Wednesday, June 27, 2018

picnic for two

  It's been about four years since we've gone on a picnic. Because we didn't have a picnic basket, we threw food into a cooler and headed to the State Park. It was still lovely and fun - we ate at a picnic table nestled by the trees. 

When Wayfair emailed me about their latest campaign - Life's a Picnic - I was in. I needed to start a tradition of going on summer picnics again! 

As a member of the Wayfair Homemaker program, I have been compensated for this post. All ideas and opinions are completely my own.

Since I needed a picnic basket, I chose this one (it also comes in red), as it's insulated, can hold a lot of food, and comes complete with two place settings. Wayfair has a fantastic selection of picnic baskets and backpacks for your picnicking needs! 

I was impressed by the quality of this insultated picnic basket. It's sturdy, easy to clean, has a velcro, padded grip around the handle, pockets for place setting storage, and the inside is deep, so it holds a lot of food. 

Pocket to hold plates and napkins (included).

The pocket on top could hold a tablecloth.

There's even separate pockets for silverware (included).

We didn't get the chance to go to the State Park again for our picnic, so we decided to have a picnic at home on our patio. I made a tuna pasta salad and a jug of mint tea and packed it up in the picnic basket. As you can see, the interior was both wide and deep enough to hold both these large containers.

Picnic for two!

So it doesn't have the ambiance of a State Park, but why not make things special at home once in awhile?

I really like that this picnic basket includes the place settings and has pockets for them, too. Makes it so much easier to have an impromptu picnic. Just grab and go.

Technically, the glasses that come with the basket are wine glasses, but this was a lunch picnic and we weren't in the mood for wine (who am I?), so iced tea it was.

We had such a relaxed, enjoyable lunch, I can't wait until we have more time and can head to the State Park with our new picnic basket/cooler. How long has it been since you've been on a picnic?

Sunday, June 24, 2018

when the going gets tough

Sometimes a little escapism is just what one needs.

As I mentioned in my last post, we were hoping for an easy fix on our central air conditioner. After some excuses (some valid, some seemingly not so), the HVAC guy, Rocky finally showed up. Turns out, our AC was fried. I wasn't surprised - it's 30 years old. The "good" news was that our furnace, despite being the same age, still has another 7-10 years to go. After agreeing about installing a new air conditioner, it's been one excuse after another why Rocky couldn't show up. Yesterday - Saturday - was the last straw. I got up extra early to get ready, expecting Rocky and his partner to be here. Rocky texted me at the last minute, claiming his truck broke down. He sent me photos of his truck being towed away and said the service department couldn't even look at his truck until Monday. So now he was hoping for Tuesday to install our AC. Oh, it gets even better....but first, my escapism story.

I was disappointed and frankly, pissed off due to Rocky's excuses, but because it was a beautiful day, I decided to get out of here and take a little day trip. I went to my happy place: Evanston.

I always start out by visiting Hewn for one of their homemade scones or muffins. I sat outside on the benches they have set up in the nice weather, enjoying my treat and people-watching.

Next, I walked up the street to Secret Treasures, my all-time favorite vintage shop. I did indeed find some treasures...this set of aqua (or is it turquoise? Either way, it's my favorite color) Buffalo China (USA) diner dishes and creamer.

And this aqua and white striped McCoy pitcher. I love vintage pottery, but especially McCoy. I walked by this piece twice. I picked it up and held it and looked it over and put it down. Walked around the shop and thought about it. Would I regret not getting it if I didn't buy it? Probably. I'm glad I bought it. It's a beauty.

Evanston has a ton of gorgeous houses. I've featured some on my blog in the past. I was driving around and found a street I don't remember being on before. It was lined with beautiful homes, so I pulled over, parked the car, and went for a walk.

This home was having work done on it. I love the architecture.

This home is almost fairytale like, but elegant.

I then went to the farmer's market where I bought baby greens, romaine and breakfast radishes. I accidentally deleted the photos from the farmer's market, so I had to steal this one from my IG page. The way this vendor displays their vegetables is always beautiful. There's another vendor at this farmer's market that sells their authentic tamales and tacos. We get something to eat from them every time we're at this farmer's market. Since it was lunchtime, I got a chicken red mole tamale, and headed for a shady picnic table. It ended up that I sat across from a lady from Chicago and we had a lovely conversation while we were eating. ("A stranger is a friend you haven't met".)

A trip to Evanston wouldn't be complete to me, until I've visited the lakefront (Lake Michigan). All the shades of blue never fail to amaze me. 

 I sit on the boulder and just gaze out at the water. It's so peaceful.

 Looking the other way into the park. This place is never crowded, even on a weekend. You might see some dog walkers, joggers, a family having a picnic, some teens playing Frisbee, or lovers walking hand-in-hand, but never many at one time. I took my blanket and laid in the shade under a big oak tree. That's when I decided to take a closer look at the photos that Rocky sent me of his truck being towed away. I zoomed in on them and it hit me: There were no leaves on the trees in the background!! Not by his house, nor in the background of the house across the street. These were obviously old pictures! Busted! I called Brian at work to tell him. Brian then called the tow truck company and talked to the guy that had been on call since 4:00 a.m. He hadn't had any tows all day! I immediately texted Rocky and called him out on all this. Told him if he was going to be a liar, at least be a good one. Do you know what he replied? He said, "Whatever. Trees are dead do (sic) to the wetlands." Riight. It got even uglier from there with him saying he was going to send us a bill for a service call (he had waived his service call fee when he finally showed up, since he was a day late) and that if we didn't pay it, his brother was a "lean (sic) lawyer." What a horrible, dishonest businessman.

In the late afternoon, I finally headed for home, but stopped at Gigio's Pizzeria to get slices of pizza for Brian and his work partner. I made a special delivery on my way home. Gigio's is a place that has special meaning to me and Brian. We ate there all the time when we were dating. And when he was working nights as security in the local hospital, I'd pick up pizza after I got off work, and bring it to him for dinner at the hospital. Thirty-six years later, and I'm still delivering Gigio's pizza to him at work. 😉

Back to Rocky and his HVAC business, I did warn locals on my FB page and my town's FB page about him. I was going to write a review on Yelp, but I did my research first and found that you can be sued for slander for posting negative reviews on businesses. Of course, there's loopholes - you have to word your review just so - but I didn't want to take any chances. I also chose not to report him to the BBB - at least, not just yet. I'm still thinking about it. Again, I read about filing a complaint against a business, and it involves communication with that business. I don't know if I want to go there. I've already blocked his number on my phone so I can't receive any more texts or calls. I'd rather just forget this whole thing and put it behind me. Though to cover my behind, I took a drive out to his house today and took photos of the trees and wetlands surrounding his property. No surprise that everything was very green and lush - no bare trees.

We have found a new HVAC company - one that was recommended by several people and has an A+ rating on BBB. We'll be calling them first thing tomorrow morning. Here's hoping we can get a new AC unit installed ASAP...after this week of cool temps, it's heating up again. It's already 82 degrees in the house today and will only get worse as the week goes on. To be continued!

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

air conditioning, roofs and porches ~ oh my!

The weekend started out great. Me and hubby and son enjoyed dining al fresco on the river in our town on Friday night, followed by a family BBQ on Saturday at my aunt's house. Her daughter - my cousin - and her three-year old daughter were in from Tacoma, so it was wonderful getting to see them again. Even though it was 96 degrees and humid, we sat out on the patio talking, laughing, enjoying my uncle's amazing smoked ribs and steak and my mother's fried chicken and my salads...enjoying the family time with sweat rolling down our faces and backs. We'd duck back inside the house to cool down and then go back outside for some more Midwestern torture.

Sometime in the middle of the night/wee morning hours of Sunday, our air-conditioning bit the dust. I woke up several times during the night, overly warm, but chalked it up to those lovely night sweats due to menopause. But when we got up Sunday morning and saw the thermostat was at 80 degrees...and then I put my foot over the vent to feel the air coming out and found that it wasn't cold, I knew something was wrong.

Brian called our AC guy and he had Brian test a bunch of different things. Since our HVAC system (central air conditioning and furnace) are the original of the house - 30 years old! - our AC guy said most likely it was the compressor. We knew we were living on borrowed time, so we weren't surprised. Our AC guy referred us to a local business who does more complicated HVAC work and can also replace the system, if need be.

In the meantime, Sunday and Monday were two of the hottest days we've had, with the heat index reaching 102F. It was 90 degrees in our house. We spent a lot of time in the basement where it was a little cooler (good thing we have a little family room set up down there!) and didn't get much sleep Sunday night.

Rocky - the referred HVAC guy - was supposed to come out yesterday. He was going to try to squeeze us in between other jobs he had. Turns out, it didn't work out. Our area got bombarded by torrential rain and flooding, and that put him way behind.

It was still raining this morning (and finally cool - hooray!) and like Rocky explained to me, he couldn't do electrical work in the rain. I totally understood. However, it's now noon and it finally stopped raining. Rocky just called and will be here within an hour. Only time will tell if this is something that can be fixed. There's a possibility it's the capacitor. But like I said, I wouldn't be surprised if this is something that can't be fixed and we need a new HVAC system.

In the meantime, still waiting for two amended bids on the roof. These two companies simply mentioned the gutters and soffits in their bids and forgot about the rotting plywood underneath. It'll be a miracle if we get the roof fixed, the HVAC system fixed/replaced, and the porch and sidewalk project done before summer is up! 😎

"If it isn't one thing, it's another! It's always something."
(Gilda Radner)

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

i'm dreaming of a new porch

After countless days of non-stop rain and cooler-than-normal temps, we're back to sunshine and 80 degrees today. To me, that is absolutely perfect weather. It's just for today, so I'm enjoying it as much as possible. We're back into the 90's this weekend.

I needed some more plants, so yesterday I was sloshing through the wet, muddy garden center and picked out this Boston fern for the front porch. I was carrying my plants to the car and a woman who was parked next to me commented how lovely the fern was. I replied, "Now if I only had one of those white houses with the long front, covered porch, where I could hang ferns all the way across!" She said, "Oh, yes! And a ceiling fan, too! And wicker furniture, of course." 

Side note: I came home with this new basket of flowers, too. They're replacing the basket of now-wilted pansies that were hanging here. I love the hot pink for summer.

Back to the porch. Here's the reality of the porch where the fern plant will be hanging. Our little front porch area is the original to the house, which is 30 years old. It not only looks terrible due to age and wear, but the steps from the sidewalk to the deck and the step up to the cement stoop are way too high. Everyone over the age of 50 that comes to our house complains about it. You'll notice our sidewalk is also leaning into the ground. 

To make the porch even worse-looking, Brian had to install a barrier last year to keep out the groundhogs that were burying underneath our deck. We were warned by the wildlife removal man that groundhogs dig deep tunnels and they could start digging under the foundation of our house. Don't worry about the groundhogs - they are wildlife protected here in Illinois. They are safely removed and relocated to a rural farm and woods at the far end of our county. 

Funny thing is about the barrier, there was nothing we could do in front of the sidewalk. So guess where more groundhogs started entering? I had a feeling that was going to happen.

Previously, the groundhogs had entered under the deck from the side.

We've had our contractor out for ideas and estimates. The problem is we want to do something to keep wildlife out from under the deck. The contractor wanted to put in a concrete slab where the little deck area is now, to make a small patio area. I have nixed that idea: with the concrete stoop up against the front door, plus having a cement patio on the side of our house, I don't want any more cement! I am now thinking of having a new deck made of composite wood and a step going all the way across in front. As for the side of the deck, I wonder if it's possible for them to put in some kind of solid wall using the composite wood material?

In the meantime, we're still working with the roofers and insurance company from the storm damage done to our roof a few weeks ago. That comes first. The new porch will be staying in my dreams for a little bit longer.

Friday, June 8, 2018

for today ~ june edition

Looking out my window ~
I have a beautiful view of clematis out my bedroom window.

I am thinking ~
about Anthony Bourdain, Kate Spade, Chester Bennington ~ and several people I personally knew who took their own lives. Depression is a horrible mental and systemic disease. PLEASE - if you are having thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK) or go to Speaking of Suicide - Resources for more resources.

I am thankful ~
for my yoga instructor and the class itself. After my meniscus surgery last year, I couldn't fully do yoga for a long time because of the limitations on my knee. Once my knee healed, I started going to a class in a wellness center right up the road from my house. But the instructor was just not a good fit for me. So, a couple of months ago, I tried a couple of classes at a yoga studio in a neighboring town. I loved the instructor and the vibe of the studio, so I bought a 10-class package so that I would stay committed. I go every Wednesday morning and I am hooked! I look so forward to this class every week. It's a gentle class with a lot of stretching and strengthening exercises. The instructor is friendly, compassionate, professional, knows how to teach and accommodate those poses where one might need a block or strap, has that beautiful, mellow "yoga voice", and incorporates different breathing techniques and some meditation into the class, too. In just four weeks, my chronic lower back pain is so much better.

One of my favorite things ~
fresh flowers to grace the kitchen table.

I am creating ~
pretty garden spaces.

I am wearing ~
a lime green (but not bright) cotton top and Levis capris.

I am reading ~
I'm a big fan of Ruth Reichl, the food writer. Two of her novels, Tender at the Bone and Comfort Me With Apples, were two of my favorite reads. Garlic and Sapphires is a little disappointing. I get that she uses disguises to get herself into restaurants so that no one recognizes her, but you can only read so much about this until it gets boring. She gives little hints about her husband and son that make the reader want more of that personal touch.

I'm also a huge fan of Susan Branch ~ her writings and illustrations are cheerful, homey, and comforting. Martha's Vineyard - Isle of Dreams is an illustrated memoir. It's actually part of a trilogy, with The Fairy Tale Girl being the first book, this one - Martha's Vineyard being the second, and A Fine Romance: Falling in Love with the English Countryside being the third. However, they don't have to be read in order - or even as a trilogy. I read A Fine Romance last year. I just happened to come across Martha's Vineyard in my library. I'll be starting this book as soon as I'm done with Ruth Reichl's book.

From amazon:

  I"n the winter of 1982, long before she became the watercolor artist and author we know today, Susan Branch, 34-years-old and heartbroken from the sudden and unexpected end of her marriage in California, "ran away from home" to the Island of Martha's Vineyard hoping to gain perspective.
      Based on the diaries she has kept all her life, Susan Branch relates her inspirational tale of lost love and self discovery, her search for roots, purpose, and destiny with laugh-out-loud honesty. A road map for overcoming loss, following your heart, and making dreams come true, charmingly hand-lettered and watercolored in Susan's inimitable style, there are diary excerpts, recipes, and hundreds of photographs."

I am listening to ~

I am hoping ~
for a lot of things...that Brian's leg injury heals in good time with PT; for the roofing fix to go smoothly (still waiting on two more bids); for my father-in-law to receive good care in the nursing home he was placed in; for my friend's healing from breast cancer surgery. And on and on...

In my kitchen ~
garlic naan bread pizzas with fresh mozzarella last night for dinner; chicken fajitas with homemade guacamole for tonight's dinner; gluten-free pasta salad with tons of cut up veggies and diced, cooked chicken kept in the fridge for lunches. This weekend I'm making a favorite vegetarian dish - Golden Red Lentil Dal with Cilantro Rice.

Post Script ~
(Add a favorite link that you would like to pass along. It can be someone else's website, etsy shop, Instagram feed, Facebook link, OR it can be your own.)

My new go-to potato salad that I actually like even better than traditional mayo-laden potato salad. I first had this potato salad at my aunt's house and knew it had to be in my repertoire. Just make sure whenever you buy potatoes, to buy organic. Conventional potatoes are sprayed with 37 different pesticides (see here for a good article on this subject - you can find out much more by a simple Google search). Needless to say, potatoes are also on the Dirty Dozen Produce List.

Shared quote ~
"We have a hunger of the mind which asks for knowledge of all around us, and the more we gain, the more is our desire; the more we see, the more are we capable of seeing.
(Maria Mitchell - 1878)

A moment from my day ~
making guacamole.

If you're interested in doing a post for The Simple Woman's Daybook, see the guidelines here.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

sunny days, roofing woes, and a helpful neighbor

The past few days have been delightful...clear, blue skies (low humidity - which is a welcome relief in Chicagoland during the warm months) and temps cool enough where we could turn off the air conditioning and open the windows. Rain is coming later this week, so I'm trying to enjoy as much outdoor time as possible, whether that means working in the yard, taking walks, or relaxing on the patio. Running errands doesn't count.

 Flowers are in full bloom, the excitement of kids at play outdoors is heard through open windows, the smell of dinner on the grill wafts through the neighborhood...

and roofing is falling apart during storms!

You might've seen this in my last post.

The insurance adjuster came out and assessed the damage. As you're probably aware, home owner's insurance can be a joke. The boards underneath the roofing were wet, so they claim that's old water damage and won't cover it. Of course, plywood is the most expensive part. The bushes that are damaged from the fallen roofing parts? Not covered. And we have a $1000 deductible, so the parts that were covered are barely enough to even file a claim. We've had two roofing contractors out here for estimates and a third is coming, so we'll see how that all pans out.

In the meantime, the insurance adjuster said we need to get the damaged part cut down before it caused any more damage (which would be another claim!) and so water didn't get into our house. We were wondering what to do because 1) Brian doesn't have the proper tools to cut down gutters; 2) he has a torn calf muscle (that was explained in my last post, too) and can't get up on a ladder; and 3) he is not much of a handyman and wasn't sure how to go about tarping to keep water out.

Enter our nice neighbor next door. We have a few awful neighbors, but this guy is a gem. He is not only gifted in the home repair department, but just so happens to work part-time for a roofer! He worked for two hours cutting down the hanging gutters and soffits and temporarily nailing them back in to give us a quick fix.

Like my mom always said, nothing better than a man with a tool belt!