January 30, 2015

Tiny Houses

Have you seen the documentary Tiny on Netflix?

We first watched it well over a year ago but, when we had a friend visiting over Christmas break, Scott told him about it and we watched it again.

The idea is that we don't need STUFF.  Of course, many of us subscribe to this theory and we don't like excess stuff everywhere and purging old clothes, toys, and books feels good.  However, the point of this documentary is not only that we don't need excess stuff, we don't need excess space.  Imagine what you could do if you don't need to maintain, decorate, furnish, and pay the utilities for a 2,000 square foot house.  The documentary is about why we can become happier and more fulfilled if we focus on aspects of life other than having a big house, with lots of stuff, and the high-stress job that pays for it all.  

Now.  Scott would love to build a tiny house.  I would think it could be a fun experiment and would like to try a year of living that way.  We think the business model of, perhaps, manufacturing tiny houses could be pretty profitable.  Especially since we've lived in those crunchy states of Alaska and Colorado.  There's a market for it.  

This got me thinking about the comparison trap, why we insist on big houses, why we feel the need to fill them with stuff, etc.  

Bear with me.  This is a long post.  But I can't get these thoughts out of my head, so here we are. 

Our first house in Alaska was about 1300 square feet and that included the garage.  3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, open living-room/dining room/kitchen, and the garage was only one of those 1.5 car varieties.  It was pretty perfect when we first moved in, but as we amassed army gear and hunting stuff and some tools, we quickly ran out of space.  

House #2 (pictures taken from an old camera phone)

Like this space was kinda wasted, right?

Extra living room we NEVER used.

Let me explain why we had such a house. Pickings were slim in the rental market that winter, and I liked the layout and Scott liked the 3 car garage.  Because we moved to a new town, the house was the same rent price as the former much smaller one.  It wasn't really an adjustment in that sense.  We just could finally spread out.  Well, what happens when you have more space?  You get more stuff.  While we didn't buy new furniture, we did end up with more tools, hunting stuff, a snowmobile, a cataraft, etc.  
The house had an eat-in kitchen, dining room, two living rooms, 3 bedrooms, 2.5 bathrooms, and a loft.  It was way too big for us.  It was also basic builder-grade, so there was nothing special or unique about it.  It fit our needs though and we were more or less happy there.  We totally were aware the entire time that it was ridiculously big.  We needed that garage though.  The driveway was a pain to shovel and yard annoying to mow, but hey.  It worked for 2+ years. 

We intentionally downsized when we moved to Missouri for these reasons.  We also rented there sight-unseen.  They weren't sure how many square feet it was (ugh, Realty Executives), but it was a ranch with a full-sized basement/foundation.  The basement was unfinished, but it was perfect for a storage area and workspace.  The upstairs was the perfect size for the two of us.  We had a guest room, a room for Scott's army stuff, and 2 bathrooms.  My biggest issue with that place was the white carpet.  Also, we didn't like the street we were on (a hill) and the smallish driveway.  The 2-car garage was quickly overrun because, again, we didn't have room to spread out.  The rent was cheaper than it was in Alaska, but that's to be expected.  It was Missouri. 

So.  Then it came time to buy a house.  This is where ideals clashed.  Scott wanted a house with good bones that he could improve upon and I was secretly craving "the American dream".  

However, I knew that a basic, builder-grade house wasn't something I really wanted.  We'd lived in that from 2011-2013 and it was annoyingly…basic.  Also, land. Owning land was a priority.  Here's the post on why we bought below our means.  It sums up things.

Sometimes I selfishly feel like this house is too small.  I mean, I don't have two living rooms anymore.  And then I look at sense:  We have 3 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms (one unfinished), a full basement with 12 foot ceilings, and who ever told me I needed to live in the kind of houses I see all over this town?  We've spent more time adding the finishes we want to this house and making it feel like our home, compared to worrying about how many square feet it is.  Let it be known that I only feel like this house is too small after I visit someone else's cavernous (well-decorated) home. I've been in some houses that are just big and new and not necessarily well-decorated or special in any way, and that makes me happy with what I have. (I'm tracking how vain and ridiculous this sounds.) 

This could be something we picked up in Alaska too.  Most people I knew there loved and appreciated their homes (bought or rented) and weren't concerned about having the biggest or the best.  People in Alaska were like that.  They were more into being outside and stuff.  Plus, houses there were expensive.  Prime locations in Anchorage were millions of dollars.  

I think the comparison trap told us we need big houses.  Why are people spending $350,000-400,000 on houses that are 22 feet away from their neighbors?  Why is that considered the ideal?  Why is that the American dream?  The American dream used to be known as manifest destiny.  Expanding over the land, not expanding our square footage.  Why is it that many people believe they've "made it" when they have a $2,000 a month mortgage and 2.5 kids and must work at jobs that run them ragged in order to afford it all?  

I don't know the answer to any of this, so I'm just throwing those questions out there.  Obviously, living  in a housing development isn't a bad thing.  I mean, I did it for 5 years.  (The housing developments around Colorado Springs are fascinating microcosms if you look at how they're set up though.  I'm never seen expensive houses so close together.) I'm asking why is the end game a giant house in a housing development? What tells us we, as a human being, need to accomplish that in order to be a grown-up?  Why can't we be happy in an apartment building? The author of The Happiness Project is.  Is it because House Hunters and My First Place tell us that we need to move "up" in the world by expanding our space into what we can barely afford? Again, I don't know the answers.  I'm asking the question.  

We've watched a lot of foreign t.v. shows lately and I'm always startled by how seemingly small and cramped their homes appear compared to ours.  It's all relative and we're just used to the American ideal, I suppose.  Look at the Home Alone house.  Those were rich people. Of course their house was big.  Why do we assume we all need one too?

Anywho.  As someone who has lived in, paid the rent for, and tried to decorate several houses over the last few years, I find myself pondering these things as I watched Tiny.  I highly recommend it if you have Netflix.  

January 29, 2015

Stuff and Things (in the Springs)

If I were the type of person to go out and do things instead of stay home and paint my kitchen on the weekends, I'd probably have a lot more stuff and things to say about the Springs.  However, Scott's family was here last week, so we did a couple of touristy things that I can tell you about.

+Overeasy.  A breakfast and lunch restaurant on Nevada Ave, right next to the new Trader Joe's and the University of Colorado campus.  I expected it to be absolutely packed on a Sunday morning.  We got there early, about 8am, and they had opened at 7am.  I was very happy that we got right in, had amazing service (Charlie was our waiter), and the food was fabulous.  However, the closer it got to 9am, the more we noticed the line of customers growing into a giant mob in the entryway and on the sidewalk.  As we were leaving, I heard that the wait was 45 minutes.  I definitely planned that out well.
How did I hear about the place?  We were at Trader Joe's last week and I thought, "Oh, hey, a breakfast place" and then we remembered it this past weekend.

Scott and I were immediately pulled in by the juice menu.  We split a carrot/ginger/honey/lemon.  Then, we ordered The Cure, a pineapple and coconut concoction.  I also had mint tea.

The neat thing about the juice is that you can add vodka and turn them into mixed drinks.  They also had a blood mary bar and a full mimosa menu.

I had a spinach and swiss omelette with hash browns, bacon, and the best biscuit I'd ever tasted.  Scott had the crab omelette, which was really impressive.

This place reminded me SO much of Snow City Cafe in Anchorage.  From the homemade jam to the wait out the door.  It was a little pricey, but restaurant prices are pretty subjective to us; we were used to Alaska.  For what we got, it was delicious.  We'll definitely be going back.

+Mr. Tandoori Urban Bar and Grill.  Scott and I first stopped here back in July just because we were in  Pueblo and it had good reviews.  I mentioned back then how fabulous it was.  I'd never really eaten Indian food but it was very similar to all the foods Scott had loved so much in Afghanistan, so we gave it a try.  I was officially a fan after that.

After walking along the downtown Riverwalk in Pueblo, we went to Mr. Tandoori for lunch on Saturday.  The cucumber water they start you out with is probably one of our favorite parts because it's just so refreshing.  Everything on the buffet is excellent, but my favorite is the yellow rice, the vegetable korma, and the vegetable noodles.  Also, the fried eggplant was amazing.

If you live in this part of Colorado, it's definitely worth your time to make the trip to Pueblo.  It's about 30 minutes for us, but there's plenty of shops and sights downtown.  Make sure you go during the day so you can make it to the lunch buffet!

+Royal Gorge.  I'm slow…ly learning about Colorado's history and geography.  I'm more or less forced to because I have to teach Colorado history/geography.  After our stop in Pueblo on Saturday, we went on to Canon City, about another hour west.   Right on the other side of Canon City is Royal Gorge Bridge and Park.  I'd heard of it, but never knew much about it.  Then I googled it and realized that I'd probably heard of the one in California…

Anyway, there was a wildfire at the suspension-bridge-Royal-Gorge a year and a half ago.  You can still see the scorched land and trees on the winding drive up.

I pulled out the zoom lens.

The whole complex.  You can see there's lots of construction and rebuilding still going on.

It was $16/person to walk out on the bridge and they cleverly had all kinds of barriers set up so you couldn't get a good picture of the gorge without paying to go through.  However, we weren't interested in paying that much money to stand outside on a windy January day, so maybe next summer.   I settled for a magnet to add to our "refrigerator collection of travels".

I would like to go back in the summer.

January 27, 2015

January's Yoga Challenge and February's Cleaning Schedule

Back at the beginning of January, Sarah Beth of Sarah Beth Yoga had a 7-day yoga challenge.  I joined in and enjoyed it very much.  Then I pulled something in my side (from coughing, not from yoga) and movement of any kind became painful.  So I took a few days off, but I picked up with my good intentions soon after.

I'm happy to say that if I stay on track, I will have completed anywhere from 10-60 minutes of yoga on 27 out of 31 days in the month of January.  

This got me thinking about The Happiness Project.  I read it a few years ago (as most of us probably did) and I really admired Gretchen's goal-setting mentality.  Giving yourself something to work toward is important.  So I'm going to come up with a new goal each month and do my best to follow through.  This is in addition to my overriding goal of "new recipe each Monday" (that thing I still think I'm going to do, remember?).

Also, some of the goals can carry over from month to month.  There's no reason why I can't practice yoga every day in February too.  Honestly, it makes me feel so good that I'd be doing myself a disservice if I quit now.

So.  February's challenge will be to come up with a cleaning schedule, put it into practice and stick to it.  This may take some doing.  I'm generally an all or nothing type of person, and I'm having trouble with the logistics.  When you're remodeling, you're continuously cleaning and it can lead to Saturdays being absolutely exhausting.  By Sunday afternoon, I'm spent and don't even want to cook dinner, lest I dirty more dishes. 

Also, I have some concerns: So wash linens is Saturday, but what if I'm out of town?  Or if I write grocery shop for Saturday, what if I can't make it to the store until Sunday?  Dust on a Wednesday?  What if the only thing I want to do on Wednesday is drink moscato and watch reruns?  Actually, I'm more likely to have my act together by Wednesday, so I think Monday and Tuesday will have to be the "light" days on this schedule.

Any advice on where to start?  Do you use a cleaning schedule?

January 26, 2015

Company Chili

Recipe challenge, week four.

There's some things I just don't talk about on this blog.  Sometimes I feel like my whole world is out there for all to see, but I actually do keep a lot to myself. Bloggers, I think, need to draw a line somewhere because you never know who is reading.  Plus, we shape peoples' perception of who we are.  Putting it all out there isn't something I tend to do with this space.  In fact, sometimes I don't know what to write about because my thoughts aren't necessarily what I feel like putting on the internet.

This is kind of an example of that.  Last year, my aunt passed away at a relatively young age.  She was the first person to ever comment on this blog and she read it regularly.  She gave me this chili recipe when I got married because I was marrying into the military and, given her own experience, you needed to be able to cook for large groups of people.  With the recipe, came a giant stockpot, which she'd picked up in Spain.  It's called Company Chili because the blue stockpot (when full) would definitely make enough for an entire army company.

I've made chili with my aunt's secret ingredients several times and it never disappoints.  Scott loves it.  Last summer, my friend needed a recipe for a chili cook-off and I gave her this one.  Now, I don't know how many people were in this contest, but she did win Best American Chili, so it has to be kind of good, right?  My favorite way to eat it is baked in the oven with a spread of cream cheese and cheddar over the top, a la chili cheese dip.  I also freeze servings of it in Ziploc bags for busy days. It'd be perfect for a get-together, including any upcoming Superbowl parties.

The more I think about it, the reason I'm sharing this now is because I don't want you to not know about it.  Does that make sense?  I'm sharing this specifically because I want you to have my chili recipe.  

Company Chili

by Kristin Darhower
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: at least 1 hour

Ingredients (serves 6)
  • 1 can Bush's ChiliStarter beans
  • 1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 packet chili seasoning (like McCormick)
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 bell pepper, diced
  • 1 can diced tomatoes, with juice
  • 1 small can tomato paste OR tomato sauce
  • 1 pound ground beef, turkey, or chicken
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg (freshly grated is best)
  • Handful semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • Optional: Broth (chicken, beef, vegetable, etc)
Brown the meat in a pan with some olive oil and drain any excess fat. Over medium heat, add in the pepper and onion and cover for 5-10 minutes. Stir and add the beans, chili seasoning, diced tomatoes, tomato sauce/paste, smoked paprika, and nutmeg. Let it simmer together for about an hour. At this point, if you want your chili to be thinner, add some of the broth (I always end up with a different consistency). A few minutes before serving, stir in the chocolate chips and let them melt.
Serve with sour cream, cheese, tortilla chips, etc.
Powered by Recipage

January 23, 2015

Style Challenge #2

Wear a bright color.

Bonus points for pattern mixing, right?  I'm aware that this probably isn't what "bright color" meant, but it is what it is.  I had crosswalk duty today and it was 14 degrees.  That's my excuse.

Side question:  Scott wants to buy a tablet…a very reasonably priced one…and he hates Apple.  Any suggestions?

January 22, 2015

Stuff and Things 1/22

+It is 3:06pm on Wednesday and I'm starting this post.

+I took today off of work a week ago, with the hopes of doing some tour-guiding and sight-seeing.

+Then, we got a snowstorm.

+So, it was a good day to stay home.  Scott said there were random pile-ups everywhere.  School was not canceled, delayed, or released early.  Fools.

+I spent the day cleaning and creating a Recipage (with the initial guidance, as always, from Angi).

+It's still a work in progress.  If you have advice, please feel free to let me know! My goal is to do this with all my 52 recipes in the recipe challenge I'm working on this year.

+I admired the coasters my sister-in-law crafted for us.

+I like this.  Have you seen this free Devotion app?  Just search devotion and it's one of the first that pop up.  Thanks Joey!

+It's 5:51pm and I'm out of stuff to say and I've procrastinated this task with a million other things so…

<!-- end InLinkz script —>

January 20, 2015

Hunting Dogs

Scott regularly gets up at 2:30 in the morning to go sit in this thing (a hunting blind) in a corn field and wait for the geese to land.  He took the dogs with him this past weekend.

This is particularly funny because they are not duck/geese dogs. Brittanys are bird-dogs; pheasant, quail, etc (and there is the extent of my knowledge on the subject.)

So they don't actually do anything.  They just sit in the field and chew on things and sleep in the blind and whatnot.  But here they are, posing with their "kill".

Anyway, we have some relatives in town, so it'll be a sparse week of blogging.  Yesterday we went to the Denver Botanical Gardens and Beau Jo's Colorado Pizza (at the recommendation of Esther).  It was definitely tasty pizza, but the service was so-so.  I'm glad we tried it, as we are almost never in Denver.  

Then my alarm didn't go off this morning.  What a great way to start the week. 

January 19, 2015

30 Minute Potato Leek Soup

Recipe challenge, week three.

A few years ago, I made a leek and potato soup and it was surprisingly tasty.  I knew the recipe I used came from this crockpot blog, but I distinctly remember making it on the stove, not in the crockpot.  I started googling new leek soup recipes a few months ago because leeks are incredibly healthy and are often used in weight loss plans.  Much like cabbage. 

I wanted to experiment with leeks again because Scott is on a health kick.  He wanted to try pescatarianism for a bit (spellcheck is telling me that’s not a word; it has to be a word). Since I don’t really like fish, it’s been a compromise to say the least.  However, I also can get by on a mostly vegetarian diet.  I’ve been focusing on vegetable or whole-grain or quinoa-based meals, and then throwing in some kind of seafood for him.  Tilapia, salmon, etc.  I think I’ve made chicken once in the last month and a steak stir-fry one other time. 

The French have used leeks as a natural diet food for centuries.  While sipping leek broth might not be your cup of tea, this soup combines the creaminess of potatoes, the benefit of leeks, and the flavor of a few different seasonings.  If I were you, I would also add some ham or bacon.  It kind of has a smoky taste already and that would make it feel like a complete meal.

Don’t be scared of leeks.  Even if you’re picky about vegetables, give it one try.  The potatoes will help in that case.  In looking online for a leek soup recipe, I didn’t like any of the ones I came across.  They seemed too precise, too involved, too…something.  I mean, it’s soup.  Not molecular biology.  This is the version I came up with and it’s quick enough for a weeknight dinner.  With grilled cheese for Scott and a quesadilla for me.

30 Minute Leek and Potato Soup
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 15-20 minutes
Keywords: Quick Cooking soup/stew low-carb vegetarian fall winter

Ingredients (Serves 4)
  • 5 cups chicken broth
  • 2 leeks, washed and thinly sliced
  • 2 potatoes, washed and diced into very small pieces
  • ½ tsp. Creole seasoning (you can add more to taste)
  • ½ tsp. thyme
  • 1 tsp. sea salt
  • 1 tsp. garlic powder
  • Diced ham, bacon, and/or cheese for toppings
In a medium pot (you don’t need a BIG pot), bring the broth to a boil. Add in the leeks and potatoes. Cover and turn it down to low heat and simmer for 10-15 minutes. Check the potatoes for doneness with a fork (the smaller they are, the faster they’ll cook). Add in the seasonings and stir to combine well.
I poured half the soup into a mixing bowl and pulsed it with the immersion blender, and then stirred it back into the pot. You don’t have to do that, but it probably did lend to the creaminess.
Powered by Recipage

January 17, 2015

Blogging for Books: The Expats

My second Blogging for Books book was The Expats by Chris Pavone.  This one arrived on time, and was a much more enjoyable read than The 13th Gift.  

Goodreads says…

First, I don't know if I really agree with that summary.  I think the book had much more to it than what it's marketing itself toward.

-There were elements of this book that reminded me of Homeland.  Kate is like a more stable Carrie.  Or maybe a Jessica Chastain in Zero Dark Thirty

-This is one of those stories that does not tell you everything at once.

-I really liked learning about Kate's former life and what she did in D.C.  

-I liked that Kate was capable.  I didn't worry about her getting attacked by the agents that were on their tail.  I didn't worry about her not being able to handle the situations she could potentially get herself into.  She wasn't some "please rescue me" heroine.  She took care of herself.

-It was written with present-day flash-forwards interspersed every few chapters.  It could be tough to keep straight, but it did encourage me to pay attention.  Also, the font switched back and forth so that was helpful.

-Along the same lines, the chapters were short and broken up into 1, 2, or 3 page segments.  I liked that the action kept moving and I often wanted to keep reading just to get back to the previous scene.  It did float through different times over a 2 year period.  Once in awhile it would flashback to 4 or 5 years ago.  Again, I liked this but some people might not.  

-This book didn't get fantastic reviews on Goodreads, but I really enjoyed it, so I'm telling you that if you trust me and share my tastes, you should read it.  If you're a friend of Blogging for Books, snatch it up next.  

-I liked the ending.  I thought there was a good amount of twists and turns and draw-your-own-conclusion-before-I-tell-you writing.  I honestly don't want to tell you too much about it because it'll give away details that make a difference.

-I would give The Expats an A- on my scale and I gave it 4 stars on Goodreads.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for the purposes of this review, but all opinions are my own.

January 16, 2015

Style Challenge #1

Wear a dress.

I'm all about challenges these days.  

A challenge is what I need to get any sort of motivation to do anything.  In fact, I do this weird thing where I'm running late for work every morning, because I challenge myself to make sure the house is all cleaned up before I go.  

Audrey at Putting Me Together is *challenging* us all to put some more thought into style.  I desperately need this.  I'm aware that outfit photos have all but disappeared from the blog.  Truthfully that's because I come home from school and within 27 seconds I look like this:

I'm too…something…(trying to avoid the word lazy) to take a picture.  And the weather is generally pretty yucky this time of year.  Yesterday, we lucked out with some sun for the first time in a week.

Dress: Express // Leggings: Lauren Conrad // Boots: old // Scarf: Target (via Michael in a swap!)

I've had this dress for over a year and I can't decide how I feel about it.  It's not particularly flattering and the sleeves are kind of bothersome.  But it's easy.  Leggings, dress, boots…it doesn't get any easier.

Wear a dress:  Challenge complete.
Next week is Wear a bright color and the week after is Copy an outfit you pinned.
Link ups are on Thursdays, so you should join in!