Reconnecting with an Old Friend – The D.C. Public Library

Courtesy of the original Discountess (i.e. my mom), I am the proud owner of a new Kindle Paperwhite.  I got it for Christmas, but had to finish out my regular paper books before I could really embrace it. Thankfully, my recent flight to California took care of my last actual book, so I could really start enjoying my Kindle.

Mom gave me a book on the kindle to get me started which I have been mowing through on my daily bus ride. Naturally, I was concerned about what to do when I finish. Much to my horror, the cost to buy a book on kindle is about the same as buying an actual book. WHAT? There are no printing costs! Clearly, the Discountess can not throw away all her shopping money fleshing out her e-library. Someone told me that the library will actually let you borrow e-books for your Kindle, so I decided that was the best course of action and went about figuring out how to do it this week.

This is the Georgetown library. It’s where I went when I was 4 or 5 to get my very first library card. I thought I’d have to go in to get a card, but a little online research revealed that I could sign up for my card online.  I haven’t had a library card since I was a kid! I was slightly worried about the sign up process because I checked out a book for a middle school science paper, lost it in my house, and then found it when I moved home after college. I returned it , of course, but was worried that the system had me flagged and I would have to pay $1,000 worth of late fees. Lucky for me, the process went off without a hitch – no late fee payment required. Phew!

They sent me an email immediately with a customer login and pin code, so I could start searching right away. The book download process was pretty convoluted, so it took a good old-fashioned phone call to the branch librarian to figure out how to do it.

He told me that they get 30% of the best seller titles in an e-version. Not the best selection, but better than buying all those books from Amazon. He also said that if I don’t finish my book in the 3 weeks I’m allotted, I can renew it online. Pretty cool! I downloaded the Tiger’s Wife, which I’ve heard good things about, and saved myself the $11.99 that it would have cost me to purchase it from the Kindle store. I feel like a literary champion.

Now all I need is some new book recommendations. Any ideas?

Red Carpet Chili Dinner

My Oscar party and critique session was a huge success! Thank God I strategized in advance – it turned out to be the perfect action plan.

For hors d’oeuvres, we had hummus and carrots and crackers with cream cheese and pepper jelly. And wine of course! I happened to own all of it, even the pepper jelly, which I actually made with a friend a few weeks ago.

The one-pot meal was ideal. It was delicious, inexpensive, and so easy. I’d highly recommend this for an easy meal for a big group. I was able to heat it up on its own, so I could concentrate on the travesty that was 2013 Oscar fashion (check out this excellent recap from my friends at Cardigans and Couture).

Here’s the recipe:

Firehouse Chili

1 Tbsp. Vegetable oil
11/2 lbs. ground turkey (you can use ground beef as well)
1 large onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 jalapeno, seeded and finely chopped
Salt to taste
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp. oregano
1/4 tsp. cumin
2 Tbsp. chili powder
2 10 oz. cans Rotel tomatoes, undrained
1 8 oz. can tomato sauce
2 16 oz. cans red kidney beans, undrained

Heat the oil in a large dutch oven. Add the meat, stirring to break up the lumps, and cook until brown. Add onion, garlic, and jalapeno and cook until the onion is limp. Drain off any excess fat from the pan.  Add salt, cayenne, oregano, cumin, and chili powder. Add tomatoes, sauce, and beans. Mix well and bring to a simmer. Simmer for 30 minutes uncovered. Cover and cook for 1 1/2 hours more.

Serves 8.

For the fixins bar, I had red onion, cheese, sour cream, avocado, chopped tomato, fritos scoops, and fresh chopped cilantro. Of course, I forgot to take any pictures, but it looked something like this:

A friend contributed the salad, which she threw that together right before we ate. Another 2 ladies contributed cookies for dessert (including my favorite homemade molasses cookies – thank you Christina!). And the rest of the ladies brought wine and champagne.

Everyone ate a ton and talked even more. When I turned on my TV this morning to watch the news, the volume was at 74. Clearly, the TV couldn’t compete with our strong conversation skills!

But, I have to say the best part of the party was the clean up. One lap with a trash bag, and it was all done. Genius!

Here is my total tally for the dinner party (note: I made a double recipe of the chili to have some extra for dinner this week):

Turkey – $7.99
Kidney Beans – $1.89 x 2
Tomato Sauce  – $.65 x 2
Rotel – $1.99 x 4
Jalapenos – $.11 x 2
Fritos Scoops – $3.89
Sour Cream – $2.50
Cilantro – $1.09
Avocados – $1.70 x 2
Hot House Tomatoes – $1.65 x 2
Paper bowls – $2.29

Grand total to serve dinner to 8 of my dear friends and me: $37.72

Dinner for 9 under $40 = one happy Discountess!

Checking In On the Great Oatmeal Challenge

I’m about halfway through my tub of Oatmeal, which means I’m about a month in to my challenge. I’m not bored with my combos yet, but it’s dangerously close. I’ve mainly been doing one of two things to take my breakfast up a notch  – adding berries OR adding half a banana and a dash of nutmeg. The latter version tastes a bit like banana bread. Delish!

I did give the pumpkin “pie” oatmeal that my friend Kate recommended in my last post, but I have to say that it wasn’t my favorite. I could never get the sweetness to vegetable ratio right, so it just tasted starchy. Plus, it made my breakfast an unsettling neon orange color.

Any other thoughts for me as I start month 2?  I’m desperate for a new option!

Gearing Up for Oscar Night

I LOVE the Oscars. They are my Superbowl. For the past few years, I’ve hosted an Oscar fete at my house, and this year is no exception. I have 8 of my nearest and dearest coming over tomorrow night for champagne, dinner, and red carpet action.

Today, is prep day. As we know, I love hosting parties, but doing it cheaply can be a challenge. Here’s my strategy for getting this done on a dime.

1. Use what you have. I remembered to look at my cupboard  before heading to the grocery store. As I suspected, I have a bunch of unopened crackers and chips from my last shindig that are still good. Those are going to be the centerpiece of my hors d’oeuvres. As luck would have it, I also happen to have some leftover champagne and wine that I’m planning to use up as well!

2. Rely on the kindness of strangers (or in my case, friends). Every one who accepted the invitation offered to bring something. In my pre-Discountess days I would do all the cooking all myself, but this year, I decided to take my friends up on their offers. Someone is bringing a salad, and another person is bringing dessert. I’m still doing hors d’oeuvres and the main course. I’m hoping this will save me time, and make things simpler too.

3. Make an easy, one-pot dinner. I learned this lesson the hard way. The first year I did my party, I made and elaborate steak dinner with sweet potato fries…for 10. Needless to say, I was in the kitchen the entire time. This year, I’ve opted to do chili. Chili isn’t the most glamorous meal, but it’s easy, everyone likes it, and I can make it ahead. Very important! I’m going to have a full fixins bar with cheese, sour cream, cilantro, onions, avocado etc, so that everyone can customize their own dish.

4. Invest in your dinner, wisely. Yes, the cheaper option would be to use all of my own plates and dishes, but that would mean that I would be up doing dishes for hours after everyone leaves. I’ve opted for disposable glasses, bowls, and plates to make my life easier. It is on a Sunday night after all.

Wish me luck! My first order of business is to straighten up my messy apartment. I’ll be sure to let you know how it goes.

California Dreaming (Cause I’m Back in Cold DC)

My California vacation was fabulous! Things that are great about California include the sun, the beach, the people watching, and the occasional movie star sighting (sadly, had no sightings this trip, but I did see Courteney Cox at this restaurant last time).

I flew into L.A. on Friday, and my friend and I took advantage of a mean happy hour at her neighborhood British gastropub so we could catch up. We left for  Santa Barbara on Saturday morning, by way of the outlets (obvi). I have to say, despite trying desperately to find an excuse to spend money on clothes, I didn’t really get anything. I did get something (this is ME after all), but my spending was modest, meager even!

Santa Barbara was absolutely gorgeous. GORGEOUS. The weather was perfect – not too hot, but not too cold. We hit up some town favorites during our stay. We had a fabulous old-timey drink here and an awesome Mexican meal here.  But I have to say, the best part of the trip was the wine tasting. Sure everyone talks about Napa and Sonoma (both on the bucket list), but Santa Barbara put up some solid competition. The vineyards were quaint, but lovely. See below for a view!

winery

Oh, and wine was delish! We visited here, here, and here. The last one was my favorite. I don’t know if it was the fact that we made two other stops or if I just loved the wine. I certainly hope it’s the latter since I bought a case of Sauvignon Blanc. Whoops! In my defense, I saved a ton of money by not spending any cash at the outlets and the case was on sale.

See how much fun I was having?

WineMargaret

Needless to say, I was sad to come back. I’m definitely planning another trip to Santa Barbara as soon as I can! Have any of you been there? If so, comment below with any Discountess-friendly recommendations that I should keep in mind.

Can It Be? Another J. Crew Warehouse Sale Is In Our Midst!

Are my eyes deceiving me? Is this too good to be true? J. Crew is opening their warehouse for shoppers yet again. Mark your calendars for next weekend!

Clearly, I didn’t buy enough in January, so they had to host another sale. It’s the only plausible explanation. I will probably take a breather from this one, but I won’t stand in any of your ways! Here are the details.

20130216-073155.jpg

If you go, remember my tips from last time, and let me know what you get!

California Bound!

I head out to California today for a bachelorette showdown for my bestie from high school. I’m flying into L.A., and then we’re driving to Montecito for the weekend for a little wine tasting (also known as my reprieve from “no booze” month).

I’m hoping that I can keep up my good saving behavior while I’m there. So far, I’m on the right track. Bought my ticket with miles, got snacks for the plane, have the kindle loaded up with good books (so as not to buy anything at the bookstore when I get there), etc. I think I’m all set.

My one potential stumbling block – the bachelorette has made a special request to stop at the outlets on the way to Montecito. I mean, it is HER weekend after all. It would be selfish to stand in her way, right?

I will do my best to behave myself while there, but if you took a look at the list, you know as well as I do that it’s going to be hard. The good news is that I WAY overpacked, so I have nowhere to put a ton of new clothes. A blessing in disguise? Perhaps.

Wish me luck!

 

Pillow Talk

I’ve had the same black and white bedding for absolute ages (absolute ages = about 10 years), and I’ve been hankering for a change. That said, it’s not something I have really needed, so I haven’t really done anything about it. That was until this past weekend when I decided to dust off my (very old) sewing machine and give my bedding a facelift.

To start, I decided to change my pillows. My friend, who happens to be a very talented seamstress, agreed to give me a tutorial on pillow making. I dispatched myself to G Street Fabrics and JoAnn to get the necessary materials to recover 2 big pillows from my bed (and in the process picked up an extra pillow and fabric – I just can never leave well enough alone). Between the two stores, I managed to find two great fabrics, a deep pinkish orange and a complementary print for my bed.

My tutor and I set up shop at her house. We had dueling sewing machines for the better part of 3 hours as she helped me learn how to make perfect pillow coverings. Of course, she had the pattern all in her head, but for those of you who don’t have a teacher around, this is a comparable one.

Here are some helpful hints that I learned in this process.

1. Check the remnant section of the fabric store for good deals. I found my orange fabric in the remnant section at G Street Fabrics. For those that are unfamiliar with the lingo, remnants are leftovers from the large bolts of fabric they sell. The stores want to get rid of every inch of fabric, so they offer the remnants at a cheaper price to get the most out of their original investment. Remnants are prefect for smaller projects, like pillows, and when the fabric is less expensive, it does take some of the pressure off about screwing up.

2. Never be too cool for instructions. My sewing machine is (much) older than I am. I have no idea how these instructions have stayed with it for 40 years, but I am oh-so glad they did. Each machine is a little different, so getting it set up and remembering everything took a good 45 minutes. Without the instructions I would have been totally lost.  If you have an oldie (but a goodie) like me and don’t have the instructions, check YouTube for an instructional video. You wouldn’t believe how many are out there!

**Incidentally, after reading this handy little book more closely, I realized that my machine has super powers (and by super powers I mean the power to automatically sew buttons on, monogram etc)!
Sewinstructions

3. Always, always iron. Of course, we know I hate to iron, but when it came to getting the seams right, it was invaluable. Check out those seams (and the antique sewing machine) below.

MSSewing

4. Don’t be afraid to screw up. Take this advice with a grain of salt because a) I was scared of screwing up and b) I had my very patient teacher checking my work at every step. BUT, the moral of the story is that you have to try, and if you screw up, you can start over. This pattern is VERY forgiving, so you have some wiggle room.  If your seams are ugly, stick them on the inside where no one will see them!
Cost Breakdown
Orange Fabric ($2.97/yard): $5.94
Printed Fabric ($9.99/yard): $9.99
Matching Thread: $4.29
Extra Pillow: $9.99
Total cost of my bedroom facelift: $30.21 plus tax
Here is the finished product. What do you think?
Finished pillows
I’m super excited! It’s a great new pop of color in my formerly black and white bed. Next project, is creating a new duvet cover. I’ll let you know how it goes!

Splurge vs. Save – Workout Gear

After I made my decision to quit the WSC in favor of Barre 3, I realized that I needed to update my workout wardrobe a bit, Discountess-style.

I have long been curious about Lululemon workout gear (the virtual uniform of the ladies of Barre3). And while I’ve been into the store several times, I have never been able to pull the trigger on buying anything. Something about the idea of paying $82 for pants that you sweat profusely in doesn’t make sense to me. For me, if I’m spending $82 on pants, I’d rather not sweat in them at all. Am I weird?

Anyway, as I thought about my wardrobe update, something occurred to me. People might notice when you’re wearing a Lululemon outfit, but nobody really thinks about it when you’re not. No one has ever looked at someone else at the gym and thought – man, she would be a lot better at this workout if she was wearing Lululemon pants. Am I right or am I right?

So this past weekend, instead of paying a mint for a pair of pants at Lululemon, I went to Old Navy for some cute, Discountess-appropriate workout gear. If you haven’t checked out their selection, I highly recommend it. They even have those kind of pants that are part workout tights and part girdle (if you don’t know about these, then you are missing out. They are super comfy, and they improve the look of your assets ten-fold. No. Joke.)

Here’s what I got.

 

(Note: I got a similar one to this that was on sale, but I can’t find it on the site.)

 

 

All of this for $10 less than what it would have cost to buy these.

 

And, there is still money leftover in the shopping budget for some fun stuff too! A win-win if you ask me.

Any one else have suggestions for cute and inexpensive workout gear? Let me know!

Sayonara WSC, Hello Hot Barre3 Body!

Thanks to everyone who commented on my great gym dilemma last week! For the most part, you all had the same advice – ditch the gym in favor of something you like. And that’s exactly what I did.

As of last Friday, I have canceled my membership at Washington Sports Clubs. According to the folks at Town Sports, they need 30 days to process my cancellation. A ploy, no doubt, to squeeze one last little bit of cash out of me before I go. So I have 30 days until freedom!

I am about to finish out my Barre3 class package this week. Luckily, I participated in their 28 to Great program in January, and for that, I got 2 free classes. My package plus those free classes will take me up to this weekend (when I head to Cali for wine tasting and bachelorette partying), so my plan is to start the 3 month minimum, auto renew package the week after. I get 10% off as a member of the Junior League of Washington, so my monthly total will be a little bit more bearable.

I’ve determined that if I go 4 – 5 times a week that my per class total will round in at about $10. Totally, worth it in my book! Hopefully, at the end of my first three months, my body will look like this.

Though I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to touch my toes like that. Here’s hoping!