Thursday, June 27, 2013

Feeling Inspired!

I'm not sure what's gotten into me over the past couple days, but I've been spending FAR too much time online looking at various crafty items that are makin' me feel all inspired. :) Awhile back, I mentioned a bit of a 'dream wish' to make a bunch of fun items (well, mostly envelopes) and sell them on Etsy, but quite honestly, I've never known where to begin. I still don't. But that doesn't mean I can't try to find ideas and think of ways to make that happen someday. These thoughts are seriously what get me through my daily life sometimes. I mean, I know I have a good life, but I often dream about what it would be like if I could be so good at making crafts and doing things I really love that I could 'live' on that. Or at least bring in some income from it. L and I sometimes talk about that too. We can get ourselves in a decent place financially and then I could do this as my job. Will it ever happen? Probably not? But the possibility makes me swoon. :)

Anyway, there are a couple of things that are really exciting me lately. First, I have been doing some research on the Adobe Creative Suite of programs as a way to help me tap into my creativity and design things like cards and invites. It's a long shot, and I don't know that I'll ever do it, but I'm thinking about buying CS6 because I can get it for $199 through the university. In case that still sounds like a lot to you, keep in mind that if you were to buy it on Adobe's site, it would cost you a whopping $1,299 for the version I'd get. Seriously, I don't know how that's even possible. The Suite includes the following programs, some of which I don't even know what they do: Photoshop CS6, Illustrator CS6, InDesign CS6, Acrobat X Pro, Bridge CS6, and Media Coder CS6. More than I'd ever need, but such a great deal. I've found some pretty good resources online that would help teach me the programs, but that is definitely more of a long-term goal. Just keeping my options open, and if I ever leave my job, I will be sure to order it before I go. ;)

The second thing I'm pumped about is that I got back to making a few envelopes the other night. Pretty simple, but kinda fun. I like the color combo, and I'm a fan of tiny envelopes! I really enjoy playing with different color schemes and patterns, so these are just a couple that I've come up with recently.

Beyond the envelopes, I started thinking about how it might be cool to either buy or make some fun stickers to include with those envelopes if I ever get around to selling them. I do have a product called Lick & Stick that allows you to role on a 'liquid,' and that liquid dries into the same stuff that's put on regular envelopes to seal them. You can lick it and everything, hence the name. So, up until now, I've just been using that or some glue to seal the envelopes. However, if people were to buy them, I thought having some stickers to seal the envelopes could be kind of fun too. Maybe I'd still put the 'glue' on there too and just give them the option to do either or. The cool gold glittery stickers below are jumping out at me right now (I love the triangular shape as well as the glitter), but of course they'd only go with certain envelopes. That would be my problem. So many of my envelopes have sassy patterns, so I'm not sure there's really a one-size-fits-all type of sticker for me. That doesn't mean I can't still love 'em. ;)

Courtesy of INKKIT

As I was looking through shops for triangle stickers, I also happened to run across a few other items that are just way cool in my opinion. I can't even possibly link to all the Etsy shops that I looked at today because I'm pretty sure it was about a billion of 'em, but there were a few things that made me feel really excited about the possibilities that could be in my future. One of those items, as weird as it sounds, is tissue paper confetti. I have always wanted to do something like that, and seeing that others do it too is pretty fun and makes me feel less crazy. Another item is tissue paper poms. I watched a number of tutorial videos tonight, and they seem way easier to make than they should. Now, I haven't tried them, so I shouldn't say that, because I will probably 'f' them up when I try, ha! But still. It's fun and easy and cheap compared to buying them for too much money in the store. Some of the people in Etsy who sell these types of items have sold so many products and have such great feedback, and I think to myself, "Hey, that could be me someday!" I'll just be counting on all of you to help me promote myself. ;) Below is some inspiration.

 Courtesy of PomLove
Courtesy of createandadorn

On a somewhat related note, many of you know that I have an unhealthy relationship with wrapping paper. I mean seriously, it's a problem. I don't even have any presents to wrap at the moment, but I have bought 9 new rolls within the last month alone. Damn it, Target! Walgreens has also been snagging me. I usually wait to pick up my prescription (birth control, eee;), and while I wait, I always seem to find myself in the party supplies aisle. It's dangerous. It's so bad that sometimes I don't even tell L that I bought more for fear that he'll judge me, ha! Anyway, with that love of wrapping paper also comes a pretty strong affinity for tissue paper as well. I always have some on hand and get excited whenever I see new patterns and designs. That dang Cartwheel app I mentioned recently hasn't helped with this problem either because there is currently a 10% coupon off one of Target's brands of tissue paper. I may or may not have spent a load of money tonight buying a bunch of tissue paper to add to my already large collection. At some point, I've gotta stop, but I credit this purchase on being inspired, so I figured I better roll with it. (Man, am I good at justifying my spending or what?!;) Below is a picture of the different tissue paper I bought tonight...

  (Don't mind the weird brown spots on my floor. My carpet is weird, ha.)

All that tissue paper made even more fun with a box to store it in. I already owned the box, don't worry;).

Based on the inspiration above, I think this tissue paper will come in very handy. Confetti, pom poms, the ideas are endless! :) Not to mention, it's just fun to adorn gifts with such pretty designs. I only wish everyone shared the same appreciate for pretty paper that I do. Oh well. And this brings me to another somewhat impulsive set of purchases. Because I'm weirdly into the confetti idea for some reason, I thought to myself, "How on earth am I going to make that happen?" Fortunately, I have a former scrapbooking background, and I used to be insane with the amount of stuff I had. I actually still have a lot of it, and it's proving to come in handy all these years later. Anyway, from those days, I remember these little 'punch' tools that I had, and so I started searching online for some of those. Boy, did I find some... Below are the ones I ordered. I think they will be pretty cool, and I'm excited for them to come in the mail! I think they will also be cool for decorating cards and envelopes too. Man, exciting! (All products courtesy of EK Tools.)

 1" Circle Punch
 Flag Punch
 1" Scallop Punch
 Swirls Punch
1/8" Circle Punch (I'm thinking of cutting these teeny holes in some of the other shapes to possibly create little banners or chains or something. Something kinda like this, except cooler;). Not really sure how that will go, but the little tool was only $4.99, and ordering it allowed me to get free shipping. Score!

The last thing really catching my eyes these days is something called Washi Tape. Ever heard of it? Yeah, me neither. Here's a description in case you're curious. There are tons of people on Etsy that sell the stuff. I can't believe I didn't know it existed until now! Why it intrigues me is because it could potentially allow me to buy more 'plain' colors of paper (cheaper) for envelopes and then spruce up the envelopes with the tape. Sounds kinda fun, right?! I have no idea how it would work, so I suppose I should just get a trial roll or two before I buy like the 25 rolls in my Etsy cart right now, huh? ;) Here's a taste of a few rolls I have my eye on.

Courtesy of TapeToGo (above and below)

 Courtesy of ModernTape
Courtesy of whimsicalcraftss (above and below)

So, there you have it, folks. This post has quite a few random thoughts in it, but that's just where my head is at right now. I am just really excited about this stuff. Even if I never try to sell it, or if I do and no one buys it, at least I'm having fun tapping into my creative side and treating my loved ones to some pretty things. I must confess, it's right now that I miss being in my old two-bedroom apartment because that spare bedroom would come in way handy at this point. It could have been my little craft room! How fun. Maybe someday I'll end up with a room like that. I think me and L would both love to have a room in a house that allowed us an opportunity just escape and create, so perhaps that is in my future after all. ;) Anyway, I'll keep you posted as this progresses! Thanks for reading!

Monday, June 24, 2013

I Hate Bad Days!

In a quick change of pace from my, "I Love Good Days!" post, I have not had the best day today. Before I get into that, though, I'll talk about yesterday, which was awesome! I woke up relatively early yesterday and was texting back and forth with L as he was getting ready to head back to Madison. On a whim, I just said how I would love to come visit him and hang out by the pool at his apartment. A little while later, we decided on that as a plan, so I headed to Madison! I met up with him and a friend at a local pub, and then when we got done there, L's sister T came over to hang out with us. The weather was quite overcast by the time we actually got out by the pool, but it was still very nice. We had a few brews and spent a few hours out there, and L made dinner on the grill while we relaxed. Was really great, and it went way too fast! Being able to see him was really great considering otherwise it'd be 3 weeks before we could see each other again. Have I mentioned how much I want to live in the same city?! ;)

Anyway, got up this morning to get ready and head back to Milwaukee for work. On my drive, I was going past a car and thought, "Hmmm. That car sounds kinda loud!" Only after passing them did I realize that it was MY car. Uh oh! I monitored it the whole drive and was nervous that it was getting worse. I should mention that my check engine light came on last week too, but I ignored it because it comes on relatively frequently, usually if I don't put my gas cap on tight enough. Then yesterday before I went to Madison, my electric thing where I charge my phone in the car stopped working. All of these things made me feel I should take it in, so I called a place I've been before to see if they could get me in. While she couldn't guarantee that they'd get to it, she told me if I could leave it there that they'd do their best to get it done today. I was originally going to get some cash and call a cab to take me back home, but it was acting funnier when I got into town, so I just wanted to get it there as soon as possible. Since I had no cash, I decided to walk home (a little over two miles). Thankfully it was overcast this morning, but it was still very hot. I got about a half mile into my walk and realized I didn't grab my phone charger, and I figured I'd need that in case they had to keep it overnight or something because obviously I'd need to be available when they called. Had to turn back around to get that, and then I restarted my journey. In the meantime, some dude in a moving van-type vehicle drove by twice and slowed down to try and get my name. I just gave him a dirty look and fortunately he kept on driving, but really? I finally got home and basically had to just sit around and wait. I would have taken a cab to work, but it costs $20 one way just to get downtown, and my work is about 8-10 further. No way am I gonna drop $50+ on a cab just to get to work, especially when I didn't know how much my repairs would cost. Anyway, got a call around noon saying what the issue was with the check engine light. I couldn't even tell you because it was like a foreign language, but then he proceeded to list several other things that 'should' be fixed. I was not prepared for all of that, so I asked about costs and stuff, and then I just told him to do the oil change and wiper replacement, but to hold on that other stuff as long as it wasn't life-threatening. After he called, I had to wait over 2 more hours for them to call back and say it was ready. At that point, I walked my ass back there (man, over 4 miles in today, whew!) and braced myself for a crazy bill. Fortunately, it was "only" $149, but that's still something most people aren't usually factoring into their budgets. Boo. When I paid, they gave me a list of the other things they mentioned could use work, and get this, those things would cost a total of $630. Um, what?! Thankfully I held off on that. Yikes.

Anyway, I got back home and debated about going into work, but I wouldn't have gotten there until about 3:30, and I only would have worked until 6:00. So yeah, didn't really make too much sense. Just sucks to have to waste a vacation day on this stuff. I called my dad to talk over the other repairs and see if any were necessary, so he went over and talked to the guys at Colby Chrysler who proceed to say, "I wish I worked in Milwaukee!" Meaning, the price (namely for labor) was quite high. They told my dad they could probably do it for about $200 less than what it would be here. Man... How is that even possible?! Problem is, I don't really have plans to go home until August, and dad doesn't think I should wait quite that long. I AM going to Wausau in mid-July to visit my best friend Erin and help her get some things together for her October wedding, so dad's thought is that I should come to Colby and then use my mom's vehicle until Sunday when I come back to get my car. The thing that sucks about that is that it involves going to Colby first, then driving back to Wausau, then driving back to Colby the next day, only to turn around and basically go through Wausau again on my way back to Milwaukee. That is a lot of extra driving in an already short weekend. But, I suppose it could be worth it to save me $200 on repairs. Even still, though, over $400 on car stuff is just such a bummer. I don't have oodles of money lying around, and my car insurance is also due in August, so all of this stuff is just adding up and it sucks! :( Not the way I wanted my week to start. Not to mention, I could see my boss being upset that I wasn't there today, so yeah... Hopefully the rest of the week is better! I was thinking about going back by L again this coming weekend and just coming back to Milwaukee on Sunday in time for the Pitbull concert at Summerfest (I have tickets), but now I'm not sure what I'll do given the fact that I'll have more expenses coming up, and also because I'll be there a few days later for a long 4th of July weekend. I wish I didn't have to make sacrifices like that, but I suppose that comes with being an adult. One day, I am hopeful that everything will just come together... Cross your fingers for me!

Saturday, June 22, 2013


I'm back, and so soon! Are your minds just spinning with how much I've been posting lately?! This is what happens when you have some of that little thing called time. ;) Anyway, as mentioned in my previous post, I was going to share with you my guacamole recipe that I use. It's about as simple as they come, and I'm sure there are plenty of variations out there that are both better and worse than this one. For my tastes, this one works just perfectly! I made mention of this guacamole a long time ago in my NutriBullet post, but I never shared it, so it's time to change that! Before I share, I should mention that while I put all the ingredients in my NutriBullet and pulse it a bit to make the guac, I would guess that you could make it relatively easy without such a 'tool' as well. If you do have a NutriBullet or a food processor or something, take note that it doesn't move much after the first couple pulses due to the thickness of the avocado. At the point it stops moving, I usually just open it up and scoop it out into a bowl and then just stir it up a bit on my own to make sure everything's mixed up. Works flawlessly! Anyway, here's the recipe!

  • 1 ripe avocado, peeled and pitted
  • Juice of 1 lime wedge (I used juice from half a lime)
  • 1 Tbsp cilantro (I had fresh, so I didn't measure. I don't go overboard, otherwise that's all you taste.)
  • 1/4 cup chopped red onion
  • 1/2 clove garlic
  • Sea salt and pepper to taste
(The recipe does not call for it, but I also added two small Thai peppers to mine to give it a little kick. You might choose to add jalepeno or something if you'd like, but it's totally up to you! See a picture below to learn what Thai peppers look like in case you're ever on the hunt for them.)


Place all ingredients in NutriBullet (this is obviously specific to my product). Pulse with the Extractor Blade several times until well combined but still coarse.

That's it! Easy peasy, right?! These ingredients don't sound like they make much, but it makes a fairly good portion if you don't have many people eating it. And what's nice is that you could easily increase everything if you want to make more! Sadly, I just realized as I typed out this recipe that I forgot to add garlic to mine today, but that's okay. It still tastes pretty damn good if I do say so myself! ;)

Thai peppers! In case you're curious, these peppers can usually be found at farmer's markets (if in season) or at Asian markets. L and I struck out at the farmer's market last weekend because it might be a bit too early yet, but we made a haul at the Asian market not too far from my place. I'm not as familiar with them as L is, so he suggested I buy a bunch and freeze them. The picture above is after I rinsed them all and cut off the stems. You certainly don't have to cut the stems off, but it makes it easier when you want to use them down the road because you don't have to get cold fingers from doing it then. Anyway.... I used two of these peppers in my guacamole (below), and every once in awhile, I get a nice kick of heat. Love it! Hope you enjoy it if you give it a shot! :)

I Love Good Days!

Hey there! So, today has been a pretty great day. I was worried it would suck because I had to work at New Student Orientation this morning (I don't normally work on weekends), but fortunately, I kept a positive attitude and kept my energy level up. I got up at about 7:00am to get ready (which, mind you, is earlier than I get up for a normal workday), went to work, and got home around 11:00am. Sat around for a bit, but before I got too comfy, I 'forced' myself to do today's workout, which was 35 minutes of exercises for the thighs and butt. Out of all the videos I've been doing, this one has proven to be the hardest by far. My heartrate goes through the roof and my legs feel like they're going to fall off, but I'm proud to say that today (my second time doing it) went better than the first time! I hope that trend continues. :) It made me happy to get it out of the way because now tomorrow is a rest day for me. I've earned it!

After working out, eating, and showering (see random photos below of my hair choices for the day, ha), I got myself ready and headed to Target. GASP! In my defense, I did need a few things, but I legitimately cannot stay away. And now I need to share with you yet another reason that makes this place so appealing. Have any of you heard of their new thing called Cartwheel? I'd heard a little bit about it via Target's Facebook page, but quite honestly, I was pretty confused by it. I finally saw a video about it, which I think you can view when you go to the link I provided, and it made a lot more sense. You have to have a Facebook account, and you have to download the Cartwheel app for your phone, which is fine because it's free. I'm not huge on linking things to Facebook, but I'm pretty okay with this app. Anyway, I don't know if this is how they would describe it, but to me, it is basically like an online coupon book. Through the app (and I think through the site I linked), you can browse through all the coupons or search by collections, and once you find discounts you like, you just add them to your 'cartwheel.' You can add a decent amount of coupons to your cart, which is cool. What's even cooler, the app creates a bar code based on the coupons you selected, so when you go to the store and buy any or all of the things that have coupons for them, you just pull up the app and they'll scan the bar code. Bam! All your savings are there. Are you kidding me?! Awesome. I just downloaded the app today and tried it when I went to the store, and it worked seamlessly. Not to mention, I also recently got the Target debit card, which gives you 5% off every time you shop at Target. I chose the debit card at Target because I wanted to be held accountable. Credit cards are dangerous in that they allow you to spend money you don't have, and Lord knows we all have a problem controlling ourselves at Target. ;) With the debit card being linked directly to my checking account, I know I have to be responsible. I also picked it because I think the debit card has less of a ding on your credit score than opening another credit card. Anyway, between the Cartwheel savings, my 5% off, and the $0.20 I saved for bringing in four of my own bags, I saved like $16 today. Crazy! One last thing, you can use the coupons more than once before they expires. For most of the coupons I picked, I probably wouldn't have a need to use them more than once (except maybe for groceries), but it's still cool that you can use them multiple times, even in one day, and still get your 5% off from the Target card. I think this program was designed with the sole purpose of bankrupting me. No joke. At the same time, half the stuff I buy there, I'd buy regardless, so it's good to get a discount. I just fear that I'll start buying stuff I don't need just because there's an available coupon, ha! Someone keep me in check. ;) In case you're curious, here are the things I got discounts on today through Cartwheel:

  • 5% off Women's Fashion Tanks (I got another microrib tank... I'm addicted!)
  • 10% off Coleman Airbeds (I've been saying for months, heck, years, that I need to get an air mattress, and it's become even more apparent that I need one since moving to my one-bedroom apartment. Anyway, I snagged a pretty good deal on this queen one because it was already on sale for $45, and then I got the 10% off from Cartwheel. Finally caved!
  • 5% off "up & up" brand disinfecting wipes
  • 5% off avocados

Pretty cool, huh?! I'm still thinking about getting a yoga mat (10% off in Cartwheel), but fortunately, I have until 7/6 to decide if that's a necessary purchase or not. ;) I did resist the urge to use coupons on things like Post-Its, tissue paper, and Sharpie pens, all which I'm obsessed with, so I guess I DO have some self-control after all. Ha! Anyway, I just wanted to share this with you since I was so excited. By no means have I been encouraged by anyone to promote Target or its services... But hey Target, if you're reading this and want to pay me for speaking on your behalf, I'm totally in! ;)

After Target, I stopped at the grocery store and got a few things I had coupons for (man, when did I become a crazy coupon lady?!;), and then I came home and unpacked everything. I decided to make guacomole too, and that was a perfect idea because I'm munching on it now. Here's the point where I decide if dinner is even necessary anymore. ;) I'll do a post with my guac recipe after this one! I am kinda disappointed that it's already after 7:00pm, but I've had a pretty productive day, so I feel good. Helps that I also have tomorrow to do whatever the heck I want. Yes! (In case you're wondering, L is in the Dells for a bachelor party, so me having to work and him being busy happened to work out quite well from a timing standpoint.) Anyway, below are a few pics regarding the hair today, and I hope you are all having a great weekend!

I saw this post on Pinterest last night (can you see it?) about a girl with really pretty wavy/curly hair, and it made me feel like I wanted to try that with my hair. My hair is kind of weird. For the most part, it's straight, but if I let it dry on its own, it typically does some pretty crazy things. Some parts are wavy, some parts are straight, it's just unpredictable. So, on a whim, I decided to throw my damp hair up in a high bun after my shower and just let it be for an hour or two. I took it down and left it for a bit, and the above pictures were the end result. Now, I must say, it looks pretty good here, but it's a bit misleading. Not long after this, some parts of my hair started straightening out (I think my thick hair might just be too heavy), and it also got a bit frizzy from air drying and the humidity. I should have used my anti-frizz stuff but forgot. I mostly just used mouse and hairspray, so maybe I'll consider trying the product she reviewed in the Pinterest post. However, I think it's for people with curlier hair than me, so it may not be worth it. Regardless, just was fun to try it, even if I didn't keep it like that for long. The one plus of having that product in my hair was that it made for a more voluminous ponytail once I put it up! My hair's too short to do a high pony on it's own, so with the help of some bobby pins, I'm typically able to get the look I like. Judge for yourself! :)

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Italian Wonderpot

It's been awhile since I've done a post about cooking, so I'm pleased to report that I have a new recipe to share! I have been on the go so much lately, so that's involved making some of the same go-to recipes on a regular basis (I swear, I could eat this spicy sausage pasta forever if someone let me;). However, now that I've got a couple weekends that are much more lowkey, I've been looking for recipes and figuring out what new things I can try. I haven't made any major dietary changes or anything, but I've been considering a few more recipes with less dairy in them. This is HARD for me. I love milk, cheese, cream, you name it. I can't say for certain, but sometimes I feel as if my body doesn't like dairy as much as it used to. Perhaps it's that or some other type of food allergy, but sometimes I just feel icky. No doctor has told me this or anything, but I just know a lot of people who have cut out certain foods and feel way better, so I'm thinking about it. Don't quote me. I'll probably never fully commit to it, but just a thought process. I've also been working out with some of L's workout videos, and man, my body is feeling it ALL over! It's a good burn. I just hope I can stay motivated. I'll let ya know how that goes. ;)

Anyway...... I found this new recipe on Pinterest called Italian Wonderpot that intrigued me, especially because I miraculously had all the ingredients on hand! And, no dairy like most of the other pastas I make. Sometimes I like to push myself a little outside my comfort zone, and this recipe did just that, mostly because of the diced tomatoes. I made some modifications from the recipe I found, which is funny, because she made a few modifications from the one that she found. Don't be alarmed by the seemingly large amount of modifications I made. Most of them were really minor and didn't change the recipe at all. Anyway, I'll provide some pics and the original recipe (with my changes noted). Feel free to let me know if you have any questions! :)

 Most of the ingredients!
 Add pretty much everything. I tried mimicking the photo from the recipe I found. I think it looks cool! :)
 Stir everything up and submerge it all in the liquid. I was a bit scared by how much red there was, but as you'll see in later photos, it really lightens up and isn't as overtaken with tomatoes as I was afraid of!:)
 Get it boiling!
 The original recipe does not call for Italian sausage, but I like a little meat, and it was a great addition. This the point I started browning the sausage. Probably 7-10 minutes before it was done.
Add the spinach!
 Finish browning the sausage!
 See it starting to thicken a bit? It's all coming together!
 I added the cheese here, but then also some to my individual bowl.
Here's where you can also add the sausage if you choose to go that route. Done!
 The end result! Wish I could have gotten a cooler pic, but still gives you an idea!

  • 4 cups (32 oz) vegetable broth (I used chicken broth because I had it.)
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 12 oz. fettuccine (I used linguine and think linguine is better for this anyway.)
  • 8 oz. frozen chopped spinach (I used less than half that amount, and I used fresh.)
  • 1 (28 oz.) can diced tomatoes (I used two smaller cans, which was about the same amount. I may cut back on that next time, only because I'm not as big on tomatoes as some people. They're not too overpowering or anything, just a personal preference for myself!)
  • 1 medium onion, sliced (I used frozen diced onions because I had them - worked well.)
  • 4 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 1/2 Tbsp dried basil
  • 1/2 Tbsp dried oregano
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes (I used 1/2 tsp because most recipes are made with wimps in mind, and I prefer spicier! ;) Sadly, the extra 1/2 tsp still didn't really make a dent, but it's okay because there is a healthy amount of flavor in the recipe.)
  • Freshly cracked pepper to taste
  • 2 oz. Feta cheese (I didn't measure. I just used crumbles I had on hand.)
  • 1 lb. Italian sausage, browned (***The original recipe doesn't call for Italian sausage, but I used a separate pan and cooked a pound of hot Italian sausage to add to the rest of the stuff once it was cooked. I would highly recommend this. I think it totally makes the dish better!***)

  • Add the broth to a large pot. Break the pasta in half to make stirring easier later, and then add it to the pot. Also add the canned tomatoes (undrained), olive oil, onion, garlic, basil, oregano, red pepper, and some freshly cracked black pepper. (As a note, the original recipe said to put the spinach in at this time too. However, I didn't put the spinach until about 5 minutes before the pasta was done because I didn't want it to get all gross. The woman I got the recipe from said she'd wait to put it in until later the next time she makes it too.)
  • Make sure the ingredients are submerged under the liquid, place a lid on top of the pot, and then turn the heat on to high. Allow the pot to come up to a full, rolling boil over high heat, then remove the lid and turn the heat down to medium.
  • Allow the pot to continue to boil over medium heat without a lid for 10-15 minutes or until the pasta is cooked and most of the liquid has been absorbed. (Mine took slightly longer than this. It's okay if there's a little liquid that's still in the pot at the end. I'd recommend it so the pasta doesn't get all pasty/gooey.) 
  • Stir the pot every few minutes as it cooks to prevent the pasta from sticking to the bottom, but avoid over stirring which can cause the pasta to become sticky and mushy. The pot must be boiling the entire time. After the pasta is cooked, crumble the feta cheese over top and serve.
So... There ya have it! It was super easy, and it's very good. I was pleasantly surprised with this recipe and highly recommend adding some sausage, or maybe even some chicken, to give it a little more flare! :) I can see why people would like it even without the extras though, so do whatever you prefer. If you try it, let me know what you think!

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Florida (Part Two)

In case you were hanging there in suspense (which I doubt, because you probably haven't even read the first Florida post yet;), I thought I'd finish out my story regarding our trip to Orlando! As mentioned, we stayed at an awesome place for the first part of our trip, and we loved pretty much everything about it. The apartment-style rooms were awesome, the hotel's proximity to stores and restaurants was perfect for not having a car, and the pool area was just right for our needs. You can read all about that experience in detail in the previous post. So now, it's time to pick up where I left off, and that was when we left Blue Heron to head to the big hotel where L's conference was at. Here goes!

You may or may not know this, but L and I both work in the same profession (Career Services), just at different institutions. In the higher ed world, there is a national conference for just about every area including, advising, career services, housing, etc. The conference L was going to is called NACE, which is the national conference for career services peeps. Unfortunately, my work isn't that supportive of professional development, so none of the people from my office could go to the conference. Booo. So, I did the next best thing and went along to FL for a vacation! :) The conference was hosted at the Orlando Marriott World Center, which is where we stayed for the second part of our trip. Perhaps we're abnormal or something, but this hotel didn't appeal to us before we even got there. If you go to the hotel website, you'll see a picture of how gigantic the hotel is. That alone is unappealing. Not to mention, it seems any time you go to a 'fancy' hotel, it ends up being a let down where you pay three times as much for something that isn't even that special. Anywayyyyyy... Didn't so much have a right to complain since L's work picked up the entire tab (definite plus!), but you'll soon see why this wasn't the most enjoyable experience we've ever had. Below are a few pics from when we first got to the hotel, and then I'll continue on with the rest of our adventure.

 Walking into the room.
 Cool full-length mirror.
L checking out the view.
 Cool view from the balcony!
 Hanging out by the balcony.

Okay, so we'll start with our arrival. We took a cab from our first hotel to the second hotel. They were pretty dang close to each other, so that was good. There were people outside to help us with our bags, and we went into the lobby which was huge and nice. We got there around 11:30am, and check-in isn't supposed to be until 4:00pm. Fortunately, they were very accommodating and were able to find us a room. We wanted a king bed room, but to get in right away, we just took a room with double beds. We also had the option of a higher or lower floor, so we took a higher floor option in order to have a cool view of the Disney fireworks at night. We went upstairs, and the above photos give you an indication that it was a pretty nice place. They offered us a mini fridge at no charge (which we didn't think we'd get), so that was exciting. L and I wanted to bring food for me so I didn't have to go out to eat for every meal, but we didn't bring much because we didn't think we'd have the option. Kind of a bummer. After we checked out the room, we decided to go check out the pool area and the little pond on the premises (pictures below).

 Beautiful pool area!
 Neat gazebo-type area that L took me to to look at turtles and fishies!
 I'm tellin' ya, those lizards are everywhere!
 Enjoying a few drinks at the pool bar.
 Another view of the pool.
L taking a dip in the pool! I joined right after. :) The first day we were there was the best day for swimming the whole time we were at that hotel. Otherwise, it was pretty overcast and rainy, so I'm glad we took advantage of the opportunity to swim while we could!

Alright... Now, everything seems good so far, right? It was, but let me bring you into our reality... After the first day in the hotel, things started to go downhill. That first night, we ordered in pizza from Papa John's so that I'd have some leftovers to eat for the next day or two. As we were eating, L noticed that there were quite a few ants by the balcony door, inside our room. Ick! He knows more about bugs than I do, but even "I" know that there's something very weird/wrong about finding a colony of ants on the top (19th!) floor of a hotel. We called the front desk, and to their credit, they sent a guy up with some spray pretty quickly. Unfortunately, it wasn't residual spray, which means it only killed the ants if they were sprayed directly. After the guy left, it only took about 5-10 minutes for L to notice that there seemed to be significantly more ants, almost as if the spray brought them to the surface. We called them again, and the same guy came back. We asked if he had a stronger spray (i.e., Raid), but he said they couldn't use that because of the smell. He told us he'd have the actual company come the next day and spray our room. We got a call from the front desk that night to see when we wanted the company to come since we'd have to leave the room for it. We told them a time, but sadly, no one ever showed. We decided not to complain or inquire because the ants seemed to be under control. In the meantime, since L's conference wasn't really in full swing, we spent the day hanging out by the pool bar, chatting with the bartenders, enjoying a few brews, etc. We also went out for sushi in one of the hotel restaurants. I'll be real, I don't eat sushi that much, but I was not overly impressed. It was clearly pre-made, and while I know grocery store sushi can sometimes be a treat, that's not what we wanted at a pricey restaurant. Oh well. That's what you get when you travel to a resort in Florida. Below are a few pics from that day.

 Not much of a maxi dress wearer, but I've kinda gotten into 'em lately. Here's one I sported on the trip!
 I made L take a pic with the Bud Light lime because the color matched him. :)
The bartender was nice enough to take a pic of us.
 He has the habit of making crazy faces, and he finalllllllly allowed me to capture him on film. ;)
 Eating at the sushi restaurant!

Overall, it was a pretty fun day. Not gonna lie, we both got a little tipsy! ;) The weather was still pretty nice (very warm), we had some friendly service at the pool bar, and it was nice to enjoy another day of 'just us.' I was sad that he had to work at that hotel because I felt like it was less exciting and more expensive, which is never a good combo! Not to mention, the weather was shittier, so it just was a downer.

On our third day at the new hotel (Wednesday), I kind of just hung around while L did some conference stuff. I went down and got myself a bloody mary at the pool bar, but the weather was pretty icky, so I spent some time in the room. L was able to sneak back to the room a few times in between sessions, so we just kinda hung out during his downtime because that's what I wanted to do most. :) That night, he had a social to go to until about 7:00, and then his friend Natasha from high school came to pick us up at the hotel. He literally hasn't seen her since they graduated, but she saw via Facebook that he was in Florida, so she messaged him and the rest is history. We weren't even sure what it'd be like, because it's been 13 years since they graduated, and they weren't super close in high school. Would she be nice? Would she be super awkward? Ha! Fortunately for us, she was totally awesome. That should be indicated by the fact that she drove all the way up from Tampa to pick us up from the hotel and take us out. Aside from seeing her, it was also really great because we really had no opportunity to leave the hotel without a car. It's this HUGE resort, so they kind of intentionally trap you. Even if we had had our own car or a rental car, we would have paid like $20/day to park there. For that reason, I'm glad we didn't drive, but for the fact that we were literally trapped at the resort, it would have been nice to be able to get out on our own. Natasha ended up taking us to this really awesome place called Cafe Tu Tu Tango. It is a tapas-sytle restaurant, which I've never been to, so that was fun. I also really liked it because there was artwork all over the place from local artists, and there were even real artists doing paintings while we were there. If that wasn't enough, they have live entertainment each night, and on the night we went, it happened to be a belly dancer. She was so cool! I took a lot of photos, but sadly, I couldn't get the lighting to quite work because it was very dark in there. I even mentioned when we got there that my dad would hate the place for how dark it was. ;) Anyway, the food was really great and the atmosphere was awesome. If I ever go back to Orlando, I'll for sure be going there again! After dinner, we went to Universal Studios because they don't charge admission after 7:00. We had a drink at Margaritaville and just chatted awhile before Natasha took us back to the hotel. She was just so super sweet and we had a great time with her. I can't thank her enough for getting us out of there for a bit!

 Some of the decor inside the restaurant.
 Enjoying my white sangria and flautas!
 L looking all sexy with his wine. ;)
 The belly dancer!
 Love this pic! Only wish the lighting were better.
 Natasha doesn't eat dairy, so I got the ice cream part of her dessert. Yum!!
 One of the cool paintings at the restaurant.
 Once we got to Universal, we (or should I say "I") couldn't resist photos on the surfboard! :)
 Natasha got in on the fun too!

By the time we got back to the hotel that night, it was about midnight or a little after. We started to get our stuff together for the night, and all of a sudden L noticed an ant on the bed closer to the balcony. Fortunately, that's not where we were sleeping! Then I looked down, and I saw a couple ants in our suitcase. Oh HELL no! It's one thing if they stay close to the door, but when they start getting in our shit, I am DONE. Then L came over and noticed a swarm of them by the little end table between the two beds. I'm not talking a few ants, folks. I'm talking like 20-30 of them just swarming around our stuff. I was so grossed out. We called the front desk, and they offered to put us in a different room, so we happily took that option. They gave us that option initially, but we were reluctant to give up our room too quickly because the view was so great. I was finally at a point where I didn't give a shit about the view if it meant a cleaner, less disgusting room that had no ants. As you might imagine, we had stuff everywhere, so we essentially had to repack. Super annoying. We waited about 15 minutes and a guy came up to help us move. Now, the way the hotel is set up, there are multiple towers, and while the whole hotel is connected, it literally takes about 15 minutes to get from one side to the next. Go figure, we had to move from the north tower to the east tower, which was quite a hike, especially at 1:00am. When the guy came, I just let him know that the ants were really concentrated between the two beds, and his response was, "Oh, I didn't even know what the problem was. They don't tell us; they just tell us it's a room change." I told him it would be wise to pass the information along. He said he would, but who knows if he did or not. When we finally got to our new room, we were quite disappointed. Our view was facing the backside of the hotel, right above a bunch of fans that made a lot of noise. Really? You take us out of an awesome room for something that is YOUR problem, and your solution is to put us in a shitty room in a completely different tower with no offer for anything to make up for our troubles?! NOT a way to win me back as a customer, that's for damn sure. Regardless, we got ready for bed, and as I was sitting there, I jumped, because I got bit by an f'ing ant that had been in my pajamas. Seriously? I don't think it'd be much of a surprise to you that I didn't sleep well that night. Man, what a shit show. We did lie down for bed eventually, and then L had to get up really early for conference stuff. That's exactly what we wanna be dealing with late at night when he has to be up at the crack of dawn. Ugh. One of the most interesting things about the whole situation is that while they always responded quickly, the staff seemed to be very robotic. We often got, "We're very sorry for the inconvenience...." but there was no one that really seemed to CARE. And as L kept saying, "Ants are a big deal!!!" I agree. They don't really get transported in by people because they'll eventually die without their colony, so clearly there is something that is keeping them there if they're on the top friggin' floor of the hotel, and I don't even want to know what it is.... I only hope they didn't throw someone into that room the second we left it...

Thursday (our last full day) was a pretty boring day. It was probably L's biggest day at the conference, and I couldn't do much of anything because it rained like a biatch. See the video below. There was a tropical storm coming in, so it took away my ability to do the one thing I enjoyed at the hotel, which was to go down and swim. Nowhere does the website say anything about an indoor pool, so I was under the assumption they didn't have one. Apparently they do, but I didn't find out until after we left. L did have a nice break in the afternoon, so we hung out in the room and watched a movie, but I must admit, I was quite restless. If I wanted to be trapped in a hotel room to watch movies, I could have just stayed at my apartment, you know? I think I was also just pissy because of the whole ant disaster and not feeling like they really gave a shit about us. Typical chain hotel.

Listen to it rain! (It was worse than it looks/sounds.)

Same view, less than an hour apart. Thankfully it cleared up a bit!

Because Thursday was our last full day, we decided that we'd do a nice dinner in the hotel. There is an Italian place we wanted to try, but when we went there, they told us they only took reservations, so it'd be a 3-hour wait. What?! Their website allows you to make reservations, but it doesn't say you HAVE to. I think maybe it was just a busier night, but even still, I was kinda pissed. Right next door to it in the hotel was a sports bar, so we decided we'd try that. Same f'ing thing. How do you you not have places for people in a sports bar?! The only thing they could offer us was a communal high top with strangers. Yeah, we really want to sit at a table with strangers on our nice dinner out. We opted out of that as well. What a nightmare. We could have done sushi again, but we felt it was overpriced and under quality, and since the only other option was a super pricey steakhouse, we decided to eat out at the pool bar/restaurant again. They have good food, but their menu is very small. And because every other place apparently need reservations, it was packed. They have a bunch of tables, but they were all full, so L and I had to sit at their bar-style seating facing the pool that's open to the outdoors. Since that was the only available seating there was, we had to sit there getting somewhat rained on in the cold. Real pleasant. I've gotta say, for a freakin' hotel that has 2,000+ rooms, having only 5 real restaurant options is absurd. L's conference didn't provide dinner, so there were hundreds and hundreds of people trying to eat at their extremely limited selection of restaurants. Pretty pathetic in my opinion. Anyway, we ordered our food (seen below), and it was great, but sadly, our service was terrible. The food came out decently fast given how busy it was, but once we got it, it's like we were invisible. They were clearly understaffed, but we were very low maintenance as usual, and we got blatantly ignored. The guy who was our original server didn't even bring out our food, which I can understand, but that doesn't mean that you don't come check on us. We finished our food and sat there with empty drink cups for over 30 minutes until the guy who brought us our food (again, not our original server) came by and we flagged him down for our check. Meanwhile, our original server passed us at least 3-4 times, never looked at us, and never asked us if we needed anything else. We did want to just leave, but what if we had wanted another drink or something?! We waited probably another 15 minutes after we asked for our check to actually get the check, and our actual server brought it out. Rather than saying anything, he threw it in front of us and walked away. No, "Sorry for the long wait, guys," or "Is there anything else I can get you?" Nothing. I was appalled. VERY rarely do I not leave a tip. Actually, I've only done it once in my life. However, this guy and the overall service was just so bad that we could justify a very small (under 50 cent) tip. I am an understanding person. I was a server. I know what it's like for things to be stressful, especially when you're busy and you're understaffed. However, I never see that as a justifiable excuse for terrible service. Jerk. They're lucky the food was good, or I would've gone ape shit. ;) (And if I'm being totally honest, I got the nachos earlier in the week too, and they were better the first time. The second time, the cheese was a bit thicker as if they didn't have it melted enough. I think I'm just being critical because I was pissed about the experience in general, but just kinda funny how it all went down.)

 Nachos (above) and Fish Tacos (below).
L had enough sense to ask a bit more about the fish tacos before ordering them, and when he asked, we found out that the fish was actually raw. He's a big raw fish fan (hello, sushi), so that was great. However, they said nothing about it in their menu, and all I kept thinking was, "Don't you think people would want to know that the fish is raw?!" I know more people in my life than not who would be grossed out by that, so it seemed very odd to me that they didn't mention that at all in the menu. Yet another strike. ;)
 Trying to look happy at dinner. ;)

After that whole mess, we were just happy to have a good night's sleep before we left Florida. We were able to sleep in the next day, so that was great. We had to check out of the hotel by 11:00, so we packed a bit the night before and just took our time in the morning. Based on what I heard about the weather, it wasn't supposed to be nice out. We were even worried about our ability to get out FL, but when I opened the curtains, much to my surprise, it was beautiful. Not gonna lie, it almost crushed me. The whole time, I felt stuck in this rather miserable hotel, not even able to enjoy the pool, and then on the day we had to leave, it turns into a beautiful day. I'm not sure what got into me, but on a whim, I decided that I wanted to go for one last dip in the pool. Couldn't convince L to go with me, so I threw on my suit and ran down. Dunked for about 15 minutes, sat out on a chair for a bit, and headed back up to get ready to go. It was refreshing to be able to do that. Just sad we couldn't have stayed longer, especially since we had a LONG wait in the airport. Oh well. Took advantage while I could!

 View from my pool chair on the last day!
 Another view from one part of the hotel.
 As I mentioned, the noise that we could hear in our second room was LOUD. Thought I'd take a video to show you just the shit we were dealing with in this place. Ha. Oh, and to make matters worse, you see those two tall towers in the distance as I scan to the right? That's our old hotel. All we kept saying was, "Man, I wish we were back there..."
 We brought a few beers over from our first hotel, so we took our last few minutes in the room to enjoy the last two and soak in the beautiful day. Was nice to have that moment together!
Hanging out in the airport! We got there around 11:30 and didn't fly out until 6:00, so it was a long time in the airport. Fortunately, we are good at keeping each other company. We also had Yahtzee on my phone to keep us entertained. Oh, and there's also the fact that we ate lunch AND dinner in the airport, ha! Good times. While I really liked Florida, and overall had a great experience, I was ready to leave that second hotel. Fortunately, all our flights (both to and from Florida) went very smoothly. No real issues. I did have problems on the way back. My ears were giving me troubles, and I was also having a major sinus issue. I don't know how to describe it, but it felt as if a vein in my forehead above my left eye was seriously exploding every time the pressure changed. I know it sounds dramatic, and that's not what was actually happening, but it was so painful. I cried. :-/ L was very supportive, despite not being able to do much for me. It was just nice to get on the ground again, even though it didn't fully go away until later the next day. It also weirdly made my nose run, so something was very clearly going on inside my head during our flights back. Sucky, and I hope I never have to experience that again.

We got back to L's place around 10:30pm, and his friend Tou hung out with us for awhile since he picked us up. I eventually went up to bed because L and I had agreed to get up super early and go to the Dane County farm breakfast with some of his family. There are a few pictures below from that. It was fun!

 L's first farm breakfast experience!:)
After the breakfast, we came back started prepping for dinner. L's sister T came over that afternoon and had dinner with us and watched a movie. She wasn't planning on it, but she ended up staying over that night because we watched a few movies and had a few too many drinks. ;)

 L and his family make this wonderful creation called pepper dip. Essentially, it consists of Thai peppers, cilantro, green onion, garlic, line, and fish sauce. It's gotta be the right mix (as my mama found out the hard way;), but it is so fantastic. It goes really well with a lot of stuff, especially pork and chicken. A warning for the weak: It is quite spicy, so be careful if you ever get a chance to eat it!
 Frog legs! Ever had 'em? Tasty!
The full meal. Seriously, this man can cook!! I am way too lucky. I must say, it was so nice to have a couple days back in Madison after the trip to just unwind and recharge. As usual, it was so hard to leave to come back to work. I typically stay over on Sunday nights and then get up pretty early on Monday to leave straight for work. It ain't always easy, but it's so worth it for a few extra hours with my babe. :) 

Anyway, thanks for hanging along with me as I finished sharing about our trip! Clearly it became quite an adventure at the second hotel. I'm sure glad we didn't pay for it because you're damn right I would have been demanding a refund, at least for the night we had to move (after 3 calls to them regarding the damn ants)! Pretty bogus. Let's just say I will not willingly be staying there again any time soon. ;) L and I are actually considering going back to Orlando again and staying in the place we stayed the first few nights. It was a perfect experience for us, and since we have our vouchers, it could totally work out. We are also toying with the idea of a couple other travel options (Hawaii, Alaska, New Orleans, and Boston, to name a few), but we're just kinda looking at ticket prices and seeing what will happen. We don't even know when we'd go, but likely sometime within the next year so we can actually make use of the vouchers! I'll keep you posted if any plans get made. Until then, I'll just dream away. :) Now the summer is gonna fly, so I hope I am able to actually enjoy some of it! I'll do my best to keep you up to speed on my adventures over the next few months, but for now, it's bed time so I can start another week. Night y'all!