Wearing Red Lipstick on my (pre-)Anniversary Date

I am usually a fairly modest make-up wearer. I try to match everything from foundation to lip gloss to my natural colors, and wear it only to make all the colors look even. (I’ve come to the conclusion that my face is like a Monet. There are lots of splotches of perfectly normal colors, with a few abnormal splotches thrown in. It looks fine, make-up-less, from far away, but up close it gets a little…busy.)

Last week, however, I decided to go crazy and I bought a tube of red lipstick. (Revlon’s Certainly Red, to be precise, with red lip liner. Revlon doesn’t test on animals.)

I don’t know exactly where the idea originated–whether from Dexter or from me. Dexter has some hipster tendencies, and his taste in women–rather, in woman–is a little bit hipster, too.

I think he would much rather I sport the style below than long blond hair and contacts.

Dexter is one of the main reasons I’ve had short hair and glasses for the past several years (because if you don’t know what you want, you might as well get the haircut that one person in the relationship will love).

Dexter claims that he would have really liked the new Emma Watson short haircut on me.

It’s not that I don’t trust him that he would like it. (Okay, I a-little-bit didn’t believe it.) I was just pretty sure I’d feel like a boy unless I was wearing a dress, heels, make-up, and earrings. And I don’t have time time, money, or sense of style to make that work.

Plus, I think I might be coming into a hipster style of my own.

Plain, loosely gathered, feminine hair feels a little bit more me. The only thing I wouldn’t naturally have worn in this picture is the red lipstick.

So, I went ahead and tried it. I still expect people to laugh when they see me in my clown make-up.

I’ve worn it three times now. Once the first day I got it, to see how it looked.

I wore it again to the farmers’ market on Saturday, when Dexter didn’t recognize me as I was walking toward him. (I was wearing a new dress, sunglasses, and red lipstick, and I had my hair up. So I can’t exactly blame him. He even looked away from me because he didn’t want to start checking out cute girls at the farmers’ market. ::blush::)

I wore it again last night when we went out to eat at Atlas.

We sat out on the patio for the first time ever–it was gorgeous, just the right temperature, and we were in the shade.

One of their specials was a rhubarb spritzer. And since you know how I love rhubarb, I had to get it. It was pretty delicious and contained a house-made rhubarb syrup.

I got the Greek Goddess salad. Usually I get the Greek Goddess burrito, but I decided to spice things up. It was a good decision. The croutons definitely made up for the lack of tortilla.

Dexter got a buffalo chicken wrap. I had a bite. It was a little heavy (for me), with mashed potatoes and fried chicken, but it tasted delicious. (Their meat is antibiotic and hormone free, but they don’t provide any other information about its source. So it’s on the no-meat-if-i-stop-being-veg list for me.)

The reason we went to Atlas last night was because every year, they email you two coupons–a free entree for your birthday and free chocolate cake and champagne for your anniversary. Although our anniversary isn’t for a few more weeks, we decided to use the coupon early since we have other day-of anniversary plans.

Atlas is the home of the “chocolate paradise” I mentioned on Tuesday (see balsamic ice cream).

When it’s gone, it looks like this:

We rounded out the evening by talking about some of our favorite memories from the last five years.

Would you ever sport red lipstick in public?

Check out Alicia’s Homemaking for more Try New Adventures Thursday. And stop by The Diaper Diaries for more Things I Love Thursday.

*Click the top three pictures for sources. All others by Dexter and me.*


More Adventures in St. Paul

I wrote about the top ten things we did on our trip to the Twin Cities on Tuesday, but I only shared the highlights from Saturday and Sunday. Monday was filled with new adventures that we loved, so I thought it deserved its very own post. We started our final day in the Twin Cities with breakfast at Nina’s Coffee Cafe in the Cathedral Hill neighborhood of St. Paul. I’ll admit, I was a little wary of a place that has both “coffee” and “cafe” in its name. But I’m so glad we didn’t give up the first two times we drove past it.

Excuse my sunlit face. I tried to photoshop some color in. Although, since I chose to travel north for spring break, I probably deserve the pale skin I have. In this photo, I have not yet enjoyed one of the best lattes I’ve ever had. I was impressed that the barista steamed Dexter’s and my milk separately. It was definitely worth the wait. She also did some pretty latte art, which was only worth the wait because good latte art usually comes after milk has been steamed perfectly. I ate a giant oat-fig-ginger scone for breakfast. Needless to say, I’m now obsessed with the oat-fig-ginger combination. Lucky for me, Smitten Kitchen has a new oat and maple syrup scone recipe out for me to play with!

Before moving on to the science museum, we headed to the basement where Garrison Keillor’s bookstore, Common Good Books, is located. It had a nice variety of non-mainstream books to peruse. It also had quotes printed on the walls. Not all were as depressing as the one pictured above, which I did not read until I was uploading it to my computer earlier.

Next, we dropped a chunk of change for tickets to the Science Museum of Minnesota. We saw a King Tut exhibit with artifacts from his tomb and the tombs of several other pharaohs. The highlight, for me, was seeing a sculpture of Ramses, since Moses could have seen the very same statue. It was also interesting to learn that pharaohs started preparing their tombs as soon as their reigns began and often reclaimed sculptures of other pharaohs by scratching out the names and dates and carving in new ones. Dexter, my typography-loving graphic design nerd, liked seeing the hieroglyphics worked into the sculptures.

Then, I made Dexter pose like a T-Rex was eating his head.

Also, there were dinosaur poop fossils pinned in a display.

After we had museumed to our hearts’ content, we headed back to Cathedral Hill to eat at The Happy Gnome.

Dexter enjoyed his Minnesota game burger with lingonberry spread. I had a salad with salt-roasted bosc pears, dried cranberries, walnut relish, black river bleu cheese, and port vinaigrette. It was yummy, but the pictures of it (and me) were terrible.

But the highlight was dessert. Oh the dessert. I wish I had skipped my entrée, as much as I enjoyed it, and ordered another dessert because their dessert menu was a collection of every dessert I never knew I wanted to eat. Chocolate flourless torte. Warm pear and almond tartlette. Caramel apple bread pudding. But we finally decided on the Dulce de Tres Leches cake, which was tres leches cake, drenched in a chocolatey soup, topped with caramel corn.

Then, reluctantly and with full, happy stomachs, we got back in the car and drove home.

We drove past the fields of windmills in northern Iowa. I like for people to know that Iowa is more than pigs and corn.

We also, apparently, have fields of cars.

It was after sunset when we got home to our puppies.

Click over to Alicia’s Homemaking to read more Try New Adventures Thursday. Check out Diaper Diaries for Things I Love Thursday.

Top Ten Things We Did in the Twin Cities

We returned from our spring break weekend getaway to the Twin Cities just over a week ago. It was even better than our trip to Kansas City this summer: we saw friends and family, relaxed, and even Dexter let go of work for the entire weekend.

Here are the top ten things I enjoyed on Saturday and Sunday in the Twin Cities:

1. Clean car – We have profusely shedding dogs and a very weak vacuum. Thus, it’s impossible for us to go to work or a wedding without being covered in fur. I also have a dust allergy that affects my breathing, so we splurged and had our car professionally cleaned before driving to the Twin Cities. What an improvement to be cooped up in a tiny, clean box for 5 hours.

We would totally live here if we lived in Mason City.

2. Ralph’sAmbre reviewed this new restaurant on her blog, so when I realized we’d be passing through Mason City at lunch time, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to try it out. I was thrilled by the variety of vegetarian options they had. I chose a grilled sandwich with macaroni that came with pickled green beans. I had never heard of pickled green beans before, but I am now officially a fan.

3. the Walker – Our first stop in Minnesota was the Walker, where we met my aunt and uncle. Last time we went to the Walker, they had a minimalism exhibit that enthralled my husband with its cubes and ladder like installations. It was gone, but he enjoyed the current Sol LeWitt: 2D + 3D exhibit. They also had a treehouse-like installation patrons can walk around in.

4. French Meadow Cafe – When my aunt suggested we eat here and sent me a link to the menu, I was immediately thrown in to turmoil because everything on the menu sounded sooo good. I settled on the vegan sweet corn arepas, made with vegan sausage, spinach, red peppers, and a balsamic reduction. It was delicious! Dexter took advantage of the organic meat and had a burger. Other than the food, we enjoyed the quirky way they indicated which food to bring to your table; they abandon the little plastic tent with a number on it and give you a celebrity themed table marker. We got Jake Gyllenhaal.

5. Apples to Apples – After dinner, we headed to my aunt’s house for chocolate cake, ice cream, and a round of Apples to Apples. It is awesome to have family members that are so fun to spend time with.

6. Sleeping – We were in the Twin Cities the weekend of the Daylight Savings Time switch. I decided to be “the cool wife” on Sunday and let us go without an alarm. We slept in till 11:00. Although we were initially shocked that we’d slept so much of the day away, we really enjoyed not packing the day full of activities.

7. Pannekoeken – Last time we were in Minnesota, we breakfasted at Pannekoeken Huis both days. It’s a lot like a Perkins or Village Inn, but instead of serving all-american pancakes, they serve pannekoeken, a Dutch pancake topped with deliciousness. This time we knew to split one instead of each getting our own plus eggs and hashbrowns. The tables are adorned with classy Dutch tulips, and the waitresses are required to sing/yell/moan “Pannekoeken!” each time they bring it out from the kitchen. It’s a pretty sophisticated dining experience.

8. IKEA – At some point, I made the decision to stop carrying around the things I wanted to buy or remembering to pick them up at the end of the trip and got a cart. I also didn’t have a clearly defined budget for the trip. Don’t tell Dave. I picked up a box grater (mine was broken), a salad spinner (for $3!), an area rug (my old one had dog vomit on it and was chewed up), and some flat-file type drawers for Dexter’s art. They have an “as is” section where they sell slightly damaged items and in-tact pieces of broken furniture. We spotted something labeled as the “handy man’s cart” which was filled with wood and chipboard pieces. Dexter was enamored, and continuing in the “cool wife” pattern I started by letting us sleep in, I expressed my support of bringing the pile of wood home. We loaded it all into our car, and could just barely shut the trunk. It was so heavy that our car rode pretty close to the ground and we bottomed out several times in the city and on the way home. It was a little frightening, but all for the sake of having a happy husband.

9. Punch Pizza – I love pizza. I love french bread pizza, frozen pizza, deep dish pizza, thin crust pizza. Pizza is an amazing food. Punch Pizza takes pizza to a completely different dimension. We ordered a ricotta with basil and salt to spread on foccacia, a greek salad, and the Margherita Extra pizza. Stewed tomatoes and buffalo mozzarella on a chewy, slightly charred crust that was baked quickly in an 800* wood-burning oven is pretty much the incentive I need to start looking for a job in the Twin Cities. If you go to Minnesota, go there. (Thanks to Dana for the recommendation!) Not to forget what’s really important–we met Tony and Elise there!

10. the Bean Factory – We meant to check out a coffee shop that focuses on organic, cruelty-free dairy, but they closed early. We happened upon the Bean Factory, a local roastery, which Dexter enjoyed. We caught up over lattes and enjoyed the local coffee shop ambience. Elise is a good friend from my childhood. Despite hanging out for a week each summer during our adolescence and sending e-mails for most of our communication, she’s the kind of friend that I click with every time I see her. The last time I saw her in person might have been at her wedding 3 years ago. Or maybe for a few minutes at a funeral. We both love Jesus, want to work for social justice, and are becoming more aware of how the food we eat affects our bodies and the world. If I got to force a few friends to live nearby, I would definitely pick her!

Stay tuned for the New Adventures we had in the Twin Cities on Thursday!

Top Ten {Tuesday}

Spring Break on a Budget

For a few short days in December, Dexter and I entertained the idea of visiting New York City over Spring Break. It’s on both of our 30 Before 30 lists (although I’ve been there before), and we were both a little anxious for adventure. (Sometimes I feel like since I don’t have kids–and not because I don’t like them–I am entitled to have adventures. It’s not a healthy mindset.)

I had it all planned out. We were going to stay in this swanky vintage style hotel. We were going to indulge in dessert (and maybe dinner) at this Smitten-Kitchen-mentioned* restaurant. We were going to walk, wide-eyed, around this museum.

But, alas.

Remember my post about making money decisions? Well, reluctantly, I took my own advice and looked at the price of a trip (and let me tell you, I researched some bargains!) in another light. I calculated how much extra interest we’d pay in the long run because of the money we’d spend on our trip. Then, I figured out that by spending Spring Break in New York, we’d be keeping ourselves in debt for an extra 6 months.


We remembered the verse in Proverbs that says, “It is the blessing of the Lord that makes rich, and he adds no sorrow to it.” And we were pretty sure we’d be sorry during the fall of 2014 as we were sending our checks to the student loan company rather than transferring money into savings. So, we decided not to go.

We realized, however, that we do need to get away. We need a weekend without dirty dishes, without picking up dog poop, and without phone calls from work. So, we followed the example my parents set and planned an “urban midwest getaway.” This summer, you might remember, we spent a weekend in Kansas City. Chicago also makes itself into our weekend getaway rotation. (For some reason, we ignore Omaha.)

So, in less than two weeks, we’ll be gazing at the Minneapolis skyline. And we’re pretty excited.

Like New York, the Twin Cities have hotels, restaurants, and museums. And they’ll be noticeably more budget-friendly than their NYC counterparts. This trip will keep us in debt less than a month longer than we would have been. Which, I think, is an excellent trade-off when you consider that our options are a) go on this trip or b) go crazy.

Here’s the thing: We don’t really know the Twin Cities area very well, so we need your tourism advice.

What would you do on a weekend away in Minneapolis?

(Can’t decide what advice to share? Consider the following. We’re not on a super tight budget–although concert tickets at $100 a pop aren’t going to happen. We like food–especially local, organic, and humane. We like coffee–especially fresh, small-batch roasted coffee. We like shopping. We like museums of all sorts. And Dexter is kind of a hipster–you know, the good kind, with hipster taste and none of the attitude.)

*Click that link. Make that gingerbread. Flour your pans well. You won’t regret it.

Photo Credit 1 & Photo Credit 2

At-Home Coffee Shop Series: Pumpkin Scones

I’m not a Starbucks person. Yes, I like coffee shops, but when given a choice, I’ll usually choose a local place over a big chain. (To me, comparing a local coffee shop to a Starbucks is akin to comparing Shorts to McDonalds. Okay. Maybe I’m exaggerating a little.) Starbucks isn’t all bad, however. They have a pretty awesome corporate responsibility policy (which, by the way, your local coffee shop would love to have but they don’t have the funds…so you should go support them) and they have recently cut trans-fats and high-fructose corn-syrup out of their pastries.

One day, Dexter and I were out shopping, and…it’s embarrasing to admit…we stopped at Starbucks for a latte. I promise, we were far from a (good) local cafe and there was a caffeine-muffled-by-hot-milk emergency. As we were standing in line, we both spotted the pumkin scones. They were frosted.


Being the good wife that I am, I looked at Dexter and asked, “Wanna get one?” He did. I wasn’t expecting much–a dry, cookie-like pumpkin brick with some too-sweet frosting that would just make me want to wash out my mouth with our latte when it was still too hot to drink. However, I took a bite and fell in love. It was moist and sweet and…pumpkiny. There was even some detectable nutmeg flavor!

Now, I’ll admit that we were already having a really good morning. Dexter wasn’t on-call at work, we were taking it slow, going shopping, and getting along really well. Dexter was telling me how cute I looked in my winter hat and being all hand-holdy. So, some of my scone-love might be due to general happiness.

When we got home, I searched online and found a person who claimed to have the exact recipes for Starbucks pumpkin scones. So I had to make them. And I left out the sugar and had to mix it in last. But they were still good. And then I made them again. And they were still good. And now you can make them, too.

If you want to eat these with French press coffee, I can confirm that that’s an awesome idea.

A note about the recipe: If you want the glaze to harden like it does at Starbucks, you should do exactly what the recipe says. I got all snobby and eyeballed the powdered sugar and milk and stirred it with a fork and then I was mad it wasn’t the same.

Copycat Starbucks Pumpkin Scones

2 cups all-purpose flour
7 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 cup canned pumpkin
3 tablespoons half-and-half
1 large egg
6 tablespoons cold butter

Plain Glaze
1 cup plus 1 tablespoons powdered sugar
2 tablespoons whole milk

Spiced Icing
1 cup plus 3 tablespoons powdered sugar
2 tablespoons whole milk
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
pinch ground ginger
pinch ground cloves

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
2. Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, 1/4 teaspoon cloves, and 1/4 teaspoon ginger in a large bowl.
3. In a separate medium bowl, whisk together pumpkin, half-and-half, and eggs.
4. Cut butter into cubes then add it to the dry ingredients. Use a pastry knife or a fork to combine butter with dry ingredients. Continue mixing until no chunks of butter are visible. You can also use a food processor: Pulse butter into dry ingredients until it is the texture of cornmeal or coarse sand.
5. Fold wet ingredients into dry ingredients, then form the dough into a ball. Pat out dough onto a lightly floured surface and form it into a 1 -inch thick rectangle that is about 9 inches long and 3 inches wide. Use a large knife or a pizza wheel to slice the dough twice through the width, making three equal portions. Cut those three slices diagonally so that you have 6 triangular slices of dough.
6. Bake for 14 to 16 minutes on a baking sheet that has been lightly oiled or lined with parchment paper. Scones should begin to turn light brown.
7. While scones cool, prepare plain glaze by combining ingredients in a medium bowl with an electric mixer on medium speed. Mx until smooth.
8 When scones are cool, use a brush to paint a coating of the glaze over the top of each scone.
9. As that white glaze firms up, prepare spiced icing by combining ingredients in another medium bowl with an electric mixer on medium speed. Drizzle this thicker icing over each scone and allow the icing to dry before serving (at least 1 hour). A squirt bottle works great for this, or you can drizzle with a whisk.Makes 6 scones.

Check out the rest of the At-Home Coffee Shop Series here!

Top Ten Coffee Shop Drinks You Should Know

Have you ever walked into a coffee shop and wondered what the heck all those things on the menu were? Here’s a crash course on some of the most mysterious and misunderstood drinks on coffee shop menus everywhere. You’ll find a little glossary of other coffee shop terms, compiled by yours truly, here. If you’re ever at a coffee shop when they’re slow, take the opportunity to ask your barista questions. Chances are they’d rather talk to you than sweep the floor. Also, feel free to leave any coffee shop questions you have in the comments section since I have some coffee shop experience under my belt.

  1. Espresso (es-PRESS-o) – A strong flavored coffee made by forcing hot water through finely ground coffee beans. One “shot” of espresso is approximately one fluid ounce. It contains approximately 75mg of caffeine, compared to the 200-300mg of caffeine in the typical 16 oz. cup of coffee from a coffee shop, 100mg in 16 oz. of tea, and 35-40mg in a 12 oz. can of cola. (source) The light brown froth on the top of a shot of espresso is called the crema and contains much of the coffee’s flavor.
  2. Macchiato (mah-kee-AH-tow) – From the Italian word for “marked,” a shot of espresso topped with a dollop of froth from steamed milk. This is different from the popular Starbucks drink, the caramel macchiato, which is a vanilla latte “marked” with caramel syrup.
  3. Con Panna (kone PAH-nuh) – A shot of espresso topped with whipped cream.
  4. Americano (uh-mare-i-KAH-no) – Hot water topped with one or more shots of espresso.
  5. Latte (LAH-tay) – Espresso topped with steamed milk. A small amount of froth may be found on top of the drink. Most coffee houses offer skim, 2%, or soy milk. Sweetened flavors, such as caramel, vanilla, or hazelnut, can be added.
  6. Breve (BREH-vay) – A latte made with half-and-half.
  7. Cappuccino (kap-uh-CHEE-no) – At most coffee shops, this is a latte with extra froth on top. At pickier coffee shops, it will be 1/3 espresso, 1/3 steamed milk, and 1/3 froth.
  8. Mocha (MOH-kuh) – A latte with added chocolate, or hot chocolate with added espresso. Most coffee shops offer regular and white chocolate. Flavored syrups can also be added. Many coffee shops will have menu items that combine chocolate and other flavors, such as a “s’more mocha,” which is chocolate and marshmallow, or a “turtle mocha,” which might be chocolate, caramel, and hazelnut.
  9. Cafe au Lait (cah-FAY oh LAY) – Half coffee and half steamed milk.
  10. Chai (chI) – This might be called a “chai latte” or even a “chai tea latte” on some menus. The funny thing is, “chai” means “tea” and “latte” means “milk,” so if you’re ordering a chai tea latte, you’re ordering a “tea tea milk.” It is a sweet Indian drink made with black tea, milk, and spices that may include ginger, cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, and black pepper. Most coffee shops, even in India, use a flavored syrup to make this. It’s still good, but it’s not too difficult to make a batch of homemade chai. I’ll be sharing how to do that soon!

What is your favorite coffee shop drink?

Top Ten {Tuesday}

Find more Top Ten Tuesday at Oh Amanda.

Photo Credit

The Best Date Ever

Do you ever intend to have a real date on a Friday night, but end up eating frozen pizza and watching a movie because you’re so tired? That’s how a lot of Friday nights go around here. We decided to make last Friday night a serious date night. Not serious as in “let’s talk,” but serious as in serious awesomeness.

Every Friday, I ask my students what their plans for the weekend are because it’s good conversation practice and because I’m a little nosy. There are a few girls in each class who always ask about my weekend plans. They were thrilled when I told them I was going on a date. One asked, “With who?” and “Are you going to wear a dress?”

When I got home from work, I was sure the night was going to go horribly. (Do you ever do that thing where you have time to spend together but you’re not on the same page and you just end up being cranky at each other? Please tell me we’re not the only ones.) I was starving, so I was a little irritable. Dexter seemed a little antsy to get going, but we couldn’t decide on a restaurant. Plus, I wanted to shower and shear my legs (I feel like “shave” doesn’t get the real meaning across…it’s winter) and wash my greasy, limp hair. I had a snack and went upstairs to get ready.

Whenever my hair is wet, I get really cold. And whenever I’m really cold, all I want to do is cuddle up in bed. So, after I showered, I hopped into bed…just to warm up. Dexter loves a good nap, so pretty soon he was in bed, too. We slept till 6:30 and woke up really groggy. We almost just ordered pizza and sat around in pajamas, but I knew I’d be disappointed if we did.

I finished getting ready, wore an outfit complete with kitten heels, and we headed out to the Motley Cow. We went there for the first time during winter break and fell in love with the restaurant. We got there at 7:15, but there was a 30-40 minute wait. We put our names in and headed to a coffee shop next door for some hot cider. The 30 minutes passed quickly, and we were soon seated at the Motley Cow.

We ordered white ale fondue with beet chips and a radish for dipping. We split a different (cold, bubbly) kind of cider. Dexter had squash soup, and I had a salad with some amazing buttermilk cumin dressing that I need to know how to make. My main course was fried polenta with eggplant, ricotta cheese, smoked paprika, and arugula. I discovered that I really like arugula, and it was the best eggplant I’ve ever had, although I wasn’t crazy about the polenta.

For his main course, Dexter had a really interesting pork lasagna. The pork came from Pavelka’s Point in Mount Vernon. Instead of being a baked lasagna, this was a pasta dish that was made with lasagna noodles. There were two lasagna noodles, pork in a delicious sauce, and some sort of celery root puree on the bottom. Brian Regan has a sketch where he says that if he ever went to a charity dinner that cost a thousand dollars a plate, he’d feel compelled to send his food back on principle, saying it wasn’t up to par for a thousand dollar price tag. He goes on to describe how a meal that expensive should make you want to hoot and holler after every bite. Dexter told me that’s the experience he had with his dish, and I believe him. He was looking at it wide-eyed and seemed a little bewildered after each bite. He said it was the best thing he’d ever eaten at a restaurant.

Although our food took a long time to get to the table (apparently a really big party ordered right before we did), we didn’t mind waiting. We had a good time relaxing and talking and didn’t feel rushed.

Then, we went home, built a fire, read, and watched an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. And no, that’s not a euphemism for anything.

I don’t know what the key was to the date being so good. The nap? The magic of smooth legs? Local food? My best friend? Choosing to have a good attitude? Whatever it was, I want it to happen again next Friday!

We brought our old camera to the restaurant, hoping to get pictures of the food. It apparently developed an inability to use memory cards in its disuse, so we couldn’t take any. Serves me right for wanting to make you settle for 3mp photos when you could have had 18. Oh well. I guess that means we have to go there again so you can see pictures, right? It just goes to show that we should treat ourselves to iPhones when we get out of debt.

Coffee Shops

Photo Credit: Gareth Weeks

I love coffee shops. Especially cool, local ones like this or this or this or this that know what they’re doing when it comes to coffee.

When Dexter and I were dating (at the stage where we didn’t call it dating…we were just hanging out as friends), we spent a lot of time at a particular coffee shop. I remember the first time he asked me out for coffee. We were talking on AOL Instant Messenger like we did every night (can you tell this relationship started in highschool in the early 2000s?) when he asked me if I wanted to “go out for some coffee or tea or something.” I shot away from the computer and ran up the stairs to ask my parents for permission. I practically rolled back down the stairs and typed in a “yes,” thankful that my breathlessness wasn’t audible to Dexter.

The next day, he picked me up in his really gross, homeless-man’s-home truck, and we spent about three hours sitting in uncomfortable chairs at little Sticks tables, in perfect happiness. As we drove back to my house, Dexter’s truck could barely shift gears. After a suspenseful but short ride, Dexter had to wait around my house for his mom and step dad to come help him with the truck. I don’t think that’s the way he had envisioned it going.

We got past that adventure and had many more coffee dates in the future. After one, he asked me to be his girlfriend. I said no. We got past that, too. A few months later, he asked me the same question at the coffee shop, and I said yes.

Now that we’re married and enslaved by debt, we’ve decided to cut back (but not eliminate) trips to the coffee shop.

Pros to the coffee shop:

  • No dogs, which for us means barking, no whimpering about needing a trip outside, and no 65 lb furry creature wanting to sit on your lap and lick your face while you’re trying to have a conversation.
  • No mess to clean up–someone else makes the coffee and the pastries, so my counters and dishes stay clean.
  • No junk on the table. I don’t know about you, but our kitchen table is a junk magnet.
  • Variety of choices. Say the word and you can have coffee, tea, cider, chocolate, sweet, plain, hot, or cold in a matter of five minutes. At home, that kind of variety requires a trip to the grocery store, which is not the ideal start to a relaxing coffee date.
  • No work required. Sometimes, I think making coffee and pastries is therapeutic and relaxing. Sometimes, I am so tired that the prep work makes it hard to enjoy sitting down with my husband and a cup of coffee.
  • Fresh roasted coffee…maybe. Depending on where you go, you might get old coffee shipped from out-of-state, OR you might get some small-batch roasted quality joe. And if you buy it here, it might be roasted by an extremely handsome man.

Cons to the coffee shop:

  • Ethical ingredients. Not all coffee shops have fair trade coffee and tea. I can’t think of a single one that uses cruelty-free dairy products. And, unfortunately, the chocolate your coffee shop uses is probably tainted.
  • Money. There are some inexpensive options at coffee shops. Like coffee. And tea. But unless you’re careful, your bill can add up quickly.
  • Comfort. Many coffee shops are crowded, so seating choices are limited. At home, your seating choices are only limited by the furniture you own. Also, at home, you won’t have loud obnoxious groups making noise that interrupts your conversation–unless you invite them over.
  • Privacy. Want to have a conversation about your marriage while having a cup of coffee? It’s a little awkward when you have a law student to your left and a bored-looking teenager to your right.
  • Too much variety. Sometimes, only having a few things to choose from is nice. You might need a training session with your local barista just to figure out what everything on the menu is.
  • Ingredient control. Avoiding high fructose corn syrup and trans fats? Some coffee shops offer pastries without these additives, however, it’s often difficult to find out what’s really in those baked goods.

In the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing some tips I’ve learned that can make your at-home coffee shop experience a little more authentic. Hopefully, it’ll help you save money, eat and drink ethically, and enjoy delicious, coffee-shop quality treats.

The Love Budget

Sometimes, you just need a little romance in your life. I believe that marriages that have budgets can also have romance. I don’t know how to make this work well yet, but I am determined to learn.

Last month, Dexter and I bought Wild at Heart by John Eldredge as an audiobook on iTunes. We listened to it on one of our many trips to visit family. It gave us a lot of insight about Dexter and a lot to consider as we make life decisions. If you haven’t read it, I recommend it. There is also a “women’s version” of Wild at Heart called Captivating (co-authored by John and Stasi Eldredge) which Dexter ordered for me on paperback swap. Fitz chewed it up, but it survived and I’ve read most of it. Being the well-rounded, nice, Christian girl that I am, I didn’t expect to learn much from the book.

I was wrong. Although I did skim over a lot of parts that seemed more descriptive than helpful or that seemed to repeat what I had just read in Wild at Heart, whenever it was Stasi Eldredge writing, I felt like she was telling me about myself. I learned that a lot of women feel lonely, even when they have good husbands. Wow, am I glad that’s normal. The book also talks about how women are often made to feel guilty because they are “too much and not enough,” meaning that they require too much (attention, romance, consideration) but that they don’t have it in them to do what they need to do (raise kids, keep the house spotless, exercise and eat right, exhibit general perfection). Captivating argues that women’s desires to be loved and romanced aren’t too much, but that they are a reflection of the way God wants us to love him. Reading Captivating helped me to realize I can be (and need to be) honest with Dexter about missing the “good ol’ days” of flowers, little gifts, surprise dates, and gazing into each others’ eyes over mochas (or, since our metabolism has slowed down since high school, tea or coffee with skim milk).

In one of our conversations about ramping up the romance factor in our lives, Dexter mentioned that it was hard for him to plan things because he was never sure what money to use or how much was left at that point in the month. He has a valid claim. I keep all of our cash envelopes in my wallet, and I keep up on our spending on Quicken throughout the month. I don’t usually bother to give him updates because he is so rarely the one to spend the money.

In our date envelope each month, we get $50. We hope to be able to squeeze two meals out (or ordered in) out of this. That doesn’t leave a lot of change in the envelope for romantic gestures. We also each get $20 a month of “blow money” as Dave Ramsey calls it. Sometimes, this lasts a long time (when I don’t have time to shop!), but sometimes, on day two of the fiscal month I spend $13 on a wallet that fits my envelope system and have enough left for about two lattes.

So, I’m looking for your advice. My advice to Dexter was, “I don’t care. Get a credit card. I just want you to do something!” but we both knew how mad I’d be if that happened.

How do you budget for romance? Do you add onto your “blow money” fund? Spend what you want and hope it works out? Have a “gift” envelope? I’ll try anything!

Spaghetti Squash Pizza on a New Blog!

Dexter and I are starting a new experiment. Or maybe it’s a challenge. It started when I was SO tempted to increase our budget for eating out so we could eat out once a week and go out for coffee and Bible-reading dates on weekend mornings.

I have a great, new after-school job tutoring at my school through a fantastic program. Working three afternoons a week at my “teacher’s hourly pay” will provide a great source of debt-reducing income, but it also means that I don’t get done tutoring till 5:00 and I might have to stay and plan for the following day. Some days I won’t get home till close to 6:00, and on those days, eating out or ordering in sounds tempting. And I feel like I deserve it.

My friend Leah said something on her blog several months ago. She decided to “give herself the gift of 10 fewer pounds” for her birthday. That made me look at dieting from a whole new perspective. It’s not depriving yourself of food–it’s being responsible and making sacrifices so you can treat yourself to good health and self-confidence. I have taken this line of thinking into other areas of my life as well. I can choose to think about paying off our debt as depriving myself of things I want right now, or I can think of it as giving myself the gift of freedom from debt.

This new resolve to really channel all our funds toward paying off our debt led to the decision to budget enough for eating out twice a month. We’ll have coffee where we can get it for free, use our personal spending money, or make coffee and yummy pastries at home on our weekend mornings. Since we won’t be eating out two or three weeks out of a month, we needed something to do on date nights for free or very cheap. Cooking together is something we’ve wanted to do for a while, but never got around to, so we decided to commit to trying it out.

We thought it would be fun to get a cookbook to cook from that would have lots of great recipes. We found one vegetarian cookbook with a “cooking for two” theme, but it was out of print. We looked at aphrodisiac cookbooks for some romantic ideas, but some are a little risqué, and we didn’t want to have to hide our cookbooks whenever we had guests over. We looked at some seasonal cookbooks, but realized that we don’t want a cookbook that has too many meat recipes because we eat so little meat.

That’s where the idea of How to Love an Omnivore was born. This blog is a joint project in which Dexter and I will cook together, hopefully on a weekly basis, take pictures, post about our culinary adventures, and share tips about cooking, marriage, and life in general. You can read more about us and about the project here.

This week, we made our first recipe together, Spaghetti Squash Pizza. It was a rough start, but challenges are much more interesting to read about than huge, easy successes, right?

By the way, I don’t plan on replacing Mrs. Dexter with HTLAO, although one might think that by the infrequency of my posts. I actually set a goal (during a goal-setting assignment for my students) that I would post at least once a week on this blog. Hopefully I can set a good example and make good on my goal!