The Anytime Resolution

Over the past three weeks, I cleaned and maintained a clean apartment. It’s silly, but I haven’t thoroughly cleaned and kept my space clean for quite some time. Ask my parents – I was never the kid with a clean room growing up! Living in a big kid apartment, working a big kid job, I decided I needed to start acting more like an adult. This includes doing the dishes in a timely manner or putting my coat on a hanger instead of over a chair or on the couch. It’s a matter of respecting my space and respecting my guests.

There’s a rare feeling I have experienced since cleaning my apartment – some sort of clarity and sense of ease. I’ve heard it before and felt it seldom over the years, but cleaning out a physical space really does help provide mental clarity! This year has been a lot about taking action NOW and not waiting for the next week to start. Inevitably, there are still tasks to be checked off and tasks that will not be completed this year, but overall, I started several.

It’s interesting how the sense of priority changes. I’m a project planner, but plans change as priorities, risks, and resources change. When my apartment became too expensive to maintain in addition to a fancy gym membership, I axed the gym and committed to working out by myself in the apartment’s gym. When my job became a chore and uninteresting, I evaluated my expertise and career growth and switched positions. When I finally realized that spending several hours per week watching television did absolutely nothing to improve my lifestyle, I stopped paying for cable and never unpacked my television. Around the age of 26, you may have expected somebody to finally start gaining a little bit of wisdom as to the person that they would like to grow up to be. Well, I’ll tell you that I’m still growing up, but I’m significantly more invested in this version of myself than the version of myself I was last year.

I’m probably never going to get to everything on my to-do list, and that’s good. Once I achieve everything, what else is left? What else is motivating me to be better today and tomorrow and the day after? No, what I’m realizing is that I don’t need to finish everything today, but I cannot keep staying in this planning phase for forever. I can plan to clean tomorrow; I can promise myself that I’ll put my clothes away tomorrow; I can pretend that this will be the last brownie today, and I’ll go to the gym tomorrow. I’d much rather actually commit to doing one thing to improve myself today than planning on improving five things about myself tomorrow. The plan is important to organize and realize my goals, but I need to follow through with action TODAY. This is my realization over the past year. It’s the “anytime” resolution. Start today!

Halloween

Halloween was so much fun!  My friends and I ended up crashing a random party in an office space near State Street in Madison.  My favorite costume of the night was with a couple who are expecting their first child.  The man was dressed as golfer Tiger Woods, and the woman was dressed as a hole in one.  She wore a green felt top with a round cutout over her baby bump.  The bump was dressed up as a Titleist golf ball.  It was so darn cute!! She also had a headband with a red flag sticking out of it. It was very clever.

My boyfriend and I dressed up as Little Bunny Foo Foo and the field mouse getting scooped up and bopped on the head.  To tell you the truth, I never had heard of this nursery rhyme until a few weeks ago. Originally, I thought we would dress up as a sheriff from Walking Dead and a zombie captor, but that was going to require far more effort into zombie make-up than I wanted. The mouse and bunny ears and noses were maybe $10 total, so that was way more convenient!

A good friend of mine drove up from Chicago to spend Thanksgiving with us.  Her outfit was definitely the best one for creating cheesy pick-up lines and puns – she was a ketchup bottle.

  • Mayo I introduce you to my friend?
  • Her husband was away on business in a different country, so he couldn’t mustard up the ability to come.
  • It was great ketching up with her.
  • Please ex-squeeze me for the terrible puns!

At one point, she lost her red top hat, and my boyfriend helped her put it back on her head by “twisting” it on tightly. Then, he got yelled at for messing up her hair. It was pretty amusing 😉

I’m not posting pictures or names here for sake of my friends’ anonymity, but feel free to check me out on Instagram or Facebook for pictures. 🙂

Can you think of anymore puns? Did you have a punny costume?

Not your standard cupcakes

I love October and fall and changing colors and cooling off.  I love boots and scarves and bundling up to stay warm.  There’s something magical that begins to happen as we enter the end of the year. I always love the anticipation of good things to come.  Thursday, not Friday, is my favorite day of the week because it means the weekend is coming!

In honor of Halloween and an apparent fascination I have with zombies, I got into a cooking mood on Tuesday and made savory and sweet cupcakes.  My goal began with creating zombie cupcakes for my coworkers. It was a really cute idea and, for the first 75% of cooking, I was really into it.  At some point it got to be 10pm by the time the cupcakes cooled off enough to ice, and my goal switched from zombie faces to as much icing on every cupcake as possible! 🙂 Luckily, they still tasted good; they just looked a tad bit more like Frankenstein’s monster than zombies.

Ghoulishly good!
Ghoulishly good!

You can’t see the distinction too well, but they have little candy eyes and a black icing monster smile!

One of my coworkers pointed out my awesome icing skills, and the trick is to swirl the icing on. I bought store-made icing in a ready-to-ice bottle.  My second oldest sister taught me that when using home-made icing, you can put the icing in a sandwich bag and cut off an edge. Then, just feed the icing through the tube, and you’ll have a similar effect!  There are a ton of caps that stores offer to change the design a bit.

My major masterpiece (or at least I think so 🙂 ) for the evening was my turkey meatloaf. I had been sent a daily recipe from the gym I went to for the challenge for non-bread crumb turkey meatballs. Then, I also found a Giada de Laurentiis recipe for turkey meatloaf with sun-dried tomatoes and feta cheese. I decided to combine the two recipes together and bake them in cupcake foils for ready-made servings. I thought they turned out deliciously; my boyfriend was not as impressed with the “turkey” part of the meatloaf lol.

If you’re looking for a non-red meat and healthier alternative to standard meatloaf, try it out! I’m fairly certain it was pretty healthy. I used the following ingredients: lean ground turkey, sun-dried tomatoes (mine had been soaked in oil and Italian herbs), reduced-fat feta cheese, parsley, onion, garlic (I always add at least double the amount of garlic a recipe calls for, but that’s just me!), two eggs, two tbsp milk, and a ton of seasonings to taste.

First, chop up the onion, parsley, sun-dried tomatoes, and garlic and toss them together in a bowl.

chopped ingredients

Then, add in the turkey, eggs, milk, and seasonings and mix ’em up!

Before adding turkey
Before adding turkey
After adding turkey, milk, and eggs
After adding turkey, milk, and eggs

I think it’s worth pointing out that I probably could have used 1.5-2 pounds of ground turkey instead of 1 pound. I love cheese a lot, but there was probably a tad too much proportionally.

At this point, you could choose to make a normal meatloaf in a pan, or try my version if you’re looking for ready-to-go servings. I scooped out my meatloaf into cupcake holders.

baking
Baking at 375 degrees for 45 minutes
Cooling off and ready to eat!
Cooling off and ready to eat!

If you have any other ideas for savory baking in cupcake sizes or healthy meatloaf recipes, please pass them along! I’d love to hear how your meatloaf cupcakes turn out! 🙂

Zombies, Escape Chambers, and Weddings

Wow. I have not done a good job of writing the past week and a half! So much has happened, too!  Quick recap of all fun things in timeline order:

  1. Zombie laser tag
  2. Escape Room
  3. Sister’s wedding!!!!
  4. Cubs win NL Wild Card. Cubs are series tied with Cards for division.

I have a slight obsession with zombies, which I am told are not real. The best laser tag I have ever done is at iCombat, which has a military bunker set-up with realistic laser guns. You even get a slight kickback. With zombie laser tag, there are five zombies in the field in addition to two opposing sides of humans. Generally in laser tag, once you find a good sniping post, you’re set for the game. However, with zombies, you have to constantly move around from your hiding spot, or else they will kill you! So, you’re being attacked on two fronts. It’s some of the best time to be had with friends. 🙂

My friends and I also tried out a new activity called Escape Chambers where we were “locked” in a room for 60 minutes. We had to find clues to both diffuse a bomb from going off and also find evidence against a drug dealer. Supposedly, only 20% of groups actually put the clues together within 60 minutes, and my team completed it in nearly record time!  There is another room, too, which I’ll hopefully either be trying out with coworkers or friends in the near future. This was super fun because you’re essentially in your own thriller or spy movie. I love these types of scenarios like escaping from rooms or laser tag which have physical sets and provide an alternate reality where I am a zombie killer or FBI agent. It’s a mental and physical challenge.

I’m going to skip to Cubs and end with my sister’s wedding. GO CUBBIES! I cannot even contain my excitement with the Cubs right now. They are a young group of guys who are willing to work and have fun doing it! I hope they’re confidence continues to grow and grow. No matter, what they’ve got an extremely proud group of fans this year.

Now, for my sister’s wedding – what a beautiful, fun-filled weekend. I was so incredibly excited because this was essentially a giant family reunion. The wedding took place in Lake Geneva, and the weather was absolutely beautiful. It was pretty warm for an autumn weekend, and the leaves were just starting to change colors. The absolute best part of the whole weekend is knowing how happy my sister and her husband make each other. It’s always exciting to witness the beginning of a lifelong commitment. I did have to give a co-maid of honor toast with my oldest sister, so I got a taste of stand-up comedy. Main takeaway is that I’ll actually need to rehearse ahead of time!  Whoops. I got a few laughs, but I sort of procrastinated on writing and revising the speech. We even waited until right before we gave it to print out the speech. I did get a little sentimental at one point and almost started crying during the speech. Crying probably won’t be as much of a risk factor in stand-up comedy!

All in all, an excellent start to October. I’m looking forward to the changing colors.

Fit Body Boot Camp

Three weeks ago I began a fitness boot camp six week challenge.  The personal training sessions became too expensive for me to maintain, so I switched to this challenge at the Madison Fit Body Boot Camp. The boot camp hosts multiple sessions a day, six times a week for 30 minutes each.  The sessions are a mixture of cardio, strength, and resistant circuit training, so they go by really quickly. The challenge also includes personal health coach sessions with the trainers.

Most of the other participants are ladies in a similar mindset as me. They may or may not have tried to lose weight several times before to varying degrees of success, and they are flat out tired of not making their health goals! No surprise to me, going to the workouts at least 4 times a week has been rather easy. Eating on the other hand has not. I became particularly frustrated today, which was good timing because I had my first health coach session. I wasn’t yelled at for binging on Crunch bars or putting way too much olive oil on salad. I was given a little homework to adapt healthier eating habits into my daily routine. The health coach Sophie will create a meal plan that’s actually realistic for my tastes and body proportions. We’ll even figure out how to sprinkle in some unhealthy cravings through healthier means. For instance, maybe I eat spicy cheese bites instead of Flamin’ Hot Cheetoes (which we know is my nemesis, and I probably haven’t eaten in at least a month).

This is one of the few times where I have set out to be healthier, had a setback, and come back from the setback feeling like I still have control and can lose weight. Usually, I end up giving up right around this time period (three weeks in, lost a few pounds, and hovering around a big number that I’ve been trying to get under for 3 years), but NOT THIS TIME. I am really trying to set myself up for success through moderation.

Feeling inspired that I can still be successful at this challenge for the final three weeks, I decided to do a lot of cooking tonight to provide myself healthy options for the end of the week. I made zoodles (zucchini noodles) with turkey and tomato sauce for dinner and lunch tomorrow and an omelette for breakfast tomorrow.

Zoodles with Turkey/Tomato Sauce

I did not follow a recipe for this. I had a craving all day for pasta sauce, so I followed my craving. I replaced pasta with zucchini noodles using a spiralizer because the calories in zucchini tend to be negligible compared to the calories in pasta. You lose out a bit on the flavor, but I’m surprised at how good this meal still tastes without spaghetti!

Spiralizing the zucchini.
Spiralizing the zucchini.
Seasoning the ground turkey. I used 99% lean turkey because there are plenty of other flavors from the sauce to make up for the fat deficit.
Seasoning the 99% lean ground turkey.Flavors from sauce and seasoning will make up for lack of fat flavoring.
First, I pan fried the turkey until it was nearly full cooked.
First, I pan fried the turkey until it was nearly fully cooked.
Then, I added the entire jar of sauce. You can see that I probably could have used a little more turkey or a little less sauce, but I'm okay with this ratio.
Then, I added an entire jar of sauce. Next time, I may try making my own sauce.
The last time I tried cooking zoodles, I boiled them. That was a HORRIBLE idea because they got so soggy. I enlisted the help of one of my sister's, and she recommended pan frying them to avoid the extra sogginess. Given that it is zucchini, they will stay a little moist. If I wasn't so lazy, I would have toweled them off after cooking them.
The last time I tried cooking zoodles, I boiled them. That was a HORRIBLE idea because they got so soggy. This time I pan fried them, and the results are significantly improved.
Finished product! I spiralized three zucchinis, but I forget that veggies shrink so much when cooked. I probably could have used a fourth zucchini for proper proportions. I am guessing that this recipe totaled about five servings.
Finished product! I am guessing that this recipe totaled about five servings.

A few lessons learned with zoodles:

  1. Don’t try mixing the sauce and zoodles once everything is cooked. I think my presentation would have been prettier if I laid down the zoodles first and the sauce on top.
  2. Towel off the zoodles, so they are not soggy. I didn’t do this, and they didn’t end up overly soggy, but it’s worth mentioning.
  3. You can use more than 12 ounces of turkey per jar of tomato sauce if you would like.
  4. You probably need 4 zucchinis per jar of tomato sauce, unless you’re okay with a lot of extra sauce (which I am). I only used three.

Omelette

For breakfast the next couple of days, I made omelettes with mushrooms, onion, and green pepper. I cooked them tonight because I won’t have enough time getting ready tomorrow to cook them freshly.

First, I cooked the onion, then pepper, and finally mushrooms.
First, I cooked the onion, then pepper, and finally mushrooms.

In a separate pan, I cooked the egg. I used a bit of oil to prevent the egg from sticking to the pan, as I would need to eventually fold one side over the other.

I put veggies and cheese inside the omelette, and added a little more cheese outside.
I put veggies and Italian cheese blend inside the omelette, and added a little more cheese outside.

Needless to say, I am really looking forward to breakfast tomorrow!

Along with the health coaching and workouts, the challenge also has weekly mini-challenges. This week’s mini challenge is to name three things I am grateful for each day.

  1. Finally believing in myself to not give up for the umpteenth time even after a few days of poor eating.
  2. Cooking more and enjoying it!
  3. Finding canned “coconut cream”, the fat from coconut milk. While still high in calories, this will be a way better alternative to Crunch bars or ice cream to satisfy my sweet, fatty craving.

If you try zoodles or have yummy omelette options, please comment below! 🙂 Good luck to you this week as you work out and eat healthy 🙂 If you get frustrated, start with the basics!

Nightstand – Final Class

All of my nightstand classes are finished!  We didn’t quite complete the projects in class because it was a rather complicated project, and five people shared tools. However, we have all of the tools we need to finish the nightstand outside of class, and all of our pieces are completed.

In the last post, I put together the carcass. Since then, I’ve added the underlying top layer, drawer pieces, and the front facade.

We’ve been using birchwood for the interior pieces as it’s reliably strong but much less expensive. Since those pieces aren’t as revealing, birchwood is fine to use.

Interior top layer
Interior top layer

The picture above shows the piece upon which the top will lie.  In the penultimate class, I glued it down and screwed it into the carcass.  Drilling the screws was NOT an easy process! I’m not sure if I have written on here one of the reasons why I began woodworking in the first place. I helped my boyfriend put in a curtain rod for his guest bedroom windows. In the process of drilling holes into the wall, I drilled through to the insulation and pulled some out! Recognizing my interest in DIY projects but poor coordination and experience, he recommended we try woodworking classes.

When I told our instructor Merlin that I was not known for my drilling skills, he joked that he was going to clear the room while I screwed my top in. 🙂 Well, six screws later, and I more or less completed the task. They’ll hold well enough!

In this same class, I also used a bandsaw for the first time since creating a wooden race car in seventh grade home econ class.

Carved this out with a bandsaw
Carved this out with a bandsaw

This mahogany piece will be the front lower facade of the nightstand, to match the cut out sides. For the sides, we used a router to carve out the wood. Since this piece was much smaller to begin with, we used the bandsaw to more easily maneuver about the wood. At the very end when you finish carving the wood, there is a bit of kickback, so I learned good safety practice is to keep your hands as far from the blade as possible! This seems like a no-brainer, but you do have to get considerably closer to a bandsaw blade than with other tools like the router, table saw or planer.

In the final class, I worked on the drawer. Again, we used birchwood as the drawer is an interior piece. Replacing the table saw blade with a dado blade, we created rabbet joints for the drawer which we will later glue together. I learned a little more about the dado blade. It is actually made of two separate blades that spin against each other. You can add chippers between the blades to increase the width of the cut.

Rabbet joint (not glued yet)
Rabbet joint (not glued yet)

The dado blade cut a quarter inch long slit to inlay the wood against each other for the rabbet joint.

Drawer (not glued)
Drawer (not glued)
Bottom view of drawer
Bottom view of drawer (not glued)

We left a little space from the bottom to provide additional strength for the drawer bottom. This is also rabbet joined into the drawer on all sides.

I still have quite a bit of work left! I need to finish glueing the drawer together, attach all of the front facade pieces, attach the top facade, sand, and finish the wood. Because my wood is such a beautiful, dark mahogany, I think I will end up using a clear finish to cure it instead of coating it with a different colored stain. I’ll keep you posted with the final tasks in the project.

I learned so much in the class, and I look forward to taking more classes! After I finish this project, I will create this nightstand again and sell it. We’re hoping to find buyers before we begin our next nightstands, so they can choose the wood and styles. Let me know if you’re in the market for a nice wooden nightstand! 🙂

How to Get Away with Murder (Mystery Dinner Party) Part 2

Last night, my friends and I threw a surprise birthday/murder mystery dinner party for my boyfriend, and it was fantastic! In Part 1, I detailed planning for the party and the night of. This post Part 2 will detail how to actually throw a murder mystery dinner, including the script I used and suggestions for improvements if you decide to throw this! If you do use the same script, please comment and let me know how your event goes!

For the elaborate murder mystery dinner scripts, you generally need to chalk up $40. I was a little cheap and wanted to try out a free script. There are about ten circulating the internet and most of them are kiddish or for fewer than 10 people. I found Nick Breen’s blog post on his made-up murder mystery dinner script (Blog Post Link Including Full Script) for up to 17 people. This script was pretty basic and allowed for a lot of creativity from the guests. This is perfect for me because it was less prep on my end; plus my friends are quite creative! With a few minor adjustments, you can make this an extremely successful event! We used the script out of the box and had a wonderful time exploring the characters.

The Premise:

All of the guests are gathered at a casino in Las Vegas to watch a famous Elvis impersonator. When he goes on stage, someone shoots him. The casino owner (the host) locks all of the guests in the casino bar to find out who killed Elvis.

Option

You can choose to have Elvis die and then start the murder mystery dinner, or you could actually stage a death at the beginning of the night and have Elvis’s ghost float around (or have a guest wear a mask as Elvis and then become a different character). It was easier to simply say Elvis had died, so we went with the former option.

Recommendation

Create a name for the Elvis impersonator that everyone knows or choose to call him Elvis. We ended up having a few different names circulating around for Elvis – Jason, Charles, then Jason Charles, then J.C., the former N*Syncer.

Planning:

Please review Nick’s blog for the full character summaries. I’m not going to rewrite what he already has written, but I have numerous suggestions to make this event spectacular!

Invitations

At least two weeks in advance, send out a formal eVite RSVP for the event. You need to have guests truly committed to coming in order to have the characters appropriate for the story. If a guest needs to leave early, then you can assign them a minor character that doesn’t really have any clues or add to the story (such as the UFO Believer). After the RSVPs are received, send out the character details a week in advance. This way your guests will have plenty of time to thrift store shop for costumes. Every person ended up getting really into it and dressing in character! From a seer sucker suit for the scuba diver/assassin to an army uniform for the gladiator to a red neck American outfit for the gun nut to a Newsies-ish journalist get-up for the investigator to a Jersey Shore cop. It was great!

Recommendation – Don’t send out the clues beforehand to the guests. Only send the backstory. This way you can add additional information throughout the night and extend the mystery a little longer. Keep in mind that this is a fairly basic script, so it’s not that difficult to solve if you have access to all of the clues.

Characters

There are up to 17 characters available in Nick’s script, and I had 13 guests. I chose the top 5 important characters plus 7 minor characters (I was the casino owner). I tried to choose minor characters that still had a good backstory. We used the following characters: Investigator, Gun Nut, Escort, Singing Coach, Recently Fired Gladiator Actor, Bouncer, Second Act, Dancer, Lawyer, Scuba Diver/Assassin, Retired Cop, and Professor.

Character Improvements

If you want to make the mystery slightly more challenging, there are some opportunities to add a few more clues/backstory to the characters.

With the investigator’s clue, you know that Elvis was involved with a married person, but there are only two married people in the party – both men. With the escort’s clue that Elvis was not interested in her, you’re supposed to assume he is gay. If you want to add a little more intrigue, you can also have a married couple included in the party and/or make one of the women married. This way you’re a little uncertain as to whether Elvis was simply not interested in the escort or not interested because he was gay. I would make the Professor and the Bouncer a married couple (our professor was a woman; our bouncer was a man, and they are actually married in real life). The professor is a pretty minor character, but this adds at least a little more mystery. Both the professor and the bouncer were engaged in conversation together at the time of the murder, so they have an alibi, but that clue may not reveal itself at the same time as the investigator’s clue. It simply depends on how the conversation unravels amongst the guests. FYI – none of the guests originally put two and two together to assume that Elvis was gay because they were thrown off by a few “lies” made up in the backstory. You’ll read more about this below in Embellishments.

For the scuba diver, his alibi is talking to the bartender during the shooting, but there is no bartender character. That’s a little suspect. You can choose to purposely keep it this way, or you could have the bartender talking with the retired cop to give them both alibis.

Embellishments From the Guests (Not Necessarily Recommended)

Our most-guessed murderers were the scuba diver/assassin working in cohorts with the dancer or the second act. The greatest part about this is that all of these characters were originally written as minor characters! The guests did such a good job creating a back story, embellishing, selling their roles, and maybe even lying that they completely threw everyone off of the true clues!

The dancer somehow accidentally ended up creating a backstory that she was formerly married to the gladiator (who also was dishonorably discharged from the army hence the army uniform) and now was trying to get involved with Elvis. Our guests ended up thinking she had hired the assassin to kill Elvis out of jealousy. Based off this story, she became a pretty clear-cut candidate for murderer.

During the Night Processes

I had never hosted a murder mystery dinner party before, so I winged it with the help of my friends. We had a buffet style set up for dinner along with a very large space with multiple sitting areas. This worked out quite well for mingling. The problem with a sit-down dinner is not all of the guests can easily converse with each other, and this is KEY for all of the clues to come out. The guests are NOT supposed to go around shouting their clues. The clues are supposed to come out naturally during conversation. Things like “How did you know Elvis?” “What are you doing here?” “Where were you during the time of the murder?” are good conversation starters to get clues out in the open. It also was quite interesting for me to observe this happening because you see rumors get started. Someone retells something that they heard from another guest that may be slightly off, and then next thing you know the dancer ends up formerly married to the gladiator and whatnot.

Beginning of the Night

After the surprise, we gathered together in a circle and introduced ourselves with a teeny bit of backstory. I was very surprised to learn a lot about the characters because everyone developed their own elaborate backstories! The bouncer had been working for me for ten years; the escort named herself Jessica Lapin (Rabbit in French) and wore a red dress; the scuba diver had come from a trip in Vienna; and the lawyer had recently gotten the corporate account for the club. After the introductions, we mingled and ate appetizers.

Dinnertime

Directly before serving dinner, I passed out the additional clues to the guests. I reminded them that these clues were also meant to be revealed through conversation. Everyone continued mingling and now the conversation focused a little bit more on problem solving and investigation instead of greetings.

For the most part, we stayed in character throughout the night. Every now and then, you broke character with someone you hadn’t seen in a while to catch up, and this was totally and completely fine!  It was pretty easy to tell when you were in character mode and when you were catching up with a friend. I was quite guilty of this having already known all of the clues and the murderer.

I found it important in my role as the casino owner to make sure I asked questions to reveal certain clues throughout the night that had remained hidden for whatever reasons. I also liked asking “Who do you think it is so far?” and encouraged the guests to chat with characters they hadn’t spoken to yet.

Dessert

I realized that with all of the additional backstories and flat-out lies I heard throughout the evening, the chances of people guessing the correct murderer were slim to none. We got creative with the reveal, and I actually highly recommend this now! We regathered everyone into a circle over birthday cake and ice cream. Before we started discussing who we thought the murderer was, everyone wrote down their guess along with the WHY and the HOW. Then, I had the investigator lead us through various useful information he discovered throughout the night, and we read off all of the guesses.

Initially, we had three primary suspects – the scuba diver/assassin, the dancer, and the second act. All of these were wrong! So, then we decided to go around in a circle and reveal the true facts you were given throughout the night. After that everyone was able to narrow the murderer down to the lawyer, gun nut, or singing coach, with majority realizing that the singing coach is actually the murderer!

I’d like to give a huge thank you to Nick Breen for creating the murder mystery dinner script and making it easily accessible! Also, I really really want to thank my friends for making the most of their characters and the dinner. It is way more fun when you have a crowd of people who really get into it!

Have you hosted a murder mystery dinner? What are some suggestions/recommendations you have?

Did you try Nick’s script? How did your night go?

How to Get Away with Murder (Mystery Dinner Party) Part 1

Last night, my friends and I threw a surprise birthday party for my boyfriend that also was a murder mystery dinner party.  We all had an amazing time, and I wanted to describe the party as well as detail how to put on a murder mystery dinner. I’m separating this post into two posts, so those interested in how to actually put on your own mystery dinner can get specific details. This post is going to focus on the buildup and actual fun events of the night! 🙂 To read about the murder mystery dinner details, please check out Part 2!

One of the things I have going for me is that when I get excited about an idea, I tend to begin planning it weeks to months in advance and will continue talking about it. So, it was not abnormal for me to begin planning my boyfriend’s “birthday dinner” over a month ago and remind him continuously that our Saturday night was booked.

This idea came about over a month ago at a Sunday brunch sans boyfriend. My friends and I strategized how to celebrate my boyfriend’s birthday. We settled on a murder mystery dinner because we had not done one of those in four years. I added the surprise factor.

Now that I had a group on board, I needed a location. I called hotels and restaurants, and the going rate was anywhere from $100-$400 just for the rental with catered services required in addition. Then, my sister had the brilliant suggestion to rent out my apartment’s clubhouse. It is a huge, beautiful space that had a $100 rental fee and let me bring in my own food. With everyone chipping in, this would end up being less money for all of us than going to a restaurant.

As we approached the evening, I invented a low-key apartment complex Octoberfest social event that my boyfriend and I would attend before the restaurant dinner. This would get him into the clubhouse for the surprise without being suspicious. I’ve learned over the past 10 months that “free beer” tends to be a “no questions asked” type ordeal. 🙂

For the dinner, I made bacon-wrapped dates, Ramen noodle salad, veggies and dip, roasted veggies, lemon-basil chicken, and chocolate cake. I would say that 5 out of 6 of those items turned out quite well. I learned that hard way that when Betty Crocker tells you to use 3 eggs, you really do need to use 3 eggs and not 2 because you’re too lazy to go to the store and buy more eggs. The cake became crumbly which made frosting it quite challenging.

I highly recommend the lemon-basil chicken (Recipe Link) and the Ramen noodle salad (Recipe Link). You’re actually supposed to grill the chicken, but that was too much labor, so I baked it at 425 degrees. It still turned out very well. Quite a few people commented on it and asked me for the recipe. For the ramen salad, I would use a little less sugar than the recipe calls for. I accidentally bought too few almonds and sunflower kernels. I don’t think you need quite as much as the recipe says, but I would use more than a quarter cup of each. When smashing the ramen, don’t make the pieces too small. The bigger the pieces, the more crunch you get!

On the night of the surprise, a few of my friends came over early to help me set up the clubhouse. Then, we waited for my boyfriend to show up at my apartment while the party waited upstairs. When I gave the heads up that we were on our way, everyone hid behind the counter and fireplace. Nobody heard us when we opened the door to the clubhouse, so I had to essentially announce our presence. During that second of being in an empty room, my boyfriend’s thought was “Where is the beer?” not Where are the people?” He had NO idea that we were planning a surprise! He recovered and greeted everyone. After we got him a beer, he took in the next ten minutes to appreciate that our plans had changed drastically for the night, and he was now going to play a lawyer in a murder mystery dinner party. It was GREAT. And we discovered that this was the first surprise party ever thrown in his honor, so that made the night even more special.

We enjoyed good food and drinks, a dartboard, a beautiful outdoor patio, and a fun quest to figure out who the murderer was! My friends are quite creative and embellished their stories to the point that even I learned a few new “clues”! You can read more about the actual murder mystery dinner here: Part 2.

Tips for planning a big party:

Have more than 2 cups per guest! We drank different drinks throughout the night and did not always reuse our cups (who wants to mix wine with rum and coke??). Have extra trash bags on hand and empty the trash periodically as needed.  Don’t forget the ice cream scooper or knife for cutting the cake (luckily, my apartment was close by).

I want to give a huge thank you to all of the guests at the party. They had known about the secret for at least two weeks and all kept it under wraps. Plus, they all showed up well before the surprise occurred, so we had no chances of blowing the surprise right beforehand. And they were simply wonderful friends gathered!! I could not have asked for it to go better!

Have you ever thrown a surprise party? What tips do you have for planning a large event?

Oil Change!

About 5,000 miles ago, my car’s service light came on and told me I needed to change my oil. I drove my car to the dealership, waited 45 minutes for the oil change, and swiped my credit card for a bill that was nearly $100. For the past four years, I conditioned myself to rush to the dealership as soon as the service light came on. Then, I ended up with a bill anywhere from $100-$400. I am their prime target, and I’ve been completely okay with letting the professionals attend to my car.

However, my whole summer has been rediscovering my independence and learning new skills. So, I figured why not learn how to change the oil in my car? I have this handy, dandy boyfriend, and he knows how to change the oil and is even willing to teach me!

Two weeks ago my car yells at me yet again to change the oil. I say “yell” because as someone who knows absolutely nothing about cars, the warning of impending service needed significantly scares me. I immediately fear the worst, and I may or may not have told my boyfriend at one point that my car is going to die… 🙂 You see, I consider the fact that I know how to refill windshield wiper fluid and air in my tires to be about as knowledgeable as I need to be about cars. This time I attempted to save a little cash and increase a little knowledge and change the oil myself.

Earlier this week, I start by buying one quart of non-synthetic 5w-30 oil and a paper funnel. I drive an SUV. My boyfriend starts laughing for two reasons: 1) Oil changes require 5 quarts and 2) my car requires synthetic oil. Off to a very solid start, I’d say. Not to mention that I didn’t get the oil filter.

Yesterday, after buying the necessary filter and oil products for less than $30, we set off to work. First, I undid the engine oil bolt which holds in the used oil. After a little muscle power aided by said boyfriend, I get the bolt off, and oil starts running freely into the appropriate recycling container. Turns out that we didn’t have an oil filter wrench in our repository, so we head back to the store to buy one of those while the oil drains out.

I, being the brilliant consumer I am, suggest that instead of purchasing an oil filter wrench, we instead get one of those nifty expandable wrenches that I used to see on infomercials and always wanted to buy for my dad. On the infomercials, they could loosen anything!

Brilliant, simple design that worked terribly on my car. The rubber couldn’t create enough friction to actually grab the filter, so we head back to the store to exchange it for a different tool. At this point, we’re still in pretty good moods and laughing that this is my third trip to the store in one day. The store clerk recommends we try yet a different tool that wraps around the filter. We’re game.

The strap on this new tool is wider than the amount of oil filter cap that we have accessible to wrap. By now, we’re a tad upset at the car and tools designs and ride the motorcycle back to the store. Not willing to play with any other tools, we buy the standard oil filter wrench.

We discover the filter has a slimmer end than body, so we cannot tighten the wrench around the filter. There is absolutely NO way we are going back to the store. I grab my $6 Walmart belt, and my boyfriend loosens the filter with some elbow grease. We finish our work in less than twenty minutes, but the entire ordeal took a grand total of 2 hours and 45 minutes.

Lessons learned: have some strong arms handy, make sure your tools can loosen and tighten the filters, and keep paper towels around. Otherwise, it’s actually a simple process! Oh, and maybe don’t trust the manufacturing of cars or tools, but do trust yourself.

It is this trust in myself that I am still exploring because it means more than simply trusting myself to figure out a simple problem. It means trusting myself to catch me if I fall or be okay when I fall or spill a little oil. It’s trusting that there actually isn’t any problem that I can’t eventually solve, even if I don’t solve it on the first attempt with the first tool.

And, I got all that from an oil change. 😉 Stay tuned tomorrow for expanding on trusting myself with a fourth trip to rock climbing.

I’m on a boat

Hello!  It’s been a while!  I’ve been soaking as much of the last summer sun while it lasts and neglected my blogging.

Let’s see, since I last blogged, I had two college girlfriends come visit me, attended my sister’s bachelorette party in Lake Geneva, am more than halfway finished with my nightstand, and went rock climbing again on the last day of my membership.

I am extremely excited about my nightstand! It’s one of the first things I’ve created in quite some time, and I’m proud of my work. It’s not perfect by any means, but every chip and gap is a token of my hard work and imperfections and learning. I’ll sell the next woodwork I create, but I’m keeping this one. My penultimate class is tomorrow, so the final product will be revealed soon!

We fitted the nightstand with the bottom and top drawer levels made from birchwood. You can finally start to see a nightstand emerging!
We fitted the nightstand with the bottom and top drawer levels made from birchwood. You can finally start to see a nightstand emerging!

My sister’s bachelorette party was very fun and low-key in Lake Geneva. We took a chartered platoon boat out on the water for three hours on Saturday. Best rule of thumb for getting into lake water? Just jump in and don’t think! The water feels way too cold at first to dip your way in.

On Sunday while we were walking to brunch, we saw a fire truck zoom past, and then saw a black billow of smoke coming from the water. A boat had caught fire in the middle of the lake! We thought the firetruck may have been a little confused as to how to reach the boat… It was a small, open air boat, so we hope that any passengers made it safely off.

A boat on fire in the middle of Lake Geneva.
A boat on fire in the middle of Lake Geneva.

It is a tad more difficult to write about my activities after time passes, so I’ll try to be more active again and get back into the swing of blogging! I’ll accept that there are ebbs and flows with anything and priorities can change.

I hope you enjoy the rest of your summer! Only a few more weeks to go!

Pursuit of Happiness