Thursday, September 22, 2016

Ultimate List of Themed Dinner Nights

I love meal planning and finding new recipes to try. I also love being creative and planning themed parties. So, imagine my excitement when I discovered there was a way to combine these two loves! It’s a super simple method called themed dinner nights!

There are two different ways that you can use themed dinner nights to help you make dinner time a little more fun. I’m going to explain the different ways and then I’ll be sharing a list of ideas for themed nights!

Assign Each Night a Theme 

If you’re someone that plans your meals according to the days of the week, themed nights can make it a lot more fun. Simply pick a theme for each night and use it as a guide when coming up with ideas. Most of the themes allow for a lot of variety within them. You could pick different themes each week or reuse the same ones over and over again.

Use Themed Nights for Special Occasions 

You can also use the themed nights to make dinner just a little bit special every now and then. If you’re using them sparingly, then I suggest adding a little extra fun with decorations or activities that keep with the theme of the night. It’s a great way to bring your family together – no matter how big or small!

Ideas Organized by Days of the Week 

Manly Monday – Have the men of the house pick what’s for dinner on this night.
Mexican Monday – Use the many Mexican dishes out there as inspiration for this night!
Meatless Monday – See if you can create an entire meal without using meat.
Meatcentric Monday – Plan your entire meal around your meat. Allow it to take center stage tonight.
Make It Together Monday – Pick out a meal that the family can make together.

Taco Tuesday – Who doesn’t love tacos? You could also add a little variety with taco soups, casseroles, and more. This theme doesn’t have to be limited to just tacos!
Tossed Around Tuesday – Pick out a dish that is usually “tossed” in some manner and use it for inspiration. Salads of all sorts are a great example. The tossed around dish may just be a side but make it a special side!
Try It Tuesday – This is the perfect time to try out that new recipe!

Women’s Choice Wednesday – The women of the house get to choose the meal for tonight!
Winner Wednesday – Have a game night earlier in the week. The winner gets to pick tonight’s dinner.
Wacky Wednesday – Make tonight’s dinner slightly strange.

Throwback Thursday – Pick out something from childhood or that you haven’t enjoyed in a while.
Thrifty Thursday – Use things that you already have on hand. Think of it as the perfect way to save money and use up items in your kitchen.
This or That Thursday – Create a meal that can be used in two different ways. For example, taco meat can be used for tacos or for nachos. Then, create a serving bar and allow everyone to make it their own way!

Fun Friday – Center tonight around a fun activity and plan the food accordingly!
Festival Friday – Think in terms of festival foods. What could you serve at home?
Flat Friday – Tonight’s meal should be flat in appearance – think pizzas, flatbreads, sandwiches, and more!
Fried Friday – If your family loves fried foods, why not limit it to once a week with this themed night?
Fresh Friday – Create a meal using only “fresh” ingredients. No boxed or canned foods for this one!

Saucy Saturday – Let the sauce take center stage tonight! How many foods can you think of that feature a sauce of some sort?
Sandwich Saturday – I think this one is pretty self explanatory…
Souper Saturday – This one is great for fall and winter when soups are all the rage.
Special Saturday – Make Saturday special and make it the day that you eat out.

Spaghetti Sunday – Who doesn’t love spaghetti?
Something Leftover Sunday – The perfect way to get rid of all the leftovers is to assign them a day!
Sleepy Sunday – Make today’s meal a lazy one so that you can lounge around and relax before the busy workweek.

Additional Themes

Pasta – There are so many things that you can do with pasta that it really should get it’s own night!
Italian – Pizza, pasta, calzones…the list goes on and on.
Pizza Night – I’m a pizza lover through and through. I’d be perfectly happy with one night a week dedicated to it. Perhaps it’s a different food for you…
Movie Night – Theme the dinner around a movie. For example, spaghetti is the perfect dinner for Lady & the Tramp.
Someone’s Choice – Involve the whole family in meal planning by assigning each person a different night. This way, everybody gets something that they want throughout the week.
Pantry Clean Out – Start with the items you already have on hand and see what you can create!
Seasonal – Use the seasons to influence what you have. Fall might lend itself to soups while summer lends itself to cold cuts.
Casserole – There are so many different casseroles that you can make. These are perfect for busy nights as well since they can often be prepped in advance!
Crockpot – I love my crockpot! Crockpot night would be perfect for those busy nights that inevitably show up on our calendars!
Specific Meat – If family is big on eating meats, you could theme the nights around specific meats. Turkey Night, Chicken Night, Beef Night, etc.
Grill Out – Pick one night a week and make it the night you grill out. Just make sure you have a rain plan or flexibility in your schedule for this one!
Event themed – Theme it all around a certain event – a ball game, circus, TV show premiere, awards show, etc
Special Occasions – Use the special occasions in your life to create dinner themes. It could be birthdays, holidays, anniversaries, or other things you celebrate with your family.

What other fun nights can you come up with? Share them in the comments so everyone can benefit from them!

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Adopting a Dog Before the Baby Comes

Even before we met each other, we’ve both always been dog people. To the point that a dog is part of the reason we’re together today. Right after we met, the husband was texting me and trying to get me to come over to his place. We had just met and I didn’t really feel comfortable going to an almost stranger’s place alone. I threw one excuse after another to him and he kept trying. The final excuse – I haven’t seen my dog all weekend and should really spend some time with her – was met with a “bring her with you” and that was the end of my excuses.

For the first two years of our marriage, we lived in a tiny one bedroom apartment in California. The apartment was within budget and helped us out financially, but it had many flaws – including the cats only policy. For two years, we gave love freely to the dogs we encountered at friends houses, parties, and when visiting our families.

When we found out we were moving, one of the things that became a priority on our list was getting a dog. We weren’t sure if it would be one of our dogs (both happily living in good homes with our parents) or a new shelter dog, but we knew we wanted to grow our family with a dog. We didn’t count on growing our family with a baby quite so fast – we thought it’d take a little longer.

That opened up a whole new debate – to adopt a dog before or after the baby comes. We agreed on adopting the dog before the baby. We figured this would give us plenty of time to train the dog before we brought a baby into the picture. We were careful to consider temperament and whether or not dogs were known to be good with kids.

We went to several shelters and looked at many different dogs. We encountered sad situations and found shelters that we couldn’t believe their policies. In the end, we ended up adopting a stray hound mix that animal control had picked up. Nothing is really known about his past so it’s all a slight guessing game at this point.

When we met this guy in the shelter, his name was Elvis and he was listed as a hound mix. The officer brought him out to the visiting room and the first thing he did was grab a toy from the bucket and start running around crazily. At 60 pounds with lots of energy, we thought he was going to be a handful. There was something about his connection to the husband though that persuaded us to go ahead and adopt him. The husband renamed him Mr. Gibbs from the Pirates of the Caribbean.

After we got him home, he ended up calming down a lot more than either of us expected. He’s still full of energy but he has a much calmer side to him that neither one of us saw coming. He’s also catching on quickly to our training which leads us to believe he’s had a family before. In fact, he’s lying snuggled up beside me as I write this post.

I’m a firm believer that there are such things as dog soul mates out there. We definitely have more than one over the years but there are those dogs that just “fit” with their humans. He seems to be falling into that category rather quickly. I can’t wait to see how he is with our little one in February!

Do you have a furkid? What’s the story of how they came into your life? We’d love to hear about it in the comments below!

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Dear Military Spouse: Do Something for Yourself

Last year, I had the special opportunity to be an ambassador for the first Military Spouse Wellness Summit. The event was well received and as a result, they're bringing it back again this year! Given the crazy changes my life has gone through lately with moving and being pregnant, I think the timing of this event is absolutely perfect! I'm looking forward to putting aside some time in October to focus on my needs before the baby comes. I hope you'll join in and do the same!

Dear military spouse,

I'm here today to ask you to do something for yourself. This event isn't about your kids or your husband, it's about you and your wellness. (Okay, there may be some mentions of your relationship as well since that's important to your health.) I'm only sharing this event with you because I truly care about you and want to give you the opportunity to participate in this event with me. I'm going to lay out all of the details below and then you can decide for yourself if it's worth joining.

The event is brought to you by InDependent, Corie Weathers, and Armed Forces Insurance. (Check them out - it's a pretty powerful team of people!)

This year's theme is "Happily Ever After" which makes me super excited! I love fairy tales and the concept of happily ever after. The summit will consist of several emails featuring guest speakers sent directly to your inbox! No extra work for you to find the information! Did I mention the event is FREE?

The Summit begins Monday, October 17 and ends on Friday, October 22 (two days before my 30th birthday!). There's also a bonus day on Saturday complete with a prize from Military Benefit Association

Listen online! All of the recordings from guest speakers will be available to participants throughout the week. If you wish to access them after the summit, then I recommend picking VIP membership when you sign up.

I could go on and on about why you should join this event, but I'll keep it simple. The first reason - it's free (unless you pick VIP membership which has a small fee) so you have nothing to lose! Second, it's time you did something for yourself! And third, you'll be surprised by how much you benefit from this great event! And if you need one more reason, there are great prizes involved! Doesn't everyone love winning things?

Now it's your turn to decide. Are you going to do something for yourself? Are you going to sign up for the Military Spouse Wellness Summit with me?

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Home Tour + Surprise Announcement

Yesterday, we gave you our tips for making a house into a home. Today, we thought we'd pop in and give you a look into the house we just bought. Keep in mind that this is the "before" tour of the house. In other words, this is what it looks like before we clean, paint, and make the place our own. Make sure you go all the way to the bottom for the surprise announcement - it's something we've been keeping close to our hearts for a couple of months now!

Let's start with the outside of the house. The house is a single family home. The house sits on three and a half acres of land. It has an attached two car garage and a separate pole barn that could hold a lot. (The husband has plenty of storage space for those lawn tools!) There's also a small pond on the property but we haven't taken any pictures of it yet since it needs cleaned up quite a bit!

front of the house


Now, lets head to the inside of the house! We bought a three bedroom, two bathroom house. It's around 1300 square feet with a full basement (so double that square footage!). The master bedroom has a large walk in closet and giant soaking tub. The kitchen is also nice and big compared to our tiny one bedroom in California! We plan to use the basement for additional living space as well because it's in good shape and doesn't have that creepy basement feel that some basements get.


living room

 front bedroom

 back bedroom

master bedroom

As you can tell from the pictures, our stuff hasn't arrived yet. The furniture you see in the pictures is what was left by the previous owners. We have replaced the air mattress with a brand new bed, which has us both super excited! Our old bed (which was in great shape) will be going into the front room for guests who come to visit (such as my parents in October!). That just leaves the back bedroom needing a purpose. We thought the following might be a good idea:
By the way - moving while pregnant isn't exactly a party - especially with the hoops military insurance makes you jump through. We are excited and looking forward to welcoming a new addition into the family in February!!

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Tips for Making Your New House a Home

Did you catch the Virtual Tour Across America this summer? If not, I recommend checking it out. We had a lot of great guests who shared about their home states! It's like taking a cross country vacation without ever leaving the comfort of your couch!

The purpose of this tour was to keep you entertained while we went through the somewhat stressful task of moving across the country. I'm excited to announce that we made it safely from California to Michigan and have finally finished the house buying process two months after getting started. The house isn't ready to be shown in its entirety but we will be giving you sneak peeks here and there until we've finished making it a home.

Buying a new house is fun, stressful, and exciting all at the same time. After you finish buying it, the work takes on a new personality as you settle into making the house into a home. Here's just a few of our tips for accomplishing that task.

Change all of the locks.
This was the first thing we did! My parents gave us the recommendation and I'm really glad that we listened. You really have no way of knowing who might have a key to your new house. To avoid unexpected encounters, it's best to change the locks. We did this by simply buying new door knobs at Lowe's when we got our appliances. Extra bonus? New knobs can give the doors a slight face lift!

Clean everything!
I'm not even exaggerating when I say everything! I have been on a deep cleaning spree around our house. I've been using several different natural combinations to get the place as clean as can be. I'll definitely be sharing more tips for this one in the future - including which items to clean and what products I recommend! If you can, clean the house before you bring in your furniture. Since we have to wait on household goods delivery, this is working out perfectly for us.

Paint the walls.
An easy way to give your home a facelift is painting the walls or switching out the carpet. A little color can go a long way in making the house feel more like a home.

Have a favorite flower? Enjoy growing your own food? Changing the outside to meet your wants and needs is another easy way to make the house feel more like a home.

Add your family and stuff.
Moving in your stuff and your family can certainly make the place feel like home. After all, isn't home where the heart is?

Get a pet (or move your furry friend in).
Okay, this one's not necessary but it can definitely help make the house feel more like home. We adopted a dog from the shelter right away. We're both dog people and we've missed having a furry friend around. Our new friend, Mr. Gibbs, was ready to come home with us the day after we closed on the house. We'll be sharing more pictures and his story later but for now, you can check him out on our Instagram page.

These are just a few of the things we're doing to our new house to make it feel more like a home. What are the first things you update in a new house? Do you have any tips or tricks to share with us? We'd love to hear them in the comments below! After all, this is the first home that we've actually owned.

P.S. If you want to see our work in progress, we're slowly sharing pictures on our Instagram page!


Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Things to Love In Virginia

Hi all, I am super excited to be here visiting on The Coastie Couple, and their Virtual Tour Across America. My name is Tara, and I am the voice behind An Aiming High Wife, where I blog about our adventures as a military family. Currently, we are stationed in Virginia and I can’t wait to tell you all about some super fun things to do in our current state! They say “Virginia is for Lovers,” and at first I didn’t quite understand that. But now that we’ve spent some time in the area I can see what they mean. Virginia has everything from mountains to beaches, as well as cities and wide open country. It really has something for everyone. There is so much to do and see it is perfect for weekend getaways and spending time with those you love. 


All The History

If you enjoy visiting somewhere from the colonial time, a location that was significant in the Civil War, a home from a past president, or locations honoring the men and women of the military, you can find it all in Virginia.  You have Colonial Williamsburg, Yorktown, Jamestown, and Mount Vernon. There are historic Battlefields from the Civil War, including Bull Run.  And if you are a military family you can visit the battlefields with your free Military:National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass, you just have to pick one up where you pay to enter. And don't forget about Arlington National Cemetery, Norfolk and it's shipyards, and the National Museum of the Marine Corps.  Also a little side note, historical sites make for beautiful backdrops for family photos!

historical family photos

Spending Time Outdoors 

There are parks, open hiking trails, and bike trails all over Virginia and majority of it won't cost you a dime! You can explore the Blue Ridge Mountains, or spend time by the water along one of Virginia's beaches. 

The Natural Bridge

The Natural Bridge is an amazing site to be seen. We stopped there one day when we noticed a sign on the other side of the highway while on our way to Florida. It was by far one of the best and most beautiful random stops we have ever made. 

 Natural Bridge

Wine Tasting  

There is just something so relaxing about spending the day outside surrounded by family and friends while your enjoying a nice glass of wine.

 NOVA winery  

In Northern Virginia you can find wineries everywhere, and they are some of the prettiest wineries I have been to outside of Napa Valley and Italy. We have fallen in love with the wines in Northern Virginia and have even become members at some of our favorite wineries!  

What is your favorite place to visit in the lovely state of Virginia?


 About the Author

Tara is an Air Force Spouse, mommy of one, and the voice behind An Aiming High Wife. She started writing in hopes of bringing military spouses and families together to become each others greatest support system. When she isn't writing she loves spending time with her family. They love to travel and really experience every adventure the military sends their way! 

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Monday, August 29, 2016

A Vermonter Recommends 11 Things to Do in Vermont

Cows, mountains, old red barns, skiing, maple syrup and so much more, these are just a few of the things that Vermont is known for. But what’s the real deal? What should you really do when you come to this little state? I won’t give you the hype, this is a look at the real Vermont, the real must see attractions for anyone coming to the Green Mountain State. Trust me, I’m a Vermonter.

#1 Drink Beer. (Or Wine or Spirits or Cider) Or Just Visit a Brewery

Do you like beer? Do you like the WORLD’S BEST BEER? Well you can find it here in Vermont. With more breweries per capita than anywhere else, there is a beer for every palate. If you aren’t into beer, there are also a ton of local wineries, distilleries, and cideries. Most breweries are open to the public and have tours (sorry Heady fans, the Alchemist isn’t one of them) or you can join an organized beer tour.

[Caption: Vermont Beer: Forbidden Fruit at Vermont Pub & Brewery. ]
Nonalcoholic Option: Not everyone drinks, and that’s totally cool. There are a lot of other locally made food & drink to be found. Visit Vermont in the fall for fresh apple cider, straight from the press right there are the orchard!

#2 Visit Burlington

Burlington is Vermont’s largest city, it’s also a college town with an eclectic vibe. It also has a ton of things to do, including shopping, dining, nightlife, events, concerts and performing arts. While in Burlington, check out the following must see attractions:
  • The Waterfront - Enjoy a sunset dinner on a lake cruise or at a lakeside restaurant, stroll along the walking path, or enjoy a local event or concert, or just hang out on the beach. Got kids? The Echo aquarium is the perfect way to spend a day!
  • The Church Street Marketplace aka Church Street - A car-free shopping street with boutiques, name brand stores, coffee shops, restaurants and bars. By day is the best place to shop and get a bite to eat, and by night it’s the center of Burlington’s Nightlife.
  • Breweries - Yes, it’s home to many breweries including Magic Hat, local favorite Switchback and more!
  • Seasonal Events - There are many seasonal events year round. The summer brings music festivals, food festivals, wine festivals and beer festivals, winter has the ever popular Mardi Gras parade.
  • Concerts & Performing Arts - The Flynn Center features various performers and musicians year round. The perfect space to catch a bit of culture.
[Caption: The Burlington Waterfront at Sunset.]

#3 Eat the Local Food

Vermont loves it’s local agriculture and it shows in it’s restaurants. Many Vermont restaurants, even humble bars, feature local and seasonal ingredients. Farm to table is literal here in Vermont and plays a big part in the state’s food culture. There’s a variety of food to be found from pubs to pizza to ethnic food. Some of my personal favorites are:

#4 Ski or Snowboard

Winter in Vermont is the perfect time to hit the slopes. There are ski areas in every corner of the state with terrain for every level of skier or rider. If you are just learning or a pro hit up the slopes, and you won’t be disappointed.

Coming in the summer? That’s cool too, the ski areas still offer tons of fun summertime activities. Smuggs in particular has lots of family friendly activities year round. Or you can always visit the Alpine Slide at Stowe! (Protip: DO IT! SO MUCH FUN!)

#5 Visit Ben & Jerry’s

I’ve been asked by people visiting Vermont, “Should I really visit the Ben & Jerry’s factory? Or is it just a tourist trap?” My response: DO IT. It’s really awesome. Take the tour of the factory and browse the gift shop and the flavor graveyard. Get some ice cream at the scoop shop and say hi to the friendly onsite cows. It’s well worth the trip for kids and kids at heart.

#6 Maple Syrup

March means maple syrup season. If you are visiting Vermont in March you should be able to hit up a sugar on snow party and even a maple festival or two (plus get in on some sweet spring skiing). But, no fear! Maple is available year round in Vermont and easily found at every local grocery, convenience and tourist shop you might encounter. For the real experience visit a local sugar producer, like Bragg Farm to learn more about it and try their delicious maple creemees (soft-serve ice cream).

[Caption: A maple creemee from Bragg Farm.]

#7 Leaf Peep

Fall is the perfect time to come to Vermont, the leaves turn colors and the scenery is just gorgeous. People come to Vermont from all over to see the leaves. It’s not limited to just tourists either! Driving around to look at the turning leaves was a family tradition for me growing up as well. So if you are visiting in the fall, get out there and see those leaves!

#8 Attend a Festival

There are so many festivals to choose from! What do you like to do? Eat? Drink? Music? There is a festival for everyone! The summer in Vermont is filled with exciting and fun festivals, concerts and events to do.
[Caption: August West Fest - A Grateful Dead Tribute Festival.]

#9 Eat Some Cheese

If there is something other than beer, apples, milk, and maple that Vermont is known for it’s the delicious, delicious cheese. You may be familiar with Cabot cheese, but there is more than that! There are many different local cheese makers creating wonderful cheeses of all kind. If you are a cheese lover, Vermont has you covered.

#10 Visit a Museum Or Farm (why not both!)

Learning in Vermont can be fun, especially if you hit up any of these fun and hands on museums!
  • The Shelburne Museum - Learn about Vermont’s past and see relics and artwork from times gone by. Walk through a steam powered paddle boat that once traveled Lake Champlain, visit a round barn or sample some old-fashioned rock candy.
  • Shelburne Farms - Jaw dropping Vermont beauty? Milk a cow? Hay ride? Pet some farm animals? It’s all at Shelburne Farms along with artisan agricultural products (*coughCHEESE*)
  • Echo Center - Located on the waterfront in Burlington this is my young niece's favorite place to go! There are tons of hands on activities for kids to do all while they learn about Lake Champlain and its ecosystems.
  • UVM Morgan Horse Farm - Do you like horses? Did you know Vermont’s state animal is the Morgan horse? It was also once the principal mount of the United States cavalry. The UVM Morgan Horse Farm in Middlebury is a historic farm with a proud military and agricultural history. Learn about Vermont’s state animal, see gorgeous horses at work and play, and learn about the important role these animals played in the United States military history.

#11 Visit the Statehouse & Montpelier

Montpelier is the capital of Vermont and a town full of local charm and flavor. Take a visit to the Statehouse for a tour, it’s well worth it to see the historic building where state legislation takes place. Then visit downtown Montpelier for more great food and shopping. You can find all sorts of boutiques and shops.
[Caption: Montpelier Vermont, The Statehouse.]

#12 Visit a Farmer’s Market

Agriculture is huge in Vermont. So too are farmer’s markets. There is one every day of the week in one town or another. One of the best ones to visit is the Burlington Farmer’s Market. It’s held every Saturday morning. Like the other farmer’s markets you can find tons of local produce, handmade goods and artisan crafts, food and more. It’s a wonderful way to spend the morning and grab a bite to eat.

Vermont is way more than cows and cheese (though those are two very important things). Visit the Green Mountain State any time of year and you will have an abundance of things to see, activities to do and culture to experience. In my extremely biased opinion Vermont deserves a must see status for your next family vacation. There’s something for everyone from culture to shopping to animals to all the outdoor activities you could want. Take it from me, a lifelong Vermonter, these places are must sees.

And remember, Vermont is a state. You can find us just south of Canada, west of New Hampshire, and east of upstate New York just on the other side of Lake Champlain.

Have you been to Vermont? What’s your favorite thing to see or do there?

About the Author

Kara, The Hippy Milspouse is a blogger and military spouse. She’s a native Vermonter currently living in Korea (and missing her home state). She writes about green living and military life on her blog, The Hippy Milspouse. Connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.