Thursday, September 29, 2016

Making Grown-Up Purchases

By pretty much every count we are adults.  We’re in our 30s.  Parents.  College graduates.  Homeowners.  Have/had “real” full-time jobs.  Save for retirement.  We stay in more than we go out (summer weekends at the lake excluded).  We are adults.

But when it comes to furnishing our home, 10 years after buying it, we still have mostly hand me down or cheap furniture.  Our three big purchases have been our dining table set (bought almost entirely with wedding gift money so barely counts), our tv and our mattress (and those together were under $1k).   Our couches were $100 for the set from Matt’s brother.  We received our front porch furniture set as a wedding present.  We both came with desks and night stands.  Matt’s dowry included our bedroom set.  Almost everything in our house that wasn’t a hand me down or given to us Matt has built – multiple bookshelves, Luke’s dresser, our patio furniture.  And the things we have bought have been mostly cheap.  Our coffee table was a Target clearance item.  Our kitchen table was from the Target auction for $15.  I guess we did buy a tv stand from IKEA but that really doesn’t fall in the expensive category.

Part of the reason for all the hand me downs and being cheap is just because we are pretty frugal.  I have a hard time thinking about spending a lot of money on something when what we have is already functional and in at least decently good shape.  We also don’t plan for this to be our “forever” house and with the prospect of moving always (kinda) looming, we don’t want to buy something that we aren’t sure will work at the next place.

But, seeing as this whole kid thing has taken longer than expected, we’ve mostly committed to living in our house for at least another 5 years (unless something really crazy happens like we get placed with triplets and then immediately get miraculously pregnant with twins.  In that case we would have to move, not that I would be complaining…that actually sound a little awesome although I’d prefer not to have 5 kids within one year…) and I realize we’ll be pretty near 40 by the time that semi-planned move happens.  40 is not as scary and old sounding as it was a decade ago but still seems a lot more “real adult” than early 30s (how long until I have to be mid-30s?  Please don’t say 34.)   I remember my parents turning 40.  And being ages I remember my parents being just makes it seem a whole lot older.

With all that in mind, we’re trying to make more intentional purchases when it comes to our home.  Slowly phasing out the hand me downs and cheaper Target things although there will still be a pretty big balance of things Matt’s made which is pretty wonderful too.  I don’t want to wait for our next house to pick out things I really want instead of just making do with what we have.  That’s all well and good  but…I feel like by our 30s we’ve earned a little quality over quantity type of thing.  We can spend a little money on our house.  Especially on parts that drive me crazy.

We recently bought a rug for our room.  We didn’t NEED it.  We had one in there but it was too small and brown so it basically blended in with the floor.  And the new one isn’t from Target!  We bought this one in 8x10 from Wayfair on a Labor Day sale and I was very excited the night we rolled it out in our room.  Took a little finagling under the bed but now, every time I see it I feel more like I real adult.  We have a large rug in our bedroom, partially covered by multiple pieces of furniture!  That’s not something I would have spent money on 5 years ago!

It brightens up the whole room, making it a little more bearable until we can get to the massive to-do list I have in mind for the space – painting (you may notice some paint samples on the wall...which had been there for 4+ months and we have yet to decide...or have the time to paint anyways), Matt building furniture, upholstering, new shelves, changing out fixtures, etc.  Basically an almost complete remodel and I’m very excited about it…if it ever makes it to the top of the list.  For now, I’ll settle for appreciating the new rug and be glad we’ve gotten this far!  It is a much bigger impact than I anticipated it being and just motivates me to keep it moving.

Also, having something soft to step on when I get out of bed, for the first time since I moved in, is pretty wonderful.  I feel so fancy.  And maybe a little bit more "grown-up". 

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Chicken Taco Salad

I remember going to Pizza Hut with my family at least 20 years ago to redeem a Book-It.  My parents had many years of many of us in Book-It at a time which was great for them and for us.  We probably wouldn't have gone out to pizza once a month otherwise.  (Book-It is still a thing, right?  Because that's a huge thing to look forward to when Luke starts school - an excuse for monthly pizza.)  If you think about that "multiple girls receiving free pizza each month" thing a little you might come to the realization that my parents then later had 4 teenage girls at once.  Two different times.  My Dad gets a lot of sympathy any time that fact is brought up.  Actually, any time the "5 sisters, no brother" thing is brought, about 99.9% of the time (after verifying that "just 5 sisters" does in fact mean no boys), the next sentence is "I feel sorry for your Dad."  I always reply with "I don't!  He loves us."  But the multiple free pizza years may have been easier on my parents than the multiple teenage daughters years.

So, back to Pizza Hut.  So most of us were getting our free personal pan (which I still enjoy and consider to be a perfect pizza size for myself) and one of my parents got a taco salad which looks delicious.  It had one of those fried shells and filled with meat, cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, and topped with Doritos.  (I think we were all looking to steal some of those Doritos.)  That "salad" looked delicious and I didn't even eat salad at that time. 

This salad, is not really that one.  It's probably a healthier option but still containing most of the taco essentials: spiced meat, lettuce, cheese, tomatoes, crunchy chips, and a delightful and incredibly easy homemade dressing.  Matt enjoyed the dressing so much he was using the leftovers as chip dip.  This flips the salad so it actually is a salad with the lettuce as a base and the broken chips as topping.  We are certainly not the healthiest of eaters but sometimes it's nice to enjoy healthier versions of things, fewer calories to run off later and all (except I don't count calories).  This is a dinner we enjoy often and, bonus, even Luke eats it!  I mean, heavier on the chips than lettuce but baby steps. 

Note: I make the meat in the crock pot because it's my favorite way to cook chicken.  You could do this all on a pan over the stove if you are more pressed for time.

Chicken Taco Salad
yield: about 4-5 servings
-1 ¼ pounds chicken breasts (can stick them in the crock pot frozen!)
-1 can of corn or about 1 cup frozen (or fresh!)
-1 can black beans (or cooked and frozen equivalent)
-1 packet or 2 TB taco seasoning

-½ cup mayo (light is ok)
-¼-½ cup sour cream (light is ok)
~¼ cup cilantro leaves, chopped
-3-4TB lime juice
-½ tsp sugar, optional and to taste

-4 cups chopped or torn lettuce
-shredded cheese
-chopped tomatoes
-crushed tortilla chips (or Doritos)
-other preferred taco toppings

1) Put the chicken, corn, black beans, and taco seasoning in the crockpot and cook on low heat for 6-8 hours or high heat for 4-6 hours.  Stir occasionally if you are home.  Chicken should shred as it is cooked and you stir.

2) Prepare toppings - chop lettuce, shred cheese, chop tomatoes, etc.

3) To make the dressing combine the mayo, sour cream, cilantro, lime juice, and sugar (if using) in a small bowl and whisk to combine.  This can be made ahead of time and refrigerated as well as refrigerated after for leftovers.

4) To serve: plate the lettuce and top with chicken.  Add toppings as desired!  Enjoy!

Source: modified from Averie Cooks

Monday, September 26, 2016

Mixed Drink Monday: Strawberry Pineapple Mimosas

After 14 new recipes and drinking another summer away, we are down to the last Mixed Drink Monday...for now.  I know it's not summer anymore, by any calendar, but I got really inspired at the end and made more drinks than I needed so that means you get to read about it!  Or not, I mean feel free to just skip this post if you are thinking "she drinks way too much and posts about it waaaaaay too much".  I get it.  It was a relief when I was done with all of these and could stop filling my grocery list with ice cream and drink ingredients and now can just go back to drinking our way through our wine stash (we seem to do more wine buying than drinking...something we are trying to change this fall. As my husband pointed out...the kind of wine we buy isn't the kind that gets better with age...).

So, the end of another "summer" (work with me here) of new drinks every week and while the picture taking and posting may have gotten a little tedious and I've cleaned more blenders doing this project that with anything else ever in my life...I'm still really glad I've taken it on for another year, trying a lot of new things and finding a lot of new favorites.  Now the thought of just drinking our favorite Bud Selects all summer (although I still had more than a few) or my beloved Grape Smirnoffs (which I haven't had in years) just seems a little boring.  Sometimes you just need to tell the internet you are going to do a project, and even if nobody cares, you just keep chugging (literally) along and getting it done.  Hum...what else could I promise the internet I am doing and then have to follow through on...I'll have to think about that one.

Finishing with a really easy drink that took care of the rest of my bottle of sparkling wine from the Island Mimosa and Peach Champagne Sorbet (both fantastic).  (That was one hard working $7 bottle of sparkling wine).  I drank these on a long lake weekend (which was awhile ago, oops) and it was so nice to keep the pitcher and the fridge and top off with some sparkling wine as the urge struck.  Which obviously was often before evening because...lake life...anytime after noon is acceptable.  (I also ran 6 miles this particular lake weekend with my niece...which I feel is important to point's not all daytime drinking.  But also...mimosas are pretty acceptable for anytime...)

Strawberry Pineapple Mimosas
yield: ~6 drinks?
-1½ cups orange juice
-16-18oz pineapple juice (or 2-2¼ cups)
-1/2 bottle of sparkling wine (or approximately what is left after making the above mentioned recipes)
-frozen strawberries

Mix together the orange and pineapple juices in a pitcher.  Refrigerate until ready to serve.  Then fill a glass about half full with the juices and top with sparkling wine and a few frozen strawberries.  Enjoy!

Slightly modified from Darn Delicious
In the summer I aim to make a new drink every week and share them all here, good or bad!  See them all in chronological order by following the "Mixed Drink Monday" tag here or check out my favorites by scrolling down to "Mixed Drink Monday" on my recipes page

Friday, September 23, 2016

{5} Things that Excite Me About Fall

It's officially fall!  Once I finally accept that summer is over (basically when the jet ski is home) then I start to get really excited for fall.  I feel like whichever season we are currently in is my favorite.  Except that summer is probably always tops.  And winter at the bottom (mostly because I'm constantly cold).  So basically, spring and fall switch between spots #2 and #3 depending on which one we are in.  Just like I can never pick if I like Easter or Thanksgiving better (Christmas obviously has the top spot).  Once again, it's whichever is closest.

There's a lot of reasons to get excited about fall, here are mine!

1) Fall Foliage
This whole post is basically an excuse to ooh and ahhh over past fall foliage pictures (all taken from my Instagram feed).  I mean, seriously gorgeous.  There's plenty of beauty to appreciate in the other months too but there is just something about the fall.  Gorgeous all around.

2) Sweaters/Boots
After spending months mostly trying to dress in as little clothes as reasonably possible in order to stay cool in the heat, it's a refreshing change of fashion to be able to pull out clothes and layer things.  I start to get waaaay too excited about pulling out all my fall and warmer weather clothes, especially during those magical days where it's cool enough for layers but not enough that you need a coat.  And puffer vests...I've missed those. 

3) Soup & comfort foods
My favorite menu plan I do all year is the first one in the fall that I can fill with soups and chilis we haven't eaten in at least 6 months.  I love soup.  It's usually so easy and relatively healthy.  I eat it almost daily 5-6 months of the year (pictured is this white chicken chili)

4) Being Home
Our porch currently looks nothing like this.  Use your imagination.  To imagine a mess.  It's more what it represents...
By my count (which I trust, being as that was literally in my former job title (staff acCOUNTant)), we'll be gone 14 of 20 weekends from May-September.  That's 70% of the weekends!!  It's a lot and I know almost all of those are entirely our choice (the lake) and I am so grateful that we have access to a place on the water (the lake) and are able to go so often...but I am also super psyched about a break from packing, driving, and planning around weekends away.  Maybe we'll finally finish that porch floor that we started over a month ago...

5) Cooler Temps

I've been running more in prep for my 10k race in a few weeks and running ~5 miles while pushing a stroller in 90° sucks, a lot.  I'll gladly take a longer run over not having to push a stroller.  I mean, not enough to run when Matt is home to watch Luke because evenings are busy enough as it is...but enough to mildly complain about it for sure.  I much prefer running in the cooler temps, like any sane person.  But also, for life in general, being able to live outside the AC (which I try to use as little as possible) and open windows and even being a little chilly at night is pretty nice after a hot summer (which I love!  I really do love hot days in the summer but also so glad we don't have that year round!).

You'll notice I restrained myself from including ANYTHING about the upcoming holiday season although I certainly consider that to be pretty exciting and definitely worth looking forward to...I mean...not that I am (I definitely am) or have already started thinking about my Christmas baking (again, yes).  But fall is wonderful besides being prep time for the holidays!  What you are looking forward to enjoying during this wonderful season?

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Cutting the Clutter

I’ve had more than one person tell me that they imagine my house is always clean.  This is not true.  We have a 3 year old.  A 3 year old who we are desperately trying to teach to clean up after himself but a 3 year old who is not really getting that lesson.  The other day I was threatening to take away a few of his favorite (but not lemur, none of us have the strength for that battle) stuffed animals because of a quiet time mess when he offered himself instead: “Take me Mommy.  I go in the attic with beep beep.” (Beep beep is the infrared heater that somehow Matt talked me into.  We use it to heat our upstairs at night during the winter and turn the whole house heat lower.  He assured me this is saving money…Luke calls it Beep beep because it goes “beep beep” when you turn it on.  He really likes it for some reason.  And it’s currently stored in the attic.)  Don’t worry social workers and people of the internet, we are not locking our son in the attic (but some of his stuffed animals have met that temporary punishment).  The point -  our house is not always clean.  Exhibit 1:

But while Luke may exert his own path of destruction from time to time, most of the time our house is pretty clean or at least less than 10 minutes away from it.  I still follow this same basic schedule for keeping it dust/fingerprint clean but that’s only half the battle.  The other, and probably bigger half, is clutter.  Just feeling like your house isn’t overtaken by stuff, that the mail pile isn’t going to fall over all the kitchen floor anytime soon.  That part we do pretty ok on, especially when Luke is asleep.  I know I can process and function just a little bit better as a wife, mom, and human when my house is relatively clean.  Here's how we (I) do it:
Make the bed, every day – Our bed gets made every single day.  That happened when we both worked 8-5, when I was working 50+ hours a week during tax seasons, and both times I was on crutches.  Our bed is just made every morning.  Even though we don’t spend a lot of time in our room besides sleeping, just coming up the stairs and seeing the bed made is a big difference.  Starting the day by keeping things a little neater is like getting up on the right side of the clutter.  Plus, getting back in a made bed at night is much better than one with crumbled sheets and blankets. 

Keep surfaces clear - We try not to store or really put anything on the kitchen counters, (my) desk, or the dining table besides things that will be dealt with soon like the stack of library books to return the next time we leave the house.  Obviously we store some things on our kitchen counters but I really try to keep it at a minimum for long-term and very few short-term things.

Take care of mail/paperwork immediately – Admittedly we don’t have a lot of this with no school papers coming home yet but what does come in the house is handled almost immediately.  I usually go through the mail next to the recycle bin and toss in most of it.  I have a box on my desk for receipts and bills that I handle once a week.  I pull shopping receipts out of my purse almost as soon as we get home and add them to the box.  We have designated spaces for magazines.  Wedding/shower/party invites are usually hung up until the event passes.  It is super rare that any mail even touches the kitchen counter.

Unsubscribe from mail lists – everyone knows how to do this with e-mails but I’ve also called over 50 places to get taken off their paper mail list too.  The phone calls just took a few minutes each and only one argued with me (I never liked you, Comcast).  Now we have much less mail to even deal with!  Definitely worth the time.

Take care of dirty dishes – Almost immediately after eating or baking dishes are either done by hand or stacked in the dishwasher.  They don’t sit around (dirty) for long. (Although our dishwasher has been open for the last 12 hours so the clean dishes can dry, I hate drying dishes out of the dishwasher but also refuse to use the heat dry because it seems like an energy waste.  So the dishwasher sits open until they dry.  Which is the cheapest option!)

End each night “clean” - We have Luke pick up his toys before/after quiet time and bed every night, both in his room and downstairs.  Since his main play space is also our main living space, I hate to have his stuff sit out.  Waking up to a clean house is much more relaxing and starts my day on a better note!

Have less stuff – I’m continually working on this.  Luke’s doesn’t have a ton of toys which makes it easy to keep what he does have pretty cleaned up.  I don’t tend to buy things for myself that could end up being clutter so really it’s just keeping his stuff under control (Matt’s basement workshop and office are a whole other story…I mostly ignore those...and try to clean up at least his office once a month.)

“A place for everything and everything in it’s place” - pretty much my motto.  Also, you save time by not having to look for things if you know they are back in their proper space!

Our house is never perfectly clean and there is always some amount of mess, somewhere (Hopefully mostly limited to the basement...).  If you look close at the below picture you may notice porch furniture in the back corner...where it has been for the last....6 weeks.  BUT...a few minutes here and there, and gradually teaching Luke to pick up his stuff (he will get that lesson at some point...right??) and I get to enjoy a picked up house for more hours in the day than not.  And that's how I like it. 

Bonus Reading via Babble: I'm a Happier Mom When my House is Clean