The best use of a frigid, wet, snowy day

In 1999 I leased a car. It was a 4 door Chevy Blazer 4X4, and I loved it. Pewter metallic paint, with a charcoal leather interior, it was the nicest thing I'd ever driven. Sunroof, CD player (with a cassette deck I never did put a tape into), power everything, I was in heaven.

By the time the lease was up, things had changed quite a bit, and buying the car made the most sense, so I did. Shortly following that, the engine blew at 59,000 miles. I fixed that, then the alternator, brakes, and a host of other little things, which seemed to keep coming, over the years.

The last time I had it inspected for renewing my tags, the U-joint needed work to pass and the bill was over 600 bucks. I'd also lost a hinge pin from the drivers door, and had run into a deer on the highway. (The deer I hit just enough to skew the grille but not enough to make it worth taking to a body shop).

The point of all this is that until today, I was driving a 10 year old car that had slipped well past unsightly, and squarely into unsafe. It's time to renew my tags again, and paying for another repair (which I knew there would be) seemed silly, when what I really needed was a good used car. So I did my research, and in the end, I got a smokin deal.

My silver LR3 with black interior is a 2006, with 33,000 miles on it. The sales staff at Mercedes Benz of Kansas City couldn't have been nicer, or more professional. What's more, on a rainy, snowy, generally nasty last weekend of the month, they were ready to sell a car and when I left I think we were both happy with the transaction.

Next, Brett's lease is up in June. He's got the bug, we'll see if he makes it that long!


Over the years Brett and I have formed our own traditions, and some of our most beloved center around KU basketball. We watch games occasionally with family (alumni all of us), but most are viewed at home on the couch with the schnauzers, who raise their paws (with a bit of assistance) to help will free-throws through the hoop. We yell, we pace, when things are going badly we leave the room for a few minutes. When we win we cheer and hug, and then call our moms.

This season I made pizza on Big Mondays. In fact we call it Big Monday Pizza. It's assorted meats on a whole wheat crust with extra cheese, and it was pretty damn good even if I haven't been completely satisfied with my dough recipe.

This weekend however, as we stare down the barrel at Michigan State, pizza will not do. We need snack food. Hearty, delicious, perfect-for-stress-eating snack food. So as the tournament cranks up again tomorrow, here is my cheese dip recipe. The ingredients are surprisingly pedestrian, the result definitely is not.

-2 cans Campbells Fiesta Nacho Cheese soup
-2 cans Campbells Cream of Chicken soup
-1 medium block of Velveeta
-1 can Rotel diced tomatoes with lime and cilantro
-1 small can green chiles

In a good-sized sauce pan empty all four cans of soup and stir over medium heat. Cut up the velveeta into one-inch blocks and add to soup, stirring occasionally as they melt to combine. Add the tomatoes and chiles, both with their juice, and stir to combine.

At this point you can toss in anything else you like. I usually hit it with black pepper, a tiny bit of cayenne pepper, and a little cumin. More fresh cilantro (I'm a fan) would be good, as would a splash of beer. Mine is always a little bit different depending on what's around, so do what tastes good to you.

Serve hot with good chips and a well crafted margarita.


Because I trust your taste

Alright, the set-up: You have 10 of these Johnson Brothers 'His Majesty' dinner plates, and 10 cups and saucers. You have no soup bowls, salad plates, or chargers. You want to set a Turkey Day table that is stylish and fun, the transferware serving as a nod to tradition. What do you mix with these?

My first thought was Wedgwood drabware, but I think it's too tan. I've also seen a solid ivory plate with a basketweave textured rim, but I can't remember where. Your thoughts?

Start to finish

This one goes out to Hello Gorgeous who was the first to say "you know how we like before-and-afters." I thought I'd never get there, but the secretary is done. There it is above in its original sadsack condition.
Midway through the project I'd painted the interior tan (General Finishes milk paint in Linen) and glazed it with GF's Van Dyke Brown glaze. The exterior is a pale blue Benjamin Moore from the mistint shelf at Ace Hardware.
Here's a close-up showing the blue after the brown glaze. It brought out the green tint a bit more, but it's still basically the same color, just dirtier.
Since I had the back panel off anyway, I covered it with some state maps I found at Paper Source. I also decoupaged one in the bottom of that little drawer. Cleaning up I found the northeast corner of Kansas. Fitting, so I pasted it on the inside of the lower cabinet door. I didn't pay attention so when I went to fit the panel back on, I had the maps upside down. Mostly they read as pattern, so it doesn't bug me. I really doubt anyone will notice.
And there it is painted, glazed, decoupaged, sealed and in place at the antique mall. Done!

Art Upgrade: The results show

You may recall that I was excited when Brett joined me for a special catalog sale at the auction house early this month. He doesn't attend often, which is perfectly understandable when I tell you that I left this week's Tuesday night consignment auction at 12:15 am and they weren't quite finished with the sale.

What was even more fun was that he found something he wanted. I was there for one painting, but there were a number of really great pieces, and he really liked the signed litho pictured above. He decided he wanted it, so I told him to go up and take one more look to be sure there wasn't some damage he missed, and it was fine. I loved it when the lot came up and he leaned over and said "Give me your number." And I was so proud when he let the auctioneer lower the opener before he bid.

As you can see (sort of, that's the picture from the catalog and it's a little bit dark), while it's a nice print with a vaguely arts-and-crafts era feel, the frame and matting are bad. The frame was as ugly as it appears, but what you likely can't see is how bad the mats were. The undermat looked like it was splattered with watercolor paint, and they both looked like they were cut with a steak knife. So we took it to the frame shop.

This is the print in it's new matting and frame. I picked it up after work today, and Brett and I couldn't be more pleased. The color in this picture is a bit misleading. The under mat is a brown very similar to the brown in the ground of the image. The top mat is actually an ivory that's not quite as white as it appears here, but we found that a lighter color really brightened up the print. The frame is a simple dark wood with grain that runs perpendicular to the edge. I have not used Thompson's Framing & Gallery over in KCK before, but I absolutely will again. The previous mat had burned the print a bit (the new ones are 100% rag), and they managed to mat out those marks and leave the series and signature intact.

And because it was his great choice, and his auction win, we hung it over his desk in the den. There's a second spring catalog sale coming up next month, guess who I'm inviting to be my date!

Orange budda head: It's what's for dinner

Before the paperwork on Saturday our realtor Phyllis walked through each room here to make suggestions on how to best present our space. We watch a lot of HGTV, and we've sold a few houses in our day, so she didn't have a ton of notes, but she did have a few.

We adore Phyllis. More importantly we trust her, and Brett won't make a real estate move without her. But she's not a dog person at all. I think she'd prefer we ship the boys off while we're on the market, but of course that will never happen. I've borrowed a doberman-sized cage from the boys' Uncle Mike, and they'll be hanging out in there in the laundry room during the day. They'll bark like hell, and Phyllis is right when she says that makes people not want to stay, but there's not that much to see in the laundry and after a quick look and a "God those dogs are loud" they can close the door. All this of course when Daddy Brett can't be convinced to take them to the office with him.

The other thing she wanted us to do was to clear the kitchen counters. Of everything. So my utensil crocks, knife block, salt and pepper, and the Kitchen Aid were stowed away. On the island there's usually some dish soap, hand soap, and a big ironstone basin where I toss whatever fruit or vegetables I have around to cook with, which all went under the sink. When we were done you could certainly see there's lots of counter space, but it was a little bit off-putting and stark. Still, she's been right in the past.

At lunch today Brett called and asked where I put everything. Phyllis and the photographer were at home shooting pictures, and sure enough, the kitchen was looking a bit uninhabited. I told him most everything went into the lower cabinets and figured she'd find what she wanted.

We got home from work, and she had found the big utensil crock. Apparently that was all though, so she hunted through the laundry room storage shelves and the cabinet in the entry, and at the other end of the counter was a blue art glass pitcher and my orange Crate & Barrel budda head.

I'm dying to see the pictures. I can't imagine anyone looking won't think "what the hell?"

Nothing gets you moving around the house... a pending MLS listing!

Our realtor came by yesterday and we listed our condo. No clue if it'll sell, she's not confident about the market in general or condominiums in particular, but we're giving it a shot. I firmly believe we all end up right where we're supposed to be, if that's somewhere else, great, and if it's here that's fine too.

The bulk of the weekend was spent on little projects and getting some extra stuff out of the house. Remember my den? Everything was pretty much done, but there was nothing on the walls. I had a set of three classical prints from an auction, so I did a quick frame job on them and hung them over the credenza. A stacked arrangement like this really emphasizes the ceiling height and I'm happy with it. We also took out the shaggy area rug to show off the dark-stained floors. Cross your fingers!

Time for my mid-life crisis

The Auto Show is here! Tonight after work Brett and I walked and fed the schnauzers and headed downtown to take a look at new rides. Mostly for Brett as his lease is up soon, I'm driving the beater until it won't go any further. Which could be any minute. Here are some favorites.

My best bud drives a Lexus GX 470. I've driven the car a number of times and I love it in every way. Wonderful handling, great lines outside, comfortable and beautifully appointed inside. This is the car I look for deals on just in case a bucket of money drops from the sky. Lexus makes gorgeous vehicles, but I will say that they put the tan leather interior in too many cars. The model on the floor tonight was black, which I liked, with a tan interior that I didn't. I've had tan leather and carpet and it's impossible to keep clean. Silver with a black interior would be my pick. Speaking of colors, while I don't remember the particular companies, a couple makers are painting cars brown again. Deep, dark, metallic browns that look nearly black. It's been a while and I like that it's coming around again.

Available in May of this year in the US, Nissan is introducing the Cube, which has been sold in Europe and Japan for years. The base model starts around 14K, and the top of the line Krom version starts at 19K. I wanted to hate this car. It's tiny and funky, but more than anything it reminded me of the odd little cars you see all over Europe. Like Scion, it comes with lots of available accessories that do nothing more than funkify the look. Cargo bungees, colored floor lighting effects, color plates that fit over door handles and knobs and the like.

This car was up on a platform so we weren't able to sit in it, but the spokesmodel (wearing a cool patterned pencil skirt and tight black leather motocross jacket) pointed out the interior headliner, which is sculpted into a concentric ring pattern like ripples from a drop of water. She said the interior was designed by an interior, rather than automotive designer, and the motif is repeated discreetly both inside and out. It's a 4-cylinder engine which isn't great, but it's just so different I can't help but dig it.

In the actual realm of possibility, I really like the Toyota 4Runner. The model I sat in was white, and was the UrbanRunner model. I'm not sure what all that package involves, but it was a comfortable SUV, roomy enough to use, but not freakishly large, and nicely appointed. Not a ton to say, it's a handsome, solid ride that I would absolutely consider.

While we're on the topic of SUVs, some thoughts: I know many people blame them for a host of issues, but I really do use mine. I move large things on a nearly weekly basis, so I need the room. GM, I love the new Suburban, I really do. It's huge and roomy and useful and I'd love to have one. I totally believe you can build solid, reliable cars...but you don't. After all the trouble I've been through with this Blazer, there's no way I would cough up 62 grand for the Suburban, even if I had it. I'd buy a Range Rover Sport for 60, and with their legendary un-reliability, that's saying something.

And finally, the surprise: The 2009 Dodge Challenger

This car is SO not me. As an adult I've had 2 Blazers, and before that a sensible Honda. I'm not a muscle car driver. I need enough speed to get on the highway or out of the way of other cars, past that I'll never use the extra power. But this car is just plain sexy. In a long-haired, tight jeans, 70's kind of way that I cannot resist. Up on the platform was one in orange with black accents. The one I sat in was white with a black interior. I'd seen the orange before and thought it was the best choice. It's good, but for me the white was perfect. I don't need the Hemi engine, and I certainly don't need the insurance rate that comes with it, but it comes with more sensible engines, and I couldn't love this thing more.

Putt-putt pub crawl

It's cold and overcast now, but yesterday could not have been more perfect for the Aidswalk Open, the annual putt-putt pub crawl benefitting Aids Walk KC. How rare is that I'd be in shorts and a short-sleeve shirt here in March?!

Brett and I joined our friends Cindy and Mike at our starting bar, 303, at 10am. Chocolate martinis were the special, and not entirely unlike chocolate milk, and went down surprisingly well with the coffee I got on the way. There was a bus to shuttle players from bar to bar, but with such great weather, we walked it and enjoyed the weather and got some sun on our faces.

We drank lightly, putted well, and had a great time. By 2pm however we needed food. The two holes at the Beaumont Club were horribly backed up, and the Dark Horse wasn't much better, so we headed to McCoys. Their hole was a short down-and-dirty shot through the clown's mouth so we hit our putts and decided lunch was a better idea than finishing.

McCoy's expanded into the space next door formerly occupied by The Foundry, a sort of new-agey jewelry place, and so now it's The Foundry at McCoy's and has a great outdoor deck. They also have great nachos that come with an amazing sweet-smoky salsa. We'll be returning to have those again. Often.

I believe Cindy said there were 200 teams, and at 100 bucks a team it they should do well on the money raised.

Art Upgrade

Last year my favorite auction house here in town began having a quarterly sale of better art and antiques, and the spring 2009 fine art and antiques auction was last night. I can find something to get excited about at most any sale, but these quarterly sales have been especially interesting. When the catalog came out I found a painting I thought looked promising, which sparked a discussion with Brett about our art.

When we merged households years ago most of the framed art we had was his and over the years much of it has gone away because of changes in decor and our tastes. A lot of what he's kept, mostly prints and watercolors, isn't currently being used. What little is hanging on our walls, and I'm looking at some vintage french wine posters (don't groan, they were very fun in our old dining room), well, their time is up.

The point of all this being that Brett joined me at the auction last night (which is rare) and we were buying not for me to resell, but for us. The painting I liked from the catalog, I loved in person. And here it is, an abstract landscape signed "Hassager 1973."

It's not big, about 16 by 20 inches framed, but I love the image. I know we're in a recession so I'm pleased to report I got it for less than half of what I was prepared to spend. The liner and frame could use a little refreshing, but they're perfectly fine as they are, so I have no immediate plans to change them. I hung it tonight during halftime of the KU/Texas Tech game (which will NOT be discussed) and I couldn't be happier.

I previewed the sale in the early afternoon while I was out running errands yesterday. Brett came straight from work and arrived just after the auction began. There were a number of really great things, and I was happy when Brett mentioned liking the lithograph above. Also a landscape, it's 12 of 300 (top half of the run!) and signed Jennifer Brannigan. The catalog described it as an "arts and crafts" landscape. I certainly can understand that, but more than anything it's just a really nice print. He couldn't have picked something I would like more, so I was thrilled when it came up and he said "give me your number." The frame is ugly and the matting is poorly cut and in bad shape, so some reframing has to be done before it goes up. Once that's done, we'll have a beautiful piece I can't wait to see on the wall. Our art upgrade has begun!

Almost there

We've been doing some major spring cleaning, or prepping the house to sell, depending on the day you ask us. I haven't been to the workshop in a week, which isn't good. Of course our den is painted and our laundry room has been cleaned and cleared and re-organized from head to toe, and that's a good thing whether we stay or move.

I do have some progress to show on the secretary. After finishing the linen colored basecoat I began to paint the outside with the deep, dark federal blue color I used on that maple chest. Much to my surprise, it looked awful. Still in the mood for blue I decided to try a pale robins egg blue I had sitting around. This is a gallon of Benjamin Moore I picked up off the mis-tint shelf at Ace Hardware in Overland Park. I like it so much I painted the frame of a big mirror I had to match. (I also think it's almost the perfect color to paint a ceiling, and will be keeping a sample for that future purpose)

Before I started the blue topcoat I took my burnt umber glaze and dirtied up the interior of the desk and lower cabinet, as well as the interior of the drawer. When the second topcoat is complete I'll dirty up the outside as well.

So we're getting close. After all the paint is done everything will get a protective clear coat and I can start putting it back together. I've replaced the desk hinges as the original ones were starting to bend. I've found some chain that I'm hoping will work, but if not I'll have to get that replaced. A small knob for the little interior drawer (the original one had half broken off) and we'll be good to go.

What's on your watch list?

Today after my Jayhawks spanked Missouri at the field house I made a run to the grocery store, and as it often is, it was Gay Day at the market. I ran into Bryce, who's off to Las Vegas next week, which sounds wonderful. Then again, he's going with his mom for a work function, so I'm only marginally jealous. Unrelated note: Bryce still lives with his ex Jeff, who never speaks to me, and today was no different. Perhaps he can read minds and knows I thought his tweed driving cap looked ridiculous.

I also saw Andy and Chris. Andy and I were at KU at the same time, and while we didn't have common classes, I was in Textiles and he was in Graphic Design so we were nearby. We also frequented some of the same coffee shops. Before we parted ways in Produce he said "Are you on Facebook?" I said "No, I'm anti social networking." He said "Of course you are" and off they went.

Working down my shopping list I was thinking about how I see no purpose or reason for Facebook and the like, and it hit me: When eBay started I thought it was awful too. Why would you want to bid against people you couldn't see? And how could you sell something online, what if they didn't pay? My, how far I've come.

The last thing I do on Sunday night is my weekly eBay search. There are a number of things I look for. Some the same each week, and other new searches depending on what I need or have going on. So for fun, here's a sampling of what I'm currently watching:

Among the same weekly search, yellowware bowls and pitchers. You've seen the collection, a few of which were eBay buys. Currently I've been looking for a small pitcher to use for spoons in the kitchen. Yes, I know there are spooners for that, but something like the little banded pitcher above is more my style.

This is an Austin sculpture taken from a cast of the original at the Victoria and Albert museum in London. Yes, Austin makes a number of things I'd never have in my home, but also a surprising number of things I would. I have an abstract bull sculpture by Austin on the credenza in the den and I love it. I'm not sure where the figure above could go, but I've got some ideas. It's big and would be gorgeous in the right spot. Incidentally, I saw the original when we were at the V&A and it's really wonderful. If you go to London DO NOT MISS the V&A.

Mrs. Blandings occasionally runs across good pieces of Wedgwood in her hunting and gathering. Either she or Stefan at ArchitectDesign recently mentioned the egyptianware. I was looking around eBay when I found the piece above. Much like antique dealers not pricing things at shows, here's a selling strategy I couldn't hate more. This seller's auctions all have a $1000.00 Buy It Now or Best Offer. Their text says "Of course we know this item isn't worth $1000.00, it's just our gimmick to get you to make us a fair offer." Besides annoying me, I think they're hurting themselves. The auction ended when they accepted someone's offer of $36.00. That's less than I would have thought they'd take, so if I ever run across something I like in one of their auctions you can bet I'll low-ball my offer.

I pick up lots of little prints and engravings, and invariably they need new mats and frames. This seller is offering 52 feet of moulding in 4 different styles, all for 55 bucks. You can't pick what you get, but if you see one you really hate he'll pull it out. This would be perfect for reselling art. WHY did I sell my miter saw?

And finally, this seller is offering a pair of these small Barbara Cosgrove urn lamps in either the black or white base, for $112.00. I adore the black, and as soon as I figure out where I can use them I'm buying. Who am I kidding, I could buy and store just as easily.
So what about you, what are you watching on eBay?