[And welcome to my little blog.]

I'm Amanda! So happy you are here. Grab a glass of wine, read along, and let's be friends.

Home of Starbucks

Wednesday, March 30, 2011
I had fully braced myself for a very rainy Seattle, so when Kevin and I woke up to blue skies on Sunday morning we were pumped.  We started our day by hopping on a bus a block away from the bed and breakfast.  Apparently this was Kevin's first bus ride.  Ever.  Common, who hasn't ridden a public bus before?  After almost a year of marriage, there is definitely still a lot about him that's a mystery to me. 

From the bus stop we decided to walk to space needle rather than jumping on the second bus.  We turned the corner and I saw the space needle, so I immediately dropped my purse, took off my coat, and made Kevin take a picture of me in front of it.  He's always thrilled when I do this sort of thing... 

Here's a picture I took once we got a little closer.  Kinda neat huh?

The views from the top were awesome.  I'm not really sure what I was expecting, but I was surprised to see so many tall buildings, mountains, and lakes.  Was a little windy at the top but was fun to walk about with a chai tea latte and take in the sights.  

Here's a picture I took of the city:

After the Space Needle, we took the light rail and headed over to Pike's market.  It's a very neat indoor/ outdoor farmers market.  Check out the couple kissing in the foreground of the picture.  I wish I knew the them, because I'm sure they'd love to have this picture. 

I liked all the pretty bouquets of flowers they had for sale, but by far my favorite part of Pike's market was the specialty pickle stand.  They had pickled asparagus, green beans, Wasabi-flavored pickles, and spicy pickles.  Stacie, I know you're jealous right now.  I actually almost bought you a jar, but when we found out shipping was $18.99 Kevin quickly put a kibosh on that idea. 

This is me with the best pickle I've ever eaten.

After roaming around Pike's market we stopped in for lunch at a place called Steelhead Diner.  A lady in the Pike's Market visitor's center recommended the place and gave us a coupon where we could get a three-course meal for just $15.  We chose the chicken wings, catfish, and the pecan pie for dessert.  Sounds like an odd combination now that I've written it down, but it was soooo yummy.  Cheap, tasty lunch in a new, trendy restaurant with great service, overlooking the water.  Sigh ... I want to go back.

After lunch, we did some aimless exploring.  Kevin even grabbed the camera and took a few pictures himself.  He's a natural, huh?


And of course, a trip to Seattle wouldn't be complete without a visit to Starbucks.  Notice the "Pike Place" sign? 

After all the exploring we made it back to the bed and breakfast around 7:00 p.m.  We planned to take a quick nap and then go get dinner, but after our nap we were too pooped to get up and go to dinner.  Embarrassing!

Home of the Space Needle

Tuesday, March 29, 2011
I know I've been absent from my blog for over a week, but I've been quite the busy body.  On Saturday I was in Seattle.  On Monday I drove to Hermiston, Oregon.  On Wednesday I flew to Roseville, California.  On Friday, Kevin and I drove to San Francisco. 

Kevin just got reassigned a new territory at work.  Instead of selling surplus Union Pacific property in Tennessee, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Oklahoma, he now has a much sweeter territory - the Pacific Northwest, which includes Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Northern California.  I had to travel for work to Hinkle, Oregon (4 hours Southwest of Seattle) and Kevin had to go drive around and look at a bunch of property in Washington and Northern California, so instead of both flying in on Monday morning, we flew in Saturday night, and got to spend all day together Sunday exploring Seattle.

This was my first time to Seattle, or Washington as a whole for that matter, and we had a great day.  Of course I took a whole bunch of pictures, so instead of posting them all at once, I'll post the pictures from one or two days at a time.  Here's how we started the day last Saturday:

Guess who took the big suitcase?  Hint, it wasn't me :)

Here is the only thing I took a picture of during our stop at O'Hare airport in Chicago on our way to Seattle.  By far, my favorite things about O'Hare... automatic toilet seat covers!  After an hour on the plane, does it get any better than plopping your butt on a clean toilet?

We decided to stay at a bed and breakfast in Seattle instead of a hotel.  The bed and breakfast got great reviews on trip advisor and was the cheapest available.  If you have not used tripadvisor before, I can't recommend it enough.  Go to tripadvisor.com.  Type your destination in the search bar (example: Seattle).  Then under the top rated B&B click "view all 44 B&B's"  Then once at the bed and breakfast page, adjust the price bar to your price range (in our case less than $150).  Then start at the top and check the reviews and availability.  Since I didn't book until the last minute, and we were trying to travel on the cheap, the first few options didn't meet my fancy.  A couple items down, I stumbled on the 11th Avenue Inn and we were booked the Opal room.

When we arrived in Seattle at midnight on Saturday I was happy to find that our bed and breakfast was quaint, clean, in a nice area of town, and close to the airport.  It was also cheap.  Less than $100 a night which included all taxes, fees, wireless internet, and a very yummy breakfast the next morning.  It was also a block from the bus line that easily brought us into all areas of downtown Seattle the next day.  I'd highly recommend if you're in Seattle.  Here are some random snapshots I took:

I'll post our Seattle pictures tomorrow.  Do you guys have any bed and breakfasts you'd recommend?  What about travel hotspots in the US?  Kevin and I really enjoyed this trip and would love to do it more.

What a good aunt does.

Saturday, March 19, 2011
Right now I'm taking an amazing class at Creighton as part of my MBA program that has encouraged me to spend some time reflecting about my own life, values, and those that have influenced my life.  I've taken so many really, really great courses at Creighton, but this is by far the best.  The class is called Developing Personal Leadership: The Leadership Journey, From Insight to Authenticity.  It's taught by Dr. Fransecky, a clinical psychologist, and someone who over the last 70 years has had some incredible life experiences and has worked with some of the most influential leaders and CEOs all over the world.  Check out his blog here.

One of the themes of the course is that you can't become a truly great leader until you can understand and frame your own values in the context of your life story.   As part of our class last night we completed an exercise where we wrote about a person or a place that sticks out in your memory as having a profound influence on you.  To get our ideas flowing he read an article David Duchovny wrote about high high school basketball couch.  Who knew David Duchovny could write?  The article appeared in the Wall Street Journal this week.  Very, good article, click here to read it.

After spending some time thinking back to all the people that have had an influence on me, I realized just how lucky I've been to have such overwhelmingly positive experiences and influences in my life.  So few people are gifted with great parents, but then to be surrounded by so many other positive influences, I can't express how lucky this makes me feel. One of the significant influences in my life has been my Aunt Donna.

My dad's only sister, and my godmother, my Aunt Donna is the kind of person that gives hugs that envelope your whole body and radiate unconditional love.  As kids we'd stay over at her and my Uncle Scott's house for sleepovers with my little brothers.  She'd go completely overboard and would stock the refrigerator with all of our favorite foods, filled a special drawer in the china hutch full of candy, and took us to some of our favorite places.  But it wasn't about the things she bought us or even the things she did for us, it was about knowing that she took a genuine interest in our lives and loved us unconditionally.  She never forgot a birthday or Christmas, and always gave more generously than expected.  When I was obsessed with Beanie Babies as a kid (remember those days?) her and Uncle Scott would look all over town to the find the rarest bear beanie babies, and then she would write a special poem to go along with the bear.  She took me to take your daughter to work day.  She helped buy my prom dress.  I could go on and on. 

But the thing that sticks out most to me, is how much she influenced me during my junior high and early high school days.  You know, those awkward age between 12 and 15.  I hit junior high and overnight I went from being a cute little girl, to a full-blown teenager with braces, pimples, a bad hair cut and big eyebrows.  I'm embarrassed to let these pictures see the light of day, but for the sake of painting the picture, here they are.  Eeek!

 Despite the reality of my appearance and all it's awkward glory, every time I saw my Aunt Donna, she told me I was beautiful.  And she meant it.  And I believed her.  She helped keep my fragile self esteem protected at a time when many girls are not so lucky. 

It wasn't until Dr. Fransekey encouraged us to take a moment to stop, pay attention to our lives, and reflect on our own life stories that I realized how maintaining this self esteem at a critical point in my life had a profound impact on my life.  Thank you Dr. Fransekey for this exercise, thank you to my classmates for sharing their beautiful stories, and more importantly thank you Aunt Donna for the impact you made on me.  I love you.

Daffodil Days

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Don't these flowers just make you happy?  It makes me so excited for spring.  I came home from work yesterday and Kevin surprised me with these daffodil's and a nice little note.  I'm not usually much of a "flower" girl, and I think I even told Kevin when we first started dating, so I think these may be the first flowers he's ever given me.  But, I have to admit, I liked these ones a lot... once I realized what they were.  When I first saw them sitting on the table they hadn't budded yet, and I thought Kevin had put some asparagus in vase.  Ha!  This morning they had partially bloomed already and then today after work they were fully in bloom.

Kevin got these at work during "Daffodil Days" a charity to raise money for the American Cancer Society.  It's a pretty neat charity idea.  People buy the daffodils for $10, brighten up someones day, and also help a good cause.  Click here for more information on how you can become a coordinator at your work. 

Oh, and this week I got a specific request to feature Kevin on the blog more.  Jenni Jones are you reading?  :)

What a cutie huh?

And here's a picture of me.  I wanted Kevin to take a picture of the new shirt I got from Forever 21.  The picture of the shirt didn't turn out that well, but let me tell you, Forever 21 is my new favorite store.  They have tons of super cute clothes that are really cheap.  I love wearing new clothes, but I really don't like to shop, so I think I've found the perfect solution.  The actual store is way too way too chaotic for me, but forever21.com has free shipping on orders over $50.  They even have guys clothes too.

Is it too early to wear white?  Isn't there some rule about this?  Too late.  I've already done it.  Twice.

On another note, it's supposed to be 70 degrees tomorrow.  Yes! 

So what the heck is a TiVo?

Since learning that COX has charged us $2,600 for DVR boxes over the past 4 years I've been on a mission to get rid of our DVR box.  After looking into the various options I've decided to try out a TiVo.  The TiVo box replaces the Cable/DVR box we are renting, but not only is it cheaper than our current COX DVR box, it also has a ton more features.  And if you're like me and have a personal gripe against COX then it's definitely worth the switch.

Here's a matrix I found on the TiVo website that compares the features of TiVo to your standard cable DVR box, Google TV, and Apple TV.

There were a couple different TiVo options, but we settled on the $99 factory-renewed TiVo with the $12.99 monthly service.  Click here for details.  All I had to do was call 877-289-8486 and I talked to a very nice english-speaking salesperson who walked me through the process, answered all my questions, and within 10 minutes I had a TiVo box on its way (free shipping too!).  Of course, before I pulled the trigger I put together a quick spreadsheet comparing all the costs.  This assumes that we will pay for the TiVo monthly service for the first year and then buy the lifetime subscription for $399 in the second year (you can't get the clearanced TiVo box and do the lifetime subscription at the same time -dang).  The TiVo will save us almost $300 in the first 5 years and more than $1,000 over 10 years.  Not a ton of money, but when you consider the extra perks of TiVo and the possibility of getting rid of cable altogether, I think it's definitely worth it.

One of the big perks I just discovered about TiVo is that it works great for receiving free HDTV signals over the air.  Just like TV in the "old days" where you could certain channels were free, you can now watch these channels in high definition for free.  Who doesn't love free?  I'm going to give it a try so I ordered this digital antenna off amazon.com for $25.48.  You plug the antenna into your TiVo box and then you can record all those free HD channels to your hearts content.  A lot of the shows we currently watch we should be able to get over the air broadcast... American Idol, Lie to Me, The Office, etc.  The crazy thing is that the quality is actually supposed to be better than cable. (Click here for a more complete sampling of shows available for free and click here for step by step instructions on how a TiVo and digital antenna work together. 

And you know how I mentioned the sports problem?  Get this, just a few days ago Apple signed a deal where you can subscribe to all the live basketball games and baseball games for $100 each. Read the article here.  I see an iTV in our future :)

Between an iTV, Tivo, Netflix, and a digital antenna, I'm hoping to "cut the cord" and ditch cable entirely.  I'll keep you guys posted.

Bills, Bills, Bills

Saturday, March 12, 2011
I worked so hard to avoid student loans during my undergraduate degree.  I filled out a ton of scholarship applications, saved my a lot of my measly $7.00 an hour high school salary, and went to an in-state college.  I was even on an $40 a week budget most of the way through college.  Yes, $40 per week for all my food, entertainment, clothes, gas, etc, etc...  needless to say it was a thrifty few years but I finally made it through scott free.

Then came my Master's degree.  I filled out my FAFSA and to my surprise the United States government gifted me $8,000 worth of subsidized student loans, no interest loans..... yes please :)  Soon enough the checks started coming.  Best of all the money didn't have to be spent exclusively on school.  Sure, most of it went towards paying for the pricey classes at Creighton ($2,000 per class), but I had a few other expenses come up in 2010...wedding, honeymoon, and a condo for Kevin and I.  Before I knew it my balance had grown to a hefty $13,000!  yikes.

But, after a nice tax refund and bonus, the balance is finally paid in full.  Victory. 

We're working hard to try to accomplish number six on our pre-baby bucket list (paying off student loans, our car, and saving up money).  I took a look at our budget the other day and Kevin and I have saved enough money to pay for the rest of our MBA programs, and if all goes well hopefully we'll make double payments on his car and get it paid off this year. 

Speaking of budgeting.  When I was putting our new budget together I took a close look at all of our bills for the first time in almost a year.  I have a habit of setting everything on auto-bill pay and not paying attention...  bad habit, I know.  Apparently Sprint had been charging us for $10 a month for some type of service that we accidentally signed up for (and that we don't need).  Then I took a look at our cable bill.  Almost $200 a month.  So we started going through all the charges.  Do you know how much Cox Cable charges per month for a DVR box?  $17.99 per month!  And best of all you never pay off the DVR box... you keep paying rent on it forever.  I have two DVR boxes at Kevin and I's rental house and one at our condo, so that means over the last four years we've paid over $2,600 for DVR boxes.  $2,600 dollars! 

I did a little research online and you can buy a really nice DVR box with no monthly subscriptions for $349.  Or there are a bunch of different Tivo options ($299 for the box and then $12 a month, or you can get a lifetime subscription to their service for $399) - in two years you'll have broken even on your investment.  AND Tivo has some features that your standard box doesn't have - it interacts with Netflix and Amazon's Unbox, and there's even an iPad app that allows you to use your iPad as an interactive remote. 

Pretty cool huh?  I'm still looking into all the options, but I tired of getting price gouged by Cox so I'm going to try to find out something this weekend.  If it were totally up to me I'd probably get rid of cable entirely and just keep our Netflix account to watch movies.  My husband promptly vetoed that idea since he wouldn't have live access to his sports channels.  Does anyone have any recommendations on a DVR box?  Or any ways you've saved money recently?

Tea, honey, brown sugar, lemon, and whiskey

Tuesday, March 1, 2011
Last weekend Kevin and I watched my little brother Jonah while my parents went to Mexico to an all-inclusive resort.  They took a well-deserved vacation to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary.  We had a great weekend together.  The highlight was going to visit Kevin's cousin Jeff at his fire station with Kevin's sister and her family (Thanks Jeff!). 

The low-point of the weekend was after Jonah left I immediately started to get sick.  Jonah had a cough the whole weekend and I think the little bugger got me sick. Soar throat, runny nose, coughing, and a fever off and on.  I've been sick for over a week now.  Sucks!  

I'm taking Mucinex, got on an antibiotic on Saturday, and took it easy all weekend (Kevin and I spent all Sunday on the couch watching the entire first season of Dexter) but I'm still feeling pretty miserable.  Yesterday a co-worker recommended a shot of whiskey to help me feel better.  Apparently a doctor friend of his said a shot of whiskey is often more effective than most cough medicines.  Not sure if I'm desperate enough for a shot of warm whiskey so after surfing around on the internet, I stumbled across a hot totty recipe.  It called for tea, honey, brown sugar, lemon, and whiskey.  Tastes sort of weird but feels pretty good on my throat.  God I hope it helps, I'm tired of being sick.  Any other suggestions?

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