Friday, May 30, 2014

Washington from the Top

For my Birthday, Nick went online to reserve tickets to go up into the Washington Monument. After work he came and picked me up and we headed to the monument for a view of the city that's been closed to us for 2 years.

Neither of us had gone up since we were kids. So it was a fun surprise to receive two tickets in the mail for a 6pm tour :) Anyone can reserve tickets at for a small handling fee, I think 1.95 but I could be a few sense off. You also can wait in line at 8:30am at the monument for tickets for that day. I would suggest if you know when you're coming- Plan Ahead. Though it is cheaper to wait in line at 8:30am without a handling fee, you also have to remember that you're on vacation, and who the heck wants to be waiting for tickets at 8:30am if it can be avoided :)

It was a rainy day yesterday so some of my pics from the windows have rain spots, but I think they are still worth sharing :)

The details inside the odalisque are just amazing. We came across this beautiful tiled floor, and then on the way down in the elevator they slow down to show you the amazing stone's given to them by each state, many US cities, and dignitaries. Many state's could not send money to help pay for the Monument to be built, but they could provide materials, so they began to send in special stones. The most expensive stone in the monument is from Alaska :) The smallest stone is from California, while the largest stone is from New York. In California's defense- they followed the guidelines put out for donations, while New York just did whatever they wanted! Sounds like a New Yorker :)

A cheap date, but an equally great birthday present! Thanks Nick :)

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Meal One on the Grill

I can't tell you how happy it make me to be able to write today's post!!

I have wanted a grill since we moved down to DC. Grilled food is just so tasty and seems to be a lot quicker to make on a busy night. Plus, when it is nice outside I don't want to be inside cooking!

The worst, now BEST, part of our current apartment is that it sits over the back deck of the building. Over the summer people have friends over and bring out their portable grills and all those great smells come wafting up into our apartment. Let's just say on a beautiful day, this is the WORST.

This past Saturday I was going out to find a few rocks in the back yard when I noticed a guy setting up not one but TWO grills. My first reaction was to hate this man, but my polite side got the best of me and as I walked by him I simply said "Have a Great Cookout." He turned and said, "Oh no, these aren't mine. These are for the building residents to use."

Let's just say I could have kissed him!!! I was so excited that I ran upstairs and brought Nick over to the window and told him to look down. My lovely husband had my same reaction, "Oh I hate those people with their awesome grills. When can we get a grill??" When I broke the good news to him he immediately started plotting out 5 meals for the week that all consisted of GRILLING!!

Meal one was rained out, but last night we were finally able to get ourselves on the new grill. We made BBQ chicken and Grilled Romain. I was so excited about grilling that I forgot to take pics of the process, but here is the end game :)


Okay so not the best pics, but I'll get better, I have all SUMMER with a GRILL :)

We are learning how to grill, so dinner did take a bit longer. We got upstairs and cut into the chicken, only to realize they weren't quite ready. We popped the chicken it in the oven for another 20 minutes to finish cooking... Oops :) 

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Catoctin Mountain Hike

Before DC's Summer begins and the humidity gets out of control, Nick and I decided to go for a hike. Last summer my lovely mother bought Nick and I the Washintonian magazine with Hikes and Bikes. We regurally flip through this magazing plotting out next getaway.

This weekends pick was a great hike out in Thurmont, MD- roughly an 1 hour 15 minutes from DC.

We headed to Catoctin Mountain National State Park and did a 5.5 mile loop. It was one of the best hikes we have been on yet :) It had just enough elevation, rock jumping, and flat trail walking that we needed.

We hit three outlooks on the trail, but of course I only remembered to take a photo of the trail and no outlooks :) Oops! So here are soem great photos of the trail!

This is Wolf Rock, our second outlook....

Thethird outlook, Chimney Rock, but I forgot to take a picture. Too many people were crowded around looking at a giant hawk, so we didn't take much time to relax at that outlook :)

After our hike, in typical Monica and Nick fashion, we hit up a local farm made brewery that Nick had read about, Milkhouse Brewery. it was a working farm and they were bailing hay as we sat out on the patio.

This ended up being a more frugal stop then anticipated because the keg kicked on the beer I ordered, so I ended up with a free beer :) Not too shabby for a Sunday afternoon.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Brand Splurges

I'm calling today's post Brand Splurges, because even when we are trying to cut back our budget there are a few things that no matter if they are the cheapest in the aisle it is what I am going to buy!

So a typically grocery list for us includes mostly vegetables, dairy, and bread. Then there are always those few small items that we run out of that need to be replenished: dish soap, flour, toothpaste, cornmeal, etc,. The small items are usually where my brand loyalty get's me :)

Here are three items that have got me hooked:

1. Palmolive Oxy Dish Soap
We started this love affair when it was on sale for buy one get one. It was the cheapest option when we first bought it, but once I used it on a greasy pan there was no going back. I have never found dish soap that seriously just eliminates all of the greasy residue left on a pan, until I met OXY. Now a days, when we need soap it is usually 50 cents to a dollar more then the cheapest brand, but we try to stock up when it is on sale :)

2. Arm & Hammer Advance White Toothpaste
Toothpaste is one of those things that you can test out for a while and buy whatever is on sale, but eventually you will find one that never makes your mouth feel as clean as this one does for me :) We went off the wagon for a few weeks and bought a few other cheaper options, but in the end we came right back to this one! There have been serious discussion of trying to buy a case online to ensure we are never without our favorite toothpaste.

3. Gourmet Garden Herb Paste
This one is interesting and the herb always changes, but I noticed that we would spend $2 on basil and then use it for one recipie before it would go bad. This also occurs with lemon grass, and a few other herbs that we just don't go through quickly. Not on this list is cilantro and parsley, which I think are weekly staples in our grocery cart. Spending $3-4 on this tube allows me to have lemon grass or basil on hand for any recipie, and it won't go bad. I call this a splurge because it is more expensive then buying a bunch, but it is also a frugal purchase because it will last me 4-5 meals.

What are your grocery cart splurges? 

Have a great Memorial Day Weekend!

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

A Frugal Quote

I love when a quote just stays with you and can continue to mean something everytime it comes into your life. I was reminded of a quote last night by Dwight D. Eisenhower:

"Some people wanted champagne and caviar when they should have had beer and hot dogs" 

Nothing better then a good presidential quote to remind you to stay frugal. 

Over the past few weeks, I have struggled with financial decisions on an emotional level. It is difficult to choose to save or pay off loans rather then spend funds on going out or upcoming trips. Being sure to adjust your budget for lifes adventures, but at the same time remembering your overall financial goals. 

Balancing my "Champaign and Caviar" wants with my ambition to save is a tough road full of daily road potholes and detoures. How you deal with these decisions can impact your overall mental and fiscal well being. 

So to all of those out there making tough financial decisions, throw a few hot dogs on the grill and a few beers in the fridge. Saving money or paying off student loans now will allow you to have funding later for lifes wants. 

I was also reminded last night that instant gratification can be exciting and provide immeditate satisfaction, but it is more important to learn how to save for lifes adventures one $20 or $50 at a time. Create a travel or gift budget line in your monthly budget and account for lifes unexpected opportunities. 

You are able to fully enjoy going on vacation or that nice dinner knowing that you're not paying for your current life with future paychecks.  I guess I am still learning to live within my means day by day. 

Thursday, May 15, 2014

DC Gems: Clara Barton House

DC is full of free hidden gems and after living here for five years we are still trying to see it all. We recently took time to visit one of my favorite places in the DC Metro Area, Glen Echo Park. When we drove up I stopped the car at the back of the parking lot and got out in front of the National Historic Site of Clara Barton's House.

We had visited Glen Echo Park numerous times, but had never visited this historic site that sat as a neighbor to Glen Echo. I will do a write-up on Glen Echo at some point, but today is being dedicated to a women who truly holds an amazing role in history, and whose house is currently the only memorial to her work.

So who is Clara Barton? In broad strokes here is my quick go at Clara Barton the founder of the American Red Cross. She was a teacher, an advocate, a pain in the butt to politicians, and a problem solver. She began her work in education. She actually created one of the first state-wide public education system in New Jersey, because she saw a need for all students to have access to education.

She moved down to Washington, DC and when the civil war broke out began collecting things for the soldiers from her hometown in Massachusetts. She saw a need and tried to fill the need by writing home to family and friends asking them to donate blankets, jackets, and shoes. This began to grow and all of a sudden Barton had an apartment full of goods to bring to men on the front lines.

After the war she took a short "vacation," to Geneva, Switzerland. She was sent to Geneva by her doctor to relax, but ended up being introduced to the Red Cross and volunteering with them during her stay. She returned to the US and began to set-up the American Red Cross. She partnered with a local doctor and she found funders to support her endeavor.
Barton's office on the first floor
I am skipping over a lot of the details here, but you get the gist...

Clara Barton's Bedroom and Sitting Room
Barton set-up shop in downtown DC. Around the same time that the Red Cross was taking off, Glen Echo Park was also being built. Glen Echo was situated roughly 12 miles outside of downtown DC, and was built as a sanatarium, or a weekend resort for DC families. They were going to build a trolly to take people to and from the city.

The owners of the park decided to offer Clara a piece of land for development. Clara took this opportunity to expand the Red Cross, and had them develop the property into a warehouse style building.

When the house was completed Clara moved out their for a short-time, but then realized that since the trolly had not yet been completed, she lacked access to the necessities of her job, telephone and the postal service.

Once the trolly was completed, she moved back out to Glen Echo and operated the American Red Cross out of this house for the next 12 years of her life. During those 12 years they stored everything they needed to react at a moments notice to emergencies.

All the walls were lined with cabinets filled with medical supplies, home goods, extra blankets, emergency cash, and everything you could possibly need in an emergency. She had developed a well oiled machine that could act at a moments notice. She took the 3rd floor for herself, but housed volunteers on the second floor. In a matter of minutes, they all could be out the door and on their next mission to help a community in need.

Center of the home, walls lined with cabinets

Storage Room: Extra furniture to help furnish homes after a fire
Just based of these quick facts, she was a true logistics genius and I certainly wouldn't want to be on this women's bad side. She accomplished a lot at a time when women were not seen as capable of accomplishing great things or being strong leaders, yet she pushed beyond the boundaries society placed on her and achieved a legacy of greatness.

She was eventually pushed out of the American Red Cross in 1904 and still that didn't stop her from bettering the world we all live in today. She went on to create the National First Aid Society, yeah that organization that created the first aid kits that many of us have stored at our houses or perhaps in our cars, was started by Clara.

One more amazing person in the world that left their lasting mark on many peoples lives.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Lemonade on Tap

We set-up a Kegging system for Nick's home brews roughly a year ago. Nick was able to find a fridge at BestBuy on sale at 75% off because of a small dent and so we jumped at the opportunity to get this project moving. You see, as a home brewer your options for storage are kegging your beer or bottling the beer by hand, which means having empty and sterilized bottles on hand. I believe at one point in his brewing hobby we had 4 cases of empty bottles in our small apartment.

Needless to say, we bought the fridge and slowly started to purchase additional items to get the kegging system in working order. We now have a beautiful top and handles for our mini-fridge kegerator, 2 quarter kegs and a CO2 Tank to keep the liquids bubbly.

Unfortunately, we have run out of beer :(

Nick worked on a new batch this past weekend, but in the meantime he asked if I wanted to put bubbly water on tap. I suggested that we put sparkling lemonade on tap instead to give us an alternative to water or beer.

So, we looked up a recipe for Cranberry-Lemonade and got our yield up to 5 gallons and we now have Cran-Lemonade on Tap for the summer, or at least until a second beer is ready!

This concoction cost us:
3 Bottles of Lemon Juice = $7.47
2 Bottles of Cranberry Juice = $3.34
6 Cups Sugar, estimated cost =  $1.00
TOTAL: $ 11. 81
Yield 5 Gallons, each cup at 12 ounces= $0.22
I should open my own lemonade stand this summer. $.50 a glass and I would make a KILLING :) Watch out DC Kids here I come!!

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Month in Review- April 2014

Sorry for the radio silence last week. Life has gotten a little crazy and I needed a week off from writing to get caught up :) Month two was really about sinking into our new money routine. Last month was an experiment, but this month it feels like reality started to sink in and we had to start really making decision about how to spend our money. Here is a snapshot of where we stand after month two:

Unexpected Costs: 

  • Dentist Bill 
  • Adjustments to our 401k Contributions 
Unexpected Income:
  • Nothing extra this month, just the norm 
April Splurges:
Nick and I used our entertainment fund to sign up for the Dogfish Dash race that will take place in September. We also treated ourselves to a random Friday off, mid-month. We both took the day off, slept in, went for a long run, and went out to lunch at a Korean restaurant called Honey Pig.

Funniest Moment: 
Nick and I like to try "fun" beers; however, fun beers come at a larger price. "Fun" beers also disappear off the shelves quickly at our local beer stores. Over the past four years, Nick has gotten to know the beer guys at our local shops. They shoot him emails to let him know something rare is coming in or will hold one out back for him if it is something he specifically requested.

So this past month, we walked into our local store to pick-up a 6 pack of our go to frugal beer, Yuengling. The beer guy came running up to us with two great beers they had gotten in the day before that he was saving for Nick. This was the moment Nick had to break the news to his new friend that we were saving money and fun beers were going to be a rarity rather then a norm. It was like watching Nick break-up with a long-term girlfriend.

We picked up our $5 six pack and headed for the door. This may not seem like a funny moment but you have to admit it is pretty funny that A. we have a beer guy and B. that we had to kinda breakup with him...

Lessons Learned
Hmmm, we still haven't gotten the grocery money quite figured out. We went to Costco to do a one month bulk up trip- paper towels, toilet paper, oats, frozen fruit, and meat. Basically anything we could freeze and make it last a month or more. We ended up spending over half our food budget. By the end of April we were back to pinching pennies at the grocery store, so we still need to work on how we spend our weekly expense line, and be sure to leave money for the end of the month.

Total Payment to Debt: $39.76, on top of our minimum payments

Current Debt: $172,461.37

This months debt payment was significantly less then March because of the unexpected dentist bill, and  we needed to dip in to help cover additional life expenses. This was hopefully not a typical month and we are hoping to get back on track next month. 

We started with a total of 35 Student Loans, adjusted from 36 after a "place holder" line was removed, oops :). We are now down to 34 Student Loans and we need to pay $4,574.80 more in order to reach 33 :)

Friday, May 2, 2014

The Paper Globe

I now I owe you all a month in review, but our month really doesn't end until May 10th, just how the budget is set-up, and we are pinching pennies this month so I want to be sure to give you all the accurate amounts. So I hope to have the month in review to you by next Wednesday, but for now, here is a fun piece :)

On the Comment Today post, one of my good friends sent me a link for fun free printable things to do. One of these activities was to build a paper globe. While last week was bring your kid to work day and a colleague of mine did just that. As she was checking emails, I asked her daughter if she'd like to help me build a globe. She was in charge of the coloring and folding, while I took care of the structure pieces and taping.

Here are the instructions we followed. If you do nothing else just go read through the instructions the guy has a great sense of humor and made me chuckle through this process.

If you do decide to take on this project, use thick paper. I used office paper and it "worked" but was really flimsy. It was fun to take a little work mental break and the globe was spectacular :)

Remember to do something fun everyday!! HAPPY FRIDAY :)