Why Here, Why Now

I've been tossing around the idea of coming back here and continuing to record the stories of my life and travel.  This started as a way to share life to loved ones far away while living in Saudi Arabia, but has become a valuable record of my life.  I love being able to reread the details of the two years I documented and it's surprising how many of the details I no longer remember.  

It's been so long that I feel like this is more like starting over rather than picking something back up.  In the spirit of starting over I decided to change platforms, get my own domain name, and refresh the look and feel of this place.  I also want to have a gallery of my photos, which I didn't have before.

I have much to say about my recent vacation to Budapest, and beyond that, time will tell.  

Hey Look a Craft

Aka my job has been taking over my life! I have spent so much time working lately due to various problems and issues at work that I haven't had much of any time for crafting in the last three months. My life has revolved around working, sleeping and maybe just maybe grabbing some food in between. It's coming to an end however and I can finally work on having a real work/life balance for awhile. Or at least until the next problem rolls around, as it undoubtedly will. But all the work has definitely been worth it, both in overtime pay which has helped us save for a house faster and in experience at my job. I've now worked through some of the most challenging situations we're likely to see, and now I will be much better prepared if heaven help us they happen again in the future. I've also gotten a chance to do some networking with managers from other mills as they have come in to help us from time to time.

Now that I've gotten off track talking about work, it's time to focus on the fun weekend activities instead! Ages ago I saw a cute door decoration on pinterest courtesy of Marsh madness and I knew that it would eventually make a great front door decoration. Our last front door decoration which we put up just before Christmas only lasted until about February until Steve declared that it was clearly a winter wreath and couldn't stay up any longer. We ended up going nearly five months without anything pretty on the front door because I just didn't have time to devote to crafting or even buying anything.

With work settling down, I took a trip last weekend to Joann's to see what kind of fun goodies I could find. I ended up with several cute storage boxes to use in our linen closet, tissue paper for another craft (coming soon!), a cute wooden letter and a roll of decorative packing tape just because I thought it looked pretty. I also found a cheap certificate frame at Home Goods that was just what I wanted for this project. Originally I thought I was going to paint the wooden letter, but then I realized how fun it would look with the packing tape wrapped around it!

The frame and partially taped letter. See how well they go together! I never would have guessed that this combination would be exactly what I wanted. I used a razor blade to cut lines in the packing tape so that it would go around the curves smoothly. There were a few places where i should have cut smaller pieces for a better fit around the curves, but it still looks so pretty. I didn't cover the entire back of the letter because it won't really be seen and the packing tape was $7 a roll!

I used some of my free ribbon from Steve's grandmother from my awesome ribbon rack to wrap around the letter and the frame so that I could hang it. It does clatter a bit when we open and close the door, so I might have to find a better way to secure it if the noise ends up bothering me, but if it doesn't then all the better!

House hunting

It's taken us quite a bit of time to get to the point where we feel comfortable buying a house, but I'm so glad we got there. We started thinking about buying a house back in late winter but didn't feel we were really ready for it. So we decided to boost our savings so that when we did finally feel ready, the money would be right there waiting for us.

Fast forward a couple months and we decided it didn't hurt to start to see what was out on the market ourselves. We started looking at houses that were much closer to my job, sine I currently drive about 35 minutes to get to work. After driving by some available houses and through some neighborhoods we decided that being that much closer to my job wasn't going to work for us. We wanted to be in a nicer neighborhood and have good quality schools nearby for when there are school age little ones.

Feeling a bit defeated by this realization, we moved back into the "renting is better" camp. Last month we decided we were ready to actually commit to buying a house, which meant we needed to figure out what to do next! We put in applications to get prequalified because the internet told us that was the right thing to do. After getting prequalified from our credit union we needed to find a realtor. Steve asked around at work and got a recommendation from a colleague for a realtor that was especially good with first time home buyers.

Right about this time work got incredibly crazy for me, so Steve took all of the burden of contacting her and setting up an initial meeting. He thought she would be a good realtor, so I trusted his judgement even though I didn't meet her until we started viewing homes.

Steve and I decided we want 3 bedrooms, 2+ bathrooms, and a kitchen that isn't too updated. I'm picky about what I want in a kitchen and have tons of good ideas on pinterest so I definitely don't want a house that has a kitchen that was recently updated.

Our first tour of homes was several weekends ago. We looked at 6 different homes with various floor plans. Our main goal for that first outing was to narrow down any floor plans we especially did or didn't like. Turns out that I don't care for quad level houses (too many stairs) and we both really loved the layout of ranches. There was one house we both particularly loved. It was beautifully updated and had a lot of character which we both want in a house, but it was clear that it wouldn't take long for us to grow out of the house. The couple selling it clearly had 3 small kids and they were out of room.

Cutest kitchen! Almost exactly how I would decorate it!

But it was pretty small.

 This house had a cool first floor layout, but the location was terrible.

The following weekend, we looked at 4 more houses and one of them, a ranch, caught out eye as being a fantastic house. It was quite reasonably priced and didn't need any work prior to moving in. In fact it likely wouldn't have needed work for quite some time as all of the big ticket items were pretty new. We did a lot of thinking and decided to go back for another showing last Monday. After looking it over one more time we decided to put in an offer as it really was just too good to pass up. Sadly, someone else put in a cash offer, which for the sellers is obviously more attractive.

Beautiful living room in offer #1 house

Naturally we were bummed that we didn't get the house, but we're getting right back out there and looking for something else that we will love. I had to work all weekend, so Steve went out on Saturday with the realtor to look at a few more potential houses. He liked one, again a ranch, enough for us to go back and take a second look at it. Steve thinks it will need some of the bigger items relatively soon (furnace, windows, and air conditioning) but its priced well to accommodate those requirements. We liked it enough to put an offer in today, but I'm keeping my expectations low as there have been a lot of showings on this house. Earliest we would hear back is Friday, so now we sit tight and wait some more!

Family room/formal dining room in offer #2 house

Fireplace in the living room.

The workshop in the garage (Steve's favorite)

View of the house from the back of the property line! Tons of land, which is quite uncommon for the area.

Once a Week Cooking

Ever since I started my new job back in January, my free time has been increasingly limited and I've been quite exhausted after work. For the first few weeks it was tortuous to come home and have to get something together for dinner and more often than I care to admit I just gave up and we either ate out or dinner consisted of milk and cereal. One week got so bad that cereal was even my go to lunch option. Not healthy. Not at all.

To do something about this I decided to try cooking a weeks worth of lunches and dinners over the weekend when I had much more free time and energy. I started slow only doing 2 recipes at a time on Sunday but now I can easily make 4-5 meals plus a tasty treat.

In all I spend about 4-5 hours cooking but it has varied based on what I'm cooking. There are really easy ways to shorten that time too like having one recipe use the crock pot and having another be a stove top only recipe.

Another benefit is that all of the prep work is consolidated. Instead of getting everything ready to chop vegetables each day, I just get it out once chop everything and then I only wash it once too.

A few tips I've picked up on as I've done this the last few weeks:

  • Read all of your recipes before starting and get a feel for what order to work in.
  • Start by getting out all of your dry ingredients so you don't keep going back to the same cabinets half a dozen times.
  • Rinse off utensils and cookware after using so food doesn't dry on
  • Have some fun music or a podcast going!

Food for the week.

Here's a brief example of what and how I cooked a few weekends ago.  I made 4 dishes: egg salad, And Noodles, Stuffed Shells, and Tacos.

I started by cooking pasta and quick soaking beans. While that was on the stove I mixed up the sauce for And Noodles and preheated the oven. After the noodles were done they went into the sauce and then into the oven.

Using the same pasta pot I started cooking the shells. I also started the eggs to hard boil. Then I got the cheese filling ready for the shells. By the time the shells were stuffed and ready to go in the oven, it was time to take out the And Noodles so I only had to preheat the oven once instead of twice. I chopped up the vegetables for the tacos and egg salad while the beans finished cooking and then used the pot from boiling eggs to make some brown rice for the tacos.

At this point all that was left was letting the food cool before I packed it into individually sized portions in tupperware. Since I'd ben rinsing dishes off as I went and the dishwasher was empty all I had to do was load it and the kitchen was clean.

It's gotten a lot easier for me over the last few weeks as I've perfected my routines and it also helps if you do all of the grocery shopping a day or two prior since Sundays at the grocery store are always crowded.

Singing the Praises of Daylight Savings Time

Now that the US and Europe have switched over to their daylight savings time, it's time for me to be very, very jealous.  Saudi Arabia doesn't have Daylight Savings Time and it's ridiculous that they don't.  On campus, sunset is just shy of 6:30pm and it's dark shortly thereafter.  I didn't realize what a difference this made until we got here to Italy, where the time change was last Sunday.  Here, we've been able to wander around and enjoy the evening more since it doesn't get completely dark until after 8 pm.

Darkness falling over Milan, much later than in Saudi Arabia

It's only an extra hour and a half, but the difference is completely noticable, especially on days where I work in the library until late, as it's getting dark on my way home.  It also exaggerates our poor interior lighting, since we have to flip on the lights pretty early in the evening.

Even though agriculture or some bunk was the reason DST started, it is so nice to be able to enjoy long light summer (ok spring technically) evenings outside.

Follow our journey:

Travel Plans are Never Final

Different Ways to Travel

How We Get Ready To Travel

Italy Day 1

Italy Day 2

Shopping in Italy 

Keeping it Alive by Trying New Things

Italy Day 3: Part 1

Italy Day 3: Part 2

Pack and Move

Or check out our 

Italy

 tag!

Does Traveling Affect Home Cooking?

Since we've gotten back from two trips, I've started to notice a disturbing trend when we settle back in at home.  We're much less gung ho about cooking at home.  It wasn't as bad after we visited Cairo, because honestly we were sick of eating out.  It was harder to find restaurants that had vegetarian options and even challenging to find non traditional options, so by the time we got home we craved home cooked meals.  But we still didn't go out of our way to make them.  All of the amazing food we ate in Athens made this especially bad when we got home.

This is especially disturbing since there aren't really any healthy options for dining out on campus, so when we eat out, it's usually junk like pizza.

I've gotten a bit better in the few weeks before Italy; by trying to focus on making favorite recipes instead of trying new ones that might not turn out as well and also by sticking in some easy dinners like pancakes or spaghetti it's been easier to get into the kitchen.  We've also tried to keep more snacks like yogurt in the fridge, in hopes that a quick snack will give us enough of a boost to whip something together instead of going out because we're already hungry.

Since we're fully expecting the food in Italy to be just as good as it was in Athens, I already know it will be hard to go back to cooking our own meals when we get back to campus.  Lately we've made several great recipes, which are all worth checking out and didn't take long to make:

The Perfect Pancake Recipe

Sour Cream Enchiladas with Homemade Enchilada Sauce

Mexican Casserole

Pizza Stuffed Pretzels

Check them out, I guarantee they are all tasty!