May 29, 2011

Nathan's Wedding Gift

A year ago, when we were planning our wedding, Nathan got the idea that instead of having a limo pick us up from the wedding reception, we should have a helicopter. He wanted this to be a surprise for me, but once he decided it would probably be a little too expensive, he told me about his idea. 

Not long after he told me this, there just so happened to be a Groupon for an introductory helicopter flight lesson. Up until that point, I wasn't sure whether or not to buy Nathan a wedding gift. Sure the sales ladies at Jared insisted that I had to buy him a watch since "It's tradition!" but Nathan was happy with the Walmart digital watch he had. 

Flying a helicopter on the other hand? That's something he could enjoy. So, although we left the wedding reception in our own car, later that night I told Nathan that he would get to fly a helicopter. I really thought he would have his lesson last summer, but somehow we just never got around to it. Finally, two weeks before the Groupon expired, Nathan flew a helicopter!

First, the flight instructor showed him and another student all the controls. The two other students there that morning were also using Groupons, so Nathan wasn't the only one to wait until the last minute.

Then he went inside the tent classroom for his ground training.

...while I sat and watched the birds. The metropolitan airport is probably one of the quietest places in the city when there are no helicopters or planes taking off - just the sounds of red-winged blackbirds, mockingbirds, and killdeer.

And then it was Nathan's turn to fly!

A few more instructions

A little bit of hovering

And he was off!

I wish I could have seen the view he had of the city up there. He even flew over our apartment and saw my car on the ground.

Still smiling after his flight 

 Yep, I'd say it was a lot more fun than a fancy watch!

Linked at Try New Adventures Thursday at Alicia's Homemaking.

May 26, 2011

The Chore Schedule of a Working Wife

Okay, I promise cleaning the stove is not one of Nenya's regular chores. However, this photo is a pretty good illustration of what kind of a homemaker I am. I don't always clean the stove after I cook. In fact, sometimes the stove gets so bad that I jokingly tell Nathan we should just put Nenya on the counter and have her lick it off. And one time he actually did (but not for long, and he was right next to the counter the whole time).

Occasionally I'll come across another woman's chore schedule, and invariably it involves much more cleaning than mine. Cleaning the bathroom sink every day? I could never do that. And vacuuming every day too? I don't even vacuum; Nathan does. Everyone's situation is different, and there's no need to compare. But if you would like to see an example of a chore schedule of a newly married wife who is gone at least 10 hours out of every weekday, here is my list. I've changed things around since I first developed it.

 • Laundry

 • Clean inside of microwave
 • Clear off desk
 • Water plants

 • Clean bathroom sink
 • Hand wash delicates
 • Clean bathroom mirror

 • Clean bathtub
 • Dust bedrooms

 • Clean toilet
 • Sweep and mop (entry way, bathroom, kitchen)

 • Plan menu
 • Dust living area

 • Grocery shopping
 • Food prep
 • Brush Nenya

Nathan's (Usually) Weekly Chores
• Vacuum
• Take out trash
• Clear off desk

This is what works for us right now. I don't always keep with it perfectly, but I usually manage to get almost everything done on a weekly basis at least. My most often neglected chore is sweeping and mopping the floors, even though I have just 3 tiny sections of floor that need swept. There aren't any chores that get done on a daily basis. As I've written about before, although I take care of most of the chores right now since Nathan is busy finishing up his MBA as well as working on computer certifications, I'm blessed with a husband who does not consider any chore "woman's work" and who would be willing to take on more chores if he ever becomes the one with more free time. Sometimes he helps me haul the laundry and get it started, which rocks my socks off.

Do you use a chore schedule? What is your least favorite chore?

May 24, 2011

10 Easy Main Dishes for the Beginner Cook

I like cooking. I like the money that I save by not buying fast food for dinner. I like knowing what's in my food. But what I don't like, at least at this point in my life, are complicated recipes. The key word for these recipes is easy. These aren't healthy, whole foods recipes by any means - one uses cream of chicken soup, and one uses Pillsbury crescents. But all of them  have five ingredients or fewer, at least the way I prepare them, and don't require a lot of work.

Here are 10 favorites from my limited cooking repertoire. I've listed the ingredients I use for each recipe, and the recipe names link to the directions for them.

: : 1 : :
Pork chops
Brown sugar
Dried basil
Olive oil

The recipe calls for boneless pork chops, but I use bone-in.

 : : 2 : :
 Lean ground beef
Italian-style tomato sauce
Shredded mozzarella cheese
10-ounce package  refrigerated biscuits

 : : 3 : :
Tuna Macaroni
1 box macaroni and cheese
1 can light tuna, packed in water
1 can cream of chicken soup

 My favorite version of tuna noodle casserole is actually not a casserole, and not the version pictured. All I do is make a box of Annie's Mac & Cheese, then mix in the soup and tuna. No baking required! We sprinkle chow mein noodles on the individual servings.

: : 4 : :
Boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Seasoned bread crumbs
Grated Parmesan cheese
Dried basil

: : 5 : :
 Canned salmon
Sseasoned dry bread crumbs
Olive oil


: : 6 : :
  Pillsbury® Refrigerated Crescent Dinner Rolls
Thinly sliced ham
Sliced cheddar cheese

: : 7 : :
 Boneless skinless chicken breast halves
Minute® White Rice
Cream of chicken soup

  : : 8 : :
 Cod fillets
Margarine or butter
All-purpose flour
Shredded Cheddar cheese

It tastes better than it looks in the photo! 
I make this with 12 oz. of pollock and scale the other ingredients in half.

: : 9 : :
Boneless chicken breasts
Cream of Cheddar cheese soup
Salt and pepper
Garlic powder

  : : 10 : :
 Ground turkey
  Italian seasoned bread crumbs

I pour barbecue sauce over mine before baking and serve over rice. 

What are your favorite easy recipes?

May 20, 2011

What We've Learned About Budgeting

At the beginning of this year, I wrote about the brilliant idea Nathan had to base our budget not on the 12 calendar months but on 13 four-week periods so that our income for each period would be about the same. Now that we're nearing the end of the fifth period, I'm still happy with this system, but it hasn't worked quite the way we thought it would. We've learned a lot about budgeting during these 20 weeks.

Income is never steady
This graph shows what our income has looked like the last five periods. Not so steady, is it? Just to clarify, the markers for the third and fifth period are the "normal" months. It has actually been higher than normal income we've been dealing with, which is a very good issue to have.

Why the high months? 
  • Working on corporate holidays in December meant extra income for Nathan in January.
  • Tuition reimbursement from Nathan's employer came in February.
  • We received a tax refund in April.
Budgeting requires flexibility
The problem we had last year was that we thought of our budget as this rigid guideline that could not be changed in the middle of the month. But guess what? Life isn't predictable! In addition to the unexpected extra income, we've also had some unexpected expenses. You don't know at the beginning of the month that in two weeks you'll need car repairs. You don't know that you'll end up losing the key fob for the laundry room and have to pay $50 to replace it (or that you'll find it later and not be able to get any money back). And really, who can predict how much they'll spend on gas anymore?

Now, when we set our budget before the beginning of each period, we set our amounts for each category based on our normal earned income. If we end up bringing in more money than expected, we then tweak the overall budgeted amount and the amounts for each category. For example, if we expected to make $2,000 during a period and Nathan gets a paycheck with $50 extra overtime pay, we might add $40 to the budgeted amount for the emergency fund and $10 to the amount we budget for miscellaneous spending. Our total budgeted would then be $2,050. And likewise, if an expense comes up that was not originally in the budget, we'll have to lower a few categories to make up for it.

Budgeting requires communication
Extra income is a blessing, but it makes having a budget even more important. If Nathan and I hadn't decided ahead of time how we were going to use our tax refund, we could have ended up going crazy with our spending for that month. Having a budget meeting at the beginning of each period is a starting point, but being in financial harmony with your spouse requires constant communication. We don't consult each other about every purchase we make, but it's nice to know when Nathan plans to spend $100 on computer parts.

Budgeting takes a lot of time to get it right
If you've been using a budget for a long time, it might sound like I'm stating the obvious in this post, but it was incredibly frustrating for us those first few months. We still haven't perfected it, and I don't know that we ever will. If you're just starting out with creating and using a budget, don't give up!

 Do you use a budget? What are your tips for making it work?

May 16, 2011

Slow Cooker Revolution

Slow Cooker Revolution is a beautiful cookbook. It has excellent photography and a nice, easy to read layout. However, it is sadly not for me. While I thought many of the recipes looked tasty, I need recipes that work for both of us. Rather than trying to guess which recipes Nathan might be able to tolerate, I had Mr. Picky Eater look through it himself and let me know which ones looked good to him. He came up with seven recipes that he wanted to try: Loaded Baked Potato Soup, Turkey Breast and Gravy, Beginner's Pulled Pork, Easy Barbecued Ribs, Sausage Lasagna (the yummy cover photo!), Corned Beef Hash, and Chocolate Fondue.

I can't fault this cookbook for not having enough recipes that appeal to my husband. I'm sure less picky eaters would find this a true slow cooker revolution. The only thing I didn't like about this cookbook is that most of the recipes require a lot of work. My ideal slow cooker recipe is one that allows me to throw the ingredients in the slow cooker when I'm half awake on a Sunday morning. Although I look forward to the challenge of trying these new recipes, an experienced cook would probably enjoy the book more. Check out this review from Lynn's Kitchen Adventures to see what one of those experienced cooks thought. If you're not as confident in your culinary skills, I would recommend looking for this book at your local library (as I did) rather than buying it.

What is your favorite cookbook?

Other Books Read in 2011

May 12, 2011

Playing the Drugstore Game

I've shared before how I've been able to find deals on groceries and clothes, but saving money on household and personal items is where I struggle. I don't think about buying toothpaste or toilet paper until we're almost out. Even though I had heard how a lot of people manage to get some really good deals at drugstores and even make money, it still just seemed like a waste of time to go to extra stores. However, when I finally saw some deals on products that we actually use, I went for it.

Week One: Earning Rewards

Skintimate shave gel (CVS): $3.18 after coupons, got $2.50 Extra Bucks
Speed Stick deodorant (Walgreen's): $1.30 after coupons, got $1 Register Rewards
Snickers eggs (Walgreen's): $0.54

I thought I could get the eggs for free at Walgreen's, but the coupon was rejected. The cashier already seemed annoyed with my existence since I had given her a special Walgreen's discount coupon after she had rung up my items and "That's supposed to be scanned first!" and had to get a manager. I decided to just buy them.

Total spent: $5.02
Total rewards earned: 3.50

Week Two: Using the Rewards 

For my second trip, I was able to use my Extra Bucks and Register Rewards to get even better deals.

Sinus medicine (CVS): $3.70 after using my $2.50 Extra Bucks. I was more concerned about getting relief from my congestion than getting fantastic deals!
Aussie hair spray and mousse (Walgreen's): $5.49 for both after coupons and Register Rewards and got $3 Register Rewards back. 

Total spent: $9.19
Total rewards earned: $3

I had the same cashier at Walgreen's, and once again my coupon was rejected. "This says Herbal Essences. You bought Aussie" was her explanation. Except that it says OR AUSSIE right after the Herbal Essences and even has a picture of the purple bottles right on the coupon! But once I pointed that out, she actually got the coupon to work for me. After two trips to Walgreen's and two rejected coupons, I'm beginning to see why many people have just given up shopping there.

 Week Three: Making Money

For my third trip to CVS, even without any Extra Bucks to spend, I was able to make money! The Honest Tea was on sale 3/$4, and you earn $1 Extra Bucks by buying 3. With three $1/1 Honest Tea coupons and a CVS coupon for a free beverage that took $2 off, I was able to get four drinks for $0.84 and earned $1 in Extra Bucks. We're basically getting paid $0.04 to drink each of them. 

Total spent: $0.84
Total rewards earned: $1

So, yes, drugstore shopping can be a hassle, but I think if I stick with it long enough I can drastically reduce the amount we spend on household items. And getting paid to drink tea and Dr. Pepper? You can't beat that.

May 9, 2011

From Long Distance to Living Together

Nathan and I had a fairly long distance relationship right up until the day we got married. Although we saw each other much more frequently during our engagement, when we lived only 40 minutes apart, we had no idea what it would be like to see each other every day. While I felt confident that we would make it work, I wasn't really sure what it would be like to jump from living far apart to living in the same apartment.

When we were dating, we were always happy to see each other and sad when we had to leave. I really thought that would change once we were married - that there would come a time when we would get sick of each other. Maybe that will happen eventually, but it hasn't so far. We hug just about every time one of us has to leave, even if we'll be apart for less than an hour. And we have so much fun with each other just living our daily lives.

One real benefit of growing so accustomed to a long distance relationship is that being away from each other isn't that difficult. We've spent at least 3 weekends apart so far in our first year of marriage. Sure, we miss each other, but a couple days apart is no big deal when seeing each other every day is still a novel thing. The only issue in these situations is who gets Nenya for the weekend.

I wouldn't say that being in a semi-long distance relationship before our marriage made the transition to living together any more difficult. If anything, it's made newlywed life a lot more enjoyable.

Did you have a long distance relationship before you were married?

May 5, 2011

What I Gave Up for My Marriage

Marriage is all about sacrifices. Give and take. But what have I actually "given up" now that I'm a married woman?

My career Goals? No. Nathan is supportive of me getting a Masters' degree (should I choose to pursue one). 
Spending time with friends? No. I spent a Saturday with some college friends recently.
Hobbies? No. I'm reading for fun more than I have since elementary school.

What have I given up for my husband? One of these:

A top sheet.

Nathan hates sleeping with a top sheet. He claims they serve no purpose and always end up wadded up at the foot of the bed. I originally thought he would just have to get used to sleeping with one. When we were first married, it was warm enough that we didn't need any blankets. Nathan could tolerate sleeping with a top sheet by itself. But when it came time to pile on the blankets, the sheet had to go.

Yes, marriage is all about compromise and sacrifice...some sacrifices are just a little odder than others.

I've made it to 100 posts of Wedding/Newlywed Trek. Thanks for reading!

May 3, 2011

10 Things I Learned on Our Florida Trip

Nathan and I took a trip to Pensacola, Florida, last month. Nathan graduated from Pensacola Christian College, and he was excited to finally be able to show me where he spent five years of his life. With one day of driving, three days there, and another day driving back, it was somewhat exhausting, but it was nice to be able to relax a little. Here are 10 things I learned on our first post-honeymoon trip together.

1. Pensacola Christian College feels very little like Ball State University.
I was aware that Nathan and I attended very different colleges, but being at PCC in person gave me a better picture of those differences. Although I had no problem putting on a skirt to comply with the PCC dress code, it felt kind of unnatural since I wore jeans 90% of the time I was in college. "I feel like we're going to church!" I told Nathan as I got in the car. Really, we kind of were; we attended chapel along with all of the students Friday morning. And, even as a married man, Nathan felt a little uncomfortable when his wife kissed him on a campus where even hand holding is forbidden.

2. Nathan and I can spend 13 hours in the car without getting mad at each other.
This was good to know. I wouldn't say we enjoyed every minute of our ridiculously long trip, but I couldn't have asked for better company.

3. Nathan was a very memorable student.
Five years after graduating, his professors still remembered him. I've only been out of college two years, and I doubt very many of my professors would remember my name.

4. Alabama dirt is RED.
This photo doesn't begin to do it justice. When Nathan told me about the red dirt, I was expecting it to look like the clay tennis courts at the French Open. But some of it was a bright red, almost like the radioactive Fiesta Ware.

5. Florida isn't always warm.
Okay, I kind of knew that before, but it still surprised me how cold it was at the beach. Even though there were still plenty of girls in bikinis, I kept my coat on part of the time.

6. Bar soap is BAD for my wedding ring.
Normally I don't have a problem using motel soap for a few days, but now that I know what it does to my wedding band, I may have to bring liquid soap the next time we go on vacation. The soap was caked in behind the diamonds of my ring, and even a cleaning at Jared didn't get it out. (Once I brought it to the attention of the sales associate, she said she had some tricks up her sleeve and was able to get it out.)

7. Nathan is a driving beast.
He drove two-thirds of the way to Florida and two-thirds of the way home. I even had coffee on the way back to try to wake myself up to drive again, but all he needed was a four hour break in the middle.

8. Alabama has some crazy roadkill.
In addition to the aforementioned armadillos, I saw a few coyotes and some animals I couldn't identify...mink? Weasel? Dingo?

9. Groupons aren't always amazing deals.
I signed up to receive the daily Groupon emails for Pensacola a few months before our trip, and I bought a Groupon for Surf Burger, a restaurant on Pensacola Beach. It was a really good lunch with a fabulous view, but with all the gas we burned up driving around for 30 minutes to find parking, it wasn't as great of a deal as I had hoped.

10. I still hate grits. 
It's been at least 15 years since I last tried grits, so I kept an open mind. I just don't like them, and I don't know why. However, fried okra is quite tasty.

Top Ten {Tuesday}