The Hardest Part

I’ve been a little off my goal of getting a tighter grasp on my finances this year, so between the baby wake-up call and hoping for a happy, successful future with the hubs, we’re doing some analyzing. Perhaps that should be “LOTS” of analyzing. You may recall the pie chart I shared with you when doing my initial financialย  analysis, and for the most part, things are pretty much the same (except for the occasional baby purchase or what have you). Oh, yes, and for another guilty secret.

Yes, the dreaded “let me confess” post. It’s something that I know lots of folks do, but between our attempts to eat healthier and try to save some cash, this is simply deplorable. Let’s just say that we’ve been eating out. A lot. Upwards of 3 times a week. (Mind you, most of the time it’s been once a week, but still.) And let’s just say that one example of a one-month bill JUST for eating out was over $200. ($236.80, to be exact…and that’s just my bank account, excluding hubby’s.)

Great googily moogily!!

It SO gets away from you if you don’t sit down and take a good, hard look at it, am I right? And this is all while maintaining a relatively well-stocked kitchen. We haven’t gone on any expensive/extensive trips to the farmers’ market this season yet, and I’m not sure we will until we tighten these reigns.

What the heck’s the problem? I’ll admit to laziness. Most of it does come from being pregnant, in all honesty. It’s caused fatigue and at times a general lack of energy for cooking…and, at times, a teeny bit of depression has crept in, which somehow pushes me to say “Pizza would be great tonight.” At the same time, the fact that we’re traveling a lot means that when a mealtime comes around and I get hungry (wait, the hunger monster inside me wants to reword that realistically: “When da Mama gitt hongwyyy”), I kinda need to eat immediately.

So, after a birthing class, what happened? We took to venting and enjoying a meal or ice cream at the nearby Friendly’s. We even made some friends in the process.

And after yoga on a Friday evening, do I really feel like cooking? Not s’much.

Or any other numbers of excuses that any of us might feel ourselves coming up with.

Compared to folks in other situations (or countries), the fact that cutting back on restaurant-eating is the hardest part of our budget process is a wonderful problem to have. I suppose we have other financial issues, too, but this is the most surprising AND the one that we can have the most control over.

So, what’re we going to do? ESPECIALLY with a little one on the way (tell me I’m not going to want to order in practically every night). Well, I’m not planning on cutting it all out cold turkey. Oftentimes the withdrawal that you go through makes you less likely to stick with it, so we’re not going to cut out “eating out” altogether. I AM, however, going to analyze the heck out of our budget to see how often we CAN splurge – and on what types of items.

I’m also not going to fall victim of the “we have a gift certificate” or “we have a coupon for such-and-such a place” – because, while it’s great to have a way to save on a meal, you end up going out and often over-spending, still. We’ve had generous offers to use restaurant.com certificates and the like, but the pressure to use them by a certain date and the knowledge that it simply doesn’t take $20 to feed 2 people these days (unless you’re going to Subway or something like that…but, even then….) is enough for me. If we’re in the mood to go to a particular place and happen to have a coupon, that’s great! But, it’s kind of like the coupon Catch-22 in the grocery store – if it’s not something I need, is it still worth spending on?

One thing that’s already helped (and is kinda fun, when I’m up for it) is creating meals that we could possibly get in a restaurant. Somehow, they almost always turn out healthier. Last night, I made a couple of grilled chicken wraps (buffalo chicken for Dave, honey mustard chicken for me) and although I couldn’t fold them the right way (too much filling – gettin’ our money’s worth!), it was a way healthier version of a pretty yummy meal that would’ve cost us at least $9 each at a restaurant. And, yes, we even had some fries – organic ones. (And a beer at home is always cheaper than out-and-about. Dave drank it, not me. ;-)) Oh, and he says his was delicious – I think the fact that he repeated it several times while eating it proved this to be true – while mine, eh, the homemade dressing I whipped up wasn’t GREAT. It was still quite good.

Another option I’m interesting in (but, admittedly, intimidated by) is creating weekly menus. The problem with these is that our weekly schedules are often dictated on a whim – say, I don’t know that Dave’s meeting with a writing partner next Thursday until possibly a day or two before. That’s not a complaint; it’s just how our household rolls. So, a flexible weekly schedule might be best for us; ie “we were going to have *such and such* for dinner, but since I’m eating alone (or he’ll just have a salad when he gets home), I’ll eat something lighter or easier (or, tee hee, something he wouldn’t normally eat – can we say mushrooms?)”

There are lots of blogs and communities online that discuss menus. I think the hardest part is coming up with things that the family loves, and that don’t take up TOO much time to prepare. There’s, somehow, always an evening that you feel more like cooking, and inevitably an evening that you simply don’t (which helps you fall into the dreaded “let’s just get pizza”).

So, my search for easy, DELICIOUS (who wants to eat crap, even if it is easy and cost-effective?) possibly even prepare-ahead meals is on! I’ll share any sites that I find (I’ll be looking for all-natural/organic/whole foods sites, but will share those that I find valuable, even if not), so if you have any that you love, please feel free to respond in the comment section!! Your sites don’t have to be crunchy granola, either, but if they are, more power to ya! ๐Ÿ˜‰

Oh, and, BTW, if anyone has some freeze-ahead meals that would be appropriate for summertime that they love, please share! I’ve GOTTA get going on some meals to just defrost/prepare quickly for when the baby comes!!

Who’s Better?

Life isn’t a competition. And goodness knows that a marriage REALLY isn’t one. I’ve never been in for competitive sports, but it seems that I might just have a pretty competitive nature by design. My dad WAS into sports of all shapes and sizes, so maybe I’ve just inherited a pride at doing something well.

Nevertheless, I thought I’d wave a “hooray for us” flag but also show how truly flawed (and human! Get that!) Dave and I are. Particularly, I mean, when it comes to our newer eating habits and greener lifestyle. You can read my first post ever for what set us on this journey.

Dave is S-T-R-I-C-T that we not even set foot inside a Walmart. It seems that he’s quite proud of the post I once wrote about giving the place up. At the same time, out of convenience more than anything, we’ve stopped going to Aldi for fruits and veg. While this, of course, hurts our budget a little more, it really forces me to ask myself whether we neeeeeed the food items that we’re buying rather than turning it into more landfill waste. So, he definitely gets a gold star as far as his concern of the quality of our food and how much (or little) we waste.

Thanks to a looser schedule, however, I get a gold star (go me!) for the actual purchasing of the foodstuffs. I’d say that about 90% of the time, mostly out of necessity and, like I said, a much more accommodating work schedule, I purchase the groceries. During the summer, it might be a little less since there are more farmers market visits (although, the local ones run when I’m free and Dave’s at work, so the percentage may still be in my favor), and it’s fun for us to go shopping together. Sounds sick, but we truly enjoy discussing what we want, why we want to try it, and persuading each other to try something new. It’s very good for our relationship, so we do try to go grocery shopping together every month or so. But, still, the point is mine!

Here’s another area that Dave excels: *gulp* He eats his fruits ‘n veggies. Mind you, neither of us is altogether wonderful at doing this. Our lunches still consist of mostly soup or sandwiches and chips (all-natural, but still). We could be doing lots better. But, when I get an orange in my lunch bag, a vast majority of the time it somehow finds its way back home. Dave, however, eats it. So, point for him. Yeah, we both have to do a lunchtime makeover. Heck, I’m lucky enough that I have a husband who willingly MAKES mine for work everyday. Yes, you read that correctly. I’m a lucky lady, alright!

But, I get the next point for green thumbery. (No, that’s not a real word; yes, I think I’ll continue to use it on a regular basis.) While Dave helps me in any way possible with our gardening, such as when we built our first raised bed garden last year, but I’m usually the one tending and harvesting and planning. I sometimes got behind on it last year, but overall, it was definitely my baby — and, boy, have I got some plans for the 2011 Victory Garden! So, my point. Yessssss!

Stuff. Things. Possessions. Crap. Call it what you will, but Dave gets the point as far as our green initiative of decluttering is concerned. He’s the king of Ebay, sending NUMEROUS orders out weekly, all in an attempt to surround himself only with what he a) needs and b) is emotionally attached to. We’re working on a wabi-sabi existence (whether he knows that’s what it is or not ;-D), which I’m sure I’ll get into in a future blog post. Dave’s embraced a simpler life; I’ve still got tons of clothes and stored items that I’ll probably never use. Simultaneously, I’m trying to follow Dave’s lead of using what we have before purchasing new (which is hard — his mom, as any mother would, expects me to keep an eye on his clothes, etc, to make sure he looks acceptable for life’s expectations…I always say “It doesn’t matter what I look like, but he has to leave the house halfway presentable. He’s the one being criticized by viewers.”) Regardless, he does a great job with simplicity and I need to learn a lesson from him — Point, Dave. *By the by, I’ve read more about wabi-sabi recently in a magazine, but cannot remember for the life of me where I first discovered it. If it was on your blog (Sarah? Maybe??), please feel free to let me know so that I can give credit where it’s due! Thanks!!*

Greenery and sustainability! We both do our darnedest to be green, and should be proud of our efforts, I think. This is a very close category in terms of “scoring.” While we do produce more trash than we’d both like, we’re obsessed with recycling and reusing, when possible. We buy recycled toilet paper and, when possible, paraben-free soaps and shampoos. However, I think that I get the sliiiiiight edge here. I’m the one with sneakers made from recycled products, a new steam-cleaner (which we got for only a few dollars after using our Macy’s wedding gift card for using them as a registry) which reduces the need for a crapload of cleaning products, and an itchin’ to revert to cloth napkin and handkerchief usage. I’m learning how to can and freeze (hoping to have shelving dedicated specifically to my homemade canned goods and cold storage for root vegetables in the basement when it warms up a bit), and am still trying to figure out a better way to compost, for our needs (last year’s attempt may be deemed a disaster — we’ll see when the spring thaw comes). I’m dreaming of the day when our pennies are saved enough for newer, Energy Star appliances (but, again, using what we have until it’s no longer usable…*sigh*). And, while I have a newer car, it’s the bane of my existence — I wish that I’d considered longer and gone with a more compact Subaru wagon or VW that we could run for a couple of decades, or had saved up more for a hybrid. Sooooo, I’m a little…obsessed. I think I do a lot more research about green living and read more about how we can make life changes. Oh, and I’m already planning for 21st century parenthood (although Dave’s on-board with all my hair-brained schemes — cloth diapers and homemade baby food, anyone??). Did I mention “obsessed”? Yeah. Point, Meg.

So, at 3-3, it’s pretty obvious that we’re tied. That makes me pretty darn happy — I didn’t really want to win, anyway. There are areas that I’m very proud to know that we are succeeding so well at, while others are disappointing, to say the least (compost: fail — always sad to admit a failure, but, dangit, I’m going to figure it out!). I think the fact that we’re about 9 months into the true life change experiment and it seems that we’ve made some real changes is encouragement enough. Go, Team Dellecese!!! (My actual last name is legally McCoy Dellecese, no hyphen, but that gets confusing. ;-D Besides, we’re still connected by the Big-D.)

Inside the Honeymoon, Part II: Nummies

And we’re back for Part Deux of our honeymoon adventures — what we ATE. While I don’t remember every little thing we indulged in, food-wise, I know that we were SO very impressed by the freshness of the food available in Vermont, even (or should I say “particularly”) in restaurants. Here I assumed that I would just eat to excess without a care to the organic or local factor of its ingredients; don’t we always do that during a vacation or holiday? Well, weren’t we surprised to find that we essentially had an easy locavore challenge during our honeymoon!
The reason that it was so simple to find locally-grown foods while practically eating out the entire time was because of Vermont’s Fresh Network. This organization’s goal is to connect chefs with local farmers to not only stimulate the economy but provide fresh, local food for residents. What a great idea, right?! We came back home and thought, “Why can’t we do that?!” Well, instead of sitting on our butts complaining, we’re actually thinking about what we can do to make our own. ๐Ÿ˜€

Anyhoo, so from the moment we walked into our hotel, we noticed the VFN logo (yep, our inn’s restaurant was local, too! It was green, after all) — and started keeping an eye out at other restaurant store fronts for the same logo. From Burlington to Bennington, it was there, that 4″x4″ sticker logo. I love that thing.

Our first meal in VT was actually eaten while we were waiting for our room to be ready.


And, did I mention, outdoors? It was a little chilly, but it was a perfect New England autumn day — why else would we have honeymooned in VT?! We grabbed our lunch at a cafe named The Hungry Mind (which reminded Dave of his old haunt, “The Thirsty Mind”, in Mass.), where they provided a side salad with every sandwich or panini. We grabbed all-natural beverages and a bag of (also all-natural) chips. Delish and perfect after searching high-and-low for anything that was open and didn’t cost an arm and a leg.

What else did we find in Middlebury? Well, incredible gourmet food at Middlebury Inn, our hotel (also locally-sourced). Oh, and my favorite “CAN WE MOVE HERE?!” point of interest? The Middlebury Natural Foods Co-Op!!! It was like going to a traditional grocery store — only everything’s either all-natural, local, or organic — sometimes all of the above! While we didn’t eat here, we did enjoy visiting it (and buying some cheap organic soap). Here’s Dave, not realizing he’s in the shot…hee hee…and a vast array of local veggies!

Look at the SIZE of this place!!

Organic cat products, anyone?

Mmmm. Salad bar. Why CAN’T we live there?! (And by “there” I mean IN the co-op! ;-D)

Can we say “lunch every single day if I lived here”?

Me, loving it. Dave was incredibly supportive and even forced a picture in front of the place. ๐Ÿ™‚ Lucky lady!
So, both breakfasts were all at the Inn, as were two of the three dinners. Our first lunch was from the Hungry Mind (eaten in the park). Our second, in Burlington, was at New Moon. This was my side salad (I still wonder if they got the order wrong) and panini…

This place was terribly awesome. The food was all prepared/served from an “in the round” center island, and you could have them make any salad or sandwich imaginable. They also had soup and other things, but all in all it was just delicious and, again, another VFN participant. AWESOME!


By the time we left Middlebury to travel home, I don’t recall that we stopped to eat along the way. I almost think that we noshed on the snacks that my best friend (and maid of honor) Beth have given us — we don’t have a Trader Joe’s, and, knowing our propensity for organic/all natural goodies, she gave us a huge basket of snacks, several of which we brought along with us. We finally stopped in Troy (after a long day o’ shoppin’ along the way out of VT) for our final “honeymoon meal” at Brown’s Brewery. It was DELICIOUS and, while I’m not sure if the food was local or not, the brewery itself is about self-sustainability, the 3 Rs, and their own Clean Water Act (there’s a particular brew you can purchase which provides funds toward preserving a local reservoir…which I thought was purdy darn cool.

So, for the most part, our honeymoon food was not only ecologically friendly, but delicious! We couldn’t be happier that we chose Vermont as the site of our honeymoon. Next up? What we did to keep busy traveling around VT.

All Ice Cream is Not Created Equal

Courtesy sodahead.com

My awesome fiance brought home dessert last night. He does a great job when he goes grocery shopping when it comes to buying natural, but is sometimes a little unsure — I think mostly because his job keeps him so busy and I’m the one sitting on my tush doing the research and most of the buying. SO, when he showed up with two brands of ice cream, I couldn’t really complain, could I? ๐Ÿ˜‰

One was mint chocolate chip, and it was all natural — by Breyer’s. I looked over the ingredients and was pretty pleased; aside from using raw local milk and making it myself, it did as well as it could. Plus, it was my favorite flavor and definitely won’t go uneaten (ie inedibly freezer-burned).

The second kind was one that we rely on quite a bit from Hannaford –Nature’s Place (a Hannaford specialty that often is slightly cheaper than other healthful alternatives; we also get their organic milk, among other items) chocolate and vanilla. Upon looking over the ingredient list, I noticed that one of the ingredients was corn syrup. Oye.

While it’s not as bad as high fructose corn syrup, seeing the term sends alarms off in my head. It’s still a corn-based product used for sweetening, but less “dangerous” — I’m still concerned that our intake of corn isn’t a “natural” amount, and after seeing Food, Inc., I’m wary. I prefer agave nectar or raw sugar for sweetening, but I’ll even take refined white sugar to corn syrups. It may be correct, it may not be, but it’s my level of comfort.

*** This post requested by above-mentioned fiance. Not the compliments about him, just the “surprise” about the ice cream. ๐Ÿ™‚ ***

Look, We’re Normal!

We all have excuses for lots of things. Heck, I put off calling to get a copy of my baptismal record for the wedding — like, consciously delayed it. For awhile I had “too busy” excuses, but those turned into a fearful laziness. I think the more you put something off, the less you want to do it. But, this morning, I finally called and felt the weight lift, especially with how easy it was. Were the excuses worth it? Now that it’s done, it doesn’t much matter.

But what about the excuses we use regularly? Our excuses yesterday were pretty darn good. One, my sister and BIL were coming over for a quick visit (unexpected but always welcome). Two, we had been doing lots of labor-intensive yard work throughout the morning and early afternoon, and were EXHAUSTED. Third, and most importantly, the cat had been sick all weekend — new meds. Remember, he’s had a rough start with us, and while he’s not at 100% he’s way better than when we found him.

So, what horrible thing did we do, having such great excuses in our back pockets? *gulp* I sent Dave out to get KFC. Yes, I know how horrible that is for us. Yes, I know how horribly they treat the chickens. Yes, I consider KFC the devil. Yes, yes, yes. But, we had a great coupon and, in all honesty, it was a moment of weakness — literally! (Mind you…we had a huge haul at the Cooperstown Farmers’ Market the day before — we’re evil.)

I mentioned the guilt factor to Dave, who very easily brushed it off, saying, “Yes, we shop at farmers’ markets, buy organic when we can, and do our best with all the green stuff. But, it doesn’t mean I can’t jump off the wagon for the sake of convenience once in awhile. And, we don’t do it much.” His ease in letting the words flow off his tongue made me feel a hell of a lot better — and let me enjoy the disgustingly fatty chicken, #1 mac ‘n cheese, and buttery biscuits easier.

I’ve noticed that, since I don’t eat junk food as much (the junk I do eat is organic — pita chips, organic Pop-Tarts — I consider myself a stage 2 or 3 on the “how healthy are you?” scale), when I DO, I’m more conscious about it. It’s less of a “I’m gonna gain weight” thing and more of a “I’m not proud of myself. This is disgusting. This isn’t the wonderful stuff I’ve been giving myself.”

Guilt is a human reaction that’s just a stone’s throw from joy. Generally, when feeling guilt, you’re enjoying something that you probably shouldn’t be. We all do it — some guilt is for really bad things, some isn’t a huge deal, but what one person thinks is huge may be nothing to the next, and so on. So, in this case, we’re moving on. Some day, maybe I’ll be so super-human that our future kids won’t be allowed to have McDonald’s , and our house will be impeccable. You can hope for wonderful things, but in the end, we’re all just human. I’m not in this thing to be perfect.