Enjoy Your Engagement

As I’ve rambled on about before, I learned a lot in planning my wedding and would do lots of things different if I had a time machine. I don’t though, so let me pass on some tips to you! So many of the lessons I came away with after my wedding could come to one simple thing: I wish I had enjoyed my engagement, and the whole process, more. I get it: It’s super easy to get caught up in the details. You want to plan the BEST day ever and completely lose yourself while striving for a Pinterest perfect wedding. But it could come at a cost. Your sanity.

Save yourself from an embarrassing meltdown like I had and avoid having regrets.

enjoying your engagement tip picture

So without further ado, here’s some of my own tips for enjoying your engagement to the fullest:

-Be organized without overdoing it. Not everything needs to be color-coded and meticulously organized, but you do need a basic system so that you can easily find something when you need it. Keep all your wedding items and papers in one place (the corner of a spare bedroom or closet is great), and have a binder or folder with the most important papers, including a checklist, phone numbers of vendors, etc., that you can take with you to appointments or planning sessions with your bridal party.

-Ask for help! Seriously. Don’t suck it up and do it all yourself like I tried to, because you simply can’t do it unless you find a way to live without sleep. Enlist your bridal party, parents, crafty friends, co-workers, whoever you can get. Bribe them with candy. Whatever it takes to get some assistance in any area you need. And revel in the great people in your life that are willing to take time out of their day for you!

-Stick to (and make) a budget. When you get to the point you’ve realized you’ve overspent, there’s probably not much you can do to take it back, so don’t let it happen in the first place. Remember that it’s more important to invest in your marriage, not your wedding.

-Breathe. If you’re starting to feel overwhelmed, sit back, close your eyes for a minute and simply breathe deeply. It’s crazy how much something as simple as that can help you calm down. If that’s not enough, walk away and do something else for awhile. Try yoga even!

-Have plenty of date nights with your fiancé. Make time for each other and be in the moment! It’s so important to not let your relationship slide to the back burner during this time. You’re engaged! Enjoy it! Prioritize spending quality time together and find fun ways to connect. I think it’s also important to talk a lot. Get to know each other on a deeper level. Ask each other hard questions. It’s amazing what you learn about your partner when you take the time to ask!

-Make lots of time for you. Go ahead, get massages leading up to the big day, schedule a facial and plenty of pedicures! Pamper yourself, because loving yourself is important too. If you’re tight on money, have an at-home spa day, or devote one entire weekend day to reading on the couch with your fave beverage. Go for a long walk in the park. Whatever it takes to relax your mind, have some fun and recharge your battery without doing anything wedding-related.

-Think about your expectations of your husband, bridal party and close family members and communicate to them what EXACTLY you want out of them. Never assume anything. (I assumed my mom would show up to help me get ready before the ceremony, but she didn’t because I didn’t tell her to be there. She simply didn’t know and wanted to help make sure the church was prepared and greet guests as they arrived, which was nice, but not what I had envisioned. That is 100% my fault.)

-Stick to your guns. Don’t let anyone else persuade you from wandering from your wedding-day dreams. If you really truly want to walk down the aisle to Spice Girls, do it. If you want to serve broccoli-flavored cake, do it. Who cares if someone thinks it’s weird or untraditional. It’s your day. Do what YOU want. They have/had their own day to do what they want.

-Accept the fact that things more than likely will go wrong on your wedding day and leading up to it. You probably will be disappointed in something, someone will make your big day all about them, and people you thought you could rely on may fail you. And as much as all of that sucks, it’s completely normal and there’s nothing you can do about it.

-Remember the big picture. What’s most important at the end of the day is that you get to marry the man (or woman!) you love. View your wedding as a success if that happens. As long as you and your spouse are happy with your decisions, you’re set.

The reason I think it’s so important to have an enjoyable engagement is so that you can carry it into your upcoming marriage. You want to set a good tone for your new life together. You don’t want to go into it frantic and frazzled! You (probably) only get to be engaged once, so you want to be able to look back on that time of your life and smile. It’s a happy time; enjoy it!

Packing a Manly Lunch

foods for a man lunch box


For a long time, my husband’s job was only a couple blocks from our apartment, so he would come home on his lunch break to fend for himself. But now, he’s got a new job that’s out of town and he can no longer swing home for food. On his first day, I packed him a lunch that I would have packed for me … but then he came home and reported that it wasn’t enough to tide over his manly appetite. So I put in a plea for ideas to fill man tummies from my wise sister in law and online, consulted Pinterest, wrote a few lists of my own and now have a pretty good grasp of what it takes to subside a big appetite during the workday.

Ideally you’d have enough leftovers from the previous day’s dinners to pack up as a lunch, but sometimes you just can’t do that. Here’s a list of foods that we like in our household that work great in lunches — for your man or for you!:

Main dish

-Sandwiches
meat, cheese and veggie
tuna salad
chicken salad
egg salad
BLT
PB&J

-homemade pizzas (even the English muffin or bagel kind!)

-hot dogs or sausage

-pickledinks (or ham, cream cheese and pickles rolled up in a tortilla)

-soup

-big salads with black beans

-pasta salad

Sides and fillers

-Cuties or Halos

-other fruit – banana, grapes, apple

-crackers with peanut butter

-celery with peanut butter (and raisins if he likes ’em for ants on a log)

-carrots or broccoli with ranch

-hard-boiled eggs

-baked beans

-Hawaiian rolls

-chips with dip or salsa

-pudding cups

-applesauce

-fruit cups

-granola bars

-jerky

-cashews or other nuts

-cheese sticks or cubes

-pretzel sticks

-cookies or bars

man lunch box close up

As a last resort, have some frozen burritos, hot pockets, canned soups, Ramen cups, prepackaged macaroni cups or tuna salad mixes on hand he can grab during times you’re running low on the good stuff.

Make it fun and get a new lunchbox, new storage containers with dividers, some small resealable cups for salsa, dressing, etc. It makes it more fun for you to pack and him to eat! (Not that the wife must always pack her husband’s lunch. Cal often packs his own, but sometimes I like to do it for him for fun.)

Oh, and always include a love note!

How I’m Digging Myself Out of Debt (with Actual Numbers)!

credit card debt how to pay offI’ve talked on this blog before about how I made some really bad financial decisions, especially related to my wedding. I had no self control. If I saw something and liked it, I threw it on plastic, never once paying attention to my balance, interest rate or fees. Then one day as I was paying bills, I realized that even though I’ve been paying the minimum payment every month on my cards, the total balance was still going up on some. That’s when I looked at the terms of my credit cards and realized how bad my situation was. It was worse than I ever thought it would be, and it was out of complete carelessness. I realized that if I was ever going to afford a house or a child, I had to make big changes quick. I decided to get my act together, tackle my debt, make a budget a financial plan to try and right my wrongs and get back on track.

I’m going to be very honest and open with my financial situation here. I know a lot of people are scared to reveal actual numbers, and I am too, but for the sake of being open and maybe possibly helping someone else, I’ll let it all out. Numbers and all. It’s incredibly embarassing to admit for me, and please don’t judge. Here we go.

The Problem

I had a total of 11 credit cards. ELEVEN. At the height of it all, one month after my wedding, I carried around approximately $8,500 in total credit card debt. (Plus some more lost money in overdraft fees from my always-low checking account.) It was a lot for me.

It started out innocently enough. My senior year of high school I signed up for my first credit card at Express as a way of building some credit in the first place. I barely used it that first year at all. Then I got one at Victoria’s Secret in college because I worked there. I did pretty good with these two cards at first. But then it got out of control fast. I saw how easy it was to manage these two so I thought surely I could get some more and it’d be no biggie. I was lured into nearly all of them by sales associates talking me into the sign-up savings. How could I NOT save an extra 15% on those new pants at Macy’s?! There was no harm, right? Wrong. I said yes way too many times to that sales pitch at the register.

It only got worse. For a work trip at my former job, my checking account balance was super low and I knew I wouldn’t be able to even afford to buy meals for the week. At that job, we got reimbursed for expenses after the trip, so I had to find a way of funding my expenses upfront. Signed up for a new credit card before the trip and used it frequently. Got home and decided I wanted a new laptop so bought one with that same card. Then around wedding time, I was again lured into saving on our wedding bands, my dress, the groosmen’s tuxes AND our honeymoon flight by getting even more new cards. Oh yeah, and the entire time I was also eating out frequently, ordering delivery, getting fast food and shopping far too much. All on my cards.

The reality is, I saved nothing. I lost a lot. I never asked the credit card terms before signing up and got hit with loads of finance charges, high interest rates and who knows what else. Knowing that all that money could have gone toward my house savings infuriated me. I hated myself for being so irresponsible. But wallowing doesn’t fix anything so I had to get serious.

The Solution

First I called my mom and confessed the trouble I got myself in. She agreed to “allow” me to dip into the savings account she had set up for me as an emergency/house fund to start chipping away at the debt. But to figure out which card needed paying off the most, I had to make a list (yay lists!). My first step was to make a spreadsheet detailing all my cards, interest rate, total balance, available credit and any yearly fees or other terms worth keeping in mind. I took $800 out of my house fund to pay off one card entirely – Zales, which had the highest interest rate of them all (28.99%! *cringe*).

Then for awhile after, I just paid a little more than the minimum due on all my cards. It was something, but it wasn’t enough. Enter Amberly. I found her Money & Marriage series and was intrigued. She introduced me to Dave Ramsey, and that very day I instituted his debt snowball. Slowly I started getting those balances down but only was able to close a couple cards that had small balances to begin with. I did feel victories with each, but I was egaer to knock the big ones out.

…and then my tax return came. Hallelujah! I got the biggest return I ever have thanks to filing as married for the first time. Together, Cal and I got $2,850, and we decided to split it in half. I applied every cent of that return to my credit cards (and his all went to his own student loan debt, which is another story in itself). With that, I was able to pay off two more cards entirely and half the balance of the card with the biggest total balance and next highest interest rate. This was the biggest win I have felt yet, and it feels so good.

I now only have four cards with balances, and with the money I’m saving from no more payments on those other cards, I can chip away at these four much more quickly. I also put a freeze on my remaining cards. I only actually carry one card with me to use in absolute emergency (which I did have to once when my car died on the side of the road and I simply didn’t have enough money in my checking at the time to cover the repairs). Otherwise, if I don’t have enough money in my checking or it’s not budgeted for, I don’t buy it. With continued hard work, I think and hope I can knock these last four out by the end of this year.

I also took some other small steps to cut back on spending itself. I started meal planning, which is saving me so much on eating out, buying groceries and wasting food. I coupon more. I took freelance jobs to have more money coming in. And in general, I try to live on less. That sometimes translates to saying no to fun things you otherwise would have said yes to. I declined concerts with friends, eating out, going for drinks and traveling to places that would require spending too much. And now when I do go out, you can bet it’s with a coupon or to catch a happy hour special. To go along with the new me, I wanted to do a good big clean up at our apartment, and I purged tons of items and donated them. Less stuff = less clutter = less stress = less spending.

I also knew it was important to get my savings account built up again, so I changed my direct deposit at work to send $20 every month straight into it, and I have vowed to not touch it again, pending disaster, emergency or when we’re ready to use it to buy a house. It’s not a big contribution, but it’s better than nothing. I should also note that I compared just about every bank in my town and picked out the one savings account at the one credit union that would yield the most interest earned and lowest (read: no) fees. Seeing that savings number very slowly go up again gives me even more confidence. Little steps lead to big changes, I’m telling you.

Not gonna lie. Getting your finances back on track is TOUGH. I’ve slipped a few times, but I try to make up for it and am far more aware of it now. Getting closer to my end goal of being debt free with a nice savings and owning a home is so worth it.

I’ve seen a lot improvement already. Freeing up paying so many cards has given me more money to work with paying off the ones that are left. In turn, my credit score is going back up and my credit utilizaton rate (or total balance versus available credit) is pretty darn good too.

I should note as well that I’m purposely keeping all my paid off cards open a little longer. I’m saying no to temptation to use them by stashing them in my nightstand and never carrying them with me. But to keep that credit utilization low, I need that total credit to be high as my balances get lower. This gives me a better overall credit score and will work in my favor when we do apply for a home loan. As soon as we’re to that point and the loan has gone though, I plan to close at least half of my cards.

What I’ve also learned is that now that I’ve changed my bad behaviors, there are benefits to keeping just a few cards. I plan to keep Victoria’s Secret and Express simply for the discounts and rewards from each store, but will always pay off all balances immediately. These two cards were never a problem for me in the first place, so it makes sense to keep them. I’m also keeping Tires Plus because the card has good terms and is peace of mind in case one of our cars needs a repair more costly than we can afford in our checking. I’ll be keeping my Wells Fargo visa as the general emergency card because it has the lowest interest rate of them all (9%! what what!). I’m on the fence about keeping my Target card though. I like that I get 5% off using it, but it’s been the card that I’ve got in the most trouble with, and the interest rate and fees are higher than I’d like. I may keep it for awhile and see if I can keep self control having it but stick to paying it off right away.

This all being said, my last point is that just because I’m on a budget and am trying hard to pay off debt, doesn’t mean I allow myself no fun. You have to make some exceptions now and then, or else you become so upset with all work and no play that you self sabotage. Like I mentioned, I still go out occasionally, but when I do, it’s with coupons or for happy hour deals, or I try to find free things to do with friends instead. I say yes to far fewer concerts than I once did, but I make exceptions for events that I absolutely love. An Alice in Wonderland ballet will be happening here in April and I splurged on tickets to see that because I know I will love it.

I also prioritized my other expenses outside of credit cards to find other places to cut back. I rate shopped for car insurance to make sure I was getting the best deal for the best coverage (and I am. Progressive FTW!). I’m going to cut out the DVD plan on our Netflix and only have streaming. We got rid of our garage at our apartment to save $30 a month on renting that. I only pay for one fecal test at the vet now (instead of two because if one has worms the other will too! durr.). One thing that’s super important to me though is TV. I pay a lot for DirecTV every month, but it’s an expense I find worth it. I LOVE my TV, and while I could live without it or with a cheaper plan, right now it’s simply not something I’m willing to give up. #Sorrynotsorry.

Tips for You: My Takeaway

-Check out Dave Ramsey’s resources. His “seven baby steps to financial peace” helped inspire me a lot and start my financial plan, including the debt snowball.

-Comparison shop for banks and make sure you’re at the instituation where you can get the highest interest and lowest fees. Also shop for new car insurance, TV or Internet service, etc., to make sure you’re getting the best deal you can.

-Make a list and evaluate all of your monthly expenses and see where you can cut back. Try using Mint.com to track everything and help you budget.

-Find ways to earn extra income and put that toward either savings or paying off your debts. Take on freelance work, find a side job, sell some clothes, offer to clean your friends’ houses, babysit or mow lawns for a small fee, or if you’re crafty, set up a shop on Etsy. I firmly believe there’s always something you can do to make some money; you just might need to get creative.

-Make other lifestyle changes for an even bigger impact, including couponing, watching sales and specials, budgeting, meal planning, savings contributions, even the envelope system if you think that’s right for you.

-Give yourself goals and challenges to make sure you stay on track and build in accountability. I also like giving yourself rewards when you do well and discipline when I mess up.

-Don’t get too rigid or strict about it. Allow yourself to still have some fun!

Do you struggle with debt too? What tips do you have?

I want to garden

I do not have a green thumb. Two summers ago when I tried to keep a catnip plant alive, it died a gruesome death. When I was a child and my mom asked me to help her weed our family garden, I wanted to do anything but that.

But recently, something changed. I got into meal planning and cooking more. I grew more concerned with eating healthier and making better food choices. I tried new things, I bought more organic. And I feel a responsiblity to keep all of that up!

I really like the idea of being a little more self sustainable. No, I’m not gonna go all hippie farmer pioneer lady, but having some of the items I regularly buy anyway at the grocery be from my own garden sounds so good. No pesticides, no whatever else is on the stuff I buy at the store, plus hey, I’ll probably save some money.

I think having a garden is another one of those things I relate to being a grown up. I love trying new things that make me feel like a wife, and maybe possibly a mom sometime. Heck, I never once flipped over to HGTV until I was married! And I kind of love it. My husband even seems excited by the idea!

With that being said, I need some help. I have no idea what to do or where to start. Disclaimer: We still live in an apartment, so any gardening would need to be out of planters/pots/trays/tubs on our patio. I know tomatoes are easy to grow, but neither of us like them and have no interest in ever having one in our house. So that aside, what are some of the easiest plants to grow? So far I’ve heard cucumbers, leaf lettuce and peppers. I would LOVE to have some asparagus and carrots too, though word on the street is they’re harder. What are some successes you’ve had, readers? What other tips can you give? Where do I start? What do I buy at the store? How often do I water? How long will it take to have actual food?

I may fail miserably at this, but it’s something I’m really excited to try.

The weird thing I did to feel like a grown-up

There’s a bunch of things you should do once you become a wife. I did a lot of the standard ones, but I also had a list of some bizarre things that I wanted to do to feel more like a wife and an adult and less of a cheap college kid. So finally, six years after my official cheap college kid status, I have crossed one of those off.

What is it? Buying real pajamas. No more ratty old T-shirts I got for a random volunteer project in high school or those Pink sweatpants that once were cool but now have multiple spilled cheese stains and don’t even look that good.

I also have to credit one of the cutest reality TV shows ever to encouraging this. When Bill and Jenn from The Little Couple were in the process of adopting their son, Bill decided he should also get some real pajamas so his son wouldn’t have to see dear old dad in his skivvies in the morning. Makes sense.

My mom always wore real pajamas too. Like pant and top sets from the actual sleepwear section of stores. Of course in high school I thought that was weird and wore my Soffee shorts and said ratty (albeit less so then) T-shirts.

I must admit that sometimes I don’t wear much to bed now. I’m like an old lady these days and get hot flashes at night, so I just wear a bandeau bra and underpants to stay cooler (as in temperature, not trendy!). TMI? Sorry, blog world. I’m trying to keep it real here. Then I thought about what if there’s a fire at night and I don’t have time to put on real clothes before escaping? That’d be awful!

And so to Target I went. Thankfully I went at a time when Cartwheel had some coupons for pajamas, so I grabbed several items that were also on sale for a double shopping win. It was important to get things that let my skin breathe and were super comfortable, and I’m pretty happy with what I bought. I came away with the set pictured here, a warmer bird print flannel shirt for the winter months and this super cute pink chemise (whatever that is. I call it a dress).

pajamas from target

I don’t know why, but this silly little thing is a milestone I’m pretty proud of. Wearing real pajamas is just one of the weird things that makes me feel like an adult. That and meal planning, budgeting, talking about 401ks, saving for a house and thinking about kids too, but pajamas was an easy accomplishment.

Is that weird? I feel like it is. But who cares. I have new pajamas that I got on sale!

The Value of Friends

This past weekend, a good friend of mine came to visit. Amy and I met in college freshman year when we had a few of the same classes together. After two years in the dorms, we moved into a real apartment together and she was my first real world roommate. We get along grand. Since she moved away, I only get to see her a few times a year, and when we do get time together, it’s really nice. We’re both low-key people and prefer to stay in and hang out and drink wine and just catch up on each other’s lives. This time, though, I wanted to go try out a new restaurant in town that’s all the rage, a German-themed pub called the Wurst Bier Hall (clever, right?!). The drinks were pretty good (this beer wussie loved the pear cider), but I thought the food was a little overrated, but who cares. It was the company that was best.

with my friend at wurst bier hall

I’ve never been one to make friends easily. I’m incredibly shy, and opening up to new people is really hard. Many people would label me as a snob because of it, which can be hard when someone doesn’t give you a chance and judges based on an assumption. But over the years, I’ve learned to let that go. If you don’t want to get to know me, fine. You’re not worth my time then. I’d rather focus on the small handful of people who have gone beyond the surface and made that effort to get to know me.

I’ve never understood how some people can just talk to anyone they meet like they’re old friends. The funny thing is that nearly all of my friends are like that though! They are mostly exactly the opposite of me. They’re friendly, talkative and outgoing. They can easily swap life stories with the checkout lady. At social gatherings, they’re the ones telling jokes and hamming it up while I sit awkwardly in the corner observing. And that’s how I like it.

Give me a chance though, peel back some of the Amanda layers, and I will start to open up … and eventually never shut up. In those small setting with my closest friends, I feel so comfortable. That’s the real me that comes out. Few people get to really see it, and I guess in a way, I treat my friendships as gifts that I don’t just give to anyone. You have to earn me!

Life’s sort of this funny journey where along the way you pick up people who stick around. Some others come and go, and that’s OK. But those few that stick are really special.

I met my best friend Amanda when I was probably less than a year old in the church nursery. Well, technically, our moms met because of the nursery and they became friends, so naturally, we grew up together and stayed friends too. For 28 years, almost my entire life, she’s been in it, and that makes it so special. We have tons of memories and experiences together, and we saw each other through every single awkward and awesome moment.

The Amandas on our first day of school

The Amandas on our first day of school

Years later she was my matron of honor

Years later she was my matron of honor

Even though Amy and Amanda are some of my very best friends, for some reason, since they both live far away from me, we tend to not keep up while we’re apart. Maybe it’s because we’re busy, maybe we’re lazy, maybe there’s no good reason and that’s just how things are. The thing is, the second we’re together again, it’s just like old times and it goes right back to where we left off. We have Facebook to keep us updated on some of the daily life events, but we’re always there for the big events now. Maybe that’s strange, but it works for me.

I then met Meredith at what I consider to be my first “real” job. At our local Fargo newspaper, I got hired to write obits and do some of the other odd newsroom jobs, and she trained me in on that job as she was moving on to copy editor there. We found out pretty quickly that we had lots in common, and it all snowballed. I don’t think there’s been barely a week we’ve gone without hanging out since then.

with mer

She pushes me to do cool, fun things. We’ve gone on many road trips to concerts and even back to Indiana, and we love going out to the movies or for margaritas. It’s pretty crazy stuff, I know, but otherwise I’d be sitting at home, so I appreciate this. She’s the one I’m constantly emailing back and forth with, often while also texting and IMing, and talking to for endless hours about who knows what. She now is engaged, and it’s so fun to help her plan her wedding since she was such a rock to me when I planned mine.

These days, I count my mother as a friend too. You know, once you get past those angsty teenage years, you start to see how cool your mom is and actually want to be around her more! And now that she lives 800 miles away, I miss her so much. Like my girlfriends, when we get together now, we giggle uncontrollably, and then she looks over my paperwork to tell me which 401k plan I should choose. I spend hours on the phone with her every week, and no one is more excited about hearing about my life than she is. That’s what moms are for though, right?

But my best friend above all now is my husband. He may not know about all those embarrassing things about me from when I was 14 (thankfully), but he has become my confidant now. He knows everything I worry about, everything I love, everything I want. He knows what I do when I get home from work and he knows what makes me tick. And that’s how it should be, I think. The relationship with your husband has to go deep. You have to love being with that person every single moment and tell them every single thing. To be close, to stay connected, to have a solid marriage, I think they have to be your best friend.

That being said, even the husband will never really fill the gaps of your girlfriends. They can’t dish on how cray cray the last episode of The Bachelor was, they can’t understand how much you friggin’ love cupcakes, they can’t tell you that new skirt is adorable and try on 20 of them with you at the mall, they can’t spend hours at a jewelry party and love every second of it, they can’t giggle uncontrollably with you about the cute guy over there, they can’t debate Ryan Gosling versus Ryan Reynolds, and they certainly can’t understand what’s going on with you that time of the month.

All of these people in our lives round us out, and we need all of them to be our best. We’re not really complete without them. Sure, it’s great to be a powerful, independent women, but it’s also great having people you can’t live without.  I’m sure I’ll feel the same if and when I have children, too. It will be one of those blanks I don’t really know I have now, but is added on my journey through life that becomes something I couldn’t have expected would mean so much.

What do friends mean to you?

Carabox Reveal

I participated in my very first Carabox recently, a super cool and fun thing that Wifessionals hosts. Basically, it’s a special gift swap where bloggers and some non-bloggers sign up to be paired up with a few other ladies based on location. Over the course of a few months, we get to know our partners, make new friends, share words of encouragement, and in the end, exchange presents to uplift our new friends!

I got to know two special ladies in this process. I sent a box to Kathryn, who blogs at The Grace Filled Home. (Check out what I sent her here.) And the box I got was from Maria, who doesn’t currently blog, but is on Instagram. Both of these ladies have the cutest kids. Seriously. Aside from getting to know both of them, I loved seeing pictures of their adorable little ones. What amazing ladies.

Maria got me an AMAZING box of stuff. In fact, the day that I picked it up at the Post Office, I was so excited that I ripped into it right from my car in the parking lot. And then I started tearing up because 1) everything makes me cry nowadays, and 2) I so so so loved everything she got me and it was so touching to have received such incredible stuff. It was totally a perfect box.

box

DSCN0585[1]

My favorite thing was the canvas art that said “Will work for cupcakes.” I already have a “Keep calm and eat cupcakes” sign on my desk at work, so I knew this would be the perfect addition to my cube. And I love cupcakes.

I also got some cute little dip bowls, and seriously I love dip. So much. In fact, there have far too many nights than I’d like to admit where my whole dinner has been chips and dip. I crave it all. the. time. Now my dips will be much cuter in these bowls than the ones I stole accidentally took home from various restaurants.

There were also some kitty toys. This made me so happy because I love my kitties, and I love that Maria thought of them! It was so nice of her to give them gifts too. Right away, they both started playing with their new jingly toys. So cute. They love them.

lg with toy-cropped

And then I got a new scarf! Which was perfect timing, because I was seriously just thinking about how I wanted a new fashion scarf. I only had two and really wanted one more to round out some of my outfits. I’ve worn it twice already!

And a new to-do list! Seriously, there are never enough lists, and I go through pads of paper so quick. I love the magnetic ones too to put on my fridge, so I totally am into this.

And some chocolate, which I promptly devoured right after taking these photos:) And some tea, which was really quite yummy! I had to try one cup right away. That Tazo brand is really good!

I can’t say how much I enjoyed this experience. I loved getting to know both of these amazing women, and I feel like I have some new friends. It’s great that this Carabox was arranged as a way to help connect women with to encourage and support each other. It’s something we all can use more of. If you want to participate in the next Carabox, I absolutely would recommend it. I can’t wait for the next sign up.

Nieces, Anniversary and Pee, Oh My!

Well, the title of this post pretty much sums up this last weekend. My in-laws came to town on Friday night, and while the oldest niece, her friend and her mom went to the Justin Timberlake concert, Cal and I got to babysit their three youngest girls, aka my official nieces now! Since the concert was going to go really late, past the girls’ bedtime, they also slept over.

We were actually pretty excited for this. We haven’t spent much, if any, time with the girls outside of going to their house when we go back to his hometown to visit. So to have them on our turf this time was going to be fun! I was a little concerned that our smallish apartment wouldn’t be large enough for three young girls, not to mention our three pets and us, to be in, especially if they wanted to run around and play. Well turns out the girls were absolute angels on their visit, but it was our pets who were too rambunctious!

Friday night started out well enough. Cal cooked them dinner, their favorite meal, tater tot hot dish, and they made fun of him for squirting ketchup all over his portion. After dinner, we watched Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2. Laci, the youngest, didn’t want to sit alone, so she snuggled up with me on the recliner. The two other girls shared the couch with Cal…and then Brick jumped up…and then Little Girl. It would be an understatement to say that the pets loved the girls.

blog babystiting nieces over the weekend

movie time with the glowy-eyed puppy

Then when it was bedtime, we discovered that an unknown culprit had peed all over the air mattress and blankets we had set up for them. Thankfully we had a sleeping bag and extra blankets to make do for the night.

Come morning, after Cal fed the pets, Little Girl puked right next to the girls. Which is actually nothing new. She often eats way too fast then runs around and heaves up her breakfast. Cat never learns. Then after our big breakfast of bacon, eggs and pancakes, Brick started peeing on the floor right by the couch! I tried to make him stop, but how do you really do that, so I just dragged him into the kitchen so the pee would at least be easier to clean up there. He peed the whole way I dragged him over. And kept going. It didn’t stop! The girls thought it was the funniest thing. And actually it kind of was. Brick never pees in the house, so I think he must have just been so excited that he simply couldn’t hold it in. This leads us to believe he was the mattress culprit too.

Despite the massive amounts of pee from the dog we had to deal with, we really had a nice time. I really enjoyed spending time with my nieces. Oh, and Laci whispered that she loved me at one point. It was so cute. Love those girls.

Feb. 9 is our dating anniversary. I know it doesn’t matter much anymore, but I want to keep celebrating it for just a little longer. It’s been nine years since we’ve been together! Which has been long enough to feel like Feb. 9 is special now. I think at least till we hit that 10-year mark anyway. Plus it’s so close to V-day that we just kind of wrap them together. Anyway, we had plans to go out for dinner on Sunday, but we both had our presents ready for each other on Saturday, and we couldn’t wait, so we exchanged gifts a little early. I got him a Datevitation book, so he can redeem coupons I made just for him, such as a Matt Damon (his favorite actor) movie night whenever he wants.

He got me flowers in a pretty pink vase. We went years of dating and I never got flowers till finally he realized I like receiving them, so it seems extra special now when I get them. Plus, what might be the coolest thing he’s ever gotten me, I also received a necklace with a little bottle on the end just like the “drink me” bottle from Alice in Wonderland, and I totally love it.

flowers for anniversary on blog

On Sunday we went to Red Lobster for our anniversary dinner since we had $85 in gift cards there. So naturally we ordered two apps, several alcoholic beverages, big entrees and a dessert and ate it all for free. The best way to eat! We waddled back home and watched Insidious 2. Fun fact: I absolutely love horror movies. They scare the crap out of me, and I often can’t sleep after watching them, but it never stops me. I can’t get enough. It was pretty good! I told Cal to please never let himself become posessed, that would be great. Then to end the night on a non-scary note, we finished with Free Birds.

It was pretty much an awesome weekend.

10 Favorite Things About My Husband

Linking up with the lovely Brianna today for 10 Favorite Things! In honor of Valentine’s Day coming up soon, and our 9-year dating anniversary in about a week (I know the dating anniversary doesn’t matter anymore, but I want to keep celebrating it till we hit 10 years), it was a perfect topic.

10 Favorite Things About That Special Someone

1. I love my husband’s sense of humor. It’s cliche, but so true for us. He is the funniest person I know and we laugh together a lot.

2. I love that we have lots of things in common, but are very different in many ways. He rounds me out:)

3. I love that while 99% of the time he’s a big tough man, I get to see some occasional moments of weakness and deep down emotions.

4. I love that for the most part, he’s tidy. For some bizarre reason, he loves vaccuming and doing the dishes. And I’m forgetful and get distracted easily, so he often has to pick up after me.

5. I love that he very rarely complains about my shortcomings. I know I have a lot, but he never points them out, though I can be a nagging wife and point his out. Which is unfair, and I need to change that.

6. I love that every time I get groceries, he helps me carry them in without a single complaint. And he always takes the heavy bags so I can have the light ones.

7. I love that he makes voices and personalities for our pets and has conversations as them.

8. I love that he lets me deck out our apartment like a crazy cat lady. I have cat pictures, figurines and trinkets all over the place. I know if it was entirely up to him, none of that would be there, but he lets me create the surroundings that I like without complaint.

9. He is truly a really nice guy. He likes to put on a show when he’s in a crowd and tell jokes and be the center of attention, which can make him come off as loud or inconsiderate to some who don’t know him, but I’ve seen another, very caring and considerate side. When it comes to defending his friends or his family, he will do it to the death, and he cares about the people he loves so much.

10. He is going to make a great father one day. He grew up in a large family with lots of kids, so maybe that’s why it comes natural to him, but I am the total opposite. Knowing that he will be there to help me through parenthood makes me feel really good.

And now, just because, a bunch of photos of us!

Quite possibly our first photo together, circa 2005, in the college dorms

Quite possibly our first photo together, circa 2005, in the college dorms

Before we went to our first concert (and road trip!) together

Before we went to our first concert (and road trip!) together

At my best friend's wedding. Our first wedding together!

At my best friend’s wedding. Our first wedding together!

and then we got engaged!

and then we got engaged!

and then we got married!

and then we got married!

and then we honeymooned in New Orleans!

and then we honeymooned in New Orleans!

Our Favorite Winter Foods + a Chili Recipe

Winter sucks. Especially this year’s winter. But a few things make it better, namely fuzzy jammies, hot cocoa, weekends snuggled on the couch with blankies and kitties, and soups and chili. While those jammies warm your outside, soups, stews, chili and the like warm your insides. Together, it’s magical.

So in this spirit of this polar vortex, here’s what we like to cook in our house come wintertime. Consider these my go-to trusty recipes and a few new ones that have surprised me enough to make it into rotation:

-Tater tot hot dish. Some of you non-Midwesterners may not know what this is, and I certainly didn’t know either until I moved to these parts. It’s wonderfully Minnesotan, and my mother-in-law makes the best, but mine isn’t bad either. Just bake together a bag of frozen tater tots, some cooked hamburger, cream of whatever soup, some frozen veggies, and there you go.

-Pesto pasta. Any kind of noodle, any kind of pesto sauce (I love the Bertolli kind), together. Easy and delicious.

-Meatloaf. Lately, I’ve been making mini meatloaves instead. Just combine some hamburger, cheddar cheese, chopped onion, BBQ sauce, bacon bits and garlic, and cook in cupcake tins. Delicious.

-Green bean casserole. I could eat this every day. With my mom’s home grown and canned beans, it just can’t be beat. Goes great with mini meatloaves!

-Grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato or whatever kind of soup you have on hand. Gooey cheese is one of the best things on this planet. A fun variation we tried was to make it “monkey bread” style – cubed up pieces of cheese wrapped in packaged refrigerated dough baked together, for pull-apart pieces you can dunk in soup. Fun for kids AND adults.

-Breakfast. We’re guilty of having breakfast for dinner many times year round. But warm eggs, fluffy pancakes and bacon hit the spot any time.

-Chowders. Two total hits I made from Pinterest were a brat and beer cheese chowder (recipe here) and a potato corn chowder (recipe here).

-Chili! The best thing about chili is it’s hard to mess up. Some meat, beans, white or red brothy presence and whatever else your heart desires, and you’ve got yourself a chili that pretty much always tastes good. I’ve made many varieties over the years, and learned some fun shortcuts along the way. My friend Jenessa told me once she likes to use salsa in her chili so that she doesn’t have to chop veggies. The second I heard that, I totally stole the idea. It’s saved me lots of time, and turns out, I like the taste better anyway with it! I also one time heard a tip to try using a can of tomato soup in place of actual tomatoes, and for our household that really isn’t a big fan of tomatoes in the first place, it’s been a wonderful variation. I love that it adds a bit of a creamy note that you don’t get otherwise. Lastly, since my discovery of quinoa and a pin for quinoa chili, I add that in now too for additional texture and nutrition. Those, my friends, are my three top chili tips.

Now we all have our own specific tastes, so you should always feel free to adapt recipes. Add or remove ingredients to what you like. No one will know, and it won’t get screwed up, I promise. That being said, here’s the recipe for my chili, Hofland style:

hearty chili with quinoa recipe



Hearty Chili with Corn and Quinoa

-Brown 1 – 2 lbs of ground hamburger in skillet. Drain. Put in crockpot.

-Add 2 cans of your favorite beans to crockpot. (I use one can of navy beans and one can of dark red kidney beans.)

-Add 1 or 2 cans of tomato soup (I’ve used both Campbell’s and Amy’s organic and both are lovely) to crockpot.

-Add salsa to crockpot. However much you want. I probably dump in 1 cup or so.

-Add any additional veggies you heart desires. I love corn and want it in everything, and since it’s not in most salsas, I add a jar of corn as well.

-Cook quinoa according to package directions and add to crockpot. I use approx. 1 cup of cooked quinoa, give or take.

-Add spices to crockpot. I use different spices and amounts each time. I just gather whatever I feel like and dump stuff in. Usually present are a few dashes of onion powder, garlic powder, Lawry’s seasoned salt, regular salt and pepper, cumin, and chili powder. It doesn’t really matter.

-Stir together and cook on low 6ish hours or high 3ish hours or until you can’t wait anymore.

-Serve with cheese, sour cream and crackers. I can’t tolerate spicy food, but if you’re a fan of the heat, add your hot sauce too. My husband throws in a few squirts of Sriracha on top.

I also recommend making a huge pot and adjusting the ingredient amounts based on your family size or willingess to cook in the coming days. One crockpot worth of chili will feed our family of 2 for lunch and dinner for about 2 or 3 days.

What is YOUR go-to winter pick-me-up meal?