Goodbye, Great Lakes

We did it. This morning, I entered the last payment on Kris’ student loan, which means we kicked $19,000 of debt to the curb in 2015. Goodbye, Great Lakes! How does it feel?  Pretty good. I’ve been thinking about this day for a long time and am pleased we made this a priority. It just goes to show what planning can do because I am not a natural saver. I love spending money. It’s my favorite, actually. So how did we do this?

Caveat: of course, it helps that we are DINKs and have money to throw at debt, but it wasn’t without sacrifice.

Every dollar had a job to do and was already accounted for. There was no “leftover” at the end of the month to spend on silly things. I planned ahead of time for expenses that are out of the ordinary, such as license registration and car insurance, along with the usual monthly expenses.  That gave us an idea of how much we could put toward the loan every month, and the goal of finishing it in September.

We cut back. This is sort of self-explanatory and a no-brainer. Less dinners out on a whim on Friday night (Outback, we’ve missed you) and more meal planning at home. Less impulse purchasing on iTunes and more thought put into needs vs. wants. This part wasn’t easy and we weren’t perfect, but having a budget of $100 “fun” money made us recalibrate the extras we buy every month. This was slow and difficult and felt like a punishment sometimes, but on the flip side, I appreciate $100 a lot more now that I did when I would easily drop that at Target without a thought.

Side hustles! I resold clothes on eBay and wrote a few freelance articles. Kris also sold an article and he worked on a project with a professor for some extra cash. We sold some furniture and some other things we weren’t using. The extra cash helped us get through some tight spots. I don’t know if these are something we can develop further, but it was exciting to have a little unexpected cash.

What now? Our other big goals were Europe (ticket purchased!) and LASIK for me (appointment is made!). We are now saving up to afford those things and we look forward to working on a solid emergency fund and throwing a little extra toward retirement.  Or, you know, some coconut shrimp at Outback every now and again.

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Philly Food

So everyone knows Philly is famous for its cheesesteak. Let’s get this out of the way: we didn’t make it to Geno’s or Pat’s. You have to leave something for next time, right? We did, however, have tons of delicious food and Philadelphia blew me away with the variety. Every meal was a treat and I can’t wait to go back and eat.

One of our first stops was Campo’s. Did you know that the hoagie is actually Philadelphia’s official sandwich? Weird, but true. In 1992 the mayor made it so. I don’t understand why a city needs an official sandwich, but…so be it. We ordered a hoagie and a cheesesteak to kick our culinary adventure off.

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I loved the hoagie, which surprised me. After a few bits of the cheesesteak, I finished the hoagie. I guess I wasn’t as big a fan of cheesesteak as I thought, but it was a very hot day and cheesesteak is a hot sandwich. We did order the cheesesteak with traditional Cheese whiz. The Cheese whiz ends up melting a bit and it isn’t as gross as most novices assume. Anyway, Campo’s was delicious and their sandwiches were huge.  We left clean plates.

Reading Terminal Market was fantastic.

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It reminded me a lot of Pike Place in Seattle, but it had more places to buy sandwiches and a large area to sit, along with a large selection of fresh fruits, veggies and meats. We met for lunch here one day. I had to try the cannoli from Termini Brothers Bakery. They had a giant bag of cannoli filling suspended from the ceiling. I wanted to crawl in there.

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I had a magical turkey stuffing sandwich from The Original Turkey. Kris and I both ate sandwiches from DiNic’s, which got a lot of press from the Travel Channel. My sandwich was hot, greasy, and lived up to my expectations. Go there hungry.

A vendor of the conference Kris was attending opened up Reading Terminal after hours for us one night. It was a highlight because this place was bumping during the day, so to see it turned down was very fun. Different vendors were open and we sampled more food, even though we had already eaten dinner at Barbuzzo, a Mediterranean restaurant.

Nutella crepe:

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The candy case at Chocolate by Mueller:

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I wanted to try everything. I did try the chocolate covered Oreos and wasn’t disappointed.

Here’s the fruit stands, very similar to Pike Place:

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Reading Terminal is a must if you go to Philadelphia. You can’t go wrong with finding something to eat there.

Philadelphia has the U.S.’s third largest Chinatown, which we were both surprised to find out. Our hotel was a few blocks from it, and one night when Kris was pressed for time we wandered over for a quick dinner. We ended up at Penang. I had the pad thai which was soooo freaking tasty that I’m still dreaming about it. As an appetizer we ordered the roti canai. Its similar to a flat croissant with a curry-potato dipping sauce. It’s apparently a Malaysian dish. Very good!

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I also saw Utz potato chips. Maybe I haven’t been paying attention, but I don’t think I’ve seen these in the Midwest. I have, however, heard Judge John Hodgman talk about them at length on his podcast, so I bought a bag. They reminded me of a thinner and saltier Pringle. I also felt better about myself because I didn’t have to cram my hand into a can to eat them. Winning!

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We also sampled some Tastykakes. This is apparently some sort of Hostess sibling. Perhaps a step-sibling. Tastykakes was the one disappointment. I did like the coffee cake flavor, but I guess I was born and raised on Hostess and Little Debbie. I don’t have room for Tastykakes in my life.

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We had so much good food that I think we’re still working off the calories. On the plus side, we now have many reasons to go back. And now I’m off to the kitchen to see what’s in the fridge…

Philly Recap

Back in mid-July (seems so long ago!) we had the chance to go to Philadelphia for a five day trip. Kris was there for work, attending the American Association of Law Libraries annual conference. In the past, this conference has taken us to Seattle and Kris went to San Antonio last year, so we try and turn it into a fun trip. It’s not as fun as a real vacation since Kris has to work, but I’m getting used to exploring cities on by my lonesome. Plus, we couldn’t pass up the chance to see Philadelphia together. Our first date was to see a watch party of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.

Philly was HOT. The temp index was in the mid-90s. I don’t do well when it gets that hot, but I tried my best. I usually ended up in the hotel during the hottest parts of the day. Luckily, there was a Keeping up with the Kardashians marathon going on.

Day one we tried to hit up a lot of things since this was one of two days we’d both be able to see things together. We checked in to the hotel and then hit the streets to go see the Mutter Museum, the museum of medical oddities. They don’t allow any pictures, but suffice it to say it was disturbing! I have a pretty strong stomach, but the heat combined with travel and then being confronted with medical oddities made me feel a little nauseous. It was very interesting, though, and worth checking out, especially if you dig science.

Isn’t Kris short? This skeleton was one of the medical oddities. There were a lot of skeletons and preserved fetuses. Consider yourself warned.

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After that, we hustled across the downtown to get to the Liberty Bell. Apparently, it underwhelmed this history nerd.

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We then crossed the street to see Independence Hall. The urge to watch National Treasure was strong!  We did the short tour and got to see where the Declaration of Independence was signed.  Cool and also free.

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The next day, since Kris was conferencing all day, I checked out the Museum of Art. You know—Rocky steps! I left early and climbed the steps before the museum opened, but even in the early morning I was sweating profusely. I half ran them, half walked them.

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spent a long time wandering around the museum and snapping pics. Amazing collection.

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Highly recommend, even if you aren’t super into art museums.

Also pictured: City Hall, the Rocky statute (which is hidden away from the Museum of Art like a redheaded stepchild) and Independence Hall from the outside.

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I also checked out the Magic Gardens. It was unassumingly tucked into a regular looking neighborhood, but the inside was quite amazing. Makes me miss art class!

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I also took a very tourist-y Duck tour where they drive you around to see the sights on land and then we took a quick boat ride in the Delaware. It was a good afternoon pick to avoid the heat, but not a must do. I did learn that whenever a new building goes up in Philly, a certain percentage of the construction budget must be donated to the arts, which explains why Philadelphia has so many statues and art. Hint hint, Madison.

We also (maybe because we were a bit tipsy) stomped around in the fountain by Love Park.

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On our last day, we went to Eastern State Penitentiary. It was an old prison designed like the spokes of a wheel, with prisoners being separated from each other as a way of rehabilitation. So, basically solitary confinement for each prisoner. The prison was closed in 1971 and it became very run down after that. Now it is a U.S. National Historic Landmark. There were a few high school classes touring when we went through, in fact. The Penitentiary has a haunted house that would be amazing, I bet. The place was creepy enough during daylight.

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So creepy. I’d go back to Philly for two things: the haunted house and the food!  Oh, yes, food recap up next.