Wednesday, February 27, 2013

March Meals

Hello and Welcome! If you found your way here from the Pinterest Challenge, feel free to scroll down to the next post to see my project. Or just enjoy this photo of some delicious dessert. : )

My delicious birthday bread pudding. Yum. 
Holy crap. How is it almost March already? No one knows.

February certainly has sped by in a hurry. And we ate a bunch of good food: Beef stew, gnocchi in tomato broth, Swedish meatballs, Maid Rites (Iowa loose meat sandwiches - not sloppy joes), and slow-cooker Italian chicken salad. Eat them now and be happy.

Oh, the rest of the meals?....nope, didn't make em. But I did get to eat some of my favorite BBQ and pizza during my birthday trip to St. Louis. And had an awesome family birthday dinner here in Milwaukee at Maxie's Southern Comfort. I will be going back to that place as often as I can. The bread pudding and key lime pie were to die for. Yes, we got two desserts.

And now we march on to March Meal Planning. Same strategy as February, a three or four meal plan for each week. I didn't plan as many at the end of the month, because that's usually the point where it makes sense to start cleaning out stuff in the freezer, and when the budget is a bit tighter. Or when I say, "meh," and a Jack's pizza finds its way in the oven. You know how that can go.

Week One
15 Veggie Soup - a copycat recipe of one of my faves from Au Bon Pain.
Cilantro Thai Grilled Chicken
Taco Pizza
Pesto Cheese Toast

Week Two
BBQ Chicken Pizza
Baked Spaghetti with Sausage
Black Bean Quesadillas

Week Three
Oven-Baked Parmesan Chicken
Mac and Cheese - I'm always checking out new recipes. Love the stuff!
Taco Soup

Week Four
Italian Meatball Burgers
Slow Cooker Whole Chicken

You might be thinking, "Kirstin - there are some all-veggie and/or fish meals in there. Are you forcing Chris to starve?" Nope, but there are some nights where I'll be flying solo for dinner. So it's a good opportunity to take advantage of eating things that I like that he doesn't. He does the same when I'm not there.

Something that we also discovered in February that I hope to take advantage of this month are the awesome monthly specials from Bunzel's, a local Milwaukee deli and meat market. Last month we picked up their special and went home with a Godfather pork roast, two chicken patties, a whole cut-up chicken, two lbs of ground beef, and an oven-ready meatloaf for just $20.13. Pretty amazing deal. And all of the meat has been delicious so far. If you are in the area, check them out!

So what are you eating this month? Getting in your corned beef and Irish soda bread?

Winter Pinterest Challenge: All Dressed Up

Oh, you were looking for a post-30th birthday post? Sorry, it might be another minute....

But instead, let's get crafty!

I have been itching to take on a creative project, so I was so excited when the latest Pinterest Challenge was announced. Great motivator to get off my butt and make long as it was something I could finish while watching tv, of course.

There are pictures all over Pinterest of some fancy dressed up bookcases, which were totally inspiring and seemed like a fairly doable project for me. Here is my favorite inspiration post:

Thanks for the inspiration, In My Own Style!
I happened to find a cute patterned roll of wrapping paper at Target that was only $2, and a perfect fit for our little black shelf in the living room. And it followed the same pattern as my inspiration photo.

Check it out now!

The project took me the length of a tv show, and was super easy. I just measured and cut pieces of the paper to fit, and then taped them to the cardboard back. Some of the other tutorials suggest using fabric and covering cardboard to inset into the shelf. I was lazy, and this was easier. Plus, it was a $30 Target shelf that I've had for quite awhile. It was already looking pretty beat up from the move. Now it looks classy.

Huzzah. I love a good quatrefoil print.

Have you made anything lately? If you would like some ideas, check out the Pinterest Challenge from Sherry at Young House Love, and all of the other linked projects.

Friday, February 15, 2013


Thanks to my sister for sharing this. You can buy this awesome card here.

Today is the day!

I am officially 30! And while I don't feel old, I might be falling apart. Nah...just trying to get over a cold.

But that won' stop me. I'm off on a weekend of birthday adventures. See ya soon!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Sleepy Time

They have no problems sleeping all day and night. Totally jealous.

I am not a morning person. Not at all.

My mornings usually involve hitting the snooze button several times, followed by flying around my apartment trying to get ready in time, always running late. Lately, I've been so stressed, that I also haven't been getting much sleep during the night, leaving me groggy and less productive during the day, especially mid-afternoon. You might call me Oscar the Grouch. It would be fair.

So, when the first chapter of The Happiness Project focused on having more energy, I was totally tuned in. Gretchen focused on sleep and energy, and I figured that would be a good starting point for me too. Some of her strategies included:
  1. Set a specific bedtime.
  2. Get ready for bed well before your bedtime.
  3. Make your room very dark.
  4. Stretch.
  5. Keep your bedroom a little chilly.
  6. Make a list of everything you need to do the next day.
  7. Tidy up your bedroom.
  8. Exercise.
  9. An hour before bedtime, avoid work that requires alert thinking.
  10. Slather on body lotion.
  11. Put on socks if your feet are cold.
  12. Yawn.
  13. Tell yourself, "I have to get up now."
  14. Give up, and reframe your sleeplessness.
One of the first things that I decided to do to help promote better sleeping was to clear out the clutter in our room. The side of the bed next to my nightstand had become my dumping ground for stacks of important papers and bills, as well as all of my dissertation books and articles. Throw in a bunch of piles of clothes (some clean, some dirty, some waiting to be donated), and the place was basically a disaster zone. Nothing like clutter to block good sleep. It's like those dissertation books were staring me down in the middle of the night, making me feel guilty for not getting more done. Boo.

So I spent a whole Sunday cleaning our room, organizing all of the papers, and putting them in a new filing cabinet that I purchased. I also got a shoe rack, and organized my closet so that I can actually shut the door. The donation piles and the books moved out. I still need to find a new home for them, but I will do that when I have more energy. They are not welcome back in our room.

Bedtime is now 10 pm, no exceptions. The light has to go off at that time, and the room has to be as dark as possible. No blinking laptop lights. I have also been trying to put on my pjs by 8 pm. I honestly think it helps me get more tired. Call me an old lady if you will - I am turning 30 this week. It's fair.

Finally, one of my biggest challenges in getting to sleep is the stress of all of the things coming the next day. I keep a notepad by my desk for things that come up as I am trying to get to sleep, I pick out my outfit the night before, and I try to pack a lunch too. All those good night time things. But, I have also started spending the last half hour of my work day prepping for the next one. I have been clipping all of my To Dos, and any related paperwork to a clip board. It's waiting for me when I get in the next morning, which means I feel a little less chaotic during the evenings. Because, really, nothing I do is typically so urgent that it can't wait until the morning. 

After a week at a conference, my sleep schedule is still pretty off and I returned with a conference cold. Standard. But I am determined to condition my body to get more sleep. Chris doesn't have any problems sleeping. Not like I do. So he may be less excited about these changes. But he sure is being supportive. I think he would probably enjoy a less crabbier me.

Do you get sleep? How would your days be different if you had more sleep?

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Beyond 30: Book #34 The Happiness Project

I had received several recommendations to pick up a copy of The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin, and finally did so when I had a new audio book credit to use. I'm so glad that I got it, I couldn't stop listening! And it gave me tons of ideas for 2013: Thrive.

Rubin started a year-long project to live a more happy life. As she describes it, she wasn't depressed, or even unhappy. She just wanted to actively seek ways to be happier. Creating a chart of resolutions, she focused on a different area of happiness each month:

January: Vitality
February: Marriage
March: Work
April: Parenthood
May: Leisure
June: Friendship
July: Money
August: Eternity
September: Books
October: Mindfulness
November: Attitude
December: Happiness

Some of her areas to work on totally hit home. The first chapter, which focused on energy, had so many tips that I wanted to implement immediately. She had some great thoughts to share on relationships, both with her husband, her children and her friends. While her chapter on fun didn't really sound that fun to me, one of the key points of the book was that each person's happiness project has to be their own. The first of her personal twelve commandments for the book was "Be Gretchen."

The book has me thinking about what those things are that make me happy, as well as areas of my life in which I could be happier. What would my personal commandments be? What resolutions would I make? Rubin has a web site where folks can get tips, handouts, and other resources to start their own happiness project. Check it out here. I'll be sharing more about my own resolutions down the road. Who doesn't want to be happier?

The book has actually been out awhile, and Rubin has already written a follow up, Happier at Home. Guess what I'll be reading next...

Monday, February 11, 2013

Beyond 30 - Books 31 and 33: Sherlock Style!

As I mentioned, I have been pretty excited about Sherlock Holmes lately. All thanks to the BBC Series, Sherlock, of course. Plus a little bit of CBS' Elementary.

So when I happened upon free versions of all of the stories and novels by Arthur Conan Doyle on the Kindle Free Classics from Amazon, I jumped right in. Nothing like a free e-book!

Initially, I wasn't reading them in order, so I started with The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. Mainly because I found it first. But also because it has some of the stories that the BBC series used as a foundation for their modern spinoff.

Each of the stories was pretty short, looking at a different case of Sherlock Holmes, as told from the eyes of Dr. John Watson, his dutiful sidekick. The first of the series is A Scandal in Bohemia, which is the readers only interaction with the infamous Irene Adler. Some of my other favorites from these stories included A Case of Identity, The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle, and The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor (I've heard they may use this one in the third installment of the Sherlock mini-series).

Then I decided to go back to the beginning, starting with the first novel, A Study in Scarlet. This is the initial story where Holmes and Watson first meet and become roommates. It is also the story of some mysterious murders, with a twist involving Mormonism. The Sherlock BBC series used this for their first episode, A Study in Pink, which used a very loose adaptation. Overall, a pretty good story.

Anyone else a fan of Sherlock Holmes? Which is your favorite movie/tv adaptation?

Thriving in 2013: Money Matters

Have you heard of The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun by Gretchen Rubin? I am reading it right now and it is pretty great. She took a year to focus on adding more happy into her life, keying in on a different area each month. I have taken so much from this book that relates to my theme for this year to thrive.

One of the areas that I seek to thrive in in 2013 (and beyond) is money. I have shared some of my financial woes before, and I am not afraid to be honest about my good decisions and my bad ones. Money is an area that is never really very happy, but a whole lot of stressful. I want to change that.

Last fall, I paid my last major tuition bill. I will still have fees to pay over the next few semesters until I finish my dissertation, but not like what I have had for a regular semester. While I rejoiced at that, it also brings the reality that I will have to begin paying back student loans very soon. And I have quite the pile of them between these last two degrees.

Rather than pretending it's not there and that it's not coming quickly, I am trying to get out ahead of my loans. First, by eliminating the last tiny bit of my credit card debt that I have been working vigorously to pay off, and which should be gone before spring hits. And then, by throwing as much money as I can at my loans now, to hopefully reduce some of the interest payments later, and my overall payoff amount. This is one dragon that I'd rather slay head on, rather than waiting for it to come find me. Because I won't truly be thriving financially until this dude stops breathing fire down my back. 

So my year of "thriving" might actually look a little bit like the opposite in terms of "stuff". Spending less now so that I have more to spend down the road. Not that making some changes, wouldn't be a good thing anyway. I have definitely made some progress in my spending and saving habits and thought I'd share a few of my strategies. 

1. Figure out those items that I'd just prefer not to spend money on. And cut 'em. 
There are things I just don't need, that I have eliminated already (for the most part). Cable. Manis/pedis. Magazine subscriptions.  

2. Creating and actually using a monthly budget.
This has been a hard task, but an important one. My "budgeting" technique in the past has been to open my account and make sure it still has money in it before spending. Not exactly the best technique. For the past couple of months, I am working on an actual written budget for each month, with regular tracking. It takes time, but it's worth it.

3. Asking for gifts based on need, rather than want. 
I shared my excitement for our washer/dryer, which has made a world of a difference in our lives, and has helped us to save some money already. I have typically been more inclined to ask for Christmas and birthday presents that meet a need. Whether it has been a new winter coat, or most recently, a pair of new suitcases, I always love receiving something that I need. Nothing too flashy. My grandma stocked me up this year with all of the black dress socks that I will need for work for the next several years! And I can't even remember the last time I have bought my own pajamas. Thanks Mom!

4. Cutting food costs. 
Since I started the monthly meal planning, we have definitely gone out to dinner a lot less. Not only have we done less "lazy" eating out - those nights where it is unplanned, that you just don't feel like cooking dinner, but I have also been much better about taking my lunch. I can still reign in our grocery budget a bit by being more mindful about our grocery planning and using coupons.

Things that I still need to work on:

1. Cutting the coffee.
I have done much better with this during January and February. Even though I typically buy regular coffee rather than fancy lattes, it still adds up to get one every day. For awhile, I was trying to bring in my coffee from home, but I then developed a collection of travel mugs at the office that never made it home. So instead, I bought a coffee pot to keep in our office at work, and will make coffee there in the mornings. 

2. Accounting for non-monthly expenses in said budget. 
You know those things like car repairs, airline tickets for vacation, Christmas presents, etc. I often let those sneak up on me. And it would be a whole lot easier to put aside $10-50 a month, than have to pull them all out in the same month. So starting in February, they are being included in my monthly budget, and taken out on pay day to be put in a separate account. So I don't "accidentally" spend it. Better to have a more realistic plan at the beginning of the month.

3. Not buying on impulse, but allowing myself to spend. 
This will always be a hard one. I have a track record of being good about not spending any money for awhile, and then splurging all at once. Not a good habit. I think I will actually be much better off if I allow myself to spend more normally.

So that's the plan! I'll keep you posted. And stay tuned for more on The Happiness Project. Hoping to finish it this week!

Saturday, February 2, 2013

February Food

So January is over, huh! It's been a whirlwind. And quite the cold one, brr. Hot chocolate = best friend.

I think I made about half of the meals I planned, which is honestly better than some past months. We actually didn't eat out that much, but some nights just found something we had at home. I still believe that a bowl of cereal is a fantastic dinner.

My reviews: The jambalaya, risotto, pulled pork, red beans & rice, and chili were all delicious! If you try to make a marinated chicken - don't use a George Foreman grill. Major mess to clean up. Not fun. 

This month I learned something big:

Planning a meal for every day is too many. With only two of us, we sometimes end up with more leftovers than we want to eat. Which means more waste than I'd like. And planning one for every day can get costly, especially if they involve meat. I found that I blew through our grocery budget within the first few weeks, then threw together meals off the plan towards the end, which meant lots of spaghetti/sauce and frozen pizza, and pulling old stuff out of the freezer (which is definitely not a bad thing). I don't always stick exactly to the plan anyway, but definitely want to spread out the good ones. And honestly, as a working professional, I am finding it is a little too ambitious to try to cook every night. I just don't want to. I want some tv time too.

So for this month, I am only going to plan 3-4 meals a week, and allow for more flexibility. On those days that we don't cook something off the list, we will have some built in standbys, either in the freezer or easy to throw together. And I will probably plan for a few less meals with meat each week, maybe one beef, one chicken, one pasta, and one wild card. If one can be a slow cooker meal, that will save some time too. It also leaves room to put in Family Dinners (which we do some weeks and not others), and a meal out every once in awhile. 

So here is the modified plan for February:

Week One
Pioneer Woman's Sunday Night Stew
Gnocchi in a Tomato Broth (I'll use gnocchi we have on hand...not making from scratch)
Slow Cooker Sweet and Sour Chicken

Week Two
Pioneer Woman's Perfect Potato Soup (without the bacon, of course)
Swedish Meatballs
Hummus Crusted Chicken Breast
Slow Cooker Brats

Week Three
Pioneer Woman's Baked Ziti

Chicken and Lime Soup
Cheesy Quinoa Mac and Cheese

Week Four
Maid Rites (Iowa loose meat sandwiches) - I've missed these!
BBQ Chicken Pizza
Slow Cooker Italian Chicken Salad

It will be nice to try this out with a short month! To prep, I am also thinking we can do the following:
  • Cook and freeze taco meat into two-serving portions.
  • Bake lasagna in bread loaf pans and freeze.
  • Keep baked potatoes on hand, with some possible toppings.
Have you cooked anything delicious lately? 

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