Monday, December 16, 2013

Tasty Corn - A - Poppin'

Sometimes I just really want some popcorn. But the past few years I had given up on it. I felt like it was too expensive at the movie theater both in calories/general health costs and pocket money {... does anyone say pocket money anymore?} And microwave bagged popcorn is super bad for you. Popcorn isn't my husband's favorite thing and since my cravings for it are so rare I just let it go.

But then... I wanted popcorn so badly. I talked about it for about two weeks. Finally I decided to try the "popcorn trick".

I wanted to use quality {local, if possible} popcorn kernels, coconut oil, and my stove top.

After some research {+ trials} I can honestly say that this is my favorite way to pop popcorn at home {on the stove}:

A Real Food Lover's Coconut Oil Popcorn

Oh and if you are into popping in the microwave instead of on the stove:

100 Days of Real Food Popcorn Trick

Happy poppin'!

Monday, December 2, 2013

Frugal Living & Eliminating Debt {Final Update for 2013}

With yesterday starting off the final month of 2013 my husband and I had a "budget + finances" talk over coffee. We typically drink something warm when discussing finances in order to pretend like we're enjoying the conversation. 

We were so excited to find that we paid off many more debts than we expected to this year... and saved quite a bit of money too {paying off over ten thousand dollars of debt that was not already part of our monthly payments and saving over ten thousand dollars for a rainy day!} 

I suppose there are better ways to do it, but our simple plan of paying off our highest interest rate bills first seemed to work for us. Which means that I'm calling this goal completed... and a total success!

As for the savings, one thing we did about half way through the year was make a savings goal and act on it. We thought about what we could realistically save each month... taking into account what we might spend on monthly bills, but also what we'd have to work hard {or spend less} in order to save. Then we put away that money before we could even spend it. In fact we treated it as a bill that we had to pay to our savings account.

This worked really well for us and we will most likely keep this same plan for next year too. 

Friday, November 15, 2013

around these parts {as of late}...

Things have been quiet around this space lately. 

All is well. I think life is just moving a little faster than I'd like. 

As I've written before, I'm back to teaching full time. I'm trying to find the ways to balance all parts of my day between keeping the home, staying healthy, living a fulfilling school day with children, sharing time with family and friends, as well as save a little time for my crafts/cooking/personal interests. These things happen most weeks. 

What may not happen though is writing about any of it on the blog. But I'll keep working on that. 

Hope your November days have been lovely!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Slowly Growing a Green Thumb: Reflections of My First Summer Garden

I've brought up before about how I've always longed for a garden. There's something so lovely to me about the idea of growing your own food, spending a little time in the dirt, enjoying the sweet spring and summer air. I daydreamed about it and pictured all the canning I would do from our own garden growing on this tiny lot of land. Well, summer is over... and I'm not totally disappointed, but growing more vegetables wasn't as easy as I was hoping it would be. 

This past summer was the first time we were able to have a raised bed garden at our home. And you know what, it got a little out of control. And it didn't produce as much as my dreams predicted. What did happen? Well, our plants got tall and leafy. Our tomatoes were later than I expected and I'm just now getting the peppers I was hoping for. 

I think that our road trip timing could have been better - we came back and I never caught up with the work that needed to be done in the beds. I think it is time for me to accept that our lot is a bit too shady for the large raised beds we made. And something needs to be done about it. I also can't "love that the deer walk right into our yard" and not expect them to eat all but three of my blueberries. 

I've had some more experienced gardeners tell me that with all the good compost we put in our beds that it might take a year for everything to really be ready to grow - that things are still decomposing and the nutrients weren't quite ready for the plants. 

The good thing is, now this first year of only "some growing" is on the books. I've learned a lot about preparing the raised beds and how to keep the critters out. I might know when to plan our next vacation as to not miss out on the crucial weeks of tomato plant growth. We also built and filled the beds, so now we can clean up this fall with preparing for the spring. This will give the garden all through the winter to sit and rest and hopefully be ready for planting and growing next season! 

Until then I believe I will just daydream of more blueberry bushes... which will most likely feed next year's local deer population. 

Sunday, September 8, 2013

A Simply Lovely Sunday Thought {Back Behind the Lens}

This morning I got out the camera for one of those more "posed" types of photo sessions. And you know what, it felt incredibly nice.

Today I was especially excited, because these portraits were in celebration of our friends' baby boy turning one year old!

Which would of course also feature his proud big sister!

I loved spending today with those two little blondes and their very kind parents. {And my husband, the man with all the tricks to keep a three year old girl busy during brother's portion of the photo session... thank you J!} Thanks guys for the little push to put my camera to use :)

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Saving Summer Produce: Tips for Freezer Meals

One task I've been taking on this summer is making meals ahead of time before heading back to work. Lucky for me I'm a teacher and I put in my year's worth of work and hours during about 10 months of the year. Between finishing a year of school, living an academic year, and preparing for a new school year about 10 months of my time is spent working and planning and thinking about some of my favorite people.

One bonus is that there are two months that I do not report daily to work. I can use this time to garden, vacation, and prepare our home for the year ahead. This summer I am attempting to pre-make many {freezer} meals for while school is in session. This will cut out the need of convenience foods to be purchased by our family. I'm sure we'll still buy bags of tortilla chips or the occasional frozen pizza. But I already know that one night a week I will dedicate my evening to meetings at work... this makes me want to try and save us some cooking/prep time and have a few meals ready to go.

Here are some tips I have concerning "freezer meals":

Consider what your family will eat - Often I want to have loads of variety for my family to choose from, but then I end up with prepared dinners that never just "sound good" in the moment to heat up. So if you know that pizza, chicken noodle soup, and lasagna will get eaten then maybe those are good meals to start with when you begin to make a dinner stash.

Consider who will be making these partially prepared meals - I make sure to have some meals that are simple for me to throw in a crock pot on my way out the door in the morning... this will be perfect for those nights that both I and my husband will be coming home just in time for dinner. I also am preparing a few things that will be finished in a way that is easy for my husband to get our dinner ready - such as 30 minutes in the oven or grilling chicken when he gets home from work.

Labeling - Be certain that you have properly labeled all meals. If any food in the freezer seems mysterious it may never be chosen for dinner.

In-depth Labeling - I'm serious about the labeling. I even write the cooking directions directly on my frozen meal packaging. This way if I'm not home my husband will still know what to do with the food he has selected for dinner. In fact this year I've added suggested thaw times and name items that we prefer to serve with those specific meals in case we need to check for  Parmesan cheese or tortillas prior to pulling out a certain dinner from the freezer.

Proper Storage -  Be sure to seal all containers and decrease any risk of freezer burn. Because no one will want to eat that...

Bulk Prepared Main Items - One idea I had was to pre-cook chicken to freeze. I have no other plan for this chicken currently, but knowing that I can pull out one or two chicken breasts from the freezer and have them thaw and be ready to add to any recipe I want will save lots of time when we're scrambling for a late dinner. We don't eat much beef at home but I'm sure if your family prefers a different type of meat you could make it work for you. I also chopped a few bags of peppers, tomatoes, and prepared corn for the freezer that will be easy to just throw in any type of dinner I select.

Consider your ingredients - I love using fresh summer produce in these meals that will be eaten in the fall and winter. There is just something special about taking a bite and enjoying that little taste of summer when it is cool and breezy outside. It also allows me to "use up" produce that we might not eat quickly enough if I didn't make it and save it for a different day.

Do you have any tips on making meals ahead of time?

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

How I Started to Simplify My Life

Are you feeling overwhelmed with your day to day life? Do you think you need to simplify your life? Simplifying your life is something that can happen. You just have to believe it and try to find something you are more comfortable with.

Sometimes the scariest step is the first one. The step that begins the roller-coaster of commitment. That first step is what made me take a few years of just thinking of ways I needed and wanted to change my life for the better. Maybe the speed of your life is perfect for you. And that is wonderful. I applaud you for already finding where you want to be. I hope we all can take steps to find health and happiness in our day to day.

I've thought lots about how to simplify my life to make it better (for me). It wasn't just about making the holidays more simple. It wasn't just about organizing my linen closet. Of course those things help... but they weren't the root of what I needed to change. I felt scattered and I felt everywhere all at once and not always in a good way. This is where I began to slow down, strip away the extras so that they would no longer complicate my lifestyle.

A Few Things I did to Simplify my Everyday Life...

Purging the Stuff
-I began by cleaning out boxes, drawers, shelves. I'm still cleaning out drawers, shelves, rooms and spaces. But it is important to me to know what I had and decide if I needed it. Of course then I donated (and am still donating) items that we do not need. I'm finding that the less I have the more I use the items I love.

Setting the Home
-I am slowly creating spaces we want to spend time in. Spaces that are more productive because there is less distraction. There is more room for thoughts, creativity, and the belongings that are important to us. I set spaces with specific feelings in mind. I consider how I want to spend time in those spaces and it is easy to know where to start.

Figuring Out the Finances
- I begun to make sound choices which simplified my spending and streamlined paying off our debt. Our family is aware of the money coming in and going out and how to pay off our current debt while trying not to make loads of new debt.

Losing the Drive
- I was in the car a lot. Now I work in walking distance of my home. I can bike to the library. We garden and our CSA program delivers to our home. We also find local places to fulfill our needs of services and where to buy our goods.

Learning to Say No
- I feel less overwhelmed when I identify only a few important tasks to do each day or evening. I say "no" or "wait" to everything else on my to-do list. And then I don't feel badly that I didn't accomplish more each day. I have found that this also provides me with some time to get to other tasks that I just simply enjoy.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Confessions of a Former Gas Guzzler

Let's get it out in the open... I once spent too much time and too much gas during daily commutes to my past location of employment. I hated it then, I hate it now. But it is a fact of my past.

I'm turning a corner and limiting my need to drive is something I think about all the time.

I figure for all the time spent in my car I've used way more than my share of resources. I now try to figure out ways to cut my driving. This is good for the environment and our savings account!

We live in a pedestrian and biking friendly community so that helps a lot. Whenever I need to head out of our town for errands (the errands which require a car) I try to make one long plan and hit up all the locations at once.  It seems to be working out pretty well and I'm cutting out lots of unnecessary drives.

A huge change we recently made is we've become a one car family. The plan is to possibly purchase an older work truck in the near future and use it for the dirty work around our home and back at the farm {where my husband's family lives}. Which I suppose will once again make us a two vehicle family. But we are very excited for the wonderful gas mileage we get with our smaller car! We've been surprised at how easy it is to make plans to share the one car.

The best part of my personal quest to drive less is that my new job is in walking/biking distance of our home! This is of course one major perk of my new school. Lots of families bike to the school, so I won't be the only one saving gas during the morning commute!

Want some tips and ideas about commuting and biking? Check out these links from the Mr. Money Mustache Blog:

The True Cost of Commuting with MMM 

What Do You Mean "You Don't Have a Bike"?! with MMM

Friday, August 2, 2013

Our Special Visitor Comes to Play

July was a special month as we had lots of fun summer type things to do. One of my favorite weeks was spent with our niece H and her summer visit to our home.

Last year we had lots of fun so she was extra excited about this year's visit. Like, she had been talking about coming to stay with us during summer vacation since Christmas. 

H is seven now, she can do so many things. She has major opinions, and a great sense of humor. I love all that is her. With that said, it takes a lot to keep a lively seven year old busy. I was thrilled that my pup was up for the challenge.

playing in the sprinkler
books + tent {inside on a hot day}

Splash Pad Fun

picnic + park

quick shopping trip

Whenever H visits we make it a priority to spend time together when my husband gets home from work. He does his best to get to work early and come home early so he can spend more time with her. We had so much fun going to parks, hikes, the local splash pad, out to dinner... we even had a good time stopping at a grocery store to pick up ice cream for a game night at home.

Drawing for Pictionary
Oh my and game nights we had! H loves to play a good game... one night we played "pictionary" but we made up our own cards that would tell us what to draw. This made it super fun because we ended up drawing pictures of things that we {especially H} liked. We drew horses, parties, food, and even people in our family. 


In a silly moment we decided to have the "World Series of Go Fish". H decided that this meant we had to act in a very serious manner, make up hand signals and code words... I think maybe I added the sunglasses, but she was totally on board. 

serious card players

Of course we spent loads of time on our bikes and on our local bike path. We even biked to the library and a nearby playground. Riding her bike is something she really loves to do.

bike path
 What a wonderful week! In mid-August, H will head to school to start second grade! I can't believe she is so old and wise. Hope this school year is a total blast for her!

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

An Exceptional 2nd Anniversary

I know sometimes I get pretty mushy about my relationship with my main guy. But in today's world {with all that is thrown our way} it is important to give notice to those strong relationships. So, I am grateful to be able to gush once in awhile...

This week we had our second wedding anniversary. It was simple and perfect. Dinner, sweets, and conversation. I love spending time with my husband, especially on a night where we can celebrate ourselves as a couple.

We went to dinner at one of our favorite date night locations. While at the restaurant there was a couple {a few tables over} celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary. They were giggles and kisses, wines and good foods, sweet fancy coffees and photographs. They were having a wonderful night together and it made us happy to see them in their anniversary glory. Their presence was an inspiration to many others in the restaurant, I just know it. To think of all they might have experienced together in the past twenty-five years - wow.

Oh, and I can't forget the "mush"...

Mr. & Mrs. 25th still had smiles on their faces and held hands when they left the building. Maybe in twenty-three years we will see them again for our 25th wedding anniversary dinner.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Yellow Springs Brewery in Yellow Springs, Ohio

Let me tell you about one of my new favorite places in Ohio. Yellow Springs Brewery is the cat's meow in my opinion {and in Yellow Springs there are lots of cats to be giving out meows... so we'll go ahead and say this is a positive review}

First impression: Right off the bike path, long parking lot, awesome lettering and bright yellow pop of color on the outside of the building. What's not to love? This establishment is easy to get to and when you walk up you notice an inviting feel. I just love the metal and wood in the taproom.

Service: Wonderful. The staff is friendly and attentive. They sling beers as fast as needed. Plus, Lisa is just so kind. 

Prices & Other Notes: Yellow Springs Brewery now offers Growlers and Howlers and the service of filling those Growlers and Howlers with their yummy products. 

After the brewery first opened they had such an overwhelming response that they couldn't keep enough kegs tapped. So they took about two weeks to brew and brew then opened their doors again ready to serve. It sounds like they are now moving forward with a higher production rate. I'd advise checking their facebook page or website if you are traveling from afar to stop in. They often post what is on tap and you'll know what their current hours are. 

Food: There are light snacks for purchase and some of the local restaurants {currently Bentino's Pizza & Sunrise Cafe} will deliver right to the taproom. We've also found it is just as easy to stop over at Bentino's or Ha Ha's Pizza to pick up an order and walk over to the brewery. {Bring your own plates and napkins if you plan to really chow down}  

As for the beer: Yum. Order anything. You won't be disappointed.

My favorite is the Captain Stardust Saison. Oh my, it is such a thirst quencher. Not too citrus-y and not too dry. I love it. 

If you aren't able to stop in order up a Yellow Springs Brewery beer at one of these fine locations

Friday, July 19, 2013

Our Green Adventure in Acadia National Park

Our favorite part of this summer's awesome {and laid back} road trip was our time spent in Acadia National Park in Maine.

It was fun to camp and hike the park. There were so many different areas to explore.

Every landscape was beautiful - completely and in its own way. Oh my and the colors we found in the park were gorgeous- grass, trees, moss... so much green! So many shades of green. 

It was a most lovely adventure.

I'm linking up with Rebecca of Bumbles & Light and Kristi of Live and Love Out Loud for a summer photo challenge. Check out the photos of so many others thinking about this week's topic "Green/Adventure" {here}.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

2013 Summer Road Trip

A mid-summer trip to just get out of town. Away from responsibility. To just do what we do. 

That was all my husband and I wanted out of our vacation this year: go somewhere, eat good food, see some sights, and laugh.

A few weeks ago we took a road trip with loads of stops and hours of being together in the car. We had minimal planned activities, and mostly just went where Lady Luck took us. And it was just perfect.

We planned a stop in Niagara Falls, NY. Just for camping and visiting the Falls {once at night, and once in the day light}.

We happened upon an art walk featuring community member art pieces, drinks and appetizers on a cute little patio, and a coffee roaster in Utica, NY.

We drove through the Adirondack Mountains and had a lovely day visiting Lake George. 

There was a great time had while camping in Burlington, VT. So much good food, shopping, sight seeing, beer tasting at the Magic Hat Brewery Tour. And a stop at The Vermont Pub & Brewery.

A tour and some ice cream eating was very much on the schedule from day one of planning this vacation. Who could pass up visiting the Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream Factory in Vermont?

Let's see, we hiked around the Quechee Gorge, ate mussels at the Portsmouth Brew Pub, and hit up bar for a late night bite in Bangor, Maine.

We loved camping in Acadia National Park and spending time in Bar Harbor and Portland.

We rounded out the trip by heading to Boston for Independence Day. An afternoon baseball game in "America's Most Beloved Ballpark", beers and dinner on the set bar of Cheers, then fireworks on the Charles River. Pretty American I'd say :)

It was a wonderful get away. Full of so much fun... with these photos serving tribute to the major highlights.  So happy we were able to spend a little time away from home just enjoying ourselves.