Friday, January 23

Christmas 2014

A little late with these, but I wanted to share some snaps from Christmas 2014. We had a lovely Christmas break before January kicked us in the nuts, and I treasure the memories of our first Christmas celebrating with Lola, and having a full house for Friendsmas. I cooked so much, and had so much fun!

These first two pics are from Christmas day at my in-laws house. They just had their fireplace services so we were able to have a beautiful fire! I was in charge of the stuffing for Christmas dinner and hey, it was kinda gorge.

 A couple of snaps from our place and my Christmas decor. Nothing really new here, I DIY'd the tassel garland and matching tassels on the little tree a couple years ago and I still love them still. I also used a DIY to sew the stockings for myself and Nick from thrift shop sweaters the same year. They're holding up really well! Tommy and Lola's stockings are just from the pet store. I couldn't resist the dog stocking with the little silhouette that looks just like Lola. Most of our other holiday decor is from the thrift store.

 And lastly, Friendsmas! This was our second annual Friendsmas hosted at this house and our table was a little more full this year with the addition of new boyfriend and all around good guy Michael. We think he's pretty cool so we'll let him stay. Lola decided to get into the group photo too. ;)

Tuesday, January 20

Our First Two Weeks of Meal Planning

With budgeting, comes meal planning. The two seem to go hand in hand. I've been trying to jump on the meal planning bandwagon for literally years. I have a multitude of carefully laid out meal plans journaled away and never followed. With our grocery budget limited this month, I decided it was now or never!

The first thing I did was a little research. I read a few meal planning articles and checked out posts on pinterest about freezer meals and what to buy in bulk and what not to. Next, I started a pinterest board "For a Weeknight" to save recipes I thought would be simple and could be made with limited ingredients for regular weeknight dinners. The limited ingredients part was important, I knew I wouldn't be able to purchase a lot of different ingredients or single use ingredients. I wanted to be able to purchase a single block of cheese, for example, and know it would work in all the recipes for the next two weeks. Once I had collected some recipes, I set out choosing like recipes and like ingredients to meal plan for two weeks.

Knowing that we usually eat out once, and have dinner with our respective parents once or twice in that time period, I decided to plan 8 distinct meals, with 2 filler options, and 2 entertaining options.

Whole Roasted Cauliflower from 'Dinner a Love Story'
The general dinner recipes I chose were:
  1. Whole Roasted Cauliflower (with butter chicken sauce) 
  2. Fried Rice
  3. Spaghetti Carbonara
  4. Beef and Brocoli stir fry 
  5. Fresh Lemon and Sage Veggie Pasta (with the leftover broccoli)
  6. Grilled Cheese with Apple Slices
  7. Orange Chicken 
  8. Black Bean Quesadillas
Back up dinners:
  1. Mac and Cheese with hotdogs 
  2. Tortillini Soup (can be made with whatever veggies are in the fridge)  
The first thing I did when we got home with the groceries is split up my raw beef strips for the stir fry into two freezer bag portions. I also added the marinade to the zip locks and froze them like that. They're super easy to pull out and chuck in a frying pan and I have two dinners out of it. All I have to do next time is buy some broccoli.

When we made the Quesadillas (which are delicious BTW) I made four, and froze two so we have a second easy dinner from that.

Now, I'm not sure if you can see what I didn't from looking at that list -- a lot of those meals involve serving over rice. I would say this was the only mistake I made, we got sick of eating rice! Haha. I didn't assign any of these dinners to a specific day, so it was easy to look at my list knowing we had all the ingredients for these meals and just say, what should we make today? That way we were able to spread out our rice dinners over the two weeks and it wasn't so bad. Usually, we don't have rice very often so it might just be acclimatizing to eating more rice then we're used to. 

Once a week on Monday we entertain our friends, it's our weekly board game night and I always plan to feed 6-8 people. I usually choose something I can make in the crockpot, or a one pot meal/casserole. For these two weeks I planned:
  1. Crockpot Cranberry Chicken (over rice)
  2. Crockpot Blackberry BBQ pork 
 We ended up cancelling one of our Monday night dinners, so we didn't end up making Cranberry Chicken. All is well though, as I have the ingredients to make it next time.The Blackberry Pork was delicious and because we ended up with a slightly smaller group then normal I was able to get a few lunches out of the leftovers.

After roasting, I bathed my cauliflower in butter chicken sauce. Healthy right? Some Naan and extra veggies helped make it super filling. 
Speaking of lunches, the other thing I did to prepare for the week was make 8 breakfast sandwiches with egg, spinach and cheese on english muffins. I did the egg in a muffin tin, and assembled the sandwiches before popping them in the freezer. I've tried both microwaving them at work and baking them in the oven on the morning of -- and they're pretty good. I definitely am glad I added the spinach for a little flavor. I prefer something sweeter first thing with my coffee (sweet tooth), so I've mostly eaten these for lunch at work with some veggies or rice cakes. I made a breakfast cake on the weekend that I've been taking for breakfast. Next time I might make some muffins and still do some sandwiches for lunches.

For all of that we spent about $192 on groceries. I purchased all the ingredients for the recipes, plus some freezer meal supplies like bags and tins. I also had to purchase some basics like milk, eggs, flour, and some extras for sides like frozen beans and tortellini. Oddly enough, we had no pasta left in the pantry so that was an added expense, while I usually have pasta on hand.  

I'm hoping we can do it for slightly cheaper these next two weeks, as $400 a month for two people seems high.I think we can probably manage since I still have leftover meals!

And that's it, our first two weeks of meal planning!

Please let me know in the comments if you have any ideas, tips, or strategies for stretching your grocery budget or planning meals! 

This is all both stressful and fun so far, I'm hoping it always remains so. The thrill of a challenge. ;)

Monday, January 19

Weekend Casual Uniform

 Well, look here? Another outfit featuring my favorite joggers, AKA, my daily uniform. I'm slowly learning about more minimalist dressing and how one can wear a variation on the same thing over and over again (a crisp shirt, a comfy pair of pants) and always feel and look awesome. I won't lie, I wore this outfit on Saturday... and Sunday. All I did was change my accessories and switch from my navy joggers to my black joggers. I have a sickness and it's name is joggers. Of note: it's now Monday and I am wearing tights and a skirt... joggers are in the wash.

The other half of this outfit is the drapey white shirt which I picked up on sale from LOFT a couple months ago. There's a stupid amount of white in my closet at the moment given the fact I have two pets and cannot bake a single thing without getting it all over myself. There's just something about the versatility of a soft white shirt, how it can pair with almost anything and always look sophisticated, easy and classic.

My sweater is from GAP, and represents one of the newest additions to my wardrobe. I picked it up on boxing day from the website at a great price, and I absolutely love it! It's warm and soft and so far goes with a lot of outfits. I've had some not so great luck with other GAP sweaters being unflattering, but this one is perfect. Who would have thought purple would be my favorite colour to splash throughout my wardrobe? Turns out it goes great with my colour palette of navy, olive green, white and grey.

GAP Sweater and Moto Joggers, LOFT Easy T, Clarks chelsea boots, necklace old

 Edited with ABM photoshop action: Imogen

Friday, January 16

Easy Budgeting Tools for Android and Online Use

Well it's a new year and I've already mentioned that 2015 is the year of the budget.

Nick and I have always intended to live on a budget but never actually gotten so far as to employ one. With Nick planning to return to school in the fall, it became clear that to save money for tuition (and living on one income, yikes!) we would have to bite the budget bullet (nothing like some good alliteration).

My first task was to break down our income and regular spending. With an idea of the budget categories we would need, I set out in search of some tools to help me complete my task. I used Lifehacker and a simple google search to find most of these.

The first tool I used was recommended by Lifehacker as a simplistic way to track ones spending, it ended up being easy to use and easy to navigate. I entered our monthly budget and sat back, feeling quite satisfied.

Now this is not the first time I've used a budgeting website to do this. As I said before, Nick and I had always intended to use a budget, but never had. I've filled out similar budget spreadsheets and used similar websites many times including Easy Budget and I quickly realized, if I want this to stick, I'm going to have to make it easier and more practical to log expenses.

Budget Simple doesn't have a companion app so I set about looking for one.

Nick and I discussed how we would track our spending and decided that we would prefer to keep a bi-weekly budget instead of a monthly budget to match our bi-weekly pay periods. This way, we can say 'from this check I need to put this much on my visa or into savings', and then we don't have to worry again until next check. The only tricky thing about this method is that some expenses are still monthly (like rent, insurance, or phone bills that come out once a month). We decided the best way to craft our budget would be to remove monthly payments like those above, and use the envelope system to deal with bi-weekly expenditures (groceries, clothing, etc). We use our personal accounts for monthly expenses, and a joint account for our joint bi-weekly spending.

Finding a mobile app to suit our needs was incredibly hard. I started with a google search and poured through a multitude of slideshows and lists of 'best android apps for budgeting' and 'simple budgeting apps for android' etc. I downloaded probably fifteen different budget apps including iwallet, goodbudget, My Budget, You Need a Budget, Simple Budget, Expense Manager, Spendee, One Touch Expenser, and more. Although many of these apps were beautifully designed, none of them did what or behaved the way I wanted them too. They were either too cluttered, offered too many functions I didn't need, or didn't offer a function I needed. In fact, only two of the apps I downloaded did offer bi-weekly budgeting.

I found the app I needed through a happy fluke while browsing aimlessly through the google play store. It's called Better Haves, a budgeting app for couples. Now, I find this kinda hilarious. Who would have thought something with the potential to be so cheesy would work so well for us. Turns out, Better Haves functions perfectly. Here's why:

A screenshot from my phone.
  •  It's a simple, envelope based budget app.
  • It allows multiple accounts so Nick and I can both access it from our phones. When he adds a transaction, it syncs to both phones so we're always up to date with each others spending. 
  • The length of your budgets duration is completely custom. You can enter whatever you want, whether you budget daily, weekly, bi-weekly or monthly. This was a huge deal considering our needs. 
  • It allows you to keep some budget lines separate from your SO. For example, if we wanted to have a small amount of spending money for each of us in separate accounts, that would stay hidden from the main page (under the 'yours' tab) so my transactions would be totally at my discretion.
  • It keeps savings separate from the main budget, allows you to set saving goals and then both account holders can enter contributions towards that goal. This is actually a great feature, right now I have the amount of money nick needs for his first school semester added as a savings goal and we can see exactly how close we are to it's completion. 
  • It sends a reminder to both of our phones every night at 9PM that says "take five minutes to review today's budget", which I actually find incredibly helpful. We've been making 9PM our budgeting time, making sure we've entered all of our days transactions and that we're on the same page. 
  • It's easy on the eyes. Seriously, some of the apps I downloaded I could hardly look at. It's not the prettiest app I tried, but I find it much more intuitive then some of the others.
So far, we're really happy with Better Haves, but it's not the only tool I'm using right now. I also decided to keep the app iWallet installed. iWallet has some useful functionality beyond Better Haves, it allows you to enter all of your banking accounts (chequings, savings, visa...) and keep track of your overall net worth. Since Nick and I both have our own credit card, this view allows us to see our total debt compared to total savings. I find this really helpful to keep track of how quickly we're paying down our debt. Sadly, I really disliked the budgeting feature in iWallet, so I'm only using it for the advanced features.

Beyond android apps, I'm also using Gail Vaz-Oxlade's interactive budget worksheet to make sure our budget is balancing. She is a proponent of the envelope method (or Jar method) so her worksheet shows exactly how much money should be in each envelope, combining things like restaurants, hobbies and sports into one entertainment envelope. This can be helpful if you might spend a little more on restaurants in one month, and a little more burning those calories the next month. It's flexible, but still balances. She has other great resources on her site.

Friday, January 9

For: January 2015

2015 is about simplifying life.

Budgeting, organizing, meal planning -- it all means that my attitudes toward shopping have to change. Usually, I covet everything and having the world wide web at my fingertips  makes it easy to give into temptation and spend ALL THE MONEY whenever there's a Modcloth sale or a coupon code in my inbox. This year, I want to take a different approach to spending and shopping.

From now on it's not just about me, it's about my family and the life we're building.

To help me change the way I look at my shopping, I'm going to be posting a new monthly wish list focused on him, me, my home, and my pets. One item for each.

For: January
Click picture for details.

Wednesday, January 7

Goodbye 2014: Our Year

2014 was kinda great for me (and Nick).

We have a couple of friends and family who got chewed up and spit out by 2014 and to them I say, 2015 is here! It's kinda sucky when your friends are not having as smooth and fun a time as you, but we still have to appreciate and celebrate how awesome the year has been while looking forward to better days for everyone. We've given the moniker #YEAROFDALLAS to 2015 already (one of our friends who's life is lookin' up) so 2014 might as well have been #YEAROFJEWELLS for Nick and I.
 This was the year we planned a wedding almost without stress and wringing of hands. That's pretty swell. This was the year we managed to pay for a wedding without going into debt! This is the year we got married! This is the year we truly enjoyed our sweet pup and the love that a dog can bring to your life. I both met my favorite author (Peter S Beagle) and saw my favorite band (Queen)! I did a start to finish play through of all three Mass Effect games! We were spoiled by friends and given all kinds of amazing gifts to beautify and make functional our backyard entertaining space, which we are more than a little excited to do in 2015!
This is the year we traveled to PEI and I got to meet Nicks grandparents, got to see the Island and got to eat the best ice cream. This is the year I read a lot of books and wrote a lot of words (just not quite 50000 yet). We played a lot of video games, visited a lot of parks, had a lot of picnics, and spent time with a lot of great friends. I learned to make doughnuts and bagels from scratch (it's been a delicious year) and I sunk over a hundred hours into Dragon Age Inquisition (nerd badge of honour?).

This was a great year, one that leaves us feeling more loved then we've ever felt. 

2015 is already shaping up to be a bit of a different year, one that involves budgeting and hand wringing and learning to live on less (What? Sounds like another wedding no?), but we're excited to take on new challenges and set ourselves up for our future together. Hopefully, the decisions we make now will lead to happiness and a high quality of life, say, five years from now. That's the dream. I imagine I'm going to be sharing more in this space about the realities of budgeting, being an obsessive online clothing shopper with no money, and maybe some details about making grocery budgets stretch and who knows, freezer meals. Maybe I'll get there. 

So here's to 2015! #YEAROFDALLAS

Monday, January 5

A Year in Outfits: 2014

Find previous years recaps: HERE (2013) and HERE (2012)

Welcome to my favorite post of the year, where we compare an entire years worth of outfit posts and contemplate what I've learned both from blogging outfits, and from cultivating outfits. What a crazy year this has been!
The first half of the year I was noticeably better at keeping up with outfit posts. February was my most active month, with lots of outfits to choose from. I think my favorite though is my May outfit! To think those photos were taken at the dog park!
And December
The latter half of the year was busier for my personal life for sure, I was married in July so my July outfit is one I wore to my rehearsal! My August outfit is from my honeymoon and it's definitely my fav. Super simple and comfy but pretty stylish if I do say so myself. September marked another hair chop and man, did I feel better after that. I had been growing my hair long for the wedding and it was incredibly damaged. I actually just had another hair chop last night and took even more off because it was still damaged. Oh well!

Last year I wrote that: "In 2014 I want to make smarter shopping choices, continue building my photography skills, make a space inside for deep winter outfit shots, and take lots and lots of outfit shots outside. It's my big resolution this year to spend more time outdoors and I just need to remember to take my camera with me"

I think that, although I failed to keep up with my outfit posts in the fall and Winter, I accomplished my goal of taking more outfit pics outside than in. I definitely got out of the house more, both to the dog park and beyond. I think the big reason I don't have many outfits to show for the last couple months is that we've reverted to old insular habits and spent most of our nights watching netflix or playing video games inside. It's hard not to do in the winter!

I do feel as though my photography skills are improving, and I managed to only lose my camera remote once this year. I failed to set up a winter outfit spot inside, but I would still like to do that. Hopefully this year I can get my den/craft space organized enough to follow through on this goal. 

In 2015 I want to be better about taking  outfit photos on the regular, I'm going to try and commit to two a month. A tiny goal in comparison to what I was posting a couple years ago, but my blog has evolved along with my lifestyle and I don't mind. I do want to keep outfit posts a part of this space.

In 2015 I want to share my capsule wardrobe and my closet/wardrobe makeover. This goes along with my bedroom makeover, which I also want to share! I really have been more deliberate with the items I purchase for my wardrobe, which has been great, but I've also been very bad with my spending this year and that has to stop. Starting in the new year Nick and I are going to be on a budget for the first time ever and I would like to start sharing my monthly purchases in this space so I can hold myself accountable for spending a certain amount, and only buying great stuff!

In 2015 I want to document more life stuff with my DSLR and less with my phone, and continue getting out of the  house (in the summer especially, haha).

Monday, December 22

Wrap it Up

Rising to meet some of my goals I'm coming to you now with an outfit for December!

Last week I chopped all my hair off and went dark. It wasn't supposed to be quite so dark, but turns out my hair absorbs colour like whoa,  SO the hair went dark. I'm actually really digging it, when completed with my new glasses I'm pretty unrecognizable! Haha. On this day the dark hair went up using another hair tutorial from Hair Romance. I've enjoyed having to get a little more creative with my up-do's since I can no longer put my hair in a top knot. This tutorial is my new top knot.

This dress is a year round favorite in my wardrobe. The first time I wore it to work one of my co-workers (I work with mostly guys) said I looked like a boat. Of course this is what he meant, and one must take these comments with a grain of salt.

The things that I like about this dress are as follows; The material is forgiving, flows away from the body and is cut in an a-line shape. The faux wrap waist is flattering and apparently camouflaging. I like to pair this dress with some neutral accessories and my Chelsea boots. This day I chose to go with a bit of an earring pop because of the updo! I think the turquoise looks awesome with the dark hair!

This past weekend we took Lola to the park 3 days in a row to make up for not taking her in awhile. We've been pretty focused on video games since Dragon Age came out, but a month later we're re-devoting our time to our favorite thing in the world -- our puppy. She's cool with whatever. Haha. Easy to please.

You probably won't hear from me again until after Christmas, so Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to everyone, I'm wishing for a peaceful time to reconnect with what's important for this whole nation and our neighboring nations. I hope everyone finds peace this holiday season and that 2015 begins as a year of radical and peaceful change. Go out and love everyone you meet!

And with the weather appropriate sweater addition. Sweater The Bay, Dress Winners, boots Clarks (From the Bay)

Tuesday, December 16

Weekend Things

This past weekend we tromped out in the cold once more to take in The Festival of Lights at the Edmonton Valley Zoo. We got to see all kinds of creatures out and about including the snow leopard and some beautiful Arctic Wolves looking quite like they belonged in all that snow. There was a lot more to do then at the Devonian Gardens last weekend including many many light displays, a lighted maze and this gorgeous 'Enchanted Tree'.

Saturday we spent with friends, eating pizza and seeing  the movie Big Hero Six. Very cute, I especially recommend it for those with kids. It does deal with some heavy emotional stuff surrounding the death of a loved one, but these are important conversations to have. Funnily, my friend at work took his four year old and she loved it. He was all set to have the death talk with her and she didn't even really pick up on that stuff. Talk averted for a little while.

I, unsurprisingly, spent my spare time Sunday baking my favorite bagels and some spice cake doughnuts with maple glaze for our Sunday night dessert. Man, doughnut pans can be finicky. Last time I made this recipe it made seven doughnuts and they came out perfectly, this time I overfilled them a bit and made only six doughnuts and they stuck to the pan horribly. Oh well, still delicious! I somehow managed to burn all four fingers on my right hand during this baking session, haha. Fun tip, should you burn your hand (minor burns of course otherwise go to a doctor!) it helps to sit around with your hand in a bowl of ice water for several hours. Thanks for the tip Mom. ;)

Thursday, December 11

New Look

For my face that is.
Turns out I am not immune to the affects of prolonged staring at a computer monitor and have proceeded to go blind.

Well, not actually blind. I've been feeling kinda blind since my eyes started to revolt in my head and cause me to wonder if I was insane, but after receiving my prescription from the doctor and exclaiming to my husband that I was blind as a bat he looked at my prescription and laughed at me. Turns out it is a very tiny prescription that barely even counts, but I'm still going to feel a lot better when I'm no longer aware of my eyes desperately trying to focus on things in the distance. I feel like a camera in low light whose attempts to focus are met with a strange and annoying grinding sound. Does your camera do that? My head camera does.

Cue the search for affordable eye wear. I hit up Bonlook and Warby Parker where I know the bloggers shop, but in the end I impulse purchased a pair from Clearly Contacts for half the price of glasses elsewhere. In the long run I might want several pairs because, you know... fashion, but for now I'm just anxious to see if I can step up to this new glasses wearing life and not hate it.

I've been relating to people how in elementary school I wanted to need glasses so I would look more unique, I also thought that about braces. High School me was not a fan of actually having braces, so hopefully mid-twenties me will do OK with the glasses thing.


So here they are, these are them, the new glasses arrived. I'm definitely digging them so far, although I had to have a lesson in  cleaning glasses last night. The more I tried the dirtier they became and Nick (who has always needed glasses but prefers contacts) showed me how to gently caress away the days dirt from my lenses. Thanks hun.

It's crazy what a difference glasses can make. I had no idea how much in my field of vision I was supposed to be able to see but couldn't. Haha. I was sitting in our bedroom exclaiming over how I could see the Christmas decorations in the dining room clearly from across the house. Basically Superman over here.

I can't wait to do a new  outfit post with these guys!