Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Pinterest Project: Basement Bar

So, we recently did a little DIY/Pinterest project in the basement of our new house. More "DIY" than Pinterest, since we really just used Pinterest more as a "pinspiration" than anything.  Yes...typing that word made me gag a little.  But anywho...I really love how it turned out.
So our new house, which I love, came with this weird alcove in the basement. I'm 90% sure that the previous owner had a bunch of bookshelves tucked into it, but I forget from when we did the walk-through.
The basement already has tons of storage (the doors to the right in this photo are our game closet), so using it for a closet didn't seem to make sense.  Reading nook was a possibility, but it's really dark right there, so that would require adding in some lighting.  It was too shallow for a play area (plus, as the kid gets bigger, I'm sure the whole downstairs living area will become his play area).

So, what to do with it?  Currently, the downstairs living area is our "movie room" (though we haven't made much use of it yet).  So it struck us to turn the alcove into a small "dry" bar (no plumbing in this area of the basement) for drinks and snacks.  This freed up some space in our dining room upstairs (which is where our wine rack used to be, but since our new dining room is a little smaller, there isn't really space).

So...where to start?

With a fridge, of course!  We found a black mini fridge on the FB Marketplace for about $40.  Therefore it seemed to make sense to focus our build around this.  I visualized the fridge, a wine rack, and a cabinet or two for closed storage that would potentially be lockable.  Then a countertop and some shelves above.

My initial sketch. Please ignore typos.

We priced cabinets at the big box home improvement stores, but everything was higher than we really wanted to spend, or was too tall/short.  So I would periodically visit the thrift stores near my office to see if there were any end tables that might work.  I finally hit paydirt-- $7 for this fiberboard laminated TV stand.  It was in rough shape and needed some love, but overall it was sturdy, and the doors were in decent condition.
The top and the casters made it considerably taller than the mini-fridge, so we just removed those.

Then, there was the wine rack issue.  Our existing wine rack was just about right as far as height, but the wrought iron detailing along the sides wouldn't allow it to fit in the space we had left.  I searched FB Marketplace and Craigslist, but could never find anything that would work (or that hadn't already been snatched up, or the lister wouldn't respond, etc.).
Mid-process pic.  You can see how the current wine rack just isn't going to work.

I saw some pics on Pinterest showing wine racks made out of wooden crates, and had a "Eureka" moment.  We could find a crate that would work, and then use some plywood that we already had on hand to make an "X" shaped divider.  Brilliant!  Now...all I have to do is find a crate that fits the space!

...whiiiiiich was harder to accomplish than originally thought.  Everything seemed to either be too narrow or too short--but if it was too short, stacking two would make it too tall. *sigh*  So, I went to DIY Project Mecca:  Hobby Lobby.  After much searching through the store with my tape measure in hand, I found a large crate that measured 14 inches wide by 29 inches tall.  It was a little short for what we needed, but I knew we could work with that.

Meanwhile, the Hubs took care of finding the countertop and the shelves.  We recently got a Menards, and they were running Grand Opening sales, so we got some great deals on white-laminated MDF, measuring 8 feet wide--just a bit wider than the alcove's opening.  The countertop had to be notched to fit, but I think the Hubs did an amazing job.

So then...we had a dark brown laminate cabinet, a black fridge, and a light brown crate.  Guess it's time to paint!

The interwebz told me I should probably sand the laminate cabinet and then prime it.  But I am lazy.  So instead, I found black satin spray paint that would adhere to laminate.  The project took about 3 cans, which were $5 each.
We waited for some beautiful weather, and then spread out a drop cloth in the back yard, weighted it down with rocks, and I went to town. (I also painted some of our outdoor fixtures while I was at it.)
Overall, it took 2-3 coats. And I probably SHOULD have scrubbed the laminate at least a bit before starting--I think the previous owner had used some sort of oil-based polish on it at some point, so the paint didn't adhere great to the doors or front edges, but the rest looked pretty good.  In order to save on paint, I only painted the surfaces that would show--there was no point to do the sides that are hidden in the alcove. So I just wrapped onto the sides a bit.  And I only did part of the shelves as well, so that I could put down patterned contact paper instead for some fun detailing.
We used some pieces of 2"x4" to shim up the difference in height between the cabinet and the wine rack, and painted those black as well.
Once everything was coated evenly and was dry, we put it all into place, and then added the counter and shelves.  I decorated them with things that had been on our old wine rack and other miscellaneous bits and bobs. 
We also added a glass rack to the lowest shelf so we could hang wine glasses out of the reach of our little one.  Finally, we bought 6 puck lights at Home Depot to add some light, since this corner is really dark.  
All in all, really happy with the result.  It works perfectly for what we need, adds a little "wow" to the basement, and just seems like a smart use for the space.  Also--we don't spend a ton of time in the basement right now, so I kinda like that I have to earn my calories for a beer/soda/glass of wine by  going up and down the stairs. It also keeps the sodas a little more out of reach, so they're not just there to grab in our kitchen fridge.

Overall cost:
Fridge: $40
Cabinet: $7
Wine Rack: $30 (originally $49.99, with 40% off coupon)
Paint: $15
Counter: $17
Shelves: $2
Brackets: $18
Glass Rack: $12
Lights: 22

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Boudin King Cake - Happy Mardi Gras!

As you know, I get to travel to Louisiana about 4 times a year for work.  And I generally try to schedule the first quarter visit so that it overlaps with my favorite Mardi Gras parade--the Scott parade, which rolls past my friends Bonnie & Paul's house, so they always host a big shindig and it's a great chance to see all my old friends.  

But this year, I couldn't make it happen. I had to schedule my trip much earlier in the year, and missed Mardi Gras season altogether.  And was very, very sad.

So sad, that I convinced my coworkers to let me host a Mardi Gras potluck at our office, on Mardi Gras day!  (This really didn't take a lot of convincing.  My coworkers are generally down for anything that involves food and chit-chatting over lunch.)
My colleagues were up for the challenge. Our CFO made gumbo, the compliance team brought red beans & rice, our social media manager (whose wife's family is from Abbeville, LA) made crawfish macque of my teammates made shrimp cornbread, and a senior scientist (who also lived in Lafayette for a spell) helped me put together a shrimp boil, with jumbo skrimps fresh from the Gulf. We even had bread pudding with bourbon sauce.  Everything was AMAZING.
And me...well, I was so inspired by all the tales I heard of Twin's Bakery making boudin king cakes, I thought I'd give it a whirl.
Now, if I ever make this again, I think I'll use the sheets of crescent roll dough from the refrigerated section.  I tried using pre-made pizza dough with this version and it ended up a little doughy.  But overall, it tasted amazing.  And it was relatively easy to put together!

INGREDIENTS: (makes about 12 servings)
2 rolls of pre-made dough sheets (again, I'd recommend trying crescent roll dough)
1 package boudin (I was able to find Richard's at my local market, which hails from Church Point, LA) - 2 links, casings removed
1 egg
3 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled (you could opt for pork cracklins instead, like the Twin's original)
1/4 cup pecan halves, toasted in butter for about 5 minutes

Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper, then roll out one of the dough sheets. Place one of the links down the center of the sheet, and then using a knife, cut slits along the sides, and then braid the slits together (over/under).  Leave the first two and last two unbraided, so you can use these to "tie" the two sides together.

Now roll out the second sheet and do the same, with the link curving toward the first braid.  Once braided, curve the two sides together until they meet (you may have to break the boudin link) and then use the unbraided ends to combine the two sides.  Mine ended up a little wonky where the two halves met, but it still baked up just fine.
Heat the oven to 350, and then bake for 30-40 minutes or until golden brown.  Remove from the oven and drizzle with the Steen's syrup, and sprinkle on the bacon and pecans.  Cut into about 12 pieces and serve while warm!
So while I didn't get to spend Mardi Gras season with my LA peeps, we still got to have a great time, eat some great food, listen to some good Louisiana music...
...and enjoy each other's company.  Because Missouri Yanks can pass a good time at work, even while the entire state of Louisiana enjoys their day off. :)  Happy Mardi Gras y'all!  

Monday, February 27, 2017

Adventures in Parenting: "Don't You Want Another?"

Disclaimer: This post may come off a little ranty. I'm not apologizing--just giving you fair warning.  Here's an adorable old photo of our kid to make up for it.
It seems like no sooner was Lil' Man on the outside of my body instead of inside that the questions/demands started.  They vary slightly, but the same underlying base is there.

"So when are you going to have another?"

"He needs a sibling!"

"When does he get a little sister?"

"You're getting rid of your baby stuff?  Why aren't you saving it for the next one?"

"Don't you want another?"

There are some instances when this last question is appropriate.  Do you want another glass of wine?  Yes please.  Do you want another cupcake?  Sure.  Do I want an extra day off from work?  Definitely.  Do I want another layer because it's cold outside?  Good idea.

But the answer to whether we want another kid is not so simple.  Technically, the answer to any of those questions is not simple.  First off--I'm not psychic.  Even if I was pregnant RIGHT NOW (which I'm not), I wouldn't know the answer to "when" that baby will be born. Or whether it would be a boy or a girl. Or, whether my body would actually carry it all the way to its birthday.  Because that's a heartbreaking reality that happens to hopeful parents every day (approximately 2500 times a day in the U.S).  OR--let's say we were actually TRYING to get pregnant (again, we're not), but it wasn't happening.  That's what happened with Lil' Man--it took almost 2 years of trying to get our miracle baby. Every time someone asked us "when we were going to have a kid", it was like they'd just stabbed me in my seemingly dysfunctional reproductive system.  It's a simple question that stirs up too many sensitive possibilities.   So let's just all agree to stop asking "when". Mmmkay?

Back to the title of this post.  "Don't you WANT another?"  For some couples, I'm sure this is an easy answer: "Yes, we do" or "Nope, I'm good with one."

We are not one of those couples.

First--let's address the inadequacies of the question itself.  There is no "you".  Baby-making is a two-person job.  One partner can want another baby all day long--but if both parties aren't on board, that baby ain't happening (except through potentially nefarious means, which is definitely NOT a healthy relationship goal).  So... "do WE want another?"

There is no short answer to this question for us.  If I'm dealing with someone that I don't want to get too deep into a conversation with, we'll just smile and laugh.  Or possibly joke, "not until I forget how rough those first few months are!"
P.U.R.P.L.E. crying.

Because we haven't forgotten.  Yes, our lil' guy now sleeps through the night most of the time, but those hazy, crazy, sleep-deprived days of the first year are still very fresh in our memories.  Everyone says "you'll forget eventually.  There's some sort of amnesia that happens."  Well, it hasn't happened yet. I JUST started getting to sleep through the night again (most nights). 
So. Tired.

I'm JUST getting back to a point where I can focus at work when I'm at work and not worry about my kiddo.  And I'm ENJOYING that.  That first year was pandemonium--why would you purposefully rush back into that?  Yes, babies are cute and tiny and adorable and smell like heaven and are so much lighter to pick up...but they don't give me any of those ovarian gut-punches. I will gladly hold your wee one for you while he snoozes peacefully in my arms, in exchange for you following my toddler around and making sure he doesn't fall down the stairs, eat a crayon, or throw the remote in the dog's water bowl.

Had you asked me before I had my son, I would have said, "yup, two kids.  That's the goal."  Because I was an only child, and I hated it.  I had no one to share chores with, no one to blame things on, no one to have fights with, but also no one to be my first and forever best friend.  With that personal experience in my life, I don't want my kid to have the same sense of missing out.  But does it have to mean a birth-sibling?  Maybe fostering or adoption is in our future.  Or maybe he becomes extra close to his cousins and school friends, like I did, and "adopts" siblings of his own.
With my "adopted" sister (actually cousin, but we lived down the street from each other and both wanted a sister, so we just started calling each other "sister" when we were kids).

Then there's logistics:  Right now, it's pretty easy for the three of us to pack up and go somewhere.  Restaurants, the park, weekend trip to Grandma's, whatever.  And there's two of us to keep an eye on him.  You start upping that ratio, and things seem to get zany.  I see our friends with young multiples, and sometimes it just seems like pure chaos.  If Lil' Man gets sick, we can take turns staying home from work, or back each other up when things get rough (read: when he barfs and has the butt-squirts all at the same time at 2am).  If he throws a tantrum or has a really fussy night, we can give each other a break when the other starts to hit their Toddler Screaming Wall.  But if you've got two (or more) kids?  Seems like a free-for-all, divide and conquer type scenario.

Also in the Logistics Department, Let's lay out some True Facts:
- I am currently about 37 years old.
- My husband and I will qualify for senior citizen discounts when our son graduates high school.
- The projected cost of a 4-year degree at a public college for a kid enrolling in 2033 is almost $100,000.
- The risks of having a child with a chromosomal abnormality, or other birth defect, increase progressively as the age of the mother increases, with the chances being around 1 in 200 at age 38 (it was 1 in 350 when I had Lil' Man at age 35).
- Risks to the mom also increase, such as miscarriage, premature delivery, need for C-section, gestational diabetes, high blood pressure, preeclampsia, and just general lack of being able to keep up with a young kid. Mom's got bad knees, son--so no, we can't go up and down the stairs 20 times just because you think it's super-fun.

So...when do the risks outweigh the reward?  Or would it simply be safer/easier to adopt/foster a child who's already a little older (bypassing that whole horrible first year)?  That process, of course, comes with its own set of risks and challenges, both physical and emotional.  Are we up for it?  We really don't know yet.  At this point, we struggle to figure out who will stay home if our one child is sick.  If we had two?  It's a different environment altogether.

All this to say:  We really just don't know.  Life isn't that simple.  Maybe it is for some people, but it isn't for us.
Our little family unit.