November 28, 2010

My Quest for Tolerable Stuffing (or Dressing)

For Thanksgiving this year, I was in charge of making pumpkin pie and stuffing. The pumpkin pie I actually volunteered to do, but I was a little surprised when my cousin told me I had to make stuffing since it's one of the four or five foods I don't like. She hates stuffing too, and so do half the people who were at our Thanksgiving, yet for some reason we still have to have it.

I decided to try to make stuffing that I would actually like. I had heard Scott Hutcheson on K-LOVE talking about how dressing is better than stuffing. I honestly didn't even know there was a difference. He uses cornbread in his dressing, which I thought sounded good. I wanted to put apples and pecans in my dressing as something extra and was excited when I found a recipe for Apple Pecan Cornbread Dressing. I modified the recipe a little since my mom doesn't like onion and Nathan doesn't like celery or ginger.

This is how I made my dressing:

  • 1 (9x9 inch) pan cornbread, cooled and crumbled (I made a box of Jiffy corn muffin mix)
  • 1 (6 oz.) box Stove Top turkey stuffing mix
  • 1 golden delicious apple, peeled and chopped
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans
  • 2 cups apple juice
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the cornbread and stuffing mix. Mix in the chopped apple, chopped pecans, apple juice, and beaten eggs. Spoon dressing into prepared casserole dish.
  3. Bake for 30 minutes in the preheated oven, or until heated through, and lightly browned on top. 

The verdict? The stuffing lovers loved it, and the stuffing haters wouldn't try it but took my word for it that it was good. Nathan ate a couple bites on Friday and said it was "different." His parents seemed to like it though. I personally really liked it. The only change I would make would be adding more pecans or using pecan halves for extra crunch since I didn't put celery in it. The description in the original recipe of "savory, yet sweet" was very accurate. It was far from frugal, but I was willing to pay extra to make it good.

Do you prefer stuffing, dressing, or neither?

November 26, 2010

5 Things I've Learned the First Five Months

We've now made it through the first five months of marriage. I hope time has flown by for our wedding guests as quickly as it has for us since we didn't get thank you notes out until about a month ago. Being married has been a lot of fun, and we've had many more ups than downs. Here are 5 things our marriage has taught me thus far.

1. Our communication skills still have room for improvement. I went into this marriage thinking that we had great communication skills, and we do, but we're still constantly working to better understand each other and communicate with each other. Pretty much the only arguments we have are over what one of us actually said. It's an ongoing process.

2. It isn't easy to think of everything as being "ours" now instead of mine/his. Everything in out apartment should be ours now, with the exception of things like toothbrushes and shoes, but I don't think of it in those terms. This might be partly due to the fact that this was his apartment before I moved in. My books are separated from his books, my board games are separated from his games, my Tupperware is on shelves that I brought rather than in a cabinet. I referred to the fondue pot as "my" fondue pot recently, and Nathan had to point out that it is ours. That one isn't even debatable since it was a wedding gift.

3. Having a husband who makes more money than I do is a wonderful thing. We've flip-flopped in wages several times during our relationship, but Nathan took the lead again in August. I will most likely never make more than he does again, and I'm glad. It really is best for both of us. Nathan has always wanted to provide for me, regardless of whether or not I can provide for myself. Being the primary breadwinner makes him happy, and that makes me happy. I'd rather he be the one that's driven in his career. I was drawn to graphic design as a career partly because it's possible to work from home, not because I wanted to make money.

4. Marriage means letting go of the "that's how I've always done it" mentality. We're from two different families who do things different ways, but now we have to figure out how we do things in our family. In my family, we would usually leave the pots of food on the stove or on the counter and fill our plates before sitting down. Nathan's family puts all the food on the table. We can't do both, so I'm trying to get used to the latter. Also, Nathan doesn't like that I get out of the shower without drying off first and end up getting the bath mat wet; I thought that was the purpose of bath mats. It's a compromise.

5. Being married can change your love language. Or, maybe I have a better sense of my love language now that I'm married. Before we were married, my primary love language was quality time, followed by words of affirmation and acts of service. Acts of service have become more valuable to me and really makes me feel loved. After retaking the quiz I discovered acts of service has actually become my primary love language, followed closely by a tie of quality time and physical touch. I guess I've been able to experience acts of service and physical touch a lot more now that we live together. We were still long distance the first time I took the quiz.

An example of Nathan's acts of service. He hates folding laundry; I had to take a picture to believe this actually happened.

What has your marriage or relationship taught you?

November 23, 2010

Wedding Recaps: Bridal Party Photos

We had three groomsmen, three bridesmaids, and a ring bearer in our wedding party. Our only reason for not having a flower girl is that we don't know any little girls. We had several boys we could have picked for a ring bearer, but no girls. I'm glad our ring bearer (or ring master, as he preferred to be called) was able to steal the show.

My three bridesmaids were my college friend and fellow graphic design major, Carly; my cousin and friend, Rachel; and my friend since middle school and roommate for all of college, Stacie.

Nathan's groomsmen were his friend from college, Scott; his older brother, Tim; and his friend since middle school, David. David's son was the ring bearer.

Ushers were Nathan's friend Eddy (far left) and my younger brother (far right). 

Nathan and David engaged in a tickle war.

Rachel and I managed to remain civil for once in our lives.

The jumping photo didn't turn out quite as spectacular as I had hoped. I had to combine two photos to get this one. Oh well, it's still funny.

It was over 90 degrees that day, so it's really amazing we got as many good photos as we did. Everyone in the bridal party was a really good sport.

November 22, 2010

The Holidays as Newlyweds

Oh, the holidays...a time of joy, a time when you gather with your family...until you suddenly have two families. When people ask if Nathan and I are spending Thanksgiving with his family or my family, I almost feel like they're asking which one of us won the battle. We live an hour away from both sets of parents, so it's not a matter of going to the place that's closet. And since they're in opposite directions, it's difficult to visit both the same day.
For Thanksgiving last year (when we were together but not "officially" engaged), we lucked out because my family had the Thanksgiving meal on Thursday and Nathan's family got together on Friday. This year, both of our families are having Thanksgiving on Thanksgiving. Can you believe it? Our moms both said "whatever you decide to do is fine," but that didn't really help our decision. Ultimately, we decided to spend Thanksgiving with my family on Thursday, then go hang out and eat leftovers with his family on Friday.

Now we just have to figure out Christmas!

Nathan and me at Christmas last year. I'm holding tinsel.
The main reason we decided to go see my family for Thanksgiving was that more of Nathan's relatives will be in town for Christmas. But of course, I want to be able to see my family for Christmas too. Last year we were at my parents' house for Christmas morning since that's when my family always opens gifts. Then we went to Nathan's parents' for Christmas evening, when his family opens gifts. As nice as it was to see both our families, Christmas becomes a lot more stressful when you drive two hours in the middle of the day. A part of me just wants to spend Christmas in our apartment and wear pajamas all day! I do consider it a huge blessing though that we both have parents that live nearby and with whom we want to spend the holidays.

What are you doing for the holidays?

November 18, 2010

Wedding Recaps: Our First Look

I'm really glad Nathan and I decided to see each other before the ceremony. We were able to talk to each other and calm each other, and of course there was the benefit of the photos we have of these moments.

My mother-in-law opened the door, and my mom walked out with me.

Nathan stood waiting for his bride.

And finally, he got to see me.

Our moms watching

November 15, 2010

What I Do When I Should Be Sleeping

Click the image.

Living Like No One Else

Nathan and I have completed 10 weeks of Dave Ramsey's 13-week Financial Peace University. Nathan has gone through the class before and we listened to all of the audio CD's together before we were married, yet we're both still learning a lot going through the material again. The major theme of FPU is "Live like no one else so later you can live like no one else." If you live below your means in the short term so you can you save and invest, you will build wealth and be able to enjoy life and give freely. Debt is dumb!

This certainly isn't the way that the majority of Americans want to live. Erica at Newlyweds on A Budget wrote in a criticism of Dave Ramsey,
"But what’s the point of saving and living like a pauper if I’m only going to be old when I get to enjoy it? What good will it do me to have $5 million dollars when I’m 80 if I’ll be using a walker to get around and wearing diapers?"
Well, you can certainly enjoy the benefits of following Dave's teachings well before age 80. After Crystal at Money Saving Mom and her husband went through Financial Peace University, they had a paradigm shift in their view of money that allowed them to pay 100% down for their first home. Talk about financial peace!

Just how counter-cultural are Nathan and I in our spending habits? We definitely haven't lowered our standard of living to the absolute minimum in order to pay off debt and start saving, but I would say we make more sacrifices than the average couple with our income.

Ways we're living like no one else:
  • Over 40% of our take-home pay goes towards paying off debt. 
  • I work hard at couponing to keep our grocery budget as low as possible.
  • We don't eat out for lunch most days. I take a lunch to work and Nathan goes home.
  • We have only basic cable channels - no TLC or HGTV for me.
  • I very rarely spend more than $15 on an article of clothing and don't buy clothes that often.

Ways we aren't so much living like no one else:
  • I haven't cut up my credit card. I pay it off every month, but I'm still using it.
  • We don't live on beans and rice. We eat good meat!
  • We're using student loans to pay for Nathan's graduate school.
  • We go on dates to nice restaurants (not fast food) once or twice a month.
  • I get my hair cut at a salon every eight weeks. (This one kind of balances out though since I went more than two years without getting it cut.)
I guess you could say we're living fairly differently than most people, but we aren't as frugal as we could be. In the year or so we have left until we have to start paying off the student loans, we plan to pay off all other debt and save up an emergency fund of 3-6 months' expenses. We don't want to buy a house until we've paid off the student loans and can make at least a 20% down payment. Yes, this will take years, especially since we want to have children, but that's okay.

What do you think of Dave Ramesy? Are you living like no one else?

November 10, 2010

Wedding Recaps: Inspiration Versus Reality

In my first blog entry, I showed this depiction of my wedding vision:

If you followed this blog during our wedding planning, you know that vision evolved somewhat. Here's how it all looked in reality, with actual photos from our wedding:

What changed:
  • The bridesmaid dresses were a lighter red and full length.
  • I decided on roses for the bridesmaid bouquets rather than lilies. 
  • We ended up choosing cupcakes over cakes.
  • I bought handmade for my ring bearer pillow.
  • Although I didn't have scroll patterns in my dress, centerpieces, or ring bearer pillow like I had originally planned, I did add a scroll to our card box.

What stayed the same:
  • My hairstyle was very similar to my original inspiration photo.
  • I used cranberries in my centerpieces.
  • I had white lilies and burgundy roses in my bouquet.

More photos to come!

November 9, 2010

How I Became a Dog Person

Two years ago today, a dog belonging to one of Nathan's friends gave birth to a litter of puppies. As soon as Nathan saw them, he wanted to get one. "I picked out a really cute one!" he told me. I thought this was a ridiculous idea. How was he going to take care of a dog when he was unemployed and could barely afford to take care of himself?

Then, on December 23rd of that year, Nathan had one of the worst days of his life. But the thing is, when I talked to him later that evening, he actually sounded happy - I couldn't believe it! What made him so happy that night was that he got to play with his cousin's dog. Most of our phone conversation was about what the dog was doing. I realized at that point, He needs to get a dog.

I still had my doubts though. Aside from the money issues, I had never really been much of a dog person. And then I saw pictures of her.

How could I tell him not to adopt her?

I held her in my lap as Nathan drove her back to his apartment. She was shaking from fear and the cold.

Once we got her to her new home, she was fine. And so was I.

Nenya became my personal trainer...

My yoga instructor...

My study buddy...

And a good friend.

I had known Nathan less than 4 months when he got Nenya. Although we were confident we would be together forever, we of course couldn't be certain. I used to joke with Nathan that I would fight for joint custody of Nenya if we did break up. I would have lost for sure since Nenya will always obey Nathan over me, but I'm so glad that never has to happen.

Happy birthday, Nenya! Thanks for showing me how amazing dogs can be!

November 6, 2010

Grocery Store Savings Madness

Things got a little crazy around here Friday night as I tried to figure out my grocery shopping strategy for the week. In my opinion, it was worth it. Kroger has a "10 Item Mega Event" going on right now, which means you can save $5 if you buy 10 participating items. Normally when they have these sales, the participating items aren't things we would normally buy, so we wouldn't really be saving money. This sale had so many great buys that I probably would have bought 30 items if it weren't for our lack of cabinet space. I ended up limiting myself to 20 (although I'm tempted to go back for 10 more and start a stockpile in my dresser).

These were my picks:

2 boxes of Quaker cereal, 3 packages of pasta, 8 cans of Campbell's Chunky/Select Harvest soup, 1 container of yogurt, 1 can of cranberry sauce, 2 cans of cream of chicken soup, 1 can of peaches, and 2 packages of frozen vegetables

Had I bought these 20 items at regular price, without using my Kroger Plus Card, it would have cost $42.16. With the plus card and sale prices, the total comes down to $29.86. Since I bought 20 participating items, I also saved $5 for every 10, which brings the total to $19.86. After using coupons for most of these items, my final cost was $9.11!

These weren't the only groceries I bought this week. All the food I bought totaled $47.96, which is more than I've spent in a while, but I also got about twice as much as I normally would. Next week's trip should be very light if we use what we have wisely.

Ironically, while I was out shopping Nathan was reading for his accounting class about what happens to coupons after they leave the store. He said coupons are a "pain in the butt" from an accounting standpoint. I'm glad I'm helping keep accountants employed. :)

What's your best money saving success story?

November 4, 2010

10 "Shocking Secrets"

I found this article about "10 Shocking Secrets of the First Year of Marriage." We're a third of the way into our first year, but I wanted to compare our experiences so far with the article's claims.

This has nothing to do with anything.

Claim #1: You'll gain a little love weight.
I have gained a few pounds, but when we got married I was at the lowest weight I'd been in my adult life. If I start exercising again on a regular basis, the weight will come off. I definitely don't want a few pounds to turn into creeping obesity.

Claim #2: Your B-list buds will go MIA.
We weren't really going out for "Friday-night drinks" as the article says before we were married either. Neither of us went to high school or college in this city, so we don't have a lot of friends here to hang out with. We've seen more of Nathan's friends than mine since getting married. I need to make some road trips to change that.

Claim #3: After the honeymoon and a happy homecoming, life can turn, well...a bit PG
Well, there are these things called jobs and responsibilities you have to go back to doing after the honeymoon.

Claim #4: You won't unpack your china for six months.
I don't have China. I have some boxes of stuff we need to take to Goodwill, but I've unpacked everything I planned to unpack. I never really intended to have an
"idyllic space" here, but I do fantasize about what I'll do with a house when we have one.

Claim #5: You'll do the dishes; your husband will fix stuff you fall into clich├ęd roles
We do what works for us. As I mentioned previously, I do most of the house work because that's what seems fair right now. When Nathan had a short spell of unemployment, he was doing the dishes.

Claim #6: Even though you'll have two paychecks, you'll still feel broke.
This makes no sense to me. I guess our situation is kind of unique since our combined income is much, much higher than it was a year ago and we have fewer expenses. However, I definitely don't feel rich by any means since we have debt.

Claim #7: You won't want to spend every moment with your new husband.
I enjoy every moment I'm able to spend with him. We did end up spending a weekend apart a couple months ago, which I didn't think would happen so soon in our marriage, but we each had things we needed to do in different states so that's just how it worked out.

Claim #8: You'll go to bed mad, even though you vowed not to—ever.
This hasn't happened. We've had some conflict, but we take as long as we need to resolve it.
Claim #9: Being a wife won't mean you'll instantly have skills worthy of an Iron Chef.
Actually, I've been shocked by how much my cooking skills have improved. I was convinced I couldn't cook, but I guess I just needed someone to cook for to motivate me to actually try.

Claim #10: The world will feel like a better place.
I'd have to agree with that one. If marriage makes your life worse, there's probably a problem.

This article wasn't all that shocking or profound. I might make a list of some more substantial things I've learned about being married.
Any other "shocking secrets" to add? 

November 3, 2010

Value Size ≠ Value

Over the past year or so, I've learned how to save money on groceries by clipping coupons, looking at grocery store circulars, and reading blogs about deals. Before I did any of that, the one way I saved money was examining unit prices on everything I bought. All the places I buy groceries have them displayed in big type right next to price, so all you have to do is pay attention. Clearly, not everyone does pay attention though or we would not have situations like this:

The 3 oz. size of real bacon pieces is $1.68, or 56¢ an ounce. For the 4.5 oz. "Value Size" bacon pieces, you pay $2.56, or 56.9¢ an ounce. This wasn't the first time I've seen this, so it wasn't just an error. Also interesting is that fact that both sizes have a lower price per ounce than the store brand. Walmart seems to have a lot of strange pricing though, like different sizes of cereal boxes for the same price.

Have you noticed any unusual pricing at grocery stores?

November 1, 2010

Corn in Various Forms

Nothing boosts your confidence quite like dumping an entire can of corn on the carpet. Actually, I wasn't too upset since the corn was just for me and I was making beets for Nathan; I just ate raw cauliflower instead. I suppose since I saved $0.65 on Cinnamon Toast Crunch Saturday and wasted a $0.67 can of corn Sunday, it balances out somewhat.

Nenya of course enjoyed helping me clean up. I tried not to let her eat too much, but I didn't think it would hurt her. Corn is the main ingredient in her dog food, so it can't be that bad for her, right?


I jolted awake this morning and yelled, "She's throwing up!"
This woke Nathan up too. "What do you mean she's throwing up?"
"I mean either I'm losing my mind or she's throwing up!"

I turned on the lamp above our bed and looked around the bedroom for Nenya, who was nowhere to be found. For a moment I worried that I had actually dreamt it. We got out of bed and saw her in the other bedroom across the hall. As Nathan stood in our doorway, I pointed out a spot right next to his foot. Yikes! A second spot was in the other bedroom under the weight bench. I used a paper towel to get up what I could from both areas then let the expert handle the proper cleaning of the carpet (I lived two hours away during all the house-breaking fun). I got in the shower a little earlier than normal, Nathan went back to sleep, and life went on.

And then I got home from work. And there were FOUR MORE spots on the carpet! Nathan got home not long after and got to do more cleanup while I took Nenya outside for more expulsion. I don't want to see corn again for a very long time!

What's the worst way you've ever woken up?