Monday, January 9, 2017

This Week...Beyond Money 1/2 - 1/8

For me, a life beyond money is making choices so that you can live the best possible life, regardless of your income level. Obviously, you have to make a living, but there are many ways to improve your quality of life without increasing your income levels and correspondingly your expenses. This regular post will be some of the ways that we improve our quality of life beyond just trying to make more money.
* I made breakfast sandwiches with bagels I got from the restaurant. I added eggs ($.99/dozen jumbo, on sale at Meijer), cheese (sale, store brand), and some pickled veggies (on mine, Trucker doesn't like pickled veggies as much as I do)
* I made a quick and easy dip for us one evening as our snack. I mixed together some sour cream, a bit of cream cheese and a good amount of salsa with a bit of a flavoring packet I got at a salvage grocer. I served with tortilla chips I got on sale for $.50/bag (75% off Christmas clearance. They were green and red).
* I made a weird but yummy apple dish. I thawed a baggie of applesauce from the freezer (put up last year from seconds apples) and spread in a thin layer in a baking pan. I had some tad-stale sugar cookies in the freezer. I thawed them and crumbled them up. I added some flour, a bit of sugar, cinnamon and 2 tbsp of melted butter, then topped the apple sauce. The toaster oven was occupied, so I let it sit for a half hour, then baked at 350 degrees for a half hour. The result was nice. The top was crisp, then a middle layer that was cake-like and a thin layer of thick applesauce/apple butter at the bottom. It wasn't overly sweet like my apple crisp usually is, so it will be in regular rotation as we look for ways to indulge our sweet tooth without increasing our diabetes risk.
* We had pan-fried pork chops and roasted veggies for dinner one day. I used turnips, carrots, beets (all from the farm), potatoes (Aldi; $.30/lb for multicolored fingerling), radishes (Aldi; $.69/lb) and onions (from the stores; Aldi for $.33/lb), tossed with vegetable oil and some ranch seasoning that I got at a salvage grocery. It was absolutely fantastic. We had one pork chop and a serving of vegetables left over, which I used for breakfast one day.
* I made Colcannon with collards (from the farm) and potatoes (Aldi; $.25/lb). I used little milk and no cream.
* I made a slow cooker lasagna to use for work lunches. I used a box of lasagna noodles (realized as I was finishing the last layer that I forgot about my eggplant noodles. Boo. I'll just have to make lasagna again soon), the last of a jar of tomato sauce in the frig, plus another jar from the pantry, a small bag of leeks from the freezer, half a baggie of frozen peppers, a container of cottage cheese ($.75 on manager's special), about a cup of TVP granules, a handful of cheddar (store brand) and herbs from the indoor garden.
* We got some good manager's specials: eggnog for $.50/half gallon, cottage cheese for $.75, one-pound bags of cheddar for $2.25.

Food Preservation:
* I dehydrated more basil, oregano and sage from the indoor garden.
* I put up 2 gallons of beet pickles. It is the last of the cold storage beets.

* I took 4 days off between jobs just got a bit of a break. The first say, Trucker suggested we get out of town. We went to a town about a half hour away and ran around a huge antique mall for awhile.  We had a lot of fun looking at everything and finding awesome, weird and quirky old things. I bought two things: a big yellow plastic box with a handle. It looks really funky and fun. I plan to use it to hold either crafting projects downstairs (to hide and to keep the cat from eating the yarn, as she does) or to hold pillowcases. It was $4.50, on sale 20% so $3.60. The other item was a large screen. I'm not sure exactly what it was a part of, a door to something. I am going to use it to organize my jewelry. Trucker and I were just talking about needing something for my earrings last week. He has been looking out for something and this is perfect. It was $16, on sale for 40% off, so $9.60. So much cheaper than buying a new jewelry organizer and so fun.
* We went out on a few coffee dates and got a lot of writing and reading done.
* We had a couple stay-in dates with popcorn and movies from the library.
* Basically, it was the perfect mini vacation before I start the new job.

* Trucker got his first hair cut since the accident. He has been wearing bandanas and hats since because parts of his hair were shorter and one 1.5 inch diameter circle said bald. Finally, the hair in that section has grown out about a centimeter and a half, except directly over the scar. It did not grow in as thick as the rest of his hair, but we were hoping it would at least grow back. He used a coupon for Great Clips for a $6 haircut.

Waste Reduction:
* I composted weird things, as always.
* I mended some socks that had torn at the heel. They are comfortable, warm socks, so I didn't want to waste them.

House and Home:
* I got off of work an hour and a half early one day, so I decided to work on the house for that amount of time. As soon as I got home, I turned on Spotify and started working. I wiped down the front door on both sides, then wiped all the walls in the entrance-way and down the hall towards the kitchen. I made a vinegar-water solution and used it to wipe down all of the door handles and knobs everywhere in the house. I got out the spackle and filled in all the little bump marks on walls throughout the house. I also filled in some weird holes on the ceiling in the bedroom we are working on. I'm assuming some of them were from hanging posters, not sure of the others. The previous owners had patched some parts of the ceiling in the living room, but had done a rough job. I sanded down the rough spots and spackled in any low spots. I had some melamine foam that I bought a long time ago (generic version of Magic Eraser), but hadn't tried yet. I started scrubbing the kitchen-frig handles, frig front, front of stove, floor around the stove (when we moved in there was some kind of sticky thing that I hadn't been able to get up no matter what cleaners I used or how hard I scrubbed). Melamine is pretty much the best thing ever. With barely any effort, it took off everything. Then I opened up the front of the frig and vacuumed out the coils. I wiped off the coils and the vent cover. Since I was still super excited about the melamine, I tackled the bathtub. Again, this stuff is the bomb. I ended up calling my mother to tell her about its wonders and we ordered 60 on amazon ($6.49 with free shipping).
* We worked together on my stepdaughter's room. We had previously used it as a craft room/storage room. We got everything cleared out. I organized all of my craft items into boxes and threw away some stuff that was just clutter.
* We donated two boxes worth of old clothes/random household items to the thrift store. Their warehouse had burned down this week, so they were going to be low on items. These items were not fashionable enough to sell on consignment, but are in good condition and I'm sure someone will buy them.
* We gathered up some items that didn't sell at the booth that we didn't want to keep. We dropped them off at a cancer charity shop that operates on a consignment basis. If your items sell within 4 weeks, you split the proceeds 50-50. If it doesn't sell by then, it becomes property of the shop (they mark it down 50% to move it). Since we would otherwise have donated the items anyway, it was nice to have the chance to earn a little something, and even if it does earn us anything/much, we will be helping the Columbus Cancer Clinic.
* It was warm enough a couple of days to turn off the furnace and open the windows. Granted, it got a little chilly, but we loved the fresh air.

* I worked 3 days at the restaurant. I worked longer shifts so I got a decent number of hours in. I took 4 days off in between jobs to recoup and get ready for the new beginning.

* I feel really good about the decision I have made about the job. We will finally make a salary that we can be stable on, and within a year will get health insurance (in case the ACA gets repealed). While part of me wishes I had done this years ago (thinking of how close to retirement I'd have been if I just bit the bullet and went here right out of school), I think the timing is right. I would have missed a lot of exciting things and I'm glad I spent my 20s being a vivacious wild wanderer. I'm glad I got to meet Trucker. I'm glad I got to move around. I'm glad I got a chance to try my hand at all sorts of fun jobs: banking, accounting, baking, farming, and package throwing. Now we have settled. We know where we want to grow old, we are stable, we have my stepdaughter in our lives (who is basically just the coolest human ever), we have dreams for a few acres in the country with a fishing pond and maybe a couple head of cattle. If I'd gone into this job when I was young, I would have wondered what I could have been or could have done. I also would probably have been dumb with the money. Now, I know why I'm going and I know where I'm using it to get me.

* Trucker went to the doctor about some dizziness he was experiencing and the doctor said it was benign proximal vertigo. Basically, nothing dangerous, he just has to avoid doing the head movements that cause dizziness and be careful about falling. It cost us our copay to go, but I would rather be out $30 than not catch something until it was too late. This past year has been hard, but a probably healthy result is that it has made me realize that we are getting older. We need to be more mindful of risks and start taking care of things before they become issues.
* One day while Trucker worked, I basically relaxed around the house with Ray. It was a perfect evening.
How was your week?

Thursday, January 5, 2017

This Week...Beyond Money 12/19 - 1/1

For me, a life beyond money is making choices so that you can live the best possible life, regardless of your income level. Obviously, you have to make a living, but there are many ways to improve your quality of life without increasing your income levels and correspondingly your expenses. This regular post will be some of the ways that we improve our quality of life beyond just trying to make more money.

* We had the last of the pulled pork from the freezer as BBQ sandwiches.
* I made tacos one evening using ground beef (from Aldi) sauteed with onions and garlic (from the pantry; onions from Aldi @ $.33/lb and garlic from the garden), store brand tortillas, sour cream, pickled beets/radishes/peppers/onions, and homemade hot sauce (using free peppers from the farm). I served with slices of fresh radish ($.69/lb at Aldi).
* I pulled a container of taco soup from the freezer. So delicious and a perfect quick and easy dinner.
* Trucker made dinner for me one evening: penne and tomato sauce. He had it finishing up when I walked in the door. I love him so much.
* We snacked on fresh veggies a lot. I love having them sliced and ready for noshing.
* We made BLT's one evening. We used half as much bacon as usual and I made a veggie side to go with it. That allowed us to use the bacon in other meals throughout the week.

* Since we don't really celebrate Christmas, we have our own little ritual. We go out for Chinese buffet, go hiking at a metropark and catch a movie at the discount theatre. We had a great time and had really good talks. Dinner was $25 with tip (we called around last year and found the best meal for the cheapest price; we drank water). We watched Sully and bought no snacks. All told, we spent $$28.50.
* I took my sister and her boyfriend out for coffee one afternoon. They are both the sweetest people and I always have a great time. We ended up talking for almost 4 hours! I gave them some financial advice (they are both young and at the point in their lives when they are contemplating starting out on their own) and they gave me some good advice as I start working in a new department at the factory.
* Trucker and I went out on a few coffee dates, using our travel mugs.
* We went out with our dear friends, Daisy and her hubby, for NYE. We went to a local pizza place that was surprisingly empty. Trucker and I got a happy hour drink (they still had happy hour prices even though it was the holiday) and split two appetizers instead of getting meals. We ended up laughing and talking for 3 hours. Our bill was $30, which is not bad for an evening out with our besties on New Year's Eve. We exchanged gifts. We gave Daisy a couple books (from a library sale), including a vegan cookbook she didn't have, and salt and pepper shakers (which she collects). We gave hubby a couple Star Wars themed hygiene gift sets we got on after-holiday sales at Meijer. They gave us crackers and this incredibly delicious cheese dip and kombucha (which I hadn't tried before and was really excited about). We absolutely adore them. They are the kind of people that you get excited about hanging out with (which says a lot coming from two people with social anxiety) and miss as soon as you leave.

* We took a lovely 2 mile out and back hike at the metropark on Christmas. It was right in the middle between the Chinese buffet and the movie theatre, so it took no extra gas to get there. There weren't a lot of people there, so there was much more bird watching to be done and the squirrels were everywhere.

* Trucker was on the way to work when his brake line broke and he got a flat tire. Fortunately, he was right by a gas station. We used our roadside assistance (I believe we pay $2 per car, per month) to get it towed back home. Dad and my mom's cousin came out to fix it for us. Cousin doesn't usually go out of town to fix people's cars, but does for us when we need him to. He charged us $50, plus parts. Not too bad for having a flat changed, new brake line installed, new thermostat and temperature gauge.
* We bought new tires for both vehicles at once. Since we were buying 8 tires at once, Trucker asked for a discount. It ended up being 12% off. They didn't have the tires I wanted, so they got a nicer tire and gave it to me at the same price (with a 65k mile warranty instead of 50k). It handles really well on the snow, which is great since I'll be driving a lot more now.
* I bought new socks since a lot of mine are worn beyond darning. I found them BOGO at Meijer and bought two packs of plain black ones so I can have an easier time of sorting. Also, when I do have to throw out worn socks, I can just mix pairs, stretching my purchase out longer.

House and Home:
* We are continuing to work on my step daughter's room and Trucker found the perfect thing! I wanted to get a trundle bed since the room is on the small side. I knew we wouldn't have enough room for both a dresser and a desk, and since she is an artist and writer, she needs a desk. However, the cheapest I've found one is around $200. Trucker has been looking at auctions and finally struck gold: a nice black trundle bed with 3 drawers under it for $60! We have to assemble it, but he saved $140!
* Trucker bought a new mattress off his boss for $10 ($160 retail). He also got a set of sheets ($3; $40 retail) and a comforter ($4; $30 retail), both in blue (her favorite color), at online auction. It has been so fun putting together her room and daydreaming about visits.

* I temped for the fruit arrangement place for two days. It was fun. I really like everyone who works there, especially the owner, so I like being able to help. I put in 12.5 hours over two days and made some nice money from it while getting to eat as much mistake chocolate covered fruit as I liked. Win-Win-Win.
* I worked full-time at my friend's restaurant. She was really awesome to help me out of a bind like that. I made sure to do right by her. I tried to do my job well (even when it meant ignoring rude comments from customers) and whenever it was slow, I tackled a cleaning project to help get ready for a big corporate visit. I got a super discount on food. I sometimes brought home a bagel for Trucker and I got my meals for $.75-2.
* I got my start date at the factory! I start next week. I am really excited. I will be 1st shift at the factory I wanted. This will be the highest paying job I've ever had. We have made a solid plan to get our finances where we want them. The main goal is to not upgrade our standard of living, beyond things that are needed. For example, I want to start buying pastured meat from a farmer I know rather than whatever junk we find on sale at the grocery. I will likely buy a half hog and perhaps some whole chickens for the freezer. This will cost more, but be worthwhile in health benefits. Within the next year, we would also like to buy a newer car that would be more reliable (and sell the van which gets terrible gas mileage). Otherwise, we want to continue our frugal ways so that we can get the money saved up for our property in the country.

* Trucker gave my parents a "new"/unused vintage rug he got at auction. Value: ~$300-400. He paid $5 (it was an online auction house that typically doesn't sell vintage, but did an estate auction. Their typical clientele didn't bid much on it). They needed a new rug so they were happy.
* Trucker's coworker gave us a gift card to Chipotle. She said she knew we had had a rough 6 weeks and she wanted us to not have to worry about dinner for a couple nights. It was so kind of her.
* I took part in a secret santa gift exchange through an online frugal community I take part in. I won't say what I got, since it is secret, but I was frugal and got some fun stuff for the $10 limit. My gift was a lovely shoulder wrap and hat, handmade in an lovely cream color, and a Canadian cookbook. I can't wait to try out some of the recipes and the warm clothes have been perfect now that the temperature has dropped so much.
* I helped my dad work on the house they are moving next door for my sister and BIL. It was a warm day, but muddy. He had a lot of gravel that needed to be moved around the foundation. My sister, dad and I moved over a ton of gravel though mud that was a foot deep. We lay down boards that we would run down, then turn down the next side of the house, then run until the wheelbarrow got stuck, dump out the gravel at that spot, dumping out a little bit on the ground to make the path longer for the next runner, then pull the wheelbarrow out of the mud and go back to shoveling. It was really hard work, but we had a lot of fun, in a weird way. It was important to me to help dad since he is doing so much work. To move all of that gravel by himself would have been really disheartening. Afterwards, I took him out for ice cream at McDonald's ($2 total). We totally rationalized that we'd burned sufficient calories to justify it. Afterwards, we went out to the house to do some work to prepare it for moving.

How was your week?

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

This Week...Beyond Money 12/12 - 12/18

For me, a life beyond money is making choices so that you can live the best possible life, regardless of your income level. Obviously, you have to make a living, but there are many ways to improve your quality of life without increasing your income levels and correspondingly your expenses. This regular post will be some of the ways that we improve our quality of life beyond just trying to make more money.
* I have been harvesting herbs from the indoor garden. So wonderful!
* I regrew scallions in water. They are starting to peter out, but I'm hoping to get another harvest or two.

* I've been absolutely loving the chai concentrate in the morning. Yummy.
* I made tacos a couple nights using leftover pork from the slow cooker, with sauteed onions and peppers, homemade hot sauce and pickled peppers and Aldi brand tortillas.
* I made Colcannon with the last of the potatoes, two big bunches of turnip greens, leeks and 2 slices of crumbled bacon. I served with a pat of butter and some chopped scallions on top. It was absolutely amazing. I didn't realize until hours later that I hadn't thought to add cream, sour cream or milk. I will no longer add that since it didn't need it. This will keep the cost and calorie count low. I think the key was that I didn't drain the water, I boiled it away, so it didn't lose any of its flavor.
* I stopped by the farm stand to see one of my friends. It was the end of the day so she sent me home with everything that was leftover: a bunch of scallions, a bunch of winter carrots, 2 bunches of collards and tons of turnips with greens (turnip greens are by far my favorite greens). We left a donation, but got a fantastic deal (and since it was going to be so cold that night, the items wouldn't have survived).
* I got a couple good deals at Aldi: $.99/fancy cereal, butter for $1.89/lb and ground beef for $3/lb.
* I tried (and failed) to make fudge as a gift for my stepdaughter. I will make it again later another time (She got me into a TV show and there is a joke about fudge, so I thought it would be cute). The fudge never set up and I didn't have time to try again. However, it has turned into a fantastic thing in itself: I can mix with ice cream, use to ice a cookie, etc.
* I made a "dump soup" to use for meals next week. I put some leftover pork in the pork cooking liquid. I added 2 bouillion cubes, some seasoning, a couple handfuls of dehydrated tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, okra and celery. I let that simmer until the veggies were soft. It was really good.
* We always have a tub of veggies prepped in the frig. These are veggies for snacking or cooking with: carrots, radishes, turnips, celery, etc. Great, healthy snacking and convenience food at its best.

* We went on a couple coffee dates ($3.38 with travel mugs).
* After my interview, I met up with my mom. She needed to go shopping for a Christmas tree and a recliner for my grandpa. We had a really nice time just hanging out and talking. I was reluctant to spend. I bought two things while we were out: a bag of bird seed at a fantastic price (We got some bird feeders and wanted to take care of the little fellows this winter) and a can of holiday icing, marked down (I hate putting icing on baked goods, but Trucker likes it. Every now and then I get a bit for him to use. $1 here and there and a bit of gross sugary fatty-ness isn't going to kill either of us).
* I had orientation at my dad's factory location. He went to work early so we could have breakfast together. I always enjoy that.
* One evening we had planned on going out, but the roads were really icy (cars were wrecked everywhere). Instead, we ordered takeout pizza (picked up on the way home from work, using a coupon code. Points earned towards a free pizza) and watched a movie from the library.
* Trucker got a pool cue. He had been wanting a nice one, as he used to be really into playing. He found one at auction for $4.50 (regularly $50+). He will look for a place that has free pool on slow nights.

* It is so cold that I've been a bit of a baby. The extent of my nature-loving has been watching birds through the window while wrapped in a blanket and sipping something warm.
* I bought some bird seed to take care of the little guys this winter.

* I checked my credit score on my bank's website. They make your score available to check anytime. They pull your credit score periodically and update the website with the most recent score, as well as a timeline to show your score over the years. My score has improved by 100 points this year!
* They also had a little calculator to enter your debts and income to see if you are at a good debt to income ratio. I am not sure whether you were supposed to include the mortgage (considering if I didn't have a mortgage, I'd have to pay rent), but I did. Even so, I was solidly in the middle of the "good" ratio (granted; this does not include the medical debts coming). I was proud of the work we have done in the last year.
* I got my oil changed using a coupon: $15 plus tax and fees.
* I bought two pairs of shoes at the thrift store. One pair (a pair of tan casual sneakers) is lightly worn; the other (a pair of Nike running shoes) doesn't appear to be worn. All shoes were half off that day, so I paid $2.50 and $7.50 respectively. I do have a pair of casual brown and running shoes now, but I have a hard time finding shoes that fit at thrift stores. I try to find shoes before I need them so I have a backup pair. I don't want to hoard, so I try to just have a single backup of each of the types of shoes I need: running/exercise shoes, brown boots, brown casual, brown dress, brown summer, black casual, black dress.
* I found a Carhartt coat at a thrift store. It was marked $10 AS IS, but the tag color was half off. I checked it over and the only issues were: it had a company logo on the front and there were a couple grease stains on the front. However, I just needed a really warm coat for wearing into work at the factory, but since I can often come out dirty, I didn't want to ruin a good coat. Also, I couldn't care less if it has a logo on it, since I am using this for utility not fashion. Can't beat Carhartts for $5!
* Our furnace will need replaced this coming year (if not sooner), so I am trying to be ok with lower temps for now. I am wearing slippers and lots of layers and covering up with a blanket whenever still.

Waste Reduction:
* After I made fudge, I couldn't let all that chocolate left in the pan go to waste. I added milk and whisked thoroughly while heating over low heat. It wasn't strong enough for good hot chocolate, so I added some black cocoa but no more sugar. It was without a doubt the best hot chocolate I've ever had. And really, it was an important waste reduction measure. I had to make hot chocolate.

House and Home:
* I've been paying attention to little details around the house. When I am done with the kettle, there is usually a little water left. I open the lid and spout to let that steam evaporate. I do the same with pots of boiling water, removing the items, but not immediately dumping the water down the drain. My thinking is that this will humidify the air just a tiny bit and it costs nothing to try. I also open the toaster oven door after I remove the last item to let that little bit of warm air out. I turn off the burner a few minutes before I need to since I use cast iron and that retains heat quite well.

* I went to my interview with the factory. It went really well and he is calling me later after my drug test and background check come through. He said he is going to try to get me in at the next round of hiring (in a month), otherwise I'll be in the following round (5-6 weeks from now). He said he will try to give me as advanced notice as possible. I contacted a couple people from my old department and they are going to let management know that I am coming back. One person is friends with the person in charge of hiring for the department, so I'm hoping that I can get back into my old area since I got along with the coworkers and managers and enjoyed the work. That being said, the common theme in all of my jobs is I love all of my coworkers and managers, so even if I go somewhere else, I'm hopeful that it will be a good situation.
* I've been thinking a lot about the job/career situation. I had hoped that something else would come up, but ultimately, I decided that I have to be realistic about what my family needs. I'm too old to keep floating job to job or working jobs that don't pay a living wage. We have both had more health issues and our finances are getting more complicated. My stepdaughter is a big part of this decision. We don't know what the coming years will hold, but we do know that we want to have a stable place for her in our lives. We can't do that well if we are on the ragged edge. It was one thing to be more transient when we knew we were scrappy and if need be could survive on foraged foods and cook outside with salvaged wood. We cannot and will not do that to her. This new job will provide a very solid pay rate (with periodic pay increases, by the end of two years, I'll be making 165% my current pay rate), attendance bonuses that equal $1200/year, 15-16 paid holidays, 1 week paid vacation (after 1 year) and after 2 years, I can get hired on permanently, with the most amazing benefits package I've ever heard of. This will give us the stability we need as we age and to welcome my stepdaughter and help her get a solid start to her adult life when the time comes.
* I had to quit the part time job. There was no heat and I ended up getting hypothermia one day. It was a windchill of -10 and air was blowing in from outside. By the second half of the day, I started taking my clothes off (not as scandalous as it sounds; hat, neck warmer, gloves, etc). One of my coworkers asked me where my gloves had gone and I told her I felt too hot. That's when I realized how absurd that sounded. I remembered talking about hypothermia with a coworker at the farm and she said "You only really have to be afraid once you start feeling hot." I feel really bad about it, but it was taking me 4-6 hours after each shift to be warm enough that I wasn't in pain (I have all the symptoms of Reynaud's, although I haven't been to my doctor to confirm). By that time, it was time to fall asleep. That's no way to live. Trucker was also worried about me and pretty much insisted that I find something else.
* My friend offered me a job at her restaurant. She knows it will be short-term until I start at the factory as is fine with it. Uniform is nice jeans and a polo shirt. I picked up two polos from the thrift: $.90, $1.50. I have a pair of jeans that is nice, but not my style, so I will wear those (since I'm just trying to look nice enough for work, not trying to express my personal style).
* Trucker picked up an additional shift at work. It was a short shift, but it worked out okay. I dropped him off, ran errands in the area and he was done by the time I finished.
* I went through orientation at the factory and am very excited to start. I found out that after a year, we can get health insurance! Overall, it seems that if anything, things have gotten better since I left technically (We will see what it is like once I start, but some of the things I remember the full-time contingent workers complaining about have changed). I am optimistic.
* I got free snacks and coffee during orientation.

* Trucker bought some home security items at auction for pennies on the dollar.

* Trucker signed up for an acting class in February.

* I took the Holmes and Rahe stress test. It was terrifying to see my score. I knew that I had been under a lot of stress, but hadn't realized just how bad it was. I felt like I've been a failure for not being "better" lately, but when I saw how absurdly high I tested, I started giving myself permission to not be perfect. I've been allowing myself to not accomplish "enough", to have more lazy days, to feel sad when I do. I think that this permission from myself to not be perfect is much needed and very helpful.
* It is very cold at work and a couple times I've felt a cold coming on. When I feel icky, I start gargling with salt water several times a day and chewing lots of vitamin C tablets and drinking emergen-c (I got a bunch of these on special for 75% off, so it is a couple pennies per serving). So far so good.
* At orientation, they encouraged us to use both our dominant and non-dominant hand while working so that we wouldn't wear out the dominant hand/elbow/shoulder. My left hand is extremely weak compared to my right hand. I went to a sports store and bought a hand resistance tool to build my left hand. I found that my right hand could easily compress it completely and my left hand struggled to barely move it. I carry it with me and do reps of 20 or so with just my left hand throughout the day. I overwork my right hand as it is, so the left one is the only one that needs the work. I also switched my mouse to my left hand.  I'm hoping that by the time I start, it will be somewhat useful.
* I had issues with my limbs/extremities getting too cold while at work at the old job. After the day I got hypothermia, it took a few days before I felt alright.

* We found out that the medical bills from the accident are far more than anticipated, although we won't know for awhile how much. I was quite upset about it for a day. I am still nervous, but determined that we will get through this as we have every other struggle. I have a great partner, and we have survived when things were worse than this ($850 rent while making $1250 a month?).

* Trucker bought me a print from an artist we found on Facebook. She sells prints for $10 apiece. We found one that I absolutely loved and he bought it for me as a just-because gift. I was thrilled with the print and quality of the work. We also loved being able to buy directly from the artist. This is one of the nice things about frugality. You scrimp and pinch pennies when it comes to things that don't support what you believe in (I don't care to spend extra with the horrible electric company we have or to support big oil) or that aren't important to you, and then you have a bit more money to put it where you do believe (for us, local farmers and artists are high on the list, as a lot of our friends are included in those groups). I love having my home filled with a wide variety of artwork. In general, many of my pieces have come from auctions and thrift stores, so I am totally fine with spending some money to support artists trying to make a living with their work.
* When I first left the farm, my friend told me if I needed a job, I could come to her restaurant for as long or short a time as I needed. I was so touched by her offer and am so thankful for having such a good friend. She is definitely saving me over the next month.
* My coworkers from the farm stopped by to give us cookies. It was so thoughtful of them (and they were absolutely delicious).
* Trucker's boss gave me a free backpack that he couldn't sell. I will use it as my BOB.
* Mom gave us each a pair of slippers. They are really warm which is quite welcome this weekend (temps have been in the low single digits with windchills in the -10 range)

How was your week?

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

This Week...Beyond Money 12/5 - 12/11

For me, a life beyond money is making choices so that you can live the best possible life, regardless of your income level. Obviously, you have to make a living, but there are many ways to improve your quality of life without increasing your income levels and correspondingly your expenses. This regular post will be some of the ways that we improve our quality of life beyond just trying to make more money.
* I harvested green onions every day. I get so many harvests from regrowing the stumps. All it takes is a little water every day or so. I drain them into potted plants so the water isn't wasted (and perhaps any leached nutrients will benefit the potted plants).

* I made tacos one day. I browned a pound of beef with onions and peppers (onions from cool storage and peppers from the freezer). In another skillet, I added some leftover rice (cooked in stock), taco seasoning (Aldi, $.35; used 1/3 the package), black bean powder (dehydrated and powdered cooked black beans) and some water. I let that cook for a bit, then added 1/4 of the beef/veggie mixture. I served in tortillas with sour cream (store brand), salsa (salvage grocer), homemade hungarian hot wax pepper sauce (made with store brand vinegar and free seconds peppers) and tomatoes (ripening on the counter). We used the leftover meat in other meals.
* For breakfast (or rather, midnight snack as it is now...), I often had rice (leftover), beans (canned, salvage grocer) and perhaps a little leftover meat. It was simple, quick and kept me full during the shift.
* I made cookies with frozen dough ($.25 after holiday sale).
* We snacked on stove top popcorn a couple times.
* I got a pork shoulder from Aldi for $8 ($1.29/lb). I tossed it into the slow cooker one day when I went to work. I strained off the cooking water to use in making soup later. I shredded the pork and use for many meals of BBQ pulled pork sandwiches. It has been a busy week, so while this didn't make for the most balanced diet, it was better than fast food. I used lots of pickled peppers and caramelized onions in my mix. I served a few different ways: wraps, on hamburger buns (from the freezer; manager's special for $.25) and over grits (box from salvage grocer; $.10).
* I made grilled BBQ pork pizzas one day. I used a box whole grain pizza crust (At $.10 at the salvage grocer, it was less than the cost of the yeast to make from scratch). To grill, I just spread some oil over my cast iron skillets, pressed the dough into the bottom and pressed some corn meal into the top. I grilled over medium heat until it was done on the bottom then flipped over. I immediately added BBQ pulled pork, pickled peppers (free seconds from the farm), caramelized onions (free seconds from the farm; batch made and frozen in ice cube trays for the perfect amount to add to dishes), and cheddar cheese. I turned the heat to low and allowed to cook until the bottom was golden and the cheese melted. This is super easy and so good. It is also a perfect way to enjoy pizza in the summer when you don't want to heat up the kitchen.
* I fried leftover grits. I'd forgotten how good this is.
* I found pumpkin spice items on manager's special: $1/bags of Lindt's chocolates, $1/pumpkin spice latte concentrate.

Food Preservation:
* I froze more scallions.

* We went on a couple coffee dates.
* We used the library to check out books, audio books and movies. We really save so much money with the library system.
* Often, our evening entertainment was just watching a movie (from the library) at home before I attempted to fall asleep.
* Our friend took us out for lunch at our favorite Mexican restaurant. It was so good to get to hang out with him for the afternoon.

* I had a couple no-spend days. This was due to the fact that I was pretty much passed out, but the financial effects are the same!
* For my stepdaughter's Christmas gifts, we gave half books (because she is a book nerd), and the rest was warm clothes and a couple of fun items. We shipped the books out separately by media mail. It takes longer to get there, but the savings on shipping was astounding. It would have cost $41 to ship otherwise, but with media mail was a little over $9! Definitely worth the inconvenience.
* We kept the furnace turned down lower and bundled up in warm clothes and blankets. We also had a Ray-cat that liked to cuddle often.

Waste Reduction:
*I composted some items, but not as much as usual. I think mostly this was due to not cooking as much as usual.
* I used the last little bit of a bottle of shampoo as bubble bath.
* We used repurposed or reused materials for shipping items.

House and Home:
* Trucker is working a lot on the house and it is looking great. He is organizing our library (we have thousands of books between us two).

* We had a good long talk about our plans for the future and I decided to go back to my job at the factory full time. I enjoyed working there when I was a part-timer, and still liked it when I was working extra days (enough that I asked about becoming full-time). The plan all along was to go back to the factory after the farming season ended (since I had to be gone for 90 days to reapply as full-time). I applied this week and go in first thing next week to finalize everything and get on the waiting list. They said since I have worked there before and left on good terms, I'll get bumped up to the top of the list. I will be gone longer hours during the week, but I will get more days off than I would at other full-time jobs. In addition to some paid vacation (after a year) and call-off days, I'll get 15-16 paid holidays (including 2 week-long shutdowns). The pay rate will, after 30 days of training, be starting out at the highest I've ever made, and I'll get a raise every other month. This is technically a temp job, but there are people who have done it for 20+ years and it does lead to permanent placement within a couple years if you want to (main issue is that becoming full time requires second shift for several years; we will discuss this later). It is the same factory my dad works at, and while the pay and benefits won't be as good for me as they were for him (he was grandfathered in with a super high pay rate and a pension), it will be better than I've ever had before.
* I helped a friend out one afternoon. She and her husband run a party business and I got to help them at an event. I manned the craft table and helped kids make snow globes. It was fun, I made some money and got to hang out with good people. Plus there was hot chocolate!
* I think Trucker is glad to be back to work, overall.

* Trucker is taking a class online.

* I did something I never do: nothing. In fact, I spent a whole day doing it. I got off work at 9 AM and Trucker was going to be working late at the warehouse. It has been over 5 weeks since life got crazy and I feel like I have been so busy taking care of everything and everyone else, that I forgot about me. So I crawled into bed and took a couple hours long nap, then read a good book, took a bubble bath and drank a lot of water. It was perfect. Everyone needs a mental health day every now and then.
* I successfully avoided the donuts that someone brought in at work.
* I have recently gotten out of the habit of drinking plenty of water, so I've been more mindful of it now. I'm trying to chug half a glass, then refill to take back to my desk. I have an easier time drinking seltzer than regular water, so I've been bringing cans of that with me to work (The cans cost $.04 from the salvage grocer).
* I am pretty sore from the job. I need to get in the habit of stretching.
* My blood pressure and heart rate have dropped significantly! Blood pressure was 117/80 (down from 142/93) and heart rate was down to 67 bpm (from 90). This is so encouraging to know that my efforts to control my anxiety and workout my heart more have been fruitful. A year ago I started a medication that often raises blood pressure rates pretty significantly. Since my blood pressure was already high, but the medication was really helpful, I decided to focus a lot of energy on getting it under control. I was so pleased with the results.

How was your week?

Monday, December 5, 2016

This Week...Beyond Money 11/21 - 12/4 TWO WEEKS

For me, a life beyond money is making choices so that you can live the best possible life, regardless of your income level. Obviously, you have to make a living, but there are many ways to improve your quality of life without increasing your income levels and correspondingly your expenses. This regular post will be some of the ways that we improve our quality of life beyond just trying to make more money.
Again, sorry for the delays in posting. It has been a rough month and my best intentions aren't good enough for what life has required.

I lost my beloved uncle at 57 after a year and a half battle with lung cancer, complicated by emphysema and really bad COPD. He went to the hospital on Tuesday. He frequently went in, got an IV and was home in two days. Not this time. The doctors weren't able to do anything to help, so eventually he was put on CCA. His main concern was not being in pain and having his family with him. His wife, my parents and I spent pretty much 4 days straight at the hospital with him.

I am sad and angry. He was filled with such beautiful stuff. He was one of the few people I know that was universally accepting and loving. When we first got to the hospital on Thanksgiving,  the doctors were all working on him and he was struggling with each breath, but as soon as he saw us, he smiled and waved then asked Trucker all sorts of questions about how he was healing. He was so gentle and kind.

Sure, I rationally know that smoking caused all of this. I know that he tried to quit, but not hard enough or long enough. At the same time, I know that he had an undiagnosed and untreated anxiety disorder. I know that he had had a rough life that was often too hard for someone as sweet as him. I always tell the little quip about how the same boiling water hardens the egg and softens the potato, and he was a perfect potato.

Our family has been through so much in the last several months. We are weary and ready for a reprieve. After the service, the entire family went out to a pizza place nearby. We sat with my dad's cousin and his wife (my dad and uncle were raised with him, so I've always thought of him as an uncle) and my cousin and his girlfriend. My cousin lost his brother last month and at that viewing, we were both weary and didn't think we could handle another loss. We left the evening with promises to get together soon, to make sure it isn't another funeral before we all get together again.

Basically, all of this is to say make the phone call, make the dinner plans, tell everyone what they mean to you even if you don't think you need to and if you smoke, please, for the sake of everyone who loves you, quit. I don't like telling people what to do and generally mind my own business, but cancer is rough. There is no balm that heals watching someone you love struggling to breath and gasping that they can't do this anymore. Use patches, use gum, chew tootsie rolls, take a class, start meditating, start running. Trucker saved up the first month's savings from quitting and used it to buy a super expensive comic he had always wanted. Do whatever it takes. This is also a frugally minded activity that pays well. If you smoke a pack a day at $7, that is $2555 a year. Avoiding COPD saves a ton of money as well as suffering: Advair costs $286/month; Spiriva $286/month, and Combivent (emergency inhaler) costs $243. Lung cancer costs much more. I'm done preaching, and hope not to lose readers over this, but I think it is important.
* I am getting out of the rabbitry. Some strays messed with the doe and she sustained some bad injuries, so I had to put her down. I will rehome the buck as soon as I get the chance. He is adorable and rather personable, so I'm sure he will make someone a better pet than he made livestock. Two lessons learned here: 1). Never scrimp on breeding stock. I paid $10 each for my rabbits, instead of paying the going rate of $35-50+ each for breeding stock. They have been nothing but trouble from the beginning, as evidenced by the fact that a year and I half in, I haven't gotten any babies. Also, I got the buck from a 4-H breeder and he is lovable and seems relatively healthy, if much smaller than I anticipated. The does on the other hand I got from a farmer. They were horrible all along. They were very anxious and tore me up if I tried to hold them. They weren't good breeders, and they both ended up with broken bones. I think a big issue was that kits from this farm are usually slaughtered for meat when they are 6-8 weeks old, so the farmer likely didn't know what they were like when full grown. Lesson 2). Rabbits want to die. I always knew this, but I'd always been lucky with really good stock. Rabbits can kick hard enough to snap their own necks and are not very resilient. I don't think I'll get rabbits ever again.
* I love being able to harvest fresh herbs from the indoor garden. I am getting a good yield off of it compared to growing lettuce and I think the impact on our diet is better.
* I harvested scallions grown from stumps. I used them a few times in cooking and froze some more.

* We made a meat-free stir-fry one evening. I don't call it vegetarian, because I did use bone broth to cook the rice (this makes it more filling, tastier and has much more protein). I stir-fried onion, garlic, turnips, carrots, radishes and tossed in some Swiss Chard.
* We had spaghetti in tomato sauce with onions, garlic and peppers.
* We hit the salvage grocer again. I got 2 boxes of seltzer water (50 cans for $1.99), large cans of Chock full o'nuts coffee ($3.99 each), Kashi and some kiddie sweet cereals ($.50 and $1.50 respectively), chai concentrate ($.79/carton), salad dressing ($.10/bottle) and macadamia nut butter (for $1.49!!!). We were in town anyway to be with family, so it didn't take any extra gas.
* We found some great manager's special deals this week: pistachio milk ($.59/quart), chocolate walnut milk ($.49/quart), tomato sauce ($.29 for a large can) and sloppy joe mix ($.25/can).

Food Preservation:
* I froze some scallions.
* Equally important, I have been using our frozen wares in cooking a lot. It is no point in saving food if you don't use it before you lose it, so getting in the habit of using stored foods on a regular basis is vitally important. In the past, I have been more of the food hoarding type. During the recession, we always had food, but were often on the border of not having enough and of not having the right kinds (let's face it, a month of living on little more than lentils is terrible). After that, I'd always tried to store as much as possible, but had a harder time using it in case I needed it later. Unfortunately, that meant sometimes I lost some food, which is worse than just having saved the money to begin with. The last couple years I've really improved and gotten into good habits. Making a quick meal of spaghetti and jarred tomato sauce? Toss in some frozen peppers and leeks before adding the sauce to the pan. Making tacos? Dump in some dehydrated tomatoes and peppers along with a little water and the seasoning packet. Making soup? Add stock and dump in various food stores until you have it like you want it. It is really convenient once you get in the hang of it.

* David Ramirez was in town. To say he is my favorite singer/songwriter is an understatement. This borders on fanaticism. His music was fundamental in some major growth over the last year and a half. Ever since the pivotal concert in Nashville, Trucker has bought us tickets each time he has come into town. It was a magical night. He sang all of my favorite songs and some new songs from the album to be released in May. It is by far our most expensive date ($30 total for our tickets), but is well worth it. Also, considering that our typical date costs $3.18, our average is still good.
* We went on a couple cheap coffee dates with our travel mugs.

* I got a new credit card with 0% interest for 15 months. It was 3% fee to do a balance transfer. The last credit card we owe on (down from 3 cards) charges a ridiculous 27% interest! So, even with the 3% transfer fee, I'm saving a lot of money. The savings over what we are currently paying in interest each month will be huge. As it is, I have both cards locked in a drawer at home. I do carry one card with a low limit for emergencies, but I haven't used it in 9 months and don't plan to anytime soon. I intend to pay off this credit card before the 15 months are up.
* I plan to work on an article on frugal end-of-life options and funerals. That will cover everything we did to be frugal as we prepared for the memorial service. I'll do this once it doesn't hurt so bad.
* It was not the cheapest week, what with hospital and fast food meals, funeral expenses, and flowers. However, it was better than it could have been. The morning that Trucker stayed home from the hospital, he sent me with a bag of apple chips, granola bars, and little drink packets (hot chocolate, emergen-c, instant cider, tea bags, etc). I brought a container of fresh veggies for snacking. The nurse brought us a tray of juice and snacks every day, so we only had to get breakfast and dinner. For dinner one day, Mom and I walked a mile round trip to a local pizza place, where we got a pizza to feed all 4 of us for $15 (a full meal at the hospital would have cost $7-8 each). We drank free coffee from the waiting area.

Waste Reduction:
* I composted weird things. I have gotten better about throwing paper and cardboard waste in the compost bin. This not only reduces waste but will help have a healthier compost system.
* I used the last bit of a bottle of shampoo as bubble bath, rinsing it out with water and dumping that in. I ADORE bubble baths, but only take them when I'm getting that tiny little bit out of a bottle of shampoo or body wash. Despite how much I love them, I consider them a luxury, so I refuse to buy a plastic bottle filled with liquid to just put down the drain.
* DH stocked up on a new soap, a really fancy kind that was on a great sale. It is a moisturizing soap, and is hard to rinse well. This made for some bad body acne (Which I've never struggled with before). Instead of throwing it away, we are using it as a hand soap. Our hands need the extra moisture.

House and Home:
* Trucker did a lot of work in the house. He got a futon from auction awhile back and got it set up for me so I have a place to read. He also rearranged the living room and organized our bookshelves. He got rid of some books. He also added every single book he owns to his Goodreads "own" list. Now, when he goes shopping, he can check the list and make sure he doesn't buy a duplicate.
* I just found out about a cancer thrift shop that takes items on consignment. If it sells within the first 4 weeks, they split it 50-50. If not, it is theirs to keep. Either way, for items we are going to donate anyway, we may as well try to make a little money, and the proceeds help with cancer research (given my uncle's passing, this is on my mind more). We often do coffee right down the road, so it won't be out of the way.
* I found a really nice storage box that looks like a book for my stepdaughter's room. It was $5 at a thrift store.

* I now start working around midnight each night. It is hard, but I'm trying to stay positive. It will not last forever. I am hoping another job option works out, and worse case, after the holidays it will go back to 4 AM shifts.
* I worked 2 days at Trucker's job.
*The doctor gave Trucker the "OK" to go back to work! We are both excited! He gets to get out of the house and I get to be off work a little more. I'm sure his boss is happy to have him back as well. He struggled some and didn't take it as easy as I was hoping he would. However, he does feel better overall being able to move again.

* There was an active shooter event a block away from where we were at the hospital/walking to get food. It happened the day after we left the hospital, but it was definitely food for thought. As we had been walking, I was telling my mom safety tips about situational awareness. Telling her what weird or off things to try to notice as she is in public. While the event didn't happen until after we were gone, it was timely. I do want to get my parents into CRASE training. These events are becoming pretty common and there is no thinking that it can't happen in your community. Don't live in fear, but learn the tactics to survive a scary incident. I have also noticed that since taking my CRASE training, I feel less scared and helpless. I don't know that I would survive an active shooter event, but I am less terrified knowing what things I could do that would help my chances.

* I worked on my Etsy store a bit.

* Trucker got cleared to go back to work. He is healing quite well. He still gets tired sometimes, as would make sense since he wasn't able to do any physical work for a month.
* I will say, this job is giving me guns. I am working 7-9 hour shifts of hard labor, lifting packages up to 150 pounds and walking 7-10 miles a day. I love feeling strong after a hard shift.

* My step-cousins and their kids came up to visit my uncle. They live a couple hours from the hospital. They got stuck in traffic and burned a lot of gas. The kids got hungry so they stopped at a fast food restaurant and each got an item off the dollar menu. Neither of those things were in their planned budget, so they were going to be tight. Mom and I pitched in to give them a little something to help.
* We brought from home some items for my parents and aunt since they didn't go home for 4 days: pants (from our donation box, we had some that no longer fit in a variety of sizes between the two of us), shirts (from the donation box), socks, soap, toothpaste and toothbrushes (all from storage; purchased on great sales), deodorant and body spray. This allowed them to freshen up since they didn't go home for 4 days.
* My dad and aunts paid for my uncle's funeral since he didn't have life insurance and his widow had no money for it. I don't have much extra money because of the part time job, so I helped my parents through the process to save money. Mom and I found a beautiful leather journal at a book store to use as a guest book and I bought a nice pen at the grocery store ($30 savings), we bought poinsettia plants at the hardware store instead of the florist ($300 savings), mom used a coupon for BOGO on arrangements ($40 savings), for the arrangement my sisters, Trucker and I gave, I bought a vase at a thrift store ($6 savings) and picked two small bouquets at the grocery store to mix instead of buying a more expensive arrangement ($14 savings over a bouquet at the grocery; much more over a florist). I got pictures from my parents, my uncle's wife and other relatives and put together a slideshow for the service ($400 savings).
* I bought some seltzer water cases at the salvage grocer. My dad only likes one type of seltzer, so I picked out all of the cans of that kind from the boxes and gave it to him.
* I have been filling out surveys more often if I am happy with service. I'm sure it means a lot to people to know that their kindness or hard work was noticed and hopefully their manager sees it.
* I found the nurse we had the first night at the hospital and told her how much her kindness and compassion meant to us. We had had a bad experience when my grandma was in the hospital, so it meant a lot that this nurse talked with us for as long as we needed and explained every little detail we needed about end of life options and the pros and cons of each. She ended up coming back and checking on us.
* My mom and I took my sister out thrifting. She and her husband will move into their house in a couple of weeks and they don't have everything they need. Trucker and I had set a certain amount we were going to spend for their wedding gift and also added what we would have spent for her birthday present. I figured that I could stretch my money really far getting second hand items (she was fine with this) and whatever things we didn't find, she could add to her registry when they have their reception. We got a $90 Pampered Chef baking dish with lid for $11, a really nice 5-piece storage set for $10, vintage metal cheese grater for $.90, utensil storage drawer for $1, glass measuring cup for $.59, a lovely wicker laundry hamper for $8, and many more items (I can't remember them all at this point). My mom got her some great items too such as a teapot set for $7, some mixing bowls and a $179 patio bench for $20! We had a nice time and got her a lot of the items she needed as she and her husband start their life together.

How was your week?

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Thursday, November 24, 2016

Frugal Snacks: English Toffee

Every winter, I read over my copies of The Tightwad Gazette I, II, and III. They revamp my commitment to frugality, give me new ideas and help me think more creatively about my daily doings.

While I was rereading them, I found a recipe for English toffee that for some reason I hadn't tried, and wow! I can't believe I haven't been making this before!  It is unbelievably easy, frugal and delicious. Here is the basic recipe, along with ideas for changing it up a bit for variety. This is a great, easy snack to whip up for dessert, for company coming over or to give as a gift.

* 1/2 cup butter
* 3/4 cup packed brown sugar
* 1/2 cup chocolate chips (or shaved chocolate of any sort)
* Optional: nuts such as almonds, walnuts, peanuts, etc, chopped.

Grease a 8x8" baking dish (or use whatever baking dish or pie plate you want. Bigger will give a thinner toffee, smaller will give a thicker hunk of candy). If you want to add nuts to the toffee, sprinkle them on the bottom of the dish.

Over medium heat, cook the butter and brown sugar, stirring constantly with a rubber spatula. Remove from heat immediately once it starts to smoke (7-9 minutes). Be extremely careful not to spill this super-hot mixture on anyone as it will burn like the dickens. Don't allow to cook after it starts to smoke or it will burn. Immediately pour the toffee mixture into the baking dish. Spread with the spatula as needed to cover the bottom. Add chocolate chips to the top and cover with a plate or cookie sheet so the chocolate will melt. Once it has melted, spread smooth with a knife or spatula. Garnish with more nuts if you want.

Allow to cool completely. Once cool, break into pieces. You can score the toffee while it is still hot to try for more even pieces, but I never bother.

This stuff is addictive and lovely. It is a great gift item. For me the cost is very affordable. I buy butter when it goes on sale for $2/lb, so the cost is $.50. I buy brown sugar for $1.50/2 lbs. Each pound contains about 4 cups, so the cost is around $.14 for the sugar. For the chocolate, I used some semi-sweet baking cocoa squares that I got at the salvage grocer for $.99/4 oz. I used half of it, so that cost $.50. So not including nuts, I spent $1.14 for a batch of candy.

Variations and ideas (Use plain toffee without chocolate if desired):
* Don't add chocolate to the top. Once toffee is cool, break into pieces and dip into melted chocolate, either completely or just half for pretty presentation. Or you could drizzle with dark, milk or white chocolate (or with some of each).
* QUICKLY drop the hot toffee mixture into circles on a baking sheet for pretty round candies that can be decorated with chocolate, nuts, etc.
* You could use sprinkles on the melted chocolate for decoration.
* Use small broken pieces as an ice cream topping.
* Add broken pieces to milk shakes for a Blizzard type dessert (Heath candy; caramel apple, etc).
* Pour toffee and then chocolate over saltine crackers.
* Add coconut and/or dried fruit.
* Pour into candy molds for adorable gifts.
* Make into candy bars.
* Add bits to brownies or cookies or to decorate a cake.
* Pour over pretzels and peanuts.
* Add M+Ms to the top of the melted chocolate.
* Add to cookies or shortbread
* Add to homemade ice cream
* Add bits to the top of a caramel apple cheesecake.
* Add bits (without chocolate) to banana bread
* Add bits to biscotti (or use to garnish after dipping in chocolate)
* Add bits to caramel popcorn.
* Use bits to garnish chocolate dipped pretzel sticks
* Use bits to garnish cake pops
* Add to caramel apple scones
* Add bits to cinnamon roll filling

This is an easy introductory recipe to candy making, so feel confident. I've made it a dozen times and only once did it not work perfectly (and that time I was trying to quadruple the batch, so I think that was the issue). It makes a perfectly delicious and frugal gift.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

This Week...Beyond Money 11/14 - 11/20

For me, a life beyond money is making choices so that you can live the best possible life, regardless of your income level. Obviously, you have to make a living, but there are many ways to improve your quality of life without increasing your income levels and correspondingly your expenses. This regular post will be some of the ways that we improve our quality of life beyond just trying to make more money.
* I put scallion stubs into water to regrow more.
* I planted the garlic for next year. I planted around 50 cloves that I bought at the farmers' market. I also found some bulbs/cloves I'd missed when harvesting this year. They had all sprouted nicely, so I separated out the clumps and replanted them near the other garlic. That brought me to around 90 plants. Afterwards, I sprinkled some composted rabbit manure over the bed and watered the beds thoroughly. In a few days I'll cover with a good coat of leaves. If you grow one thing in your garden, garlic should be it. It is really easy to grow a year's worth, the seed garlic can be quite affordable (I don't buy special seed garlic; I just look for quality garlic bulbs at the farmers' market), and it is low maintenance. See my guide to planting garlic if you want to try it out.

* I made pasta with sauteed veggies a few times.
* We made stuffed peppers one evening: leftover taco meat, a can of refried beans, onion, garlic, homemade hot sauce stuffed into lunchbox peppers, covered with enchilada sauce and cheese.
* Trucker made spaghetti with polish sausage for dinner one day, with garlic toast made from clearance rack hoagie rolls.

Food Preservation:
* I dehydrated more boiled beets.
* Trucker helped me dehydrate a lot of sweet peppers. I cleaned and sliced, and he arranged on the trays. It goes so much quicker when he helps. Also food preservation can be isolating, so I love those bits of time with him.
* I made and froze some stock using scraps of veggies.
* I froze 10 bunches of scallions.

* We went out for coffee a few times and used our travel mugs.
* We met up with Daisy, her hubby and baby for dinner at Bob Evans. She gave me a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles calendar (I LOVE TMNT) and an adorable turkey hand-painting from her daughter (which is prominently displayed on my frig). It was so good to get to hang out with our besties. We hadn't been able to go on a double with them in a few months because of work schedules. They are such wonderful people and we always have a great time.
* The local zoo had a "stuff-a-truck" event for the Mid-Ohio Foodbank. Anyone who brought 5 non-perishable food items got free admission to the Wildlights display and free parking. Tickets for county residents are usually $15 each and parking was $10. I stopped by Aldi for instant mashed potatoes, tea bags, coffee, peanut butter and mixed nuts to donate (I got the mashed potatoes since the holidays are here, coffee and tea as a special item; peanut butter and mixed nuts as a shelf-stable protein. I specifically got mixed nuts instead of peanuts because even though they cost more, I figured people at the pantry probably get peanuts more often than mixed nuts). All told, I spent around $15 on food. We had a wonderful evening. The weather was perfect. We enjoyed seeing some animals and especially enjoyed the aquarium. As is our custom, we paid $1 each to ride the carousel. I am like a kid when I get on the carousel. We carried in hot chocolate and coffee, to avoid succumbing to the lure of the overpriced coffee being sold there. Since I would have donated food anyway, the real cost of the date was $2 and gas. Not too shabby.

* We did go out for a decent hike one day. We went about 2.5 miles.
* We went to a local living historical farm. It was a beautiful day and the farm had a lot of activities going on. We got to watch a turkey butchering demo, pet calves, and explore.

* I redeemed my rewards points for cash. I deposited the money into my savings account.
* I signed up for our new insurance on the healthcare exchange. We got a higher subsidy since our income dropped significantly. It ended up making more sense, especially given how high our expenses were this year, to get a better plan. Now, our deductible is a much more reasonable $2200, compared to the previous $13,200. We also will have cheaper a copay on visits and get free generics. This will help so much. While I am nervous about the state of healthcare in this country, I am glad to have it now. Hopefully any changes will take a year to kick in, so we will have coverage until I get covered at my new job.
* Since I finally have a job secured, we went out and got some winter clothes, as well as some items we needed. We are very careful in selecting items that are in good condition, flexible, good for layering and that will not be hopelessly out of style next year. I got: 1 pair of stretchy jeans for work (I am constantly squatting, bending and twisting, so the jeans had to move easily; $1.50 after 50% off sale tag), 3 flannels ($.50-1.99), 1 tan sweater ($2.99; almost exactly like this sweater my dad had back in the 90's. Lesson I learned while shopping: I should have gotten dad to just let me raid his closet), grey hoodie ($4; after one day of wearing a coat in the warehouse, I could see why everyone was wearing hoodies), 1 obnoxious cardigan ($2; it was a total hipster guilty pleasure. I still judge myself for it a bit, but I love it. It is black with colorful stripes. It is awfully good) and a really nice sweat-wicking exercise shirt ($1 after 75% off tag sale). Trucker got: 2 pairs of jeans ($2.99, $1.99. We picked through his pile to get pairs that looked nice and had no damage), a windbreaker for sports-balling next spring/autumn, a nice vest for weddings/special events/acting gigs ($2), 2 high-collar warm shirts ($1.99, for layering) and 1 flannel ($1.99).
* We bought Trucker a new pair of boots since he is down to 1 pair of sneakers (rough, for work), 1 pair of boots (for hiking) and 1 pair of fancy dress shoes (way too nice to wear unless he is in a suit). We found a pair on clearance at Meijer, with an additional 25% taken off. $50 originally, after sale it was $18.
* I used my grocery store points to get $.10/gallon, for 14 gallons.
* Also, I forgot to mention a couple weeks ago. I got a fantastic deal on Trucker's...well, Christmas? gift. We don't usually exchange gifts for Christmas, but later this month, my favorite artist is coming back to town. Trucker got us tickets and said it was my Christmas gift. Well, I've been passively looking for a walking stick for him. He always grabs a random stick when we go out, and mentioned once while we were walking that someday he'd love to have a nice one. I've been pricing them, and the quality I wanted they were $45+. When we took our trip to another city for Trucker's class, we stopped for some cheese in Amish country. There was an elderly Amish man selling beautiful walking sticks. He had single color or duel color sticks. For the duel-color sticks, he glued Maple and Oak pieces together. He ran each piece through a machine that cut this lovely spiral in it, then sanded down the top for easy holding and touched the rough edges to keep it from cutting anyone. It was $13 for the single color and $18 for the duel-color. I had him pick out the one he liked best and he chose a duel-color one. I was happy because it is gorgeous, cost less than half of what I've been seeing for mass-manufactured ones and supported an Ohio artisan. The man's eyes sparkled as we listened intently as he described each step in his process in detail. You can't buy that at Wal-Mart.
* Wondering why we started giving Christmas gifts for the first time in 8 years? See below for a bit of an announcement (No, I'm not pregnant. LOL).

Waste Reduction:
* I composted random things.
* I made stock from bones from the freezer (leftover from meals) and veggie scraps.
* I fed the bunny veggie scraps.

* I helped at Trucker's job a couple days.
* I worked overtime every day, at least a little.
* The new job is...okay. It isn't something I could see myself doing long-term, but for now it works. I'm getting a good workout, and the coworkers are nice to me. So far no one has been less than kind to me, and some have gone out of their way to be nice. I tend to find that when I go to a job; I get along with darn near everyone. So why is the job just ok? I have a lump and an inch long cut on one arm from where someone placed a box in my walk path and I tripped and my arm slammed on the corner of the truck. I have a huge bruise on one arm from a box dropping and pinching the skin on my arm between the shelf and the box. I have dozens of bruises all over my body. It does not look good.

* I messed up my arm at work. For now, I'm putting patches on it and hoping for the best when I go back to work tomorrow.
* Trucker's health issues have gotten worse since the accident. We think it may be because of the lack of physical exertion as he has healed. He is basically back to where he was three months ago. Hopefully, as he is able to be more active, this resolves itself.
* He is showing no signs of concussion and his chest doesn't hurt much anymore. I am so glad he healed so well.

* Trucker's boss and wife gave him a card with a Bob Evans gift certificate for dinner. It bought dinner for us one night and half of our dinner when we went out with Daisy and hubby.
* We enjoyed going to the Wildlights Stuff-a-Truck event. The event filled 4 semis full of food to help feed people in our community. The Mid-Ohio Foodbank is such an amazing organization. They are so involved in the community, from feeding hungry people, to helping teach new skills, to researching diabetes in low-income families, to helping teens get job training. If you are looking for a wonderful organization to donate to this season, especially if you are local, please consider them. They do a lot with the donations they get. Every $1 in donations gives $10 in groceries to hungry families! 

* Going on a year ago, Trucker's daughter got in touch with him. I hadn't mentioned her previously, because she had been adopted. We assumed we wouldn't hear from her until she turned 18, so we were delighted when she contacted him. We haven't been able to visit her yet (she lives across the country, and we are waiting until her mom is comfortable), but she calls or texts every day.

Seeing healing come to both Trucker and her in the last year has been absolutely amazing. They have had wonderful, hard, fun and beautiful conversations. She has been able to ask questions she needed answered. He has been able to tell her over and over how much he loves her. She said she wanted to have a relationship with me too, and we talk all the time. She even asked to meet my parents and sisters on video chat. When I told my Dad she had contacted Trucker and wanted to know me too, he cried and then asked, "Does this make me a Grandpa now? My parents were really excited to meet her, and my Grandpa has made it clear he considers her family, too.

We are absolutely thrilled to have such a beautiful, sweet and fascinating girl in our lives. We don't know all that will happen in the coming years, but we are preparing a room in our house (I've picked out an appropriate theme and have whole Pinterest boards devoted to it!), so she will have a permanent place with us, whether she wants to stay a day or a year.

Basically, it has turned our lives upside down and we couldn't be happier. We have spent the last year talking about our goals and how they are changing now. All those things people say about how life changes when you have kids sounds silly when it is other people talking, but I never knew it happened with step-children too. Suddenly, you realize you need a full-time job, health insurance and to get all the debt paid off ASAP. Suddenly Christmas gifts seem a little more understandable. Suddenly you start thinking about whether a move to the country is appropriate or if it should be delayed until after college years. I haven't talked about it much, but I can't have kids. I had been fine with it until about two years ago. I guess some healing is coming to me in this too.
How was your week?
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