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Here’s a Frugal Friday tip –

LIBRARY

 

Get to know/love your library.  I’m an avid reader.  I love to give the publishing industry my money, believe me.  Yet there are loads of books I’m not sure I want to spend $15-$30 on.  (Sadly these days, books are often priced so high they seem a luxury.) This is one of the many reasons why libraries are the best, and need to be supported.  I will still buy the books from authors I love – I’ve already pre-ordered Christopher Moore’s soon-to-be-released, “The Serpent of Venice” – but for books I’m not sure about, the library is the way to go.

I adore the Chicago Public Library, with it’s neighborhood branches and gorgeous downtown mega-library and it’s countless programs for adults and children, but even the library in the small town I grew up in has impressive things to offer – puppet shows for children, a huge YA section, and a plethora of magazines and kids’ books.  Your local library may offer CDs and movies, travel guides, and passes to local attractions.  The possibilities are endless – and probably completely free!

 

 

marianos

Last week, a wonderful thing happened.  The brand-new, fancy new Mariano’s on Lawrence near the Ravenswood Metra stop opened, giving the neighborhood a lovely new place to buy groceries.  (Another new Mariano’s, at Foster and Sheridan, will open 4/22.)  I’ve long been a fan of this grocery chain, but none of the Chicago locations so far have been convenient to me, so this is like a double dose of awesome.

Mariano’s, for those who haven’t been, is like if a Dominick’s and  Whole Foods had a baby.  You walk in, and there’s a piano player.  You can buy amazing organic items, but you can also get familiar brand items like Cheerios.  There are always people with samples, the wine, cheese, and beer selection is out of this world, and the hot food bars/salad bars/olive bars/specialty stations are killer.  This new Ravenswood store has a BBQ and a sushi station.  All this said, the prices are totally comparable to our other local grocery giant; Jewel-Osco.  They’re even pretty comparable to Target and, in some cases, Aldi. (Aldi is still my go-to for canned goods and pantry staples. Unless you really really care what brand your canned corn is, I don’t think Aldi can be beat.)

Accompanied by my trusty toddler, I introduced two dear friends to the wonder of Mariano’s today, and they both joyfully ran around the store, bought things, and tasted samples of the delicious new Dunkin’ Donuts Bakery Shoppe coffee and a very tasty an all-natural cereal.  (My toddler enjoyed the cereal immensely.) We were also greeted with sample cups of fresh-squeezed orange juice upon entering the store from the brand-new parking structure, and like the other branches of Mariano’s I’ve experienced, this store has the same awesome car-carts to keep the kiddos happy.  My kid “drove” a taxi cab around today, and loved it.

**Couponers, take note! I had forgotten that on Wednesdays, Mariano’s will double up to 5 coupons of $1 or less value. I had a few coupons with me, and they just doubled them, no question. As nowhere else in Chicago does any coupon doubling at all, this is epic.**

Two thumbs up, Mariano’s. I’m delighted to have you in the ‘hood just in time for summer grocery runs on foot with the stroller.  We’ll be returning. Oh boy. Will we.

 

Pickles

I want to believe that Spring is here.  Plants are peeking out from the soil, and we haven’t worn winter coats in a few days. Inspired, I decided to do some canning with my good friend Annie.  My favorite produce market had pickling cucumbers at a great price, so I picked up a load and – armed with my fancy new blue Ball canning jars – we set to work yesterday, while it rained.

imageYeah, they’re beauties. We used the Food in Jars Classic Dill Pickles recipe as a jumping-off point, though we added some red pepper and other tasty spices to kick them up a bit. (Food in Jars is my canning bible.)  We’ll have to wait a week to see if they’re any good, but I’m excited.

Yay canning. Yay.. Spring?

 

Happy Birthday to Me!

icecreamed

I turned 32 on Friday.  Age honestly doesn’t bother me, so I don’t mind admitting that – like it’s something I’m not supposed to admit? Weird. I had a lovely birthday.  My husband got me flowers and made a delicious breakfast, then we headed out to do a little IKEA and JoAnn’s shopping in the Chicago ‘burbs, had a great lunch, and headed back to the city in time to meet up with a group of friends for a drink (and my amazing brownie sundae pictured above) at Hamburger Mary’s before seeing a really charming production of one of my favorite musicals, “Into the Woods.”  The whole day was nice, even the weather.  Yesterday, I saw a movie, had lunch, and did some shopping while walking in Evanston on a gorgeous and sunny day. Not bad, huh?

 

Outside!

Finally, a warm spring day in Chicago!  After walking to a nearby restaurant for pancakes, my husband headed off to see Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and Goober and I got into the dirt.

Outside our apartment is a lovely black locust tree, the surrounding area of which is in need of serious repairs.

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Right? Geez.

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Kiddo found this branch on the way home and carried it all the way!

After getting home and changing into outdoor clothes, we hauled our garden tools – which include a plastic dump truck and a toy tractor and sidewalk chalk, obviously – downstairs and got to work.  We dug and pulled out rocks and watered existing and sprouting plants we unearthed for hours.   The kiddo was super helpful.

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“I wanna do it!”

After everything – which included burying some compost in the soil, too – the results were evident.  We’ll be planting some shade-loving plants in the soil pretty soon, but it’s still too chilly.

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MUCH better

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Happy, dirty, people.

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And bubbles. Always bubbles.

Coccinella undecimpunctata

Following our visit to the Audubon Insectarium and Butterfly Garden in New Orleans, we’re focusing on bugs and flowers for our “unit” this April.  As the Chicago weather, which is still clinging slightly to winter, turns to spring, we’ll be getting out and getting into the dirt.

On the agenda:

  • Watching “A Bug’s Life”, “Disney’s Wings of Life”, and “Microcosmos”.  Possibly also watching “The Princess and the Frog” because it’s about New Orleans, and kiddo likes frogs
  • Reading “Bugs Galore”, “Counting in the Garden”, “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” and other great books about bugs and flowers
  • Painting all sorts of bug and flower craziness
  • Visiting the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum and Butterfly Haven, and possibly/hopefully the Chicago Botanic Gardens and the gardens at the Art Institute of Chicago, too.
  • Putting the Aerogarden we got from a friend to use by planting some flower pods to see what happens
  • Doing some gardening/yardwork.  In front of our building there is a tree with a small surrounding garden area that’s been neglected for the last couple years.  We’ve talked to the downstairs neighbors, who plant beautiful things in the backyard each spring/summer, and we’ll be taking over the front yard/tree area.  I’m currently researching hearty plants that can withstand the weather around here, but we’ll be getting into the dirt soon.

I’m also taking part in the We Are Wildness 30 day Rewild your Life challenge, which is to spend 30 minutes each day outside regardless of weather, for every day in April. Today is super rainy, so we’ll see how this goes, but I’m trying!

 

 

Our Road Trip!

After 10 days, 10 states, 3200+ miles (all driven by my husband), and 1 eye injury (totally all me) we returned to Chicago on Sunday night and all fell asleep in a fully dressed pile on our bed with our cat, who missed us.

It was a great adventure!

Some Highlights –

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In the lovely city of Austin, TX.

TEXAS: After a fun overnight in Lufkin, Texas to visit my husband’s aunt and uncle and their family, we headed to the lovely and weird city of Austin for a few days.  There, we got to see my husband’s sister, his brother, and their respective families – so it was a big, happy, family reunion.  While in Austin, we visited the TX State Capitol, Zilker Park, the Big Top Candy Shop, the Alamo Drafhouse movie theater (for a “Clue” Quote-a-Long!), the Blanton Museum of Art, and ate tons of wonderful food.  We went to the Congress Ave bridge to see the Bats, but it was early in the season so we only saw a few.

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At the TX State Capitol

Also in Texas, we took a day trip to San Antonio and walked the beautiful Riverwalk in the warm rain.  (We got rained on during this trip a few times. Oh well. Such is life.)  Of course, we also stopped by the Alamo.

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Remember the Alamo.

After Texas, we headed to our other big stop on this adventure…

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Jackson Square.

NEW ORLEANS: One of my favorite cousins lives in The Big Easy, and it was a city Eric and I have always wanted to visit, so we’d worked it into our itinerary. I booked a hotel close to the French Quarter via Hotwire, so we were within walking distance of everything, which was really terrific. We had coffee and beignets at Cafe Du Monde, saw Jackson Square and the French Quarter, visited Bourbon Street, and even ducked into the Audubon Insectarium and Butterfly Garden to avoid a downpour.  The Insectarium turned into a real highlight of the trip – our toddler loved it. Bugs everywhere!

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Checking out the little gators in the Louisina Swamp exhibit.

New Orleans was great, and we’ll definitely return someday – hopefully, not in a rainstorm.

From New Orleans, we drove back to Chicago with stops in Birmingham, Alabama, Nashville, Tennessee, and Indianapolis, Indiana. We only saw these cities quickly – Birmingham was really pretty.  We stayed at a hotel by the airport in Nashville, but made a quick stop into the massive and crazy Opryland Mall.  The lunch we ate at the Broad Ripple Brewpub in Indianapolis was a highlight of the whole trip – omigosh, the beer cheese dip and bread was sensational! I’m still thinking about it.

Whew! We’re home now, and I’m in Day Two of unpacking the craziness.

Traveling with a toddler isn’t bad.  In fact, it’s kind of fun.  Our dude does great on long trips, as long as he has snacks and a tray to play trucks on, and frequent stops – even if it’s something as simple as running into Target. Don’t let young children stop you from adventures. :)

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