Saturday, March 31, 2012

In need of a GNO, stat.

I’m generally a happy camper.  I love everything about my life – my husband, my children, my family, my dog, everything – but sometimes, I get a little down in the dumps when I realize that I have a really small network here in Columbia.  By network, I mean friends that I can call up and say “I have a moment to myself!  Let’s go do something.” 

It reminds me of how I felt when I moved to Richmond after college…  I had an outside sales position, an extremely large territory, and a boyfriend who lived in another state.  Other than little Jaxx - who was adopted in place of a roommate - I was ALONE.  And it was mighty depressing.  I traveled every day and didn’t work in an office environment, so meeting people was a tad difficult.  I came across plenty of middle-aged men (I was a Black & Decker rep if that tells you anything), but those of the “young professional” variety were hard to come by.  Eventually I met Lucy as I was roaming through Bassett Furniture, and as it turned out, I got both a couch and a friend that day.  She had just moved up from Mississippi and didn’t know a soul, so it didn’t take us long to become bff’s.  Although I’d finally found my saving grace in the companionship department, I couldn’t help but jump on the first promotion that crossed my path.  When my one year as a Virginian came to a close, I high-tailed it out of there and ran at lightning speed toward Atlanta, psyched to be closer to friends and social life once again.

Not that I’m in the same predicament exactly, but it’s a similar situation. When we moved here I knew it would be difficult to make new friends, particularly because I’m not working and I’m a mom of two toddlers.  The opportunities to get out and about are few and far between, but despite that, I’ve still managed to find a couple great girlfriends.  The problem lies in the fact that often, Nathan gives me the go-ahead to get out of the house for a few hours and let loose sans-toddlers… but more often than not, those friends are usually tied up with work or their own families.  What can I say?  It’s just harder when you’re a mom, and even harder if you don’t have a big circle of friends where you are

As I sat on the couch and searched through my contact list last night (Nathan had to get some sleep due to the early morning shift), I reflected on how much I actually do miss living in Greenville and being surrounded by so many great girls.  Some are childhood friends and some became fast friends through work, but at the end of the day, I can count on each one when I need them. 

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Hey girls, you know that ambiguous facebook status from last night?  Let’s make something happen SOON, ok?!  Looking through these pictures makes me miss every one of you!

Friday, March 30, 2012

March

Surprisingly, March is nearly over.  (I really just blinked and that happened.)  We’ve had a busy month and I haven’t been so great at updating the blog, so here are a few of our highlights!

We spent a much-needed week at the lake with family and celebrated Papa Don’s 76th birthday.  He’s a obviously a Tar Heel fan, but I think the little heels around him were all he needed to make it special.

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Caroline wasn’t much into smiling here, but Tyler was a happy camper given the fact he wore his Thomas the Train pajamas out to dinner.  I had to channel the old adage “pick your battles” on that one.

We’ve also been getting ready for Easter and having lots of egg hunts in the back yard.  When I saw that our old play group was going to Fox’s Farm for a day of animals and eggs, we jumped at the chance to have a change of scenery.  When we first arrived, they had a sweet white horse for all the kids to have their picture with.  Caroline was the only one to brave the horse, but she didn’t necessarily embrace him...  Per the look of horror on her face.

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The animals were probably the biggest hit of the day.  The Fox’s had huge barrels of “universal food” that all the animals would eat, so you could get handfuls and walk around feeding whomever you liked.  We fed geese, goats, lambs, cows, rams, donkeys, bunnies, and a pot-bellied pig. 

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After feeding the animals, we planted some flowers.

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Then after planting flowers, we headed out to find eggs!  The main event!

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This is where it became funny.  You see, when we hunt eggs in our back yard, Tyler and Caroline cannot WAIT to open them up (which they do the minute they pick each one up) to see what kind of surprise is inside.  I usually take a couple packs of fruit snacks and put one piece in each egg (in my mind that’s better than straight candy, shhhh), so to properly relay the disappointment my children had over their empty eggs is hard to do.  As you can see, Tyler excitedly opened each egg he found (and it was a race to get each one, let me tell you) and looked at me or Nathan with a “what gives?  where’s the fruit snacks?” look.  I really felt kind of sorry for them since we’d been talking about the main event all day, AND Fox’s Farm had forgotten about our group coming so we had to wait about an hour before doing anything fun.  When the hunt was over, our fearless group leader saved the day and traded their empty eggs for handfuls of candy and treats… Thank the Lord. :)

Last thing on the list was a visit with the Easter Bunny.  As much fun as it sounded, these were the reactions we got:

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They gave a good stare, but wouldn’t go anywhere near the furry guy.  I can’t say I blame them… The Easter Bunny freaked me out as a kid too.

A few days later, Andrea and I took the kids to the Cottontail Festival at Sesquicentennial State Park while Nathan was sleeping off a night shift.  I had higher hopes for the Easter Bunny this time, thinking that maybe the more Tyler and Caroline saw of him, the less scared they’d be. 

Tyler yes, Caroline not so much:

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"You go right ahead, Buddy.  I'll be inching my way over here..."

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There was also a big inflatable slide that was a big hit as well.  Too bad we only got to go down once before they let all the air out and instructed us to go watch the “Kids Hip Hop” rapper instead… yeah, NO.  We decided to take a pic in front of the stage and call it a day.

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The playground was much more exciting than the rapper anyway-

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Andrea always laughs and says that Brady thinks we are his family since we spend so much time together, but our kids play so well together that it’s just easy.  We have definitely enjoyed Columbia much more in the past year and half because we have such great friends!

I suppose I’ll wrap up this “March recap” before I run out of internet space, but I still have more to post…  To be continued! :)

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Good Morning!

Today, Tyler woke up with the chickens at 7:45. (Yes, that is early for the three of us, don't hate!) Since we have nothing on the agenda other than a jog this morning, I decided to test out a Pinterest recipe for breakfast that I'd flagged earlier this week called "puffins."

LOVE!!! So super easy and toddler-friendly, I implore you to give them a go. If you have a favorite pancake recipe then go ahead and whip that up, otherwise, mix 1 cup of pancake mix with 2/3 cup water then throw in 1/3 cup maple syrup. Mix that up well, then divide into a muffin tin (I went for minis). When your batter is in, throw in the fixins'... I sprinkled cinnamon chips in some, thin-sliced bananas in others, and a blueberry or two in the rest. Bake them at 350 for 12-14 minutes and wah-lah! Tiny delicious little pancakes in a bite!

I cut up some of that great produce I've been going on and on about and added it to the toddler breakfast buffet. Can you tell everything was a hit? :)



Monday, March 26, 2012

Meal Plan & Grocery Tab

I got quite a few comments on the last post about the kinds of meals we’re eating each week to spend such a marginal amount of moolah.  So, hopefully this will help (looking at you, Molly!).

Here’s what I have for breakfasts:

* “Thomas” and “Tinkerbell” Smoothies (ie, Green Monsters, but they sure slurp them up when I name them Thomas the Train and Tinkerbell).

* Jam-filled cream cheese crescents

* Bacon egg & cheese mini-muffins

* Breakfast peach cobbler

* “Puffins” (pancake muffins) with blueberries

* Scrambled eggs with cottage cheese & fruit

* Honey biscuits & fruit

* Sausage egg & cheese breakfast bars

* Steel cut oatmeal with mashed bananas & cinnamon

* Apple cinnamon O’s with milk (from Aldi’s cereal brand, which tastes exactly like Cheerios).

Lunches:

* Pasta salad with cherry tomatoes, broccoli florets, shredded cheese, onion.

* Turkey & cheese roll-ups in flour tortilla

* Peanut butter sandwiches & veggie chips

* English muffin pizzas

* Homemade “Lunchables” (Herb crackers, turkey, cheese, pepperoni)

* Homemade corn dog muffins (pinterest recipe I just found, I’ll let you know how it goes).

* Grape & walnut salad (I’m using chopped pecans instead, walnuts were crazy expensive)

And dinners:

* Loaded baked potatoes & salad.  (Toppings include a choice of veggie chili, colby cheese blend, butter, sour cream, and chopped broccoli.)

* Grandpa Tony’s chicken strips & oven-baked sweet potato fries. 

* Mexican burrito bowls (Cilantro-lime rice, taco-seasoned chicken, black beans, pico de gallo, etc.)

* Spaghetti with spicy arriabata meat sauce, salad & texas toast.

* General Tsos chicken & fried rice (all homemade!)

* Hamburgers & hot dogs on the grill, oven fries.

* Baked/broiled salmon with soy-brown sugar glaze, Syrian green beans & mashed potatoes (made with a head of cauliflower – shhhhhhhhhh, don’t tell my husband! :)

Everything that is needed for the above meals I found at Aldi, with the exception of fresh cilantro and seafood breader (my dad has owned seafood restaurants my whole life and makes THE BEST chicken strips known to man… seafood breader is what he uses for them so I do too, and this can be found in any grocery store).  For the meals that include fries, I buy whole bags of potatoes and cut them up myself.  This week, a bag of sweet potatoes (about 7 large) cost $1.69 and a bag of white russets (same size) were $2.49. 

Since I already had all the chicken needed for this week, I didn’t have to buy any, which saved some money.  I usually buy chicken breasts in bulk at Sams Club, because it turns out that we only need about two to three large breasts for each meal when I’m cooking with chicken.  It’s easiest for us to buy the huge trays of pre-packaged breasts (one large tray has about 10 packs, each pack having 2 breasts), then keep them in the freezer and pull out individual packs as needed.  So, with that said, I only needed to buy the ground beef and hot dogs when it came to meat. 

Below is my receipt for you to see, just to give you an idea of how much stuff I’m really buying each week for the amount I spend.  This week included a few extras (like Easter confetti  cake mix, yellow frosting, giant jar of Easter-themed sprinkle mix, chocolate ice cream, strawberry ice cream, and waffle bowls – haha!)  In my defense, Tyler and Caroline were being so well-behaved and I had just finished a 2 mile jog...  sometimes a little reward is in order, right?  Minus the lapse in judgement regarding the funfetti cake & fixins, the ice cream is actually all-natural and has nothing “bad” in it.  Besides, there’s nothing wrong with ice cream anyway… it’s an all-American STAPLE (at least in this house).

 

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One last thing, you won’t see every single ingredient for every single meal listed above.  I am one of those “use what you have” meal planners, so each week I look in my pantry and my fridge to see what needs to be used and plan accordingly.  I HATE throwing out food, so I will find something to make with just about everything perishable.  Also, if these recipes sound good, I found tons of them on pinterest!  Join and follow my recipe board, or comment below and let me know specific ones you’re interested in.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Confessions of a Food Thrifter

I've always been a frugal person. I just don't understand the point of spending more money than you have to, ever. Perhaps this is why I have always been very financially stable with zero debt, yet carried designer bags (real ones) and sported fabulous jeans.

When I married Nathan, he wasn't so thrifty. He still isn't. He's a guy, and with the exception of that lone teenage boy on Extreme Couponers, he buys what he needs when he needs it in the easiest way possible. I have steered him in the direction of "awareness," we'll say, and he's consistently amazed at the foods I bring home for a fraction of their typical cost.

While it may appear that I coupon, I do not... I actually LOATHE couponing. I've tried it a time or two, and the time it takes one to find, clip, organize and then navigate through products at the store to find the exact size you're looking for... Well that's maddening to me. Throw in two overzealous toddlers who are running amuck and trying to "help" and I'm DONE. I'd rather pay more money.

With that said, I want everyone to know that the reason my family eats gourmet meals and has an abundant amount of fresh fruits and vegetables boils down to one thing: ALDI. If you have one of these little gems near you, go there and be AMAZED at the money you save. Granted you have to readapt your thinking - they are not an average grocery store and they don't have as many things on their shelves, but I can usually make an entire weekly menu full of great, nutritious meals and buy 98% of it there. Which brings me to the original point of this ranting post: just LOOK AT THESE STRAWBERRIES.

They cost at least $3 in all the grocery stores around here, minimum. Guess what Aldi sells them for? $.99. Huge, delicious red strawberries for less than a dollar. I stocked up yesterday and decided that I'd keep one pound out for snacking on and cut the rest up to freeze. (Which reminds me, that bag of frozen California strawberries you see is also from Aldi... Also way cheaper than other stores. They typically have blueberries, raspberries, mixed tropical fruit, etc for great prices as well). As I was cutting these babies up and refilling my bag, it occurred to me that not everyone is privy to my secret weapon of groceries and it might be helpful information to share. Even if you stop in for produce alone, it's worth it. Here's what's in our fridge this week -

*fresh pineapple ($.99)
*fresh cantaloupe (.$99)
*green seedless grapes ($1.79/2 lbs)
*fresh strawberries ($.99/carton)
*baby carrots ($.99/bag)
*baby bella mushrooms (.$89/carton)
*green peppers ($1.49 for 3)
*cherry tomatoes ($1.29/carton)
*broccoli crowns (under a $1, forgot exact price)
*navel oranges ($1.39/4 lb bag)
*purple onions (under $2/bag)
*sweet yellow onions (under $2/bag)

I spent $54 on groceries this week, and I could hardly believe it. That included lots more than just produce, but the produce to me is the most impressive part. Nathan always asks me if I'll still shop at Aldi when residency is over and we're no longer living on a tight budget. My response is OF COURSE. There is no reason to ever spend more than you have to for food!

For bags and jeans... Well, that's different. :)

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Out of Pocket

Hey y'all!

We're at the lake doing all kinds of important things this week... riding scooters on the back deck, swinging in the breezes of the screened-in porch, and kickin' back to the best of our ability.


See ya real soon! :)

Friday, March 9, 2012

Go Heels!

Before the game today, we had ourselves a little pep rally…

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Caroline picked out her cheerleading uniform of choice and Tyler couldn’t wait to put on his jersey.  (Hansbrough is still fully supported in this household, by the way!)

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I know that the terrible two’s aren’t always a walk in the park, but to be  honest, these kids are FUN…

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…and adorable.  I could wallpaper my bedroom with the photos below.  :)

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Have I mentioned that they’re also best friends? 

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(My dream is that in 16 more years, they will be wearing Carolina blue together and enjoying the Dean Dome first-hand… but I bet you aren’t surprised.)

Last but not least, Connor brought the magic touch of luck to secure our "W” against the Terps.

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ACC Champs to Conference Tourney Champs… Let’s do this, boys.

“Hey Sis…”

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“wanna go feed the giraffes or what?”

I. LOVE. THEM.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Sleepless Nights

I know you’ve all heard me talk about Connor, but I’m not sure you realize the extent of family he really is.  And by family, I mean child

Connor was my first baby… the one I gave up happy hour for.  The one who made me want to skip important lunches and walk the neighborhood in 3” heels and full business attire because I simply missed his sweet face and velvet ears. The one who taught me what caring for a newborn would be like as he cried from his kennel at all hours of the night.  The one who left that stinkin’ kennel (after being house-trained, of course) and became the best “snuggle puggle” bed-buddy in the entire world.  

This dog right here… he is the heart of our family.

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I was wracked with worry when Tyler and Caroline’s due date closed in, wondering how in the world Connor would adjust to his new brother and sister.  If you’ve been a reader of mine since then, you might even remember how he visited me in the hospital during my antepartum stay and I was a blubbering mess… in tears over the fact that he wouldn’t feel as loved when they came, and because his whole world was about to change and he had no clue.

Lucky for me, he came through it with flying colors.  He accepted his new siblings and loves them fiercely, and since I’ve become a stay at home mom to all three of them (hehe), I’m not sure Connor could be happier.  Herein lies the problem, though.  We are leaving the continental US for a whopping 6 weeks and Connor can’t go with us.  Just typing that out makes me want to hyperventilate, to be honest with you.

We’ve known since match-day in March 2010 that this time would come… the long-awaited light at the end of the tunnel.  Third year.  The finale.  HAWAII.  The year where your efforts are finally realized and you are offered the deal of a lifetime.  Who wouldn’t take a free apartment in Hawaii for a month?  We have been talking about this trip for years – literally – but now that it’s approaching at rapid speed I’m finding myself awake at all hours of the night worrying about my sweet Connor boy.  Who will ever take care of him like we do?  Love him like we do?  Keep him safe and protected like we do?  If only he could just go with us it would solve everything, but I would NEVER trust an airline with that precious cargo.  Not to mention Hawaii’s strict regulations on pets coming into the state… It’s not worth the risk.

I have more anxiety over this than you can imagine.  I stay up at night, lying there in bed as he’s curled into the crook of my body, rubbing his ears and worrying.  He’s so attached to us that it’s not funny… will HE be able to handle the stress of us leaving him this long?  Will he think we’re not coming back to get him??  These thoughts haunt me, as well as the memories of Caroline and Tyler’s birth when Connor got physically ill as he stayed at my mom’s house.  He was so upset that he honest-to-goodness trembled and got an upset stomach.  Mom called my hospital room to tell us that he was sick and I almost lost it… all those hormones you know. 

I’m hoping that between now and September I can find someone who will love Connor as much as we do and accept him as we do – in their home, at the cusp of their dinner table, on their laps (yes, our 45 lb puggle thinks he’s small enough for this), and in their bed.  It’s a tall order, which is why I’m so anxious.  On the flip side, though, is that whoever takes Connor in will undoubtedly fall so much in love with his gentle and cuddly nature that they won’t want to bring him home. 

Connor Boy belongs with us, though, and we fully intend to skype him on the regular.  I’m sure he’ll be fine wherever he goes for those 6 weeks.

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Let’s just hope I am.