Another Use for Pizza Dough

Happy Halloween, guys! On crazy nights like tonight, I tend to throw together something super quick. Sometimes pasta, sometimes soul and a sandwich, but most of the time pizza. I love pizza. It’s seriously, like, my favorite. If Dave could have one food for the rest of his life, it’d be salad. (I’m not kidding.) Me? Pretty sure it’d be pizza.

Last week, I had these two whole wheat pizza doughs getting closer and closer to their “probably should just throw those out” dates in the freezer. And it got my gears going. What to do with them…other than pizza?

So, today’s recipe is relatively simple. Honestly, it’s as easy as you want to make it, or as complicated as you want. You can cook intricate stuff up to add as fillers, or you can just toss in some sauce and cheese and call it a day. You can take my tip to make your own garlic butter or just drizzle some EVOO on top. No big.

Oh, and I used one pizza dough for each recipe — got four “calzones” (I’m not Italian, but Dave kept calling them calzones, so I’m going with that as a name) of the “pizza” kind and four “calzones” of the broccoli kind. They’re more filling than you may think, so I ended up freezing a few for future lunches. Oh, and feel free to cut the pizza into 6 or even 8 pieces; just cook for less time (until browned on top). If you want huge ones, to two, but they’ll probably cook closer to 20-25 minutes.

I’ve gotta say that the broccoli/ham/cheese one was insanely tasty. The pizza one was good, too, of course…but, yeah. Broccoli FTW! Who knew?

{If you need to see the recipe better, click on it. It’ll open up much larger.}

Have fun out there and be safe tonight! ๐Ÿ™‚ My favorite part is after the ghosts and goblins have headed home for the night. We’ll most likely be popping some popcorn, pouring some cider, and watching some Charlie Brown. Loving that it’s on Friday this year!

Our Lil’ Pumpkins

I wanted to fit this post in before Halloween, but because I’ve got tons of posts piled up, it gets its own day! Hurrah!

Pumpkin time! Dave‘s gonna get into the pumpkin carving and everything, so I figured I’d just share a few pictures and chat more about the painting. Yep, we did one large “family” pumpkin to carve (we asked Hadley what kind of jack-o’-lantern he wanted {a HAPPY one!} and what shapes he wanted for the eyes and nose, and whether he wanted it to have teeth, etc) AND took three mini “pie” pumpkins to the next level with some paint.

Just ’cause. Plus, he’s never painted, so I figured it was time. (I know, I’m hanging my mommy blogger head right now. He had never touched paint!)

So, here are a few action shots of the pumpkin carving planning, reaction and the spooky fun effect…

Awesome, right? He picked the shapes (hence the animated picture of him with “round eyes, Mama!”). After staring at it for a few minutes, it starts to look like a Sesame Street Muppet. Totally appropriate.

Anyhoo, on to the messy stuff!!!

So, adorned in Daddy’s old t-shirt, we plopped him into his “high chair” (the SpaceSaver kind), handed him a pumpkin and a brush and he went to town. Pretty much. I mean, I asked him what colors he’d like (purple and red for one, blue and green for another, and he was mute about the last choice, so we rounded it out with orange and yellow), loaded up the brush for him, and he much more enjoyed painting his hands than the pumpkin. But, then he’d massage the heck out of the pumpkin, so they each ended up with some amount of color.

I also gave him a piece of paper at the end to continue practicing his new-found artistic skills.

One of my favorite things about the painted pumpkins is that they add a nifty bit of color to the stoop — AND they totally go with our new welcome mat. Hooray for happy accidents! I even got a teal pumpkin out of the deal! Plus, they make me grin when I see them. So cheery. So Hadley.

I ended up spraying them with several coats of a satin sealer since this type of paint tends to come off in the rain.ย  Oh, and you know I totally whisked him away to the bathtub immediately (Dave had it ready to go for us). It was hardly a mess at all, which makes me think we can do something like this more often. Probably for the next big holiday. TURKEYS!!!

To Pinterest I go…

Anyhoo, here’s the final cheery product…

In the interest of full disclosure, our carved pumpkin bit the big one within a day of this picture. I think the humidity (and the fact that the pumpkin was a couple weeks old) meant its days were numbered. Oh, well. We had the fun experience and at least Daddy got a great picture for the ol’ memory file. Now I’m REALLY glad we painted a few little ones!

4 Simple Fall Decor Ideas

I recently shared a teensy decor switcheroo to help autumn-ify the living room a bit. Since I finally had a nice day to take pictures, I thought I’d share a handful of the other super simple add-ins I used for this year’s fall decorating.

I’m not a big “spiders and skeletons” person. I’ve seen some awesome spookifications going on in the blogosphere, but this year I’m keeping it simple, stupid. Er. You’re not stupid. I’m keeping it stupid simple. Better? ๐Ÿ™‚

While giving you guys a quick tour of our living room/dining room (I pretty much decorated the entry way from the living room into the dining room, so it hits the main living areas), I’ll give a few SUPER simple tips on bringing a little autumn inside.

This year, I took my hints from nature. The first way? Bringing in some nature, of course! See those twigs adorned with dried leaves? Free, from our backyard. Instant pops of rust, orange and yellow. You’ll also notice gourds and mini pumpkins placed throughout, along with some individual leaves strewn strategically. ย 

(Pay no attention to the hideous rug.)

This pretty lady has hung in this spot for years. I just can’t bring myself to switch her up. Her neutral colors and gorgeous frame, rocking sense of style, and clear adoration for books has made her a kindred spirit. So, she stays. Plus, she really fits any season or holiday, doesn’t she? I say yes.

That said, a tip here is to use stuff you LOVE. What else do we love? Stacks of books and magazines. I also love sneaking in an old script. ๐Ÿ˜‰ย 

Going hand-in-hand with my girlfriend up there and bringing in some nature, I love using neutrals and various textures. Hence the super easy-to-make twine and linen bunting (seriously, F-R-E-E), small dollar store wreath on the window, bundle of sticks on the sidebar, and various rattan balls (I got them on clearance at Pier 1 awhile back, wish I remembered how much they were…maybe $2 each? And you know I’ll use the crap out of them). And my favorite thing during fall is white pumpkins.

Plus, what’s more fun than buntings? I think nothing. When I first hung them, Hadley assumed every day was now his birthday.

Oh, yeah. More nature. A huge vase filled with apples. Had to keep it simple since the little guy uses the dining room table for tons of pretend play.ย 

If you’re having a hard time freshening up your surroundings (believe me, I’m with ya), try the new-ish chalkboard trend. Think it’s too hard to find one? Too expensive? Nope. The one we have in the living room was Dave’s as a kid (free) and this small one (that reminds me of an old school tablet, which I’m searching for while antiquing) was a dollar store find. Yup, it was a BUCK. Can you believe that?!

And don’t worry about your artwork. You get graded on effort, not perfection. ๐Ÿ˜‰ My favorite part of this trend is how interchangeable it is. Come Thanksgiving, this witch’s hat will probably be a turkey or a Pilgrim’s hat; come Christmas, who knows? Stocking? Elf? A snowflake? Endless options, really.

On a final irrelevant note, we may not have a black cat, but we’ve got a drama queen king gray one. He’s pretty intense. Does that count?

It just occurred to me that all these tips could also be eco-decor tips, too. Awesome!

‘Tis the Season

Yes, I know Halloween hasn’t even struck yet, but last week, I received my first email from, hailing the coming season of savings (and buying, buying, buying). I’ve mentioned before that my sister and I often partake in the day-after-Thanksgiving festivities, yes, for the deals, but as a weird way to celebrate the season and spend some special time together. It’s a thing. (Dude, I even wrote a guide for it last year.)

As with last year, though, I fully plan on taking advantage of the wonder that is the interwebs. Online shopping is as much a tradition for me as Black Friday is. I rely on it to find the obscure books that Dave loves (thanks, Amazon!), to grab handmade and eco-friendly goodies from Etsy, and, just as importantly, stay in my sweats while doing so. Gotta say, it’s a lifesaver for moms (and dads, too…okay, everyone).

Oh, yeah, I’m also expecting to simplify big-time, including focusing on buying (and asking for) items I NEED and would really, really like to have. But that’s a whole other topic for a whole different day.

So, recently I decided to check out Now, I have absolutely no affiliation with this site. Oh, wait, unless you decide to check it out. If you sign up through this link, I can earn some moolah (to put into Christmas shopping — thanks!). But, yeah, otherwise, I’m not being perked to write about these guys. They don’t know who the heck I am. I’ve just looked into their program and can’t seem to find any “sounds too good to be true…what am I missing here?” proof not to tout its awesomeness.

Anyhoo, the idea of the site is this: If you go through their web site first and click on your favorite stores (and they’ve got TONS of stores, guys) instead of just going to, say, in your address bar, you can earn back money. Oh, you can also install a little button so that when you visit a site on your usual browser that can earn you money back, it lets you know immediately (but not in an obnoxious way). Genius.

And, of course you don’t have to pay a thing to take part. Think I’d sign up for something like that? No way.

I like that I don’t really have to “think” too much to earn money back while doing my shopping this year. I can just buy the things I usually buy from the places I’d usually buy them (I kid you not, they have a buttload of stores!). Even when I’m saving up to buy a big purchase through Amazon or Overstock, I’ll just buy what I want, when I want it (sometimes they only offer cash back on certain departments, so keep an eye on that). It kind of shaves off a bit of the guilt of spending, too.

If you don’t care where you find something, as long as it’s inexpensive, you can also search to see the best deal (with cash back, dude) according to some sites you may never have heard of. They all seem to be highly reliable, well-known sites, so I’ll be heading here to compare prices on other searches before hitting the “submit” button on some of those purchases.

Do any of you use Do you have another time-saving (and/or money-saving) holiday gift ideas? Do tell!

The Ol’ Autumn Switch

Even I’m kind of surprised at how behind I am with my autumn decorating this year. It’s not like I go all-out crazy with this stuff (and I probably won’t this year, especially), but I do like to add touches here and there of the season. This is especially true when it’s autumn, which is not only my favorite season, but the Dorky Daddy‘s, as well. Craziness.

So, on a recent humid-yet-insanely-torrential afternoon, I sat down to sketch. One thing led to another, and I didn’t hate what I created. Not perfect, but who really cares?

I used some day-glow colored pencils because clearly I’m hip like that. I mean, just check out my iPhone picture. Crooked ‘n everythin’.

So, I decided to hunt for a place to sneak it. And, of course, it only worked on my living room wall (last seen, I believe, during Christmas). While I was at it, I switched out a piece or two and rearranged until I got this…

Yup, another insanely beautiful iPhone pic. Drives me nuts, too.

Since I’m lazy, I also like to use art that can kinda double for…say…a couple of months. So, you’d better know that pumpkin art will be there until the cows come home. Or Christmastime. Yeah. Probably Christmas.

I hope to return with a few more shots of autumny goodness. It’s an interesting challenge to try to add touches of beauty in the midst of toddler mayhem. Like, there’s no way I can really do much with the dining room table. It’s his “cooking” spot. But, I do have a few spots he can’t reach, so I’ll have to live it up in those spaces while I can.

What about you? Do you do fall or Halloween decorating? Do you go literal (black cats, witches, zombies) or more “figurative”? I’m hoping to go with the less in-your-face, especially using what I’ve got laying around. Fingers crossed!

Teal Pumpkins and Losing the Candy

With just over a week left before Halloween, I’m scurrying around trying to get ready. Our pumpkins aren’t carved/painted, Hadley’s costume needs assembling (and altering!), and we haven’t bought our treats to dole out yet. Considering he’s only two and this isn’t the big day that it is for the older kids, I have to laugh at myself a bit. Okay, a lot.

So, if you’re a buddy on Facebook, you’ll remember that I shared a post about the Teal Pumpkin Project. That link will give you the low-down, but in essence it’s an idea for folks to hand out either allergen-free treats (um, near impossible to find, honestly) or non-food goodies and display a teal pumpkin. This way, kids with severe allergies (or diabetes, for that matter) will know that it’s a safe house to trick-or-treat at. (The backlash to this, IMO, is I-N-S-A-N-I-T-Y!) Plus, who doesn’t love teal?

Originally, I thought that it was an awesome idea, but that we’d buy crappy candy just like usual. Heck, that might still happen, but the more I thought…and thought…and thought…the more I loved the idea. So, it’s late in the game, and I find myself scouring the internet for goodies that will a) not break the bank, b) get here by Halloween, and c) not get our house egged.

‘Cause we all know that’s what we’re worried about with this thing. Not the raised eyebrows from parents. Nope. TP and soap and eggs EVERYWHERE. (We’re also concerned with cat-related crimes, but that’s a whole other topic for a whole other day.)

So, today I give you…

Yup! Now, I’m on the “I hate extra crap around our house” bandwagon as much as the next SIMPLIFY-SIMPLIFY-SIMPLIFY mama, but if we want to take part in the fun of Halloween (without turning off the lights and hunkering down like criminals on the lam; been there, done that, and it sucks), I’d like to do so with stuff that hopefully won’t end up in a trash bin at the end of the night.

So, through years of watching kids either turn their noses up at or turn into immediate Jell-o mounds shouting, “That is soooo cooooool!!!” over the cheap birthday stuff I keep in a bin at school, I provide a list of what works. Seriously. This. Stuff. Works.

The stuff I’m sharing today can be found at Oriental Trading, but you can also try Amazon, Party Zone, or even your local dollar store (although it’s cheaper to buy stuff in bulk).

Fake Lizards/Snakes – They may not wear white lab coats everyday, but kids are nothing if not scientists. Inquisitive, interested, and not easily grossed out, girls and boys alike can get behind finding a fake snake in their bags. Oh, and scaring their siblings with it, of course.

This assorted bag will last forever.
You may be able to hand them out next year, too!

Snakes for scaring little sisters (and maybe a mom or two).
Or combine some of these ideas for a winning combo:

Sticky Lizards?

Glow-in-the-Dark Anything – Not only is this idea an automatic “aw, cool!” for the kids, but it adds an extra element of protection and safety to the night. Who can’t get behind that?

Fake Tattoos – As the unproud owner of not one but two tattoos, these drive me nuts. But, me knows what the kids likey, and temp tats are it. (Sigh.)
ย  Seriously. Any of these assortments will do.

No Stickers – Unless they’re a mustache. (Note: Same rule applies to pencils.)ย Make it a glow-in-the-dark one and rule the night.

Spider Rings
– Okay, okay. This is actually one I remember quite well from my youth. Can’t you still feel how cheap and scratchy those little spider legs felt on your fingers? Every kid needs that in his/her life.

Sticky Stuff – Remember the sticky stuff you could get for 25 cents that would climb the wall or that you could whack your annoying sibling with? Yeah. It’s still tops, and with good reason.

Not Your Mama’s Rubber Duckies – Duckies can definitely be on the lame side (don’t tell Ernie, that’s usually Bert’s schtick), but toss on some zombie makeup or a mummy wrap and they’re downright cool.

Witches and Vampires and Ducks, Oh My!
(These are cute enough to hand out to the really little trick-or-treaters.)

A New “Disguise” – It’s weird because they’re already dressed in Halloween costumes, but kids are not averse to adding on to the affect. Those parents who put good time (and money) into creating the perfect Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle might be dismayed, but kids are totally fine sticking on glasses with a funny nose.

Anything with Bugged-Out Eyes – At our annual book fair, the crap wonderful merchandise often includes stuff you can squeeze or bend or sniff or…whatever. It never fails, though. Anything that’s squeezable with pop-out eyes is a popular go-to. So, I suggest these zombies.ย 

Comics – I don’t have a link for this one, just a husband. Dave stocks up on the super cheap comics over the year, usually in two stacks by age appropriateness (younger and older). I think he usually offers candy or the comic, but I don’t believe he’s super strict about it. It’s to the point where we have kids who see him and say, “Oh! I remember this house! Comics!” He’s even had parents say, “Hey, can I get one of those?” (My favorite, LOL.)

Which goes to show you right there – is the choice not to hand out candy so sacrilegious? The point of the night is fun, no matter what form it takes. ย 

The Love Triangle of Luis, Maria and David

We’ve been watching a tonload of old Sesame Street episodes lately. When I say “old,” I mean OLD. Like, 1970s and early ’80s old. And we love them.

Hadley sings the theme song (has yet to say the words “Sesame Street” although he knows ALL the characters, most of the humans included) to let us know he’d like to watch. So, since Netflix took the newer episodes off, we pull up some that we’ve saved…ahem…I won’t say how. ๐Ÿ˜‰ I kinda love that it’s not Elmo and Abby Cadabby-centric. No offense to them, but it’s more watchable this way.

When Hadley watches, enthralled, it’s neat to see it through his eyes; he’s a first-time watcher. For Dave and I, it’s complete nostalgia (and you know how we feel about nostalgia). I’ll shout out, “Ohh! This was my favorite song!!” or Dave will exclaim, “I remember this one!” It’s fun, even if there’s the occasional, “Wow, was that appropriate for us to watch as kids?” moments. The new DVD versions of these shows actually have a warning in them, that they’re not up to today’s standards and shouldn’t be used as a learning tool today…but, seriously, I wouldn’t have known my alphabet, numbers (in English and Spanish), and been able to skip our equivalent of pre-K if not for an incredible babysitter and “Sesame Street.” I’m fine with him watching it.

As adults watching, though, we start to look into things more. This show’s been on SO long, and we may not have realized it as kids, but there are full-on storylines that are subtly strung throughout the years. Dave even read a behind-the-scenes book about the goings-on, then to now, at the Children’s Television Workshop. It’s neat stuff. And, in a weird way, the more we watch it, the more we see a quiet little soap opera of adult levels developing.

Relationship triangles were a thing. Maria and David were an item from the time that he started in 1971. By 1988, David was on his way out (depending on what you read, he was suffering from stomach cancer, or, according to insiders, severe mental illness and possible drug abuse, dying months after he left the show) and Maria was suddenly in love with the kinder, gentler Luis. I think Dave and I kind of laugh at the push-over that Luis seems to be, but in real life I would imagine that Maria and David’s high-strung, LOUD personalities would probably create for a volatile relationship.

Don’tchya think? Either way, the inter-racial relationship was HUGE for its day, so it’s fun to see a kids’ show, of all things, breaking down these huge barriers. (If it had been a relationship between an African American individual and a white person, though, I’m not sure it would’ve gone over as well.)

Bob and Linda are one of our favorite couples (and characters, separately), but why didn’t they get married? And seeing the ever-patient Bob we think of today losing his $%#& when Gordon suggested changing Woof-Woof’s name to the pup we all know and love, Barkley? He’s still my favorite, but I never thought he raised his voice. Ever! And his reactions to the never-seen-by-adults Snuffleupagus (see? Things WERE different) were downright snarky. Kinda humorous to see, but still.

Oh, and speaking of Snuffy, Dave looked into it and discovered the reason that they finally revealed Snuffy to the adults. Apparently with a rise in child abuse cases, the idea that a child (in this case, Big Bird) telling adults about something important and having the adults blow him off and not believe him sent the wrong message. What a sad thing to think about, but I’m glad that Sesame Street has remained sensitive to the voices of children and is willing to make changes for the better. (Still waiting for a gay character, though. Well. Openly gay. Has that happened yet?)

My favorite part, however, of the entire series has a very personal connection. Dave hasn’t found the episode yet, and I’m not really sure I want him to, but it was when Mr. Hooper died. They re-aired the episode throughout the years (it aired originally in 1983, after the actor who played him actually passed), and I was incredibly lucky that it aired about a month or two after my father passed away in 1986.

I was four, laying on my stomach at my babysitter’s house, as Big Bird came to grips with the loss of his dear friend. Suddenly, all of the emotions I had witnessed and thoughts that hadn’t quite sunk into my little brain made sense. Simultaneously, I was hit with a ton of bricks yet comforted by the knowledge of it all. Finally understanding. All of the puzzle pieces fit, although the puzzle was still very much fractured.

I floated out to the kitchen where our super strict sitter was making lunches, and as she sternly turned around to me, with the confidence of an adult, I asked if my daddy had got into heaven. She was a close, close friend of the family and loved my father, too, so she broke down and grabbed me with the tenderest of hugs. She said yes, and that he loved me very much. I simply nodded, with tears streaming down my face, and rejoined my friends watching the show.

It was an integral moment of my life. I still am not resigned to the idea of heaven, or what happens post-death, but the understanding of the “forever separation” that is death and the fact that it doesn’t diminish the experiences and feelings you shared with the person before the loss was, simply, profound.

Thanks, Big Bird. I’ll never forget that.

On that sullen note, did “Sesame Street” have an impact on your life? Do you have any favorite moments, simple or funny or profound or educational, you’d like to share? Or were you more of an “Electric Company” kid?

So Fresh and So Clean Clean

I’m sure there are about eleventy billion blog posts with that title since, say, 2001. Make this eleventy billion…and one. ๐Ÿ˜‰

So, anyhoo, cleaning sucks. The only person I can remember encountering who LOVED cleaning was…hmm…Danny Tanner. And he was fictional. Highly doubt Bob Saget’s even remotely like that in real life.

So, while my house is far from perfect, I thought I’d share a handful of simple tips that I use to keep the Monster of Filth from overtaking our lives. They definitely also act as a stress reliever, believe it or not.

Invite someone over every two weeks. (Or at least pretend like someone might stop by at some point.) You know that one big whirlwind clean that you do when company’s coming? The one that feels a bit like a workout? Y’know, before your MIL (or, in my case, mother) drops by? This is it.

Do it, then do it again in two weeks (one week if you can; my average is two, and there’s nothing wrong with that). You’ll notice that it won’t be as huge of a challenge when you do some of the other tips below; it’ll get easier as you go.

Plus, it feels nice to sit back and enjoy the cleanliness (and friendship, of course) at the start of a weekend, which is usually when we have folks over. (I clearly don’t subscribe to the “you’re my friend, I don’t have to clean before you come over” theory. I will, at the very least, pick up and vacuum for you. It’s the least I can do!) Even with a newborn in the mix, I try to hit the priority areas: bathroom surfaces/potty and main living areas.

Slow and steady wins the race. It sounds contradictory to the last point, but after that one big cleanfest, pick out the chores that you need to complete more regularly. Then assign them a frequency: daily, a couple of times a week, weekly, and monthly.

Maybe you need to dust and vacuum more often (vacuuming is a common thing for us with a toddler dropping food and playing on the floor where cats may be traipsing litter). Maybe your bathroom can use a quick once-over weekly, as well as your floors. Stretch these jobs out over the course of a week. Scrub the toilet and wipe down of all bathroom surfaces Monday, vacuum Tuesday, sweep and mop Wednesday, etc. Then when it’s time for your “company clean,” you’ll only have some of the deep-cleaning stuff to do.

Do something everyday. I’m not talking about the fact that my grandmother mopped her floors daily. (True story!) I’m saying that you can pick from that list and, depending on your mood and energy level that day, do ONE thing.

Mind you, this could include smaller, regular stuff like putting dishes away or folding a load of laundry all the way up to Old Englishing (totally a word) the woodwork or touch-up painting. Simple and small or big project, it all counts. This is essential to remind myself when the newborn exhaustion hits – do only what you can do, even if it’s one small task. Which leads me to…

Get into the habit of picking up. Every night when our older child’s in bed, we attack the main living area. Some days he hardly touches the toys, but most days (and especially on weekends, during the summer, or lately with Mommy on maternity leave), the place looks like a tornado hit. And don’t get me started on the holiday toys that have exploded into every nook and cranny of our lives.

So, we try to pick up. Our stuff, his stuff, whatever we can do. It really only takes about five minutes, depending on the day’s activities, and it makes a huge difference when we come down the stairs, bleary-eyed, the next morning to a relatively neat house. We’ll also do all the dishes in the sink and make sure there’s a load in the wash. Don’t get me started on cat toys, though. Those, I like to leave out for our boys’ mental stimulation, so I really only pick them up if company’s coming. Is that weird?
Find what works forย you and stick with it. Some people prefer doing all the dusting in their entire house at one time, then doing another chore the next day. Others like getting one room done at a time, even if it involves dragging out the vacuum and all the supplies needed to clean it each day for each room. I usually do it the first way, but I can swing both ways. I’m hip like that.
And there’s no right or wrong way. Seriously, whatever you’re comfortable with, just do it. It’s kind of like how I budget. I know it’s not the way a lot of people would be comfortable handling money, but it works for me.
So, what’re your cleaning tips? Do you have any goals you’d like to make publicly to clean something more or in a more efficient way? Go ahead! We won’t make fun of you if it doesn’t happen. Promise!ย {Or feel free to share your least favorite chore!}

Finally Getting My $#@& Together

We all know I’ve talked about finances here. Like, a lot. The last time I brought it up was in a “new school year goals” post here. Been doing okay with most of that stuff, but finances? Nerp.ย 

For some weird reason beyond my realm of thinking, I can’t figure out why it’s been such a challenge for me. I helped Dave get his finances into at least a reasonable schedule when we were first dating, and he has since grabbed the bull by the horns and whipped his finances into such great shape, I’m so amazed and proud of him. So, the fact that I couldn’t kick-start myself disappoints me. And the more we disappoint ourselves, the more we’re down on ourselves and can’t find the motivation to fix the problem, am I right?

Hmm. Guess I answered my question right there. That’s why I’ve been stuck.

So, anyhoo, I’ve been a complete non-budgeter. If I tried writing down every purchase, it only stuck for, like, a week…tops. Much like dieting, I’m not a great “do it all at once, take all the joy of life away” person. Nope. Don’t work that way. Plus, the whole “write down every single purchase” thing? Not me. At least I know myself, right?

Since we know that doesn’t work, that’s not what we’ve done. Instead, in a strange role reversal that he’s had great joy doing (I felt the same way when I helped him; we like getting each other on track and comfortable rather than overwhelmed! It’s what we do), I printed off my checking transactions for the past couple of months, jotted down what each item was (some were obvious, others not s’much), and handed them over to Dave.

He made note of the main monthly bills that have a set date (mortgage, car, car insurance, washer/dryer payment, etc), the “important” necessities which may have more variable dates/amounts (groceries and gas), then determined what was left and where my moolah was going.

Allowing about $60 a month to be taken out in cash ($30 every paycheck) means that I can buy what I like, no questions asked, makes it feel a little less bare-bones and a little roomier. We also figure we’ll each pay for a meal out once a month. I requested this mostly because cooking, day in and day out, can be a pain, so it’s nice to be treated — even if just to a pizza — now and then. Not weekly. Not daily. But occasionally.

I’m also going to start taking out $200 every two weeks specifically for groceries and see how we do. This is the hardest part, for sure. Budgeting my food spending is the biggest, most stressful area because I know what we eat and we’ve pretty much pared it down to getting just what we need…which comes in nowhere near $100 a week. But, I hope to get creative, use what we have in our freezer/cupboards and hopefully will be able to stretch it. Aldi will also help tremendously with this.ย 

So, other than that, we’re putting an allotted amount into my savings (which has depleted) and my Christmas club (‘cuz it’d be nice not to have a tough time getting through the holiday seasons this year). While I’m not going to be religiously checking my checking (ha!) everyday like Dave does, I’ll be doing it ever couple of days and looking at the “calendar” to determine what’s coming out and when. Oh, and I’m filling out a form to take to my bank to change the date of my car payment so that my two big payments are spread throughout the month more.

Exciting stuff today, folks. Ex-citing, I tell ya. But, it’s nice to at least get my $%&@ together enough that I know where every cent goes — and where it’s allowed to go.

So, what about you guys? How do you budget? Do you write every expense and check the math? Or are you a bare minimum type like me?

Why NYS is the Best Place for Fall Living

Happy Columbus Day! If you’re looking for something to do today, this post is for you! I’ve mentioned some of the stuff I can’t WAIT to do this fall with the fam. Some of them were great “general” ideas that anyone can do anywhere. Others are totally area specific. So, I thought I’d share some of my favorite Upstate/Central New York autumn must-do’s.

Side note: Upstate? It ain’t Westchester. Just sayin’. Just try ‘n fight me on this one.

I’m a fan of lots of places. We’ve got BFFs in Western Mass, and love visiting the place; there’s SO much to do! We hit up Vermont practically every fall. I’ve enjoyed visiting Maine and Pennsylvania and tons of other New Englandy-type places over the years. I even sway city-lover, thanks to Boston, NYC & Philly (hard to pick a favorite…).

So, what’s so great about NYS/CNY?

Strangely, there are points that Dave and I are sick of the place. Our opinions have bounced around about where to live, and we’ve considered relocating, but the ultimate fact still remains: Family is #1 to both of us, followed closely by those rare lifelong friends (the ones we can easily visit or who have decided to move back “home”). So, this is where our hearts remain.

So, we know the bad (depressing) facts of “here.” But, because of our lifelong experiences, we also can recognize the awesomeness. In the fall, the place is freaking BRIMMING with it.

Leaf peeping at its finest. You can say yours is the best, but seriously…ours is. ๐Ÿ˜‰ If it’s early in the season, pack the car and head up north to the Adirondacks (stop for a bite to eat in Old Forge, or one of the “rustic” diners hidden in the deep woods). If it’s mid-season, hit anywhere south of the Adirondacks. Seriously, throw a dart and go there. Just check out this map first.ย  ย 

The food be kicking. (<– Clear evidence that I am far from an urbanite. Or cool.) Okay, the food can be pretty great here all year 'round, but when the comfort food season hits (yes, it's a season unto itself), this is the place to be. Two words: Chicken riggies. Two more words: Utica greens. A couple more: half moons. Plus, the seasonal produce is insane and this is our favorite season to hit up our locavore restaurants. The chefs are amazing to begin with, but the flavors of the season just sing under their expertise.

You can pick all ya want. *giggles* Pick. Like nose. Ha! But, no, really, I’m talking about apples and pumpkins (and sometimes autumn berries, if you’re lucky). Apples are king here in NYS, so whether you just want to grab some at a farmers’ market or pick your own, this is the site to find out where. And it just isn’t fall without a pumpkin (or 12), so check this site and click on the region you’re interested in, or just check out my neck of the woods at this site. And, yes, those websites suck, visually. I agree. ๐Ÿ˜‰ย 

We’re a boozy state. Okay. Iffin’ you’re into such fun, upstate is rife with breweries, cider mills (ahem, the HARD stuff), and wineries. You can spend a day touring a path of wineries, or just hit up one brewery to test their wares. Dave and I enjoy NYS wines, even though he enjoys drier stuff and I’m perfect for the sweet-leaning NYS grapes. And while I should admit for all the world to hear that the Utica Brewery is the best in the world (it’s good…it really is), I actually prefer Brewery Ommegang. Apparently I’m into the Belgian stuff. Who knew? Seriously, there isn’t a flavor I DON’T LOVE. And if you’re going to visit their just-outside-Cooperstown spot, you MUST hit up their munchies. Far more sophisticated than traditional pub fare; I highly suggest the fries. (No, really. Fries. With a combination of dipping friends. A party in your mouth!)

Speaking of cider… If you’re into the kid-friendly stuff, our cider mills are sure to make you happy. We’ve got simple cideries that provide just some basic cider, and maybe donuts on the weekends. We’ve also got huge mills that show you how the stuff’s made and sell gifts, specialty foods, pies, fudge, anything in a jar (you think I’m kidding), and, sure, cider. (I’m talkin’ about you, Fly Creek Cider Mill!) Check out this search (yes, I’m sending you to a Google search since they’re not all in listed on the same website) to find your new favorite! Seriously, I didn’t even know Clinton had a cider mill until a short while ago.

Hayrides and corn mazes and farmers’ markets, oh my! In case you haven’t already noticed, there’s a $%&#load to do throughout upstate. While locals often complain about the sheer lack of anything to do, much like a lazy, bored teenager, it’s actually pretty untrue. I guess it depends on what you’re interested in. Like, Dave and I aren’t huge winter people. We have a few activities that we do, but for the most part it’s “hunkering down with some homemade cocoa and an old movie” season. Others come alive in the winter, with snowmobiling or snowshoeing or skiing galore.

Autumn, however, is THE time to enjoy whatever you like. Search for a farmers’ market to visit and make some roasted root veggies. Like to get freaked out? Take your pick. Want a hayride or corn maze for the kiddos? See if any of these will fit your needs. Honestly, if you just search for activities in whatever area you’ll be visiting, you’ll find something.

Here are our own favorites, in no particular order:

Fly Creek Cider Mill — two words: duck pond. Two more words: Free samples.
Oneida County Public Market — we do this year ’round, actually
Cooperstown Farmers’ Market — one of the few “indoors” markets (and if you’re heading to Cooperstown, enjoy the leaf peeping along the way and wander the town. If you haven’t been, plan to stay a day and visit the Baseball Hall of Fame, and if you’re not into baseball, head over to the Farmers Museum and/or the Fenimore Cooper Museum nearby.ย 
– ANY Finger Lake wineries (pick lake, grab a map and just go!)
North Star Orchards for some apple pickin’
Beardslee Castle or The Tailor and the Cook for some impeccable locavore grub
Cullen Pumpkin Farm — We may get our pumpkins here this year… Corn maze and wagon rides, too!

What are your favorite fall activities? Got any places that you’d like to share in the comments? Feel free to link!