Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Registry tips

For us, getting married was not about getting gifts at all. But registry or not, people are going to want to give you gifts. Registries just provide some guidance. We were so blessed by everything we got — registry gifts, personalized items, specially picked out items, etc. I don't want this post to sound like we were ungrateful or greedy. I just know that registering can be overwhelming, and I read someone's blog with her tips for registering that were helpful. So I thought it might be worth sharing what I learned.

1. Use the thank-you card managers

This saved my life when it came to thank-you notes. Except for a few late gifts, I had all of my thank-you notes completed before the end of June. The online registries for the places we registered — Macy's, Pottery Barn and Crate and Barrel — had thank-you card managers. This told you not only what was bought but who bought it. I understand the desire to be surprised when gifts arrive at your door, but I was able to stay ahead on thank-you notes by checking this daily. I wrote the thank-you notes when I saw them pop-up there, but waited until I actually received the gift before mailing the card. I only made one mistake but caught it before mailing. I still had a lot to write once we got back from our honeymoon, but I'd say I got through at least half of the thank-you notes before the wedding.

2. Be careful of stores that constantly change inventory

I'm convinced I picked out wineglasses from Crate and Barrel three times. I repeatedly received emails saying items I had registered for at Crate and Barrel had been discontinued. So I was constantly picking out new items that I hadn't ever seen. It got pretty frustrating, and I actually dropped some things off that registry and added them on Macy's, where I rarely had discontinued items.

3. Department stores are the way to go

Macy's was definitely our best registry. The store runs good sales, and their inventory stays pretty consistent. Because we were registering for brands sold elsewhere (Lenox, Waterford, Calphalon), people used their favorite store to get us every day china, fine china or cookware. Macy's also gave us 20 percent off anything in the home store and had a rewards program built into the registry. So I'm able to get a really good deal finishing out some stuff as I use up gift cards.

4. Register at that store in your hometown where everyone goes for wedding gifts

This was my biggest mistake. There is one locally owned store in my hometown that sells jewelry, fine china, etc. Everyone in my hometown that gets married registers there. The store even puts your china patterns out on display in the months before your wedding. But I wasn't in town at good times to go in to register, and I just didn't think it was that big of a deal. Enough people came in asking about my registry that they called my mom. She sent them my patterns (the store also carried them), and we got a lot of our fine china from people going there. But since I hadn't registered, the woman dealing with most of it didn't have my information, and there ended up being a lot of phone calls and back and forth that I might have bypassed if I had gone in there and registered from the beginning. So if you have store like that in your hometown, I recommend finding a way to register there — it could save you a lot of hassle later.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Cooking for two

A post about cooking on a cooking blog! Shocking considering how long it has been.

I'm learning a few things about cooking for two and cooking for a guy.

While we were dating and engaged, J and I ate out a ton. I cooked occasionally for both of us and put together some single-girl meals when we didn't have plans, but I didn't do much cooking in the last year. But I missed cooking, and I'm enjoying trying some new recipes and taking advantage of fresh vegetables.

Since we don't live just down the street from the grocery store, I have to think ahead and shop for the week. My goal is to cook dinner three weeknights — Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday — and have an option for the weekend. We have small group at church on Thursdays, so we stay in town and eat before going there.

What I'm noticing is that I rarely end up with leftovers. I might get one lunch out of a dinner, but generally, a meal that might feed me for three or four days is gone in one night. For someone who hates leftovers, this is mostly a good thing, and I'm glad that J likes my cooking. But it is nice to at least have lunch the next days, so I'm still figuring how much to make.

I've been trying some new recipes from Pinterest and keeping some of my standbys in the rotation. Here are some of our favorites from Pinterest:

Skinny Mediterranean Pasta Toss — This is by no means a budget-friendly meal. But it is really good, and J likes it even though it doesn't have meat in it.

Crispy Cheddar Chicken — This is really easy. I skip the sauce, we like the chicken as is. I use two chicken breasts and "everything" Ritz crackers.

Herb crusted chicken with basil cream sauce — The sauce for this is really good. When I used to have leftovers, I put it on pasta the next day.

Macaroni and cheese — I've only made this once, not the healthiest thing. But if you want really good, homemade mac and cheese, this is a good choice. I just wish I had cut the recipe in half. It was not great left over.

Honey garlic balsamic chicken — This is a really easy chicken meal to make, and J said it could be added to the rotation (the sign of a good recipe).

Summer stir fry — This is not your standard stir fry (I am not a fan of stir fry). It is summer vegetables and shrimp cooked in butter and olive oil. Super easy and really good. Even when I think I make more than enough, we devour it.

You'll notice this is a lot of chicken recipes — that is J's favorite. I usually work red meat in through tacos or spaghetti since we don't have a grill for steaks. I'm not a pork fan, but we are probably going to want some variety of meat mixed in. But J is a fan of my favorite vegetarian meals and sides — tomato pie, zucchini pie, roasted asparagus and a new favorite is roasted broccoli. But I'm on the lookout for good chicken recipes if you have some to share or another meat recipe I could work into the mix, please pass along.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Our house

So I post three times in a week and then fall off the radar again. But you probably aren't surprised.

Anyway, here's a post all about our house. J built (as in, he poured the foundation, framed it, painted, laid tile, etc.) this house before we met. It is the second house he has built. He found the property west of Columbia and built it in a barn-style to fit the rural setting. When we got engaged, he started working on plans to add a master bedroom. Thanks to the help of some friends, it was finished when we returned from our honeymoon. He also added the deck this fall.

The house was definitely a bachelor pad before I moved my stuff in. We started acquiring some additional furniture we wanted this spring, and then I got things where I wanted them when we got back from Maine. We still need to hang pictures around much of the house, but I've been waiting to get wedding pictures back. And he would tell you there are a lot of things that still need to be done. But to me, it feels pretty complete.

The house is about 25 miles west of Columbia. This is the first time I've had a major commute to work. I've always been within about 10 minutes of work (in one case less than 10 minutes walking). So that has been the biggest change for me. It's not a bad commute; it's interstate and there's no real traffic (in the summer at least!). But I have to rethink my mornings to leave in time for work or anywhere else for that matter. There's also not a grocery store (or anything except houses and farms) near us, so I have to plan ahead and make sure I get what I need when I'm already in town. And while I like the escape to the country and time to decompress in the car, I hate getting gas every week and how nasty my car gets from driving on the interstate all the time. I know, it's first world problems, but those are my complaints. We have started taking advantage of a great biking/walking trail that's about 10 minutes away.

Enough of my babbling, here are the pictures.

Living room, looking in from the front door

Living room, view from the kitchen


Kitchen, looking toward the master bedroom; laundry room is to the left

Master bedroom

Another view, walk-in closet is hidden but located next to the bathroom

Upstairs bedroom (ready for guests!)

We both kept our dressers and got a new one for our bedroom, so this is the room of dressers.

Upstairs bathroom

Second room upstairs — combined bedroom and office. (More room for guests!)

The office part of the room. Eventually, this will be divided into separate rooms.

And the deck that is furnished thanks to a generous gift from my aunts and uncles.

J would point out that I left off a major part of the house — the garage. But really, who needs to see our garage full of his tools. Although there is room for me to park in there, another first for me!

Friday, July 12, 2013

Maine, part 2

Here's the rest of the recap of our Maine trip:

Day 5: Acadia National Park and Bar Harbor
This was the farthest north we drove. It took about two hours to get to the park from our cottage. We were a little burned out on hiking, so we took advantage of the Park Road and drove to the top of Cadillac Mountain. More great views, even though it was a little cloudy.

We drove back down the park road and stopped at Jordan Pond. It is a freshwater lake that is incredibly clear. It was beautiful, and there is a restaurant right by it. We headed up there for lunch, and it was one of our favorites. The view alone put it up there pretty high, but the food was great. They serve popovers (big, hollow muffin-type things), and J had really good crab cakes. I had a veggie panini that hit the spot.

We had hoped to rent bikes and ride in the park a bit, but the bike rentals are all in Bar Harbor and logistically and time-wise we couldn't make it work. But we headed down to Bar Harbor. We explored the town and walked along a trail on the coastline. Bar Harbor was the only repeat place for me (I visited when I was 9), and it was familiar. We also found the big sandbar that takes you over to a wooded island. We only walked across the sandbar and didn't explore the island, but it was pretty cool. We got some ice cream and visited some shops before heading south. We stopped in Rockland for dinner.

Day 6: Wiscassett and Boothbay
On Friday, we only really had one thing we wanted to do. In Thomaston, at the turn to get to our cottage, there was a place called the Maine State Prison Store. It was a really cool store, full of things made by prisoners. There was beautiful wood furniture, model ships, wooden toys and even a Shawshank T-shirt that J got.

After that we decided to head south on Route 1 since we had only gone north in our daily trips. We did drive up Route 1 as we came up from Boston but didn't stop along the way. J remembered a town named Wiscasset, so we went there first. We wandered around the town and docks, and we noticed that all of the restaurants were dead but there was a huge line around this shack. We figured that must be the place to eat. It was called Red's Eats, and it had these huge lobster rolls. They were amazing, and apparently, this place is famous for them. The nice thing about a lobster roll is you get all the lobster without all the work. There were also amazing onion rings.

When we were done eating, J handed me the keys, and I got pick our next stop. I headed back north and pulled off to Boothbay and Boothbay Harbor. It was graduation day at the high school, so there was some traffic to get through, but we enjoyed walking around the harbor and the shops there. We headed back to the cottage and got ready for a nice dinner out. The woman that owns the cottage recommended Primos in Rockland. It was a really nice restaurant set up in an old house. It was a neat place to go, but it wasn't our best meal of the week.

Day 7: Boston
We flew in and out of Boston, and we decided to spend a day and night in Boston before flying back to St. Louis. We got up early Saturday to hit the road. We turned our car in and got travel passes for the subway. Then we took off for the Freedom Trail. We didn't make every stop on it, but we walked the whole thing. The highlight was Paul Revere's house, where an actor was playing Paul Revere and telling his story.

Once we got to the end, we took a water taxi across the Charles River. We took the subway out to Harvard for the classic picture there.

We didn't get to the library before it closed, but we walked around the area and sat outside a church. We also happened upon a memorial for the Boston Marathon. My parents had recommended a restaurant, Giacomo's, and that turned out to be our best meal. We both had lobster ravioli that was incredible. And then we headed back to an airport hotel to get some sleep before an early morning flight home.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Maine, part 1

(BTW, if you are in a reader, click over to see my new blog header.)

After the wedding, it was off to Maine! We had a wonderful time and high recommend our itinerary. I had some vague ideas of what I wanted us to do, a guidebook and some help from the owners of our cottage.

We stayed in a cottage right on the water in Cushing. It was a perfect retreat for us. We had great view of the water, a private beach, nice yard and cozy cottage.

There really isn't much in Cushing. We found the Olson House, which is about the only significant landmark. But we were about six miles from Route 1 and Thomaston, which had a couple of restaurants, and Rockland, which is busy little town, was another 10 miles or so. We basically drove up and down the coast seeing places and enjoyed our day trips. Here's a recap of the first half, as concisely as I can:

Day 1: Boston to Cushing
Travel day. Pretty successful minus the repacking our luggage at the check-in desk and getting swindled by Thrifty Car Rental.
But we got to the cottage about 7 p.m. and found the only place open was a cheap Italian place. We had calzones and called it a night.

Day 2: Rockland and Port Clyde
The woman that owns the cottage (she and her husband live next door) recommended going out to the Breakwater Lighthouse in Rockland. So that's how we spent the morning. It's about a mile walk on a rock wall out to the lighthouse. It was a little dreary, but we didn't get too wet.

We had lunch in Rockland and did some exploring there, including a visit to the lighthouse museum. We knew we wanted to go to Monhegan Island on Tuesday, and the boat leaves from Port Clyde. We drove down there to buy our tickets and check things out. We also headed up to the Marshall Island lighthouse, aka the Forrest Gump lighthouse.

We cleaned up for dinner and went to The Slipway in Thomaston. They had good seafood and a great view of the harbor. There was a beautiful sunset and a hill with a cross, so we watched the sun go down from there.

Day 3: Monhegan Island
We got up early to get back to Port Clyde and catch the boat to Monhegan Island. Monhegan is an isolated island that has a very small village and then a lot of hiking trails. In the village, there a couple of shops, a restaurant or two, a few inns and B&Bs, a church and a school. There are some "work trucks" but otherwise there are no vehicles on the island. All the roads are either dirt or gravel. The only public restrooms there, you have to pay for. A lot of artists live there or visit, and there is obviously a lobster and fishing industry, but that's about it. The boat is not that big and you can definitely tell you are getting pretty far out in the ocean on the way over. I was a little woozy by the time we got off and snatched up some ginger candy in the first store we came to and started feeling better.

We had picked up the trail map the day before, so we had mapped out our plans for the day. We picked up sandwiches for lunch and began our hike. We basically hiked the coastline of this island. It was absolutely beautiful and breathtaking at places. It was a really unique experience and our favorite day. When we got back to Port Clyde, we ate fresh lobsters on the dock.

Day 4: Camden
Camden is just past Rockland, and there is a state park there we wanted to visit. First we stopped in Camden to explore the town. There is a nice park right on the water with some crazy looking ducks.

We went into a Cappy's Chowder House that was said to have really good clam chowder. J was brave enough to try it, but I went with lobster mac and cheese. We both enjoyed our lunch but felt so full afterward we weren't sure we'd be able to hike. We drove up farther and sat for a while at Lincolnville Beach before going to the state park. We drove up to Mount Batty and enjoyed the views of Camden.

Then we went for what was described as a moderate hike to Mount Megunticook. I wouldn't describe the hike as moderate by any means. It was a steep uphill and the summit turned out to be much higher than Mount Batty, which we had driven to. But the views were worth it, and we worked off our lunch! We went back by Lincolnville Beach to pick up some seafood for dinner.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Wedding recap

Hello again, blog world. I've finally come up for air after the wedding festivities, our honeymoon in Maine, unpacking and organizing our house, catching up at work and writing thank-you notes. It has been an incredible six weeks.

All of the wedding festivities were so much fun. I've known for a long time that J was the man I was supposed to marry, but I just couldn't believe the peace I felt the whole weekend. Everyone kept commenting about how calm I was before the ceremony. I was just excited to marry my best friend and see all of our planning play out.

Weddings are such an interesting event. It is just incredible to gather all the people that have been important in your life in one place at one time. Every stage of my life was represented at the wedding. I would have loved to have spent 30 minutes talking with each person, but of course, that's not really how a wedding reception goes. But it was awesome to get to see and hug friends I haven't seen in years.

Pictures are here.

Just to show who all came to the wedding: There was a table with my very first boss — a writer who did research for and served as a nanny for, my boss from my first real job and two other co-workers from that job. I just wish my co-worker from my current job had made her way to that table. Who knows what stories were told.

I had a great time dancing with my high school friends, and I was glad my Virginia friends made it to other events where I got more time with them.

The only hitch was a change in plans for our wedding night. But it meant that we got to ride in a limo to a hotel. The original plan was to walk to an inn around the corner. Considering it rained off and on that evening, the limo was a good change and our hotel was great. J also kept it from me until after the ceremony was over. He, with some help from my mom, had it all taken care of and kept it from stressing me out.

The other funny story was that I noticed a misspelling on one of the signs at the buffet. Spinach was spelled spinich. I was actually hugging a friend when I noticed it, and she got a kick out of it because I'm probably the only bride that would notice such a thing. And really, it was just funny. You can't control everything.

More updates about our honeymoon and married life to come. And if you are reading on a reader, click over to check out my new blog header.