Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Trumped by Ben Affleck

Kudos to Ben Affleck for stepping up to a similar challenge that I did in February and for a great cause.

Details here:



Sunday, February 10, 2013

Living on $100 for 10 days: DAYS #5/6/7 (Weekend Recap)

After an exhaustive week at work, which included early mornings, late nights and an inadequate, unbalanced diet, I woke up up sick Friday morning (day #5).  This was probably the best-worst thing that could have happened at the start of the full weekend in my 10 day challenge.  I took a sick day at work and started the weekend on Friday by sleeping in until 11am.  My goodness did I need it.


It is now Sunday afternoon and day #7 of my challenge.  I am still not feeling well, but in the midst of my challenge to live on $100 for 10 days, I am okay with not feeling well.  Being sick meant that I did not go out with friends.  I did not go out to eat.  I did not have the urge to go for any groceries (thank you leftover pasta, Cheerios and orange juice).  I did not even feel like leaving my apartment.  But I did.  Twice.

The first time I left was Saturday afternoon and to get two bottles of wine.  The second time I left was for a short walk over to the building next to mine where I helped to warm my friend Allison's new apartment with a bottle of wine.  Spending some of my remaining money was cause for this friend and celebrating her new place (not to mention a reason to get dressed and get away from my paintings for a bit).  I am now down to $39.45 for the remaining three days of my challenge.

Let me back up and recap the weekend, which was almost entirely spent here:

DAY #5
Once I came around Friday morning and felt like getting out of bed, I started with a light bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios and coffee.  I think I have two or three servings of coffee left......I then spent the rest of the day painting.  Shortly after an awesome lunch (since I was home, I made a roast beef and swiss cheese PANINI), I finished my big canvas ahead of schedule!  Here are a few shots of the last few steps in the progress, and a shot of the finished piece.  I plan to hang it above my couch later today:

I am incredibly proud with this painting.  It was quite the undertaking.  I have never painted a canvas this large before, and it is not likely that I will paint one this big again anytime soon (except my friend Liz now wants one, so maybe).  It was also very hard to work with the size of the canvas when trying to maneuver it around and paint the black and white squares (over 180 total!).  I don't even want to think about how much a frame would cost for this painting...

As a side note, I have not signed any of my paintings.  I think it is because I cannot decide on whether to put my full name (i.e. "Trevor Sparks 2013"), my first name and date, or just my last name and date.  The reason I haven't yet decided is because I discovered a unique aspect of my fist name, which kind of gave birth to this whole style.

It was the summer of 2009 when I discovered that if you take the e, v and o of my first name, you can turn them into three shapes, which are now dominant in most of my paintings.  The e can become a square, the v into a triangle, and the o would, of course, be a circle.  So, if I can just come around to making my decision, it would likely be my first name with those three shapes and the year the painting was finished.

With Friday dedicated to painting, and not feeling up for doing anything else, I reheated some of my leftover pasta and watched Waste Land, an amazing documentary from 2010, which documents two years of work of Brazilian contemporary modern artist,Vik Munoz, who created art with the cooperation of scavengers of recyclables working in Jardim Gramacho, one of the world's largest landfills, serving the metropolis of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil.  Highly recommended.

DAY #6
I woke up Saturday morning feeling a bit better, so I made homestyle potatoes, scrambled with eggs, spinach and onions for breakfast, and then for the six hours that followed, I began working on a new painting:

Note the circles drawn with graphite on top of the triangles below.  I am trying to create a second layer with a different shape and additional blue hues.

It was at this point where I took a break to get out of my apartment and collect my ideas away from the painting.  I ran to get some wine for warming my friend Allison's new apartment as well as for the rest of my evening (leftover pasta dinner + more painting + SNL with host Justin Bieber).

Here's the progress I made after a few heavy pours of wine:

As you'll see in the last two pictures, I introduced some watered down gesso to lighten it up and create another layer, although the first of triangles is still transparent.  Then, I painted a series of white circles on top of a third layer of triangles.  The picture, unfortunately, does not do the painting justice since all of the original layers and shapes are still visible.

Nevertheless, it was starting to get a bit messy and confusing, so I stopped here, watched SNL (which was just okay), and then turned in for the night.

DAY #7
Now Sunday afternoon, I am into the last stretch.  I have less than $40 for the last three full days.  I am also running low on milk, lunch food, and most importantly, coffee.  However, I have decided to finish my challenge by not spending any of my remaining money and instead be as resourceful as possible, so stay tuned for the last three days as well as more painting!

Happy Sunday!!

Friday, February 8, 2013

Living on $100 for 10 days: DAYS #3/4

Day three and four of my ten day challenge were basically one long and blurry day.  As I mentioned in my last post, we held our annual conference at work this week.  On Wednesday (day three) and Thursday (day four), over 300 afterschool leaders from every state in the country came to DC to participate in sessions, workshops and plenaries where they learned about the state of afterschool in the nation, how to advocate for resources and support for afterschool, and then on the second day, they stormed Capitol Hill to participate in nearly 220 meetings with their Members of Congress (or their staffers).  Both days were early mornings and late nights, and thankfully, they were also filled with a lot of complimentary food!!

I managed to not spend any of my (remaining) $95 the entire third day of my challenge, and it wasn't until last night (Day #4), after I got back home, that I miraculously caught a second wind to cook a fantastic meal and enjoy a few beers with some painting and NBC's Thursday night line-up.  As best as I can remember and through the blur of our conference at work, here is a short recap for how day three and four of my ten day challenge went:

DAY #3
I had a very hefty bowl of cheerios and some very strong coffee, of course!  I almost had a second bowl since I knew the day was going to be long, and when you work a national conference, the timing of lunches and dinners can be unpredictable.  Nevertheless, the hefty bowl and a lot of milk kept my hunger subsided until I managed to sneak away for a lunch.

Around 1:30pm, I was able to grab a box lunch (roast beef sandwich with chips, a soda and some cookies) from the buffet tables.  It was filling, and it was free!  I had two sandwiches, actually...

Happy Hour / Dinner
Oddly enough, my happy hour was my dinner.  For the evening reception at our conference, we held a private screening of Brooklyn Castle for our participants and special guests.  Starting at 7pm and for the 45 minutes that followed before the film, we had an open bar and light hors d'oeuvres (read: cheese, crackers, veggies and dip, and dessert items).  I filled my small plate with as much as it could fit--skipping the deserts entirely.  I stayed through the first half of the film (in my defense, I had watched it four times already).  Brooklyn Castle is an incredibly moving film about the most winning chess team, which is an afterschool program in a Brooklyn public school.  If you haven't seen it, I highly, highly recommend it.

About half way into the film, a few of my coworkers and I finished our drinks and packed up the things we needed to return to the office.  Once we were back and unloaded, I thought I was going to fall asleep standing up, so I walked home in an effort to save my $95 for another day (I should have cabbed home).  This only managed to wear me out even further to the point where I unabashedly tucked myself in bed at 9:15pm.  The only thing on my mind at that point in the night was the 5:30am wake I had the next morning for our second full day of the conference on Capitol Hill.  Alas, no painting occurred on day three..

DAY #4
I skipped my morning routine and instead settled with as much sleep as possible before I needed to be at the hotel by 7am.  No pressure, really, but I was responsible to make sure all of our 300+ conference participants made it on one of the five buses we chartered to schlep them to the Hill for our Breakfast of Champions.  Thankfully, they all made it on a bus by 7:45am, which gave us all enough time to arrive early, grab a small breakfast and some coffee at the Breakfast, and settle into a seat before it kicked off at 8:30am. 

Lunch did not happen until 1:30pm, which was an incredibly long stretch from the 7:45am breakfast consisting of an egg sandwich, a few pieces of fruit and some coffee.  I managed to save myself from going into my pocket for this particular lunch and instead used some of the petty cash I was provided for the conference.  Had I spent my money, it would have been $6.87 for a small cup of chili, a side salad and a Fresca.  That's a pretty good deal, and thankfully, we didn't go far to get it or wait long.  

We concluded our events that day around 4pm, and by then, I was exhausted and had been on five Hill visits with the team from the Utah Afterschool Network.  We had some great conversations with Hill staffers from both Senator's offices and three Congressmen's offices.  The team of four from Utah informed a lot of the Hill staff we met with, but it was a tough set of visits (four out of five were Republicans), AND in this political economy, it's incredibly difficult to ask for level (not even increased) funding for afterschool programs - regardless of the Member being Democrat or Republican.  Alas, Utah has a few Members of Congress who support afterschool programs in their state, and the group ended the day of visits on a very positive note with their strongest supporter from the Utah delegation.

Happy Hour / Dinner
I left Capitol Hill and headed home to enjoy a relaxing night.  At this point, the $95 was burning a hole in my pocket because I was craving a well-cooked and nourishing meal, a few beers to celebrate a long week and NBC's Thursday night line-up.  Since I started this challenge, I had eaten simple breakfasts, okay lunches and dinners on the go (or hardly at all).  I think I deserved going into my pocket a little bit for some groceries and beer.

Once home, I immediately shed my suit and tie and headed to the store for what I needed to make dinner.  For the entire afternoon, I had been thinking about the leftover ground beef from when I made the Seven Layer Dip for Super Bowl Sunday, and since I am on a tight budget in this challenge (or at least, that's the challenge), I thought it best to utilize what I had already, so my mind was lazer focused on making meatballs and homemade pasta sauce to also go with a box of whole wheat penne pasta I had in my pantry.

I used a fairly simple recipe for the meatballs, which for the most part, called for ingredients I already had on hand.  I just needed to pick up a few additional things to make the sauce, some beer and a couple other items for the rest of the weekend and the following week.  Of course, I forgot to buy coffee, so alas, there is another visit to the store in my near future.  Here's how I did: 

After this trip to the store, I am down to $62.84, and not to get too optimistic, I am nearly half way finished with my ten day challenge!  Not too bad, but I have not yet started my weekend, and I still have a full work week ahead (read: pressures of Happy Hours, seeing friends, dinners, etc).  After making some of the best meatballs I have ever made or had (following this recipe), I inhaled a huge plate of penne pasta covered in my homemade tomato sauce topped with three of the massive meatballs.  I'd like to point out that making this meal was also very purposeful since it has left me with two or three dinner leftovers.

After a few beers while cooking, I was ready to get in some painting before shifting to my couch to watch The Office, so here's the (small) progress I made as well as a sneak peak of the canvas I am painting for Christa--my bestie from another testie:

As you can see, this week did not allow for much progress on my painting, and to be sure, I fell asleep about halfway through The Office (at about 9:15pm).  I woke up this morning (it is now 4pm on Friday - Day #5!) with a terribly sore throat and aching joints.  I attribute this to the previous two days of a lot of talking, walking, time on my feet, and just generally, being dehydrated from all the go-go-go of our conference, so I took a legitimate sick day, stayed home, rested and rehydrated.

By about 10am, I felt good enough to get up and get my day started.  Although I am still feeling under the weather, I felt okay to paint and made a lot of progress, which will be shared in a post this evening recapping Day #5 of my challenge!

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Living on $100 for 10 days: DAY #2

It is too late (currently 10:26pm) for me to write a lengthy blog about Day #2, and thankfully, it was a quiet and nearly uneventful day.  Have no fear, I will provide some of the highlights, and to be sure, I will share how I spent the first of my $100.  Nooooo!  Relax - it was inevitable.

I continued with my breakfast routine again this morning and had a big bowl of tasty Cheerios with milk and a cup of coffee - of course.  I am now eyeing that damn bag of Starbucks coffee because with each morning's percolator, it is also another day closer to dropping some of my loot.  Alas, the day is coming, and sooner than I probably realize.

I packed my lunch today, and I was so much happier since the pizza for lunch yesterday left me craving for more and starving at dinner time.  I made my famous homemade roast beef and swiss sandwich with iceberg lettuce and mustard on rye bread. I also packed carrots, chips and a half of an orange--peeled and sliced, of course.  It's the only way to eat an orange at work--leave the mess and the random quirts of juice for your kitchen!

Shortly after lunch, I had a pleasant surprise delivered to my office, which I brought How did I get a piece of art delivered to my office, and for less than $100?  Oh, let me tell you!

A few months ago, my wonderfully creative and artistic mother participated in a long weekend art retreat with a group of other artists where they learned the styles and techniques from the very accomplished artist Flora Bowley (check out the video on her website - it captures her style and some of her techniques and is amaaaazing).  After the participants spent painted a large canvas using Flora's style and guidance, they lined up their canvases and each of the participants picked one that was not theirs.

According to my mom, she ended up with one of the best from the retreat, and after she brought it home and had time to talk with her husband about whether they were going to hang it in one of their homes, they decided against it.  So shortly after, she asked me if I would like it for my apartment, and after all I knew about her time at the retreat, the artist she worked with during this class, and all the talk about how she got the best one, I immediately said yes for the chance to have it for my own.  And now, I'd like to consider myself the incredibly lucky owner of a very new piece of art for my apartment:

Happy Hour
Well, Happy Hour did not actually happen during the happy hours, but I still had an evening event at 7pm, so I scarfed down some quick food I had in my refrigerator (I am definitely making a nice dinner soon - enough leftovers!) and headed there after hanging my painting while eating my leftovers and being completely captivated by what is now on my wall.

Now, as you'll recall, I said I spent the first of my $100 today, and that is a fact because I needed to take the Metro to my meeting (I serve on this Steering Committee for a huge annual DC alumni event for 1500 alum each year called University Row).  Once I reached the nearest Metro station to board the train, I immediately realized my SmartTrip card balance was too low for the trip, so I was forced to add $5 to me $3.15 balance in order to get round trip covered.

Instead of coming home after my meeting at 9pm, I tried to make a little progress on my painting to not neglect it, and since I am at a point where I am painting small one inch squares in the blanks strips between the shapes, it was much easier to move it to my kitchen table.  Here's the small progress I made tonight to prepare the blank tracks for some paint, and the last time I did this, I didn't use tape, so taping them should make it go much faster:

Alas, I am exhausted, and we have our annual conference for the next two full days at work, so although there will be loads of free meals (yay!), they will also be two very long days ahead. 

Speaking of long days, I now have $95 and eight full days left!  Stay tuned for Day #3's recap tomorrow!

Monday, February 4, 2013

Living on $100 for 10 days: DAY #1

The first full day of my challenge is now over.  I am home for the night, and I still have my original $100.  Win!!  I will be honest with you, it is only Monday and its the first day of my challenge, so my motivation is at its highest possible level.  I did, however, tempt my spending fate a few times!  What follows is a short recap of where I could have (but didn't!) spent mah money:

It is important to point out that I refuse to get or eat breakfast on my walk to work.  I enjoy my morning routine--sitting in my kitchen nook, eating my breakfast, and people watching.  If the people watching becomes boring, I usually settle with reading the news or a magazine, and when you have a subscription to New York Magazine, it is so much harder to keep the morning routine to just eating breakfast..

I eat one of the simplest breakfasts (but really, it is a pretty standard breakfast for any single bachelor): a full bowl of regular Cheerios with skim milk along with a large glass of skim milk with ice.  This morning, I also made a percolator of coffee, and I immediately realized as I made it that it will be my morning coffee that will be the end of my inexpensive mornings because I will inevitably run out of coffee - soon - and since I must have my morning coffee, I will be spending some of my cherished $100 on that before these ten days are up.  Damn addictions.

Today, I was pretty lucky at lunch because I did not need to pack my lunch, therefore saving my stash of lunch food (roast beef, swiss and rye bread, carrots, chips and fruit -- soon enough I'll be eating this sexy brown bag lunch).

The organization I work for is hosting its annual conference this week, so I spent a majority of my morning with the others on our staff preparing materials for the conference participants.  As a thank you, my organization treated everyone with pizza and salad for lunch.  This felt like a really good start to the next ten days as it was the first big save--from depleting my lunch food stash, or even better, preventing me from spending $5-8 on sub-par lunch from a food truck or a Potbelly sandwich.

I still think I tempted fate here a little bit because, for how hungry I was today at lunch, I assumed I would be full from two small slices and a side salad.  But after my free lunch, I also remembered that I have 9.5 days left to live on $100, so I managed to tough it out.  Plus, I had no reason to complain when I started the day off with two meals and had spent no money!

Happy Hour
I know what you're probably thinking - why on Earth during a challenge to live on $100 for ten days would I try to fit in some damn happy hours??  Stupid, right?  Well, you gotta live a little, push the envelope more than once in a while and tempt fate.  I agree with what you're likely thinking, that starting the first day of my challenge by going to a happy hour was not a wise decision.  Nevertheless - I did.  And, I had one drink (amazing self control, thank you), which was a very tasty Hot Hazelnut Toddy from A&D Neighborhood Bar.

And the best part?  My new friend Leigh was so kind to pay for my drink at the bar, and I didn't even bring up my challenge.  She simply thanked me for the hour conversation and my advice/suggestions, and delightfully offered to buy my Toddy.  I definitely owe her an email, and need to put some time and thought and sincerity into what I'll send her (re: job search, DC nonprofit scene, etc.), but I think the bigger point is that not all HHs need to end with a $40 tab!

And if you're reading this, Leigh, thank you for my drink.

Alas, I left the happy hour around 7pm to come home for a light dinner alone, which was hard because everything looked so mouth-wateringly good on A&D's new food menu, so I will indeed be back there in 10 long days!

After settling in at home, following an 8pm telephone meeting, I found the last of some weekend leftovers and have now found myself completely entertained with the next steps on my painting.  As promised, here's the update:

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Living on $100 for 10 days

In an effort to blog more this year, I am sharing what I am thinking and doing in life (for the first, see Seven Layer Dip for Super Bowl Sunday), so to continue, I have set another challenge for myself: to live on $100 for 10 straight days.

Why?  Well, it is a challenge, and who does not like a good challenge?  But in all seriousness, I would like to try as hard as I possibly can (for just 10 days, mind you) to save for a 10 day trip I have planned in two months.

Basically, I am sacrificing 10 days of living in DC now to save for 10 days in the future, where I will enjoy beautiful, sunny California and the red rocks of Sedona.  It is a pretty good trade-off, don't you think?  Plus, it gives me something interesting to do for 10 days as well as something interesting to blog about.  Are we not here to make things in life interesting?

So here is my plan: starting on Monday, February 4 (the day after the Super Bowl), I will live on $100 for ten straight days.  I will chronicle each day of my challenge as well as share how I have spent the money pictured above.

Although I begin this challenge with a refrigerator and pantry full of groceries, I would have done that anyway, so relax.  The underlying feature to this challenge is to share how I live for 10 days--in an effort to be very conscious about what I spend so I save for my trip out west.  I am sure you have all done something similar, and living on $100 in 10 days might seem like a luxury?  I will save you the details about how it really is not a luxury and more of a challenge because the cost of living in DC is a bit higher than other cities in the USA...

So, my dear readers, have I interested you in following me on this challenge?  If not, I will add another layer of my challenge to entice you just a bit more...

I am also currently working on a painting, which will cover this massive canvas I found by my apartment complex's dumpster one afternoon (along with a gallon bucket of Gesso - win!).  This canvas once had a painting of a very awkwardly-looking naked person (yeah - I wish I had a picture of it, too), but I recently used the massive bucket of Gesso to paint over that ugly thing of a portrait.  

I have made some really good progress so far, and as you know, painting in my apartment is an incredibly cost-effective way of spending my nights and weekends, and it is perfect timing for this 10 day challenge.  So, with each new post for my "Living on $100 for 10 days" challenge, I will also provide a pictorial update of the painting's progress, with the hope of finishing it by February 13 (Day 10 of the challenge).  To catch you up on the progress thus far, which has occurred in the last 30 days, here are a few pictures:

On Monday night, visit The Dandygram again to read the first of a 10-post series on "Living on $100 for 10 days!"  Now go, enjoy your weekend and the Super Bowl, and of course, root for those San Francisco 49ers!!

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Seven Layer Dip for Super Bowl Sunday 2013

For Super Bowl Sunday, I am determined to make the best Seven Layer Dip my friends have ever had, so I scoured websites for a while, read comments about the adjustments people suggested, and I have come up with a damn good recipe, which will also incorporate numerous techniques from the comments below (just like a Peyton Manning audible!).  

  • 9x13 inch serving tray
  • 2 pounds ground beef
  • One package of taco seasoning
  • 2 (16 ounce) can refried beans
  • 4 cups shredded Cheddar-Monterey Jack cheese blend
  • 1 (16 ounce) container sour cream
  • 2 cup guacamole
  • 2 cup salsa
  • 1 (2.25 ounce) can black olives, chopped
  • 1 cup chopped tomatoes
  • 1 cup chopped green onions
In a large skillet, brown ground beef. Set aside to drain and cool to room temperature.  Add one package of taco seasoning and a half cup of water and mix, with heating, until meat is coated.

Then, make these seven layers:

  1. Spread the beans into the bottom of a 9x13 inch serving tray that is about 1 1/2 inches deep.
  2. Sprinkle 2 cups of shredded cheese on top of beans.
  3. Sprinkle beef on top of cheese.
  4. Spread sour cream very slowly on top of beef.
  5. Spread guacamole on top of sour cream.
  6. Pour salsa over guacamole and spread evenly.
  7. Sprinkle remaining shredded cheese, black olives, tomatoes, and green onions on top.
Serve this dish immediately, or refrigerate it over night and serve cold. I think it tastes better at room temperature.

Comments for considerable improvements:
“Brown your beef with a packet of taco seasoning (no water), 1.5 tbs of cumin, 1 tsp of chili powder 1 tsp of garlic and 2 tbs of dried minced onion. Added finely chopped cilantro with the black olives, tomatoes and green onions. Mixture of pepperjack and cheddar cheese gave the dip more complexity than straight cheddar! Superb flavor!!!”

“I substituted cream cheese for half of the sour cream, used a packet of taco seasoning in the beef, and another packet in the sour cream / cream cheese mixture. A half cup or so of canned sliced jalapenos as layer #8 makes this a lot better. If you like guacamole, use about twice as much, because the recommended amount isn't enough to even spread out to make a whole layer.”

“I omitted the guacamole and upped the sour cream to 16 oz. Added 2 TBS of taco seasoning to sour cream. Thanks!”

“Apply the meat while its still hot so it melts into the first cheese layer and really meshes. I also agree that seasoning the meat is the best way to go whether it be with taco seasoning or your own personal spices. Only other thing I love to do is to take all the veggies (tomatoes, olives, and green onions) and dice together well to create a beautiful and tasty mixed layer. You can either take it and apply it on top as instructed or what I like to do sometimes is whisk it into the sour cream to create a more creamy vegetable layer to use underneath top top cheese layer.”


I hope this Dandygram helps all the other people looking to bring the best dish you can possibly bring to a Super Bowl Party, but more importantly, I've been getting the bug to blog again (as well as being bugged), so this is just a preview for what's in store for 2013.  

Oh, and I've been painting a lot more lately.  And I am back on Twitter (@trevorsparks).  So there's that.