If you have frequented this blog in the past, you may have noticed a recent change. That’s right, the website looks different! I use WordPress to run this blog and one of the great things about WordPress is the ability to change the websites theme with a couple clicks of the button. There are many great (and free) designs to choose from. I am using a theme called Omega right now. A great feature of the Omega theme is that it is fully responsive. What does that mean? Well, it means that the content will scale to fit the size of the screen. Regardless of whether you are using a desktop computer or a smartphone to read this blog, you will see a rather clean reading experience. If you are on a desktop, you can see how the website resizes as you shrink and expand the browser window. Go ahead and give it a whirl.
This past Sunday we made a day trip up to Chicago to take in some sights. In particular we wanted to go to the Shedd Aquarium and Field Museum. The Shedd Aquarium was running a promotion for free general admission for Illinois residents over the weekend and extending into the start of this week. After seeing the extensive line the last time we were in Chicago, we figured that the best time to go would be on Sunday morning right when they opened.
Neither of us slept very well that Saturday night. I think our bodies knew that we had to be up early in order to make it by the 9am opening time. Watching the sunrise gave us some extra energy as we drove along the interstate. Parking in Chicago is a bit of a hassle and can be quite pricey. One of my uncles who lives in the Windy City knows all of the spots that you can park for free. Instead of trying to find one of those spots, we opted instead to pay to park at a lot on Wabash Street about 1/2 mile away. It was $11 for 10 hours of parking. Shae saw some closer and cheaper spots that we’ll have to use next time.
By the time we showed up to the aquarium the line wasn’t out of the pavilion yet and they hadn’t opened yet either. We didn’t have to wait too long and then we were inside and through admissions. Of course the aquarium tries to upsell you to their dolphin show and special exhibits. We stuck with the free general admission. The free ticket lets you see about 85% of the complex so it is a great deal!
This buck toothed puffer fish was a source of amusement.
The crab was quite imposing with its large size.
The sea dragons are always marvels to look at.
By 10:45am we were starting to feel a bit peckish so we headed down to the indoor picnic area so we could eat our packed lunches. We had made chicken salad the night before and used a cooler lunch box to keep it fresh. Food courts in touristy places such as the Aquarium are usually overpriced. Pack a lunch and snacks to save yourself money. Also, because we ate early on we had our choice of seating. The dolphin show was going on at the same time and the seating area looks into the underwater area of their pen, so in a way we got to see the dolphin show for free.
The line of parked strollers outside the dolphin show was quite impressive. Shae was able to rattle off the prices of each one as we walked by (hmm, I wonder why she can do that). I would feel a bit nervous about leaving a $500 stroller unattended. The $10 umbrella strollers out there seemed to have the right idea in mind.
Once the dolphin show finished around 11am a flood of people descended on the picnic area. It is a good idea to eat outside of the predefined lunch times (11-1). Our seats were snatched up about 10 seconds after we got up. Again, the people watching was superb. Of particular amusement was the mom who lysoled the table, her child’s hands, then put down a BPA-free tablecloth to keep the nasty, scary germs at bay. To each their own, right?
We left the aquarium around noon and the line had grown substantially. It seemed that our timing and estimates of peak visitation was spot on. The Field Museum was decidedly less busy. They were not having a free day, but we do have a membership with another museum that grants us reciprocal admissions to the Field (aka we get free admission at the Field). With this visit, we paid off the cost of the membership so there was no money wasted there. We had purchased the membership to motivate us to get out and see some other museums and to patronage a center of learning.
The Field Museum was enjoyable as always. We skipped a lot of the exhibits because we were getting tired and still had a long drive to get home. We did visit the dinosaurs because they are awesome.
The drive back was uneventful and the whole day’s outing only cost us around $40 for the two of us. $11 in parking and another $30 or so in gas.
Last night we went to a party and needed to bring an appetizer to share. I didn’t want to bring the crockpot and try and figure out a place to plug it in so that ruled out hot appetizers. Crackers, chips, salsa, and veggie plates seemed a bit to predictable and I figured other guests would bring those types of dishes. There had to be a cheap, tasty, finger food that would be instantly recognizable that I could whip up overnight. Then it hit me! Why not make some deviled eggs!
Okay, so they aren’t a dime a dozen, at least not anymore. Eggs are quite cheap, and the great thing about deviled eggs is that they are cut in half, so a dozen eggs will actually make 2 dozen self serve appetizers. I’ve never made deviled eggs before, or for that matter even hard boiled eggs so with a little guidance from AllRecipes.com and some pointers from Shae I made up a batch of bacon, cheddar deviled eggs.
We had a great time at the party. There was even horse and buggy rides around the park (we opted not to go on that because it was raining on and off). Oh, and the eggs were scarfed up within 15 minutes of arriving! What are your favorite party appetizers?
April, the dreaded tax month, is on the horizon and it isn’t too early to start thinking about what you may owe to Uncle Sam.
The nice thing about crunching some numbers now is that there is still time to play the numbers in your favor. For instance, if you make estimated quarterly payments (like I do for my home business) then you can still adjust your Q4 payment, due 1/15/2014. This might help you avoid a penalty for paying too little. It might also save you from getting a refund (aka a 0% loan to Uncle Sammie). Also, you can still contribute to your tax protected retirement plan until April. If you are toeing the line between tax brackets a large contribution to your retirement account may put you into a lower bracket. Below are the tax brackets for 2013.