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Saturday, October 29, 2016

new orleans recap : big easy girlfriend trip!


I love girlfriend trips.  
Traveling with anyone helps know them better and can make your bond stronger.  You see sides that social media will not show you.  You see habits and quirks that might surprise you.  You have deep conversations (therapy sessions) that just would not have transferred via test message.  

Your bond deepens.
Or you end up driving each other crazy.
Or a little of both???

A couple weekends ago I went down to New Orleans with two of my very best friends, whom I have known for about eight years since moving to the Cincinnati area.  These ladies are the epitome of strong and opinionated women, and are both loud and fun -- making them my favorite type of people to hang out with.  They keep it real.  

I am for sure the quiet one of the trio -- and the least likely to bring up politics.   Although I will give my opinion when I feel it be necessary.  

The three of us are very different, yet get along fantastically.  It's weird.

This was our first time traveling together, in honor of Alicia's birthday!  She invited us along to the Big Easy to stay with her fabulous aunt who lives in the French Quarter.  Her aunt is a flight attendant who graciously got us buddy passes and let us invade her amazing historic apartment for a few days (complete with quintessential NOLA balcony and shutters - so perfect!) 
our first libations of the trip - airport bar!
Buddy pass flying can be unpredictable, and our experience getting to our destination was harrowed with twists and turns.  That Thursday we flew from Cincy to Memphis, where we could not get on any flights and had to stay overnight, then eventually got to Atlanta, where we ended up flying to Gulfport, Mississippi and taking a long cab ride to New Orleans.  It was a crazy twenty four hours of travel, but we finally made it!
finally got on a flight - and upgraded!  
morning coffee after an overnight stay in Memphis
seats together to ATL!
saying goodbye to ATL after deciding to be rerouted to Gulfport.
Made it to NOLA and ready to have some fun!
ready for our first night out -- in matching black tanks!  

frozen hurricane tongues on Bourbon St. 
taking the street car to Uptown.
My fave morning- Cafe du Monde! We got there early enough to walk right in...but when we left the line was huge!
this was my fave food experience of the trip.
tired, but had to get a pic before I enjoyed that cafe au lait.
Lola's - awesome Spanish fare, and the best sangria.
about to head home. rockin' the tired look. ready to see our babies and hubbies!
Cheers, NOLA!
It was a fabulous trip!  We ate some very delicious food, saw a lot of different areas that I didn't see the last couple times I'd been there (for college basketball events) and really experienced the city...while still getting to bed by 11pm each night.  (Yes, we party so hard.)

Cheers to hurricanes, beignets and good friends!

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

stitch fix...for the men!

***Note: This post contains affiliate links...so if you are inspired by this post to try Stitch Fix, please use me as your referral by clicking HERE to support future posts .  Thank you, friends!!!!***

Ya'll know I love Stitch Fix.  

Then recently they announced their newest service -- Stitch Fix Men!  

No, my Hubby didn't jump up and down when I told him, because like many, many men he really doesn't put a lot of thought into picking out clothes or keeping up with fashion trends.  Nope, my husband is more of a "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" kinda guy.  Case in point : until recently he had sported the same haircut that he had since college.  Exact same hair as when I met him fifteen years ago.  Exact.

Recently I convinced him to change it up to a more trendy 'do, which he obliged, and even grew a beard, to keep up with our current beard-loving times.  Disclaimer :  I am not really a beard gal, but this is like having massive sideburns in the 1970's...you gotta do it.  Our kids need to be able to make fun of him in twenty years for this hard-part and beard combo!   Just like I marvel at my mama's white patent leather go-go boots, and my kids will roll their eyes at my wide assortment of military green garb.

"Mom, you definitely weren't in the army...so why with the camo????"

I love that fashion helps tell the story of our times.

Anyway, I truly enjoy Hubby's new hairstyle, and I am quite excited about Stitch Fix Men in that I would love for my him to try something new, fashion-wise!  He never shops, rarely buys clothes - and really needs to at this point.
So after a request from me last week, he logged onto Stitch Fix and created his style profile.  The things we do for love, right?

He even scheduled his first Fix!

I am SO excited!  (He is not that excited, but is humoring me.)

Does your husband love fashion?  Or perhaps he is like mine, and does not take time to shop or follow trends.  Or maybe you are the one that picks out everything for him and would like this process to be a bit easier on you as well.

Whatever the case, Stitch Fix Men might be an awesome thing for him/you to try!

If you are interesting in trying Stitch Fix Men -  click HERE or on the link below to get started on a style profile!  It will be fun!

I can't wait to share what Paul gets in his first Fix with you!  

In the meantime, I just returned from a weekend girlfriend getaway in New Orleans, so photos and recap from that to come!
Hope everyone is having a lovely week!

Monday, October 10, 2016

'no spend september' : a lesson in patience + priorities

I had always been interested in doing a 'no spend' month.

I'd seen other bloggers doing it and it seemed intriguing.  If you've been reading this blog over the years, you know I love all sorts of personal challenges - but I've never done a financial one.  Until now: my very first finance post.  (Insert either an excited or blank-faced emoji here.)

I knew Hubby would be on-board, as he is a finance guy by trade, a big Dave Ramsey and Mr. Money Mustache follower, and very budget-conscious.  We have big personal finance goals and anything that keeps us focused on that is encouraged!

So when I pitched it to him during our Spain trip he was pretty excited!  We started immediately upon returning home, September 1, and we wrapped up a little over a week ago.

I've had so many thoughts going through my head during this process, I am pretty excited to be getting them out there...

Before starting we had to decide what we would spend money on - the necessities - and stick to only that.

This meant no extras.  We would use the same "all-cash" spending budget we usually follow but ONLY spending on what is truly needed. (I take out X amount of agreed upon cash each week for gas, groceries, kid stuff, health and beauty, etc. and don't use a credit card unless there is an emergency.)

So in the airport, traveling home from Spain, I made a list :

Our necessities...
food to feed family (bought intentionally at grocery store)
gas
bills
church offering/tithe
medicine (if an illness or injury occurs - which did, several times)
birthday gifts
renovation supplies for active projects (aka the backyard)

Not necessities...
fast food
ANY eating out, vending machines, restaurants
random cute stuff at Target (ahhhh!)
dates that cost $
babysitters
new clothes
new, unnecessary beauty products
random plants from Lowe's
apps! internet purchases!
outings with kids that cost $

Your family's list may look completely different, but that is what we came up with.

So we embarked on the month with those parameters in mind.

Full disclosure : 
  • We did go out on a group date with friends that had already been planned.  We enlisted Hubby's sister as our babysitter and used cash we had received as an anniversary gift to cover the dinner/drinks.   We might have went over this amount slightly, but definitely NOT the usual pricey evening out.
  • I did spend on black coffee and herbal tea while out and about on several occasions.  No expensive lattes, but there were a few times when I needed to write outside the house and needed the peace and sanctuary of a coffee shop.  Or I was letting the kids play at a McD's playland and felt obligated to buy something.  Plus, I deemed basic caffeine a necessity about halfway through month.  Seriously.
  • There was one night, right at the end, that I was so stressed and it had been such a long day with the kids that I went through a drive through on the way home and got us dinner.  I was super annoyed at myself after for doing that, as it was purely for convenience and I felt gross after eating that burger.  
My takeaways from the experience...
  • Such a good example to the kids.  My kids really want for nothing, so it was nice to explain to them, particularly Cormac, that we can't just spend our money on random stuff just because we have it.  He struggled with this.  I don't ever just buy them toys for no reason (EVER) but when out I will occasionally say they can pick a treat for $1 or less.  The biggest issue for my kids was actually our usual Friday Icee and popcorn at Target.  Wow.  They struggled to cope with the fact we couldn't just plunk down five bucks at our favorite place for a snack.  I'll admit, I didn't love it either.  But after many questions of "When is No-Spend September over????" we made it through the month, despite lack of Icee/popcorn consumption.
  • Taught me to be much more organized when it comes to grocery shopping and meal planning...and preparing to go places.   I usually don't cook on the weekends at all, but we'll get takeout for dinners or get lunch on the go!  During our no-spend month I had to spend a bit extra on weekend meals; however, we still ended up saving money overall by not going to restaurants.  I also learned to pack snacks for me and the kids - always - and always have a specific plan for my errands.  My biggest "unnecessary spending issue" became clear from the start of the month...I mostly spent extra money because I was ill-prepared - or bored.  If I had packed a snack for myself, I would not become voraciously hungry and need to buy a snack.  If I had gone through the kids clothing before shopping and made a really specific list, I wouldn't buy extra stuff they probably didn't need.   If I take the time to pack a lunch for the kids, we don't have to eat out. If I just don't go to Target, I won't spend money at Target. Seems obvious, I know.
  • Cutting out little extravagances gives me money for real NEEDS.  For example...the aforementioned occasional eating out.  Simply not eating out AT ALL with the kids, even though it was rare, saved me 10-20 bucks per week!  To me that is big savings!  The money I saved this month on cutting out fast food (and doing all free outings)  with the kids bought ALL their fall shoes!!!!!  (I only buy them each three pair in the fall - athletic pair, trendy pair, church pair. They wear these until they are worn out or outgrown. In spring I do the same. Kids shoes are way expensive.) 
  • I ended up doing more relaxing, rather than shopping/running errands during my weekend "alone time."  Since I couldn't go to stores and actually buy anything, what was really the point?  So I'd read my book, or Paul would take the kids on an outing and I would relax at home.  It was kinda weird - and nice.  I'm not naturally very good at relaxing...so that part was a challenge in itself.   
  • The numbers (Hubby thought I should include this!) -- To give you an idea about how much doing this saved us personally...  Month's spending (including mortgage, bills, everything) was $3100, compared to $4100 in September of 2015.  A savings of $1000! 
Overall, it was a really good (and difficult) experience!  My mindfulness about what I spend money on, and WHY I am spending the money, increased exponentially.  I realize now I can make small changes to save us a little cash, which in the end adds up to a lot!  I realize now I can spend a LOT less by simply using my free time for things other than shopping.  (Duh.)  Plus, I feel MUCH better about everything when I read, relax, or do something productive rather than buy stuff.
It's nice to take a pause and enjoy the beautiful, simple things you already have,  instead of things you need to buy.
Will we be boycotting our weekly Icee and popcorn fix at Target going forward?  Probably not.  But other fast food stops I can definitely avoid.  

Have you ever tried a 'no spend' month?  

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

my favorite chocolate chip cookies.

Everyone needs a good chocolate chip cookie recipe in their back pocket.  

I'm not much of a baker, although I do like to try!  This is the one "baked good recipe" that I now have memorized and actually never worry will turn out badly.  I found a version of it a few years ago, after years of searching relentlessly to find a cookie recipe my hubby approved of, and have used it ever since.

But - you have to love REALLY soft, almost under-baked cookies.

As I said, I found the original version years ago, but have since made my own adjustments,  adding more vanilla, baking a bit less, and almost always using dark chocolate chips.  Clearly that makes them healthier.
You will need:
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup white granulated sugar
1 stick of unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup oil
2 eggs
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
3 cups flour
2 tsp vanilla
1 bag (2 cups) of dark chocolate chips

To make: 

  • Mix the sugars, butter and oil together until combined, then add the eggs and beat until fluffy.
  • Add the rest of the ingredients and mix until well combined. 
  • Grease a cookie sheet and place round dough balls that are a bit more than a tablespoon full - do not flatten.  I usually put 12 on a pan at a time, and this recipe will yield about 3 1/2 dozen...depending on how much cookie dough you or little people that are "helping" consume. 
  • Bake at 350 degrees for NO MORE than 8 minutes.  They should barely browned on top - or not at all.  Let cool on baking rack.  They will flatten slightly.  They will be gooey and delicious.  If you like crispy cookies, this is not your recipe.  You could bake a bit longer if you want...but I wouldn't!  They are best while still gooey, but still quite good for a couple days after.
Happy baking!!!!!