Saving and Spending: Vacation Edition

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On the beach in Coronado!

We traveled to the San Diego area last week for a friend’s wedding. It wasn’t a place I’d ever particularly wanted to go, but it was such a fun trip, and I’m so glad we had the opportunity to go.

I tend to let loose when it comes to my budget on vacation, but I still try to be sort of sensible. Here are a few highlights of where we saved and where we spent:

• The flight: My husband and I had enough credit card points to cover one ticket,saving us $400 or so right off the bat. We always pack together in one large suitcase (making sure to stay under 50 lbs), saving $25 each way compared to packing separately. And, though we were very tempted to get a cab home, we sucked it up and took the subway past our house, walked through downtown, and picked up my husband’s car from his downtown office instead.

• Activities: We did a kayak and snorkel tour in La Jolla, which cost about $80 for the two of us. It was so worth it. The tour lasted more than two hours, and we got to see such cool wildlife and seascape (including about 100 bat rays all swimming together). We also went to the San Diego Zoo, which was $44 per person. Again, totally worth it. We were there for 5 hours and didn’t even see everything! The rest of our activities were free and mostly consisted of walking and swimming in various places. So, we might have spent quite a bit in this category, but I feel satisfied with it.

• The food: A big budget buster, starting with my sudden and undeniable hunger as soon as we got to the airport for our flight out. I bought a cupcake, a coffee, and a sandwich all before taking off! We ate free hotel breakfast three days out of four but went out for several meals. Of course, two meals were covered as part of the wedding, and I ate leftovers for one meal.

Vacationing isn’t cheap. But that’s part of the beauty of growing your income: you can go snorkeling in caves on the coast of California, see koala bears, and eat tacos and waffles at the street fair without worrying about being able to pay your bills. If you ever get the chance to go to San Diego, do it.

A Little Update :)

How’s it going out there, world?

Over here, things are different than they were when we left off. I’m now working in marketing and communications for a school, pretty much my dream job (at least for this stage of my career). The tomatoes are blushing out on the vine, and I tried out my new ice cream maker at our Independence Day indoor “cookout” last night.

I may be a little biased, but I must say that the ice cream – and the pie served with it – was pretty darn delicious.

Anywho, I’m going to try to get back on this blogging train. The focus (or lack thereof) will be the same – cooking, crafts, frugal living. All the good stuff in life.

Things I didn’t know about Atlanta

Sunday will mark four weeks since we’ve moved to the Big Peach. I know nobody calls it that, but if New York and New Orleans can have nicknames like that, so can my city, darn it!

I’ve been doing some exploring on my days off, which almost always involves challenging myself to get from wherever I am back to my house without using the interstate or checking Google Maps.

I’ve always know a little bit about Atlanta, having lived in Georgia my whole life, but I’ve already discovered quite a few new things.

• We are so fortunate to have both Your DeKalb Farmers Market and the Buford Highway Farmers Market. I had been to DeKalb before, but Wednesday was my first trip to Buford Highway. Wow! Any international product you could imagine.
For those of you living outside of Atlanta, “farmers market” isn’t really an accurate term for either of these. Think “international everything market.”

• There is seriously a gentlemen’s club every two or three blocks. I live within 1.5 miles of two of them. One offers haircuts and car washes. No joke.

• I’m not the only one who wishes MARTA (public transit) would step it up. In almost every conversation I’ve had about traffic or getting from place to place, someone has brought up how limited MARTA is. It only has four rail lines, and they pretty much follow the interstates. There are a grand total of four stops outside the perimeter, and three of them are along the same line. Of those three stops, two aren’t in operation after 7 p.m. Oh, and the trains only come every 15 minutes; every 20 minutes during the week. What can I do to make this better (or encourage the powers that be to do so)?

• Most churches in downtown/midtown only have services at 11 a.m. We went to North Avenue Presbyterian last week, which we really enjoyed. We picked this church because it’s near where I work and has a service outside of our operating hours (10 a.m. to 5 p.m.).

Best hobby ever…

Kale babies!

There is truly no better hobby than gardening.
I’ve had a small container garden since May 2011. I’ve grown tomatoes, jalapeno, and bell peppers, strawberries, kale, spinach, garlic, broccoli and quite a few herbs, including basil, rosemary, thyme, parsley, cilantro and lavender.
So why do I think this is the greatest hobby on earth?
For one thing, it occupies the mind and the body. Especially in today’s desk-job-dominated world, it feels so good to get your hands in dirt and do something physical.
Gardening isn’t just cheap. It can actually save you money. If your garden is prolific enough, your fruits and veggies will more than make up for any costs you’ve incurred.
And for a sense of accomplishment, you just can’t beat it! You start off with a seed, then get a baby plant. Then the plant grows into a larger plant. Then, unless you’re growing for the leaves, flowers bloom on those plants. Then, fruits come out of the flowers. Those fruits grow bigger and ripen until they’re ready to pick. Then, those teeny tiny seeds have become your dinner!
I will be going into these ideas, plus the story of how I started gardening, in further posts. My apologies if this post is rambling/uninformative…lots of gardening-post ideas swimming around inside my head!

A little job update

It’s official. I’m someone who NEEDS to work.

After a week and a half of unemployment, I’m itching to have a reason to leave the house. And Monday, it looks like I’ll get it. I’m starting a part-time job as a photographer at a major tourist attraction.

To be perfectly honest, I’m not that excited about it. It’s a lower hourly wage than I made at my previous job, and it’s only part-time. Plus, there’s the nagging feeling that I really could do better.

But I’ll try to make the best of it. I’m hoping that working only part-time will give me more time to blog, sew, cook, volunteer, work on side gigs and do other things.

I thought I would enjoy my short-lived unemployment more than I did. I discovered something about myself these past two weeks (something quite obvious, actually): I get more done when I have more on my plate.

If I go to work and then have two free hours, I can usually get some sewing done, do a little cleaning and cook dinner. If I have eight free hours, I get about the same amount of work done, and I spend the rest of my time laying around. It’s not intentional; it just happens.

So, I’m headed back into the working world on Monday. I won’t be going to my dream job, but I’ll be working, and that’s important in itself.

 

Baking my way through unemployment

Since I haven’t started working yet, I’ve been spending a lot of time pursuing my hobbies. These past two weeks, I have watched a lot of Netflix. I’ve also done some gardening and some sewing.

Mostly, I’ve been cooking and baking. My husband even told me I should stay unemployed so I can do more baking. He’s enjoyed coming home to the almost-daily surprises of bread, cookies, desserts and other goodies.

Baking is a pretty inexpensive hobby. A jar of yeast costs a few dollars and lasts for quite a while. Flour and sugar are cheap, especially if you stock up when they’re on sale. With the exception of chocolate chips, I haven’t gone out and bought any special ingredients for my baking escapades. Plus, a girl’s gotta eat something. :)

For this apple braid, I used the last of a batch of sliced apples I froze last fall. We ate this for “breakfast for dinner” alongside eggs and bacon last night. It tiptoes right along that dessert/breakfast pastry line.

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Apple Braid

Filling
• 2-3 cups coarsely chopped apples
• 3 tablespoons light brown sugar
• lemon juice
• cinnamon

Dough
• 3 cups white flour
• 1/4 cup granulated sugar
• 1 tablespoon instant yeast
• 3/4 tablespoon salt
• 1 cup warm water
• 1 tablespoon vegetable or coconut oil

Glaze
• 2 tablespoons butter
• 1/4 cup milk
• 1/2 cup brown sugar
• pinch salt
• pinch nutmeg
• 1 teaspoon vanilla
• 1 1/4 cups powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Toss apples in enough lemon juice to cover (you’re not trying to make the mixture wet), then add brown sugar and cinnamon to taste. Bake in a ceramic or glass dish for about 15 minutes.

While apple mixture is baking, combine flour, sugar, yeast and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer. Add water and oil, then mix on medium-high speed for 6 to 8 minutes. Dough should pull away from sides of the bowl but still feel sticky. If your dough does not pull away from the side of the bowl, add small amounts of flour until desired consistency is achieved.

Transfer dough to a well greased baking sheet. Roll dough into a rectangular shape, using a well-floured rolling pin. Using an oiled sharp knife or pizza cutter, cut strips as illustrated in this wonderful diagram (I should have taken a photo!) The middle third of the dough should remain uncut.

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Spoon apples onto uncut portion of the dough. Criss-cross dough strips over the apples at an angle to create a braided effect.

Bake 30 to 35 minutes or until browned.

While bread is baking, heat milk and butter in a small saucepan over medium heat until butter is melted. Add salt and brown sugar, and continue cooking, stirring constantly, until brown sugar is melted. Remove from heat.

Using a sifter or a wire mesh strainer, sift powdered sugar into glaze mixture, stirring frequently.

When the bread has finished baking, move bread from baking sheet to a wire rack. Position baking sheet under the cooling rack to catch any drips, and spoon glaze all over the bread.

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Slice and enjoy.