2013 – Year in Review… just a little late.

happy-new-year-banner

Remember last year, when I said that 2013 just felt like it would be a big year? It was, and then some.  So let’s catch up, shall we?

In January, we started looking for an apartment closer to the farm and saw some pretty dismal prospects. We weren’t planning to buy at all, but came out one weekend to check out a promising short sale his father had already toured, which began our Adventures in Short Sales (read more here).

In February, still waiting on the short sale but knowing we would be leaving the city in a couple of months, I moved out of my apartment and into his officially. It was wonderful to be free of my nightmarish roommate, but living with your significant other had its own ups and downs. After living on my own for the last few years, I had to learn to be less selfish (still a work in progress) and appreciate my dear boyfriend’s quirks.

In March, I came home to flowers… and the news that the bank notified us that we had gotten the short sale. It was crunch time, y’all. We had to be out of that apartment and into our new house in a matter of weeks. A lot of things changed in a very short period of time, and I said goodbye to my job and the city I only thought I’d ever leave to move somewhere that never sees temperatures below 50. Very clever, life.

Summer hit hard and fast, and we worked what felt like 8 days a week at our full time jobs and out at the farm. Saturdays and Sundays were devoted to selling the produce we’d spent all week picking. I was literally up to my elbow in thorny branches and wearing Eau de Bugspray exclusively. On the up side, I had all of the cherry tomatoes I could ever want… and I wanted to eat a lot.

The great relationship I started in early 2012 blossomed, and in October of 2013, my better half asked me to be his blushing bride. I hate to ruin the fairy tale, but it wasn’t such a huge surprise. We’d talked about it a lot, been ring shopping, and I’d even offered on several occasions to give him a few hours to himself in case there was anything he wanted to do (HINT, WINK). I knew it was coming, but I didn’t know when and was no less excited when it actually happened. On the last weekend in October, we went for a walk at the park district near our house and when I turned around to find him on one knee, I was glad I’d changed out of the glow-in-the-dark skeleton hoodie I’d worn to the Halloween parade earlier that afternoon.

It’s been a whirlwind since then (we even went to Europe!), and while we’ve covered a few basics (dress, photographer, DJ, save the dates), there is so much left to do. We are throwing a rather large wedding and keeping costs reasonable is tough. Lots of DIY, friends, and patience will get us through. We’ll be looking to grow the farm this year at the same time, which I expect will present all of the challenges we could possibly need. Someday we do hope to make a living off of the farm and finally leave the office for good, but we have 2014 to get through (and try not to forget to enjoy!) first. We have a lot of life planning to do, but with my best dude by my side, we can take on anything.

 

I like it. How’s your 2014 looking?

Just can’t wait to get on the… blog, again.

This summer and fall were a thing unlike any other thing, and I wish I’d documented it better.  When we weren’t working, we were selling produce at the market, or picking produce at the farm, or getting produce loaded into and out of the truck, or… sleeping (sometimes).  We were also just getting adjusted because I fur’real moved 50 miles away from where I’ve spent the last 6 years of my life, started a new job in a new industry, and generally shook everything up while pretending like it was going to be no big deal.

We decided very simply and quickly to move out of the city and start the farm.  It was just something that seemed right, and I still think it was.  I’ve moved way more time than an average person – from Illinois to Florida as a kid, to my college town to Chicago back to my mom’s house in Florida back to my college town back to Chicago – and I think I just didn’t take this move that seriously.  I mean, it’s only 50 miles.  I can get on the train and be back to the city in an hour and a half.  But those are a lot of miles for people who only leave the city to go to the airport.  It sucked finding out who disappeared from my life when I left the city.  There are people I considered good friends who I haven’t heard much from since we left.  And it’s really tough, as an adult, to make new friends and connections with people, especially when you’re a total weirdo. It bummed me out.

But honestly, and I don’t know if anyone else feels this way, living in the city made me feel empty. I had very few hobbies or interests outside of work.  Coming home to watch TV and fall asleep on the couch still felt exhausting.  I wasn’t into expensive restaurants or fancy cocktails.  What I loved about my neighborhood was that it was green and quiet and homey.

Since we’ve been out here? I do stuff! Real things! I started making homemade soap (hot and cold process), which led to expansion into sugar scrub, and body lotion, and lip balm.  I started selling my products at our farm stand and while it didn’t make me a millionaire, it was a hobby that at least paid for itself.  My products are now being carried in a small vintage store in our town, so that’s exciting.

And just when I thought things were slowing down, he popped the question. We’re gettin’ hitched!  He’s making an honest woman out of me in September of this year.  I downloaded The Knot app a week or so after we got engaged and almost barfed when I saw the “to-do” list they provide.  I was already a month behind, according to the internet wedding gods.  We’ve taken care of some of the fun details in the last couple months: I bought a dress, we hired a DJ, and we picked a photographer. We ordered ‘Save the Dates’ tonight, so he’s officially stuck with me. It says so on customized paper.

And the internet is stuck with me, too. Wedding jabber and all.

Recipe Book: Zucchini Bread

I’m not much of a baker.  When we were little, my sister and I used to bake things we found in a Better Homes & Gardens cookbook from the 70s, but since then my baking has been sparse.  It’s not that I don’t get it or that I can’t bake.  Everyone can bake just like everyone can cook.  Read the directions, follow the directions, and bake until done.  It’s just that it doesn’t give me the same tingly rush it gives, say, my sister, who absolutely loves to bake and can actually replicate things she finds on Pinterest (seriously, you guys, she made this turkey-shaped cake for Thanksgiving a few years ago and I’m still amazed).  But when our zucchinis started growing fast and hard, they had to go somewhere.  What’s more delicious than a fine zucchini bread?

Of course, in order to bake a zucchini bread from scratch, I needed a few things: zucchini (check!) and… everything other than zucchini.  That’s right – I didn’t even own a bag of sugar, let alone flour, baking powder, baking soda, vanilla, or oil.  We don’t even usually have eggs in our house.  I also didn’t own loaf pans to actually bake the bread in.  So I went shopping and came home ready to bake my brains out.

I got a recipe from my boyfriend’s mom, and ended up mixing it with a recipe I found online:

  • 3 cups flour
  • 2.5 cups sugar
  • 2 cups grated zucchini
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup oil (I used vegetable)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3 teaspoons cinnamon
  • half teaspoon salt (I used sea salt)

 

Pre-heat your oven to 325 degrees.  Spray (or butter) your 8″x4″ loaf pans and toss a little layer of flour in there.  I know this sounds like an unnecessary step when you have nonstick pans, but I neglected to flour in my second batch and the whole bottom of my loaf broke off.  Bummer.  So better safe than sorry as long as you’ve got that flour out anyway.

Sift flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon together in one bowl.  In another bowl, mix eggs, sugar, and oil.  Slowly (ever so slowwwwly) mix the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until you have one big loaf blob.  At this point, you might be like “Hot damn, how is this going to pour into the loaf pans?”  Not to worry. Add the grated zucchini, which should wet it back down a bit and make it pourable.  Pour evenly between your two pans.  The batter should fill about two-thirds of the pan. Don’t worry, it will rise.

Put into the oven and bake for about 60 minutes, or until a knife or toothpick comes out clean (meaning without goo on the end).  Take those suckers out and let them cool for about 10 minutes in the pans, then gently remove them and let cool completely on a wire rack. If you have trouble getting them out of their pans, lightly draw a knife around the borders and pry a little bit on the corners.  Should come out okay.  If not… zucchini bread without a bottom is still just as delicious.  Voila!

There are some variations you can play with here… and I have.  I’ve made the recipe several times now and tweaked it a bit each time. You can add a teaspoon of vanilla.  I used 2 teaspoons of cinnamon and 1 teaspoon of pumpkin pie seasoning.  I used brown sugar instead of white.  I’ve added a cup of dried cranberries or a cup of raisins.  Want a lower fat option?  Replace the oil with applesauce.  The whole cup, half a cup, or even a quarter. For real.  It does create a slightly different loaf texture and lengthens the baking time, but sometimes we make trade-offs for a healthier alternative.  And for a tasty vegan option, go ahead and omit the eggs.  Seriously.  That’s it.  And it’s awesome.  My boyfriend’s vegan sister-in-law gave it a serious thumbs up.

Are you a baker?  What are your secrets?

 

Ch-Ch-Changes…

Hi friends,

I’m making some changes around the site, including an entirely new-and-old name.  I started this blog last fall as thebarncat.com, to which I have returned.  You might be asking “Whyyyy?”- – or you probably aren’t, but I’ll tell you anyway.  I wanted to write about lots of things, but they didn’t seem like they fit the ‘theme’ of the blog.  I felt like a big phony.  And if you’re faking on your own blog, what’s the point?

Phony

I want to be more honest and open, and to that end I’ll tell you something real: I don’t go by my real name on this blog. OMG. And I think that’s OK.  I’m no Jane Smith and I’m not really building a personal ‘brand’ here (well, not now anyway), I’m just writing about stuff that I think is cool.  So here it is – sometimes you end up returning to your roots.  Mine just happen to include cat pictures.

Enjoy.

Precious Moments.

I’m sitting on my couch right now, watching an episode of Raising Hope on my cable provider’s On Demand service, and I can honestly say I couldn’t be happier unless I was also shoveling a huge bowl of mint chocolate chip ice cream (the green kind) into my face that won’t give me gastrointestinal distress. Holy crap, you guys. I know we moved out here to farm and that was sort of the whole point, but honestly I’ve never looked forward to winter more. And I hate winter.

GGPreciousMoments_017I’m being a huge baby. Or am I? I’m coming up on 90 days at my new job and it’s still a constant daily struggle to keep track of everything going on and figure out how to do all the things I still don’t know how to do. After work I hit the gym with a coworker for about a hour, then come home and eat dinner with my boyfriend before heading over to the farm for a few hours of picking, sorting, and swatting bugs. Then we come home and go to bed. The next day, we start again. On weekends, we get up early and go out to the farm to get things ready for the market. Then we work the farm stand until about 3:00, load up and back to the farm to unload. We eat dinner and go to bed. Some days, like this one, are gloriously inactive (after work and gym) and I cherish them.

But don’t get me wrong. I’m happy to be where I am. I’m happy that we are farming and selling and living in the suburbs. I like it all. But we are crazy busy. There are days (sometimes weeks) where I only open my laptop to look up a recipe or check on something for my mostly-neglected Tupperware business. I’m way behind on my memes, y’all. And I really miss having time for blogging. But I feel a certain (large) level of guilt about wanting an escape sometimes. I feel like I need an excuse to stay home and veg out for a few precious hours. Is this how it feels to have kids?

How do you deal with the stress that comes from a busy life?

Individual Insurance: The Cost of Security

When I started the application and interview process for my new job, I knew there was a 90-day waiting period for health insurance and benefits to kick in. I was lucky to have my old insurance to be extended through the month of April, but since they didn’t offer Cobra I knew that come May I’d need to figure something out for myself.

Like many of my peers, I was without insurance for years. I used my university health center during college, but after moving to Chicago at age 22 the health insurance monthly premium at my small office was way out of my price range. Most of the other ladies I worked with had insurance through a spouse, or like me, not at all. Fresh out of college and feeling immortal, I was totally fine with it. I never went to the doctor for check-ups and I dealt with my lady-business at a free clinic in a terrible part of town. I had no money and no assets. A single emergency would have wiped me out.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become way more fearful of being without health insurance. Though I’ve yet to have a regular doctor (I swear I’ll get on that), I rest easy knowing that if something terrible happens, I’d have some sort of safety net. In a new house in a new town in a new life with a new farm full of old, rusty things, I knew that I needed to get some individual insurance to cover the gap.

gapingvoid.com

gapingvoid.com

As the end of April loomed, I began shopping for a low-cost emergency-only policy. I’m lucky enough to not have any chronic conditions that need regular care and I’d dealt with my annual lady exam before my old insurance lapsed. I considered some individual plans from Aetna, United Healthcare, Humana… you name it, I checked it out. But I kept coming back to Blue Cross Blue Shield. I’d had BCBS for several years and felt comfortable with them. Their website was easy to navigate and the plans were affordable. When I finally pulled the trigger, I spent just under $300 for a 3-month PPO policy with a low deductible. They have a huge network and I know my nearest hospital is covered. The expense totally sucked at a time when I was without a real income, but I’m lucky enough to have some savings to cover it. Lots of people aren’t, and that’s another discussion worth having.  After speaking with a few other new girls at my job, I discovered they had all done exactly the same thing.  Small world, BCBSIL.

 

Are you, or have you ever been without insurance?

Let’s do this dirty laundry…

It’s an understatement to say that I missed having in-unit laundry while living in the city. In college I was lucky enough to have laundry in my various rental houses, but once I moved to the city all bets were off. My first laundry room was a dark, creepy basement with an actual single cob-webbed bulb hanging from the ceiling. The next one was on the first floor, but of an adjoining building, requiring me to lug all of my laundry down the stairs, out into the alley, back in another gate, and down a narrow outside corridor. I had another that was down a creaky staircase and infested with mosquitos. And I had the pleasure of paying $2-3 per load, to boot.

Our house didn’t come with a washer/dryer (or any other appliances), so we’ve been doing laundry at my boyfriend’s parents’ house since moving to the suburbs in April. It was super cool of them to extend the invitation to us, but there were some down sides to the arrangement:

  1. It’s hard to time laundry on our visits. We’ll often bring more than one load, so we need to be over for more than a couple of hours, but not busy doing farm work or another task so we can check on, switch over, and fold our laundry.
  2. I think we both still feel kinda weird bringing home laundry, so we don’t do it often enough. This has resulted in an enormous, never-ending laundry pile.
  3. Laying out your unmentionables to air-dry is super awkward at your boyfriend’s parents’ house.

 

So where did that leave us on this lovely Memorial Day weekend? Ready to buy a washer and dryer, dudes. The real question was: do we go with old faithful in the form of a top loader on the shallow end of the price pool, or do we go bigger, newer, fancier, and full of more buttons? We found ourselves torn between the two options. While we could pick up a lower-end traditional set for a very reasonably price, we were also interested in an entry-level front-loading stackable set that would run us about 50% more.

We pinned down a few important items:

  1. Price. We obviously couldn’t go over the entry-level stackable set price-wise, but we could save a bit going with the lower-end traditional set.
  2. Resale value. If we moved in the next few years, which set would look better to a potential buyer if we chose to leave them in the house?
  3. Reliability. The electronic panel on the stackable set was a huge concern to us. More buttons and knobs mean more opportunities for something to go horribly wrong.
  4. Livability. Our bedroom is right next to the laundry room. We didn’t want to buy a machine that was going to keep one of us up at night or wake us up in the morning if we were running loads of laundry at odd hours.
  5. Enjoyment. This is a luxury item, after all. We are going to use this stuff all the time, and why not enjoy what you own? Which set would we want if price were not an issue?

 

We decided to sleep on it and after talking about it more the next day, we went back to the store with a certain set in mind. We’d made our responsible decision and we just needed to pull the trigger. Then we changed our minds.

set

So which ones did we choose? Ta-Da! The front-loading stackable set. Not the most frugal decision we could have made, but we found ourselves in agreement. After talking it to death, we decided that the extra money was worth it over the next few years in enjoyment and livability. Although we plan to set them side by side in our laundry room since I’m such a shorty-pants, we also felt that the more modern, possibly-stackable set would be more attractive to a future buyer than the lower-end top-loader. Personally, I’m stoked. Any in-house laundry is better than none at all, but I’m so excited to try out my shmancy new laundry setup tomorrow. Here’s lookin’ at you, giant laundry pile.

Have you purchased a washer and dryer lately? There are like a zillion options, so share your thoughts. And tell me your horrifying laundry experiences in the comments, folks!

Employment City. Population: Me!

As you know if you’ve been a reader for a hot minute, I had no job when I moved out to the suburbs in March. No. Job. Nojob. No income. Nothing. I mean really, who does that?

Well, that’s actually not completely true. When I gave notice at my job in the city, they asked that I stay on for a couple of weeks on a part-time basis to finish a project and help the new girl transition into my role. I spent three weeks going into the city two days per week and working five hours per day, which wasn’t the worst thing that could happen to me. I got to hang out with my sister and make a few bucks while looking for employment out here. But the arrangement was temporary and after three weeks had run its course. I still didn’t have a new job and my bank account was groaning under the weight of our new house.

job

http://explodingdog.com/

In the weeks leading up to our big move, I applied for several positions similar to what I was doing in fundraising. It just seemed like an automatic move. But the more jobs I applied for, the more descriptions I read, the more I combed through my cover letter, the more I knew I had absolutely no desire to continue in the nonprofit world. None. In fact, I dreaded hearing from any of the jobs I applied for. Clearly, it was time to make a change. The problem? After working in the nonprofit sector for most of my career, I honestly had no idea how to look for a job in the corporate world. If I couldn’t find it on npo.net, it may as well not exist.

I updated my resume on CareerBuilder, but was underwhelmed by the options posted in my area (understatement). I applied for a few positions here and there, but then I saw it: a job I might actually be qualified for that I might actually want to do. I applied via CareerBuilder and waited… for about thirty minutes, when I received a phone call from the placement agency that had posted the ad. They liked me; maybe not for that job, but for something. And something was certainly better than the nothing I was quickly becoming accustomed to in my job search.

I went for an interview at the placement agency a couple of days later and discussed an opportunity at a large retail chain headquartered about 10 miles from our new house. It seemed too good to be true. I was expecting to commute at least 30-45 minutes each way, so the 20 minute drive from home was perfect. Further, it was exactly what I asked for after my last job: clean, corporate, and a good work/life balance.

Long story short, I went in for three nerve-wracking interviews over most of April. And in the end, I got a job. I’m now on week 2, day 2 of my new corporate life. Really, I dig it. After several years in positions that offered no training, no assistance, and no one who could answer a basic question, I like that over 100 other people do the same job I do. I like that I can ask any question I can possibly think of and someone will know the answer. We have kitchens with microwaves that aren’t from 1987. We have snack drawers. Guys, we have coffee machines. Machines… that’s plural. Bliss.

So that’s that, for now. I’m still in training (training!) so I haven’t really started working yet. It remains to be seen how I’ll feel when I’m being given actual responsibility, but until then I’m enjoying soaking up the culture as well as the information. Next step? Making some friends. After a month and a half, it’s getting mighty lonely out here in the ‘burbs.

 

How did you get your last job?

May ipsy GlamBag – Spring Fling

Another month, another fabulous ipsy GlamBag. Seriously, you guys. I know everyone has their own preferences and I’ve read plenty of disgruntled ipsy reviews, but I’ve gotten nothing but awesome so far. This is my third month with ipsy and although I’ve loved it each and every month, I’ve neglected to review any of them. It ends here, folks.

IMG_5091 IMG_5100This month’s bag was “Spring Fling” themed and contained five items as well as the adorable bag. I loved the colors on this chevron-print bag and will totally use it on the regular. Orange is kinda my thing and this bag delivers. I’ve gotten several Juice Beauty products over the last few months, and I’m super excited about this full size Reflecting Gloss in Fig. Frosty pink just isn’t for me, and I appreciate a darker lip gloss. The gloss factor is non-sticky and subtle, and doesn’t give me ‘stripper mouth’ as my college boyfriend would have so eloquently put it. The scent is candy sweet, but not intolerable. It is summer after all. If you can’t hang with the candied scents, the rest of this bag won’t be your deal.

IMG_5097Keeping with the sweet trend, the full size roll-on Pacifica perfume comes in Island Vanilla and smells not unlike the perfume I bought at Claire’s when I was 12 (memories!). I probably wouldn’t wear this sweet scent on date night with my manfriend, but I’d wear it on a sunny summer day while eating pastel-colored cupcakes in a vintage dress on a picnic blanket in a field of wildflowers. It’ll happen.

The weird-looking circular caucasian flesh-colored item is a tiny tin of Yaby concealer. A couple of months ago I received a rectangular metal box that came with two magnetic tins of eyeshadow. This tiny tin will accompany those eyeshadows in my metal box. An interesting concept, and plenty cute once you understand what the hell it is.

IMG_5093The last two items fit in perfectly with the theme, too. You know how much I love a good nail polish, and this formaldehyde-free, purple Zoya number is an awesome summer color. I was actually secretly admiring the shade on a coworker earlier today (more on that later!) and was super stoked to come home and receive a similar shade in my mailbox. Those GlamBag gods know all. A shimmery body butter by Pacifica in Crushed Coconut Pearl is perfect for a sundress kinda day, as long as I can keep the bees away from me. I had a former coworker who swore by Pacifica’s lotions (you can also find them at Target) and I will definitely be using this in the coming summer months.

 

This thing really needed my attention while I was taking photos.

This thing really needed my attention while I was taking photos.

My bag also came with a $110 credit for hairstyling tools and hair extensions at numeproducts.com. I’m still considering a clipless curling iron, but I just haven’t been able to pull the trigger yet. Maybe soon. Seriously love this month’s isy GlamBag. Wanna love it, too? Sign up here!

 

Honesty is the Best Policy

So, I’ve been away for a bit.  We’ve been busy with moving and decorating and all of the craziness that goes along with it. I’ve been job-hunting and we’ve started planting out at the farm.  We have a greenhouse with actual green things inside, and we have rows upon rows of planted seeds and seedlings sprouting up.  Things. Are. Happening.

And I’ll be honest and say that I’ve been struggling a bit with writer’s block.  When I started this blog, I was focused on saving money for our dreams. Just as our dreams are quickly becoming reality and being replaced with new ones, my personal finance focus is fading and being replaced with the new interests of my new, vastly different life.  I have been blogging pretty anonymously, but I’d like to be more real.

So the question is, where do I go from here?  While I would like to keep writing, I don’t want to feel locked into a certain subject or focus.  I want to write about the silly things that happen every day and I want to connect with my readers without having to talk about dollars and cents.  I’m considering a new online life.  I’m considering a rebrand to be more true to myself.

Fellow bloggers, how have you grown since you began blogging?  Have you ever felt locked into a certain category?  If you have re-created your online-self, how did you go about it?