Monday, February 12, 2018

No-Spend February, Update 2: February 12

Goal check-in: One slip up on "Not eating out/no fast food" and one purchase that was sort-of planned.

One of my big goals for this month was, "No unnecessary expenditures or impulse buys," right?

Would buying Disney tickets for my niece's birthday trip now, rather than later, to avoid a predicted $50 price increase count? Because I was going to buy them eventually and wanted to avoid the price hike. Even though that's an expense I really didn't want on my credit card until the end of the semester and a couple more paychecks...

(Disney has raised their prices around February the past few years, so I suspected this was coming... in the end, the 2018 price increase on a 4-day WDW base ticket was only $30 per, not the $50 predicted by one source, but that's still money that is better saved for Dole Whips!!!)

Dole Whip'd by Robbie Thiessen

Alright, so we're saying the Disney tickets were a planned expenditure.

Unfortunately, the take-away we had for dinner on Friday wasn't! At least it was from the really good Indian restaurant, and wasn't just some run-of-the-mill fast food burger, right?

So that's week 2 of No-Spend February, and I missed my goal of not eating out this week.
/shrug emoji

Next week I need to start working on the third goal: donating stuff I don't want or don't use. Our house is very cluttered, and we lack sufficient closet space to hide away the things that are harder to organize or don't see much use. I'm really hoping to convince The Boyfriend to sort through his clothing and dump the pieces that no longer fit/he no longer wears/are too worn to keep. It should help with the floor-drobe problem (seriously...)

Good luck to anyone else who is starting their spring cleaning early or trying to avoid unnecessary expenses this month!

Monday, February 5, 2018

No-Spend February, Update 1: February 5

Happy Monday!

Well, we're a few days into February now. My plans to avoid frivolous purchases and spending money on fast food and take-out remain intact, in spite of the bout of Disney-fever I've had that led me to design Mickey ears over the weekend... and the urge to buy craft supplies that accompanied that.

I do have a purchase planned for this week that I wasn't expecting, except it's a shirt that is a limited design, only available this month. Of course, I'm talking about Jordandene's February shirt-of-the-month! It's inspired by Disney's Robin Hood, one of my favorite movies (and one of my first crushes!)

I've been hoping she would choose this phrase for a shirt ever since a couple years ago, when a bunch of us bonded on Twitter over our shared love for the foxy rebel!!! I'm excusing myself to order a tank top for myself, I really can't miss this particular shirt!

(And I'll wear it to Walt Disney World later this year! Too bad Robin isn't a character you can take photos with at those parks... #bummer)

Hope everyone else is having a good month so far. Stay warm!

Thursday, February 1, 2018

No-Spend February: February 1st

Recently, Barb suggested doing a "no-spend" month on Twitter, and I thought that sounded like a great idea. Since she first mentioned her idea, she has posted on her blog about it and what her goals for a No-Spend February might be.

After the holidays and buying a few things on sale for myself, the little purchases of $10 here and $30 there have started to add up. I want to nip this kind of spending in the bud before it becomes a habit.

I have a couple of Walt Disney World trips planned for the next year - one in the fall for my niece's birthday, and one in early 2019 for the Dark Side races and my own birthday. If either trip is going to happen, I need to save some money! I also have a bunch of collectibles that need organized and displayed, crafts that need made, and my clothing size is changing because I'm back counting calories after maintaining the weight I lost in 2016... so right now I really don't need to buy more things.

For No-Spend February, my goals are: 
Avoid all impulse purchases and unnecessary expenses - no collectibles, no Steam games, no extra craft materials, no clothes, no new books (my TBR pile is sufficient to get me through the whole year...)  Unless the house is going to fall down, I need it to teach, or I'll be naked without it, it can wait.

Donate stuff I no longer want or need - I've been saying for years that I'm going to sell some old clothes and collectibles online, or hold a garage sale... but if it hasn't happened yet, it's not likely to happen soon. This month I want to find a local charity I can support (not Salvation Army, which has a huge presence in our region), bag/box it all up, and get it out of my house!

No fast food/take-out - we sometimes get in the habit of eating A LOT of take-out. That's one of the reasons I gained so much weight during grad school and after moving in with The Boyfriend. Since eating fast food and take-out adds up fast and doesn't always align with my weight loss goals, might as well scrap it for the month!
(Exceptions to this goal: We'll do a date night to see Black Panther, and we're traveling to visit family for a weekend, so there will likely be a meal in the car.)

Check in weekly here and on Twitter to see how things are going - I'm more likely to buy toys and other random stuff on the weekends when I have some down time, so I think I'll check in on Mondays. Just a quick note or post to say "Hey, I'm weak and I'm Leia-trash, and I bought seven Star Wars t-shirts" or "No-Spend Feb is still going well! I made my porg kigu this weekend using fabric I had on hand instead of buying more craft supplies I'll never use!"

Is anyone else joining in? What are your goals? Have you done a No-Spend challenge before?

Friday, December 1, 2017

My First 5K: A Christmas Story Run 2016

One year ago, on December 3rd, I participated in my very first 5K race, A Christmas Story Run in Cleveland, Ohio. Proceeds from this annual race are donated to the Christmas Story House Neighborhood Restoration Project.

The 1983 movie "A Christmas Story" was filmed in Cleveland, and the race route goes between Tower Square, where the old Higbees was once located, and the Christmas Story House, which is now a museum and has been renovated to look like it did in the film. There are 5K and 10K race distances - the 5K ends at the Christmas Story House, the 10K loops back to the start at Tower City.

The 2017 run is this Saturday, but I'm not participating this year.


The race itself was a lot of fun. Temperatures were in the mid-30s, the sky was cloudy but it wasn't raining or snowing. There were a lot of people there - 5827 people finished the races in 2016! Many came in costumes based on the film - people dressed as leg lamps, bandits, Santa and his elves, dogs with stuffed turkeys, and pink rabbit suits as far as the eye could see. My favorite costume was the Tapestry of Obscenity - a woman was wearing a poncho decorated in Symbol Swearing! It was hilarious. Unfortunately, I did not get a photo because I saw her during the race.

At the finish line racers received their medals and snacks - bananas, yogurt drinks, cookies, and Ovaltine! Be sure to drink your Ovaltine!

Race entry included one free admission to the Christmas Story House Museum, but we didn't go inside because the line stretched down the block. I had planned to go back with my mom at Christmas, but that never happened.

My Race
Not know how fast I would be running, I lined up at the back of the 11 minute mile group (the slowest marked pace) so I wouldn't block anyone running faster than me. Unfortunately there were still a lot of walkers who ignored the mile group markers, so I was ducking and weaving through the entire race, trying to pass people. I've read that this is pretty standard, especially for casual fun run races like this one, so it didn't bother me (too much) - we were all there to have a good time!

I ended up averaging about 13 minutes per mile and finished in 39 minutes - great for my first 5K! I set a pace at the start of the race and maintained it throughout the run, which was my goal - no walking breaks. I was very proud of myself when I accomplished this. My aunt, who ran with me, was very proud of me too. We're hoping to participate in more races together, though that will depend on my being able to drive back to Ohio.

If you had told me ten years ago that I would not only be able to run 3 miles without stopping, but that I would enjoy it I would have laughed. But I am very glad that this is something I can do now, and something I enjoy. Running became my "me time" and I (usually) look forward to it - and I have found that my mood is more level when I run regularly, probably due to the combination of physical activity, and taking some time each week where I can tune out and not feel guilty about it. I'm looking forward to participating in more races this year and one day I hope to participate in a Disney half marathon!

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Carrie Fisher is my Queen

I originally wrote this post on October 18th, 2016, a few short weeks after I met Carrie Fisher at New York Comic Con 2016.  I never posted it because I wanted to clean it up - it's just a rambling account of meeting her, our brief interaction, typed quickly to record the moment so I wouldn't forget the details. But I never cleaned it up, I never hit post, I never added photos.

I miss her, like so many of us that she touched with her humor and wit and portrayal of Princess (GENERAL!) Leia.

Today is her birthday, so eff it, I'm hitting post. No edits, except to include this brief explanation. 

Last week I met Carrie Fisher. It was amazing. I'm considering going broke to Celebration Orlando in the hopes that I can meet her again.

The day started with us sleeping in and taking it easy. We had been up early to get in line to previous three days, and all we had on our schedule today was my photo op and one late panel.

I had decided to wear my "Kylo Ren is a punk bitch" shirt by Jordandene. I had originally bought the tank top, but since I've lost weight it's a little big now. It wouldn't be too bad, but it gapes at the sides and I didn't have anything to layer it with to hide my bra, other than a cardigan! On Thursday of NYCC I made sure to stop by Jordan's booth and buy a tee in a smaller size, so I wouldn't have to wear the cardigan and cover up the print.

It was the perfect choice, because Carrie Fisher LOVED it.

My photo op timeslot started at 2:00pm. Instructions said to arrive fifteen minutes early, but we arrived at 1:30. There were lots of people there already, so we got in the correct line and waited until it finally started moving.

The Boyfriend was going to hold my bag for me and just walk through to the exit with the line - possibly catching a glimpse of Carrie, keeping track of me. I can't put words to it, but I wanted this photo to be mine, and being the easy-going guy he is, he had no problems with that (I did offer to buy a second photo op when I bought mine). But they weren't letting people walk through with bags - all bags went into a "bag check" area, to be picked up immediately after taking your photo. So The Boyfriend decided to just wait outside the curtains with the stuff.

I entered the tiny curtained room and there she was, sitting on a chair with Gary, her loyal dog, beside her. She was leaning in to give everyone hugs and cracking jokes.

An attendant was reminding everyone to go quickly, walk up, hug, photo, leave behind Carrie's chair. Funneling everyone in and out, in and out. This was reminiscent of the experiences I read about at Wizard World Philly, though everyone here seemed nicer about it.

I waited my turn and walked up to Carrie, saying hello as I took my place beside her chair.

She asked me what my shirt said, so I turned towards her and held it out, making it more legible.

"Kylo Ren is a punk..."
"Bitch!" I cheerily replied.
She repeated the quote, and added "He certainly is!" Then she told me she wanted one, to which I replied they were being sold upstairs. She turned to the people standing near the camera, "Did you hear that? They're selling them upstairs! Someone go get me a shirt!"

We hugged and took our photo. I thanked her, but she made me pause before I could make my obedient, quick exit - "Did you guys see this shirt?" She gestured at me, so I held it out again. The door attendant was trying to shoo me away. "Kylo Ren is a punk bitch!" Carrie repeated.

I was simultaneously in awe and cracking up! She is so friendly and funny and she's as amazing as I expected her to be! I said thank you again and left so the next person could get their photo. And as I walked out through the maze of curtains, I started to cry. I wanted that moment to last. I wanted to go buy her a shirt. I wanted The Boyfriend to have seen Carrie.

Thanks for reading. If you want more Carrie today, I recommend her memoirs (Wishful Drinking, Shockaholic, and The Princess Diarist) and HBO specials (Wishful Drinking and Bright Lights) - she pulled no punches, held nothing back, and I love her voice. She'll always be royalty to me.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Cooking in Azeroth, post 4: Making Magnificent Muffins

Cooking in Azeroth is a weekly blog series featuring recipes from "World of Warcraft, the Official Cookbook" by Chelsea Monroe-Cassel. Over the next year I will cook and review all 100 recipes.

Do you know the Muffin Man?

His name is Moser and he lives in Shattrath City.

And his muffins are pretty magnificent.

Moser's Magnificent Muffins
This week I made Moser's Magnificent Muffins from the Desserts section of the Warcraft cookbook.

These muffins are apple and cinnamon flavored, topped with streusel and maple-flavored icing.  Fresh from the oven, they are absolutely delicious - it was hard stopping myself after eating only one! And they hold up well a few days after baking, in case you don't have the numbers to eat the whole dozen right away.


Moser's Magnificent Muffins are very easy to make.  Most bakers will already have the ingredients in their kitchen - baking powder, flour, brown sugar, etc.  They come together in about an hour, making them a fine choice for a lazy weekend breakfast or to whip up quickly after dinner to get you through the week.

While these muffins are easy to make, they are a bit messy to eat... with sticky icing and crumbly streusel topping falling all over the plate.  Delicious, but not really a grab and go style muffin.  The muffin itself is dense and chewy, much like an applesauce cake.  These muffins go well with coffee, tea, and fresh fruit.

Streusel topping, before baking

The recipe as written makes 12 muffins.  Each muffin is about 310 calories.

Personally I will be stretching this recipe to make more muffins in the future - making only twelve as the recipe suggests, my muffin tin was filled to the brim and there was so much streusel wasted because it was laid on so thick.  This made me sad because this streusel recipe is amazing... I would make a batch and eat it by itself if I wasn't concerned about all the calories and sugar!  I think stretching the batter and streusel over 18 muffins will be just as satisfying, and make the streusel topping easier to bake and eat.

Icing the muffins

Once the muffins were a couple days old the added moisture and sweetness from the icing was appreciated, however I don't think the maple flavor added much.  The icing did melt into the streusel topping after a day, so if you want crunchy streusel and fresh icing I would recommend making a batch and drizzling it on right before you eat.

If you're looking to cut some calories, you can probably skip the icing altogether, or make a thicker maple icing to top them and forgo the streusel. Both include a lot of sugar.  Stretching the recipe to make a larger batch would also decrease the calories.

I already had everything for this recipe on hand except for the applesauce.  A six-pack of individual applesauce cups costs $1.99 at Wegmans.  I bought my applesauce individually packaged so I wouldn't feel rushed into eating a whole jar once it was opened and in my fridge.  One half-cup portion was plenty for this recipe, and now I have the remaining cups for more muffins or snacks.

Thank you for reading!

Recipes completed to date: 9/100

Banner background, item description images and links are from Other images are my own.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Cooking in Azeroth, post 3: Westfall Stew

Welcome to Cooking in Azeroth, a weekly blog series featuring recipes from "World of Warcraft, the Official Cookbook" by Chelsea Monroe-Cassel. Over the next year I will cook and review all 100 recipes.

This week I made Westfall Stew, a hearty beef stew flavored with a variety of spices and red wine. The hearty Cornmeal Biscuits from the first Cooking in Azeroth post also made a second appearance. With local temps in the 20s, we wanted something that would fill us up and stick to our ribs - and this stew definitely succeeded.

Westfall Stew
"Westfall Stew" is one of the first recipes player characters can learn in-game. It is dropped by mobs in the Alliance Level 10-15 zone called "Westfall" - Horde players must travel there to obtain it.

This version of Westfall Stew is a hearty beef and barley stew. It cooks long and slow in the oven on low heat, and requires several hours to prepare and make. My prep time also took much longer than that cited in the cookbook, but I find that is often the case - I don't have much counter space in my kitchen, and I think that contributes to recipes taking a little longer.

Probably my favorite part of making this stew was preparing the mushrooms and pearl onions. They are mixed with a little butter and brown sugar, then roasted in the oven before being mixed into the stew towards the end of cooking. This gives them a slight glazed quality. Mixing this with spices and other roasted vegetables like carrots, parsnips, and squash could make a pretty awesome side dish.

After the stew has cooked for 2.5-3 hours it is very thick. This thickness might come from the pearled barley breaking down a little, and from the roux that is made at the start of the recipe. I noticed that our stew was thicker than the one pictured in the cookbook... but you also can't see the barley in that image.

Even though I could smell the bacon all through the cooking process, I did not notice the flavor at all; because of this I think we might try this recipe again in the future and omit the bacon and flour roux, hopefully giving the broth a texture more like an au jus than the thick gravy-like mixture that resulted. Cooking the stew covered for the last 90 minutes might also help it retain some moisture, thinning it a little.

The flavor of this stew was beefy and floral, from the red wine and dried juniper berries. I did feel like it needed something sharper to cut the floral and savory notes, and hoped the buttermilk in the Cornmeal Biscuits would offer that, but that flavor was much more muted than it was when we paired the Biscuits with the Dragonbreath Chili the other week. Using a more acidic or sharper flavored red wine than the pinot I had on hand, or maybe adding a splash of red wine vinegar, might offer this quality next time.

As for leftovers, the recipe says this stew makes four servings but I divided ours into six 2-cup sized servings and could easily have made it into eight servings. This stew was very thick and filling on the first night, and the leftover stew was even thicker. It reheated well. The Boyfriend is not a fan of mushrooms and did comment that their texture was more noticeable in the leftovers than on the night it was cooked.

Though The Boyfriend and I both enjoyed this stew, we preferred the Dragonbreath Chili.

I divided our stew into six 2-cup servings, which were 550 calories each. The Cornmeal Biscuits are 185 calories when the recipe is used to make a dozen.

I had some ingredients on hand already, like salt, pepper, butter, wine, and carrots. We bought everything* else for this recipe at Wegmans, costing $29.09. Divided by the six servings, that's less than $5 a meal. The "start up cost" of the spice blend used for this recipe was not included in this total, but is listed below. Everything to make the Cornmeal Biscuits was leftover from the last time we made them.

Bonus recipe: Northern Spices
This recipe for Westfall Stew incorporates a spice blend called "Northern Spices." Warcraft players will remember this in-game item from the Wrath of the Lich King expansion, released in 2008; almost every recipe in that expansion seemed to use this item. Or at least it felt like that while leveling! I think I still have stacks of this stuff in my bank alt's bags...

The real-life version of Northern Spices is a fragrant blend incorporating dried juniper berries and smoked salt with a variety of other spices. The recipe for this spice blend can be found in the Spices and Basic section of the Warcraft Cookbook.

Ingredients for this spice blend were purchased at Wegmans for $19.76, which included everything* except the allspice and black pepper. The most expensive was the jar of cardamom, $8.99. This recipe makes a couple tablespoons of spice blend, which should last through several recipes when stored in an airtight container. There was plenty of each ingredient left after making one batch of spice that we shouldn't need to buy again for other recipes using this blend or the individual spices.

Thank you for reading!

Recipes completed to date: 8/100

Banner background, item description images and links are from Other images are my own.

* Though I try to provide details about each recipe, I do not post complete ingredient lists or instructions on this blog. 
If you have questions about a recipe or any concerns about food allergies, I'll be happy to answer in the comments!