Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Project Bug

Do you know about the Project Bug? It's a sneaky little creature that will creep up on your from time to time. One moment, you're just cruising along, enjoying life and feeling content, but then the Bug bites and suddenly all you can think about is the project you must do. It may be a small DIY idea for your afternoon, or it may be a remodeling event. But once the Bug bites, it doesn't rest (and neither do you) until the project is completed (or put off for the near future, or decided against... whatever the case may be).

The Bug bit us hard on Monday. But first, let's talk about the rest of the weekend.

We had only two goals for Memorial Day weekend: get the new bathroom faucet installed (that was not from the Project Bug; it was being done out of necessity) and spend some time by the pool every day. We accomplished both. We did the faucet first, and it ended up taking up most of our Friday evening and a little of time on Saturday morning.

Neither David nor I is very handy, but part of the time spent "working" included a trip to Lowe's to return the original faucet when a piece broke off (note: don't buy the $30 faucet made by a company you've never heard of, because you'll just end up returning it and spending twice as much on one that's made by a reputable company and does work), a separate trip to the local hardware store to buy a new wrench, and a 45-minute break for a late dinner. And the hour or so the next morning was just to check and make sure everything was tightened properly and there were still no leaks, and to try (unsuccessfully) to get the stopper to work. That didn't happen, mainly because there was so little space under the sink that it was practically impossible to get the metal thing and the plastic thing (those are technical terms, by the way) to fit together properly, so eventually we gave up and decided that maybe we'd try again another day.

Anyway. The faucet was fixed (to our satisfaction), and then it was time for the fun of the weekend to begin. We went to the pool all three days. We swam. We got some sun. We grilled out for dinner. We had friends over. We played cornhole. David and his brother tried the beer they'd brewed and pronounced it a success (although his brother left shortly after with a stomachache.... I hope that wasn't beer-related). We had a great weekend. We were productive, got to lay low and have some fun, didn't spend much money, and ate like pigs. Success.

But despite the three days of success, that last day of the long weekend also dealt with the Project Bug. It started Monday morning, as I was spending some time on the couch with my Kindle and David was looking something up on his iPhone. He got up off the love seat and walked through the dining room and into the kitchen. He began walking that route back and forth, not exactly pacing, but close to it. Several times, he walked over and peered curiously in the direction of the kitchen sink. More than once he consulted his iPhone.

I knew something was up. The conversation went like this:

Me: You're antsy. You're looking for a project, aren't you?

Him: I want to replace the kitchen faucet.

Me: Why? We already replaced one faucet this weekend.

Him: I'm not going to do it today. But soon. I really think I could.

Me: Well, the sprayer doesn't work, and it hasn't since I moved in, so that may be a good idea.

Him: Want to go to Lowe's?

Since I was in the market for some new hardware for the kitchen cabinets (from a slightly smaller Bug that had bitten at least a year ago that I'd yet to do anything about) and I'd already seen the hardware at Lowe's, I asked if we could go to Home Depot instead so that I could check out the kitchen hardware there. David agreed.

Spoiler alert: The kitchen faucet was not the Bug that bit us. Oh no. That bite came after we got to Home Depot (and does leave me wondering how the rest of our day would've gone if we'd gone to Lowe's instead).

We looked at faucets and found a couple we liked. We examined the boxes, as well as the instructions in a box that had already been opened, and David pronounced the project "easy enough" to do. However, since we didn't want to drop $100 or so on a faucet we didn't immediately need, especially when we're building up our emergency fund, we decided to wait until we got that amount to where we wanted it before putting in a new faucet.

We checked out the hardware and then just wandered around the store a little bit, until we saw it. IT. THE display. It was right in the middle of the aisle, impossible to miss. Laminate hardwood flooring, on sale for .71/sq. ft.

We both felt the bite, but it felt less like a bite and more like a set of teeth gripping hard on our arms. The Bug had bitten. We had to take a look at some flooring.

We'd already talked about taking out the flooring in our dining room, kitchen, and half-bath and replacing it with laminate hardwood, but we hadn't done more than just casually discuss it. And now, seeing this stuff on sale ("this stuff" being a laminate flooring locking system, which meant no glue and therefore probably an easier project) really made us think again about it.

We consulted a friendly Home Depot employee, who had no idea what he was getting into when we approached him, but who cheerfully spent the next 15 minutes telling the two of us, step-by-step, what we needed to do to install the flooring. We talked about moisture barriers and underlayment and installation kits and spacers and miter saws and much more. In the end, we looked at the rest of the laminate hardwood that Home Depot had to offer and decided we might be better off with something besides the cheapest of the cheap. You get what you pay for, right? We'd learned that with the faucet just a couple of days ago.

We left Home Depot a little later, empty-handed but our minds full of thoughts of new flooring.

A couple of hours later, we were sitting at the pool. Again, I was accompanied by my Kindle, and David by his iPhone. After some research on different types of saws (we don't own any sort of saw and know next to nothing about them, or about any power tools, for that matter), he put the phone down and turned over on his lounge chair. I continued reading. Sometime later, when I thought he was asleep, he turned to me and said, "I have an idea."

"About the flooring?" I asked.

"Yeah. You may think I'm crazy, but..... what if we put that stuff in the whole downstairs?"

I considered it. "The whole downstairs" included the kitchen, dining room, bathroom, and family room. We'd already discussed putting the flooring in all those but the family room. Our carpet is gross and needs to be replaced anyway. I'd assumed we'd replace it with new carpet, but why not flooring instead?

"What about the foyer?" I asked. When you walk in front door of the condo, you're in a small foyer with real, lighter hardwood.  From there, you can go up the stairs to get to the second floor, or down two steps to get to the downstairs portion of the condo. "What would we do about those two steps? Would we redo the foyer floor as well?"

We pondered these ideas for a few moments, then David returned to his nap and I returned to my book.

On our walk back home from the pool, an idea came to me. "What if we used darker laminate for the whole downstairs and those two steps?" I said to David. "Then we could leave the foyer the way it is, and the darker flooring on the first floor would contrast well with the lighter flooring in the foyer."

There was a pause. Then David said, "Yeah, I think that could work."

At the pool, I'd already decided that I wanted to go back to Lowe's and see what they had in the way of flooring. The Bug had gotten me, too. So after we got home and changed, we headed to the store.

We looked at the flooring and picked our favorite, a darker type that would cost more but that came with attached underlayment. We also looked at carpet prices to see if that would be cheaper for the family room. It looked like they'd cost about the same, with the carpet maybe running a little more because of installation.

We headed over to the tools section, where we got a brief tutorial on miter saws from a friendly Lowe's employee. We found a couple we liked, but we didn't buy anything. Not yet. Again, that emergency fund is waiting, and therefore, our projects are waiting.

The Project Bug may have bitten us this weekend, but the new flooring will probably wait a year or so, until we have our emergency fund money saved up and have done some other projects that we want to tackle first. But in the meantime, we'll be thinking about what kind of flooring we may want and imagining just how good our downstairs will look once the new floor is in place.

Has the Project Bug ever bitten you? Have you ever tried to tackle a project that you knew very little about? What do you know about power tools? How was your long weekend?

Thursday, May 24, 2012

A little organization

Two things I write about often on the blog are 1. projects around the house, and 2. how to save some money. This post about how I spent my Monday afternoon ties in to both of those themes.

I spent that afternoon.... wait for it.... cleaning out the linen closet (and the vanity cabinets) in the bathroom. Exciting, no? No. But necessary. Actually, yes, perhaps it was a little exciting. It helped me get rid of old stuff, organize the stuff we still had, and think about all the new stuff we wouldn't have to buy.

I originally got the idea of downsizing and minimizing our products from this post by Young House Love. Sherry shares what products she and her husband, John, use. There aren't that many. They share shampoo, conditioner, and body wash. They use only a couple of cleaning products. Her regular makeup bag is small enough to be mistaken for a travel bag. As my brain wrapped around the idea of having fewer things (Less mess! Less buying more stuff we don't use!), I decided I could learn a few things here.

I thought about the idea for a while before mentioning it to David. We'd talked some about minimizing and purging and simplifying and just getting rid of "stuff" around the house that we don't use or need, but we didn't really know where to start. Cleaning out the linen closet in the bathroom seemed like a good starting point.

When I said something about it last weekend, David loved the idea. When I suggested sharing shampoo (right now, we each have our own because he uses the cheap stuff and I buy the nicer kind), his eyes lit up and he said, "Yeah! I don't mind if my hair smells girly!" I spent the next few seconds wondering about that answer before deciding that he was just probably excited about the idea of saving money. (I asked and he confirmed that. Apparently he doesn't strive to have girly-smelling hair. But he doesn't mind it if it will save us a few bucks.)

So, on Monday, I got to work. I threw out old hair products of mine that didn't have expiration dates but had been sitting there long enough (like, years) that I knew they probably weren't going to be very effective. (Plus, I had no use for them anyway.) I got rid of expired bottles of Advil and Tylenol. I discovered that we have three thermometers, four brand-new toothbrushes (too bad I didn't know about those the last time I bought some), four bottles of hand sanitizer (which we never use), and only one tube of toothpaste (we'll have to get more once we open that one up).

I also discovered that I have quite a few hair accessories. I generally wash, condition, and comb my hair and then let it air dry. That's it. I usually leave it down, but sometimes I pull it back (with just a regular hair band). Sometimes, if I'm going somewhere, I'll blow-dry it and then either curl or straighten it, but that doesn't happen very often (especially since I'm not going to work every day). Anyway, nothing in my hair routine accounts for the need of all this:

Too much stuff.
Anyway, I thew out all of our old stuff and then organized what was left. All the soap (eight bars and two bottles of body wash), shampoo (one bottle), and conditioner (two bottles) went together in a basket. The first-aid supplies went in another basket. Anything teeth-related got yet another basket. When I'd run out of baskets, I used zip-up bags that I'd previously gotten (generally from makeup giveaways) to store everything. One for my hair stuff. One for my makeup. One for all our travel-size bottles. One for miscellaneous. You get the idea. I didn't have to buy anything for storage.... I just used what I already had and even had a few zip-up bags left over. Hooray for reusing and saving money!

I wiped down the closet shelves and moved some things around so that they were easier to reach. I went through each of our personal drawers in the vanity, where we keep things we use daily (deodorant, dental floss, face lotion, etc.), and made sure there weren't any unneeded items there.  I grouped the cleaning supplies together under the vanity, along with both of our travel bags. With everything cleaned out, there was room to put away some of my stuff that I'd been leaving out on the counter.

I don't have a "before" picture, but here's are some "after" shots. Well, they're the best I could do, considering that the bathroom is too long and narrow to allow me to take a straight-on photo:




At first glance, it doesn't look super neat or organized, but if you go through things, you can see how they're all grouped together. And if you look more closely, you'll see that there's actually some extra space available! I probably could've consolidated what we still have even more, but I figured that as long as I had the space, I may as well use it, so I spread things out a little.

And to give you an idea of what the "before" may have looked like, here's what didn't survive the sweep:


It's such a nice feeling to have less stuff, and to know that we're going to save money by not buying more stuff (or least, nothing other than the few things we do need) to replace it.

We're going to continue going throughout the house and to do the same thing in other rooms: clean out and minimize and simplify. And, in many cases, not replace. Sure, some things will need to be purchased from time to time, but in general, we won't be buying as much. And while we'll have what we need, we won't have the excess. It will be easier to keep things neat and tidy.

As we continue simplifying throughout the house, we're going to have three piles: throw away, donate, and sell. So there's another money-saving factor.... not only will we be able to save money by not buying more stuff, but we may be able to make some money by selling some things we no longer need. And donations = tax deductions. I anticipate a big trip to Goodwill sometime in the near future.

Have you done any spring cleaning lately? Do you go through your house and find stuff to donate or sell? Do you want to buy any of my stuff?

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Project updates

Remember these flowers? And these vases?

They are in their new homes!

Here's a "before" photo of the window in our kitchen:

Picture frame, random plastic bag, mug with dried flowers

I wanted something that would brighten up the room, since this corner is a little darker, away from the windows, and sits by our reading nook. I thought the bright colors would be good here. Here's what I came up with:






For our desk, I give you this:

Everything looks slanted, but it's not. I think the problem was the photographer.




I have no "before" shot, but imagine a small white plastic container holding a bunch of pens and pencils. It got the job done but wasn't too attractive. Again, I wanted to add some color to the desk, so when I found this vase at Goodwill, I thought it would be perfect.... except it was too big.

I solved this problem by adding some fake flowers. I got a couple of blocks of green floral Styrofoam from the dollar store and cut them to fit in the back half of the vase, then stuck the flowers in. The front half got the pens, pencils, Sharpies, etc. Now the desk has a little more color and the pens and pencils are stored in a brighter, more fun container.

And it didn't cost much. As I mentioned before, the purple flowers were about $1.79, and the daisies were .75 or .80 each. These were all sale prices.... sometimes 50% off or more! Plus, I had a coupon for 20% off the entire purchase for one of these purchases (I bought the flowers in two separate trips). The vases were $3 each from Goodwill.

Thanks to buying secondhand, buying on sale, and using coupons, I was able to make some changes around the house without spending too much. Got to love finding a deal!

It's nice to get a few small things done around the house. Next up: the laundry room!

Monday, May 21, 2012

eMeals

As I mentioned, I'm going to be talking a little more about saving money. For us, the first step was saving to build an emergency fund.

But before David and I could save, we needed to see what we spent, so we made a budget. We simply wrote down how much we spent each month in different areas. The fixed items, like mortgages and cell phone bills, were easy. The numbers that we had to estimate, like how much we spent on gas and entertainment, were a little tougher, but we did our best. We both looked at our statements from the past month and added up numbers, which helped a lot in determining what we thought were accurate amounts.

Then, because we were focused on saving, we tried to see where we could cut. Any money that we could cut out meant more money that we could save.
  
The biggest thing that stood out as a place to save was groceries. That's right, food. Most people would probably guess entertainment. Not us. We didn't go out to dinner much. If we went to a movie, we generally stuck with a matinee to save a few bucks. We'd go out to bars with friends, but we limited ourselves to just a couple of drinks each to save some cash. But apparently we just couldn't control ourselves when it came time for the weekly trip to Meijer.

Actually, a weekly trip probably would've been best. One of the problems was that we often went to the grocery every few days.

When we were dating, we didn't plan too far ahead as to whose house we'd be having dinner at each night, so it turned into running into the store to pick up enough food for a couple of dinners, and then doing the same things again a day or two later. More trips to the grocery = more opportunities to spend on things you don't really need = more money spent.

After the wedding, we did a little better (one house meant we could do more regular shopping, which meant fewer shopping trips, which meant saving more money), but we still weren't quite where we wanted to be. We found a good solution when we subscribed to a meal plan: eMeals. It's really helped us cut down on our grocery bill.

Here's how it works:

The eMeals team creates seven meal plans for a week. The meals are based on what items are on sale or in season, so the meals vary depending on what part of the country you're in, what store you choose to use, and the time of year. They offer smaller portions for two or larger portions for a family, and there are a variety of stores to choose from. Oh, and if you're a vegetarian or gluten-free, no problem: they offer a variety of specialty plans.

You pay a small amount for the plan. Our current rate is $20 for three months. Each week, we print out the list and go through the different options. If there are meals we don't like, or if we'll be out of town part of the week or have some other meals options already in the house, then we may do only a portion of the plan. Each ingredient is marked with what meal(s) it's for, so it's easy to just cross out those you won't need.

So far, we've found quite a few advantages to eMeals:
  • Saving money. I know.... you're wondering how we're saving money when we're paying $20 every three months. Well, that $20 is offset quickly, because we spend less per week on groceries since starting eMeals than we did before. When we first made a budget, we were spending about $600 on groceries, or roughly $150 a week. Yep, that's for just two people. And yes, that's just for groceries.... it doesn't include eating out. (To be fair, we rarely ate out, so we did need more groceries, but still, that's a ridiculous amount for us to spend.) The meal plans usually add up to $55-$70 per week, which quickly cuts that $600 in half. However, we have to buy other things, like milk, lunch meat and cheese, and fresh produce. And there's some sort of paper product, household item, or toiletries that we have to buy each week. And you can't forget staples, like olive oil or baking soda. Then we have our guilty pleasures, such as ice cream and Coke. Of course, we don't need all of these things every week, but there are always a few things. Our bill usually comes to, on average, $100 a week. That's still cutting our bill down by about $200 a month.... not bad!
  • Less waste. We've often found ourselves winging it in the store, because it was easier to just go rather than making a list first. Because we didn't have a list, we ended up spending a bunch of money on food we never used. That's wasting both food and money.
  • Less planning. It's nice to not have to make a grocery list.... it's already been made for me! We might change things up a little, skip a meal, or substitute a favorite, but for the most part, we follow the eMeals meals. In addition to saving money and keeping food from going to waste, we're also saving time by not having to make a list.
  • Learning and trying new things. We've become more adventurous in our eating by trying new recipes that we normally wouldn't. We've also become better cooks--we've made things that we knew we liked but had only eaten at restaurants or at someone else's house. For the most part, if it shows up on that week's list, we'll try it!
Most of the meals are pretty good, too. There are a couple that we've enjoyed so much that we've written down the recipes to use on our own. (Example: Baked salmon with zucchini, cucumber, and onion.) Then there are a couple that looked so bad that we didn't even try them. (Example: Ranch sandwiches. Yes, the sandwiches had Ranch dressing on them, but they had turkey and a couple of other things too. But we thought that, based on the name, Ranch must be the main ingredient.... not what you're looking for in a sandwich!)

We were glad to find a way to cut down on the expense that, when we looked at our overall budget, seemed to be our weak spot. We plan to stick with the eMeals plan for a while

Note: I wasn't asked to do this review, and I wasn't paid or compensated in any way for writing it. I'm just really happy with eMeals and wanted to share the information with you. All opinions are my own.

The Great Gardening Experiment

I've never really been a gardener. (I'm not much with yardwork, either.) I thought it might be nice to have a vegetable or flower garden "someday" (assuming that by the time "someday" rolls around, I'll have developed an interest in gardening), but that's about it. (Most plants that I take care of tend to die due to either overwatering or underwatering, so I obviously still have a few things to figure out.)

But lately, between seeing my parents work on their small vegetable garden, helping my mother-in-law re-pot some plants outside, and reading what other bloggers have done, I've thought more and more about the idea of getting into a little gardening. Unfortunately, we don't have the space for a garden here at the condo. I figured I could do something small, though.

And now, may I present to you, Liz's Great Gardening Experiment of 2012:

It's already not looking too good.


That's right--basil. (And yes, I know it's already looking a little wilted, but I'm hoping I can get that fixed soon.)

I guess a basil plant is less "gardening" and more "taking care of the one basil plant on your porch," but hey, you have to start with baby steps, right?

We use basil a lot when we cook, so I think the plant will come in handy. And from what I've heard, it's not too difficult or too high-maintenance to grow. I've just put it in a flower pot on the porch, where it should get enough sunlight. The start-up cost was less than $5 for the plant and the flower pot, so it should save us money over time since we won't have to regularly purchase fresh basil at the store.

I just hope I can handle giving it the right amount of water.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Emergency fund

As I mentioned in yesterday's post, David and I are working on saving money for our emergency fund.

As many of you probably know, it's generally recommended to have an emergency fund that covers three to six months of your expenses, in case something unforeseen happens, such as unemployment or a medical issue. Before we got married, David and I had savings accounts of our own, each with some money in them, but not enough to constitute a true emergency fund.

So we made a plan. We created a budget, and we did some math and figured out how much we'd need in our emergency fund. Then, to make ourselves feel a little more comfortable, we added a little extra. Once we had a final number, we tried to figure out how long it would take to save.

Our wedding was at the end of July. We decided to give ourselves just over a year--until August 1, 2012--to reach that savings. (The fund is step 1 for us. The other parts--saving for retirement and future expenses and getting out of debt--will be next.)

I'm not comfortable revealing how much we are trying to save (there are crazies out there in the world of the Internet, after all), but I will tell you some ways we've gone about it.

Oh, and in case you're wondering, "Do I really need an emergency fund? I have a little extra cash, and what's really going to happen, anyway?" my answer is yes, you definitely do need one. Odds are, nothing bad will happen (knock on wood), but you should still have some money saved up. My being laid off definitely confirmed that. We're lucky that we haven't had to dip in to it--in fact, despite being down to one income, we're still able to add to it each month--but there's a comforting feeling in knowing that money is there.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Saving money (+ blogs you have to see)

Here at Liz's Life, I talk about a lot of different things, but common themes for many of my posts, especially those about buying clothes, decorating the house, and doing DIY projects, is saving money and finding good deals on what you buy. Why buy new when you can make the same thing yourself or buy it used? A couple of dollars on a piece at Goodwill plus a few more bucks for a can of paint can go a long way.

While I enjoy DIY projects around our condo and would probably do some of them even if I had a million dollars, money is also a big motivator for these projects. You buy used, make it yourself, or go without so you can save money. And what do you do with that savings? Plan for retirement and future expenses, build an emergency savings fund, and pay off debt.

I think most people out there are on a budget. And most have some sort of debt. Many are saving, either for something specific or just to build general savings. So I thought I'd talk about our experiences as we save for our emergency fund (step 1 for us in the general saving money/getting rid of debt plan).

I'll do this in a series of posts. But first, I wanted to start with some encouragement, because I know many of you are probably thinking, "Getting rid of debt? Saving thousands? It's impossible!"

It's not. It's tough, but it's possible. And this blog proves it.

This guy paid off $90,000 in student loan debt in 10 months. Well, his goal was 10 months. I believe he did it in seven. If he can do it, so can you.

And he's not the only one. This blog is about the same thing (but still in progress).

Enjoy reading these blogs. And stay tuned as I share our stories of how we're cutting costs, saving money, and finding deals when we make purchases.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Consignment shopping

I'm not a big fan of clothes shopping. I only go buy something when I absolutely need to, and then I'm usually stressed out and hurried to find whatever it is I need. Therefore, I don't enjoy the shopping experience, so I don't have any desire to go shopping just for fun. What can I say.... it's a vicious cycle.

Oh yeah, and I don't really like spending the money, either. Don't get me wrong--I enjoy nice things. However, I'm not crazy about having to pay for them. I rarely pay full price for anything. Anything I buy is usually on sale, secondhand, or purchased with a coupon. If it is full price, it's a good deal to begin with.

(This way of thinking extends to bigger-ticket items, too.... such as my condo. It was a short sale, so that definitely saved me some money. Talk about a deal!)

However, there are a couple of kinds of shopping I especially enjoy. One is for stuff for our house. Furniture, dishes, decorations, home decor... you name it, I enjoy shopping for it. It's tough to make it out of a place like Bed Bath & Beyond (which has reasonable prices and a GREAT clearance section!) without picking up a couple of extra things not originally on my list.

Another type of shopping I enjoy is secondhand shopping. I like going to Goodwill, Half-Price Books, and consignment shops, and I regularly search craigslist. I even like clothes shopping if it's at a consignment shop or secondhand store. There are a lot of new things I like, but they're often very expensive, so I like finding a deal.

I also like the challenge of finding what I need/want from a rack of random things, rather than going through a rack of identical shirts and just having to choose the color and size. Don't get me wrong.... there are plenty of nice new things out there, but I think I just enjoy the treasure hunt/challenge that comes with secondhand shopping.

Anyway, I thought that today I'd share with you a few of my best consignment finds and the stores they came from (and one of David's finds, too). I got some great deals on these things!

Here's a sweater I love (sorry the picture is blurry):



This sweater is originally from Ann Taylor Loft, and I got it at a local consignment store, Carmel Consignment, for $11. I bet it was $20-something (or more), when it was first purchased new. It's a great green-turquoise color that I love. I have a striped scarf that coordinates perfectly and often gets worn with it. The sweater is great because it's easy to dress up or dress down, and I can wear it with sandals if it's warmer out or with a jacket if it's cooler. Very versatile. It's nothing fancy, but I wear it all the time, and I definitely got my money's worth.

I got this Anne Klein dress from the same store.


I was going to a wedding. A black-tie-optional wedding. In Chicago. In January. I needed something a little dressier and warmer than normal. I realize a sleeveless dress isn't exactly "warm," but I had a coat, of course, and I wanted something with fabric that wasn't too spring-y. This dress was perfect--the lace on the bottom part dressed it up and made it a little more formal and winter-appropriate.

The price was great, too! I don't remember what it was priced at, nor do I remember the additional discount I got (although I know I did get a certain percentage off), but I do know that I ended up getting it for a grand total of $18! I checked the Anne Klein website to see what other dresses cost, and most were $100+, with some marked down to the $80-$90 range.

(I should note that I took it to an alterations place to get taken in just a little bit at the waist. Because of the lace and lining, it cost a little more than it normally would for this type of fix. I think it was $35. But even with that added to the $18 I paid for the dress, it's still way less than if I'd bought it new! Plus, even if I'd bought it new, there's a good chance I would've had to get it altered anyway.)

Another one of my favorite consignment shops in Indy is The Toggery in Broad Ripple. I'm on their mailing list, and I've even sold some of my clothes there. Most of what they sell is clothing, but they do have a few home decor items, too. Here are a couple of goodies I've gotten there.

I bought this Lilly Pulitzer dress for about $32.



If you've ever seen the prices for most of her stuff, you know what a great deal that is. I was actually at The Toggery last week and found quite a few Lilly dresses and shirts there.

And now, for perhaps my best deal yet.... drumroll, please... these Garfield & Marks pants:

You can just ignore the wrinkles.
I was looking for a pair of dress pants that weren't just plain black or gray. These were perfect. It seems I have quite a few black shirts/sweaters, all of which would work with these pants.

I'd never even heard of Garfield & Marks (my apologies to those out there who know their designers), but a former co-worker told me it's a British designer, and that here in Indy, I could generally only find this brand at places like Nordstrom.

Again, I don't remember the consignment store's price on these, and while I know I got an additional discount, I don't remember the additional percentage off. But I do know that when all was said and done, I paid about $40 for them.

They were brand-new and had never been worn. I know this because they still had the original tags on them. (Yep, sometimes you can get brand-new things at consignment shops.) The tags included the original price.

Again, I paid $40.

The original price? $202.

Definitely a good deal!  :)

I'm not the only one finding good deals on clothes. David has purchased two suits at consignment stores. One he bought at a shop in Louisville, when we were visiting my family one weekend. The other came from Designer Men's Room in Broad Ripple. Unfortunately, I don't have photos (just imagine a black or dark gray suit), but I do have prices: he paid $35-$40 each for these two suits. If he were to buy them new, they'd be several hundred dollars each.

That's a lot of savings! They're in great condition and fit well. And he wears suits to work every day, so he's definitely getting his money's worth.

(I should clarify.... he does own, and wear, more than two different suits. But he only has two that he bought at consignment shops. The others he bought new, back before I introduced him to the wonderful world of consignment shopping.)

Have you visited any consignment shops? Any good finds? What kinds of shopping do you like to do? Any kinds you don't like?

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Hello again

Well, I'm back. I should probably post something more than once a week, but in my defense, last week was pretty crazy.

On Tuesday, it was Election Day here in Indiana, and David and I worked the polls. They're open from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., but poll workers have to be there an hour early. This meant we got up at 4, arrived at the polling place where we were working at 5, worked for the next 12 hours, closed everything up at 6, left at 7, stopped at Chipotle for dinner on the way home, got home at about 8, and went to bed by 9.

On Wednesday evening, David was sick, and on Thursday, it was my turn to get sick. Then, on Friday, we went to Michigan for the weekend. My sister-in-law's wedding shower was Saturday, and we celebrated Mother's Day with David's family on Sunday. We stayed in Michigan till yesterday morning and spent much of yesterday afternoon/evening unpacking, resting up from our trip, etc. And now, the blog (and a pile of laundry) awaits me.

So, I'm back. Stay tuned for some more regular posts.  :)

Monday, May 7, 2012

Weekend recap

Hope you all had a great weekend! This is going to be a post sans pictures, partially because I forgot to take any, and partially because my camera only works about half the time anyway.

We had a wonderful weekend! It was busy but fun. On Friday evening, David and I headed over to his sister's house for dinner with his family. His parents had come in town because his dad, sister, and her fiance were running in the mini-marathon here in Indy on Saturday. We carbo-loaded (I love carbs, and spaghetti, and filled up on my carbs even though I wasn't running in the race) and it was delicious!

On Saturday morning, while they ran, David and I slept in and then went to the gym before heading back to his sister's for lunch. Oh, and we also stopped to pick up his sister's wedding invitations (which I designed and had dropped off to have printed). It turned into quite an ordeal. (Skip past the italics if you don't care to read about said invitations ordeal.)

Apparently some of the paper had jammed in the printer during and we hadn't given them enough extra paper, so they ran out. This meant we were almost 40 invitations short. The employee doing the printing had, however, provided us with the replacement invitations.... on typing paper. Oh, and they were being printed two per page, and the paper hadn't even been cut properly. I wasn't sure if this was just to show where the mistake had happened, or if he really thought this would work as a substitute, but obviously we couldn't mail out invitations on typing paper. The employee who had done the printing wasn't there when we picked everything up, and the guy who checked us out didn't even notice the problem. David flipped through the typing paper stack and asked what it was, and I noticed a small note about being several invitations short, and that was when we discovered the trouble. Of course, it was after we'd already paid.


Fortunately, the employee checking us out was very nice and agreed to do the reprinting (on the correct paper) at no cost, as well as return our money for the invitations that were printed on typing paper. Also, we were lucky that the store had paper in stock that was virtually identical to what we'd brought in. He sent us home with a sample to show the bride and groom, and they agreed that it would work. However, we would have to come talk to the guy who'd done the actually printing, and he wasn't going to be at work until late that night, which kind of put a damper on our partying for Derby and Cinco de Mayo. But my sister-in-law and I went back that night to see him, he did the reprinting while we waited, and everything turned out well. Plus, we got a little money back for our trouble, so that was nice!

After lunch, David's parents headed home, and the party moved back to our condo. I made sangria (I got this recipe from Ashley) and we had beer as well. There were no mint juleps as we'd originally planned, but that was OK. We had chips and salsa, too, and played cornhole outside. The weather was perfect. I wore my Derby pin and hat, and we tried to bet on the Derby online but were unsuccessful (the website had too much traffic). It probably turned out for the best, though, because none of us would've won any money. I picked Dullahan, who got third (so I guess I could've gotten money depending on what type of bet I'd placed). Sadly, I've still never picked the Derby winner. Oh well... maybe next year! Watching the Derby (and when they played "My Old Kentucky Home") made me a little homesick, and I said the same thing every time that I watch the Derby on TV: "Next year, I'll be there!"

We'd debated making some sort of Mexican food for dinner but decided we'd rather be lazy and order pizza instead. It was delicious. Then we headed back outside for more cornhole, and some neighbors stopped by, too. We played cornhole until it was too dark to see anything, then headed inside to hang out for a while before calling it a night.

Sunday wasn't quite as exciting, but involved the following activities: church, breakfast, working out (that was David only), early voting downtown, attending poll worker training (we're working the polls for Election Day tomorrow), lunch downtown, a lazy afternoon at home (we both took naps and watched TV), and back to my sister-in-law's for dinner. They made Italian beef sandwiches and they were delicious! I'll have to try to get the recipe at some point.

Tonight, we're going to have to get to bed early because we have an early morning tomorrow with the election. It's going to be a long day, but I've never worked an election before, so I'm looking forward to giving it a try.

Have a good week, everyone!

Friday, May 4, 2012

Kentucky Hot Brown

Happy Friday, everyone! And, to my fellow Kentuckians and horseracing enthusiasts, happy Oaks Day and happy early Derby Day! (To read yesterday's Derby post, click here.)

Oh, and happy Cinco de Mayo to everyone as well, too. (Derby trumps Cinco de Mayo in my book, but since I have a Spanish degree and I love a good party with margaritas, I can't forget it.)

After this week's earlier posts about finding deals on new and used items alike, I was all ready to wrap up the week with a post about some of the great clothing deals I've found at consignment shops. However, last night's dinner made me change my plans a little, for this recipe is one that has to be shared. (OK, and the pictures for the consignment shop post weren't quite ready, either.) More on consignment shopping next week, so stay tuned!

Here's what I had for dinner last night:



"What is that?" you ask. "It looks delicious, yet fattening. And is that bacon?"

Why yes, that is bacon. And it is delicious and fattening (hey, you have to treat yourself every now and then, right?). That, my friends, is a Hot Brown.

To put it simply, a Hot Brown is an open-faced turkey sandwich. And yet it's so much more. It was created at The Brown Hotel, a famous hotel in downtown Louisville (see where the name comes from?). Since it's Derby Week, I have Kentucky, and more specifically, my hometown of Louisville, on the brain, and last night I decided to bring a little Louisville to Indy by making Hot Browns for dinner.

There are a bunch of hot brown recipes out there, but I wanted the original. I got this recipe off The Brown Hotel's website, www.brownhotel.com.

To learn more about the creation of the Hot Brown, click here.

The Legendary Hot Brown Recipe

Ingredients (Makes Two Hot Browns):

  • 2 oz. Whole Butter
  • 2 oz. All Purpose Flour
  • 16 oz. Heavy Cream
  • 1/2 Cup Pecorino Romano Cheese, Plus 1 Tablespoon for Garnish
  • Salt & Pepper to Taste
  • 14 oz. Sliced Roasted Turkey Breast
  • 2 Slices of Texas Toast (Crust Trimmed)
  • 4 slices of Crispy Bacon
  • 2 Roma Tomatoes, Sliced in Half
  • Paprika
  • Parsley
In a two-quart saucepan, melt butter and slowly whisk in flour until combined and forms a thick paste (roux). Continue to cook roux for two minutes over medium-low heat, stirring frequently. Whisk heavy cream into the roux and cook over medium heat until the cream begins to simmer, about 2-3 minutes. Remove sauce from heat and slowly whisk in Pecorino Romano cheese until the Mornay sauce is smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste.

For each Hot Brown, place one slice of toast in an oven safe dish and cover with 7 ounces of turkey. Take the two halves of Roma tomato and set them alongside the base of turkey and toast. Next, pour one half of the Mornay sauce to completely cover the dish. Sprinkle with additional Pecorino Romano cheese. Place entire dish under a broiler until cheese begins to brown and bubble. Remove from broiler, cross two pieces of crispy bacon on top, sprinkle with paprika and parsley, and serve immediately.

Enjoy!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

DERBY (+ a recipe + a fancy hat)

As we all know, Saturday is a big day. And no, it's not because of Cinco de Mayo. It's the Kentucky Derby!

The Derby (also known as "the greatest two minutes in sports") is a horse race for three-year-old thoroughbreds. It's held at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky, and is the first of three races in the Triple Crown series.

I'm a Kentucky girl--I'm actually from Louisville, born and raised--so the Derby is something near and dear to my heart. There are a few weeks leading up to the race, and they include more than 70 events, such as a parade, fireworks show, boat race, fashion shows, a marathon and mini-marathon, and much more. People all over the city participate.

The event that kicks it all of is Thunder Over Louisville, which is held on a Saturday two weeks before the Derby and is the largest fireworks show in North America. It's held over the Ohio River, and people gather along the riverbanks of Louisville and Southern Indiana. Before that, though, there is an air show with all kinds of military planes that fly over and do all sorts of tricks and other cool stuff. It's pretty awesome. We went to Thunder Over Louisville the year, and it was great, except for the weather (about 50 degrees, rainy, overcast, and windy)--not awesome

The day before Derby is Oaks. The biggest race that day, the Oaks, is for three-year-old fillies (female horses). The winner gets a blanket of lilies. The winner of the Derby gets a blanket of roses (which are sewn on at a local Kroger store--it's always fun to go and see the blanket of roses being made).

(A quick clarification: the Oaks is for fillies only. No boys allowed. However, fillies are allowed to enter the Derby instead of the Oaks if they qualify.)

One of the most well-known parts of the Derby is fashion. More specifically: hats. All the women who attend the Derby wear big, fancy, fabulous hats

Here's a picture of me in my Derby hat last year. This was before we even left the house, so my hair still looks nice:



I've been to the Derby a few times. The first time, I had a "real" seat in the grandstands. The other times, I've gone to the infield. The infield is the portion in the center of the track. It's generally filled with rowdy, drunk groups of people mud wrestling and causing general mayhem. It's pretty crazy, but the people aren't causing trouble or anything.... they're just drinking and having fun. You can bet on the races (although most people in the infield only bet on the Derby, if that), get food and drinks, and try to avoid getting the Port-A-Potty you're using flipped over while you're in it. (Helpful hint: Make sure a friend or two is standing outside to keep this from happening when you go to the bathroom. It doesn't happen often, but, well, it's been known to happen.) Oh, and sometimes people just run across the tops of the Port-A-Potties.... loud, but not quite as bad as flipping one.  :)  Also, you most likely won't even see a horse, unless it's on one of the big TVs set up in the infield.... it's just too crowded.

So why do people go to the infield, especially when you may not even see a horse? Money. Well, drunken mayhem, too. But also, money. A ticket to the infield is $40. A ticket to a "real" seat in the grandstands is at least a couple hundred dollars, and usually more. (Another option is to go through the infield and hang out in the paddock, where the horses are taken before each race and where patrons can go take a look at them before betting. If you go this route, you don't have a seat, and you still have to enter and exit through the infield, but you can get dressed a little fancier and use real bathrooms, and you're still paying only $40 for your ticket.)

David and I have been to the Derby the past couple of years (in the infield, along with some time spent in the paddock), but we aren't going this year. We're a little tired of the infield scene, and we're trying to save money, so this isn't the year to upgrade to better seats. Maybe in the next couple of years...

Instead, we're going to stay here in Indy. We'll watch the race on TV and drink mint juleps (the official Derby drink). And of course, we'll pick which horses to bet on and maybe have a pool. Oh, and there will be beer and wine, too. And appetizers. And maybe some sangria. Oh! And how could I forget Derby Pie? It's a chocolate nut pie that is just delicious. I don't like pie.... except for Derby Pie. (Unfortunately, you can only get them in Louisville. Or maybe only in Kentucky. I don't remember. But I haven't seen any in Indy. Bummer.)

Want to join in the Derby party? Think you'd prefer a Derby hat to a sombrero, or a mint julep to a margarita? Or maybe you want to celebrate Derby as well as Cinco de Mayo... or maybe something else (like the fact that it's Saturday)? Here's a recipe you may need (consider this also a thank-you for reading to the end of this very, very long post).

Mint Julep
(recipe and all information from the Early Times website, www.earlytimes.com)

The mint julep is THE drink to have on Derby Day. Early Times has a cocktail mix that requires little preparation--just add ice and mint.  It's "The Official Drink of the Kentucky Derby."

Here's the recipe from the Early Times website if you want to make your own:

EARLY TIMES MINT JULEP RECIPE

2 oz. Early Times
1 tbsp. simple syrup
Mint sprigs
Crushed ice

Crush a few mint leaves in the bottom of an 8-oz. glass, then fill with crushed ice. Add 1 tablespoon of simple syrup and one tablespoon of water. Add Early Times. Stir gently until glass frosts. Garnish with a fresh mint sprig, sip and enjoy.

Simple Syrup With Mint
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
1 bunch fresh mint sprigs
Combine sugar and water. Boil for 5 minutes without stirring. Pour mix over mint leaves and gently crush the mint with a spoon.
Refrigerate overnight in a closed jar. Remove mint leaves, but continue to refrigerate syrup. Stays fresh for several weeks.

Happy Derby Week, everyone! And, as they say at the track... Go, Baby, Go!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Shopping at Michaels

Yesterday I talked about some things I'd found at Goodwill. Today I'll talk about the great deals I got on new items--from Michaels.

I think I went to Michaels three different times last week. Whew.

On the first trip, I got some flowers for a couple of projects I'm working on. (Hint: Remember these vases?)


The purple flowers were on sale for $1.79, I think. (I need to do a better job of keeping track of exact prices if I'm going to brag about getting a good deal!) The daisies were on sale for 75 cents each. I knew I wanted some different colors, but I couldn't decide which, so I decided to get the white ones and then think on the other colors and come back later.

A couple of days later, I headed back to the store. After some more hemming and hawing (that makes me sound so old), I decided to get these daisies, too:


They were no longer on sale for 75 cents. However, they were now 50% off from their original price of $1.99. Plus, I had a coupon for 20% off my whole purchase (because it was Customer Appreciation Week), so they came to about 80 cents each.

I also got these baskets.


They were originally about $10 each (I think the navy was $9.99 and the pink and white was $10.99), but there was a sale and all baskets were 40% off, so that saved me some money. And again, I had the coupon for 20% off the entire purchase, so that knocked the price down even more. Yeah coupons!

I have some plans for these items in the works. I'll share some updates soon!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Some Goodwill finds

I was running errands in another part of town recently and stopped by the local Goodwill store. I found these two vases. Well, the first is a vase. The second, I'm not really sure about, but I'm going to use it as a vase (sort of).




The next day, I was running errands near my house and stopped by my local Goodwill (yeah, I'm a little obsessed), where I found this:



A napkin holder, maybe? I'm not sure. But I thought it would be perfect to hold our mail. Most days we bring in the mail and drop it either on the dining room table or the desk. As I mentioned before, I'm trying to get that desk organized, and this napkin holder thing seemed like it could help. All it needs is a little paint! (And when I say "it needs paint," what I really mean is "I want to paint it.")

Stay tuned to see what I did with my Goodwill finds!