Monday, March 30, 2009

Sad Day

Update: Be sure to read the comments for a list of 10 reasons Illinois is awesome. Jenn, a native Illinoisan, is trying to set this Texas girl straight! Who knows? Maybe by the time Darby's done with school in 5 years I will have been converted. :) Thanks, Jenn! You're a good sport!

I finally bit the bullet and changed my license plates. (Well, Darby actually changed them.) I got my Illinois plates about a month ago, but for some reason the thought of giving up my Texas plates made me sad. I'm not sure why. I'm not one of those people that's super-enthusiastic about Texas. But I liked being different. Plus, there are a lot of blue Escapes around, so mine was always easy to pick out in a parking lot. And, they were kind of like my last tie to Texas. I've already changed my license, insurance, etc. I don't really like being an Illinois resident. I like living here in Champaign, but Illinois on the whole is kind of a "blah" state, don't you think? Maybe this is the obnoxious Texan in me coming out, but I think it's much cooler to be from Texas than to be from Illinois. No offense to any native Illinoisans(?) that might be reading. :)

But, eventually, the plates had to be changed to avoid getting a ticket. The nice thing is that there's no yearly inspection required in Illinois. Woo-hoo!

I took this picture in the garage, so that's why there's a weird angle. It is nice and shiny, but it's no Texas plate.

Anyone got any creative ideas for displaying two very dirty license plates?

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Spring is here!

We've been having wonderfully warm, sunny weather lately, and I am so excited about spring. I just heard the weatherman say there's a chance of snow this weekend, but I'm choosing to ignore that right now. I love the longer days and being able to go for walks after work. It's also really nice to be able to experience four seasons. No 90-degree days here yet!

For Christmas, Darby got me an herb garden starter kit because he knew I had been wanting to grow some herbs. I planted some seeds a couple of weeks ago, and they are looking really good! Pretty soon I will have fresh parsley, basil, marjoram, chives, and savory! Thyme was the only one that didn't sprout. I have more seeds, though, so I am going to start some more after this batch is done. I feel like a little kid again. It's amazing to see how a plant can grow from such a tiny, tiny seed. Our Creator is incredible!

The parsley is growing the fastest!

You can't tell from these pictures, but I have a very classy set-up. The tray sits on one of our kitchen chairs in front of the door that leads to our patio. Hey, it works!

Monday, March 23, 2009


Okay, I'm giving myself a C+ on picture-taking. I took several on Saturday but none on Sunday. Baby steps, right? Part of the problem is that Darby and I spend a lot of time eating on vacation. I really don't like taking out my camera in a restaurant. And most of the places we ate were super busy, so it's not like I could ask the server to take our picture. But, anyway, here's our trip with a few pictures. I'll go for the A (or maybe a B) next time.

We rode the Amtrak from Bloomington on Saturday morning. There is a train that leaves from Champaign, but the times weren't good. Plus, we're always willing to make the 45-minute drive to Bloomington because they have a Krispy Kreme! And the hot and fresh sign was on. Yummy!! There is nothing better than a warm Krispy Kreme glazed donut. I could have ended our trip right there. :)

We got to Chicago and walked about 1/2 a mile to our hotel, the Palmer House Hilton. I got a great deal on the room, and the hotel was super-swanky. Our room was really colorful and modern-looking. We had two double beds instead of a king, but we don't mind being close. Haha...TMI, right? Our room was directly above the El train tracks, so it was little noisy, but we were so tired at the end of the day that it didn't bother us.

We went to lunch at Yolk, a breakfast and lunch place. We had the BEST omelettes and pancakes. Then, we took a bus to Navy Pier, which is like a mini carnival/amusement park on the water. We rode the ferris wheel. (Please ignore how horrible I look. I'm really bad at taking a picture of myself and looking like a normal person.)

Here's me looking slightly better.

There was a beautiful view of Lake Michigan and the skyline.

There was also a really cool FREE stained glass museum. It was kind of random and didn't fit in with the surroundings, but the windows were beautiful.

We rode the free trolley back to our hotel, took a nap, then walked to dinner at Lou Malnati's, a famous Chicago pizza place. It was good, but I'm not sure it was worth the hour wait and slow service. After dinner, we rode the El to Green Mill, a jazz club. Darby really wanted to see some live jazz. The band was really good, especially the vibraphone player, but it was incredibly crowded and hot. We didn't stay very long. Plus, we were a little scared to ride the El back to the hotel late at night. (We're not cityfolk.)

Sumday we slept in a little, then got coffee at Intelligentsia, which is like a more pretentious Starbucks (if you can believe it!) Then we walked up Michigan Avenue and ate lunch at Foodlife, a really awesome mall food court. (It sounds like an oxymoron, but the food was actually really good!) They give you a card as you go in, and you just go to the different stations and swipe your card. Then you pay on the way out. I had fettuccine alfredo and a hot fudge sundae. Doesn't get much healthier than that!

From there, we walked up the shoreline (a long way!) to Lincoln Park. There is a free zoo there. Darby and I LOVE zoos, so we had a lot of fun. We thanked our lucky stars that we didn't have a stroller to push around. Seriously, how do people do it? I really am not going to want to go anywhere with a stroller. It's hard enough for me to maneuver myself without bumping into anyone. I plan on using one of those babyslings, but what am I going to do when I have toddlers? I guess never leave the house.

We walked about a half mile to the El and rode back to our hotel. We still had a little time before we had to catch our train, so we sat and read at Barnes and Noble. It was great to rest our feet for a while. Then, it was back to the Amtrak station and home again!

It was a great trip! We had beautfiul weather...a little chilly (in the 40s and 50s) but very sunny. We about wore our legs out walking. I pretended that we burned enough calories to make up for all of the food we ate. Darby and I just love traveling together. And really, who wouldn't love traveling with this handsome guy?

Friday, March 20, 2009

I just heard about a site,, where you can sell your old (working) cell phones for cash or gift cards. I entered the information for mine and Darby's old phones (both pretty basic phones), and we're getting an $11 Amazon gift card. Not bad, considering we were just going to recycle them. If you have old phones laying around, check it out. You can print out a free shipping label, so all you have to pay for is the box (and I figure most people have extra boxes anyway). And, just a tip: If you don't know your cell phone's model number, look underneath the battery. There should be a little card with that information.

Darby and I are off to the Windy City (Chicago, not Abilene) this weekend for a little Spring Break trip. I am going to try to take more than 2 pictures this time. I get embarrassed pulling my camera out and acting all touristy. Also, people are not as friendly about taking pictures for you up here as they are in Texas. But I hate that Darby and I have hardly any pictures of us together (besides our wedding, which was almost 2 years ago...that's crazy in and of itself!). So hopefully on Monday, I will have a picture-filled post. Don't hold your breath, though.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

My Current Addictions

1. Jon & Kate Plus Eight - I don't like how Kate treats Jon, but the kids are just soo cute! Especially the boys. This show makes me want to have triplet boys. (Haha...just kidding, God!) Plus, it's on like five hundred times per week, so anytime I want a fix, I can get one. Next week a new show is premiering...Table for 12. That family has two sets of twins and a set of sextuplets. Take that, Jon and Kate!
2. Custard Cup snowstorms - They are like blizzards but 10 times better. Custard Cup is a local place that's open from March to November. It re-opened last Friday, and Darby and I have already been three times.'s that good.
3. Lists - Have you noticed that most of my blog posts have been lists recently? Not really sure why. I've just always like organizing stuff.
4. Yoplait Strawberry Shortcake yogurt - This is the only yogurt that actually tastes like what it is imitating. I mean, I like other flavors, but they're no substitution for the real thing, despite what the commercials might say. But I might actually eat the strawberry shortcake yogurt for dessert (if Custard Cup is closed, that is!).

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Living Large on a Little: Part One

Not to get too personal, but those of you who know my annual salary know that it is very small! I am so thankful to have a job I enjoy (and, in this economy, any job at all!), but unfortunately, my passions are never going to make me a lot of money. And while I do hope to have a little more someday (especially when we add kids to the mix), I think Darby and I do a good job of stretching our dollars. We are able to live in a nice house, have cable TV and Internet, go out to eat occasionally, and take fairly frequent small vacations. A lot of this is due to the generosity of our parents. We graduated from ACU with no debt to repay, and both of us had cars that were given to us by our parents. We are so grateful for that and recognize that a lot of young married couples aren't able to have such a stable financial beginning. But, we also work really hard to stay financially secure. I know that a lot of my readers are young and "poor," also, so I thought some tips might be helpful. These strategies work for us, but take them with a grain of salt. I'm no financial expert, just a girl who loves to save a buck (or 20 cents five times) :)

The biggest area I've worked on saving money in is groceries. Groceries are a major expense for us because we eat almost all of our meals at home. We go out to eat (including fast food) maybe twice a month, and we get at least one free meal per week at church activities. The rest of the time, we eat at home or bring food from home for lunch. Also, baking is my hobby, so I spend more than the normal person on baking items. Here are a few things we do to save money on food.
  1. Track every penny. I started a spreadsheet to track the price of groceries. Every time I buy something, I log it, along with the date, price, and store. (I've been doing this for a few months, so now I usually just log new items or note a new low or high price.) I bring this information to the store with me. If an item's price is significantly more expensive than the lowest price I've ever paid for it, I don't buy it.
  2. Buy only on sale. I look at my store's circular every Sunday when it comes out (it's online!) and plan our meals for the week based on what's on sale. When staples (like flour, sugar, canned tomatoes, chicken broth) go on sale, I stock up. As you can imagine, this process takes a lot of time, but it is so worth it. It's amazing how much price fluctuates on grocery items. I never really paid attention before I started tracking it.
  3. Plan your meals for a week or more at a time. This way, you don't end up with a bunch of ingredients that go bad before you can use them. If we have one dish with mushrooms, you can bet we'll have one or two more before the week's over. Also, having meals planned out helps me avoid the temptation to just go out to eat.
  4. Shop around, in moderation. I rarely buy groceries at Wal-Mart. They just don't have good sales. I go to this really dinky store to buy our milk because it is $1.50/gallon cheaper than my regular store! When I'm a stay-at-home mom, I plan to look at circulars for several different stores and shop around even more, but now I don't have quite enough time.
  5. If possible, make it yourself. I'm not a health nut, but packaged, processed foods are waaayyy more expensive than whole foods. I used to bring canned soup for lunch most days, but at $1.25 or so a can, it was kind of expensive for something that's not very filling anyway. Now, I try to just make large dinners and bring the leftovers to work. It's cheaper per serving and tastier, too. We used to end up throwing some of our leftovers away, anyway. I've just started experimenting with cooking my own beans. I always used to buy canned beans, but they are also fairly expensive per serving. Then, I found out you can cook beans in the crock-pot very easily. Soak dried beans overnight. Drain. Put in crockpot and pour in enough water to cover. Cook on low 5–8 hours. I have a big crockpot and can do two small bags of beans at once. I freeze them in smaller containers. I probably made about 8 cans worth for $3. 8 cans would cost $4 if they were having a really good sale and $6.50 if they were regular price. As soon as I get the bean routine down, I'm going to start making my own chicken stock. It might not seem like a lot, but those little savings add up.

Using these strategies, I've brought our grocery spending from $300-400/month down to around $200/month. It's time-consuming but really rewarding. I love seeing the little box at the top of the receipt that says, "You saved $____ today." Makes my week. :)

Monday, March 09, 2009

Book Reviews

Another in a series of "I don't really have anything in my life to write about" posts. I've really gotten into memoirs lately. I think this might be connected to my obsession with blogs. Memoirs are like "smart blogs." Those of you who know me, know I enjoy reading the blogs of not only friends, but also friends of friends or people I don't even know at all. Well, memoir is an even more socially-sanctioned way to be nosy and peer into other peoples' lives. Here are a few that I've enjoyed lately:

All Over but the Shoutin' by Rick Bragg
This is the memoir of a man who grew up dirt-poor in the rural Deep South. He went on to write for the New York Times and won the Pulitzer Prize, despite not having a college education. The book is really a testament to the woman who raised him and his two brothers so well, in spite of her abusive, alcoholic husband and extreme poverty. Overall, it is very sad, but there are a lot of moments of humor. Bragg's writing style is very approachable; he's maintained his Southern idioms, and the way he retains his "momma's" speech patterns and accent in dialogue is hilarious.

Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl
This is the memoir of a New York Times restaurant critic. (Hmmm...I guess I really like reading about people who work for the New York Times). She has to go to great lengths to disguise herself when she goes to review a restaurant. If the restaurant staff recognizes her, they won't give her the same service as everyone else. It's crazy how serious restaurant reviews are in New York City. Reichl is very witty, and it's so fun to live vicariously through her. I mean, who wouldn't want to get paid to eat at fancy restaurants?

My Life in France by Julia Child (with Alex Prud'homme)
Even though I love cooking, I didn't know much about Julia Child before reading this book. She didn't learn how to cook until she was almost 40! That makes what she acoomplished so much more incredible. It was fascinating to read about all of the work that went into publishing her cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking. We take it for granted now that there are tons of cookbooks and online resources that provide extremely detailed step-by-step instructions for making just about anything. But, at the time, Child's cookbook was pretty much the most comprehensive cookbook ever written. She was the first person to publish how to make mayonnaise, for example. It can be a little dry in places, but if you enjoy cooking (or Europe), you'll probably enjoy it.

You can see where my passion! If I'm not making and eating it, then I want to read about it.

Anyone read anything good recently? Leave me a comment with your recommendations. They don't have to be about food. :)

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Why I'm not ready to be a parent

Darby and I are getting to the stage of our relationship where people start asking when we're going to have kids. I feel like we're still really young. Plus, it seems that the fact that Darby still has 5+ years of school ahead of him might deter some people. But, no. Once you've been married over a year, even if you are still closer to 20 than 30, the questions start.

And, actually, although I don't like to admit it, sometimes I think it would be really fun to have a child soon. I love babies. And many of my friends and/or acquaintances from high school and college have had kids or are pregnant. (Thank you, facebook, for providing this information!) At this point, I wouldn't totally freak out if I got pregnant, which I think is a good thing. However, I recognize that financially that would NOT be a good decision. And Darby actually wants to be around for his child's infancy, not studying for tests. Plus, I really like our life right now. We eat dinner in front of the TV; we sleep in on Saturdays; we take long naps on Sundays. I don't really want to give that up. But sometimes when I'm around babies, I just forget all of that. There are times when I wonder how I can wait the 5 or 6 more years that we've always planned on waiting. Well, recently, I've found that motivation...teenagers.

You see, babies don't stay babies forever. Seems obvious, right? But whenever I think of myself as a parent, I see myself with a little baby or maybe a toddler. I never really imagine beyond their first day of school. However, a few weeks ago, when we were watching Good Will Hunting, I was telling Darby that I had wanted to see it when it first came out, but my parents wouldn't let me because it was rated R (although, I think it has a much more positive message than a lot of PG-13 movies, which my parents were also very selective about). Now, my parents were reeallly strict about what TV and movies we watched, a policy that I loathed growing up and which I still don't totally agree with. So I was talking with Darby about what we would do with our kids. And I know in my mind that I want them to learn to make their own decisions about those kinds of things. But what if they make the wrong decision? And will I really be able to hold my tongue if my teenagers go see the "wrong kind" of R-rated movie? It's so easy to parent hypothetically. (And, just for the record, I think my parents did a great job with me. I might not make every decision they made, but I certainly don't think their decisions or logic were wrong...just different from mine.) This discussion scared me quite a bit. I can't parent a teenager! And I know you grow into it, but even in 13 years, I still don't see myself being ready. Ahh! It's so scary!

Then, this morning, I'm driving along and I hear Taylor Swift's new song, "Love Story." Here is a sample of the lyrics:

And I said, "Romeo save me - I've been feeling so alone.
I keep waiting for you but you never come.
Is this in my head? I don't know what to think-"

He knelt to the ground and pulled out a ring and said,
"Marry me, Juliet - you'll never have to be alone.
I love you and that's all I really know.
I talked to your dad - go pick out a white dress;
It's a love story - baby just say 'Yes.'"

For the record, Taylor Swift is 19 (barely), and her target audience is much younger. There's nothing "wrong" with this song, per se. But I think it has one of the most harmful messages for young girls: (1) that your life starts when you get married; (2) that a good reason to get married is so you won't "be alone"; and (3) that getting married when you are a teenager is romantic (In the song, the girl still lives with her parents, and they originally forbid her from seeing this boy, so I assume she is a child.) So I imagine myself trying to talk to my teenage daughter about the fallacies of this song. Then, she asks, "When did you and Dad start dating." "Umm, when we were 16." "When did you know you loved him?" "16, also." "When did you first talk about getting married?" "Uh, yeah, 16...But, it was different!! We were stupid! We broke up twice and when we got back together, we were older and wiser! We waited until I was done with college to actually get married!" Yeah, I know that logic's not going to fly. And the funny thing is, the same thing happened with my parents. They were married at 19 and 20, but they told us not to do that. I would ask, "So do you regret getting married?" And of course, they didn't, but they still wanted something different for us. Oh, how I understand now! I'm sorry, Mom and Dad. And hopefully, you won't get the chance to tell me, "I told you so," when I'm dealing with my own teenagers for a long, long time. I'm scared!

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Recent recipes

I feel kinda boring lately. Darby and I are really trying harder to stick to our budget, so we haven't been going out much. I haven't been bored, but the stuff we've been doing isn't really blog-worthy. Plus, I never remember to take pictures. Posts always seem so much more fun when they have accompanying pictures.

One fun thing we did this weekend was go over to a couple from church's house for dinner. Jenn and Jamie are a lot of fun, and they have an adorable two-year-old, Sean. Jamie cooked steak and potatoes, and it was delicious! It was nice to get to know another couple from church a little better. We love our church so much!

One thing I have been doing a lot of lately is cooking and baking. Here are some of the more recent recipes I've tried. I get most of my recipes from food blogs (although I have my share of cookbooks and cooking magazines, as well). I'll link to each recipe. At least those websites have pictures! :)

Cinnabun Cake
This was so good! It really does taste just like a cinnamon roll, but it's so much easier to make. Plus, it's great for dessert or breakfast.

S'more Cookie Bars
This is what I brought for dessert when we went to Jenn and Jamie's house. They are really rich and good. They taste just like a s'more, but they're a lot less messy to eat.

Rosemary Chicken with Zucchini
I made this when our friend Aubrey came over for dinner. She's been on a low-calorie diet since the beginning of the year and is doing really well. I didn't want to mess her up, so I decided to cook something super-healthy. This was kind of a change for me, since I tend to gravitate to recipes that include pasta, bread, cheese, or all three! This dish was actually very flavorful, though. I'd make it again, even if we didn't have a health nut eating with us. :)

Crock Pot Chicken Tortilla Soup
This was soooo good! Darby loved it. And I'm always on the lookout for Crock Pot recipes. Although, it's hilarious when I make them because they're always ready when I get home from work at 4:45. So we just go ahead and eat! We're getting old. One change I made to this recipe: Instead of topping with cheese at the end, I stirred about 4 oz. of Velveeta into the soup during the last 20 minutes of cooking because I had Velveeta on hand.

Hope you enjoy!