The Sweetest Thing.

" I feel there is nothing more truly artistic than to love people" ~Van Gogh

Living Well On Less- Summer Entertainment. May 22, 2015

Last Friday, I introduced my intention of starting a “Living Well on Less” series to the blog. With the warm weather sticking around these days, I thought covering some free or almost free summer entertainment options would be a good place to start. One important thing to note is that I consider bringing your own food along to an otherwise free event, to be a free activity. You are going to be eating your food from home regardless, so I do not see it as an extra expense.


Summer is really the best time to try to save some money in the entertainment department. I work much less in the summer and I have to be very careful with our finances. I budget very little for entertainment purposes because it is just not necessary. Doing most anything outside makes it seem like more of an occasion. On top of that, there is just so much going on!


Most towns host a variety of summer festivals and concerts that are free to the public. Some of my favorite local events are the Yassou festival at the Greek Church. Motor Mayhem/old car show, Fitness in the park, The Chalk Walk and Third Thursday concerts downtown. The Yassou festival costs a couple of dollars to get in and you will definitely want to buy some food but the rest of the events are totally free. Beyond events, there are parks, beaches, backyard cookouts and garage sales to keep you busy. Here is my “summer adventure” list for this year.


Free Summer Entertainment-

  1. Make Homemade Ice Cream
  2. Go Camping
  3. Go Kayaking
  4. Go out on a Boat (if you have a friend who owns one)
  5. Invite friends over for a fire in the backyard firepit. Have everyone bring a s’mores ingredient
  6. Have a cookout for your family & one for your friends (Keep the menu simple)
  7. Go Hiking
  8. Go to the Beach
  9. Take a book and a blanket and find someplace beautiful to spend the day reading (& napping)
  10. Have a blanket picnic at a local park
  11. Fly Kites (the beach is a great place for this)
  12. Attend local festivals and outdoor concerts
  13. Go for a long bike ride
  14. Have a water balloon fight (be sure to pick up after yourself as balloon pieces can be dangerous to children and animals)
  15. Spend time in my friend’s hot tub on the lake
  16. Go for a country drive and enjoy nature in all its splendor
  17. Take children to the park and actually play with them
  18. Go fishing
  19. Go on a long walk with your family after dinner


Almost Free-

  1. Start a Garden, even a small herb garden. Seeds are cheap. Dirt is cheap. Growing things is awesome.
  2. Make Boozy Popsicles (alcohol isn’t the cheapest but you don’t need a lot and boozy popsicles are fun)
  3. Go to a Farmer’s Market- go to all of the different ones in your area. It is totally possible and worth it to just go and look at all of the beautiful offerings at your local market but I am personally incapable of leaving the market without some small treasure. I just consider part of the grocery budget if it is food. Supporting local farmers and artisans is important to me.
  4. Berry Picking/Jam making. Berries can be kind of expensive, even when you pick them yourself. If you consider this part of the grocery budget and take care to preserve them, it is definitely worth putting out a little money for. I pick gallons and gallons of blueberries each summer. I will usually spend $30 doing so but I stick them in the freezer and add them to smoothies, oatmeal and desserts for the rest of the year. It is a money saver overall. I also pick strawberries every summer. I love to make Jam. Again, it requires a little investment now but saves money in the long run.
  5. Yard Sales- Give yourself a small budget ($5-$10) and see what treasures you can find. This also works well at thrift stores and rummage sales.
  6. Go to the County Fair. This can be pretty cheap. It is less than $15 to get an all day pass to rides and special events. If you pack your own food and don’t really care about games, that is a great deal for a day of fun!
  7. Host an outdoor potluck dinner party. Keep things simple and have everyone contribute and this is a cheap way to entertain. (more on entertaining on a budget in another post)
  8. Check out the local wine trail. You can sample wines for free at many wineries and it is only a couple of dollars for several tastes at the rest.
  9. Go out for ice cream at your favorite local spot.


Hope this gave you a few ideas to add to your own summer adventure list! Please share your favorite free or cheap way to enjoy the summer in the comments section.


Lunch. May 21, 2015

Filed under: Lunch,Meal Plan — Jessica @ 8:00 am
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After covering Breakfast last week, we are talking about Lunch today. Much like breakfast, I try to keep my lunch pretty healthy and hassle free. I actually pretty much never eat lunch at home. During the week I am working and we are on more of a brunch/snack/dinner schedule on the weekends. My lunch needs to be something that packs up easily, travels well and does not require a lot of fuss to be ready to eat. Tiff will often take dinner leftovers for lunch but it is not always my favorite. Once in a while they are a nice option but I often find them to be “too heavy” for a mid-work day meal.

When the weather is nice, I often take salads with a variety of toppings. When it is colder, I will take soup in a screw tight container (mason jars work well). More than actual recipes for lunches, I stick with a formula. I am always sure to have protein, fiber, a fruit and vegetable and a snack or treat.

The chart below shows some common choices in each category-

Protein chart

I pick something from each category and build my lunch like that. When I take salads or soup, several categories are combined into one. I often have more than one vegetable and protein packed in my lunch. I usually take too much food with me and don’t eat it all, but I would rather have some extra at the end of the day instead of being lured to the junk in the vending machines.

Next week- Snacks!


Local Adventures- Public Day at Southern Tier Brewery. May 20, 2015

One of my very favorite things to do in the summer months is spend the afternoon at Southern Tier Brewery. It is less than 10 minutes from my house and full of my favorite things- good food, friends and beer. Going to the brewery to hang out is fun anytime but in the nicer months they have several events at the brewery. I didn’t get any really great pictures because I only had my Iphone but I will do better next time.



This past weekend, the brewery hosted their annual Public Day. We lucked out with the weather because it was supposed to rain all afternoon. Despite a few light showers in the first half hr we were there, it cleared up and we stayed dry. Public Day is a little different than their other events in that they offer a much larger selection of brews on tap. You buy tickets ($1 each) and they give you a small glass (4-5 oz) with their logo on it. Each taste (glass full) cost 1 ticket. I believe there were 7 different areas each with a unique selection of locally brewed beer.  Over 20 different beers were offered! This is a great opportunity to try new varieties you have been curious about. I stuck with some old favorites and tried a few new ones. My favorite new ones were the Tangier and the Dephunk. The Tangier is an IPA brewed with tangerines. I love IPA and the tangerines made it so refreshing. Perfect for summer. I have seen the 12packs available at local stores and was glad to test it out before committing. The DePhunk was a Belgian style sour ale brewed with cherries and absolutely delicious. I don’t think they sell this regularly but it was a nice treat.



While their regular kitchen/menu is not available during special events, they always have good food.  It was hot dogs with a variety of fancy topping combinations on Public Day.  As picky as I am about the meat we eat, I truly love hot dogs on the grill. Add out of the ordinary toppings to the mix and I am 100% sold. I got the “cheese dog”, which seems boring, but was not your average cheese dog. The fresh off the grill hot dog was topped with homemade pimento cheese and lots of crumbled bacon. They served the hot dogs on oversized buns so there was plenty of room for holding the toppings in and not making a huge mess. The hot dog was so good- I am still thinking about it! I did try the blue cheese potato salad, which I was really excited about, but it was rather disappointing and I threw most of it away.


There is always live music on their outdoor stage at brewery events and this one was no exception.  It was just one band this time but there is often a variety. Nice music in a beautiful outdoor venue always just feels like summer to me. (This picture was taken at the very beginning of the event, this space quickly filled in)


Despite not having children of my own yet, one of my favorite things about the brewery is that it is family friendly. There is room for children to play and the people are generally pretty great. There are always lots of dogs at the brewery too, which I personally find much more exciting than babies.

The next event at the brewery is The Great American Picnic on May 31st starting at noon. This is always one of my favorite events because they feature many popular local bands playing throughout the day. Cookout food, beer, wine and STBC merchandise are available for sale. You are also always welcome to pack your own picnic and enjoy it there if you don’t want to buy food. The brewery really is a local gem and you should certainly check it out if you have never been. Even if you are not a drinker, the atmosphere is just so nice and relaxing.



Garden Update 5/19/15. May 19, 2015

Things are really coming along in our gardening endeavors. Many of the seedlings pictured in my last post have since been moved out of their little pod planters and into larger plastic cups. The tomato and squash plants were too big to stay in their original containers and it was still too early to get them in the ground in our area, so this was a necessary transition. The eggplant and peppers are outgrowing their space too but I think I am just going to leave them until we can plant them in the ground this weekend.



After transplanting the tomatoes and squash, I started some herbs in our mini greenhouse. I started lavender, lots of basil, dill, oregano, rosemary, mint and thyme. I don’t usually start my herbs early but I also don’t usually have the best of luck growing herbs, so I am hoping planting them early will help in that area. The other vegetables we are planting are all things that can be planted directly into the soil. (With the exception of potatoes, more on that below)


I talked a little bit about making some investments in gardening tools or equipment this year in my last post. I showed the simple raised bed we built. The other major change this year was buying a greenhouse. It isn’t anything fancy and we bought it on sale at Big Lots for around $50, but it has made such a difference. The shelves are built right into the frame and the plastic exterior just slides over the top. It is big enough to stand up fully. I was a little worried about it’s sturdiness but it just survived a storm that took down trees and closed several streets in our town, so I think it’s pretty sturdy. The plants have grown so much since we moved them in there. Beyond it doing its normal green house thing to help the plants grow, it is also great protection from the weather, so we don’t have to worry about our plants being drowned like last year. Many of our plants will be transitioned to garden beds and other areas soon but we plan to keep the greenhouse up and see how growing tomatoes and other containers vegetables in there goes. The weather can be so unpredictable and I feel that the greenhouse might really be the secret to better yields. We are also hoping it can help us extend our growing season a little when the weather starts to cool. I will certainly keep everyone updated but I really think it is worth it based just on what I have seen so far.


The other major development in our gardening adventure was the planting of potatoes. Strangely, I had never planted potatoes before, despite hearing how easy they are to grow. We decided to give a try this year. My Grandma generously brought us a bunch of seed potatoes to get started. I cut them into chunks, being sure each chunk had an “eye” on it because that is where the new potatoes grow from. I also read that it is important to keep the chunks big enough because the old potato feeds the new potatoes so they can grow. From what I have read, potatoes can be grown most anywhere and are great options for container gardening as long as you do it properly. Our original plan was to build potato towers but we decided to just use some of our 5 gallon buckets and get started. The buckets had holes drilled in the bottom from previous garden endeavors.


We put about 3-4 inches of dirt in the bottom of each bucket. We have 4 different kinds of potatoes, so we did a bucket for each and 2 for the red potatoes since we had the most of those (and they are our favorite). We placed the potato chunks in eye side up and covered them with another inch or so of dirt.



Once all the pieces were covered, we watered them and put the buckets in the greenhouse. As the potatoes grow out of the dirt, you just keep adding more dirt a little at a time and the potatoes will keep growing. If/when our potatoes outgrow the bucket, we are just going to cut the bottom off from another bucket and stack it on top.

This coming weekend is Memorial Day and we plan to get things in the actual ground. Can’t wait until everything starts growing!


Weekly Meal Plan 5/18/15. May 18, 2015

Filed under: Meal Plan — Jessica @ 8:00 am

Weekends get so much more exciting when the weather improves. I can appreciate a winter weekend on the couch watching Netflix, but I really love nice weather weekends so much more. There is just so much going on. Looking at my planner, every weekend through the end of July already has something fun penciled in. This past weekend was filled with volunteering, breakfast and catching up with a friend, an afternoon at the brewery, a matinee movie & ice cream cone sister date on Sunday afternoon, and getting myself ready for the week ahead. I will be doing a new “local adventures” post on my afternoon at the brewery later this week.

It’s going to be a busy week so we are keeping the menu simple.


Monday- Leftovers

Tuesday- French Dip sandwiches, Carrot & Celery Sticks

Wednesday-Coconut Chicken Fingers , Sweet Potato Oven Fries

Thursday- We are going to Third Thursday and will either pack a picnic or pick up food somewhere, depending on time

Friday- Homemade Pizza

Saturday- Leftovers

Sunday- Chicken and Vegetable Kabobs on grill, Pasta Salad, Fresh Fruit


Living Well On Less. May 15, 2015

Filed under: living well on less — Jessica @ 8:00 am
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Living well is something I am really committed to. A beautiful home, nights at the theater, good food, cocktails with my friends, travel, clothes that make me feel beautiful and hobbies are all important to me. These things can all get quite expensive but they don’t have to be. Learning to live well on less was a necessity in my 20’s when I only really had enough money for bills and the things I really needed. There was rarely extra money for fun things and when there was I wanted to make it go as far as possible. Luckily, I have a little  more money now but the habit of making it go as far as possible stuck.


Over the years of practicing living well on less, I have become quite good at it. I have learned that it is about having priorities- cutting back where you can so you can indulge when it matters or even just when you really want to. I use these guidelines in pretty much every area of my life and I will be sharing some of my tips, tricks and strategies with all of you in a new blog post series. Every Friday I will be sharing ideas on how to save money and still live a good life. I will cover a variety of topics- clothing, home decor, household and cleaning products, entertainment,entertaining, community events, online shopping etc. If there are any topics that you would like me to cover, please let me know in the comments.

I already wrote a post about eating healthy on a budget if you are interested in some tips before the posts start next week!


Breakfast. May 14, 2015

Filed under: Breakfast — Jessica @ 8:00 am
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You guys get to know pretty much everything we eat for dinner each week through my Weekly Meal Plan posts, but what do I eat the rest of the day? I thought I would do posts on my usual breakfast, lunch and snack choices so you can see how it all fits together. Our dinners can be a bit more indulgent sometimes and I try to balance them out with lighter meals the other nights and healthy breakfast, lunch and snack choices. While I try to add a lot of variety to our dinner menu, I eat only a few different things for the other meals about 90% of the time.

Today, I am talking about breakfast. I actually really love eating a healthy breakfast. It feels like a great start to a day of healthy choices. I will often make up a big dish of something like my Easy Egg Bake, Banana Bread Breakfast Quinoa or Baked Pumpkin Spice Oatmeal and eat it throughout the week. I find it easier not to have to think about it on sleepy or rushed weekday mornings. If I haven’t thought ahead and made a big dish of something, I have a few go-to choices~

1. Oatmeal- I used to eat a lot of steel cut oats  but since cutting back on gluten, I now use the Bob’s Redmill Gluten Free Rolled Oats. I make my oatmeal base with milk replacing at least half of the water called for for some added protein. I also add cinnamon, vanilla extract and just a little bit of salt. (I will occasionally do savory oats and omit the cinnamon and vanilla). I always add fruit- sometimes I will add frozen berries while the oats are cooking, otherwise I top the oats with fresh fruit once they are in the bowl. Sliced bananas, fresh berries or any diced stone fruit all work well. Dried fruit added while the oats are cooking work if you have nothing else. The fiber in the fruit and oats need a little additional fat and protein to keep me satiated. I always top my oats with some diced nuts and a spoonful of nut butter. If I am feeling indulgent I will add things like a little butter or brown sugar, chocolate or white chocolate chips, shredded coconut or whatever else I might find in the cupboard. You can make a big batch of oats over the weekend and reheat by adding a little water and microwaving before adding toppings.


2. Greek Yogurt Bowl- We always have a big tub of plain greek yogurt in the fridge and usually a few flavored single serve tubs of it. If I am using plain yogurt, I will add a bit of honey and vanilla extract. If I am using one of the flavored tubs it isn’t necessary to add these. I top the yogurt with fresh fruit and a bit of granola. Granola is usually really calorie dense and I try to be aware of my portion size. If I do not have granola, nuts make a great substitute.

3. Waffle Sandwiches- I have recently started making my own waffles but frozen waffles will work just fine. I was always sure to find ones with a simple whole foods ingredients list. I toast 2 waffles and slather one side with peanut butter and the other with jelly and make a sandwich. Sometimes I will mash the bananas right onto the sandwich and forgo the jelly. If you do not add fruit to the sandwich, serve a piece on the side along with your milk of choice for added protein.

4. Scrambled Eggs w/ Veggies & Cheese- We always have some kind of cooked veggie in the fridge. I will often cook up a mix of onion, peppers and mushrooms during my prep cooking and just keep them on hand. Pretty much any vegetable will work. I add the pre cooked veggies to the pan and warm them up, add 2 eggs and stir while they cook. Once the eggs are almost cooked, I add some cheese- again, pretty much any kind will work. Serve with a slice of buttered whole grain toast for extra fiber.

5.Toast + Protein- This can go a few different directions. I really love toast and I am pretty much always excited to eat it. If I am in the mood for something sweet, I will top toasted gluten free whole grain bread with nut butter, mashed banana and drizzle with honey. If I am in the mood for something a little more savory, avacado toast is where it’s at. I smash half of a ripe avacado on a piece of toasted bread and top with a fried egg. I will usually add a piece of fruit to the side.

DSC01825That’s pretty much it! We eat a big brunch on Sunday but these are my weekday/Saturday standards. All of these breakfasts provide a good balance of nutrients, whole grains, fiber and protein and will keep you full until lunch time. Eating a healthy breakfast is  the great way to start the day.

What is your go-to weekday breakfast?