DIY attempts

March 30th, 2011 by carolyn

Over the years we have accumulated a fair amount of books.  Matt and I are both readers and have trouble letting go of the books we read.  We have collected travel guides, novels and textbooks and I have also managed to amass a huge amount of photo albums.  While we both would love to have a proper library or at least a room with walls covered with books someday, that is not in the cards for now.  So we decided to start out with purchasing a few cheap bookcases to house our collection.

Once we purchased the bookshelves, we thought we might make an attempt at sprucing them up a bit.  I did a bit of internet research and came across this great post about painting laminate furniture.  Following Lindsay’s advice, I set up shop in the basement and sanded and primed away.  Once the shelves were prepped we made a trip to our handy local hardware store – which we love – and came home with a quart of “threadless grapes” paint and polyurethane.

The whole process was very straightforward but took a fair bit of time.  After a few weeks the pieces were complete and we were able to put them all together.  Below is the finished product holding our paperbacks.

Here is a close-up so you see the color and the little tiger and piglet happy meal guys (i’ve been carrying those around since Madrid 1998).

There is another one for photo albums.  Now we just need to purchase one nice sturdy one to hold all our textbooks.

Spring Skiing in Vail

March 27th, 2011 by matt

So, our winter was rather domestic. However, just because we no longer live 2 hours from Greece doesn’t mean there’s nothing to explore. Spring is here and it means time for a little travel. We begin the travels of 2011 with a skiing trip.  During one our lulls in blogging 2 years ago (man, I’ve been doing this for a while), we made a trip to Zermatt for a lovely ski trip. Carolyn grew up skiing a lot. And she’s an excellent skier. Her parents still take a few trips a year, usually to Colorado. Since this was the first time in a few years that that we were both on the same continent as Colorado, we decided to make a long weekend family trip of it, including my family as well. Everyone is still alive, which means it’s nice to see our families can get along. 🙂

Our goal was Vail, home of some damn fine skiing and about 2 hours west of Denver up into the mountains. My sister picked us up from the airport. There was snow in the forecast which is good, but it decided to come down about 2 hours too early. As we got closer to our destination, we found out that multiple accidents had shut the pass 10 miles from Vail. Due to this, we stopped in the last large town near the closure but, just as we were about to start the fun hotel hunting job for the night, the pass miraculously opened and, after a long, slow drive, we made it to Vail in time for a little sleep before an early wake up to hit the slopes. We awoke to this wonderous sight:

Behold, 9 inches of fresh snow, sun and blue skies! Now, everyone else I was skiing with had quite a bit more experience than me. This would be my first time snowing in powder. Apparently, when you get fresh snow, you make sure you’re first on the mountain for the day so you can make the most of it. We did just that and it was worth it. Here is a view from up in the mountains:

I can understand why everyone loves Vail. The location is beautiful, the trails are excellent and varied. I’m no badass skier or anything, but by the end of the weekend, I could handle some of the easier black diamonds. I have no endurance so I tended to burn out early in the afternoon and the altitude made it even trickier, but that meant Carolyn’s mom and I would just quit a little early and head down for drinks. No complaints here. As I mentioned, this was a dual family trip and my sister was a saint and did all the hard work by chauffeuring us around Colorado. Here would be me and my little sister:

My parents have not been much for skiing in a few years, but they came out to enjoy the other activities Vail has to offer. And see their wonderful offspring, of course! After our various daily activities, we’d meet up together for drinks and food. One night we had fondue in our condo and the other nights we ate out at a couple of the Vail eateries. On our last full day in Denver, some of us took a day off skiing and gave snowshoeing a go. Again, the altitude made it much harder than I expected, but it allowed me to get to a spot like this and just soak in the natural beauty of the Rockies.

Unfortunately, all trips must end and this was just a long weekend. We’re back in Chicago and wondering where spring is, but I’ve been promised is coming soon.


March 22nd, 2011 by matt

Well, the beer is bottled and is being consumed. Allow me to show you what’s happened with it. When we last left the beer, it had just been transferred from plastic primary to glass secondary fermentation. This allows the beer to get a bit of a swirl and leaves all the sediment behind allowing for a clearer beer. This being homebrew, it’ll never be completely clear, but it really does help. After a week or so in secondary, it was time to bottle. Helping me this round was Dave.

The bottling bucket the beer is transferring to has priming sugar, a little more sugar to wake the yeast up so it eats a little more while in the bottles.

The plastic bit at the end of the tube pushes in when you hit the bottom of the bottles and, without a lot of air, allows beer to flow out of it. Some people buy new bottles, I was cheap and collected/drank my way to 40-60 bottles (and did a nice thorough cleaning of them before using them).

There it is, my first homebrewed beer in 12 years. I got 41 bottles of beer, but I should have had over 50. I lost a lot due to lacking extra water during the initial steps. Next time, I’ll remember to have 6 gallons of water as a lot of it boils off/spills into the stove when cooking the wort. At this point, the bottles were moved to a closet. The yeast, with it’s priming sugar treat, will now keep eating the sugars. In the fermenters, the CO2 that is the end product of the yeast eating the sugar was able to escape out of an airlock in the top of the carboy. Now, in the bottles, they are trapped by the beer caps and provide natural carbonation for my happy English bitter-style beer. A week later, I had my first sample. Let’s go to my stylish photo of the end product.

Behold! Beer! And a curious cat wondering why a glass is sitting on top of a flower pot. It’s a little dark, but the color was a nice medium brown and, while cloudy, was not too bad. I initially sampled it in isolation, with Carolyn around in case it tried to kill me. The taste was pretty good. I’ll be honest, I’m terrible at the whole describing flavors thing, but it was in line with a tasty session beer. The one you might drink over the course of an afternoon in a nice sunny pub. Not too exciting, but very drinkable. I’ve passed out a few for other judgments and, either my friends and neighbors are very very polite, or they truly enjoyed the beer. Success!

From this experience, I’ve learned that I need a bigger brew kettle (the wort creation phase was almost a fiasco with my pouring have the boiling word into a second kettle and spilling a bit all over the lit stove) and that my sterilization technique wasn’t too shabby. And, the whole thing was loads of fun and this will not be the last beer I make! 🙂

More winter adventures

March 13th, 2011 by carolyn

A couple weeks ago, I went out to the Berkshires with several of my college friends to celebrate our friend who is getting married in April.  We are scattered between Boston, Connecticut, New York and New Jersey and Chicago so we settled on the Berkshires as a central place.  We spent the night at the Cranwell Resort in Lenox, MA which is an amazing spa and hotel.

After making the drive to meet up on Saturday morning, we started the adventures with a snow-shoeing tour of the grounds.  There was still a fair bit of snow on the ground and there had even been a fresh couple inches the night before which made for a smooth trek.

After the snow-shoeing, several of us took part in the spa offerings.  I had a body wrap which was an amazing combination of ex-foliation, massage and relaxing wrap.  We also got to use the facilities like the whirlpool and steam room.  Overall a pretty relaxing and wonderful experience.  We packed a lot into our day and after the spa had a happy hour in our room followed by dinner in the resort restaurant.  It was a great weekend of catching up with old friends, exploring the winter wonderland in the Berkshires and looking forward to next phases in life.

I got a chance to visit with several other friends in Boston as I journeyed in and out from Chicago.  It was so nice to see the new homes, new babies and growing bellies (one friend had her baby 3 days after I left) of many Boston friends.  Hope to get a chance to see everyone again soon!  I’ll leave you with a cool view of Chicago from the airport.