Friday, January 30, 2015

7 Quick Takes: Vol 2. Saving Money, Meatball Casserole, and someToddler TMI

Joining up once again with Kelly for 7 QTs!

1. In the spirit of the New Year, I decided to try out some new money saving tricks. Last year I attempted Swagbucks and I think I earned a total of *drumroll please*..... $15.00. Ok, it could have been worse, and that would be about three Starbucks coffees, which I guess would be cool if I drank coffee often, but I might drink three Starbucks coffees a year. Anyway, I digress. I just felt like the amount of time I spent trying to earn Swagbucks wasn't worth the payout.

So this year I'm trying *ibotta. It's basically a way to save money shopping at your favorite stores, including grocery stores, or online without having to carry around coupons. Which is cool, especially for me, because I sometimes save coupons, put them in a nice little folder, and then forget about them until they're expired. Also, with ibotta, they have rebates on things that aren't name brand, which I love since I'm always buying store brand stuff. For example, you can buy any eggs and you get $0.25 back.

Can't you tell she's excited to save money at the grocery store?
Just remember to keep your receipts... which I didn't. I signed up for the app a couple days ago, figured out I could have saved $2.50 and then couldn't find my receipt to verify the purchases. Bummer. There goes half a Starbucks coffee.

Last thing that really got me interested in trying this out: you get actual cash instead of gift cards. Every time you earn $10.00, it will be deposited to your Paypal account. Pretty cool! I'll update next week how much I saved at the grocery store.

*Disclaimer: If you sign up through that link, you will be on my "team"... I honestly have no idea how that works yet....

2. My little baby girl is growing up, and I guess I have to start referring to her as a toddler now because she has taken a few steps on her own! Please enjoy our overly ecstatic voices and cheers as she takes two steps unassisted.

3. On the menu this week was a dish called Meatball Potato Casserole. I had potatoes from last week and we have 1/4 of a cow in our chest freezer, so I figured this recipe would be perfect. Classic Rachel, I didn't actually read the instructions, just skimmed over the ingredients to make sure I wouldn't have to buy anything too unusual, and figured I'd go from there. Ummm... Thursday rolls around and it's 5 p.m. and this recipe is telling me to make actual meatballs by hand, with the frozen ground beef that is barely defrosted, thinly slice a bunch of potatoes, and then bake it for an HOUR!

So I essentially threw the recipe out the window and just ground up the beef with the seasonings it suggested and mixed in some chopped-up, boiled, almost mashed potatoes, and drizzled on the sauce. It wasn't pretty, so there's no picture.... tasted pretty decent though.

4. Last night I had a blogging breakthrough! I created a watermarked photo in GIMP. It only took my poor husband an hour to teach me. Remember this picture?

Don't worry, I'll be working on the aesthetics of the watermark
Now just to go through all the pictures and add the watermark to each one...

5. Tuesday I hosted a craft night for some other mommas. We had two hours of uninterrupted time to work on whatever project we had in the works. I was fixing some earrings for a friend, another friend brought her blanket she is crocheting (it's beautiful!), another sewed a creation to keep the draft from seeping in under her door (don't know what those things are called), one momma finished a shutterfly book, and another beaded some rings. I'm hoping to make this a monthly event!

6. Project 365 update: I've been taking pictures, but haven't captured anything I've been thrilled with really. Just practicing, practicing, practicing. Following Clare's recommendation, I added the Mission:Pic app to my phone. It gives daily tasks to help you think outside the box when looking for things to take pictures of. Figured I should branch a tiny bit away from Ellie. You know, occasionally.

Something Red was the task. Wanted to really see the plane of the depth of field. Otherwise, not too interesting....
Day 10 (I think...)
I couldn't resist. Although, the sun went behind some clouds before I finally got her to look at me.
Day 11
7. I saved the best for last. Other than Monday, we had a really uneventful week. Well, relatively uneventful. Ellie's diaper changing experiences were fairly eventful...and frequent. She appears to have come down with some funny GI bug, so we've stayed home for most of the week and snuggled. 

Hope you all had a Happy and Healthy week! 

Thursday, January 29, 2015

TBT: Five Tips When Traveling While Studying Abroad

This isn't a link up, although, I'm sure there is some sort of "Throwback Thursday" Theme out there already. However, I thought it might help me come up with a fun series on my own blog. This week I'm going to do a *short recap on my study abroad program in college!

While mindlessly perusing my Facebook newsfeed this week, I actually came across an article that was really cool! It's the top 50 study abroad programs according to Best College Reviews, and my school got #5! All you FUS grads, feel proud!

I attended a small Catholic school called Franciscan University of Steubenville, and in 2006 I had the opportunity to participate in their amazing study abroad program to Gaming, Austria.
Home Sweet Home

Gaming is super special because it's quiet, nestled in the Austrian alps, and the students actually live in a renovated 14th century monastery. There is a Hapsburg ancestor buried right under the marble church floor!

Right under there! 
Although it might sound secluded, we had the opportunity to travel wherever we wanted every single weekend. Plus, we didn't have classes on Friday. You definitely found me rushing out of every Thursday afternoon class, racing down the road to the tiny one car train, dragging my suitcase or backpack behind me, and hopping on to explore France, Germany, Italy, Poland and even Slovakia.

Sacre Coeur, Paris

Salzburg at night

Our Lady of Czestochowa, Poland

The school also includes one ten day trip to Assisi and Rome, complete with accommodations and tours.

Vatican City

And, another ten day break we got to plan all on our own. I traveled to England, Ireland, and Scotland.

Cliffs of Moher, Ireland. 

Here are my top five tips for traveling while studying abroad.

1. Leave room for spontaneity: By all means, make sure you know how you're getting to your destination (i.e. train, bus, plane) and I always did make reservations for hotels and hostels, but don't plan out every single second of your trip. Leave time to watch the street performers, discover random eateries/pubs, and maybe even make a few friends.

Make some friends: We met some Irish cows

Be spontaneous: get your ears pierced in Paris!

2. Travel with people you like: You don't have to be best friends, but make sure you travel with people you get along with. Some of these places you'll only see once, and you don't want to remember your experience squabbling with your travel partner.

I happened to get along just swell with my traveling buddy :)

3. Bring good walking shoes: I had lots of people tell me that Europeans look down on Americans when they wear gym sneakers or tennis sneakers, but you're going to be doing a lot of walking! I wore a pair of Italian leather high heeled boots one night, and I was literally crying while trying to get home at 2 a.m. (you stay up late there! There's a lot to see!). Also in Rome, I lost a kitten heel in a sewer cover while crossing a street (my friend and I rescued it, don't worry). For the most part though, I wore a comfy pair of Puma sneakers or Sauconeys You can also only fit so many things in your backpack. Personally, I'd rather be comfortable, see as much as possible, and let the Europeans laugh at my attire than wear shoes that would fall apart.

4. Take pictures and keep a journal: I was really good at the picture taking part, but a little wishy washy on my journal. There are a lot of things I wish I could remember more details about. With taking pictures though, make sure you're taking time to enjoy the sites without always being behind the lens.

Venice sunrise

5. Eat lots of chocolate: This should be pretty self explanatory. You might gain the study abroad program 20, but you'll enjoy every calorie. If I had to do it over again... maybe I wouldn't have eaten that giant, jumbo Milka bar over finals week... but probably not :)

Do you have any travel tips? Did you get to study abroad? What was your favorite place? I'd love to hear, so please share in the comments!

*The only people that may understand how this is "short" will be those who have also gone to Gaming.

*All photos were taken with an ancient Nikon point and shoot that was only 4 megapixels (remember they used to make them that low!?). I would have loved a DSLR, however, with how much I was traveling and lack of security, I probably would have found it cumbersome.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Five Favorites: Blog Share

Linking up with Jenna at Call Her Happy for Five Favorites this week and Erica at Saint Affairs.

This week I'd like to share five blogs, written by moms, that I really enjoy and inspired me to begin my blogging journey.  I always check my BlogLovin' feed for these blog posts first. The fact that I know all the writers personally, is an added bonus!

1. This Felicitous Life: Laura is a mom and part time lawyer. On This Felicitous Life you'll find lots of quick wit, musing on style, really great adult book recommendations, honesty, and a bit of Kate nee Middleton. This Felicitous Life was nominated for a Sheenazing Award in the category of best underappreciated blog. I probably would have nominated hers for funniest, because I always find myself laughing at some point during her posts. And not just laughing to myself.  I recommend this post and this one.

2. Faith Elizabeth Hough: We've been best friends since highschool and even attended one year of the same college together. But, my recommendation is anything but biased. Faith has many talents, but the blog focuses mostly around book recommendations, ranging from children to adult, and writing tips. She has already finished a couple novels, including a middle grade and young adult level, and hoping to be published very soon. You can read excerpts from her books on her site here, here, and here. When she isn't writing, she homeschools her girls, sews, paints, gardens, and makes sourdough bread from scratch!

3. Half Kindled: Katherine's blog was brand new last year! I'd describe her blog as introspective and intellectual, yet easy to read. At Half Kindled, but striving to become on fire, you'll discover reflections on motherhood, faith, and homemaking. Katherine shares from the heart and you might even find yourself tearing up occasionally. Just read her conversation with her toddler! If you are searching for something a little deeper, but with a lot of honesty, Half Kindled fits the bill.

4. Merely a Woman: Here you'll meet Jenn-Henn, Code Monkey, Jose, and Jaunito. Take a step inside this author's mind as she reflects upon the Catholic faith, personal growth, and family life. You'll also catch some pictures of her adorable little boys! I recently really enjoyed reading her thoughts on weakness vs. humility and appreciated her honesty in her letter to her someday, future daughter.

5. Sweet Wakings: I just discovered Clare's blog this week after she kindly started following mine when I set up a Facebook page. I'd describe her style as sweet and whimsical, yet not fluffy. And I'm really crushing on some of her photos. Just look at this post! She's a new mama to one adorable, blue eyed baby girl. Read her thoughtful, loving letter to her daughter. I'm really looking forward to reading more from her and getting to know her better in person, too!

And, finally, for your viewing pleasure, my one and only teacup. I wanted to practice the "focus and recompose" technique. If you're interested, you can read about it here. I also want to try out Back Button Focusing (BBF), but I'm not even positive my camera does this, so it's time to hunt through our unpacked boxes (from April!) and find the camera manual.

Day 9 Project 365
Do you have any favorite blogs by friends you'd like to share? Or, are you experimenting with learning more about photography? Leave me a comment, I'd love to hear about it!

Monday, January 26, 2015

Lacing up my shoes

Another of my new year's goals was to try staying on a better cleaning schedule. For those of you who know me personally, you can attest I'm no Martha Stewart. And, my mother can reveal how, at a young age, I was skilled in the art of procrastination when it came to chores. Believe me, I had lots of persuasive excuses. I avoided scrubbing that tub for weeks because I had homework, was hungry, was reading, or needed to shower.

My husband is either a saint or really isn't bothered by messes (we're going with the saint bit) because he never complains about the state of the house. Which also means I don't even need to make excuses to anyone, thus making it really easy to continue putting off washing dishes.

This year though, I decided I wanted to come up with a better system, so I wasn't attempting to clean absolutely everything in my house on a single day because company was arriving tomorrow.

My mom recommended Fly Lady.

You might remember that I was personally offended by FlyLady last week.

            On Wednesday, I had a little mini meltdown over FlyLady. I said to hubby, "FlyLady made me feel like a bum today!"

I've noticed that as a society, we seem to get offended a lot. It's like we look for reasons to get upset. I got all up on my high horse because someone, I didn't even know, recommended that getting dressed completely from the top of my head to the bottom of my toes might improve my productivity. And that it was for the good of my children. And that it was a "problem" among SAHMs. 

Ding. Ding. Ding. 

I guess it's because she referred to some majorly touchy subjects, as silly as that sounds. Why should someone offering advice to benefit my family offend me? As I sat in my pajamas reading the article, I felt defensive because FlyLady was telling me I was unproductive, that I was a bad parent, and that I had a problem. 

Or was she?
"I see this problem more in the SAHM(Stay at home Moms) because they don’t have to leave the house and it is not necessary to get dressed every morning, only their children are going to see them. I want you to listen very closely. You have the most important job of all, raising productive adults. NOW do you want your children to remember that mom didn’t get dressed until it was time for Dad to get home. Or do you want them to have to answer the door because you are still in your gown and bathrobe."
Perhaps she could have worded her advice a little more charitably. The "Mommy Wars" (battle between working moms vs SAHMs) is a hot topic (although I don't think it should be), and I interpreted that FlyLady thinks working moms have it all together and the only reason a SAHM wouldn't get dressed for the day is because she doesn't have anywhere to go; ignoring the fact that sometimes it takes awhile to get all the kids dressed, fed, and find time to shower (Why doesn't she have showering outlined in her list of daily activities?). 

After initially feeling resentful, I took a step back and tried to look at what FlyLady was trying to say without seeing red. I mean... I was actually fairly unproductive. I had probably sat at the kitchen table and stared at the computer for an hour in my PJ's while my baby ate, had a bottle, and played with her toys. Meanwhile, dishes sat by the sink and crumbs lay all around the highchair. I certainly wasn't using my time responsibly. 

I still think getting dressed all the way to your shoes, fixing your hair and face, and brushing your teeth as soon as your feet hit the floor each morning is a bit unrealistic. I mean, seriously, when are you supposed to eat breakfast, shower, and take care of the kids. I guess I could wake up an hour before the baby gets up, but I reallllly like my sleep. But, I realized FlyLady's approach really has to be rigorous. The only way she can guarantee that her readers will absolutely stay on track is if she gets them in a strict routine. She really can't say, "Pick and choose which parts of this routine work for you".

But, as a human being with free will and, hopefully, some common sense, I can choose to decide what routine will work for me, and I really have seen an improvement in my daily cleaning routine thanks to what I have read on I now make sure all the dishes are finished all night, I created a weekly cleaning schedule that works just for me, and I don't sit in front of the computer while my baby eats and plays- I tidy up the kitchen instead. My own goal is to make sure I'm at least dressed by 10 am at the latest whether I'm going out or not. That may seem late to most, but you know what, it works for me and my family. However, due to feeling rebellious, I'll probably still refuse to wear shoes in the house. :)

This was pretty long, and I apologize, but I guess what I'm getting around to is this: use your common sense, don't waste time getting upset over what people say (especially when they aren't personally attacking you), and don't throw the baby out with the bathwater when it comes to advice from others. Also, remember what is important. My ultimate goal is not solely being productive and having a clean and perfect house, but to create an environment of peace and joy in my household where we can fully live our faith and show love to one another.

She's helping clean up Mommy's mess

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Happy Sunday and Day 6

I hope everyone is enjoying their day of rest. Generally I'll be absent on Sundays. Just leaving you with a sweet photo to brighten your day.

Day 6 of Project 365

Saturday, January 24, 2015

7 Quick Takes Vol. 1: What we're doing, reading, and eating

I'm linking up with Kelly at This Ain't the Lyceum this week for Seven Quick Takes!

1. So I had a carefully planned list of 7 points to write about. The first being the mundane commentary on my recently clingy 11 month baby, who I swear has developed a sixth sense and KNOWS her sister will be here in less than four months. But instead, I feel compelled to ditch that subject (you're so disappointed, I know), and give a shout out. I had to look up who was hosting 7 QTs nowadays, since the last time I linked up, it was still over at Conversion Diary. I hopped on over to my friend's blog, This Felicitous Life, and I don't know if this is even allowed, but I have to share her 7 QT's that she generously shared early so I could spare you from my griping about a clingy child (as if you've never heard of one of those). Make sure you read them all, and if you didn't find a particular part hilarious... well, I suppose our senses of humor are a bit different.

2. Remember how I mentioned I was going to whine about my clingy baby to you all? I thought better of it. Actually, I really did. After feeling at my wit's end late Thursday night (when I finally gave in at 8:45 and put on Fantasia for us both to watch until her bedtime at 9:30), I reflected on how my one on one time with her is drawing to a close, and I'm getting nostalgic. Or hormonal, since I'm pregnant...The next day I made sure I enjoyed the little snuggles when she refused to nap in her crib, smothered her with kisses as she begged to be picked up all day, and read book after book that she smacked over and over again into my lap. Her recent favorites are Jamberry, Little Elephant, and First Words. This time is already going by so fast (sorry for the cliche, but it's just too true), and I try to remind myself to live in the moment with her. And, I want her to remember my face cheerful from those moments.

3. My personal reading shelf currently consists of a biography about St. Catherine Laboure, and a book that my husband got me for Christmas titled, Everything You Learned about the Civil War is Wrong, Ask a Southerner. I'm only on page thirty or so of the second book because I get mad at the author about every other page when he assumes what every "Northerner" thinks about the civil war. It's sort of like we rant at each other, except I'm the only one talking to the empty room like a crazy person.

4. On Wednesday, I had a little mini meltdown over FlyLady. I said to hubby, "FlyLady made me feel like a bum today!" Don't worry, he rolled his eyes and snickered. He's not a big FlyLady fan, although I don't know why because the dishes are now clean every, single night. My tiff with the cleaning queen was that I had just commented on how impractical it was for me to get dressed immediately every morning and lace up shoes. I mean really?! Who walks around inside their house with laced up shoes on? Then FlyLady had to post this, which I read around 11:30 am, while still sitting in my PJ's, unshowered.

5. My little sister and brother made it to the March for Life this year in D.C. I'm still feeling a little guilty about not trekking out there with teacup and my big 'ole pregnant belly because we only live about an hour away. Hubby said maybe he will take off work next year and we can go together. I'm so grateful for all those who were able to make it this year though!

6. Day 4 and 5 of Project 365: I got my new lens on Friday! I love the effects I get with the depth of field, but I'm still working on the focusing part and lighting. Friday was cold and gray again with snow, so I used the flash.
I really like how she is off center here
Day 4, unedited

Loving the depth of field, but why can't I get those darn little eyes in focus!
Day 4, unedited

And, just because I wanted to gross you out :) No flash, unedited. Lunchtime!
Day 5

7. Friday we made homemade tomato basil pizza.

I made the dough from scratch using a recipe from my Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook. It makes two pizza crusts, so I froze one. Then topped it with lots of fresh ingredients, including tomatoes, garlic, and basil. The sauce was a white alfredo sauce made with butter, heavy cream, and parm. Mmmmmmm.

This is our favorite pizza! Even little teacup scarfed some down. Although she discreetly placed all the tomatoes next to her in her highchair. Planning on eating them later, sweetheart? 

I ate four pieces...
Do you have any favorite pizza topping combos? 

Friday, January 23, 2015

My Black Thumb and Day 3

This is my little basil plant.

Meet Basil, pronounced Bah-zil
And, it looks like I'm killing him!

Maybe he needs more water? Less? More sun? I picked this little guy up at the grocery store with ambitions of saving a couple pennies and being less wasteful. Homemade tomato basil pizza is on the menu this week, and instead of buying the small packet of fresh basil that I never use up in time, I figured I'd get a little plant and always have just enough. Plus, he was only $2.99 with replenishing powers versus $1.50 for the packet I only use once. Of course, if I kill him before the next recipe, this was all rather pointless.

You would think I might have picked up a tip here and there from one of these.

My grandmother generously gifts me a subscription every year to Better Homes and Garden magazine. I pulled out this stack while decluttering. There are more piles lurking in the basement. I'm hoping to pass some onto a new home before just recycling.

Seriously though, my garden and home do not remotely look anything like these magazines. I'd take a picture of my garden out front, but it's more depressing than the basil plant. Although, to be fair, the previous owners didn't leave a whole lot to work with.

These photos are also my lame attempt at Day 3 in Project 365. The lighting was terrible today, so I tried out my new flash, a TT560 Speedlite. I have a lot of work to do. I've been following the blog, Click it Up a Notch, hoping to learn some new techniques and basics. One suggestion the author has in her e-book is avoiding capturing clutter in photos. She claims her house isn't perfect, and she just sweeps away the clutter temporarily. I'm discovering that finding the time to take pictures with a baby on the cusp of toddlerhood is a mite difficult, let alone attempting to clean before taking a shot. So, for now, you'll have the privilege of witnessing my gloriously cluttered messy home!

In the meantime, if you have any suggestions for my little, green friend, please share!

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Project 365

One of my New Year's Goals (yes, I am aware it's already the end of January), is to use my camera more and improve the quality of my photos. Hubby and I have had a DSLR since we got married in 2010, but most of the awesome shots have been taken and edited by him. I took a photography class in highschool, and LOVED it, but that was a really long time ago and I've forgotten almost any techniques I might have learned.

St. Joseph's Oratory, Montreal
Edited by hubby 

I've taken a few landscape shots that I've been happy with, but I'm much more passionate about capturing people. Documenting my family as it grows is really important to me.

Shenandoah Valley
Taken by moi, edited by hubby

So I've decided to dive into Project 365 where I'll commit to take, at minimum, one picture a day. And, I've officially switched the camera to manual (hanging head in shame as I admit to using mostly auto on a DSLR for over FOUR years).

Teacup #1, Day 1 of Project 365, kit lens, unedited

Day 2, playing around with some funny lighting, unedited

Example of full auto shot from a few months ago, unedited
I'm still using the kit lens largely inside because our zoom telephoto is a little large for the small rooms in our house. With my birthday money, I did just purchase a 50mm 1.8 prime lens, and I'm so excited to get it and compare shots!

If you have any photography blogs or tutorials that you love, please share!

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Entering the Blogosphere

This first post roughly took six attempts before I finally fleshed out what I wanted included. Now, don't get your expectations up just because writing apparently takes me a lot of effort. I loved writing throughout my school years, I was constantly starting "novels" I would never finish in between writing term papers I had to complete, but since finishing college, saying, "I've grown rusty" is a kindness.

My blogging journey began, embarrassingly, about four years ago, when I told my sister, "I think I've been blogging in my head". Laughing, and confused, she encouraged me to write my thoughts down, and if I wouldn't publish them, to email them to her and she would happily read them with my mom. Writing again was wonderful, and I found it really fun to write to an "audience", rather than just journaling. In the midst of my great excitement, I rashly created a blog name, immediately regretted my decision, worrying that the name was too pretentious and didn't feel enough like me, and deleted the blog all in the same day.

A year or two later, I joined three friends to write a group blog. Occasionally I posted easy crafts, some What I Wore posts in the maternity stage, and some recipes, until I had my little girl, our little teacup. Writing pretty much disappeared into the abyss along with my sleep.

But, I've decided to jump on the blogging bandwagon once again! It won't be anything fancy, but you can join me as we renovate our new (to us) home, as I bumble through mommy-hood, create some new and borrowed kitchen creations, improve my photography skills, and muse about clothes, crafts, and probably whatever else comes to mind. Thank you for reading and joining me on my little blogging journey!

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