What I’ve Been Reading 

Good news, guys!  I am reading again.  I think the biggest issue between Thanksgiving and year-end is that I just did not have any time for it, really.  Anyway, now I do.I did a final count and in 2016, I read 44 books which is really not too bad, considering I had a baby and all that.  I will confess, I probably don’t remember some of the books that I read during maternity leave (or using the Kindle app on my iPhone) as well as I should, but it all counts.

I don’t have any reading goals for 2017.  I am hoping that as Critter continues to wake just a bit later and I am able to wake just a bit earlier, it will mean a bit more time for books.

The Girls by Emma Cline

the-girls

Buffetology by Mary Buffet and David Clark

buffetology

The Wangs Vs The World by Jade Chang

the-wangs-vs-the-world

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

bel-canto

Friday Food Round-Up!

I was on some sort of insane leftovers kick this week.  If they were in our fridge, I found a way to make them disappear.  Spoiler alert: we ate them all.

I also hosted a playdate on Tuesday and whipped up some Spicy Crockpot Chex Mix and a pan of brownies because mamas have to snack, right?  No photos, sorry y’all.  We were all busy tot-wrangling.  Maybe next week because even though I made a double batch of the chex mix (and sent a bag of it off to my Dad), I still have enough fixin’s for one more round.

What we ate from our pantry: Minestrone Soup.

Friday – Tomato-Glazed Meatloaves with Brown Butter Mashed Potatoes from The Smitten Kitchen, Steamed Broccoli


This might be one of my favorite dinners that we make.  It’s also a sort of time-intensive meal (the meatloaves, moreso than the mashed potatoes).  My sister-in-law joined us for dinner which was (1) fun and (2) a lifesaver because it meant an extra set of hands for Critter while we got things prepped and mixed and going in the oven.

Sunday – Grampy Jim’s Ham Turkey Sandwiches from Farmhouse Rules, Minnestrone Soup via Bear Creek Soup Mix


Honestly, a few weeks ago, I bought one of those deli turkey packets from the refrigerated case and we needed to use it before it expired.  Grilled sandwiches = always to the rescue.

Monday – Sausage Pasta Casserole from Farmhouse Rules, Garlicky Wilted Spinach


We love it.  Two meals worth went in the freezer. 

Wednesday – Stuffed Cabbage Without The Roll from Farmhouse Rules


We’ve only made this recipe one other time (I think) but this time we enjoyed it even more.  This will for sure be in our regular rotation from now on.  It’s not terribly difficult to make, it’s filled with lots of healthy things, and in the winter it’s cozy.

Thursday – Frijoles a la Charra from The Homesick Texan, Texas Sweet Onion Casserole with Rice, Chipotle, and Gruyere, Soft-Fried Eggs


Honestly, I don’t know why we don’t make this specific meal in its entirety more often. So it is resolved that we’ll be trying to do that. 

Today…

I am thankful for…

…DATE NIGHT.  We went from no date nights to having two in the span of a week (one c/o a husband who wanted to surprise me, and another c/o my in-laws) and we got to try two, new-to-us restaurants: St. Genevieve and George and the Dragon.  Both were excellent (and ironically next door to one another).  It was so good for us to be able to leave the house together, without Critter.

…Our spiffy house.  We had Bruce come over to take care of a few projects for us pre-listing and it just makes our space nicer to live in.  I’m glad we’ll get to enjoy the tiny improvements for a little while before we don’t live there anymore!

…Being able to workout.  I don’t know what, exactly, happened but from December 14 until probably January 2 or so, our schedule was just completely out of whack.  It was so nice to have Marcus home, but for whatever reason I just did not spend as much time on the treadmill as usual (though I did do a lot of yoga).  It has been nice to get back to that.

…Early Mornings. There are a few mornings where Critter has slept in and a few mornings where I have woken up well before Critter and it has been so nice to be able to drink my coffee in a leisurely fashion, do some blogging, and do some reading. All before he wakes!  I am not quite ready to set an alarm for this because my poor body is still catching up on sleep but I can see how that day is coming soon. 

…My health. Again. I had a six month dermatology follow-up appointment where I didn’t need to have any moles removed and they told me to come back in a year. AND they prescribed me a steroid cream for my hands because they are infinitely better than they were a few weeks ago but it’s only January. 

…My Mama Tribe. Critter and I are part of a playgroup we met through Blooma and they are just the nicest girls. We finaly got to host this week (even though it has been puking snow in Minneapolis), and it was so good to have some time with these ladies to catch up and let the littles burn off some energy. 

I am looking forward to…

…Figuring out how to eat like an adult again.  Since Critter is weaned, it’s safe to say the 21 or so months of eating for two have come to an end.  Honestly, I am sort of excited to eat like a normal adult again (and am hoping maybe I could regain an interest in salads?).  On the other hand, I have absolutely zero idea of how much to be eating because my life is different now. I’m not running.  I do carry around a 25 pound weight for most of the day when I am home.  I power walk three times a week, I go to hot yoga once.  Pretty much I have just been inhaling food when I am hungry which is less chic and in-touch with my body than it sounds, but eventually I’ll figure it out.  Right?  Right.

…SPRING.  Is it too soon to say that?  I remember that when Critter was born, I thought to myself that when the leaves were on the trees, we would probably have this whole parenting thing down.  Well, um, it’s not even his birthday yet so we still have….at least three months until anything resembling the beginnings of spring is upon us.

I am dying for…

…A massage.  I got a gift card from my in-laws for Mother’s Day and you guys I am just ashamed to say that I haven’t taken the time to schedule it!  Someday soon.

…Some new lampshades for the lamps in our living room. (1) We finally have both of them in one place – one of them was living in my parents’ basement for a time and then was being re-wired (2) the current shades are very obviously wrong.  They should be white or cream drum shades, so I am hoping that I can get them sorted out in the next month.

…This latest round of teething to be over. Critter has been working to cut one of his lower teeth for nearly a week now and yesterday we hit peak misery. I just want the little guy to feel better. And the tooth to be here. 

The State of Our Financial Union: 2017 is Here

Since we talked about how 2016 went, I thought we should talk about what we see coming up in 2017.  When I interrogated Marcus about what budget changes he saw, he was pretty much like Eh it’s pretty boring this year.  Which is good!

Honestly, the thing that is keeping me up at night is the thought of purchasing a new home.  We have, of course, saved for years for a down payment that we hope will fall in the 20% range.  But right now our mortgage is so affordable and it keeps our cost of living so low.  This is obviously really nice and gives us a lot of freedom to do other things.  Like save.  I am really curious to see what will change with our budget as our lives change in this area.

We reduced our allowances.  By another $10 per week.  I also cancelled my online subscription to the New York Times because my Dad got a BOGO after the election and shared his free subscription with me!  That saved $180 annually so I cannot complain.

We increased our grocery spending.  By $60 per month.  SERIOUSLY IF YOU ARE NOT MEAL PLANNING AND SHOPPING AT ALDI YOU NEED TO DO IT.  It is such a game changer for how much we spend on our food.  And if you’re an organic person, they actually have a fairly decent selection of organic things.

In October, Laura and I were actually discussing grocery budgets because we realized that while we set ours based on what we were consuming, we weren’t really sure what was “normal.”

Marcus and I set out to do a little bit of research and what we found were the USDA Food Plans.  Super-handy because as the cost of food changes, you can see what the most current costs are.  This year, we have pretty much exactly budgeted for the “Low Cost” plan for a family of two.  Last year we fell in-between the “Thrifty” and “Low Cost” plans.  Y’all know that we eat well (and quite a bit), so I’m proud that we’ve been able to keep our grocery costs as low as they are.

We’re taking advantage of tax advantages.  And maxing out our HSA again this year.  There is a middling chance that a Littler Critter could come into our lives in late 2017, and a very high chance that it will happen in 2018.  Either way, with one boy baby and dematology habit, there’s no reason that we shouldn’t be doing this.  Plus, since we built this into our budget last year, we won’t miss the money.

The Baby Budget. Last year, Critter got his own line for purchases like: baby yoga passes (seriously), clothing, sippy cups, toys, and the like.  Since we have no idea what to expect in his second ride around the sun, we thought it would be best to just maintain this and see where it takes us.  If we spend less, that’s great.

Cutting Cable.  We’re not doing it yet but you guys I am getting so close!  Marcus has agreed that once we move, we can probably do without for a few months while we settle into the place, enjoy the summer, etc. and then determine what we’re really missing.

What are your financial goals for 2017?  

Friday Food Round-Up!

Over the weekend I made a double-batch of enchiladas. One for us and one for another new mama friend. We were supposed to eat them on Sunday, but we had so many leftovers that I just popped them in the freezer to enjoy another week.

We also stocked up on another 12 lbs or so of bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs at $0.99/lb so we’ll have meat in the freezer for the next month or two. 

In looking through my blog archives, I know I’ve written a few posts about meal planning, but obviously our life looks different with Critter so I’m planning to get another one going in the next few weeks.  If you have any questions or things you’d like to see, please leave a note in the comments!

What we ate from our pantry: wild rice (seriously there is one more meal left in the bag), brown rice.  So…rice.

Saturday – Chunky Chicken Thighs and Wild Rice from Farmhouse Rules, Garlicky Wilted Spinach


Really wild New Year’s Eve dinner, right?  True story: we had an orphaned crown of broccoli in our crisper, so I just had Marcus chop it up and I threw it into the pot too.  An effective way to deliver yet more vegetables into our meal.

Monday – Simple, Perfect Chili from The Pioneer Woman Cooks, Cheesy Jalapeno Bacon Cornbread from Cravings


There is a 100% chance I made a double batch of this at 8:00 AM so that we had dinner prepared for the evening and a second batch to throw directly into the freezer.  Can you tell I was on a roll with meal prepping this week?

Wednesday – Linguine with Cauliflower Pesto from The Smitten Kitchen, Trader Joe’s Roasted Garlic Chicken Sausages,  Garlicky Wilted Spinach


First new recipe of 2016.  First dud recipe of 2016.  I love the Smitten Kitchen blog and cookbook but my God you guys this recipe just blew.  The only reason we ate the leftovers is because there was a whole head of cauliflower in the pesto so it felt like the sort of virtuous New Year’s suffering we needed to partake in.  But seriously we will not be making this again.

Thursday – Kimchi Fried Rice with Soft-Fried Eggs, Snow Peas with Sesame Oil and Red Pepper Flakes


We used a blend of white rice and brown rice so I could rid us of the one cup of brown rice that was still lurking in our pantry.  It is gone now.  The rice blend was actually sort of nice because it didn’t stick together as much?  Like you could taste the individual rices?

The State of Our Financial Union: 2016 in Review

Hey hey ho ho 2016 has got to go!

Or it’s already gone.

I thought it would be interesting if I did a little walkthrough of this year in personal finances.  It’s good for us to reflect and if you’re looking for ideas/encouragement/are just bored and want to read something, here it is!

As you know, generally, I refrain from sharing very specific numbers.  I am sure we can all understand.  I think you can de-mystify money and talk about it openly without having to paste your income all over the internet.  While it works for some people (and I certainly love reading those blogs and listening to those podcasts!) it just doesn’t work for us.

How was 2016 for our finances?

Um, we spent all of our money.  Not really, but sort of.  We bought: a new furnace, a new water softener, a new washer and dryer, a new (used) car.  All of them except for the dryer (we felt like the set should match since we’re selling) were emergencies.  And we paid for them out of our hard earned savings and if I thought about what that dollar amount equaled, I would need to take to bed or breathe into a bag or something because OMG WHY DID 2016 HAVE TO KILL ALL OF OUR APPLIANCES?

Oh, and I almost forgot (how could I?).  WE HAD A BABY.  Also an expensive thing.

We saved a lot of money.  

  • We maxed out our HSA because that allowed us to lower our taxable income.  And because we knew that we were going to spend it all on Critter’s birth.  Marcus did some serious math at the end of 2015 to figure out what medical plan would make sense for us based on projected birth costs and deductibles, out of pocket maximums, premium payments, etc.  We ended up selecting a HDHP with an HSA because it was the lowest-cost for what we knew we would need.
  • We saved 10% in my Roth 401(k) and 11% in Marcus’ which continues to be the least gratifying activity of my entire life.
  • After all of the spending that took place as outlined above (again OMG), we still managed to save an additional 5% of our income.

We re-did part of our budget halfway through the year.  Realizing that we were spending TONS on groceries and not nearly as much going out with friends (or in general), we reallocated $40 per month towards groceries and took that out of our allowances.  This was a pretty painless change.  We also realized we were spending MUCH less on gas because I only drive to work three days per week and on the weekends, we just aren’t as far-ranging as we once were.  And that whole thing where gas prices were super low last year.

I stopped buying new clothes in August.  And I committed to purchasing only things to replace worn-out items.  I wrote about it here.  I will confess that in December, I purchased one more piece of employer-branded clothing to wear with jeans because I was wearing my pullover every single week and if being able to wear jeans to work when I want to hasn’t been one of the best life-improvements in my year, I just don’t know what is.  I will also give a shout-out to that third pair of yoga pants I bought in November.  It really has made my laundry-life SO MUCH BETTER.

Otherwise, where not purchasing new clothing is concerned, I will say this.  We have started going to our local mall from time to time so that we can walk with Critter in the late afternoon.  Whenever we go I am SO OVERWHELMED by the sheer amount of things that are being sold.  I have already removed two grocery bags of clothing from my closet and my shelves and drawers are still so full.  At the end of the year, I had managed to save an additional $130 from my allowance, that probably otherwise would have gone to…you guessed it…clothes.  Instead, it’s just not.  I still don’t know what the ultimate end result of this experiment is but it probably has to do with having less of everything.

We gave away $$$.  I know I have spoken about it before, but we do have a specific line item in our budget for charitable giving and it continues to be my favorite part of the budget.  We spent all of it.  Obviously.  There was also a point in the year where Marcus received some bonuses and I received a raise and we made another small gift because I truly believe that the Lord provisions us with what we need and when we are blessed, we need to bless others.

All in all, it was A Year.  Even though it didn’t turn out quite the way we had planned, I’m still (we’re still) proud of how it turned out.

If there are specific topics you want to hear more about (and if you don’t, it’s okay!), feel free to leave a comment.  Otherwise, if there are any financial celebrations you want to share, I’d love to hear about those too!

Month 11 Check-In


Critter is 11 months old you guys.  It is crazy to think that in the next month he’ll have his first birthday party, first haircut, 12 month checkup and maybe even start to walk!  What else is new?

  • WEANING. IT IS OVER.  After I got mastitis, my milk supply tanked 50%.  Between pumping and the remaining freezer stash, we were able to make it to Christmas Eve at which point Critter got his first taste of formula, determined it was poison water and screamed his head off and arched his back every time we got near him with the bottle.   After three days, we got better at mixing formula and breastmilk, he ended his peaceful protest and he is almost nearly on 100% formula now.  He’s on the Enfamil comparison brand from ALDI and thinks it is just fine.  I pumped for the last time on New Year’s Day and now it is over.  I think the biggest hormonal shift for me hit straight after the mastitis resolved because my supply tanked so much so fast.  I was having night sweats, a terrible headache, and was completely exhausted.  Right now I feel…pleasantly normal in comparison.
  • Breastfeeding in review: I am glad I gave it a try.  My plan was always to do it while it worked and to stop when it didn’t and that got Critter nearly 11 months of straight breastmilk.  Between gestation and nursing, I put 25 pounds on that child and that 25 pounds was a labor of love.  I cannot even begin to imagine what nursing a child looks like when you have a toddler at home and a newborn but I will not even be thinking about that until Littler Critter comes on the scene.  Someday. (and not now!)
  • Formula.  I’m just gonna say it you guys.  It is easier.  You throw some powder and water in bottle and poof it is done!  Nutrition for your child!  Plus, since I’m not pumping anymore, the amount of things we have to clean each day has been cut in half.
  • We took Critter to the zoo last week and even though we were only there for about 45 minutes, it was a great adventure for all of us.  The lion even came straight up to the window (I feel like that never happens) so we got a great look at him and now Critter has seen all of these animals in real life!

  • We have really been milking the free and/or cheap activities that are available to us through our community.  On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays the sports dome has a tot playtime from like 10:30 AM – 1:30 PM.  It’s like $4 for the tots unless they cannot walk in which case they are free.  Critter crawls around on the field and usually swats a ball about and that’s really the extent of it.  As he gets bigger, there are more toys and things to rumpus with and there are four (!) bounce house-type things that they set up for the kids to hop in.  We’ve also been going to the library quite a bit too.  They’ve got a free story time two times a day on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and they also have a really superb wooden playset over in the kids area that Critter is enthralled by.  It has become a great place for us to burn 30 minutes of energy or so at the end of the day.
  • If Critter could tell you what his favorite food is, he would be proud to let you know it is greek yogurt.  He can eat a full, adult-sized container of it even after he is done with the other foods and he is so sad when it is done.
  • Clothes.  In the last year we have purchased seven sets of them and in the next month or so I am pretty sure we’ll be moving right into the 3T pjs.  If anyone ever tells you that when the tots start moving around they slow down their growth, just know they have never met my son.  Related: I need to start sourcing those clothes now so that we can get some deals.