Showing posts with label blogging. Show all posts
Showing posts with label blogging. Show all posts

15 May 2013

Summer Slimdown Part II

Growing up I was told that it wasn't polite to talk about politics, sex, or money.  We're not talking politics or sex today {you're welcome, Mom}, but we are continuing our chat about money.  I realize there are some of you who find this mind-numbingly boring, but I love, love, LOVE reading about the way other people, especially people my age, manage money. It's the financial equivalent of peeking into someone's medicine cabinet.

It's a little {maybe a lot} scary to be talking about our finances in such detail on here. Money is such a private thing and it's not something I sit around discussing with anyone other than M.  But I'm hoping through sharing our experience and our goals that this will provide some accountability and support.  I'm such a typical fire sign. I'll make a plan and have goals and get all pumped up for them and then a month later I'm totally off the bandwagon.  Maybe the fear of public shaming will help me get back on board when we inevitable fall off.

So.  When we left off yesterday, I was talking about how the hard part of all this is turning all of our exciting goals and dreams into plans and actions.  The first thing I did was pretty basic: add up how much comes in each month and add up how much goes out.  I added up all of the obligatory recurring expenses {rent, utilities, gas, car payments, student loan payments, car insurance, cell phone bill, etc.} and put them into one category.  Minimum monthly credit card payments were added up and put into another category.  Then comes the new part: the envelope system.

I vaguely remember my parents using the envelope system at one point in my childhood and I know I've seen other bloggers {the Duchess of Fork comes to mind} who use it.  But it wasn't until I read Emily's guest post from Nancy that I thought, "Hey, we can do that!".  And do that we did.

We are half way through our first month of the envelope system.  I can already see that I'm going to need to make some adjustments {I under budgeted for a number of items}, but that's OK.  We'll make the necessary changes and try again next month.  Most everything I've read says that it takes a few months to really get the hang of it, so perseverance is the name of the game.  I have to say, it is REALLY strange to be carrying around so much cash and see the resulting teeny tiny balance in our checking account. It's unsettling, especially because I rarely ever carry cash.

Here are the envelopes we have:

Groceries: pretty self-explanatory. Prior to our budget adjustment, we were spending about $400/month on groceries.  I cook pretty much every single night, plus we pack our lunches and eat breakfast at home.  We rarely eat out, not because we don't like it, but because the only restaurant options in our town are Arby's, McDonald's, and Denny's. I'm challenging myself to go down to $300/month.  I'd love to go even lower, but we're taking baby steps.

Pet Supplies: We have two dogs, one of which is on a special diet and medication due to allergies and anxiety. Right now I've got $100/month budgeted, but that may be able to scale down to $80 or $90. We'll see.

Pet Boarding/Vet: Again, pretty self-explanatory. I've got $100/month budgeted for this.  Depending on how much we scale back on our traveling, I may be able to trim this to $70/month, but it adds up quickly.  Two nights in the kennel for our two boys is $84.  This is a rollover envelope, meaning anything that doesn't get spent in a month just stays in the envelope.  The idea being that it builds up a back-up to our emergency savings should anything major happen to one of our boys.

Household: This envelope is for things like toilet paper, dish detergent, hand soap, etc.  This is outside of our grocery budget, which is new for me.  I budgeted $15/month this month, which was not nearly enough, but that was because we ran out of everything at once.  This will be a rollover envelope.

Personal Care: This envelope is for haircuts, highlights, body wash, shampoo, toothpaste, make-up, etc.  Right now I've only got $25/month budgeted. Some months that will be more than enough, but some months it won't even come close.  This one may need to be adjusted, but we'll see. This will definitely be a rollover envelope.

Fun Money: I'm sticking to the diet philosophy that if you deny yourself any and all treats, you're much more likely to crash and burn. I've budgeted a total of $80/month, or $40/each.  This may be a bit too generous, so depending  on what adjustments need to be made to the other envelopes, this may go down to as little as $50/month.

Date Night: Not negotiable. I see our de-debting plan not only as an investment in our financial future, but in our marriage. Money is a top cause of divorce and we want to be mindful of that, but I don't want to neglect taking care of our relationship as a means to an end.  I'm allotting $40/month, so not much more than a pizza night at home and seeing a movie.  But this is an important one that I want to try not to cut back on.

Auto Care: This envelope is outside of the money budgeted for gas for our cars. The idea is for this to build up to pay for routine maintenance like oil changes and inspections, as well as a back-up to our emergency savings should anything more major happen with one of our cars.

Gifts: Pretty self-explanatory.  I've budgeted $40/month.  Some months we'll spend it all {it's already forcing me to be extra creative with our gift-giving occasions this summer!}, some months it will rollover to save up for things like our anniversary and Christmas.

OK, so some people refer to their fun money as blow money. But if I had an envelope for blow, I would assume someone was funding a yet-to-be-discovered cocaine habit.  Maybe for some people it's one and the same?

So I add up the recurring expenses, the minimum credit card payments, and the envelopes and subtract the total from our income.  Everything else goes to paying down debt.

We have a ways to go to really get the hang of this.  I can already tell there are going to be times when it really sucks {i.e. not a lot of built-in $$ for my drive-thru McDonald's Diet Coke habit}, but I can also already tell that it is going to be hugely helpful for us in reaching our goals.

Do any of you use the envelope system or some version of it? As a newbie, I would LOVE any tips/tricks/advice you might have.  And if anyone would like to help prettify our envelope system, you are more than welcome to buy this lovely wallet for me :)

Tomorrow is the last financial post of the week {I promise}. I'll be posting the different resources that have been helpful so far...

05 March 2013

It Could Be Worse, Suck It Up

Thank you so much for your sweet, encouraging comments on Friday's post. It means a lot.  LPC left a comment that really struck at something I've been thinking about for awhile and I want to talk about it today.  She said, "It's not emo, it's real. You don't owe anyone cheer. Your voice is valuable whatever the mood."  How very, very true.  

I tend to apologize when my posts aren't fluffy and light and upbeat, and I hate that.  The reason I do it is because of what I perceive to be a troublesome double standard in the little corner of blogworld that we occupy.  On the one hand, we tend to criticize bloggers when they only show the edited versions of their lives.  That is, when bloggers only post pictures of beautifully-styled interiors, perfectly-dressed children, and expertly-prepared gourmet meals, all while traipsing about in stylish high-low ensembles, we as readers tend to call them out and tell them to "Keep it real! Show us the bad stuff too!"  But what I've seen and experienced is that when bloggers do share the more real aspects of their lives, people jump all over them in comments, telling them they shouldn't complain because they "have it so good" and "there are starving children, dontcha know?!?!"  

So which is it then?  Happy, upbeat Stepford Wives in every post, forsaking content and real dialogue to keep things conflict-free in the comment zone? Or posts filled with snapshots of everyday life, bad stuff included? I have steered mainly towards option #1, because I like to keep everyone happy and I really hate negative comments.  But enough is enough.

I received a comment a few weeks ago on a post I wrote about how difficult 2012 was for me. I was told that I should feel grateful because at least my husband wasn't overseas risking his life for his country.  

So much wrong with this comment. Have any of you read Viktor Frankl’s “Man’s Search for Meaning”? Frankl was an Auschwitz survivor and a psychiatrist. His take on the “it could be worse, suck it up” argument is that suffering is an individual experience and that the fact that “worse” suffering exists doesn’t invalidate your own experience.  I see this attitude so much in online comments and on Facebook, when anyone complains about anything, someone makes a flippant "First World problem" remark.  We all live in the First World and we all have problems and we shouldn't pretend that those problems don't bother us, just because someone else's problems may be different or bigger.

I saved a comment I saw posted somewhere recently because it so perfectly expressed how I feel about the whole situation: My best friend feels guilty for having depression because her childhood wasn’t as bad as mine, and you know what I tell her? “the situation others are in does not erase the pain you have”. Really, all that phrase [it could be worse] is ever used for is to negate the pain that someone feels. It’s good to be grateful, but your brain does not filter pain through a “worldly context” cortex. Do we tell people not to go to the doctor for broken bones because it’s not cancer? No, we do not, because that would be ridiculous. We shouldn’t treat mental pain any different than physical pain. Different levels of pain require different levels of treatment or different solutions, but every single pain requires a treatment or solution. Ignoring a toothache can lead to life-threatening infection.

I'm not saying we should all get a blanket excuse to mope around like Eeyore 24/7.  Most of the time, I'm a pretty upbeat person and I try to have an optimistic outlook on things.  But there are days, weeks, seasons of life that just aren't as positive as we would like them to be.  And I am done making apologies for that and writing sugarcoated blog posts because a reader thinks I should just be grateful that it isn't worse.

You know what? I am grateful it isn't worse.  In the midst of my problems,  I am still fully capable of acknowledging the fact that I lead an incredibly privileged life.  One doesn't negate the other. It is possible to be grateful while still hoping for improvement.  To tell people otherwise is disrespectful to the human experience.

25 January 2013

Friday Un-Favorites

Because this cold weather has me feeling a little snarky {I IS supposed to be the most depressing week of the year} and wanting to change things up a bit, I thought it would be fun to do a list today of things that I am most definitely NOT feeling.*

Cake balls.  OK, first of all, I can't say "cake balls" without giggling like a 10-year old.  Sorry, you cannot say "cake balls" with a straight face.  And if you can, I probably don't want to be your friend.

Second, EW EW EW EW.  I should preface this by saying that I don't have much of a sweet tooth and I think there are few things more disgusting than most every type of frosting/icing, ESPECIALLY if it comes from a can.  I have to stop myself from gagging every time those Duncan Hines frosting mix-ins commercials come on. SO GROSS.  We had pie at our wedding because there was no way in hell frosting was going to be a part of our special day.  So taking cake, mixing it with copious amounts of frosting-from-a-can, and then dipping it in that weird "chocolate" you can buy at Michael's is just not something I understand.

Chevron.  I kind of love/hate that now it's trendy to hate on chevron.  I have been hating on chevron since chevron became a thing again.  I am so tired of seeing it everywhere.  Dresses, pillows, rugs, shoes, monogrammed cell phone covers, and on and on and on.  How is it that so many people wear chevron tops and don't realize that they kind of look like Charlie Brown? When little old church ladies talk about how "hip" chevron is, you know it's no longer hip.  Time to find a new pattern and move on, people.
Wedding blogs.  I NEVER thought there would be a time when I said that.  I love weddings and my dream job is to be an event planner.  But every wedding blog and every wedding on it looks exactly the same to me these days.  It's either "hipster-Anthropologie-quirky" wedding with craspedia {ugliest flower ever} and succulents or "I AM FROM THE SOUTH LOOK HOW SOUTHERN I AM" {I say that as someone from the South who served biscuits and grits at her wedding} or "fancy ballroom affair that requires use of rhinestones and a lighting scheme".  Even the photography is uninspiring.  It's all of the same detail shots.  Everything seems so contrived and impersonal and just DONE.  I don't think that I had the most unique wedding ever; there are definitely things I copied or pictures I wanted taken because I had seen them on a blog.  But more yellow-and-grey color palettes with a typewriter for a guest book and drinks served out of Mason jars with stripey straws.

Overly styled Instagram photos.  Maybe this is just the green-eyed monster rearing his head because I have zero talent for styling things.  I can appreciate a lovely photograph and I also appreciate the aesthetic necessity of styling.  But I am over every.single.picture on Instagram being styled to death.  If I'm doing my nails, you can bet that I don't have five different shades of blue laying just so, on a pure white background, next to an open window to catch the light perfectly.  Like, if you're doing your nails, just take a picture of it.  You don't need to make it a big production {unless you're a professional blogger or photographer and that's how you make your monies}.  It just feels disingenuous.  Ditto for these alleged vignettes.  Most of the time it seems more like a way for you to show off your expensive candle/perfume habit.

Anyone else feeling snarky today?  What's one of your Friday Un-Favorites?

*Please note that this is meant to be all in good fun.  Don't get your panties in a wad if there's something on here that you love.  We can still be friends and not agree on everything.  No, really, it's true.

image sources: 1 // 2 // 3

24 January 2013

Meal Planning

I've noticed a lot of people have made meal planning as one of their 2013 resolutions and thought I'd share some thoughts and tips.  I've always loved to cook and even in college, I attempted to make myself a home-cooked dinner once or twice a week.  I tried to make homemade meals for myself as often as possible when I was single and living by myself, but it is SO HARD to cook for one and I often fell into the expensive trap of take-out or frozen meals.
When M and I moved in together in the fall of 2010, I realized I had to do something about our evening meals before our spending got way out of hand.  At the time, I would wait until 3pm to decide what I wanted to cook for dinner.  I was never sure what we had in the fridge or the pantry, so I would just go to the store and buy everything we needed.  At one point, we had 3-4 jars EACH of cinnamon, rosemary, thyme, and garlic powder.  Some days at work would get crazy busy and I wouldn't have time to figure out what to have for dinner, so we would end up going out and spending a ton of money and eating unhealthy.
My mom has always been a weekly meal planner for as long as I can remember so she was my initial inspiration.  Then I started seeing bloggers like Kate and Rachel do weekly planning and, to me, that was much more attainable.  I felt like seeing women my age do it made it seem much more attainable and less "one day..." aspirational.
We have definitely had ups and downs in meal planning.  Sometimes I just slack off, sometimes M doesn't want to deal with dirty dishes, and on those nights, there's nothing wrong with calling the pizza guy.  But meal planning has enabled us to stay on an even grocery budget, eat healthy, and try a variety of different dishes.
With all that said, the vast majority of recipes I make I will never make again.  There are various reasons for that but mainly, a lot of recipes are good, not great. Since we've been doing this for 2 1/2 years now, we have narrowed down the list of great recipes that we go back to over and over again.  I hope you take some inspiration from these.  I'd LOVE to know what your tried-and-true recipe repeats are. We're always looking for new ones!
1. Eat, Live, Run's Boyfriend-Approved Spicy Black Bean Burgers {pictured}. I always serve these with Alexia frozen sweet potato fries.

2.  Budget Bytes' Egg Florentine Quesadillas. I use her Creamed Spinach, Take 2 recipe.  It's much better than the original one.

3. Slow Cooker Green Chile Pork Tacos {pictured}. Stupidly easy to make and stupidly delicious.  We usually end up with lots of leftovers.  It freezes well, but it also makes for great lunch quesadillas!

4.  Arroz Congri/Chipotle Burrito Bowls. I'm grouping these together because they're very similar and interchangeable.  Sometimes I made the IGE chicken or some shrimp to go with it, sometimes we just eat it straight vegetarian {the arroz congri is vegan if you don't use sour cream or cheese for toppings}. Either way, it's always delicious and filling and {minus the shrimp and/or chicken} budget-friendly.

5. Eat, Live, Run's Spicy Pecan Crusted Catfish {pictured}. Aaaaah I love this recipe so much! It's just got such a great mix of flavors and textures.  I almost always make this with some form of sweet potatoes and a side salad.  It makes for a very pretty, colorful presentation.

6. Jenny Steffens Hobick Arrabiata Sauce with Shrimp and Linguine {pictured}. I could go on and on about my love for this recipe.  It takes maybe 15 minutes to make.  It makes a TON of food.  And it is so, so, so good. We fight over who gets to take the leftovers the next day.

7. Slow Cooker Pepperoncini Beef Sandwiches.  This recipe was a recent discovery from Rachel. I had bookmarked it ages ago, but only decided to make it in the past month.  It is AMAZING. Just so good and simple and delicious.  I am getting hungry thinking about it!  I typically only use 1-1 1/2 lbs of the beef and we put the Sargento Mozzarella-Provolone slices on top, although I bet pepper jack would be wonderful as well...

8.  Cooking Light's Spicy Lemon Trout.  We have this a lot.  Rainbow trout is relatively inexpensive, easy to find, and when farmed in the U.S.A., is a sustainable fish population, which is important to both of us.  I don't do the fancy dressed trout filets.  I just lay lemon slices on the top and broil it without flipping for a total of 6-8 minutes.

9.  Four-Cheese Roasted Vegetables.  This is borderline retro for me.  My mom made this for us all the time growing up and it will always be one of my favorite side dishes.  I would be willing to bet that if you have a picky eater in your family who isn't big on veggies, this would be a game changer.

10. The Pioneer Woman's Pasta alla Vodka {pictured}.  Despite my serious issues with Ree, I do love this dish.  It's an absolute indulgence, so it's rare that I make it.  And even then, I make adjustments {those can be found here}.  But for a night when you feel like splurging without spending hours in the kitchen, this is really hard to beat.

11.  Laura Calder's Fish en Papillote.  Feels fancy and fiddly, is actually stupid easy.  The spices are what makes it! I find that I need to cook mine a little longer than recommended, as I like my salmon more medium than medium-rare.

12.  Simply Grilled Chicken Breasts.  We have these at least once a week in the summer.  My mom discovered this recipe and it is, bar none, the best grilled chicken.

A few more notes: I find that having some "rules" with regards to planning helps immensely.  I instituted Soup Sundays this fall and plan to continue that through the end of the winter.  We don't stick to a strict Meatless Monday {but if that works for you, do it!}, but I make sure that at least 1 or 2 of our meals each week are totally meat free.  I also make sure at least another one of our meals is seafood.  And I restrict our red meat pretty significantly.  Don't get me wrong, I love a good steak and I have some great beef recipes, but I feel strongly about consuming meat that isn't factory-raised and that is a} expensive and b}hard to find where we live.

I use the Project Girl's Meal Planner/Grocery List {the second one}.  Print off a stack of them and keep them in your office, at home, wherever you do your planning.

Try to have a day each week at home when you plan out everything.  That way you can go through cookbooks, browse Pinterest and blogs, and pull out magazine recipes all at once. You can also go through your freezer/fridge/pantry to see what you have/need to use.

Make notes! It's easy to make a recipe and then forget what adjustments you made, whether or not you liked it, and/or where you found it.  Posting on the blog is obviously a great record for me, but I also delete recipes that I've Pinned, made and didn't like. I throw away any magazine tear-outs of recipes I've made and didn't like.  If I make a recipe and like it, notes go in the margins and saved in a binder.

What other tips would you add?  Are any of you just starting out on the meal planning bandwagon? I'd love to hear how it's going!

09 January 2013

Menu Wednesday: Winner and Losers

Well it seems a bit of our bad luck from 2012 has spilled over into the early days of 2013.  Ozzie got a piece of bone stuck in his esophagus on Saturday night, which resulted in a very stressful and very expensive overnight stay at the ER vet for him.  He is healing, but not totally out of the woods as we wait to find out if he's had any permanent damage done to his esophagus.  And, bonus, he goes in to his regular vet next week for a procedure on his ears.  The poor little dude.  We just want him to get better {and to stop costing so much $$ :) }!! Thanks for all of the well-wishes on Twitter and Instagram this weekend!

I've been holed up on the couch for the past few days recovering from a stomach bug, so the first full Menu Monday of 2013 will have to wait until next week.  In the meantime, I thought I'd share some recent kitchen disasters and one joyous breakfast discovery.  First up, the losers:

Kung Pao Chicken Tacos {Cooking Light October 2012}
In all fairness, I should have known these were going to be a disaster.  I mean, Kung Pao Chicken Tacos? It sounds like one of the weird products that the chef was trying to sell in Ratatouille.  But Cooking Light rarely steers me wrong and we love Chinese food, so I gave it a shot.

Huge mistake. These were DISGUSTING.  Just...ick. So, so bad. Avoid recipe at all costs.

Taco Stuffed Shells {Budget Bytes}
I didn't even take a picture of this meal because I was so embarassed.  This should have been an incredible dinner.  All delicious components baked under a cheesy blanket.  

But genius here conveniently forgot to cook the beans. I'm not sure how one actually forgets to cook one of the main ingredients, but I did.  We took one bite into the shells and it was an unforgettable combination of delicious taste and the worst, weird, crunchy texture ever.  M was a sport and picked out every single bean and ate around them.  I think I just ate crackers and pouted.

Moral of the story?  Just use canned beans to make this.  Less time, less hassle, less chance you will have a blonde moment like I did.

Roasted Shrimp with Spaghetti Squash {Everyday Food December 2009}
Spaghetti squash = EPIC FAIL.

Have y'all ever cooked one of these before? I've always been intrigued by them but never again.  First of all, I cooked it according to the directions on the freakin' label that was ON THE SQUASH.  And those directions were wrong.  After doing some research, I learned that spaghetti squash is not, in fact, supposed to be crunchy and that it should have cooked for at least another 30-60 minutes. Lovely.

Second of all, even if it had been cooked properly, these things are way too much work for about zero gain.  I'm not on a low carb diet, so the next time I want something resembling shrimp with spaghetti, I will make shrimp with spaghetti.  After the cooking, the cooling, and the never ending scraping of seeds and flesh, I was expecting deliciousness.  I got meh instead. 

At least it looked pretty?

Now for the winner...

Bran Muffins {Elefantitas Alegres}
Minus the fact that making these required my kitchen to look like a toddler had been let loose in the pantry, these were a complete hit.  I've been meaning to make them for awhile.  The recipe makes a ton and with my work schedule, having a healthy breakfast that I can grab and eat on the road is invaluable.  Kate's recommendation to drizzle them with local honey is spot on.  And, per the recipe, I used all applesauce and no sugar.  And I did add the 3/4 cup of ground flaxseed.  Delicious!

Any recent kitchen disaster you care to share so that I don't feel like a wannabe-Ina Garten failure?

03 January 2013

Because It's True

This shall be our theme for 2013, oui?

From the bottom of my heart, thank you so much for your sweet comments, e-mails, and Facebook messages regarding yesterday's post.  I was very close to not writing it because I still have some issues with putting personal stuff too "out there" on here.  But reading your words of encouragement and support and empathy were so needed and so welcome.  As is often said, sometimes in blogland we paint a portrait of a perfect life that doesn't exist.  It's nice to know that we're not the only couple with struggles.

I have more thoughts expanding on yesterday's post tumbling around in my head, but for today, let me just say that you ALL are fabulous. And I hope you will continue to be in 2013.

02 January 2013

So 2012 Wasn't Awesome...

I'm not quite sure where to begin this post, so I'll just dive right in.  I don't typically do year-in-review posts, and this post certainly doesn't follow the model of most of those posts.  But I've been meaning to do a post looking back on our first year of marriage and in talking with my parents last week, I realized that reflecting on our first year of marriage is essentially the same as reflecting on 2012.  And 2012 was not a good one.

Not because of our relationship, but because of so many external factors that weighed us down.  We kicked off 2012 in Atlanta.  The flight home was miserable, because we were leaving a city we love and time with sweet friends and headed back to a condo we hated, in a city we hated, to job situations that were less than ideal.  It's hard for me to put into words the absolute funk that we spent the first half of 2012 in.  I think most days we were just going through the motions.  Numb might be the right word. Throw in the fact that work stress caused some {fortunately temporary} serious health issues for M, and we were about at our breaking point come spring.

At that point, we realized that things weren't going to miraculously get better.  We realized that we needed a change and stat.  So I began looking for a new job, and was fortunate enough to find one relatively quickly.  And I love my new job. LOVE. Wonderful people, wonderful work environment, doing something I'm passionate about.  M and I were discussing what our favorite memory of 2012 was and we both agreed it was the night we celebrated my new job at VOLT.  I think it was the first night in a long time when we both felt hopeful and happy and excited.

But just about the time I started my new job and got that part of my life together, the other wheels fell off.  We adopted our sweet boy, Ozzie.  And as much of a joy as he is to us now, the first 2 months were absolute hell.  He cost us so much money and time.  He caused many tears and fights.  With the help of a wonderful vet, our absurdly stubborn personalities, and a lot of patience, we are at a good place with our sweet boys.

But just about the time we started to figure things out with Ozzie, I had to go and blow the engine in my car.  Which, 3 months later, is an issue we are still dealing with and paying for.  Going from having only a year of payments left on a car to having to put in a new engine AND a new transmission is not a fun experience. Especially when you and your spouse both work for non-profits, which translates to not a lot of extra cash lying around to take care of these things.  We truly would not have made it through this fall without our parents.  They have showed us that you are never too old to need your mom and dad! We are so grateful to them.

Did I mention that in the midst of starting the new job and adopting the new dog we moved 20 miles south?  And went to five weddings? Three of which M was a groomsman in?  We were a bit busy this year.

We have made some definite improvement in the past year.  I am in a job that makes me happy.  We live in a townhouse with lots of space and potential, a big kitchen, and a fenced-in yard for our boys.  M has a new car for the first time since he was 16.  We are making progress on paying down debt.  2013 kicks off in a much better position than 2012.

But we still have a ways to go for 2013.  As much as we love our actual physical residence, we still don't like where we live.  We have no friends with no chance to meet new friends and nothing to do.  That is the reality of the tiny place we moved to so that my commute would be manageable.  We feel like we are watching our childless years blow by us, unable to do the things we want to do in this supposedly carefree time.  That's got to change.  I need gal pals.  M needs male friends.  We need couple friends so that I can fulfill my NEED to entertain.

It's impossible for me to separate my thoughts on the first year of marriage from my thoughts on 2012 because they are one and the same.  Marriage is hard.  That shouldn't be a shock to anyone.  The world threw so many obstacles at us this year that there were times when we truly struggled in our relationship.  But I married an incredible man who takes his vows as seriously as I take mine.  We absolutely meant the words we said to each other on our wedding day and we are in it for the long haul.  I don't think we expected to have so many of those vows tested so early on in our marriage, but I think we both feel that we can pretty much handle anything now.  There were times last year when I was so angry because we weren't getting that rose-colored hazy fog type of newlywed bliss that you hear about.  We got the real world and we got a hell of a lot of it.  But we also came out of it feeling fairly bulletproof, and for my money {what little of it is left after my car is finally fixed!}, I'll take bulletproof over schmaltz any day.

We've decided 2013 is going to be our year.  We may not be able to take all the trips we want this year or finally pull the trigger on buying a house, but we're going to make it an amazing year all the same.  Our little family of four plans to dominate the next 12 months in a big way.

19 December 2012

Menu Wednesday

Last week was a good eatin' week.  I only cooked 3 nights; one night we went out to dinner and Friday night we were at a rehearsal dinner for some dear friends.  Here's what I whipped up last week:

I did some serious menu-stalking on Kate and Rachel's blogs last week and decided to make this.  Oh my word. SO GOOD.  M was shoveling this in.  It was really easy to make and it made a ton {yay leftovers!}.  Don't leave the green beans out; they really add something special to this dish.

Aussie Breakfast Salad {Table Tonic}
This probably isn't a favorite of M's, but I love this meal when I'm craving something healthy, but need something substantial.  It's warm and hearty and has all sorts of interesting flavors and textures.  Plus it takes like 10 minutes to make.

I didn't take a picture because I was too busy inhaling.  Per Kate's advice, I made some adjustments here.  Namely, I only use 10 oz. of top sirloin.  I used halved Brussels sprouts instead of asparagus, since they are in season and asparagus is not.  I nixed the Gorgonzola and just grated a little Parmesan over the top at the end.  Holy moly.  I was SO skeptical about this meal. I just could not see how it was going to taste good together.  

I was wrong.  I want to eat this every day.  It was even better the next day cold.  Yum, yum, yum, yum!

That was it for us last week.  Did you make anything good I should know about?  I'm in a bit of a recipe rut {hence the blog stalking} and I'd love some new recipes!

06 December 2012

Your LL Bean Boyfriend

“It’s getting to be that time of year,” Walter said, “Let me pull around the pickup truck and we’ll go find the perfect Christmas tree.”
“It’s getting to be that time of year,” Walter said, “Let me pull around the pickup truck and we’ll go find the perfect Christmas tree.”

04 December 2012

A Different Kind of Gift Guide

Giving Back Gift Guide

If you're anything like me, you're a smidge Gift Guide-ed out.  A thought occurred to me the other day that if, as bloggers, we devoted a fraction of the space to encouraging readers to make charitable gifts this time of year {and throughout the rest of the year} that we devote to encouraging readers to buying things for themselves, we could do a lot of good.

While we already financially support our alma maters, this year we've donated items to two local charities as well.  The first is our local food bank and the second is our local animal shelter.  I'm a firm believer in supporting local charities.  The impact is greater when it's close to home, and for me anyways, it's much more meaningful.  If time, space, and money allowed, I would rescue every animal that needs a home.  Since that's not an option, we do what we can to help the sweet animals in our community who aren't as fortunate as our boys.

So pick what's important to you.  Give them a call and find out what they need.  Our animal shelter maintains a website that lists what their current needs are.  We took peanut butter, paper towels, and dog and cat treats.  As we move into the colder weather, blankets are desperately needed so that the animals aren't sleeping on cold concrete.  Our food bank also maintains a website of needs.  One thing I learned this year is that donations of personal care toiletries are EXTREMELY important, since those items aren't covered by food stamps.  There are always coupons available and sales going on for toiletries, so stock up the next time you're grocery shopping. It will be greatly appreciated.

Please know that this post isn't about tooting my own horn to show y'all how generous we are.  Quite the contrary.  I just felt like sharing what I think is an important and often overlooked part of the holiday season.

How do you give back?  I'm always interested to hear about ways people contribute their time, talent, and treasures!

10 September 2012

The One In Which I Lecture

credit: me. see what i did there?
please ignore the hideous state of our back patio. we inherited this "landscaping" and we're working on it. 

Today I am going to get on my soapbox for a few moments and then you can resume talking amongst yourselves.

When you blog or Pin or Tumbl (??) an image, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, please link to the ORIGINAL source of the image.

Now, I know that I have not always been good about this, especially when I first started blogging, and then again when I first started Pinning.  I would read blog posts like this one and roll my eyes and wonder why everyone was getting their panties in a bunch.

Then, a few months ago, I read this article.  And got scared and started going through all of my Pins to figure out which ones linked to original sources and which ones didn't.  Turns out, most of the stuff I had actually Pinned {meaning, for example, I saw a recipe I liked and pinned from the website} were original.  But almost all of the ones I had repinned linked to a Tumblr or had been uploaded by the user with no link to the source.  Yikes.

I seriously considered giving up Pinterest.  I "consulted" with a few lawyer friends and they talked me off the ledge.  And then I read this article and realized I was probably OK.

And somewhere during all this time, I realized that it didn't really matter whether linking to the original source or not was a legal issue. {Well, actually, it does matter, quite a bit, but speaking strictly from a moral standpoint...}  It was an issue of respect for the original source's integrity.  Be it the author of a recipe or the photographer or the event planner, it's important to give credit where credit is due.

I am slooooowly working my way through my ancient blog posts and pins to right these wrongs.  Now instead of just mindlessly repinning some image because it's pretty or looks yummy, I "like" it.  Then when I have the time, I click to see if the pin goes to the original link.  If not, I Google image search it until I can find the original source.  If I can't find the original source, then it doesn't get pinned and I unlike it.  Sadface.

From a practical standpoint, this is helpful for all those times you've seen a Pin and thought "Wow, that's beautiful! Where is that?" and clicked on it and ended up lost in someone's Tumblr account.  It's nice to know where said beautiful place is in case, you know, I ever want to go see it in person instead of just staring at it on a computer screen.  Same for finding an interior design photo with the PERFECT fabric or wallpaper, only to spend way too much time trying to track down the source so that I, too, can have the perfect fabric or wallpaper.  It's so frustrating and I know you've all experienced it.

With the move and the new job and the new dog and the state of politics in our country, it doesn't take much to make me angry these days.  And right now, I get REALLY angry when I see a blogpost that says "All pictures courtesy of Pinterest."  PINTEREST IS NOT A SOURCE.   It's just not.  Neither is Tumblr.  Or someone else's blog where the image isn't credited.

OK, end rant.

All I'm saying is, show the original artist/author some respect and common courtesy and link to your source.  Make life easier for your fellow Pinners and bloggers.

*Please note I am not a lawyer nor will I ever been.  I took a few classes on the Supreme Court in college and that's about it.  Do not use this as legal advice.  This is my just my personal opinion.  Legal-eagle readers, feel free to correct me on any of the above points.*

28 August 2012

My List

At the risk of being blogger-cliche, I've come up with my own 101 in 1,001 list.  I first was inspired to do this when I read Design Darling's list.  I started working on a list, but just couldn't seem to find the motivation to finish it.  Then I read The Dirty Martini Diary's list and how Lulu was starting it on her 30th birthday, but thought maybe she should've have started the list to culminate on her 30th birthday,  and that lit a fire underneath me.  Because November 11, 2012 is 1,001 days until my 30th birthday.  Time to get cracking!

1. Find a fitness routine that works for me and stick with it.

2. Purchase personalized stationery. 

3. Buy a house.

4. Cook at least one recipe out of every cookbook I own. {Salmon with Lentils, Barefoot in Paris. White Lightning Texas Chili, Southern Living: Our Best Christmas Recipes. Potato Sourdough Starter, Southern Living 1995 Annual Recipes. Chocolate Chunk Blondies, Barefoot Contessa Foolproof. Lemon Chicken Breasts, Barefoot Contessa How Easy Is That?. Fried Zucchini Spaghetti, My Father's Daughter. Orange-Raspberry Trifle, Barefoot Contessa Family Style.}

5. Take a flower arranging class.

8. Develop a filing system for important documents, mail, magazines, etc.

9. Visit at least 3 new states.

10. Be able to better define my aesthetic, in both fashion and interior design.

11. Scrutinize the contents of my closet and donate, store, or toss all the things I never wear.

12. Throw my first Sunday brunch party.

13. Adopt another rescue dog. {Ozzie, August 2012}

14. Buy an Hermes scarf.

15. Grow vegetables and herbs at home.

16. Take a ballroom dance class.

17. Learn to make homemade bread. {Potato Sourdough Bread, March 2013}

18. Buy an Apple desktop computer.

19. Drink eight glasses of water every day for one week.

20.  Learn to speak French.

21. Ask Grandmother for her coconut cake recipe.

22. Take up yoga.

23. Send fifty handwritten notes, not including thank-you notes.

25. Sing karaoke. {VA's Bachelorette Weekend, March 2013}

26. Get some backyard chickens.

27.  Host a major holiday.

28. Get a massage.

29. Make M breakfast in bed.

30.  Go camping with M.

31.  Learn the art of canning food.

32.  Follow the 100 Days to Christmas eBook.

33. Make Julia Child’s Boef Bourguignon

34. Make an address book with contact information for family and friends.

35. Join the S***burg public library. {March 2013}

36. Visit all the D.C. monuments.

37. See the Radio City Music Hall Rockettes Christmas show.

39. Floss every day for one month.

40. Do a cleanse.

41. Purchase and learn photo editing software.

42. Take a self-defense class.

43. Buy a piece of original art.

44. Cook a meal for my mother.

45.  Visit Montpelier.

46. Put together a home management binder.

47. Find my best beauty routine.

48. Learn how to play Gin Rummy.

49.  See an opera performed live.

50. Invest in ten coffee table books. {1. Vogue Weddings, March 2013 2. Vogue Living, March 2013 3. The World in Vogue, March 2013}

51.  See a Broadway show.

52. Throw my parents a 30th anniversary party.

53. Buy a Goyard tote.

54.  Learn to make my mother-in-law’s marinara sauce.

55.  Learn to make Grandmama’s rolls.

56. Go on a trip with my sister.

57. Visit all of the S***V*** vineyards. {Three Fox Vineyard, October 2012. Glen Manor Vineyard, March 2013. Boxwood Winery, March 2013.}

58. Find a way to volunteer locally {soup kitchen, homeless shelter, SPCA, etc.}

59. Purchase a set of quality luggage.

60. Read every Jane Austen novel. 

61. Learn needlepoint.

62. Get a facial.

63.  Take a sewing class.

64. Try one totally-out-of-my-comfort-zone exercise class.

65.  Buy a pair of Ferragamo Varinas.

66.  Go to a music festival.

67. Order a wedding album.

68. Research and put together a family tree of M and me.

69. Read twenty new books.   {1. Unbroken, May 2012 2. Divergent, May 2012 3. Insurgent, June 2012 4. The Memory Keeper’s Daughter, June 2012 5. The Royals, July 2012 6. Sarah’s Key, May 2012 7. Gone Girl, October 2012 8. The Emperor of All Maladies, January 2013 9. South of Broad, February 2013 10. Game Change, February 2013 11. The Space Between Us, February 2013 12. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, March 2013 13. Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, March 2013 14. The Night Circus, March 2013}

70.  Make homemade marshmallows. {February 2013}

71.  Lose these last pesky 10-15 pounds.

72. Get in the habit of monthly self breast exams.

73. Turn off my iPhone/iPad/computer for an entire weekend.

74. Buy a nice camera and learn how to use it.

75. Throw a surprise party for a friend. {Happy Birthday, Kristi! September 2012}

76.  Spend a weekend at the Greenbrier.

77. Go tubing or kayaking on the river.

78. Find a skincare regimen that works for me.

79. Take a trip to France.

80.  Create a will.

81. Go on a spontaneous day trip.

82. See ten so-called classic films.

83. Visit Harper’s Ferry, WV.

84. Invest in a classic handbag.

85. Have a picnic. {Sky Meadows State Park, April 2013}

86. Learn how to do a perfect smokey eye.

87. Start a collection. {Spode 'Woodland' China collection started on Christmas 2012.}

88.  Put $10 in savings for every goal accomplished.

89. Visit my sister at college before she graduates.

90.  Take a food styling or cooking lesson of some sort.

91. Try five new foods.

92.  Learn to French braid.

93. Go vegetarian for a month.

94.  Buy myself a beautiful piece of jewelry.

95.  Run a marathon.

96. Pay off all debt.

97. Have a father-daughter date.

98. Go apple picking.

99. Visit 3 new cities.

100.  Attend the Preakness or the Kentucky Derby.

101. Throw a party for completing my list! {Happy 30th birthday to me!}

I started developing this list back in the spring, so one of these I can already check off the list and several others are in the works to be completed before November 11. Plus I've already started making headway on my 20 new books goal.

Are any of you following your own lists?

*You'll notice there are a couple of numbers missing; I left those off because I felt they were too personal or private to share on here. I promise I can count.

24 August 2012

Friday Favorites

Happy Friday! I've been home sick this week, so sorry this is a little late going up.  Let's give a big round of applause to my AWESOMESAUCE guest bloggers this week, shall we?  Tina, LEB, and Jennifer, take a bow!  You ladies are the jam!

Just won this loverly on Ebay for only a hundo-bones.  It's going to be our new bar.  All of our pretty glassware will go in the top half on the shelves behind the pretty glass doors.  We'll keep the desk part folded down and all of our delicious beverages and mixers will be displayed on lovely gold/brass bamboo trays.  And the drawers will be where I store my ever-growing collection of tablecloths and cloth napkins and seasonal serving ware.  I'm in love.

So I first saw this on Pinterest from True Traditional.  And after no success tracking its origins via Tumblr, I did a Google image search and discovered that it was part of the Fall 2011 Deyrolle Pour Opening Ceremony line.  It is now my mission in life to source this fabric for use in my home.  It is too fabulous.  Sleepy little foxies!!!!

Dog-shaming, you make me feel better.  You see, our sweet Ozzie has decided to show his gratitude at being rescued from death row by attempting to destroy my Hanky Pankys and M's dress socks.  No bueno.  This website makes me feel like we're not alone.  And it makes me laugh. A lot.

Bon weekend, my sweets!