Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Progressive Dinner: A Creative Date Night Idea

Inspired by an Instagram linkup with Kaitlyn at Wifessionals and Lauren at Wifestyles, today I am sharing one of my favorite creative date night ideas - Progressive Dinner!

Don't ask me where we got or the idea (probably some random Google search), but Alex and I are HUGE fans of Progressive Dinner, especially when we feel like we're in a rut, or have something special to celebrate.  So just what is this thing called "progressive dinner?"

It's exactly as it sounds - progressing through dinner - with a stop at a different restaurant/bar for each course of the meal.  We always aim for at least three separate locations (drinks/appetizers, dinner, dessert), but it could definitely be dragged out to experience additional "courses" (drinks, appetizers, salad, dinner, desert, coffee/drinks).

(According to Wikipedia, this could also be called a potluck if hosted at various homes, and in the UK, it is referred to as "safari supper.")

Due to the holidays and busy-ness with work, our last date night was probably in mid-December sometime. Toward the end of last week, Alex convinced me it was time for a date night and when I asked what we would do, he said he had it covered.  I went about my business with work on Saturday, trying not to wonder too much about what he had planned.  As it turns out, he resurrected our old favorite, the Progressive Dinner date, and off we went.

Stop 1:  Buffalo Wild Wings


Course:  Drinks/Appetizers
Alex had Bud-light on draft, while I enjoyed a delicious glass of Red's Apple Ale.  We shared some chips and salsa, and probably should have just stopped there...since we ate the entire basket and all.

Stop 2:  Genghis Grill


Course:  Dinner
Have you ever eaten at Genghis, or maybe Mongolian Barbecue?  This place is a cross between hibachi grill and buffet-style dining.  We really loved treating ourselves to Genghis in Little Rock, and were thrilled when one opened here in West Monroe.  It is so FUN to pile on the raw food, mixing and matching seasonings with sauces, then debating which "starch" we're feeling that day so the grill master can throw it all together and whip it up into something yummmmmy!

Stop 3:  Sweet Frog

Course:  Dessert
Let's face it, you can't go wrong with froyo!  Even though we were stuffed full to the brim, we went ahead and walked on over to Sweet Frog to finish out the progression as planned.

Creative date nights are great!  We like to take turns planning, and usually the other person is in the dark until we arrive at whatever the location may be.   The thing about Progressive Dinner is that it's different - as the enjoyee (as opposed to planner) it keeps me guessing, and it can extend the night out (because time spent eating dinner can pass faster than you think).  Progressive Dinners also provide time for couples to spend time catching up with one another, which is different than going to a movie or even doing some kind of recreation activity together (such as mini golf or bowling).  I'll say it again, we're huge fans!

I can't wait to check out other creative date night ideas.  Follow me on over to the #wifelifelinkup on Instagram to see what others have suggested!


Thursday, January 23, 2014

Our Overnight Cruise...

...ahem, Casino Visit

Having been on three Caribbean cruises, I like to think I know a cruise when I see one.  I mean, who could ignore round-the-clock entertainment, gambling, restaurants, and drinks, right?  In fact, Alex and I could have sworn we were on a cruise, despite our GPS location of one landlocked, very rural, middle-of-nowhere town.

Let me explain.

Saturday, Alex and I drove 2.5 hours from Monroe to Marksville, LA to meet "the women" (my mom, grandmother, and great aunt) for an overnight stay at Paragon Casino Resort.  Neither of us really enjoy the casino atmosphere by any great degree, but it was a (mostly) free overnight get-away, and the chance to visit with family.  It wasn't long before we came to the conclusion that casino resorts are ultimately landlocked cruise ships.

5 Ways Casino Resorts Are Really Cruise Ships in Disguise

1. Entertainment - Most casinos host musical performances on a regular basis.  This particular weekend, "the women" were able to score us free tickets to a Kansas concert, which brings me to my next point - free.  Performances onboard a cruise ship are always free, and people-watching in both environments is equally entertaining, as well.  (Re:  There was a biker convention at the casino this weekend.  Just picture that for a moment.)


2. Restaurants - Food, food, food everywhere.  At Paragon, there were at least four different restaurants to choose from.  Visitors could choose from the walk-up sandwich deli/cafe, the buffet, a mid-range diner style eatery, on up to the steakhouse.  I'm pretty sure they were all open 24/7 too.  Our group chose Roxy's diner, and enjoyed some very delicious crawfish/shrimp po-boys...because who would turn down authentic Cajun food?


3. Gambling - Does this really even need any explanation?  Cruise ships have casinos on board, so when you throw in all the other amenities, this is how I came to my conclusions in the first place.  On the personal side, we played mostly on money handed over by "the women," so it kept us entertained enough to not feel totally bored for the evening.


4. Shopping - Believe it or not, there were several boutique type shops available throughout the resort.  I'm also going to lump fitness center, spa, and movie theatre in with this because they seem to fall in a similar "amenities" category (and it just feels right).  Plus, there were the heavenly, sleeping-on-clouds bedding sets in the modern and spacious hotel rooms.  Ahh.


5. Families - If you can believe it, the casino resort was filled with families.  Kids-Quest was similar to the onboard paid babysitting/entertainment service, and an arcade that one can only assume is an effort to get gets reigned in early.  I hear the indoor/outdoor pools are a big draw for local families during the summertime.

To play Devil's Advocate for a minute, there are a few ways casinos and cruise ships differ:

My first whisky sour.  Yum!

  • Food cost - Casinos most definitely do not have the "all you can eat for free" attitude.  If you're a regular visitor, though, food vouchers are a likely reward.
  • IDs - I was ID'd going in and out of the actual casino area every single time.  On the cruise, I wasn't ID'd once.  Plus, cruises allow anyone 18 and over to play (while in international waters, anyway).
  • Free drinks - All drinks in the playing area of the casino are totally free.  This includes both alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages.  Since players are already ID'd to enter, no one cards you to drink either.  Someone find me a cruise with free drinks and I'll be there next week!
  • Smoking - Smoking inside the resort was "kosher," and encouraged even.  The smell engulfed us as we entered the building, and I instantly groaned about smelling like smoke (and ingesting it) the whole time we were there.  Onboard, smoking is only allowed in the casino or outdoors. 
  • Excursions - Sadly, there were no fun outings to accompany our overnight casino stay.  In the middle of podunk nowhere, I can't imagine there were very many attractions nearby anyway.  Well, the LA 4-H Museum is in the same parish, but of course it was closed at the time, so that didn't work out.  

What else?  Did I forget anything? 


Tuesday, January 21, 2014

20 in 14

It may be nearing the end of January, but the year is still young and I have decided to share a list of goals for the year.  In keeping with the "2014" theme, I decided to include 20 goals in 5 categories for the year 2014.  I have never actually written down a list of goals for an entire year, so we'll see how this goes.

1. Write an average of 1x/week (or more!).
2. Practice telling my story in fewer words.
3. Use a real camera (not my phone) more often.
4. Increase readership.
5. Learn more about the bigger picture of blogging.

6. Keep a one-line-a-day journal.
7. Respond to e-mails more frequently.
8. Make an effort to reinvest in old friendships.
9. Host a girls' weekend.
10. Become a volunteer.

11. Designate a person-a-day in prayer.
12. Rest in faith with practicing NFP as we TTC.
13. Receive the sacrament of reconciliation quarterly (at least).
14. Register as members of a church parish.
15. Tithe to church (instead of non-profits) more regularly.

16. "Shop the perimeter" at the grocery store.
17. Learn to use my pressure cooker.
18. Have bloodwork done.
19. Color the gray away.
20. Receive a make-up tutorial.

Thanks to all of you goal-sharing folks who inspired me to get serious about putting something on (virtual) paper this year.  I'm sure time will fly by and it won't be long before we're reading recaps and year-in-reviews.  Only 344 days to go!


Saturday, January 18, 2014

7 Quick Takes Friday (vol. 3)

Another Saturday version of 7QTF for you, but after a week as crazy as this one, I'm happy to be posting anything at this point.  

So yeah, it was a crazy week.  I worked three 12-hour days, with some regular hours (including Saturday) thrown in.  Needless to say, I am exhausted.  Thankfully Monday is MLK Day, so we do get a day of rest, but working Saturday means the extra day isn't so "extra" after all.

But hey, I did finally get around to purchasing a 2014 planner and boy was it needed!  With this month as crazy as it is, I need all the help I can get.  (Yes, this is from Target.  No, I did not use a credit card.)

Last Saturday, we attended a wedding for one of Alex's co-workers.  Believe it or not, this was actually the first wedding Alex and I ever attended together - except our own, obviously.  The wedding was held in a Catholic church (actually, one we have attended several times), which is always entertaining in a region with Catholics as the minority.  The confusion is generally priceless, lol.  Though a bit awkward at first, we had a fabulous time at the reception and rolled into the garage at the ripe 'ole hour of 12:30 a.m.  Party animals, we were.

I spent the week working in West Monroe at Ag Alley and Expo, which is basically and educational fair and trade show for agriculture products and services.  During the week, 1st and 4th grade school groups rotated through our educational exhibits, and the event opened to the public on Friday and Saturday.  Instead of hopping around, I decided to sign up for one exhibit area and stick with it for the week.  My week in the 4-H mini farm was quite a learning experience, and I really had a lot of fun.  It may take a while for me to be interested in eating chicken again, though.

For all those Duck Dynasty fans out there, you might be interested to hear that one of Jep's daughters came through our exhibit with her class on Thursday.  I didn't actually notice her at first, but when I asked what school the group was from, I saw her in the crowd as I began giving the class instructions on how to behave around the animals.  It was kind of fun to think I was standing a few feet away from a "celebrity," though if you didn't recognize her, you wouldn't have known any different.  The kids treated her just like everyone else, and she sure didn't seem to expect any extra attention either.  I tried to get a picture of her, but my discrete efforts didn't produce anything worthwhile, and I also don't feel great about "exploiting" a child in her natural habitat.  Instead, I am including a photo I found online (she's second from left on the bottom row) for reference.


Know anyone looking to buy a 2004 Ford Explorer?  We haven't gotten any calls on Alex's vehicle since we bought the new one, and it would be really nice to drop the insurance on a third vehicle.  E-mail me for details.

Does anyone out there watch ABC's Nashville?  We are regular watchers, though usually we let it record and then catch up a day or two later because it's often difficult for me to keep my eyes open for a 1-hour show that starts at 9 p.m.  (Go ahead, call me a grandma.)  Anyway, RASCAL FLATTS (!!) will be making an appearance on next week's episode, and I can't wait!!!  I hear Zac Brown may also have a cameo, but I can't confirm that since I sort of went a little crazy the second I saw my guys on the screen.


Thanks for being patient with me (as always) as I try to do better at regular posts.  I'm hoping to get at least one post out this week, but it's going to be another crazy one.  Be good, everybody!


For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Hood Rat Things

Back in the Spring (2013), Alex and I adopted two sibling kitties from the River Cities Humane Society for Cats.

This was taken the day we brought them home.

We named the boy Ace because he reminded us of the ace of spades, and the girl was named Asher, or Ash, for the gray color of her coat.
They were so tiny!

The two were totally adorable as kittens, and have been a great source of entertainment for us over the last several months.

Ace sucker punched Ash as the photo was taken.

As they have gotten older, they have become a bit more cuddly, but usually only when they are sleepy.

Yes, Alex enjoys the cats, too.

Recently, we discovered that Ash and Ace have made friends with as set of neighborhood kittens.  Alex told me a story about how he was startled one evening when he opened the garage and saw a group of five kittens staring him down, as if he'd interrupted some sort of gang activity.  We have since dubbed those kittens as our cats' "hood rat friends," which is a reference to this video:

For the full video, click here.

At first, I didn't believe Alex's story about how intimidating the group of kittens looked, but the I happened upon the group myself when we were unloading our garage from our 2-week trip.  I don't have a picture for you, but a quick Google search did just the trick.

And thanks to these "hood rats," Ace has been sick for the last week and a half.  Sneezing, wheezing, and being cuddly (the last one especially) is quite out of character for him, so we knew something was wrong.  A $150+ vet bill later, Ace was given an injection and has been sent home to recover with his sister.

...I still can't believe our cats have more friends than we do!

Saturday, January 11, 2014

7 Quick Takes Friday (vol. 2)

I know it's Saturday, not Friday, but you'll forgive me, right?  It's been a busy week (more about that later), so I didn't get a chance to put this together until now.  However, I have been thinking about my "takes" all week, so I think it counts anyway.

It was back to the grind for all of America on Monday, and just like everyone else, I felt rusty as all get out.  A good bit of fighting was necessary to get my brain back in gear this week after a two week hiatus from the real world.  Ick.

As far as work is concerned, I think I have decided to dub January as "hell month."  I am out of the office working at regional events for essentially half of the month, while trying to plan and prepare for kicking off a busy Spring season.  In fact, I'll be working late three nights this week, and for the next two Saturdays in a row.

Looking on the bright side, it's officially Carnival (Mardi Gras) Season!  I can't wait to hit up Rouse's on my visit to south Louisiana in Februray.  King Cakes are calling my name!!!

Did everyone survive the arctic okay?  I definitely experienced the coldest temperatures of my life this week, and I bet many of you did as well.  For some reason, I had a "bright idea" to go jogging in 38 degree temperatures (this was after finally making it above freezing).  Don't think I'll be doing that again.  Later in the week, though, I convinced myself that if I could jog in freezing weather, then I could handle a little bit of rain too.  Who am I and what have I done with the real Lauren??

We are trying to do better at eating fresh fruits and vegetables, and I can tell a difference in how I feel after just a few days.  It just annoys me how fresh food doesn't keep very long, so we have to shop more frequently.  Also, fresh food is so freaking expensive!  No wonder people with lower income levels find it difficult to maintain healthy lifestyles.

But...our weakness for peanut butter sandwiches still reigns supreme for weekday lunches.  We may or may not have been a little too excited when it went on sale at the Dollar Store this week.  In fact, we bought out their supply (all 4 jars that were left, lol)!

--- 7 ---
Thanks to a couple of coupons, we enjoyed two free Red Box rentals this week.  Unfortunately, we probably missed half of We're the Millers due to scratches on the disc (anyone want to lend us a copy?).  I was, however, pleasantly surprised with The Internship, as I expected it to be pretty raunchy and it wasn't at all.  There were some fun references to Harry Potter and a few popular apps, so I would especially recommend it to all millennials out there.

That's all for now, hope ya'll had a great week!

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

Monday, January 6, 2014

No Longer Newlyweds

I'm a little over a week late (12/29) on this but, HAPPY ANNIVERSARY to us!  It's hard to imagine that it's already been a year since Alex and I were married.  In some ways it seems like yesterday, and in other ways like ages.

In the span of about 2-3 weeks, I:
  • Left my dream job in Little Rock, AR
  • Attempted to celebrate Christmas (with Alex working out of town) while tackling last minute wedding preparations
  • Enjoyed a fantastic 3-day wedding weekend with friends from all over the country
  • Relaxed on an AMAZING 7-day cruise
  • Moved to a brand new city (in my home state of LA)
  • Legally changed my name
  • Started a new job

...and became a Mrs. somewhere along the way

Isn't he handsome?

I can't say this last year has been overly exciting except for one minor detail - we FINALLY live in the same state, the same town, and wait for it...the same house!!!  It has been SO fun to see each other almost every day, to have someone to sit next to at church, and even someone to share the dinner table (even if it is usually the coffee table instead of the kitchen table).

Aside from our wedding, we have experienced no major life milestones this year, and that's okay.  I still say coming home to Alex is my favorite part of the day, whereas dragging my butt out of bed on cold, dark mornings while he gets to lay there for an extra 30 minutes may or may not be my least favorite.  But, I digress.  

This year, December 29th was spent on the road.  We left the mountain cabin with friends and made our way as far as Mobile, AL before we called it quits for the night.  Looking back, it's only fitting that after two years of dating long distance, we would find ourselves traveling (together, this time!) on our first anniversary.

Another piece of irony for the day was realizing the church we attended that morning shared a name with the one we were married in exactly one year before.  Even more special in my eyes is the connection Saint Joseph has with his role in The Holy Family, which is a feast day celebrated on the first weekend after Christmas (aka the weekend we were married).  The Feast of the Holy Family is one of my favorite liturgical celebrations and I think it is very fitting (though unplanned) for it to fall on the same weekend as our wedding.

Since we had to wait a few extra days for our "year old" wedding cake, Alex treated us to boberry biscuits from Bojangles (on our third visit to Bojos in the span of about a week).  The vat of delicious gooeyness was definitely a good alternative. 

When we finally made it back to Monroe, we carefully unwrapped the "year old" cake and tried it out.  In the words of Alex, "It wasn't that bad."  I think he was pleasantly surprised after a few less than satisfying attempts we had at eating some of the left over cake earlier this year.  In fact, we are still enjoying it a few days later.  

It is my understanding that "newlywed" status lasts for one year, so I guess you could say we're no longer newlyweds.  I'm not totally convinced, so you be the judge about that.  We're as good of friends as we ever were (if not more so now), and we can only pray for the opportunity to spend many more years learning and growing together.  So, for those of you out there who are married, what would you say to this not-so-newlywed couple? 


Friday, January 3, 2014

Holidays, Continued

On December 30th, Alex and I finally made our way back to Louisiana, but not to our house.  After spending the previous night in Mobile, AL on our return from the mountains in North Carolina, we stopped in the Baton Rouge area to have brunch at Dawn's house.  My college roommate, Jen, and her 15 month old, Landon, made the drive from Luling to meet us there.  Hanging out with these ladies (plus Alex and Landon) was just another bright spot on this fabulous two-week trip.  It was super fun to carve out visits with everyone along the way - well worth the efforts.

My family was so kind as to delay "Christmas" until we arrived.  My parents and brother waited to exchange gifts with us, as did my grandmother and aunt/uncle/cousins.  On New Year's Eve, we were finally able to enjoy Nanna's delicious seafood gumbo, and visiting with everyone was definitely an added bonus.  All of us cousins are growing up - most of us have spouses or significant others now and it is just cool to see how we are all growing up these days.

You should totally be jealous.

While we were in town, Alex even got to make good on his promise to Seth for a man-date at Buffalo Wild Wings.  Alex and Seth sat next to each other, while Victoria and I sat across the table, and each gender kept their respective conversations going for over 2 hours.  It was entertain to see how different the conversations were for each of us - boys talk about farts and boobies, where as girls talk about faith and babies.  

This is a terrible picture, really, but it's all I have from our visit with the triplets this time around (obviously Drew is missing from the photo).  We gave the kids their first set of skates as Christmas gifts, then Alex and I, with the help of their mom, spent the next 30 minutes making circles through the living room, kitchen, and dining room, as they tried out their new toys.  It was totally adorable.

Then of course, our big ticket to report was the purchase of a new vehicle.  We put nearly 2500 miles on my Corolla this trip, and the poor girl was so weighted down that her tires may have gone flat if we added a toothpick to the pile.  Between the trunk and back seats, it looked like I was moving across the country again.

We didn't plan to make the car purchase until we returned to Monroe, but there was a deal in Lafayette that no one would match and we certainly couldn't pass that up.  It was rainy and gross here for most of the week, though, so Alex has yet to really have the chance to take it out on the road.

2014 Acadia

We were supposed to head back to Monroe yesterday, but my car has been in the shop since Tuesday getting a major maintenance work-over, so we are at the mercy of the dealer.  It looks like we'll be cleared to get on the road a little later today.  Sadly, I won't get to enjoy the inaugural trip in our new ride, but I'll be following closely behind in my like-new little Cajun Yota.

Even the new car is filled to the brim!

I can't wait to get home and settle back in before dragging my butt back to work on Monday.  Ugh.  The thought of work just makes me want to puke.  At least the kitties will be waiting for us, and I am sooo looking forward to cuddling with those cuties.

Hope everyone has enjoyed their holidays and are excited about kicking off this new year.

Update:  We have arrived in Monroe safe and sound.  See below for the final mileage we racked up (in my car only) on this 15-day trip.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Little cabin, in the woods...

For the next leg of our two week road trip, Alex and I rented a cabin in western North Carolina with some friends.  Kara and Justin, friends of ours who served in our wedding, and Justin's girlfriend, Sarah, met us at the cabin near Bryson City for a short but fun-filled weekend of quality time with one another.  On the 5+ hour drive from Alex's dad's house, we started working through one of the couples' quiz books I bought Alex for Christmas.  I have to say - we know each other pretty well, but it will be fun for the winner to redeem their rewards for each section of the book. (Those reward redemptions may make an appearance on the blog at some point.)

We also treated ourselves to Cookout trays along the way!  If you haven't had a tray (or a milkshake) from Cookout, you don't understand what you're missing.  Seriously.

Arrival at the cabin was sporadic, so we spent the first night catching up with each other over light booze and a couple of friendly games of pool (yes, the cabin had a pool table!).  Kara made some delicious pulled pork in the crock-pot earlier that day, so we were able to have yummy barbecue sandwiches for dinner that night (and the next too, actually).

On the only full day of our trip, Alex and I had high hopes for spending a few hours tubing at a resort area about 45 minutes away in Maggie Valley.  Due to a series of unfortunate events (I'll spare you the details), that didn't work out quite as we had planned.  We are, however, grateful to Kara for being so generous as to drive us all the way up and down the mountain as we attempted to get tickets for the tubing experience.  

Instead, we spent the day at the Biltmore Estate in Asheville.  Things always work out as they should, and by the skin of our teeth we were able to grab a set of tickets for the Candlelight Christmas Evenings event - in the earliest time slot, too!  Since our tickets to tour the home weren't until 6 p.m., we were able to enjoy a wine cellar and do a tasting tasting, check out the gift shops, walk through some of the grounds, and even get in a few photo-ops beforehand.

Ya'll - the Biltmore at Christmas is gorgeous - breathtaking, really.  It was well worth the extra $10 to visit the home after dark, with all the candles lit and sparkling Christmas decor.  There was even live music in the form of a chorus providing beautiful Christmas carols as we toured the home.  Grade A stuff, I'm telling ya.

The three of us made it back to the cabin around 8:30 p.m. or so, and when Justin and Sarah returned from their full day of skiing around 10 p.m., we all enjoyed barbecue leftovers and turned in for the night not long afterwards.  We were pooped from the full day out and about!  The next morning, we took our time making breakfast and packing up to head out on our respective ways.

It may have been a short visit, but it was a quality one.  Meeting for 2 hours over dinner once or twice a year is nice, but it doesn't do a friendship justice, that's for sure.  We really enjoyed our time with the group and hopefully it won't be long before we can see them again.  And if you're reading this, there's always an extra bed available in Monroe!


Update (1/19/14) - Click here for Kara's post about our weekend in the mountains.