decorating with little vignettes everywhere.
Before there was Sandra Lee, there was my mom and her very own tablescapes.
The Christmas china is the icing on the food buffet.  So comforting.  Until you have to hand wash 18+ pieces later that night.
I gifted these sweet reindeer place card holders  to my mom last year and she was so happy to add them to the table this year.
In the front bay window, she strung various gold ornaments from the ceiling.

About half way through our visit, I noticed a sub-theme to her decorating.  Sub-theme might be an understatement.  Short of red, white and blue ornaments, this theme was pretty clear!

Did you head back to your hometown for Christmas?  What are some decorations that make you reminisce about pleasant holiday memories?

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas!

Nothing says "Merry Christmas" to me more than red mittens.  Well, perhaps the baby Jesus, but besides him, it's the mittens. Mittens say, "Remember childhood wonder! Stay warm and toasty! Merry Christmas!  Happy Birthday Jesus!"  And for curious minds, yes, my mom did used to make a birthday cake for Jesus.  She'd even color the coconut "grass" green before putting a nativity manger on it.  Does that explain a lot about me and why I think of wearing mittens and eating baby Jesus cake?

Merry Christmas!
Clockwise from Top L:
Christine's Mittens - Felted Nordic Maroon Wool Sweater Mittens
Kristin NY - Red Embroidered Flower Felted Mittens
Twice is Nice Mittens - Snowmen Mittens
LV Green - Upcycled Wool Sweater Mittens

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Cooking for a Crowd

We threw a Christmas party the other week and it was feat of logistical genius.  Somehow, we finished our half bath reno, cleaned the house from top to bottom (or hid the dirt), rearranged all the furniture to accommodate a surprisingly high RSVP rate, and made all the food items.  I do not recommend this approach. I think I'm still tired from it all.
The food was much appreciated, but as Mr. Palindrome said, I did not "account for economies of scale" when choosing the menu.  It's easy to double a recipe, but if you can't bake it all at the same time, then you're not saving too much time mixing it together first.  Add to that that I was QUADRUPLING all of the recipes.  I spent about 3 hours making 12 dozen mini pizzas and 4 hours making 8 dozen cream puffs.
If you're coming up with apps for say 8-16 people and you have to whip it up unexpectedly, the pizzas would actually serve you well.  I got the recipe from Martha Stewart Everday Food.  I use the term recipe loosely.  Do you actually need a recipe for pizza?  I'm going to venture no.  However, the idea was cool.  Take a pound of dough (Thank you TJ's!), and divide it into 36 little dough balls.  Press those little suckers into rounds, brush with olive oil, and sprinkle with S&P.
Here's where the real rocket science comes in.  If you can't do it your first try, it's ok.  I'm a culinary goddess and it was hard work for me.  Sprinkle the little buddies with, wait for it, antipasto stuffs.  Since I married a man with some Italian blood, we have these things stocked in our cupboard.  The hard part is finding them buried beneath the pasta and macaroni.  Artfully drape the olives, artichokes, and roasted red pepper onto the pizzas.  Garnish with shredded mozzarella.  I won't tell on you if you use pre-shredded stuff from a two pound bag if you don't tell on me.
These things turned out to be crowd favorites.  The finger food part of it is brilliant - you don't even need a plate.  Just pick it up off the platter and put it straight in your mouth.  They're one bite wonders.

Do you have a fun, go to party pleasing recipe this Christmas?

Sunday, December 19, 2010

It's Coming on Christmas

They're cutting down trees

They're putting up reindeer

And singing songs of joy and peace

Joni Mitchell's River is one of the sadder holiday songs that has made its way into my favorites.  And no, not just because it's in Love, Actually.  While I'm a sap and love that movie, River touches a nostalgic heart string that dates back to my teenage angst.  Before there was emo, I was listening to Joni singing about running away on her river.  Even now, hearing the song makes me want to buy a pair of forlorn, white skates and skate away.

 Decorating the tree also makes me nostalgic, but in a much happier way.  As a child, I called it, appropriately, the swearing in of the Christmas tree as my dad struggled at the base and mom expertly directed, "A little more the right.  A few centimeters over near the top.  Perfect! Now just turn the whole thing a quarter turn so that bald spot is in the back!"

While trying to enjoy my favorite traditions, I also wanted to incorporate items that practiced good stewardship of resources.  We ordered our tree from Duke Forest through the Nicholas School for the Environment.  Our tree was farmed and harvested in a sustainable way.  Then we decided to outfit our 6' Frasier fur with LED lights.  

From the driveway, our living room looked like it was lit up by a 54" flat screen.  Well that, or an alien dissection lab.  It's blue.  And it's unnatural.

I took this photo of regular lights when we were considering relighting the tree all together.

The warm glow highlights the ornaments.  They literally shine light on the ornaments that can be reflected.  Now look at our LED lights:
 The blue haze takes some getting used to.  In all honesty, I don't think I'll be fully used to it until no one uses the old lights anymore.  Right now, several people on our street are showing off their warm, old lights and I nearly cry when I see the TV/UFO glow from our house.
In an effort to mitigate the undesirable glow and to avoid relighting the whole tree, we put the lights on a dimmer, the results of which can be seen in the picture above.  On film, it actually appears quite dark, though in real life, it's a more attractive glow.  

Have you made the switch to LED lights?  Are you singing sad Christmas songs about the results?

Friday, December 17, 2010

Friday Finds - Java Joe

I've been dragging lately.  Late night fun on the weekends combined with Mr. Palindrome studying for finals has left my very prompt internal clock at odds with me.  On top of it, when I had a severe head cold the other week, I just couldn't stomach coffee with cream, so I pulled a switcheroo and starting drinking tea.  Now that I'm not actively trying to flush mucous, I'm relishing my Flavia Cappuccinos again.  Sometimes my coffee is the best part of the day.  If you know the feeling, I think you'll appreciate this week's collection!

Clockwise from L:
Geezees - Coffee Lover Typography Canvas
Willa Skye - Pair of 2 Lattice Work Designer Pillows
Air Zinn - Java Magnet Beans
Ruggy Design - Mr. Dudley Coffee Grinder

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Bathroom Renovating with a Contractor - Part 1 of 2

While we had *almost* watched enough DIY channel bathroom renovations to give us a false sense of construction acumen and can do attitude, we came to our DIY senses and realized that our time and experience called for a tandem team with a contractor.   We pulled out the good old paper phone book to find a list in our area (turns out contractors are a little behind the 8 ball in having a web presence).  After 3 different quotes, we hired the guy who seemed to know the most about what he was talking about.  Actually, I'm sure it was more complicated than that for Mr. Palindrome.  Being the MBA candidate that he is, he made a spreadsheet for all of the quote breakdowns, then worked out the best value.  My two cents was my gut reaction to the way they were talking about the project.

The full job, soup to nuts, was going to cost around $5000.  We stripped everything out except the drywall, vanity and cupboards above the toilet.  5 grand seemed like a good deal for that amount work considering we both have family members in construction who told us it would cost between 10-15,000 for a complete gut.  By keeping the same layout, we saved ourselves a pretty penny by  not having to move the plumbing around.

5k was still a tough pill to swallow so we did a hatchet job on the quote's price breakdown.   Let's just say we were on the optimistic side about what we thought we could handle.  Here's what we decided the breakdown would be between us and the contractor.

- Scrape popcorn off ceiling and paint ceiling
- Install fan
- Install lighting
- Install hardware and fixtures (shower, sink, toilet)
- Paint vanity and cabinet
- Install vanity counter top and sink
- Paint walls
- Install medicine cabinet
- Purchase tiles and hardware

- Demolition (old tile)
- Reseal shower and fix drain (remember the crazy broken/moldy tile floor before?)
- Tile and grout
- Skim coat walls (we had remnants of wallpaper that had been originally glued right to the drywall)

This part chronicles the first phase of our bathroom renovation journey.  We completed a few tasks from our list prior to the contractor coming.  We scraped the popcorn ceiling and installed the new fan with my Dad's help.
We were feeling pretty good about ourselves when we brought in the contractor to do his part.   He said it would be a quick project.  5 days max.  Done a million just like it.  We had already bought the supplies (we get a  nice military discount at Lowe's and Home Depot).  Nothing to it.

After Day 1 of demo, we uncovered some dirty little secrets.

The original tile work had been laid using liquid nails.
The studs around the shower had rotted and needed to replaced.  We had the contractor take care of those problems and told him to soldier on.  
 In went the new waterproof walls in the shower and a newly poured floor.
 Then the tile floor was laid.  You can see how the dry wall around the back was torn up after the baseboards were removed and where we had tried to strip off the old wallpaper, which resulted in us stripping off the dry wall paper to which it had been originally adhered.  The builders were real geniuses, that's for sure.  Geniuses at inventive ways to cut corners, but geniuses nonetheless.
 I think it was week 2 when the tile floor in the shower was installed.  So if you're following along, we're already 2 workdays behind schedule.
 Just when we thought the contractor had hit his stride, someone else would go wrong.  The shower drain wouldn't fit right.  The shower door that was there previously no longer fit because the tiling thickness was different.  Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Ad Nauseum!
After all the tiling and the skim coat was done, the contractor's work was done.  I was working from home at that time and he called me in to see the final results.  I was so overwhelmed by the transformation of the tile and so ready for the project to be over (we were on week 3 at this point) that I quickly said, "It's great!"  After he had packed and gone, I began a closer inspection only to find some problems.
 The threshold was never replaced and the skim coat material was everywhere.  There were glops on the tile work, glops on the trim, and glops on the floor.  At first mesmerizing glance of the tile, I hadn't noticed, but now these sloppy finishes were all I could see.
We called the contractor and he came out the next week to clean it up, no charge of course.  However, we still weren't too happy that it had happened in the first place.  We were also pretty bummed about the nearly tripled timeline.  It was certainly a case of pointing out the speck in his eye though since we didn't take the log out of our own eye (i.e.  finish our list) for another 3 months.  

In the next part I'll give you the story of our DIY efforts in the bathroom.  Look forward to more surprises (of the holy-crap-I-can't-believe-we-own-a-house-and-this-is-what-we-have-to-deal-with variety) and lots of bathroom humor (Installing the Porcelain Throne in Part #2).