Our Little Pumpkin

We’re starting traditions pretty early in our little family. Santa started his annual visits last year. We can’t WAIT for Hadley to have his first big turkey day feast (we already know he’ll eat everything that goes before him, so we’ll give him a little of everything…I’m strangely excited!). And, for Halloween, we’ve got a lil’ costume planned for his day at the sitter’s (his grandma) and a later trip to my parents’ for a quick trick-or-treat visit. (We think he’s too young to do the regular trick-or-treating thing. We’re also up-in-the-air about the fact that, in the future, we’d like for him to experience these traditions and the fun and excitement of trick-or-treating, but wish there was a way to lessen the gluttonous candy-based intent behind the whole thing.) He also wore a giraffe “costume” last year, but being only three months, he just kinda…sat there.

But, we already started the spooky tradition this weekend. Meet Hadley’s twin…


Dave watched our lil’ monster (not really) while I cut in and scooped out the brrrraaaaains, brrrraaaaaiiiins!! By far the suckiest part of the job. I sketched a not-too-scary face that looked just enough like Hadman – he’s got two teeth that are fully in flanked by two teeth that are partially grown.

I used a safety pumpkin cutter thingamabob and started hacking away before Dave started hovering. He finally asked if he could help — I didn’t realize he was interested, yay!

We strapped Hadley into his Space Saver chair and gave him a quickly-drawn pumpkin to “color” (he poked it with the orange before we realized he was more interested in trying to eat the crayon than color…ya win some, ya lose some), but he also intently watched the creation of his jack-o’-lantern. That’s when I snapped these pics.


I put a real candle in to see what type of glow we’d created…not too shabby. (We’ve gotta track down our LED mini-candle to put it outside.) Oh, and Jasper stood watch…


And, now, the scary part — putting it outside on our stoop. I’m a tad terrified that it’ll get stolen and smashed. Yeah, we have hooligans in our area. It’s never happened to our small pumpkins in the past, but this one may be too cute for those brats to resist. *fingers crossed* It’s lasted a couple of nights so far.

Oh, and for the record, I wasted the seeds. We already had some on-hand (purchased, wop wop) and I was pretty tired from toddler-wrangling to go through the process of sifting through the brains/guts. I’ll roast ’em in the future (and undoubtedly post a recipe, hee hee), when the monkey can actually eat some.

We also made some popcorn and drank some cider after the baby went down for the night, while watching an awesome Halloween documentary. That’s another tradition for Mama and Papa that we do before almost every major holiday — watch a documentary on its meaning. Dave has tracked down several very high-quality ones, for Halloween, Christmas and Thanksgiving. We’re geeks and we know it. ๐Ÿ™‚

What about you? Kids or not, do you cut into some pumpkins? Or roast some seeds? Cider? Popcorn? Caaaandy? Do tell!

Falling Table

I love our dining room table. Every time I look at it, I’m reminded of that July 4th. That week+ before Hadley was born, overdue, when we tried anything and everything to get labor started (ineffectively). That’s when we finally put the table and chairs together, after sitting in a box which the cats thoroughly enjoyed scratching since the prior January.

I get another feeling when I glance at the table set, too, though. A twinge of anxiety because it’s usually piled with mail, with magazines, with gifts I’ve yet to wrap or cards I’ve yet to address or any other number of very random items. This is actually a relatively calm pile compared to the usual.



But, since we’re into the throes of fall decorating, I figured I’d jump on the bandwagon and grab any excuse to de-clutter a bit. (Picture Dave doing a happy dance…if he were the type of guy to do a happy dance. I wish he’d get in touch with his inner-David Venable, but gosh darn it, I love him as he is.) So, unlike all the other posts, you get a cluttery before picture of my dining room table…then, a neater, fallified vignette. Now, if only we could keep it (and enjoy it) that way….








I went with neutrals and monochromatic-yet-cozy accents. For a runner, I just used one of my favorite gauzy scarves, then plopped down an antique box filled with raffia, an antique bottle or two, varying-sized candles, a gourd and a mini-pumpkin (which appears taller because it’s sitting atop an over-turned votive candle holder; use whatchya got!) in the middle of the table. Oh, and the raffia is 100% out of the way of any flames, I promise.

I then added some asymmetry by using a square glass cake stand with a couple of antique bottles (one of which is a pint milk bottle from Homestead Farms — my family’s dairy farm from generations back, where my dad grew up) and a not-too-big white pumpkin. I figured the transparency of most of the items took away from the possible weightiness of the asymmetry. Finally, I strewn varying light or neutrally-colored candles in pairs or threes throughout the table. To add to the laid-back whimsy I used a variety of holders for the votives: a creamy antique teacup, a bubbly mercury glass holder, a creamer.

By the way, our dinners are usually spent at our taller, smaller kitchen table and occasionally in the living room, always with the baby’s “high chair” (dining room chair with his space-saving seat safely attached) pulled up alongside me. We used to feed the monkey in the dining room, and I’m positive we’ll revert someday, but currently this is the most convenient for our needs. We’re not keen on living room eating, so it only happens once a week or less. It is what it is.



And pay no attention to the hideous red walls (and crappy iPhone pictures). It’s my dream to tone them down. This WILL come true. Oh, yes, it will.

So, how did you decorate for fall? Subdued? Crazy, over-the-top themey (skulls ‘n witches galore)? ๐Ÿ™‚

It’s the Perfect Day For…

…soup! What can I say? Between the fact that it’s super cheap, relatively easy, and a great way to use up any not-yet-rotten-but-kinda-turning veggies, what’s not to love? Not to mention, it’s super cozy when things start to get chilly…which they have.

And, you lucky people you, here’s a two-fer. Take your pick! They’re both tasty and perfect for the cold weather.

Side note: I’m thinking of giving my life some organization (psht! Right!) and rhyme-to-my-reason by posting any food/recipe ideas on Fridays. Get it? Foodie Fridays? I know, it’s a push, but that’s how I work. And while I’ve got a pile of recipes to share, I don’t expect to do a Foodie Friday every week. They’re just relegated to Fridays…y’know, so that the rest of the time isn’t taken over by “All Food, All the Time!” …If ya catch my drift.

Butternut Squash Soup
1/2 – 1 onion, chopped (depends on size and how much oniony goodness your family likes)
1 butternut squash, peeled and chopped (be careful! That sucker’s slippery)
1 apple, peeled, cored & chopped (any kind)
1 quart broth, either veggie or chicken, homemade or store bought
Small bunch of fresh sage (maybe 10-15 leaves), chopped
1-2 bay leaves
1/4-1/2 tsp. cinnamon (or to taste)
1/9-1/4 tsp. nutmeg (or to taste)
Salt & pepper to taste
Additional water as needed

Throw everything, except for S&P and additional water, in a pot and bring to a boil. Turn heat down and allow to simmer for 30 minutes (give or take; if you’ve got the time, let it go longer). Discard bay leaves and use an immersion blender to blend until smooth (or, in small batches, whir in electric blender), adding water if too thick. Add salt and pepper and test for seasoning.ย 

I served this with a sprinkling of sharp Parmesan cheese. The baby loved his (below left), and I added some pumpkin seeds and dried cranberries to the “grown up” bowls (right). As with most soups, better the next day! This freezes quite well.

*Vegetarian if using veggie stick, which I did. ๐Ÿ™‚

Ham and Potato Soup

(I started with this recipe from All Recipes but switched it up a bit; gotta give credit where credit’s due)
3 1/2 c. potatoes, peeled & diced
1/3 c. celery, diced
1/3 c. carrots, sliced
1/2 – 1 onion, chopped
3/4 c. ham, diced (I used the fat that’s usually trimmed and it MADE this dish! Fat is not always bad, folks, just eat it in moderation…that’s my lesson for the day)
3 1/4 c. broth (veggie or chicken; you can also use water and bouillon but homey don’t play that)
S&P to taste
3-5 tsp. butter
3-5 tsp. flour
~2 c. milk
Cheddar cheese for garnish (and deliciousness)

Throw the first six ingredients in a pot and bring to boil. Turn heat down and allow to simmer ’til you’re good ‘n ready. In a separate pot, melt butter and add flour one tsp. at a time, whisking all the while…


Keep whisking! This’ll take a few minutes, but is totally worth it. (The floury taste needs to be cooked out.) Add milk and continue stirring until the whole shebang comes together and seems cooked enough, 5-10 minutes (depends on your level of patience…mine took me JUST to about 5 minutes.) Should be pretty thick…


Add the above mixture to the already-in-progress soup and stir together. Cook for a few more minutes (or allow the flavors to come together further and simmer all afternoon; you’re the boss here!) and serve hot.

Serve with a sprinkling of cheddar (or some toasted bread or croutons, if you like). This, too, was better the next day, but Dave highly enjoyed it the day-of.


Keep warm this weekend, folks! What’s YOUR favorite soup? Or do you prefer chili on these football-watching, Snuggie-wearing nights?

Fall 2013 To-Do

I’m not sure why, but every time autumn rolls around, I find myself turning an eye to house projects, inside and out. Maybe because I know that the impending snow means that I’ll be hunkering down (and will prefer snuggling up with all the boys in the house vs. fixing it up). Maybe because I get sluggish with the heat during the summer. Eh, whatever the reason, I’m hoping we get a couple of rain-free days at some point to put my energy into a few (or thousand) things I’ve been neglecting.

Mind you, I truly love our house. Sure, there are annoyances (hey, just like a relationship! Whaddya know??), but the more that I see what’s out there, the more I appreciate certain aspects of ours. So, this “to-do” list doesn’t take into account all the work we have whittled away at over the 4+ years of living here. I also don’t foresee getting it all done during the fall, but it’s good to do a seasonal analysis of where you are and where you’d like to go. The *asterisked* stuff is the most dire. Update: Oh, and some of the outdoor pictures show that we already got a couple of projects out of the way. Hence why those flowers are strewn on the front lawn and you see the bottles of cleaning stuff. ๐Ÿ˜‰ Oh, and a couple of “before-and-afters.”

Outside



Before…ick.


After! And wet.


Ha ha, proof! A pile o’ bricks. I found a use for a few of them but never found enough projects to recycle them. So, to the street they go. (A few have been picked up, but I think my father-in-law will take the rest. Score!)


I totally neglected the deck (we didn’t use it this year except for occasional grilling, which we brought inside; maybe if I’d gotten a heavy duty gate for the baby to hang out there…) and our front porch (which has some issues all its own; possible repair of bowing wood pieces? The whole thing was slapped together by a previous owner). Heck, I planted some planters with veggie and herb seeds that really did…um…like…nothing. SO, it’s time to dump the dirt and FOR ONCE clean the garden tools properly. What a fun but necessary task, eh, kids?

Once I’ve picked up and stored the stuff off of both the porch and deck, I’d like to spray them down with a non-toxic cleaner I bought awhile back. (Done!)

Garden-wise, Dave already pulled the veggie gardens (my hero!) and we, together, pulled the man-eating tomato plants, so I’m ready to plant some mums. I also hope to divide this hosta which triples in size every year — making the house look lopsided in the process. We’ve also gotta do some digging in the front-most part of our lawn to even it out and amend the dirt, which has taken to growing phallic-looking mushrooms (which I’m pretty sure are inedible; not testing that for SO many reasons).

We’ve got some weeds floating around, and our monster of a driveway (uneven, in desperate need of a complete and utter facelift) is growing some moss. Y’know. Just for fun. So, I’d like to attack it with a stiff bristle brush and whatever safe, eco DIY method will help get rid of the stuff. While we’re at it, a day of attacking the garage’s INSANE mess would benefit us all!

If we happen to get a run of nice days (I’m pretty sure I’ve already blown it, but we were quite busy during our recent stretch of gorgeous weather), I’d like to attack the porch, deck, basement windows, and at least the front of the garage with a fresh coat of paint. Hey, a girl can dream, right?

And, while we’re at it, I’ve finally decided simply to do away with the old bricks we’ve got floating around that I can’t find any truly acceptable means to use. So, they’ll go to the curb with a “free” sign (and probably post it on Craigslist). Free bricks, folks! Some are even broken! Don’t speed rushing over to pick them up, I know they sound like a dream come true.

Inside – Downstairs

Living Room




The biggest thing in this room is the fact that Hadley plays with…eh…maybe 1/6 of his toys, if that. So, it’s time for another toy switcheroo (yaaaaayyyy!!!). I’m sure we’ll have to have a toy purge come Christmas, but the cool thing about switching them out is that it’s like buying all new toys every few months. The kid doesn’t know the difference. Oh, and this probably goes for his room, too.

I’d also like to finally finish up my fall decorating in here, but some of that can actually overlap into Christmas. Yet another reason not to do red and green every year. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Dining Room





This could easily be a winter project, but I NEED to paint these walls. I’m by FAR officially over the crimsony cranberry-ish red. It sucks the room into itself…seriously. The trim also needs a fresh coat of white. I’m also “over” the chandy, but Dave and I put it in together and it’s not worth trying to change right now.

Kitchen




While I’m at it with the white trim in the dining room, I still need to finish half of the trim here. The previous owners used a flat paint, which isn’t really helpful with all the dirt and grease that tends to build up in a kitchen. We’ve also gotta clean and re-organize the shelves, and the open shelving needs a bit of a shift (we’ve got a little bowing goin’ on from the weight). Otherwise, this is easily one of my favorite places in the joint, cluttery goodness and all.

Front Room


See the front room through the living room?


It’s not a huge deal, but we’ve got some organizing to do out here (I need to find a permanent spot for the sewing machine and all its accoutrements, among other things), not to mention needing some better privacy curtains or blinds.

Closet

Dude. I haven’t switched the coats to summer yet…meaning, I don’t think I need to switch anything back. I do, however, need to purge tons of coats (and we luckily have numerous charities in the area that take them for families that can’t afford cold weather jackets) between this closet and a tote or two in the basement, so there’s some organizing in our future. (I’ll show you “before” pics when I get around to that project.)

Basement

Ditto. ๐Ÿ˜‰ We’ve done a good job of getting rid of any and all of our boxes and bags full of possible garage sale stuff (we didn’t have our annual one this summer) thanks to Goodwill, but there’s still a ton of our own storage containers that need to be sifted through, reorganized, and then filed away using better basement-organizing methods. Yet another good ol’ time in the old “dorky family” household.

Inside – Upstairs

Bathroom


We’re coming down to the home stretch here, with things like hanging a toilet paper holder and towel hooks (as you can tell by the towel hanging over the tub), putting up open shelves, and accessorizing yet to do (including taking everything out of the open built-ins, of course). We still have to figure out what to do with the damaged, icky surround in the tub, but for now we’re happy with the changes we’ve made.

Hadley’s Room (Nursery?! Is it still a nursery if he’s a toddler? Gulp. Please say ‘yes’!)

It’s not always clean and perfect, but it’s Hadley through-and-through…so, needless to say, it’s wonderful just as it is, just like the little man, himself.

Office


Yes, yes, more organization. We’re starting to see a trend, I know. HOWEVER, if I could tear up the carpet and clean the floors, and throw on a new coat of paint (the current was an okay first choice, but I now think pink whenever I see it; I’d like a greiger color), I’d SO do it. Tough with all the crap and kitties to contend with. (Oops, forgot to take a pic. You’ve seen it in other posts (search “office” at the top of the blog if ya want), but I’m sure I’ll include some when we tackle this.)

Our Room (Laughable calling it a “Master Room” without a “master bath” or grandiose…anything)




Just for fun, I’m hoping to paint our side tables, and finally figure out some art (and maybe an extra light for my side of the bed). Otherwise, if the bed is made, I’m ahead for the day, so let’s not push it. Mmmmm’kay?

Outside:
– Empty/clean planters and gardening tools*
Store outdoor furniture and cover grill* (For the most part! Have a chair hanging out on the front porch…not sure why. I like it. Does that work?)
Spray/clean deck, porch and house* (Did it this weekend!)
– Drain and store garden hose*
Plant mums and divide/transfer hosta*
– Dig front lawn to even (and get rid of penile mushrooms…seriously, weird-lookin’ things)
Bricks. Bricks. More bricks. (Come ‘n get ’em! They’re at the curb. Freebie time!)
– Paint deck & porch
– Scrape and paint the garage
– Take down the weird wooden thing hanging out near the garage (previous owners had a swing, we’re guessing)*
– Clean, organize and donate unwanted stuff from the garage* (started it this weekend)

Inside:
Living Room:

– The Great Toy Switch*
– Fall decorating* (What? Decorating is pretty dire…isn’t it?)

Dining Room:
– Paint walls (greige) and trim (white)

Kitchen:
– Paint cabinets and rest of trim (white)
– Clean open shelving/reorganize*
– Reorganize cabinets/storage*

Front Room:
– Buy and put up blinds or curtains*

Closet:
– Go through coats (and those in the basement) & reorganize*

Basement:
– Organize, organize, organize!*

Bathroom:
– Finish hanging “stuff”*
– Accessorize*
– Figure out the tub surround (ugh)

Hadley’s Room:
– “Practically Perfect in Every Way” (no, not really, but it’s fine)

Office:
– Organize* (constant battle, I tell ya)
– Paint walls
– Rip up carpet/clean floor

Our Room:
– Paint side tables
– Figure out art!!!

What about you guys? Any big projects you need to work on this fall (or that you’re building up to)?

Debt Diet

We’re going on a diet at our house. Nope, not THAT kind of diet. (I addressed something like that recently, though!)

Dave recently sent me a link to an article on an awesome blog, And Then We Saved. The writer, Anna, went on a Spending Fastยฎ for a year and swept away her $24k in debt (actually, it was a total of 15 months, but I’m not sure if she was on the “diet” or “fast” that whole time…need to read more). There are some incredible tips on this site, and I appreciate her style of attacking financial issues.

While I’m not buried under massive debt (aside from our mortgage, which I don’t intend to pay off before moving to our next house; otherwise I’ve got a washer/dryer payment, car payment, and a tiny credit card payment that’ll be paid off this month :-)), my husband is still paying off some hefty student loans. Given that, I’d like to find a variation on the fast/diet to meet our needs and help me get better control of my monthly payments and a greater head-start on savings. I suppose we could call it “gaining control.”

The thing that I love here is the fact that I am far from a “Type A” personality, and the structure of this whole shebang is perfect for me. I’ve tried to budget a million times, and my brain simply doesn’t work that way. Go ahead and try to explain it to me; I just can’t do it. But, I’m not admitting defeat! There’s more than one way to make breakfast, y’know.

Which is why I’m doing a variation of what Anna touts. A fast is extreme; extremity tends to push me to the brink of giving up. However, if I can make some “serious” changes rather than extreme ones, it’s more likely to stick. It also means that it can lead to bigger and bigger changes — sticking in my toe, then my foot, then jumping in.

Another reason I can’t see myself doing a full fast *right now* is that it’s October and I’ve got some Christmas shopping to do. ๐Ÿ˜‰ We’re putting limits on everything and everyone, so it should be a basic, all-about-the-memories sort of year (and I’m stickin’ to it!) but this aligns more with the diet than the fast concept. I know this sounds like an excuse, but it’s actually just realistic thinkin’.

Alrighty, so, all that explaining boils down to this:

Following the How to do a Spending Diet guidelines, here’s my list of “NEEDS” (asterisked are the items that I can try to reduce; whether that proves to be possible or not is yet to be seen, but I shall try!):

– Mortgage
– Cable/Internet (WISH I could get this reduced further :-\)
– Food* (Only. Buying. What. We. NEED. I’ve been working on wasting less, and I think it’s sticking, but then I go and buy extra yogurt when Dave has an unopened pack sitting in the fridge. Grrr. Silly mistake, lady!)
– Cell Phone* (Dave and I share this; depending on our usage, we may be able to choose cheaper coverage, woot woot)
– Car (already refinanced…can’t get it any lower…although these payments will be over in about a year)
– Insurance (car and home)
– One small credit card use (Kohl’s be damned)
– New washer/dryer payment* (I was gifted some $ which I need to get deposited in order to make an extra payment here; this will help lessen my payments for the duration of the year)
– Automatic deductions from my paycheck are sticking; I’m at the lowest as far as retirement contributions, blah
– Cat care (food ‘n litter; Dave and I split this here and there, depending on who gets to PetSmart first)
– Gasoline* (Can’t help driving to and from work, but we need to get our trips to the Utica area under control…like, not every weekend and not during the week unless for a doctor’s appointment or something important; Dave works out there, and we often have to take 2 cars, which sucks.)ย 

Side note: Dave pays utilities and half the cell bill — I do hope to pay more attention to the thermostat (but keeping it regulated as far as the baby’s concerned; not gonna kick it down to 58 when he’s home) and simple electricity use, which we’ve gotten away from. Say, right now, the kitchen light’s on and QVC’s playing in the background. I clearly don’t need Today’s Special Value and no one’s hanging out in the kitchen. Off and off.
So, since these are all “needs”, when the “need” arises, I’ll shell over the ka-ching and try not to stress myself out doing so. When it comes to the non-needs, the time of year that I’m starting this little experiment dictates that I’m not “fasting” (only spending on “needs”), which means that I’ll allow myself a chunk of change.

I’m choosing $150 per month for incidentals (but trying hard NOT to use that amount; post-holidays, I’ll reevaluate and possibly cut it back to $100 or less), be they clothes/makeup (a rare expense)/haircut (even rarer – maybe once a year)/entertainment/eating out/gifts/home decor stuff/cat toys (ahem)/etc. Once I’ve used up this cash, I cannot spend on ANYTHING other than the NEEDS above. This essentially means that we won’t be eating out (maybe once a month, even if it means ordering a pizza), buying clothes for myself, buying a bunch of books just because they’re on clearance (dude, it’s still not free) or sinking tons of money into the house. Looks like I’ll be working on some organizing; that’s free! And maybe an on-sale can of paint here and there. *cough*diningroom*cough*

The tough thing here? I already mentioned it — Christmas. I do have quite a bit saved in Christmas Club, but not everything I need (especially since we need to purchase a real tree), so this should get interesting. But, I feel almost like this is more of a game. My ultimate goal is to gift purposefully, with items that the person will enjoy and want, that I put lots of thought (not necessarily cashola) into. Heck, sometimes it’s a gift card; sometimes it’s a little homemade sumpin’ sumpin’. PINTEREST, HERE I COME!!! I’m hoping this makes it a more memorable holiday, as well. No new ornaments, so it’ll be a hodgepodge sort of tree, but at least we purchased the tree stand and LED lights already. Hoping to spend minimally on more decorations as well as things like wrapping paper, etc.

It’s also a game to see how little I can spend/how much I can save per month, in general. Looking at it this way makes it feel a little less stressed and simply more vigilant about my purchases. I’m forced to question myself instead of being a thoughtless consumer (hate that term!!! Hate even more that I am one!!!) “Yes, it’s a good price, but do I NEED it?” I’ve also read about sleeping on purchases, which is a very valuable tip. It’s easy to say, “But, I won’t be coming back to this area tomorrow” or “But, the sale ends today!” It WILL be on sale again, and when it is, if it’s still something that will serve a purpose and that I NEED to have in my life or will truly benefit me in some way, then I’ll get it.

Time to dig out my tiny notebook for incidental tallying! The heat is on! What method do you use to budget (hate that term) maintain spending? How do you control your holiday expenses? I’d love to hear YOUR thoughts and methods!

Happy Friday!

I thought that it would be a fun way to celebrate Friday (even on shortened weeks, a Friday is well-earned lately!) to provide a lil’ guide for Black Friday.

Wait, what?!

Yep, I said Black Friday.

Dude, it’s mid-October!!

I’m aware.

But…like…we haven’t even had Halloween yet!!! Isn’t Black Friday, like, 6 weeks away??

Mhmm. BUT, Thanksgiving is wicked late this year (it even overlaps with Hanukkah for the first time, like, ever! No, that’s not true, but it’s the first time in a super long time), meaning that Black Friday, too, is super late and pretty darn close to Christmas.

So, if you’re hoping to scoop up some good deals and get a great crack at your Christmas list on that Day o’ Craziness, I’ve got some tips to help you make the most of the day — meaning spending less money, wasting less time, and maintaining some semblance of your sanity.

It’s kind of funny because we may not even keep our Black Friday tradition this year. My sister and I have been doing it since…well, at least 6 years, I think, but it might go back even further (with every gray hair that shows itself, my memory wanes a bit more). We’ve had every type of experience you can imagine, sans the violence (although there has been some national news-making violence at nearby stores while we were at a nice, safe department store…those wackos). Now, with a couple of cuties (not our husbands, though we lucked out in that department) at home, we want to be sure it’s worth our while to get up at 3, or 4, or 5 to fight the crowds. It looks 50/50 right now, depending on how our lists stack up.

Anyhoo, we still have plenty of knowledge to pass on, so here’s a list to get you ready; the name of the game is PREPARE YOURSELF!:

Know your ads! We’ve had years (last year was one of them) that we didn’t even peak at the ads until Thanksgiving evening. Not saying that’s stupid…but it’s not the smart thing to do. ๐Ÿ˜‰ Sign up for email updates to see when the ads are leaking (hint: they’re already starting! I got the MACY*S one today…and, if you’re brave enough, the Walmart one is available, too.), and I even downloaded the free app to my phone from blackfriday.com (there are plenty of reliable sites like this one, too). Compare prices in advance!

Keep a list! Santa does it; you should, too. Yes, you should have a list of everyone you need to buy for and what to get them, but this is a different list. I tend to set it up by store, then item (sometimes in parenthesis I’ll jot down who it’s for…as you can see, I love a good parenthetical notation ;-)) WITH BRAND NAME, COLOR, SIZE, AND HOW MUCH IT COSTS. The last thing you want to do is grab the wrong brand name and end up paying $10 more for a shirt (this doesn’t sound like much, but this is the meaning of BF — the difference between paying $27 for a dress shirt and $17 — and don’t get me started on $9 jeans!!!). You will NOT have time at the check-out to run back and grab what you meant to get. Plus, that line of folks behind you will definitely be shooting you the Grinch-eye. Oh, and keep a polite-but-firm eye on the cash register as things get rung-up. Know thy sale item, know thy price.

Know your stores! Keep in mind what your favorite stores/products are. If you don’t usually shop at a store, it’s cool to check out their ads in advance, but generally if you don’t like their products (sorry, Sears!), it’s not worth your time and energy to go to that store. Our favorites to peruse in advance are JCP, MACY*S and Kohl’s, with the occasional Old Navy or Target check. This year, I’ll also be staring down the Toys ‘R Us ad, mostly for clothes (since we’re swimming in toys, and we let Santa get the nice, eco-friendly toys that we enjoy playing with, too ;-)). Then, we pick which ones are the most worth our time and visit them in order of relevance. Some years, JCP is our big haul (they have great sales on sheets and towels, and most of Dave’s clothes come from awesome BF sales; I over-buy and put stuff aside for his birthday, which is in February…sneaky wife), while other years Kohl’s is.

Team up! You may notice I don’t mention Kmart or Walmart. I’ve learned from past experience that Kmart is not usually worth our energy (plus, the one we go to tends to be a bit…ghetto….), and if we need something from Walmart or Best Buy, we send in the big guns: Dave’s brother-in-law and his young adult sons. I swear, they have nerves of steel and are MADE for the strategy of The Great Electronics Battle. Mary and I stay safely in our comfort zone of slippers and ties and pillows. Even Target and Old Navy are rare (unless there’s a huge deal) because folks get cut-throat at these places. Like, crazy.

There is power in numbers, though. If it’s worth the trip, (meaning, you can check a lot of items off your list) walk in the door already knowing what you need, let your partner-in-crime jump in the already-long-line and hunt down BOTH of your items. Be sure to bring along a cell phone to check in (“did you want this color blue or that color blue for John’s sweater?”).

Heck, we even have an annual early-morning phone call with our mom (she’s usually up before 5am, anyway) to let her know how our haul’s going and whether we were able to pick up the items she gave us to grab her. Oh, yeah, we also help out family with anything they may need. It’s the season of helping/loving/sharing, folks!!

And, here are some stress-lifter ideas:

Remember the reason for the season! I’m not getting all religious-y here, but I’m just reminding you that the reason you’re buying gifts is that you want to share them with the people you love the most. This is NOT about “the hunt” (much as those Target ads try to teach you); it’s about the giving. And if you can save some cash in the process, hooray for you!

That being said, back when Mary and I used to stand in line before the doors opened (I’ll get to that in a minute), we had a habit of drinking cocoa/coffee and singing Christmas carols — especially if there were flurries in the air. Some folks would start singing along; others gave us the evil eye, but we had fun! It was like we were welcoming in the holiday season in our own, crazy way. I highly suggest doing this, or even making your own tradition — go in PJs, or ugly holiday sweaters, or wear Santa hats!

DON’T knock down the doors! Over the years, we learned that if we waited even 15 minutes, we didn’t have to wait in a line in the cold, pushing our way in (that’s not really our style, anyway); we could leisurely stroll in since the line had already dissipated into the store. The deals WON’T be gone if you wait 15 minutes, or even 30 minutes, or maybe even 1 hour. Oftentimes, we’d go to a pillow display and think they were all gone, only to have a clerk roll out a bin to re-stock. If you can’t find something, ask.

Also, a lot of these deals actually extend over the weekend, so stop by that Saturday or Sunday. The crowds will still be there (heck, that’s how it’ll be up until Christmas Eve; for me, it’s not the crowds, but the crazy drivers that drive me NUTS), but a little less exuberant/rude, and you still might get some good deals.

Stay home! Yes, I said that. We may do it this year; who knows? Some of these deals are available online. Heck, some deals are available at midnight (or 8pm on Thanksgiving…but I’m not a fan of that) online, so find out if it’ll be worth NOT fighting over a TV and try to grab it online. Oh, and a lot of these deals extend for weeks, so keep checking back over the coming weeks to see if their stock is replenished.

Know the store’s hours and procedures! Save yourself a headache. Some stores are opening up earlier and earlier, so the “doorbuster” deals may not be worth it if you show up at 5am only to realize folks scooped them up between 8pm and 12am. Also, some stores hand out vouchers to the first 50 people (or some number like that), so even if you show up at 5, the people who have been in line since their last bite of turkey the day before claim dibs on the item. This is most common at electronics stores like Best Buy (and sometimes at Walmart).

So, there you have it! Some ideas for those of us who are brave enough to venture out on Black Friday.

What about you? Have you ever done Black Friday? Any tips to add? Or do you have a post-Thanksgiving tradition (whether shopping or movie-going or cooking or decorating)? Do tell!

Side note: We do try to buy a good percentage (between 25 and 50%) of our gifts from local producers/sellers.

Image is a royalty-free image from Getty Images.

I’m Sorry! I Didn’t Do It On Purpose

This may be a controversial post (or you might peruse it and go “feh” then move onto red vs. blue arguments; to each his own ;-)), but I’d just like to address something. And, sure, offer an apology.

Okay, here goes: I didn’t lose my baby weight on purpose. I didn’t go out of my way to shed the pounds. I don’t exercise in an intentional way, and I don’t watch what I eat (beyond the usual, “don’t gorge yourself to the point of embarrassment” thought process).

And to those of you who may feel uncomfortable that I lost the weight so quickly (and that I seem to have kept it off), I apologize. While I’ve never been overweight (um, aside from, y’know…pregnancy), myself, I’ve fluctuated over time and remember “pudgy” times; I also have some very close friends and family who have struggled with their weight since I can remember, and have always felt deeply for them — and every other woman who deals with this issue. Seriously, I just saw an episode of “Super Fun Night” and, while the star is a great comedienne and deserves a voice for her humor, I found myself growing angrier and angrier that the overweight individual isn’t shown as a NORMAL person in regular (read: non-comedic) positions.

Oops, jumping off the soapbox. Anyhoo, I am genuinely sorry to anyone who may feel uncomfortable (or, perhaps, jealous…hate to use that term), but I thought I’d explain exactly how I inadvertently lost not just the “baby weight”, but that “extra 10” or so that has always followed me around.

#1: Breastfeed, breastfeed, breastfeed. Back when we first had Hadley, between the exhaustion and constancy of parenting a newborn, and the super regular feedings, the weight seemed to literally disappear within a week or so. I was ravenously hungry (because HE was ravenously hungry) and couldn’t seem to get enough calories, no matter how hard I tried. (And, boy, I tried.) So, that was a kickstarter to the whole thing.

Today, we still breastfeed, but we’re tapering off to 2-3 times a day, far far far less in each feeding. I’m getting emotionally used to it. My mother always warned me to expect the weight to come back in full force when this happened, but so far, I think I’ve just adjusted. It is what it is. Of course, I’m not eating as much because my body doesn’t call for as much, but I still eat…like…lots. (Healthy snacks all day sort of stuff.)

#2: That sweet little helpless newborn grew the hell up…seemingly overnight. How doย they DO that?! Anyhoo, with that baby-to-crazy-little-boy growth came running…and getting into EVERYTHING. Which means lots and lots of chasing for Mama (and Papa, who also seems to be whittling down his waist an ounce at a time). Who needs a gym membership?

#3: Did I mention he’s a hungry boy? Hadley’s officially a gourmet connoisseur. This means he not only wants the food he’s getting…he wants what I’m getting, too. Whether I like it or not (hint: I don’t), he’s in the habit of begging for food off of MY plate every time we sit down for a meal. If we eat at the exact same time, SOMETIMES I’m able to get most of my food down my gullet. It never fails, though; his attention diverts to my plate and it’s meltdown city until he has at least a few bites.

And don’t get me started on my ‘nilla ice cream.

#4: Water. I’ve gotten into the habit of consuming tons more water than I used to; I can’t even make it through the night without downing an entire full glass. I do believe that these not only keeps me feeling healthier, but makes me feel a tad fuller when I do sit down to eat. And, for the record, while we do our best to eat “real food” and organic, I doubt it has anything to do with my weight loss; we by no means go without, if ya know what I’m sayin’.

Hopefully this doesn’t come off as sounding rude or even defensive; it’s not meant as such! But, when I hear folks, 15 months after having the baby, sneering “You’re SOOOO skinny!!!” “Megan! You’re TOO skinny.” or any variation regarding having a baby and “tininess” (dude, I ain’t tiny! I’m a tall lady!!), my feathers get a little ruffled. The tone is generally a mixture of disdain and disgust (I kid you not). Most of the time, these folks aren’t my friends, so I try to brush it off, but nary a week goes by that a comparable phrase doesn’t grace my ears.

So, I say, “Sorry.” Really. Maybe we’ll all feel better when baby #2 (SOME DAY!) comes along and I’m unable to bounce back to my pre-baby weight.

Now It’s My Turn to Take a Quiz

To take a break from the plethora of recipe posts I’ve been piling on you folks, I happened upon Honeybee in the City (almost wrote “Honey-Boo-Boo”…which I blame on Sir Paul, not actual viewing of the ridiculousness) and her fun little quiz. So, of course, I thought I’d take it! Nice change of pace.

If you’re a blogger, feel free to copy-and-paste. Oh, and write in the comments that ya did it! I’d love to see your answers…

1. What is the first thing you do when you wake up?

That depends upon which time you’re talking about. The baby wakes up anytime from 3:30am to 5:15am for his first “feeding” of the day (he actually goes back to sleep afterwards). Most of the time, I’m able to get back to sleep at this point, but since I have to grab my phone at that point to set the alarm (I charge it the rest of the night…then Dave’s goes off at 5:30…and mine goes off at 6…then the snooze button ensues), I will *once in a blue moon* check FB. But, most of the time I ogle the comfort that is QVC (or PBS, if something good’s on) until I fall back asleep.

Oh, and I use the bathroom at some point there, if ya must know. ๐Ÿ˜‰


2. What is the 3rd picture on your phone? Share it!ย 

Flooring. Sexy.

3. What TV show are you most excited about returning this Fall?

Eh, maybe just Parks and Rec. Otherwise, I’m excited for some new ones; we can’t believe it! Namely, The Michael J. Fox Show, The Goldbergs (I know! I’m surprised, too!), and a handful more. Oh, and I’m into theย  new “Genealogy Roadshow” idea on PBS, although I’m not sure it’ll last.


4. What is something really popular that you secretly (or not so secretly) loathe?

Probably a lot of things. I’m not really into “current” music (it’s a miracle I could choose any current TV shows, honestly). Maybe just the general infectious entitlement that seems to have society in its clutches…that, I loathe.

I’m sure I’ll come up with something way better in the middle of a deep sleep….


5. Do you have any pets? Tell us about them! Bonus points for pictures.


Jasper


and, last but not least, Winston (aka WeeWee)


All together now…



6. If you could put together one outfit that represents you perfectly, what would it be?

Favorite Outfit



Thar she blows! I’d actually love to find coral flats like that (it’s by far my favorite color right now), but my favorite outfit *that I actually own* is a pair of skinny jeans (I know. I can’t believe I said that, either), a t-shirt or cami, a blazer (this time of year, a corduroy one or a more “professional” suit jacket will do…sleeves pushed up a la Don Johnson…again, can’t believe I just said that), my favorite super-high-but-not-super-tall brown riding boots, and a “statement necklace” of some sort. (Here, I’d do the coral shoes with the navy necklace, brown boots with the coral). Sometimes a scarf (neutral with texture or a not-too-crazy pattern) thrown in on chilly/need a shot in the arm days.

As if I’m into fashion! Psht.

7. What is your favorite adult beverage?

I so infrequently partake these days!!! So…any wine that doesn’t take itself too seriously (sweeter side, please!) or an amaretto sour. Beer, anything off the Ommegang list. But anything, as long as the baby’s down for the night.


8. What is your favorite guilty pleasure?

Dave says I should mention the occasional “19 Kids and Counting” viewing, but that’s like my QVC-watching; it’s really just there to have something “calming” on in the background. Generally, I’d say a handful of classic films that I watch again and again, and magazines that don’t make me think too awful much.


9. What are 3 positive words to describe you?

Intelligent, silly (I also take that as meaning “funny”), creative. Again, thanks for the help, Dave!


10. What is your favorite Friday afternoon/evening activity?

Not showering. Seriously, I usually shower every afternoon/evening when I get home only to find myself on a dead run to get dinner and everything else underway before the boys get home. Fridays, I tend to say, “Screw it, I’ll shower tomorrow morning like everyone else” and get a few extra moments to breathe, reflect on the past week, and do some cleaning so that I REALLY look forward to getting up (eventually) in the morning.


11. A day in the life: What does you typical day look like?

After the whole BFing wicked early thing, I finally get up a little after 6 to help get lunches together, the baby ready, and the boys out the door. I then get myself ready, grab breakfast, and eat it while doing my daily phone call with Mom. I head into work shortly after 8 (we’re technically supposed to be there at 8:30), then the day’s schedule depends on what day on our 6-day cycle it happens to be. Some are crazy busy and I have a hard time sitting down for a lunch while others allow me a “break” here and there to eat and shelve books and catch up on inter-library loans.

School’s over at 3:30, but like most of my colleagues, I stay until after 4. I generally get home between 4 and 4:45, feed the cats their snack, pump, shower, work on laundry, and get dinner underway.

The boys get home anytime after 5:30, at which time we play, have dinner (while a) listening to an old radio show or Pandora station, b) watching Wheel and Jeopardy, or c) just talking). Then, it’s Hadley’s kitchen sink bath time (still), followed by crawling up the stairs to hear our stories at 8 or so. He’s usually down by 8:30 or so, at which time Dave and I work on our own projects or catch up on stuff. We hit the sack around…eh, 10:30 if we’re lucky. Needless to say, it’s getting to feel later and later, LOL.


12. If you could live anywhere else in the world, where would it be?

England…or Canada…or Ireland. Y’know. England or some place that has been under its rule. (Although France and the Netherlands are up my alley, philosophically.) Stateside, some place like VT or western Mass.


13. You’ve got a whole day to yourself…what will you do?

Depends on what work I have to do!!! If nothing, there will be a constant stream of old movies on in the background (unless I decide to actually GO do something…ha, no) while I work on several writing projects. Wow, that sounds so boring.


14. Dream job?

Writing. Or acting. Or singing. Or puppy hugging. But something that Hadley could tag along for would be sweet.


15. Least favorite chore?

Hmm…I don’t LOVE many chores, but I guess there’s nothing so bad I won’t do it. Maybe…oh, yes, garbage. Dave’s my garbage man, and I love him for it.


16. When do you most feel like a rock star?

When all the books on the library cart are re-shelved. Or when Hadley sleeps the whole night through. Or when I wake up thinking, “Aw, crap, it’s Sunday” only to realize…yep…it’s totally Saturday.


17. What is something you are currently trying to improve within yourself?

Finishing what I start, allowing myself more time for creative projects (tough one) and not beating myself up quite as much.

I’m a Ham

Yes, yes. We all know I’m a bit of a ham — at least when I get on stage. Probably the reason Dave and I work well together. I don’t think I know anyone else who commands a stage (at times while admittedly overacting) quite like he does. His special talent, though, is for people to fully realize that he’s hamming it up — but to enjoy it and fall in love with him, regardless. Now, THAT’S talent, people.

But, I digress. This post isn’t really about how hammy we (and, so it seems, our son is). It’s actually about a ham dinner I made recently.

(crickets chirping)

Yeah, it doesn’t get much lamer than that. (And, yeah, it’s another “recipe” post. Neener neener. ;-)) But for those of you who wonder what our meals look like — you know, the GOOD, I had a little time and energy to put into them meals vs. the after-school-meal-grind meals — here’s an example.

We’re still doing pretty well with the weekday vegetarian thing, although we don’t beat ourselves up if we end up taking a turkey sandwich (because it’s all we have in the house for the “main”) for lunch or have the occasion meat-inclusive dinner on a random Tuesday. All things in moderation, people, especially moderation. ๐Ÿ˜‰ But, yeah, for us, we’re doing pretty well with it.

However, this particular meal was made on a Saturday, so I felt I had a “Get Out of Jail Free” card. I had also thawed a pound of ground beef (grassfed, local) and a thicker-than-I-realized ham steak (also grassfed, local), so no matter what, meat was on the menu. (Needless to say, the beef was used that Sunday.)

All I had to do for the ham was heat it up (in this case using a grill pan) and maybe throw on a maple mustard glaze; quick and easy. It took far more time to prepare the sides, truth be told. You don’t need much direction on the rice — it was just regular, long-grain (non-instant) rice which we cooked while the broccoli was roasting. I’m trying to retrain my patience since I haven’t found any organic instant rice. ANYhoo…


Roasted Broccoli with Garlic

2 heads of broccoli (or 1 large head of broccoli) {side note: ours was organic}
2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
Drizzle of olive oil
Zest of 1 lemon, juice of 1/2 – 1 lemon (depending on your taste)
S&P
Sprinkle or two of red pepper chili flakes (optional)

Heat oven to 425 degrees F.

Cut the broccoli to uniform sizes (as close as you can; don’t obsess) and place on baking sheet. Add the garlic, olive oil, lemon, and salt & pepper and toss well.

Roast in oven for ~20 minutes. (The garlic may brown quite a bit; that’s okay.) Taste and season with more S&P if needed, and add some chili flakes, if using. (We didn’t because any vegetables I make these days go into the baby’s mouth — a good thing — and I’d rather not pain him. ;-)) This is also yummy with some Parmesan cheese.

Maple Glazed Ham Steak

1 ham steak (size doesn’t really matter; make more of the glaze if you need, make less if you don’t seem to need it; cooking’s an art, not a science)
2 – 4 Tbsp. REAL maple syrup (not the “pancake syrup” stuff, please, for the love of God!!!)
1 – 3 tsp. dijon mustard
1/2 – 1 tsp. brown sugar (if you have it on hand; I didn’t and it was still fine)
Sprinkle or two each of ground clove and nutmeg

Heat your pan (grill or regular) to medium high. Prepare glaze using all the ingredients but the ham. You can either glaze the ham prior to cooking or while cooking (glazing both sides after each is cooked; this creates less burning and more “glazey” flavor than “hammy” flavor).

Either way, since this is a ham steak, you really only want to put a little color on the meat and heat it through (it’s already cooked, yay!), so use your judgement. It may need 4 minutes on each side…it may need 6 on the first and less on the second…or five on each. Just be sure to keep an eye on it that the glaze doesn’t burn (turn to medium if you’re worried about this happening).

* I also did a teensy drizzle of maple syrup over my rice and ham when finished. As Ado Annie says, I CAN’T SAY NO!

So, there you have it. One example of a Saturday evening meal in the ol’ hammed-up household. I try to keep it simple these days (since the moment the lil’ guy sees me cooking, he starts whining and fussing — he wants food, and he wants it IMMEDIATELY. We’re lucky to have such a great eater, but…), and it’s the little things — Dave loves (…wait for it…) rice. Rice with a meal (or, yes, even AS a meal) and salads, his two favorite things. Well, and maybe a wife who makes them for him without having to ask.

Easy Arse Broth

Yes, another food post! No, I’m not apologizing! ๐Ÿ˜‰ I’m sure you’ll get a slew of DIY or Mommy or budget or cat posts at some point soon, so it is what it is.

It also must mean that, although our weather is teetering on warm/unseasonable, I’m ready to jump headlong into autumn (and start thinking about Christmas…which, admittedly, I should’ve probably done several months ago). We even went on our first-ever apple picking family adventure today — none of us had gone before! If only Hadley had more than two-and-a-half teeth, he would’ve eaten his weight in apples rather than sucking and piercing them with his little chompers.

So, here’s a little non-recipe that only takes a little time and thought in advance, a tiny bit of prep, and some freezer space. SO EASY!!!

Homemade Vegetable Stock

– Plastic freezer bag full o’ veggie cuttings (ANYTHING; we had everything from celery to carrot ends to onion peelings to part of a garlic bulb that I roasted, asparagus ends, and I can’t count how many broccoli stems — but, literally, you can use anything as long as you have a good array)
– Water to cover the veggies+
– Salt (optional; I didn’t use any)
– Bay leaf (optional; I forgot to throw it in, so I’ll just use one if I make soup with this)

Every time you find yourself chopping some vegetables for salad (or anything else), put the (clean) trimmings into a freezer bag; I keep one just for this purpose. Once it’s full enough, fill your pot about 2/3 full with your veggies (throw the rest back in the freezer; I had to do this), then pour in enough water to cover it and then some. Bring this to a boil, then turn down to a simmer and allow to cook as long as you can, at least an hour. The longer it cooks, the more the vegetables are able to infuse the water with their yumminess. Seriously, Dave wouldn’t shut up about how awesome the house smelled. With just veg water? Yep. ‘Twas awesome.



Allow to cool a bit and strain the contents. Again, allow to cool further (to room temperature) before putting in containers to store. In this case, I froze the larger amounts and threw the smaller jars in the fridge to use when I make rice and sauces.

All in all, I made about 10 cups of stock. Oh, and when we buy stock/broth, we get low sodium to control what our intake is, which is why we didn’t use salt. Also, stock is technically unseasoned and ready for use in whatever you want (while broth is seasoned and yummy on its own), so it’s all in what you do with it that makes it SO GOOD!

All it took was some time (although it cooked while I was going about my normal what-not) and zero dollars. Win-win!

What would you use this stock for? A good, ol’ traditional soup? Or something more exotic? Share, share!