Thursday, June 16, 2016

Hot sausage and mustard!

Recently, a friend asked how Blake and I save money on groceries. I realize that it's not the most exciting thing to turn into a blog after months of not blogging, but I wanted to start somewhere! This was a few weeks ago, and I can tell you that our margherita pizzas and chicken and waffles were delicious! The onion I mention at the end got cut up to use into a sauce.

This has taken a lot of practice and I've developed a small, but well stocked pantry, which I'm rather proud of. Some of this going to change in a few months, but for now, this is how we do it!

Now, we both enjoy cooking, so that helps, but we only cook dinners a couple of nights a week. Usually Sunday nights, one or two weeknights, and then pizza night. The rest of the time is leftovers, which we both enjoy. We don't burn out on cooking something new everyday and it saves us time/money. Breakfast on the weekdays is almost always scrambled eggs with a protein or fajita veggies and either toast or a fruit/veg smoothie. Lunches are grilled chicken breasts we cooked up altogether over the weekend (different marinade each week), a veg (almost always carrots) and fruit. Keeping these things the same everyday reduces the time/effort that goes into such prep and we use up what we have. We can keep dinner more creative.

Regardless of what you do, one major key is to PLAN. Meal planning is pretty much a love it or hate it thing, but I happen to love it. I look over our schedule (what nights do I need to have something fast, how many nights will this meal last us, etc.) and what we already have in the fridge/pantry. If we can make something new with what we already have on hand - awesome. Fewer new ingredients we have to buy. For example, right now I have half a ball of mozzarella and some fresh basil in the fridge. I'm out of tomatoes for the caprese salads I was making with these things, but we do have pizza sauce and frozen pizza dough, so one night after Blake gets home, we're going to have margherita pizza. I bought one can of pizza/pasta sauce for $.95 and divided it into 5 equal containers - no more need to buy sauce for a month. Actually, we have two more cans in the pantry, so we're set for the whole summer. I also have some frozen waffles from a grocery store freebie recently, and a coupon for $.55 off some chicken tenders. So chicken and waffles it is! Occasionally, I'll have to buy all new ingredients for whatever, but there is usually something leftover from something else that I can incorporate into the next week.

Once I plan, I make my grocery list and try not to deviate from it. If there is a really good deal on something that I pass, I might get it, but I stick to my list as closely as possible. I also check my preferred stores' ads to see what's on sale, especially produce and meat. Cucumbers on sale this week? That's our dinner vegetable! I also then get a good idea of what a good price is for a certain item. If I have wiggle room in my budget that week, I can get whatever meat is on sale and stash it in the freezer for the future. I buy in bulk when it makes sense, and not when it doesn't. We keep a lot of our meals simple, so that we don't have to buy very much. I use coupons sometimes, but I'm not crazy about it. Right now I'm shopping mostly at Aldi and Shoppers. Aldi just has good prices on produce and dairy. Shoppers has weekly freebies, frequent $5 off $25 or $10 off $50, and a variety of other coupons, and yes I will walk around the store with my calculator just to reach the $25/$50, if I'm close enough with what I'm already planning to buy. I love me some Trader Joe's, but it's not convenient most of the time.

I also diy a lot of my foods. We make our own bread, brown sugar, pizza dough, salsa (sometimes), buttermilk, ice cream, and whatever else I can. If it's a specialty thing that doesn't come up a lot in my recipes, I see if there is a cheaper alternative/substitute (like making my own self-rising flour or subbing grape juice for wine, etc.) before I add it to my pantry. It takes practice, and sometimes we go over $200/month, but we're pretty close and we still eat really well.

And I typed up that post and grabbed out my lunch to microwave when I realized that instead of my grilled chicken I packed the sliced half an onion I was going to use in the sauce I'm making for manicotti (celebratory favorite dinner of husband deserves real sauce, not canned). Soooo, I'm not perfect. However! Another money saving example - onions were on a crazy sale at Aldi, but only in bulk, like 3lbs for the price of 1lb. So, I found out how one can store onions, bought the very large bag, and am set on onions for awhile. I sliced up half for a salad recently, and figured I'd know what to do with the other half eventually. Also, thank goodness I had a slice of cake at the faculty baby shower, because I'm not eating this onion.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

In New York, you can be a new man

Blake and I knew that December 2015 was going to be insane. We had a very quiet Thanksgiving to prepare for that, and I'm quite glad.

The first Friday in December, Blake and I threw our congregation's Christmas party. We were asked in October to head that up, and we accepted. Our goal was to keep it super simple, since it was just us, so we made it a chili cook off. Main course - done. We had more than enough participants, the missionaries judged, and it was a hit. For decorations, we had families bring in a nativity for the center of the tables, which we'd covered in butcher paper and crayons. On one side of the gym, we had a snowflake station - people were invited to cut out a snowflake from a coffee filter and then write a favorite Christmas tradition or memory on it before hanging it on the wall. For a take home party favor, we had a station to put together a Christmas potpourri bag with citrus and spices that you boil in water on the stove for delicious fragrances. And yes, it was make your own, since Blake and I didn't have time to make 50 them ourselves, but that was a hit too. For dessert, we bought ten dozen donuts from that local donut shop that we love that does daily freebies. So good. We also had a Santa and a photo booth, which was saved by our bishop's wife who noticed the spelling error in the banner before the party.

Thanks to everyone who brought something, everyone who helped set up the night before or take down after, and everyone who came to the thing, it was a great, low key success.

Then, starting Saturday morning, I drove to and from Baltimore every day for three days for librarian training from the International Baccalaureate, of which my school is a part. It was a lot of driving, but it was a really good training. On Saturday, I made it back in time to see at least the last part of a Christmas boat parade with Blake. Sunday I made it back to take Malcolm to a friend's house for a few days and then decorate our apartment for Christmas, as is traditionally done on the first Sunday in December in our family.
Only ten ornaments on the tree this year - we had to simplify somewhere

Monday, Blake came with me to my last day in Baltimore and hung out in the hotel for a few hours so that we could drive to New York City that afternoon. My dad was going to be there for work for 24 hours and he casually mentioned how fun it would be to see us. Fortunately for him, I had already scheduled to take that Tuesday off work, so why not?

We all made it to Dad's hotel around the same time, a swanky place in Chelsea, and, PS, I drove in and out of Manhattan and survived. The valet parked our car, we settled in for a minute, and then started our adventure! Dad had a hankering for a New York hot dog, so we schlepped up to my favorite hot dog place - Gray's Papaya - for dinner. We had taken the subway up, but we walked back so that we could enjoy the sights of New York at night during Christmas time. We showed Dad the Manhattan LDS temple and I showed both of them the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center.

Rockefeller Center tree!

Everyone says you should look up in New York to see the architecture. Sometimes you should look down too.
 While we were there, we met a retired NBA player and his wife, whose name we have now forgotten, but he played for the Phoenix Suns. However, our more exciting celebrity sighting on this trip was the Target dog, Bullseye, who was staying the same hotel as we were and we saw her twice. We never got a picture with her, but we should have.

After our stroll, Dad had a reception to attend, so Blake and I scoped out Chelsea Market for breakfast options and treated ourselves to gelato, before meeting back up at the hotel to hang out for the rest of the night. As much as I have appreciate staying with friends in New Jersey and Brooklyn on various NYC trips, it's really nice to have a hotel in Manhattan to crash in, which I hadn't done since a previous NYC business trip with Dad during college. Thanks Dad and the companies you work with!
Dream Hotel NYC
Wednesday morning, we all had breakfast at Chelsea Market before saying goodbye to Dad on his way to his meetings. Blake and I headed down to Battery Park for a cruise to visit the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, which Blake had never visited.

Ellis Island

We also made stops at the Charging Bull at Wall Street and paid our respects to Alexander Hamilton at Trinity Church.

For lunch, we went to a pizza place, Picasso Pizza, where I had a slice with pasta on it. Can't eat like that everyday, but it was fun to try! Not wanting to spend much money, but having plenty of time on our hands, we walked up the island along the Hudson River Greenway. It was a lovely day and we like walks.
Mormons represent!

We hoped to see the musical Hamilton that evening, but the only possible way to get tickets right now is through the Ham4Ham lottery - front row tickets for a Hamilton ($10). We both tossed our name in, but it was not to be this time. So, we called it a night, walked back to our hotel and started the long drive home. 24 hours in NYC isn't much, but we had a great time.

Not done with adventures yet, on Wednesday morning we got back in the car to drive to Richmond, Virginia, so that Blake could swear into the Virginia Bar Association. He's now a fully licensed lawyer and member of the bar! So proud of him and all of his hard work.
Everyone swore in at once

On our way back home, we got word that we'd be driving to and from Virginia Beach that upcoming Monday, which I'll blog about at some future time. For this trip, Blake and I drove back north, went to dinner, and then picked up Malcolm. The friend he stayed with has four other dogs, so it's possible Malcolm has more fun there than at our house. He's still happy to see us when we pick him up.

And that's how Blake and I put 2,000 miles on our car in two weeks. Stay tuned for how we got to 8,000 by the end of the month!

Monday, November 30, 2015

Each life that touches ours for good

Since last week I talked about Malcolm, this week, and for my final NaBloPoMo post, I'll talk about the rest of my family pets over the years.

Caramel - I got Caramel the hamster for my third birthday. I don't know how long he was with us, but he was fun while he was around. I enjoyed letting him run around in his little hamster ball. I'm sure I wasn't the best hamster owner and my parents did a lot, but I liked him. Sadly, he got into some rat poison at some point and we had to part ways. We buried him behind the house. I tried digging for him once. It's probably for the best it didn't work. 

A series of goldfish - At some point, maybe I was around 9?, we kids each got a goldfish. Mine was Crystal Light, after the goldfish in the Babysitter's Club Little Sister books, and eventually I had Crystal Light the Second. Goldfish are not the most interactive pets, but I liked mine. I had Frank in my late teens, but I was terrible at taking care of him, especially remembering to clean his bowl. He lived for a lot longer than I anticipated, but my family still forgot to tell me for awhile when he died while I was on study abroad in London. 

Logan - I've talked about Logan before. We got him as a puppy when I was 13 and he passed away when I was 29. He was a wonderful dog. Sometimes I feel guilty when I call Malcolm the best or cutest or feel like I'm spending more time with Malcolm than I did with Logan, but then I decide that as long as I'm referring to best or cutest living dog, it's okay. As for spending time? We do our best and that's what counts.

Betta fish - Blake and I have had two betta fish since we got married - Mortimer and Captain Jack (Harkness, not Sparrow). They each lived with us for about 6 months and they were pretty to look at. We had Malcolm by the time Captain Jack left us, so that's probably it for us and fish for awhile. Anyone need a betta tank?

I enjoy having a variety of pets, though the more interactive the better. I think I've done a pretty good job of my animal stewardship in this life. I hope they would say the same!

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Joy to the World!

I'm a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also known as the Mormons. When possible on Sundays, I discuss some things related to my faith and what I believe. With respect to your own beliefs, I hope this gives you a chance to get to know me and my religion a little better. For previous installments, click here.

It's officially the Christmas season! Here's the lastest video from the Church about why we celebrate this time of year.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

A mark, a yen, a buck, or a pound

Blake and I frequently get comments about how much fun stuff we do. And you know what? They're right. We really do. We live in a really interesting region with more things to do then we'll likely ever accomplish, but that doesn't mean we can't try! We realize we may not live in this area forever, and we don't want to miss it.

We also don't want to run out of money, so we have found ways to do things as inexpensively as possible. Fortunately, many of the attractions in the DC region are free - all the Smithsonian museums (including the zoo), monuments, various historical parks, a number of events and concerts. That covers quite a few of our adventures and dates. Many other things are fairly low cost, like national parks with a $5 per car entry fee.

We are also big fans of coupons and deals. We almost never go out to eat if we don't have some sort of coupon. I even keep some apps on my phone just because certain deals will pop up sometimes. Just this morning, as we were getting ready to go clean the church when I got a notification that McDonald's was offering a free Egg McMuffin because the Capitals (our local professional hockey team) had lead in the first period last night. Sorry oatmeal, but you're just going to have to wait, because McDonald's is on the way to the church. I had to run into the store while Blake went through the drive through so that we could each use the coupon on our apps, but free breakfast is free breakfast! We also use somewhat regularly, which offers discount gift cards to a variety of restaurants. We even got a Living Social deal for the website to really cut back on that price. I also sign up for emails from our favorite restaurants to get their coupons. I have it filtered to a different folder automatically, so it doesn't clutter up my main inbox.

Because we live in such a touristy area, Groupon and Living Social often feature paid local attractions, like the historical ships we visited a few weeks ago. Because of these, we've seen more off the beaten path places like Lincoln's Cottage and Gunston Hall. We probably wouldn't recommend them to people who have only a week or less in DC, but they've certainly enriched our experience here.

As often as we can, we usher at Ford's Theater, yes the one where Lincoln was assassinated, because you get to watch the show for free if you put in an hour of work before curtain. Done and done. A lot of theaters do that actually, we just happen to have a neat, historical one to work at.

Last year, the local second run movie theater was doing a Kickstarter to help them buy new seats. At a certain reward level, you got three free movie passes as a thank you, so we each backed them for that amount and paid for three dates in advance, in new seats to boot! I actually went up a reward level, so I got the three passes as well as a Date Package - two movie tickets, two drinks, and popcorn to share. Movies are kind of expensive dates, so we don't go to the theater that often. To have four dates already paid for has been great! In fact, we still have two passes each. We did go see The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part II in theaters this week, because seeing the very first one was our very first date and we've seen the rest of them together in the first run theater, but we went to a matinee and paid less than full price.

We have Amazon Prime (especially to supplement our entertainment since we cut cable last year) and if whatever we are ordering doesn't need to be here in two days, we take advantage of a $1 credit to digital content. Doing that two or three times pays for an at home movie rental date.

To help us remember what dates we've already paid for or are inexpensive and we definitely want to do them, we keep a list on a chalkboard in our kitchen. The list on the right is of walks we want to go on (or have, because they were on this list and we haven't erased them yet). Zoo and slurpees (there is a 7-11 right by the entrance) is probably going to be zoo and hot chocolate (also 7-11) in January after the new cub makes its public debut.

We do pay full price sometimes. Sometimes it's worth it, because of tradition (like Five Guys on General Conference weekend) or the activity is that good (such as Maryland Renaissance Festival - but we chose not to go this year due to time and budget reasons). However, because we've really been great about making and keeping a budget this year and we do wheel and deal our way through so many other things, we know when we can afford it.

We've decided that adventuring is something that is one of our priorities in our marriage, so with a little bit of effort, we make it work with our current budgets of time and money. We do still appreciate a good, lowkey time too, as evidenced by the weekend we are currently having. We did go on a mid-day walk today though, with a stop at Noodles & Co. for lunch with a BOGO coupon we got in the mail. The weather was extremely mild for late November, so we enjoyed sitting on the patio outside with Malcolm before coming home to an afternoon of relaxing or doing homework or other projects. 

Friday, November 27, 2015

It's a quiet thing

What do you get when you combine a bucket list item, a need to walk the dog, your own walking goals, and a holiday from work?

A sunrise walk from the Tidal Basin, past some monuments, and across the Memorial Bridge. And back.
Photo credit: Blake

This was our family's own little Turkey Trot yesterday morning and it couldn't have been a better morning for it. The weather was pleasantly crisp (instead of downright freezing), the sidewalks and roads uncrowded, and the walk not too long or too short. We've been wanting to walk across Memorial Bridge for awhile, so we finally did!

The rest of day was a lot of lazing about and relaxing, coupled with plenty of cooking. It was just us, and that was just what we needed. We also went on another walk around our neighborhood after dinner, so some good mileage has been added to our annual totals.

We actually didn't make our Thanksgiving dessert until today when we had the missionaries over for Thanksgiving Dinner Part 2 - a caramel apple tart. We were too tired and full to even attempt it yesterday, but it was delicious and fresh out of the oven tonight.

Sometimes the quiet adventures are perfect too.
Photo credit: Blake

Thursday, November 26, 2015

That would be enough

Today I am grateful for:

Long walks
Beautiful scenery
Living in a really interesting and historical region
Holding hands
Answers to prayers
Hermit Thanksgiving - December is going to be insanely busy, so we are relishing a quiet, long weekend.
Malcolm kisses
Wonderful friends
A good job
Learning opportunities 
Good books
Good music
A warm and comfortable apartment
Fuzzy socks
Dishwashers (currently running for the third time in 24 hours, with more dishes in the sink)
Slow cookers
The gospel 

I have a really great life. Blake and I were talking at dinner about how many things could have gone wrong this last year that didn't. Instead, we are facing a bright future with a lot of adventures and I'm excited to embark on them! Not everyone is as fortunate as I am, and even I have had times where things went a different way than expected, so I know am truly blessed.

I hope you have had a wonderful Thanksgiving! I know I have!

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Cause it's gonna be hot! in that big boiling pot

Clearly, crafting is not a priority right now and I'm at peace with that. However! I still find time to make really tasty food. We have to eat after all, and it might as well be good. Some of the things we've made lately are slow cooker pulled pork, egg salad (dill makes this amazing),  and cracked wheat muffins.

Last Saturday, Blake and I made lemony lobster risotto with dill and Parmesan and it was SO good. We had a gift code from for a free date night meal kit, so all the ingredients were shipped to us in a refrigerated box, all measured out and ready to go. They also sent the recipe so that we could make it again once we acquire the right ingredients. Blake and I teamed up in the kitchen and the results were amazing. It's fun to cook together.

At least one night each weekend, we like to make pizza. We've decided that on most weekends, Blake needs to stay home and study one of the nights, so that night we make homemade pizza so it's still something to look forward to. We bought a pizza stone with some wedding money a couple of years ago and we definitely make use of it.

This pizza was made using canned dough, but we make our own now.

And sometimes our plans go awry. One Sunday, back in February, we came home from church to a home without power, so the beef stroganoff in the crock pot was not ready. Luckily, we had some cold cereal on hand (not a usual occurrence) and decided to eat it by lamplight. The power came back on during my second bite, but Blake got up, turned off the lights, and we finished eating in the mostly dark, just because we could.
I had a banana too. Blake does not like bananas.

I'm looking forward to making a delicious Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow. I toasted some homemade bread this evening that Blake made a week or so ago so that we'll be ready to start our preparations with slow cooker stuffing!

Any good meals at your house lately?

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

So I creep yeah, I just keep it on the down low

I was invited by the fifth grade girls to chaperone their field trip yesterday to the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. Since the best thing to do after being out of the office/library for two days is to leave again, I was happy to go. Even if I have to keep an eye on five ten-year-olds as they run around a busy museum, it beats catching up on shelving and paperwork.

Now, I don't know if any of the students went home to their families and gushed about cool things they learned, but I sure did. Even though I've been to this museum threes and fours of times, I still found some new things.

In the insect room, a museum employee had three insects he was taking out of jars to let people touch or hold, depending on the insect. At the insistence of my students I held a feinting beetle. It's defense mechanism is to play dead when a predator is nearby, so it played dead on my hand for a couple seconds before it trusted me enough to start crawling.

I wanted nothing to do with the Madagascar hissing cockroach.

Based on how much I gushed about it to Blake, my favorite thing of the day was the last insect, the Australian walking stick. It is so cool! The museum employee had a female, apparent because of her large abdomen and tiny wings. These bugs are amazing at camouflage and mimicry! When they are first born, their mom shoots out the eggs. If there is no male around, it's okay - the female will just clone herself! Ants then carry off the eggs into their nests, where it is cooler and wetter than above ground. When the walking sticks first hatch, they look like ants, so the ants raise them as such! It wasn't really covered what happens when the ants and the walking sticks realize they are not the same, but I'm sure at some point the walking sticks get too big and move out on their own.

Out on the branches of trees and bushes, Australian walking sticks generally hang so that their abdomen just looks like a dead leaf blowing in the breeze, but if they're crawling around right side up, they look like a scorpion!
Not a scorpion!

Their life span is only about 9 months, but I think it's a pretty impressive 9 months.

I also learned, from our IMAX movie - Mysteries of the Unseen World, that dragonflies can move all four of their wings independently of one another, which is different from any other flying creature out there. This also allows them to hover and fly forwards and backwards.

Another other cool thing I got to do was touch a piece of Mars, a rock collected on Mars by a robot (I don't remember which one) and returned to Earth. The moon rock you can touch in the Air and Space Museum is pretty dang neat, but the Mars rock (in a similar display) is just off to the side in the minerals and gems room and you could easily miss it if  you're not looking for it. In fact, I must have missed it the other times I've been there. I definitely rectified that situation yesterday.

I'm bummed the new dinosaur exhibit won't be open until 2019, but I did think it was neat that there is a fossil lab with windows on three sides right in the middle of the temporary exhibit. The workers I observed were making storage boxes and taking photos, but that's still cool. There was a sign on the glass not to tap it, since it might disturb the mammals inside.

Overall, it was a fun way to get out and do something different for the work day and hang out with some students. I should have added a juice box to my lunch though. Anytime we had a field trip where we had to pack a lunch, Mom spoiled us by getting us a more fun than usual lunch to make the day even more of a treat, usually a Lunchable and a juice box. I did at least pack myself one last snickerdoodle and some Hershey's Hugs.

I did have to make up for it today by doing paperwork and lesson planning. I decided to put off shelving until tomorrow, but I'll make sure my podcasts are up to date in the morning so that I don't get terribly bored. 

Monday, November 23, 2015

I like your style

Who are you and what are you?
Malcolm has now been with us for more than a year and a half, so it's time for another list of things Malcolm likes and dislikes!
Bad lighting = fuzzy photos, but if I moved, he'd move

Things Malcolm Likes

Food - Your food, his food, anyone's food. He's mostly pretty good about leaving you alone while you're eating, but he's rarely far from the kitchen if someone is in there and definitely at your feet if you're eating. We know he's really tired when he's not responding to the presence of food.

Popcorn - He knows not to get into the bowl when we're sitting on the couch and eating, but the moment a piece drops anywhere else, it's his.

Praying - Blake and I usually say our mealtime prayers together while standing in the kitchen and holding hands. It's not uncommon for Malcolm to come stand in between us and bow his little head too.

Dog Park - There is a great dog park about 2 miles from our house, behind the library. We try to go a few times a week and Malcolm is a big fan. If we're walking toward the route to the dog park but, at a certain junction, turn right for home for a shorter walk instead of left for the dog park, he will very likely protest, usually in the form of sitting or pulling. Sorry, dude.
Blake has been inspired by Thomas Kinkade

Fuzzy selfie!

Snuggles - Malcolm is a champion snuggler. Sometimes he's off on his own in the papasan or on the floor, but when he wants to snuggle, he is fantastic at it.

His people coming home - You know he's especially excited when it turns into a full body wag.

Sleeping in our room - We used to make him sleep in the bathroom, but we switched to our room after a few months of trust building. He goes to bed so much easier now, sometimes before us.
As Blake said: It's a dog's life

Weekend sleeping in - He's not allowed on our bed, except for two times - as we're getting ready for bed and if we're sleeping in on the weekend. We realized after awhile he doesn't need to go pee at 6:30 (or so) when he jumps on us and begins cuddling, and we're trying to enjoy a few extra lazy snoozes ourselves, so we let him stay.
Weekend morning snuggles

Cute and he knows it

Things Malcom Dislikes

Smoke alarm - Nothing makes Malcolm retreat to a happy place in his mind (or behind the couch) faster or for longer than the smoke alarm. Even if it only beeps once or twice, he's not himself for awhile. Luckily, his happy place is quiet and non-destructive. You can imagine how fun this was for everyone when the smoke alarm went haywire one morning around 5:30.
Hi guys!

Leaving the dog park - If you don't have a treat to convince him it's time to go, be prepared for a game of chase.

Missing his humans - If one of us is traveling, Malcolm tends to act a little weird around bedtime for the first night or two.
We love seeing deer on our walks

Overall, Malcolm is a friendly, good-natured, energetic dog. He's really settled into our pack and we're glad he's around! It took some time, but as we've all gotten to know each other better, we've gotten down to a pretty good rhythm of things. He's fantastic at walks, doesn't make messes in the house, hasn't chewed on any furniture for awhile, is super great with other humans and animals, and is just generally a really good dog. It would still be nice if we spoke each other's languages sometimes, but it works out just fine anyway most days.

Thanks for being awesome, Malcolm!