August 28, 2013

Starburst Vodka

I LOVE flavored vodka.  Pour some whipped vodka in a glass over ice and you’ve got yourself a night cap.  Flavored vodka is one of the few spirits I will drink by itself on the rocks.  I became obsessed with flavored vodkas last summer when a friend turned me onto cucumber vodka (cucumber vodka tonic on the rocks, YUM!) I was genuinely surprised that it didn’t taste like vodka at all; it was delicious.

Since then I’ve seen a bunch of different posts online about infusing your own flavored vodka.  I was especially intrigued when I saw someone say they gave out lemonhead vodka as Christmas gifts.  I became so excited at the thought of giving out infused vodka as favors for our Christmas party this year.  I thought it would be best to try infusing some cheap vodka before committing to the idea at Christmas in case it ended in failure. 

I did a little online research and no matter how many different directions I found for infusing vodka it all came down to the same basic idea: soak (desired flavor) in vodka in a sealed container and place in a cool dark place for (anywhere from 2 days to a week).  Seemed easy enough.


Brad and I both love Starburst candy, so I figured it would be a good tester for infusing my own vodka.  I bought a bag of Starbursts and a bottle of cheap(ish) vodka, then got to work.  I opened all of the individual candies and because the bottle I chose had a small neck I had to cut each candy in half.  I suggest using a mason jar or something with a large opening instead. Using a small necked bottle caused me a lot of unnecessary extra work.  Also to make things easier, I suggest using skittles or some other kind of candy that does not come individually wrapped.


I filled my bottle with (1) 7.2 oz bag plus (1) sleeve of Starburst.  Next, using a funnel, I added approximately half of a 750 ml bottle of vodka.  The clear vodka immediately began turning light pink.



I then took my bottle down to the basement to permeate for a few days.

After about 3 days I checked on my Starburst Vodka and found a mixture separated into three parts:  a darker red orange at the bottom, a lighter pinkish hue in the middle, and a white foam like substance at on the top.  The Starburst candies had mostly dissolved but there was still a thin layer of molten candies at the bottom of the bottle.  Upon opening the bottle, the liquid smelled sweet like candy, I was sure this was a good sign.  Brad and I poured it over ice and waited for the ice to begin to melt, then we each took a drink.  I could tell by Brad’s face that he didn’t like it and I could tell by the swill in my mouth why he didn’t like it.  Honestly, it was terrible; it tasted as though I had added sugar to a glass of vodka.  It was sickeningly sweet with a rubbing alcohol aftertaste.  It wasn’t just the taste that was bad, it was the texture - drinks are not supposed to have a texture, but it DID and it was grainy and thick.  Brad tried to choke down the rest of his drink in an effort not to offend me.  Unable to hide how slowly he was sipping his drink, I said to him “You don’t have to finish that, I’m not going to drink mine either.”

Although the vodka hadn’t turned out as I’d planned, I wasn’t quite ready to give up on the idea. In an effort to save the vodka abomination I bought some coffee filters and attempted to filter out the thick, sugary, grainy texture.  I made the assumption that this would be an easy process but I couldn’t have been more wrong.  The vodka dripped through the filter so slowly that I thought I had a defective filter.  I tried transferring the vodka from one filter to another and ended up spilling vodka all over the counter and onto the floor.  This was especially disastrous because Maggie, my dog, seems to think that if something falls to the floor, in the kitchen, it becomes hers.  She is such a quick little dog at the most inopportune times (well inopportune for me!). After cleaning the mess I was no closer to having the Starburst Vodka filtered and now had 1/3 less vodka than what I’d started with. 

At this point I was determined to not let the vodka win.  I would filter that Starburst Vodka come Hell or high water!  And I did.  After over an hour or so of frustrating filtering I had smooth (mostly) grain-less Starburst Vodka.

Honestly, I was so annoyed at the entire process after filtering, I didn’t touch the Starburst Vodka for a few weeks.  Finally, I decided it was time to give it another try.  I poured it in a glass over ice and waited for the ice to begin to melt, then I took the tiniest sip...and it wasn’t terrible, so I took a bigger drink.  It was smooth, with only a hint of vodka and it actually had a Starburst taste!  I felt quite accomplished at the finished product I finally had.


In the end, the Starburst Vodka was a little too sweet for my taste and A LOT more work than I anticipated.  I think I’ll stick with purchasing my flavored vodkas, but the experience was interesting and at least I can say I tried it.


August 15, 2013

I've Been Framed


Have you ever gotten one of those brilliant ideas, and you think “I can TOTALLY make that happen”; however the execution doesn't go quite as planned?  Yup, that happened to me and what I thought would be a simple project turned into a month long disaster area, many trips to the store, and a LOT of trial and error.  That’s the thing with finding projects that someone else has already mastered, they give you step by step directions on how to get to the finished product in the most efficient way.  It’s the frustrating, figuring it out, wanting to throw it out the window part that no one ever tells you about.  It’s more like “Hey! Look at how great I am! I made this super awesome item and look how easy it will be for you to replicate!” Although I hope you love these frames and I want them to be easy for you to replicate, I won’t lie and say it was easy for me.


It was months ago when I first I saw the frame pictured to the right.  We had decided to give our living room a makeover and new picture frames were a part of that plan.  I loved the black 24 picture collage frame I had on the wall but it was a hassle to switch out the pictures, so I just never did it.  This laziness left me displaying outdated pictures, which were especially obvious when looking at the ones of my nieces and nephews who are growing up so fast.  I needed a frame that allowed me to switch the pictures without the hassle.  I knew the one shown here would be perfect, especially if I removed the glass, changing the photos would be as easy as clipping and unclipping them.  I wouldn't even have to take the frame off the wall.  Unfortunately I really wanted white frames and the frame I found was only sold in black.  After looking at and thinking about it for a while, it hit’s me “I can TOTALLY make that happen!” I just needed to figure out how.

I knew I had unused picture frames in the closet at home that I was sure be perfect for this project.  Then while shopping at Ikea I came across a wire stretched across the wall with clips hanging from it holding photos, postcards, etc.  This was the second piece to the puzzle.  I purchased the clips but after considering the wire, I thought a metal rod would work better for what I wanted to do.  It was later at Home Depot that I purchased a couple of cheap metal rods.  After finding the rods I was really excited because it seemed I had all the pieces in place.  

Making the frames from this point would be easy, right?! 

What I thought needed to happen:

·         Spray-paint the black and brown frames I already had white
·         Cut the metal rod in half and drill holes on the inside of the frame to perch the rod in
·         Hang clips from rod

In actuality, the following events occurred:

I got a can of white spray paint from the basement and the black and brown (what I thought were shadowbox) frames from my closet. 

Error 1 – The picture frames are not shadowboxes, the frame is thick like a shadowbox, but the backing fits inside the frame edges and is pushed sit at the front of the frame against the glass. In order for these frames to work I’ll have to create my own backing and attach it.

I decided not starting with actual shadow boxes wasn't that big of a hurdle, so I skipped over this detail and figured I’d return to it later.  Then I took the frame apart, discarding the glass, mat, etc. and I removed the little metal prongs holding everything in place.  In the garage I spray painted one of the frames and left it to dry.  A few hours later I went back out to add a second coat of paint.

Error 2 – The black gloss coating on the frame was too smooth and the freshly spray-painted white coat was easily rubbed off.

Frustrated but undeterred I rubbed all the paint off the frame and began to sand it.  I then re-spray painted it and left it to dry once more.

Error 3 – Sanding the frame was to no avail.  The white paint was still easily rubbed off.

I knew where I had purchased the frames and although it was now a few years later I hoped that Ikea still carried them.  It was about a month before we made it back to Ikea, and against all odds they DID have the frame I was looking for in white!
Now I had the frames but there was still issue of needing a back for them.  I went to the store and began wandering around the crafting and stationary departments looking for inspiration.  In the end I settled on foam core board and wrapping paper. 

Error 4 – I cut the foam core down to size to fit the frame.  It protruded in an unsightly way from the back of the frame and was obvious that it didn’t belong there.

I worked with the foam core for a while trying to make it work.  I tried cutting it to fit inside the frame but it was extremely difficult to cut perfectly without leaving gaps between it and the frame.  Back to the drawing board I went and decided to use poster board in lieu of the foam core board.  I was leery of this choice due to hanging the frame on the wall.  I didn’t want to hang the frame on a nail on the wall that might press through the poster board and make a hole.  However, I was at a loss of what to do and decided that without the glass maybe the frames would be light enough that thumbtack could hold the frame instead of a nail.
Now that I had all the pieces it was time to cut the metal rod.  The only problem being I had no idea how to go about doing this.  When it comes to tools I can use a hammer and I know the difference between a flathead and phillips head screwdriver. That’s about it.  I measured the metal rod to fit in the frame and went out to my husband’s toolbox. 

Error 5 – I tried to saw the tiny 1/8 inch rod.  Not only was this extremely difficult, especially without having someone to steady the rod, but the sawing motion mangled the end I was cutting. To make matters worse I cut the rod too short.

I thought better and decided to wait for Brad on cutting the rods, of course now I had make a trip back to Home Depot to replace the one I’d just maimed. Moving on, I decided to make the holes in the frame for the metal rod to sit in.

Error 6 – Did I mention I’m terrible with tools?  Long story short I tried making these holes with a screwdriver, a screw, an electric screwdriver, etc.  I could only make a dent in the frame but no actual hole.

BRAD TO THE RESCUE!

Seriously, he drilled out the holes and cut the metal rods in no time flat.  Finally, I was only my way to finishing the picture frames. Next I traced the frame and cut the poster board to fit.

“Error” 7 – Okay this one’s not really an “error” per say, just an error in judgment.  I thought one board would be big enough for all three frames but it wasn’t.  I had to make another trip to the store for poster board.

I used a glue stick around the edges of the poster board and glued the wrapping paper on.  I cut the wrapping to match the size of the poster board and then I realized, I have NO IDEA how I’m going to attach it to the frame.  Luckily there wasn’t much error here, my first idea worked (almost) perfectly.  The frames are not very dense so I took a chance with stapling and it worked!  Just a regular desk stapler with a little force and the staples (mostly) went right in (thanks to some mad stapling skills by Brad.)
Finally I had 3 beautiful picture frames ready to be mounted on the wall, but how the hell was I going to do that?

Error 8 – The picture frames come with a coiled wire for “easy hanging.” I unsuccessfully “uncoiled” the wire.  As I worked with the wire the end of it kept flailing around, hitting me and getting in the way. I tried to wrap it around it around thumb tacks which I’d planned to then press into the back side edges of the frame.  This was a failure.

Error 9 – I got some twine out and stapled the ends to the back side edges of the frame.  It held well but when I hung it on the wall the frame didn’t hang flat.  It hung at an angle with the top part of the frame about two inches off the wall.

Back to the store, one last time, after Brad reminded me that I could buy picture frame hanging hardware. I centered them on the top edge of back of the frame and nailed them into place. 
Now I have three finished picture frames hanging beautifully in my living room, and no matter how fast my babies grow up I can easily switch out the old pictures for new ones. Even better, no matter how we change the living room, I can easily change out the pattern/color of the back of the frame!



I made this super awesome item and look how easy it will be for you to replicate!


What you need

  • RIBBA picture frame from Ikea (I used white but you can use whatever color you like)
  • Hanging picture clips (I used RIKTIG Curtain hook with clip from Ikea)
  • Paint (a color to match the frame you picked)
  • 1/8 inch metal rod
  • Poster board 
  • Wrapping paper (optional)
  • Metal picture hanging hardware 
  • Drill
  • Metal cutter
  • Glue stick
  • Stapler
  • Pliers
  • Hammer
  • Level


Directions

  1. Remove everything from the frame and throw it out, you won’t need any of this stuff.  Using your pliers pull the metal tabs out from the inside edges of the frame and toss them out too.
  2. Paint the inside edge of the frame to match the outside.  (Since the original frame doesn’t allow this area to show it’s brown and ugly)
  3. Line up the metal rod on the frame where you will want it to sit, use your level to make sure the rod will be straight.  Mark each side with a pencil for drilling.  Using your drill and drill bit carefully drill holes where you just marked, on the inside of each side of the frame.  Be careful not to drill through the frame, just deep enough into the edge for the rod to fit so it won’t fall out.
  4. Measure the metal rod to be just longer than the length from inside edge to inside edge of the frame.  Using metal cutter, cut the rod (and turn your face because the side you are not holding will fly into the air and across the room)
  5. Insert the metal rod into the holes you drilled.  You will have to slightly bend the rod because it is slightly longer than the inside edges of the frame.
  6. Trace around the outside of the frame onto the poster board and cut the poster board to size.  If you are choosing to cover your poster board with wrapping paper, run your glue stick around the edges of the poster board and glue it to your wrapping paper.  Then cut the wrapping paper to the size of the poster board.
  7. Using your stapler, staple the poster board around the back edge of the picture frame.
  8. Center the metal picture hanging hardware on the top of the back side of your picture frame and nail into place.
Now you can hang your frame on the wall and add as many clips/pictures as your heart desires!

August 1, 2013

Warrior Dash

I’d like take a moment to just gloat about what an amazing husband God has blessed me with.  In just 15 days we will be married for 4 years; in 6 months we will have been together for 9 years.  It seems like a lifetime ago, of course for me, it was.  I was a different person then and without Brad I would be a different person now.  He has changed me for the better.  Brad knows me inside and out, loving me even when we both know I’m being crazy and irrational.  He is amazing with forgiveness and has more patience than any man I know. 

Brad is my partner in life; always helping with dinner, dishes, laundry, and cleaning.  He also keeps our lawn mowed, our driveway shoveled, and my car running.  Without him our lives would be in total chaos.  It isn’t just the chores though, it’s the little things he does like holding the door open, or surprising me with flowers when he knows I’ve had an especially rough day.  Brad’s an amazing listener, he lets me cry, makes me laugh and supports me in all my decisions, even if he doesn’t agree.  He encourages me, believes in me, and pushes me that extra mile when I don’t believe in myself.  He knows the difference between when I’ve genuinely had enough and when I’m just frustrated and want to give up.  He knows me inside and out, he is my rock, and without him I would be lost.

They say opposites attract and in our case I would definitely say that’s true.  There was a time when I went to Brad in tears because we didn’t have anything in common.  It took me a while to realize the advantage of this.  If we only had common interests, I would never have been exposed too new things and would have missed out on some amazing experiences. 

I like to think that I’ve been good for Brad too, of course, I may be a little bias.  The truth is we’ve exposed each other to new things.  Without my interest, we would never have found ourselves at the Warrior Dash last weekend, and without his encouragement I might still be out on the race course.    

It was about 6 months ago when I decided to sign us up for the Warrior Dash. We started running at the gym, and considering that I've never been a runner, I was really proud of my progress by the time The Color Run came along at the beginning of May (you can read about that here.)   Ah, The Color Run, it seems like a long time ago, and at the time, the Warrior Dash seemed a long time in the future.  I decided to take “a week off” from running after The Color Run. That “week” turned into two weeks, then three weeks; the next thing I knew the Warrior Dash was only about 2 weeks away.

It takes a lot less time to get out of shape than it does to get in shape.   

I’m not going to lie, I was incredibly nervous as we made our way to Mount Morris, Michigan for the Warrior Dash.  As it turns out, I had a right to be.

Once we got signed in, I was able to check my bag, which was tagged with a hot pink wristband to match the one they gave me. Brad and I then pinned our numbers to the front of our shirts and I tied both of our plastic time chips to my shoes. (Brad’s shoes being so old and tattered that had he unlaced them to tie on his time chip, he wouldn't have been able to lace them back up.)  Finally we made our way to the start line.  As we waited to be released I watched to the right as dozens of warriors headed for the finish line, climbing up one side and down the other of a 20 foot high cargo net.  The nerves bubbled up inside me. 

Fire shot into the air indicating the start of the race.  We ran for about a mile before we reached the first obstacle, crawling through a trench, and although I was already pretty tired, I was feeling good about myself because Brad and I had passed a lot of people who had already started walking. Still, as I reached the end of that trench I honestly wondered if I’d be able to push myself back up and start running again; somehow I did.  Covered in sweat and dirt, I continued on, with Brad, my amazing husband, never leaving my side.

Next we went into a river, I pulled myself up onto the floating platform and crossed back into the river.  Making our way to the muddy bank on the other side we ran into a tree branch hiding in the water, leaving Brad scratched and bloody.  We followed through the muddy tracks, water dripping from our hair and clothes.  Only two obstacles in and the fatigue started taking over, “we are never doing this again, this is horrible” I managed to say to Brad through baited breath.  I wanted to quit, I wanted to walk, but more than anything I wanted to press on.  We made our way out of the woods and upon seeing the next obstacle in the clearing ahead gave me a sense of rejuvenation. We went over a wall, under barbed wire, over a wall, under barbed wire and again…yes REAL barbed wire.

The next obstacle we came too was “Road Rage.”  We hopped over cars and through a field of tires, which had been smashed, moved and turned over by the waves of runners before us. I barely made it over the cars on the other side, my legs could take no more.  From there we walked and ran from obstacle to obstacle: across a 2 by 4 which looked 10 feet down to a shallow pool below, through a hanging rope tunnel leaving my knees scratched and aching, across the span of a hanging cargo net, over plywood triangles with only the support of two inch boards for footing.  It was only with the help of other warriors that we kept on, through two mud pits and a hilly mud-filled terrain going over and under fallen trees. 

It was when we got to “Chained Up,” an obstacle which only offered chain link steps to get you from one side to the other, that my legs felt shaky. I stopped at the foot of the obstacle and said to Brad “I’m not sure I can do this.”  He told me I could stop, he told me I could simply walk around this obstacle, but I couldn't   I knew I had to finish and I knew the only way I could do that was THROUGH the challenge, not around it.  I dug deep and found my strength and over that obstacle I went.


Through the water, the mud, the sweat and tears; up and down hills, over walls, under barbed wire; climbing nets, ladders and chained steps...


…finally I saw the 20 foot cargo net looming in front of us and I knew we had made it to the end…

but it wasn't quite the end.


At the top of that cargo net, I stopped to take everything in, screaming in excitement and relief I looked out beyond only to realize there were two more obstacles that still stood between us and the finish line.  I made my way down the net. 

Determined, we ran through the fiery blaze to the muddy water just up ahead.  I trudged through ducking my head under the barbed wire, again, and again.  As I watched the people in front of me fully submerged in the murky water I saw that I would have to follow suit if I wanted to get past the lowest sets of barbed wire.  I came up from the water unable to see with mud in my eyes, unable to wipe it away with mud on my hands.  “I can’t see, I can’t see” I yelled to Brad. He had cleared his own eyes just in time to keep me from running face first into the barbed wire ahead of me.  (It wasn’t until later that I asked myself why I would knowingly continue to move toward barbed wire when I couldn’t see.) Out of that water we rose dripping with mud and aching for the finish line ahead.


The Warrior Dash was one of the most difficult things I've ever done.  My muscles honestly hurt for 2 days after that race, but I have never felt as proud as I did the moment Brad and I crossed that finish line bruised, battered and filthy. I could have never done it without him, and he would have never done it without me.



For those of you who are curious 
our finish time for the 3.25 mile / 12 obstacle course 
was 52.31 minutes. 
 I was just hoping for under an hour, so I’m pretty happy with that.