Monday, June 4, 2018

These Months...Beyond Money 3/5 - 6/3

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.



* * * * *

Hello, all. Sorry for the delay in writing. As you know, we adopted a beautiful little fur-baby and basically all of my time not at work has been spent helping her. It has paid off and she is a happy-go-lucky pup full of excitement and joy. We have had a lot of life changes in the last two months, so I'll just add the highlights.


Notice: To the cat people and other non-dog-fanatics, I apologize if this post is a little too dog-friendly. Her presence is a huge change to our life, so this is what I'm thinking most about these days. I'm sure future posts will be less canine-obsessive.

* * * * *

Gardening:
* I bought seedlings at a little road-side stand in the country while on a hiking trip. I paid $.50 each for really nice seedlings that have taken off. I got several types of hybrid and heirloom tomatoes and lots of peppers (lunchbox, California wonder, hungarian hot wax, cayenee, Ghost, Carolina reaper, jalapeno). I've only sparsely planted other things. There is way too much going on to have an intense garden, but I definitely wanted to grow something.
* The farm stand was giving away extra starts. I got 5 sunflowers, 3 cucumbers and about 15 Swiss chard plants.
* I started basil and kale from seed. I picked out some of the bigger basil plants from my microgreens to plant in the garden. I planted radishes and carrots in the garden.
* I harvest lots of green onions, thyme (perennial in the garden) and oregano (perennial) a few times a week. I need to get more herbs growing in the garden for future use. This is a game-changer.
* Trucker planted grass in several patchy areas of the yard and it grew in great.

Cooking/Groceries:
* I have been living off of hummus sandwiches. I have a selection of various jarred veggies (pickled peppers, olives, pepper relish, sun dried tomatoes, chow chow, kraut, tipsy onions, etc) that I put on bread with hummus from the grocer (premade; $2/container on manager's special) and sometimes tzatziki ($1.50/container on manager's special). I do this because I have barely any free time these days. Between when I leave home and return, I am gone 12 hours most days. I don't feel like cooking very often. This is a healthy and affordable fast food.
* I bought a pre-cooked 10 lb turkey for $10 at Kroger on manager's special. We used this for many, many meals, froze some for the future and are set to make stock from the carcass.
* We enjoyed baked potatoes with all the fixins frequently. Super easy and cheap.

Food Preservation:
* We are still occasionally cooking up a big batch of meat (ground beef, chicken, pork shoulder/butt) and freezing everything we don't use for that night's dinner in meal-sized portions for quick heat-and-eat meals. Convenience food doesn't have to be unhealthy or expensive.

Fun:
* Every second with the dog is fun.
* We hit a couple community yard sales. We were very picky about anything we bought.
* We went to a festival near my hometown. There were 1800s camps set up with the "Mountain Men" showing period-authentic skills. We didn't spend a penny but enjoyed a couple hours walking around.
* We went to my parents house for dinner one day. They bought pizza and we brought everything for salad as well a decadent peanut butter pie that we got on manager's special the night before ($10, marked down to $4). Afterwards, I went for a walk with my sister and bro-in-law while everyone else played Frisbee golf.
* We used the library for movies, books, music and audiobooks.
* We went to a couple gallery hop events, including one that we've never been to before.
* We took a free art class at the Urban Arts League. We made 3D knitted pieces. I made a pair of giant sunglasses.
* Trucker went fishing with my dad, bro-in-law and future bro-in-law while the rest of us went to my sister's bridal shower. Clarisse loved hanging out and exploring the area.

Nature:
* Clarisse and I went out for a 9-mile hike in the Appalachian foothills. Trucker had to work that day but I had the day off. We enjoyed all of it: the smells, the sounds of the waterfalls and birds and the feel of the earth beneath our feet. Despite the fact that she couldn't see the views, we were both mesmerized by the beauty around us.
* Clarisse has helped me grow to appreciate taking time to enjoy nature. Now that the weather is nice, potty breaks involve less potty and more enjoying being outside. Rather than get frustrated about this, I use this as a reminder to pull up a chair and enjoy the yard. We have so many birds in the area, so there is constant music. Clarisse loves to just lay around and contentedly sniff the air.

Frugality:
* I bought my first brand-new car. I never thought I would, but we had an interesting string of events. My car broke down on the way to work (making me burn vacation time that I had to borrow from next year). I was in the left lane of the interstate during rush hour. My insurance labelled me as low-priority, so I was left sitting there for an hour and a half. My cousin has stopped working on cars, so I no longer have an affordable option for excessive maintenance and repair needs that accompany commuting 500 miles a week. My employer has a program that gets us insane discounts on certain new cars. I got a brand new, fuel-efficient car with 3-year/36k mile warranty and roadside assistance (saving money on my car insurance). I was able to roll in the tiny amount I still owed on my other car for $10/month, and was then able to save the $120/month on that payment and drop full-coverage insurance. Including insurance, the extra vehicle costs me an extra $200/month, but saves me, at current gas prices, over $100/month. I can get oil changes half as often with this vehicle and won't have to have the repairs that were becoming common on the older car. New car purchases can be foolish or prudent. The main thing is to know your financial situation and run the math. In this case, I will likely have this awful commute for another 3 years or so, regardless of the vehicle purchase. This car will be running great as long as we are here and by the time it starts to run into repairs, we will be moved closer, thus slowing the rate, and I will be making much more money (my raise schedule speeds up the longer I go to hit max-out pay in 7 years) making the repairs less of an issue.
* I made changes to our car insurance, dropping coverage that was no longer necessary. For example, we had a high medical coverage before we had health insurance. We have a very low out-of-pocket maximum on our medical insurance through work, so this insurance no longer made sense and hadn't really helped any when Trucker had his accident awhile back. We also didn't need uninsured motorist coverage on the van which is worth $500. Our insurance went up considerably when we added the brand new car, but once I made these changes, it is $5/month more than it was previously. Total savings from these reductions is $800/year. We are actively building savings, so there will be money there in case of emergencies. We have only once used uninsured motorist coverage and it was an odd situation where it would only have been a couple hundred out of pocket to do the repairs ourselves. So for the small chance of benefit, it would cost us a certain large amount each year. Better to save $8k in a decade to have on hand for car as well as other emergencies.
* We cancelled Netflix since Trucker finished the show he got it for and we use the library excessively.

Waste/Stuff Reduction:
* I donated a box of clothing I no longer use.

House and Home:
* We are working together on decluttering and organizing.
* Trucker has been doing little jobs around the house.

Fur-Babies:
* I love my vet. They are affordable and our babies both respond well to them (they don't love going to the vet, but they are fine while there and have no effects afterwards, which is especially impressive for our anxious, loner cat). I call them constantly to ask about health issues and they are quick to give advice and information. They have only once suggested I bring her in (she had a cough and was sneezing so we got her some antibiotics, but they said to watch her for other signs to decide if we should get additional medication. They made a note in our file that if we needed additional meds, they would sell them to us without a second visit). As far as I can tell, a good vet is never going to be annoyed with you for asking too many questions rather than delaying treatment until it is too late. We are so thankful for them.
* We got the cat all up-to-date on shots. She is in great health.
* I bought a grooming set for our poodle. So far I have only used the scissors to trim in between her toes and to clean up her face (the hair in her eye socket grows in funny). Those two areas were the reason that I needed to get her groomed at 5 weeks instead of at 8 weeks. Being able to trim them, reduces my cost by well over $200/year. I do hope that I can learn to groom her entirely myself eventually. Fingers crossed. Fortunately she is blind so she can't be horrified by looking into the mirror if I mess up.
* We got Clarisse some toys at yard sales ($.10/cat toy and a free baby toy). These rattle instead of squeaking as she is terrified of squeak-toys. She seemed pretty interested in the cat toy. We will get her out playing with it more.
* We take Clarisse most places with us. She loves to go on walks and hikes. We took her to a community yard sale day. My friend let me borrow her pet carrier, but Clarisse is too big for it. Instead, I got my shopping cart and put the clothes hamper in it. It fit perfectly and with a blanket in the bottom, she was happy as could be. She ran sometimes and rode other times. Towards the end she wanted me to carry her some. She did great. I look forward to taking her out for more adventures.
* I give Clarisse some homemade chicken stock several times a week. Most store-bought stuff is high in sodium and has onions and garlic in it, neither of which is safe for dogs. By making my own, I control what goes into it (a lovely thing when pet food recalls are the norm), it is made from all human-grade ingredients and it is practically free since I use bones leftover from cooking. She loves it and starts pacing when it is in the microwave. When I make a batch, I save what we will use for our consumption. The rest is ladled into ice cube trays and frozen. 4 cubes is about the perfect dosage for our little one. For bigger dogs, you can always save yogurt tubs or sour cream containers.

Work:
* I am about to get another raise at work.
* Trucker got a big role in a TV show. It hasn't been picked up yet, but he is doing well and enjoying it. The director left him a voicemail thanking him for the great job he is doing. I am so proud of him.
* I have had the option to take some days out without pay or penalty. I have enjoyed doing so. The 12 hour days (commute included) are getting old, so I needed the break. Now we are facing some overtime in the coming months, so I'll make up the money eventually.

Preparedness:
* I put wet wipes, a blanket and water in each vehicle.

Future:
* We are starting another business now that the antiques thing has gotten old. We set up our online shop and listed a few products. We are having fun with this one. Starting your own business can be scary and frustrating, especially when something doesn't go perfectly. However, we keep trying and know that eventually something will be a good fit: it will be something the market wants and something that we enjoy doing.

Health:
* We are both fairly active. The dog helps with daily walks and Trucker continues to play in a softball league.

Community:
* We gave my sister and future bro-in-law the rest of their Brown Drip dish set. We put together a complete set of dishes, bread plates, bowls, saucers and tea cups, coffee mugs, creamer and sugar set, storage vessels and serving dishes for around $50. It was a great gift (they loved it) that took time and a moderate cost. When I found the first part of the set, I texted a pic to my sister to find out if she liked it (I knew that they didn't have a dish set yet) and got approval before I started  shopping. I think that pre-approval is the key to getting an enthusiastic response to a used gift.
* I gave them a couple of books I thought they would love: The New Square Foot Gardener-Mel Bartholomew and The Complete Tightwad Gazette - Amy Dacyzyn. They are both just starting out on their own, and gardening and frugality are two areas that they are excited to learn thoroughly. I got these books at a library book sale for $.50 each.
* Our dear friend got married. It was a magical evening.  It was so beautiful to see two such wonderful people find so much happiness together.We lucked out and got sat with Daisy and hubs as well as a few of our other friends, so we had fun laughing and talking. The food was amazing; they even had a mashed potato bar! We enjoyed a dance and got our caricature done. It didn't look like us, but it was still fun!
* I went to my other sister's baby shower. It was a fun day and nice to see the outpouring of her coworkers and community in getting her all set up.

How was your week?

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Tax Tip From Clarisse


The solution to tax season stress is a poodle on your lap. You won't accomplish anything, but you won't be stressed!

Saturday, March 17, 2018

World, Meet Clarisse

Three weeks ago, we welcomed a new addition to our family. Clarisse is a 4.5-year-old poodle who has already stolen our hearts, at least, Trucker's and mine. Raycat is still figuring out this weird looking creature.


I have been researching dog ownership and looking for the right dog for a long, long time now (long-time readers may remember the scary dogs of 2015). I knew that when I adopted a dog, it was forever, so I was going to make sure that we had everything perfectly ready and that we got the right dog this time (our previous attempt resulted in both Trucker and my dad being bitten and my bro-in-law lunged at, while the dog was sweet as pie with Mom and me. Obviously the dog had had some bad experiences with men). My dear friend at work has been helping me--finding listings for dogs, giving me insights on certain breeds (she is a major animal lover who has had a variety of breeds over the years) and talking about certain dogs that I was considering. I've read a lot of books, joined a lot of Facebook groups for fans of certain breeds (If I was considering a breed, I joined FB groups to try to talk myself out of it. These groups shared the good, bad and ugly. I figured if I could be deterred by seeing the worst, it wasn't the breed for me), read countless articles and forums, met a lot of dogs, looked at a lot of listings, applied for many dogs from rescues, and talked to numerous breeders. Nothing ever quite worked out. Some dogs were adopted before my application got in, or the rescue wouldn't adopt out of state, or the dog just didn't seem to be a good fit for us for some reason or another. I was okay with it taking a long time. I wasn't going to mess this up. I often questioned whether or not I was ready, and then would throw myself into more research. Then I found her and it was right.
When she first came home.
After her spa day.

I was doing a Craigslist search for schnauzers because that was the breed we had pretty much settled on and I had only found one standard schnauzer breeder in my state. I had never considered a poodle, really. The show haircuts threw me. I saw a listing for a schnoodle and thought I would search for poodles also. I found a listing for a special dog needing a special home. Before I emailed her, I did some research to see what kind of situation I would be getting myself into. When I thought it all seemed within our ability, I emailed her. Once I realized that it seemed like a good fit, I started researching in earnest.

You see, Clarisse is a former puppy mill breeder. She was throwing litters of dead or deformed pups, so they didn't care about her. At some point, something happened to her eye, and the owner cut it out at home. Because they obviously didn't do a professional job, they damaged the optical nerves and she lost vision in her other eye as well. Her rescuer had a couple other poodles and found a listing for her. When she showed up, the puppy mill owner threw Clarisse to the ground, kicked her over and said, "Just take her. I don't want her anymore." Even though she didn't have the time to take care of a blind dog (she had a few kids, a couple poodles, a few cats and a new baby on the way), there was no way she could leave this little dog with them. She took wonderful care of Clarisse while she looked for a good home. She got her spayed, up-to-date on shots, vet checked and used to being loved on excessively. I will forever be grateful for how she saved my baby and taught her that the world wasn't all bad. She made sure that I was good for her before she asked if I wanted to meet her.
Her very first time tackling the stairs.

The day that we decided to drive the 200 miles to meet her, we randomly decided to hit a used book sale at the library. One of the first books that I found was Living with Blind Dogs, by Caroline D Levin. The volunteer at the sale had a blind dog at home. The next day when I sat down at lunch to read by book, the woman across the table started talking with me about her best friend's dog who is blind from diabetes and people don't believe she is blind because she is the happiest dog and plays so much. My mom was hesitant. She knew how much I wanted a dog and was concerned that I would end up with a dog that ate and didn't give me what I needed. The next morning, my techno-phobe Mom had blown up my phone with the results of the research she had done on the internet: "You put carpet runners down so they figure out where they are", "Put bells on your shoes so they can find you" "OMG check out the halo!"

The day that were were to meet and possible adopt her, we woke up early. We had spent the previous day getting the house all ready. We got all "stuff" off the floor, rearranged furniture to a more blind-friendly layout. We have a number of rugs already, but we rearranged them in a good fashion for navigation (long runner in the hallway between kitchen and living room, a certain type of rug in front of exterior doors, another type in front of her crate and her food dish, yet another kind at the top of the two stairs leading between levels). We made one last check that any sharp or pointy things weren't at eye level. Off we went.

We fell instantly in love with her. She was quiet, but settled right into my arms when her rescuer handed her to me. She was just sweet. We both loved her instantly. We talked with the rescuer a lot to hear more about her story, tips for helping her adjust, her likes and dislikes and why she was being given up (No behavioral issues. She even asked that if we ever had to rehome her, that we contact her and she would buy her back, which let me know a lot about how she had been treated/cared for and what kind of dog I was getting. She texted several times in the hours after that, heartbroken that she had had to let her go). It was obvious that she was very loved. I have kept in contact with her for these weeks, letting her know about adjustments and vet visits and sending pictures.
This photo perfectly captures her energy during our cuddles.

The whole drive home, she was quiet. She was interested in us, but never made a peep. When we got home, I walked her around the house on a leash so she could get a feel for the lay of the land. We got her some food and more water. Then she napped. And napped. And napped. I knew that most rescue dogs go through a bit of depression for a week or so as they get used to their new normal, so I wasn't concerned. I just held her while I worked online or read a book. Then she woke up. All of a sudden, she was insane. She was snuggling and kissing and rolling around and doing this adorable thing where she covers her face with her paws. It was pure joy. Three weeks in, and she gets like this every morning when I wake up (and when Trucker wakes up), every time either of us gets home from work, and often after longer naps. She is the most joyful, fun-loving, vivacious thing.

We learned a lot through our research and that has made this transition a breeze (like, surprisingly easy). I taught her a swerve word. Whenever she is headed straight for something, I say "Oop!" and she swerves to avoid it.She wasn't leash trained, but being a poodle, she learned in 5 minutes. We walk her always the same way so she can learn the neighborhood. When she walks on one side of the sidewalk and there is a wall or overgrown bushes on that side, I say "This way!" and she moves back to the middle of the sidewalk. She has learned "up" and "down" for navigating steps (She can run up flights of stairs, but can only walk down one so far). She knows where to go for her food and water (and unfortunately where to go for the cat's food which makes her fart so we are working on a "leave it" command). She has only had one accident in the house. She doesn't destroy anything (in fact, it doesn't appear that she understands the concept of toys, so we are working on that as well), doesn't bark all night (crate training took about 10 days; the solution came when we started playing Beethoven for her each time we crate her. She loves it), allows us to administer any medicine or pluck ear hairs with barely a grunt.
This old wash tub was purchased at an antique
store for $8 and perfectly fits her bed. She
loves having a napping spot that is close to the
action but out of the line of action.

We took her to the vet to get her all checked out. Heartworm negative, fecal test came back good, and overall great health. She had some redness from her eye, but an $18 bottle of eye drops has gotten that under control. Her intra-occular pressure test came back low, which means she doesn't have glaucoma yet, but we are going to get her in to the opthamologist just to make sure that we are doing things right and we know what to look out for. Before we adopted her, I made sure we had the cash on hand to do an enuculation if it was needed. Obviously, I would prefer to not subject her to another trauma and the risk involved with surgery of any kind, but if I can't keep her out of pain without it, I will get it done.

There is so much more to say, but this is getting long, so I will wrap it up with this:

When I wanted to get a dog it was for three main reasons: 1). Companionship 2). Running partner 3). Watch dog. Once I heard her story and how loving she was, I decided that I was alright with making some compromises. Then I met her and knew that the companionship alone was worth everything. A few days later, she and I were playing in the kitchen when Trucker got home from a doctor's appointment. He parked on the street, so she didn't hear his van pull in. As soon as she heard someone messing with the doorknob, she was off running and barking at the intruder and kept at it until he talked with her. Another night, she had already fallen asleep when I realized I had forgotten something in the car. I think I woke her up when I went outside, but she wasn't sure exactly what had happened. When I turned the doorknob to come in, she started barking up a storm until she realized it was me. She is a fantastic watch dog because her hearing is so finely tuned. I have heard others say that their blind dog is a better watchdog than their sighted dogs. Finally, one day we were out walking the neighborhood. She was still getting used to the leash and all the noises and smells in the neighborhood (one day she tried to pull me into a house where the smell of skunk was strong...oh dear!). At that time, she wasn't confident enough to walk next to me (she now is), so I had to walk backwards and talk with her so she would follow my voice. This particular day, for some reason, she took off running towards me. I thought she was just trying to catch up, but she didn't stop. I jogged backwards while she ran as fast as she could towards me. I made sure to watch for anything she might trip over or run into and made sure I kept the leash loose so she didn't get choked. She ran all the way home and was super excited. She takes me on little jogs each day, we play chase in the backyard (usually I use clapping to let her know where I am, but she is starting to be able to track me with her nose), and we ran for a half hour at the dog park one day.

She is the smartest dog I've ever met. She is so loving and sweet. She is perfectly well behaved. She adores both of us and likes my family. She loves to cuddle and is as active as we want her to be (she will visit the pet store and sniff all the things and meet all the dogs and run like crazy at the dog park without stopping and then pass out hard when we drive home). She is everything I could have ever wanted in a dog. People sometimes tell me that we are doing something kind and sacrificial by adopting a blind dog, but honestly, she is everything we could have ever wanted. Here's hoping she ends up being a world-record longest-living toy poodle.


Wednesday, March 7, 2018

This Week...Beyond Money 2/5 - 3/4

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.
Cooking/Groceries:
* I made BBQ pork mac n cheese one night when I got home from work. It was enough for lunch the next day also.
* I made pork pad thai one day using 1 1/2 small pork chops, diced. It was enough for 4 meals. I cooked up the rest of the chops in the package and diced. I froze those and put on our prepped meats shelf. That is such a lifesaver when we are busy. Any meal is 15 minutes from ready when the meat is ready to go.
* Trucker brought me breakfast in bed one day. He made French toast and eggs and brought up hot tea with honey.
* I made cajun salmon with grits for dinner one night. I sauteed some onions and garlic with the salmon, then made a sauce from the pan drippings. The salmon had been purchased on manager's special, $2 fed us both. The grits were pre-seasoned from a box that I got for $.10 at the salvage grocer. I used cajun seasoning I got at the salvage grocer for $1 (just a bit of the container). It was marvelous.
Another funky Jack Earl sculpture. I love his
sense of humor.
* We made BBQ pulled pork sandwiches using all items from the freezer.
* We hit the clearance section at Kroger. I got some rice crackers, $1(normally $2.79), mixed nuts $3 (usually $5), jerky sticks $.59 (usually $1.75) and cereal for $2/box.
* I made tomato soup from frozen tomatoes from the farm. I serve with quesadillas.
* We cooked a big hunk of beef in the slow cooker and shredded it. We froze enough for 6 meals. The rest I used to make beef and noodles over mashed potatoes. Why do I not do that more?

Fun:
* Trucker went to a local philosophy/community group meeting. They were giving away books from their library. He got several books from his wishlist for free and got free pizza.
* We checked out a lot of books, movies, audiobooks and CDs from the library. According to this calculator, we "save" $1400/month by using the library. Of course, we would never spend $16,800/year on media, but we still get the value in quality of life.
* Since I was under the weather, we basically stayed in and watched movies and cuddled the entire week. I have a hard time allowing myself to rest, so I am thankful that Trucker promoted the idea and brought me tea all the time.
* We went on a couple cheap coffee dates, using our travel mugs for a discount.
They rearranged the gallery, so I finally got to
see the back of Man Made Man by Jack Earl.
* We had Daisy and Hubby over for a movie night. We checked movies out of the library. Since I had been under the weather earlier that week, I didn't want to make dinner. I ordered gyros from a new greek place near us. I had a coupon, so I was able to get gyros for all of us for $12. I bought some hummus ($3 at Aldi for a HUGE container) and tzatziki ($2 on manager's special), a bag of falafel chips ($2.50 on manager's special; they were amazing), a cucumber ($.69), summer squash ($.99 for a huge bag), bell pepper ($1 for two large peppers), organic baby carrots ($1 for a 2 lb bag). We had lots of sodas and juices in the house that I got for $.05-.30 each. We had tons leftover that we will use for future meals, so I think the total cost was quite reasonable. Daisy brought lemon hummus, pretzels and some homemade sauce for the gyros as well as some raspberry cupcakes. Trucker and I realized that we spent less than we would have at even a cheap dinner out, plus we didn't have to feel guilty about hanging out for a few hours like we would have if we were limiting a server's earning power by occupying a table. I always love hanging out with them.
* One day when we had some stressful stuff going on, I took Trucker out to a lunch date at our favorite restaurant in the city (A German restaurant with an epic buffet). It made me happy to realize during lunch how much we have grown over the years that we were able to take ourselves away from our stress and laugh and talk together, turning a rough day into a great connection. Life isn't always easy, but I love having him at my side.
* We went out with Daisy and her hubby to the local comedy club. Steve got 4 free tickets by signing up for the club's text mailings. We have gotten a dozen or so free tickets over the years.. We spent $15 after tip for our soda/ginger beer. One comic wasn't great, but it was still a wonderful evening with our besties.
* My dad retired after 35 years at the factory. We wanted to take him out for a celebration. We took him, my mom and sister to a local Thai restaurant, where we introduced him to pad thai. The bill was around $100 after tip, but I had been saving for a bit in preparation. We went to the gallery hop. It was marvelous, as always. At one little shop that sells repurposed stuff, a woman ended up giving us a concert. There were the street performers and the mime. We got coffees and hot chocolates at a local coffee house. Afterwards, we went to Baskin Robbins for ice cream. It was a great evening.

Nature:
* We went for a couple walks at parks nearby.

Frugality:
* I hit a savings milestone. We now have our $1000 emergency fund (We have other savings also, but this is just for emergencies). We have struggled to save for the last few years, and the accident wiped us out and left us with a lot of debt. It is so exciting to hit these milestones and know that we are headed in the right direction.
* I have a pretty decent amount in my retirement account. I set up my account to increase my contribution by 1% every January, so at the beginning of the year it increased to 7%. Including my employer match and the service contribution they deposit, I have 15% of my income put into retirement savings. Between this and a couple older accounts, I have around 30% of my current income in investments. Based on the calculations I have run, within 3-4 years I should be all caught up on my retirement savings, depending on whose recommendations you use. Given that we weren't able to save for 4 years surrounding the recession, that is encouraging.
* I paid extra onto the credit card.
* My car is nearing 200k miles, so I need to replace the timing belt and water pump. My cousin is going to do it at a good price and tune up some other issues. Trucker did some comparison shopping online and found a kit that included everything we would need for $130, regular price was $220. He used his loyalty card so will get $5 back towards a future purchase. Update: My cousin replaced the timing belt, water pump, gave it a tune up, replaced the wheel bearings, fixed a transmission leak and an oil leak. He charged $340, so including the parts we bought, all of that work was done for $470. The exciting thing was that I was able to pay for all of it from my regular checking account and didn't have to dip into savings. I just tightened the belt for a bit.

House and Home:
* Awhile back when we were yard saling, I bought an old cash box, missing the drawer/insert for $2. I put it on my desk. All of my paperwork is now sorted into the box (to-read mags on the bottom, seed catalogs, then paperwork I need to reference on top). Everything is at hand when I need it, but it looks nice instead of cluttered.

Work:
* I worked a little overtime.
* I got my attendance bonus.

Health:
* I have had a hard time finding doctors through our new insurance website. It took me a week, but I finally found an in-network specialist with decent ratings for some needs. While looking for a primary care physician (still searching), I found that under the PCP listing, half are pediatricians with no way to filter them out, a quarter of the remaining are hospital doctors that never return calls, many have extremely low ratings, and the rest? Well, one was a residency program and the other was a van that drives around one of the low-income areas of the city. My coworker gave me the information for her PCP so I will look into that option this coming week.
* I am still getting over my cold or whatever it is. Update: I ended up being sick for over 3 weeks. Ugh. I am feeling great now though,
* We got our eye appointments in this week. My script went up a tad. I ordered new glasses. I hate the way I look in my old ones (The first three people I asked if I looked attractive in the glasses responded with "You look smart". As in, "Am I pretty?" "You have a great personality."). The new glasses would have been almost $900 before insurance which blows my mind. I ended up paying $120, but they kind of took advantage of me. The guy told me that the glasses came with a one-year warranty, which I took to mean a manufacturer's warranty came with the glasses. He charged me $29 for that. I'll make sure that I read over the bill thoroughly before handing over my card next time. However, the glasses are really nice, Nine West glasses that go quite well with my style. Trucker got a very mild prescription and opted not to buy glasses. I plan on buying some cheap glasses online for backups/sunglasses/more variety and will try to get him to buy a $7 to see how he feels about them. Update: When I picked up the glasses, I asked for the charge to be removed and they did. Took me 2 minutes and saved $29, so my hourly rate was $870.
* I have been studying neuroscience for the last several months. As I have mentioned before, I struggle with anxiety and depression. For many years, it was at a debilitating and dangerous level. I am working hard to rewire my brain and the more I learn about brain plasticity and neurochemistry, the better results I am having. It is a lot of hard work, but it has been quite encouraging. For a good part of my life I have had near-daily panic attacks. I developed a couple techniques that had gotten that down to about one a month. I haven't had one in two months now. I also developed methods of controlling the cyclical ruminative thinking that has been a constant for as long as I can remember. I was diagnosed with OCD when I was a teen and spent a good amount of time trying to change the way my brain works instead of using the way my brain works as a skill focused towards more useful purposes. I've always loved numbers and some of my OCD compulsions involved math. Now I have learned how to use math as a way of handling cortisol (the stress hormone that tells you you have to DO SOMETHING RIGHT NOW!).  For the last month I have been seeing a psychologist who specializes in CBT to get some more insight as I keep working at this. She said I have done a great job so far, especially with handling the negative side of things and now we are working on building some positives.
* My weight loss has plateaued, but I am still pretty happy. My main goal is not a certain number, but living vibrantly for as long as possible.
* I am quite proud of Trucker. As I have been studying the brain, I have been able to recognize certain things that he started doing in the last year and what changes it has had. He hasn't been going at things the same way I do (The beauty of neural diversity!), but has handled it in a great way. He has been working to learn new things, try things he has always wanted to try, and replacing negative habits with healthier ones. He has quit alcohol and smoking and is much more physically active. He is about to start his third season of league softball which gets him active and socializing. The last point is especially important as working from home can be isolating. The changes have been significant. He is so amazing.

Community:
* My mom gave us lots of yummy gifts. When we borrowed their car, she put in some coffee (really, really good coffee) and candy for Valentine's Day. She is so kind. She is without a doubt one of the most empathetic, loving people I know. We joke that she single-handedly keeps their village post office open because she sends Christmas, birthday, anniversary, condolence, and thinking-of-you cards to a few hundred people. For as long as I can remember, she devotes at least one day a week visiting people in her community who need it: the elderly, shut-ins, those in hospital. I used to go with her as a teenager, and am sure that that has had an influence on the person I am becoming. Now, she has two great friends who go with her. They make cards, cookies, gift baskets or floral arrangements so they can bring gifts on their visits (each gift dependent on that person's situation). Every time I think about how many people she has touched, I am proud of who she is.
* I went to an apple orchard's winter warehouse sale. I bought a half bushel of fuji apples for $20 and 30 lbs of horse apples for $7. I shared my surplus with my mom, Daisy, and a couple people at work.

Something wonderful happened to us, but I want that to be its own post, so expect it soon.
How was your week?

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

This Week...Beyond Money 1/8 - 2/4

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.
Gardening:
* Well, I never got around to seeding the garden to grass, and it is a good thing. If there is one consistency, it is change. We are not going to be moving this year, so I'll be gardening again. I will keep it as low-key as I can, but want to see what I can get out of it.
* I spread the ash from the fire pit and old, gross potting soil over the beds. I also emptied out all of the compost bins.

Cooking/Groceries:
* I made BBQ pulled pork mac n cheese one evening. I used meal preps from the freezer so it was a breeze. I put the pasta on and while it cooked I started my roux. I thawed some ice cubes of caramelized onions and sauteed peppers. I added those to my bechamel along with half of a small portion of pulled pork from the freezer. I added the last of a bag of cheddar and the last bit of a cheesy dip. I added some BBQ seasoning from the Amish grocer, black pepper, seasoning salt and BBQ sauce. It was pretty epic comfort food and the whole affair took 10 minutes. Freezer meal prep is a life saver.
* I have been making hummus sandwiches regularly. I used to make my own hummus, but haven't had as much time lately as I used to. The all-night grocer near my job is in the process of marking things down when I go after work, so I get all sorts of fantastic manager's specials. I almost always find various types of hummus/hummus-like dips (edamame, white bean, cilantro, etc) for ~$2. I also find tzaziki for ~$1. I chop up whatever veggies I have on hand: sweet peppers, radishes, scallions, onions, cucumber, lettuce, tomato, etc. I add a sprinkling of cheese (feta is best, but I use whatever I have). I eat them open faced. It is a pretty frugal and filling meal. Best of all, it is incredibly quick so it is perfect when I get home at 3 AM.
* I went to my salvage grocer before work one day. The weather forecast said it wouldn't get below 31 degrees before I got off work, so I figured I was fine since the car would stay warmer than outdoors and then I would be in it with the heat on for the drive home. I got some amazing deals. It was one of my best shops yet; even the cashiers were impressed. I have been trying to have more variety in the drinks we keep at home. Coffee or water gets boring after awhile. I use our SodaStream a lot, and I will buy sodas, teas and other drinks as I find good prices. Generally speaking, I try to avoid individually packaged drinks as possible, but when I buy them at salvage grocers I find it acceptable since the items would be thrown away if people like me didn't buy them. My salvage store is perfect. The locals buy the "normal" stuff and don't know what to do with the "weird" stuff that we like, so I get the best prices. Here are some of my highlights: organic sodas most sweetened with stevia ($.10/can, so about 20% cheaper than using our soda stream), seltzer ($.05-.10/can, also much cheaper than using the SodaStream and allows me to enjoy some flavors that are harder to duplicate at home), organic cereal ($.50/box), various chai tea concentrates ($.50/qt, including "The Godfather", a chai, espresso and cocoa drink that is out of this world), ramen-type noodle packs ($.10/each; will use as quick meals with veggies from the freezer and stock), organic whey protein for $1.99/1 lb), coffee syrup ($.99 for a bottle that is $10-15 depending on where you get it), vinegar ($1.50/gallon), key lime pie kits for 2-4 people ($.10/each) and boxes of breakfast bars (box of 4 boxes of 6 for $.99). The best score was a high-end ginger beer that is dry and very flavorful for $.59/6 pk. Usually I buy Kroger brand for $2.50/6 pack and it isn't as spicy or dry as I like it. This stuff is fantastic and I can't believe I got it this cheap. I bought all 4 6-packs
* I made cheesy veggie pasta as a quick and easy meal.
* We made pad thai one afternoon using a salvage grocery kit and a can of mixed asian veggies, also from the salvage store. I used one pork chop from a package. I did add some onion, garlic and grated ginger (free from Trucker's job). It was amazing. There were enough leftovers for my lunch the next day.
* I used the other pork chop from the package to make Korean tacos. I had a flavor kit we got for a few cents at the salvage grocer. It was really good and a great change of pace. Trucker teases me that I can eat tacos every day, so maybe this variety will convince him to submit to more frequent taco meals.
* My parents stopped over one day. I made tacos (haha). I used pulled pork from the freezer, added refried beans, corn (from the freezer), sauteed onions and peppers (freezer), and the last of a container of sour cream. I made some rice beforehand so we could add a little bit to different meals. It was really good and quite filling.
* Trucker has been eating bran flakes for breakfast more often. He had been having bad heartburn and my dad said that he hasn't had any since he started eating bran flakes daily. I found family-sized boxes of store brand bran flakes on a clearance rack for $1/box. When I was checking out, I found a coupon for $1 off 4 boxes of store brand cereal. I got 6 boxes for $5.
* I stopped at Aldi one day and got some great after-holiday sales. They had Chocolate Chip or traditional Panettone for $2 and boxes of continental cookies for $1.50 each. I bought 1 panettone and 4 boxes of cookies.
* Trucker scores some high-end salmon on manager's special. Regular price: $7/each; he got them for $2.50! He made a lovely dinner for us one day that I was feeling under the weather and we just chilled at home all day. He loves to take care of me. He made me tea and made sure it had honey in it for my throat. He is so kind.

Food Preservation:
* We have been freezing meal-sized portions of leftovers to use later. This is handy and prevents waste.

Fun:
* We went to the local comedy company for a show. We don't usually go unless we win free tickets, but this was a comedian we both loved. Tickets were $20/each, which hurt a little, but given how infrequently we do things like this, it was acceptable. We had a marvelous time. Our cheeks and sides hurt from laughing.
* We woke up one weekend morning and told each other we had a date planned. Fortunately, mine was for brunch and his was for 2 PM, so the timing worked out. I took him to a comic-themed restaurant that I've wanted to take him to for quite awhile. The food was amazing (He got a burger with caramelized onions and bbq and bacon and I got the Aquamarine, a salmon and crab spread quesadilla). We had a BOGO coupon from my entertainment book, so the total cost was $20, including tip (30% before the coupon). He took me to a local theater that was doing a special screening of Rebel Without A Cause (Dean is one of my favorite actors). I had never seen it on the big screen before. It was an awesome date and cost $30 total.
* We did some cheap coffee dates.
* We went to the gallery hop. Beforehand, we went to a local BBQ place and used a BOGO coupon for dinner.  It was really cold and I had an ear infection, so we didn't stay out long. It was still quite nice to have our evening out. My favorite gallery had a video of a glass artist making these amazing pieces. It was mesmerizing. We also picked up the mixed-media piece we purchased a couple months ago from the local art collective gallery.
* We used the library for music, movie and books.

Nature:
* We got out into the woods! Twice! It was so wonderful. One day it was chilly and we just did a couple miles. The next was a 5 mile walk. We loved watching the river after the snow thawed and watching squirrels run around.

Frugality:
* We are throwing extra towards the credit cards.

House and Home:
* I climbed onto the roof to patch a couple places where shingles had torn off during a storm. When the weather is nice, Dad will help me fix it permanently. While I was up there, I noticed that the shake siding is getting really rough. We will call in contractors for quotes in a couple months. Ideally we would replace with vinyl, but depending on price may just repair and replace bad shake. Never again will I buy a house with shake siding.

Work:
* Work was cancelled once due to extreme winter weather. I had planned on spending the night in the locker room because I was scared to drive home. Earlier this week, someone that works for my company died when they lost control of their car on the way to work. So tragic to think that they were just going to work like normal. If you are in a snowy area, drive safely.
* I worked a little overtime.
* I got a $.75/hr raise.

Health:
* We are getting back to exercising more often.
* I have lost 14.5 lbs in the last 6 months. I am feeling great.
* I joined a weight loss class through my job's fitness center. It is a free class and offers gifts and rewards throughout. I am wanting to lose a little more and, most importantly, I want to make sure I am being smart about adjusting my diet as I age. I have realized that I can't eat nearly as much as I used to. The worst tragedy is that I get terrible indigestion from pizza. My world is over.
* Trucker got his annual physical.
* I had to wear the wrong kind of earplugs at work for two days. By the end of the second day, I could feel the ear infection starting. By the time I got home from work, my throat was raw, felt like I had a golf ball in my throat and my ear canals were aching. This is the first time I've been sick in a really long time. I took care of myself (and Trucker was darling) with lots of fluids, tea with honey and resting as much as possible.

Setbacks:
* My car overheated on the way to work one day. Fortunately, I always leave with plenty of spare time just in case. Trucker was able to drive out and swap vehicles with me so I could get to work on time. He was able to get it home safely. It had blown a hose. Trucker said that he wanted to hit a particular location of the auto parts store because they are always more helpful. When the guy looked up the hose we needed, he thought the price was too high, so he gave us his discount. We got a $35 hose for $18.
Community:
* My mom really liked the brand of sprouted brown rice I used for tacos, so I sent her home with a bag. We had got the rice from an auction for $1/6 bags. It is usually $37 on Amazon for the 6-pack.
* My dad is retiring next month from his job of almost 35 years. I've been working with him to start thinking about how to manage his money now that he will be on a fixed income. My parents have always helped us so much when we were on a tiny income and I am glad that we are now in a place where we can help them with their transition. Per Mom's request, I'm emphasizing that he should look for ways to save money while enjoying life rather than working more (He is starting a business in retirement, as has been his dream for 20 years. Nothing wrong with that, as long as he doesn't keep up with his current work-a-holic status). I've told him that a penny saved is worth more than a penny earned because you have to pay taxes on the penny earned. Also, I've gotten him thinking about ways to save money doing things he enjoys as a way of enriching life while controlling spending. One of his ideas is to travel to take advantage of different fish runs in our state. He will enjoy a day out fishing and stock the freezer. Trucker has been learning to fish and plans to invite Dad out fishing with him. They will both get fish for the freezer and get some time together, which they both need.
* My sister is getting married this summer. We all went out this weekend to shop for bridesmaids dresses. My mom had planned on us going to the bridal shop, but I convinced her that we should start at the mall. We checked out several stores, and ended up at JC Penney's. We did well. I found a dusty rose 3/4 length sleeve lacey dress for $45, her half-sister (two of my sisters are adopted, and my parents and their half-sister's parents always made sure they were able to have a relationship) got a sleeveless dusty rose dress with lace top for $60 and Mom got a blue mother-of-the-bride dress for $29. We still need to get dresses for my two other sisters and future bro-in-law's sister, but we were quite happy with the prices we paid for these ones. Mom had a $10 reward on her card and some other discount for using her card, bringing the cost down to $124, including tax, for three dresses which is about the price of one dress at the bridal shop. She also earned another $20 reward with that purchase, so she can use that towards the other three dresses next time.
* I brought some of the cookies to work for my coworkers. They were whispering about how expensive they looked.
* My friend's daughter had some health issues over the weekend. I brought them a box of cookies. They liked them.

How was your week?

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Fighting Insurance Confusion

Since January is when a lot of us are dealing with insurance policies, I thought I'd share a little tip I've picked up.

We had a delightful piece of mail come in a couple of weeks ago. I went to the doctor last month and before scheduling the appointment, I asked if they accepted my new insurance. They said they did. After the first appointment, they called the insurance to ask if they covered the procedure I had done. I was told it would be covered 100%. I had it done and all was well until I got the Explanation of Benefits stating that they weren't paying a penny because it wasn't in network. They said that the nurse practitioner that performed the procedure was in network, but the office wasn't. Unfortunately, they had filed the claim under the office. The insurance company had completely drained my health fund and said I still owed $600. I called the insurance company and filed an appeal. I'm still waiting to find out if I win. If I win, the amount in my health fund gets rolled over to my plan this year, so this issue is worth $1100.

We got a new insurance plan through my employer (Our 3rd insurance company within 6 months. Woohoo...), so I was worried about having a similar experience. Most of my coworkers have found that their doctor's aren't in network (My boss has gone to the same doctor for 22 years and now has to find someone new) or that all of the doctors at the office except one are in network. It is very frustrating and overwhelming. I went to the website to search for my providers as I usually do when I noticed a disclaimer stating that just because a provider was listed was no guarantee that they were in network. Wait, what?

I did my search but wanted to get good proof in case of dispute. I found a link where I could live chat with someone from the insurance company. I explicitly asked if the doctor's office (with address and phone number) and each of our primary care doctors were in network. They explicitly told me they were. I asked about the hospitals that were in network and verified the ones that we would be most likely to use. They explicitly said they were. There was a button at the bottom that let me download a transcript of the chat with the date, time and name of the rep. I save these in a folder and rename with a description: "Primary Care", "Dr. xxx", etc.

Before I made another doctor's appointment, I asked again about the office and the doctor. I also asked explicitly for information about what my plan covers and how it is processed since some plans have limits on numbers of treatments per year, or will charge a different coinsurance rate.

If I get billed improperly from now on, I will have a lot more supporting evidence in my appeal. It only takes a few minutes once you know where to look. You can even bookmark the page to live chat.  If taking five minutes here and there saves me from another $1100 mistake, it will be a great hourly rate.

Good luck out there!

Monday, January 8, 2018

This Week...Beyond Money 12/18 - 1/7

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.
Gardening:
* My pothos cuttings are growing new leaves but haven't grown water roots yet. It is still super cheery sitting on my bookshelf. Update: We have roots! Almost time to put into pots.
* The houseplants are taking over everything. Woohoo!
* I am regrowing some green onions in a little glass of water.

All 12 bags for $10!
Cooking/Groceries:
* Oh my goodness, did we go grocery shopping. In preparation for a massive cooking day, we hit our secret produce wholesaler. It was unreal, as always. I got huge heads of bok choi for $1.39 each, kiwi 6 for $1, ginger for $2/lb, trail mix for $3/lb and a HUGE bag of lettuce, cleaned and chopped for $1. Then, the deal of the century (not to be dramatic): 1 lb bags of sweet lunchbox peppers were $1! However, if you bought a whole flat of 12, it was $10! So, less than $.85/lb for peppers that we sold for $5/lb at the farm. They weren't seconds either; these were absolutely perfect.
* We hit Kroger the evening before Christmas Eve and lucked out. There were plenty of manager's specials. We got a huge pork butt for $2.50/lb, ground beef for $2.50/lb, chicken thighs for $1.80/lb, a big bag of snowball rolls for $1.50/dozen, and chocolate chip cookie dough Klondike bars for $2.80/6 pk (Chocolate chip cookie dough is Trucker's favorite, so I had to).
* I hit the salvage grocer on the way to work one day. I got some amazing deals. I got 5 lb whole wheat flour ($.50), 2 lb bags of self-rising cornmeal ($.50), cinnamon/apple and maple/brown sugar bread ($.50/loaf), tartar sauce ($.50/bottle), small red beans ($1.39/2 lbs), granola bars (~$.15/each), cooking wine for $2/bottle (I have been craving shrimp scampi and plan to make it for my family for New Year's), and little bottles of ginger ale($.25 each; this is by far the best ginger ale I've ever had-spicy enough to make you sneeze!).
* We made rice cooked in stock and stir-fried vegetables for dinner one night.
* I made homemade hamburger helper. We used some ground turkey, with sauteed onions and peppers, the last of a box of pasta, some powdered cheese, the last of a bag of cheddar, a little milk and some homemade stock.
* I used our frozen food preps to make dinner. I made an epic meal in about 15 minutes: egg drop soup (homemade stock, 1 egg and green onions), crab rangoon and egg rolls (frozen; texture was not perfect, but it was my first time making them from frozen; they were still great), stir fry (variety of veggies from the frig with some shredded pork from the freezer) and rice (cooked in stock).
* We used the rest of the baggie of pork to make BBQ pulled pork sandwiches with caramelized onions (frozen in ice cube trays) and sauteed peppers (frozen in ice cube trays). This is such a great time saver. It took about 5 minutes to make dinner.
* I love my SodaStream. It is generally considered a luxury item, but we save money and materials with it. We buy the syrups at the salvage grocer: $99/bottle of 36 servings. It is the equivalent in price per ounce of $1.50/12 pack (including carbonation), which is half the cost on sale here. I use it to make flavored waters and homemade seltzer. It doesn't save over buying seltzer at the salvage grocer when they have it. The salvage grocer sells it for $.05/can. Flavored seltzer at home runs around $.12/12 oz, but would save money if I had to pay regular grocery prices for seltzer. Either way, we don't produce as much waste.


Food Preservation:
* We did great on the food preservation front this week. We spent one entire evening freezing food for quick, easy, cheap and healthful meals in the coming months. I did little bits here and there for the next few days.
* I sauteed about 3 lbs of onions. I caramelized another 6 lbs in the slow cooker. These were frozen in ice-cube trays and then bagged.
* We froze 12 lbs of sweet Lunchbox peppers. Some we sauteed in rings and strips. The strips were mixed with the sauteed onions and frozen in ice cube trays. These will be pulled out a cube or two at a time for omelets, pizza toppings, sandwich fixins, etc. The rings were frozen on a cookie sheet and then packed into a freezer bag loose so we can pull out exactly what we need. Over half were cored/seeded and frozen whole. These will be used for mini stuffed peppers and pepper poppers. We can also chop them if we run out of chopped peppers first.
* We cooked up 2 lbs of ground beef. We had tacos for dinner and used half a pound. The rest was divided into 4 bags. 2 bags unseasoned, 2 bags taco seasoning with added peppers and onions.
* I pulled out all of the whole frozen tomatoes from the growing season. When I got overwhelmed or when we took a trip, I'd just chucked the fully ripe tomatoes into the freezer to deal with "later". I skinned them (the skins went into the stock pot) and cooked them down into a flavorful sauce with seasonings from the garden (frozen and dehydrated). I froze it for later.
* I used all of our veggie scraps from the day as well as all of the veggie scraps in the freezer and tomato juice strained from sauce making earlier this season to make veggie broth. I added some flavored vinegar and Worcestershire sauce. It smells heavenly. I cooked it down for a more concentrated flavor.
* I also cooked up 2 lbs of ground turkey. We used a little for lunch and froze the rest.
* I froze 3 medium-sized loaves of zucchini bread.
* I cooked a pork butt in the slow cooker. The meat was bagged up and frozen for future meals. The lard was rendered. The cooking liquid was saved to use in soup/rice making.
* We made a massive batch of crab rangoon and egg rolls (around 75 and 25 respectively). We used a few for our dinner that night and froze the rest. I will let you know how they turn out.

The artist took pictures of 8 different people
and then painted them. It is so beautiful.
Fun:
* It is winter break! I am so happy to get 10 days off work. We get paid for the work days we have off.
* Trucker and I went thrifting together. We found some nice things for friends and family. We don't do Christmas gifts, but these will be given throughout the year as the need comes up. We found some cute baby clothes for my sister who is pregnant, a cute mini photo album for a wedding (I plan to fill it with pics of my sister and her fiance for their wedding),an owl basket for mom, and a book on dog grooming at home for my dad (who just bought clippers, so really this gift is for their dog! haha). I grabbed some items for everyone else at after-holiday sales just so they weren't left out. We got a camo-themed hygiene set for my outdoorsy bro-in-law (shower gel, shampoo, cologne and loofah), a body spray set for my other sister, and a couple bags of candy for the soon-to-be-bro-in-law. We don't generally exchange gifts for the holidays, but will give them to them sometime soon. My family doesn't expect gifts and are all frugal enough to appreciate used gifts.
* We went out to brunch with our besties. We were all off work for once. We went to a local restaurant. It is always so nice to see Daisy and hubs. They are lovely humans. Daisy's hubby had to get to sleep (3rd shifter), but she went thrifting with us for half off day. Afterwards, we hit the Asian grocery. I got wonton and egg roll wrappers, snacks and chili sauce. I also saw that they had frozen blue shell crabs for $1.99. I may have to go back.
* One particularly frigid day, we went to an antique mall. It was so much fun to run around and look at everything. Plus, we got our walk in! We also stopped at a comic book store for their end-of-the-year sale. Comics priced $4 and under were $1. Trucker got several that he needed to fill in gaps. He collects Punisher stuff. I'm not into comics, but he is, so I like going with him to sales to help hunt for comics he doesn't have. He builds his collection slowly and frugally.
* We went to a free 5-piece bluegrass concert at the library in the neighboring town. They were really good and I enjoyed hearing some of my favorite songs.
* We went out with my parents, siblings and bro-in-laws for one of those game places. We had a good time with everyone, but it won't be a regular part of our entertainment. However, we did get to do several fun things: laser tag, go-carts, bumper cars, mini bowling, two rounds of putt-putt, and an hour of unlimited video game play. It was $39 each, which is enough to almost bring me to tears, but my grandpa and great-aunt had given us money to have fun with for the holiday, so out-of-pocket cost was $9/each. Afterwards we all went out to eat. Trucker and I bought dinner for my parents. We used a coupon for BOGO entrees, so the cost was around $12 plus tip.  It was the most expensive outing of the break, but since we didn't go out of town like we'd planned, the overall cost of the break was fair.
* I went to the bookstore with Daisy for their 20% off sale. I found several books that Trucker and I wanted, on clearance or very low-priced. The highest priced book was $4. Afterwards we went out for coffee and talked.
Lilly is a constant blur of motion.
* We toured a candy factory. Life is beautiful. It is a 65-year-old local company. The tour cost a whopping $2 each and you got a $2 voucher for the gift shop. It was so cool to watch them make different kinds of candy and watch the machinery in motion. Afterwards, they gave us each a buckeye. We found the mistakes boxes of candy that sells for half price. We each got a little box (milk chocolate crunch for Trucker and dark chocolate creams for me) for $4.45/each, or $2.45 after our voucher. Not a bad date!
* Gallery hop night! It was barely over 0 degrees, so Trucker found out that the convention center has an epic art collection and gives free tours. We enjoyed hearing about local artists and pieces and got to be inside where it was warm. Afterwards, we were able to walk through the skywalk to a posh hotel that housed part of the collection. We did walk around the neighborhood to hit a couple of our favorite galleries. It is always such a wonderful night. Each time I think it is the best one yet. I love the talks we have about technique, message, emotions and artists. We went to my favorite gallery and found that "Bill" wasn't there (this is the washing machine sculpture that I adore). Trucker asked the gallery owner if he had sold, and she said they had just rotated him out for a bit. She told us more about the artist (Jack Earl, for those are interested). He is 82 years old and has a wicked sense of humor. He has started painting now, so it was fun to see his relatively new medium. She said that "Bill" had been at the local art museum before it came to this gallery. I read somewhere that Earl is in the Smithsonian, so I think a road trip is in order.
Big Sis Rosebud is an
absolute sweetheart.
* Trucker uses an app from the library to check out ebooks for free. He is getting a lot of reading in by having a book or two on his phone to read while waiting in line.
* We went to my Grandpa's house on New Year's Eve. I made dinner for everyone. I made shrimp scampi with angel hair, roasted potatoes, carrots and garlic, and a salad. It was really yummy. Afterwards, we played pool and ping-pong in the basement and laughed a lot together. Then we went to my parents house to play Wii and hang out with their adorable goldendoodles. When it was time to watch the ball drop, we couldn't get the station in, but Dad found a star trek episode ending. He laughed that it was almost midnight since the show was over. I shouted "30 29 28..." Dad and I laughed hysterically as we counted to zero which was perfect timing. We decided that next year we would tell my new bro-in-laws (who weren't there this year) that that is our family tradition. Mom still wanted to see the ball drop, but I couldn't find the video. I tried to sneak a 2016 ball drop video past her, but she caught on. Overall, it was a nice evening.
* We went to a small town outside of the city for the first concert of their cello festival series. We got to enjoy 2 hours of various artists from several states and a couple countries. It was a free event at the senior center. Afterwards, we walked to a local coffee house and enjoyed warm drinks and our books. Then we stopped at an agrotourism dairy. During the warm season, there is mini golf, batting cages, petting zoo and more. Since it was hovering just about zero, none of that was open, but they did have ice cream! I got a scoop of cow patty (decadent double dark chocolate ice cream with chocolate chips, toffee and cookie bits) and Trucker got chocolate chip cookie dough (his favorite and since it was the flavor of the week, he got two scoops for the price of one). Not including gas, our date cost $12.

Nature:
* Nature is a million miles away. I enjoy it exclusively through art and houseplants when it is below freezing. LOL

Frugality:
* Trucker's office chair broke out of the blue one morning. We decided to hit some thrift stores to look for a replacement instead of rushing to the office store. We went to three thrift stores and at the last one, found a perfect chair. It was the right size, more comfortable than his last one, and a beautiful earthy brown to go better with our living room. Price? $10.
* I bought two new travel coffee mugs at the thrift. We had a set that my sister gave us 8 years ago. We definitely got a lot of use out of them, but the bottoms were falling apart and rusting and water had gotten inside the insulated part. It was time for some new ones. Trucker got a nice metal one with a blue lid and I got an amazing salmon colored (my favorite!) one. We paid $1.50 each. Mine looks brand new: no wear, no stains.
Funny finds (not purchased haha!) at the
antique mall
* My credit score raised another 9 points this month.
* We got an oil change with a coupon to save about $10.
* We line dry our clothes inside. This saves electricity, but also increases humidity in the house. The laundry room is home to some houseplants that like a good bit of humidity, so this helps them a little. Trucker has taken over laundry duty for the most part and has created an amazing system for getting a full load up in the small amount of indoor space we have.
* I used rewards points towards my credit card balance.

Waste Reduction:
* We took a couple boxes of household items to my parents' house for my sisters to look through. We let them take whatever they wanted and donated the rest.

House and Home:
* We did a little decluttering, but not nearly as much as I'd told myself I would do.
* I did crazed kitchen cleaning with my melamine foam. It is amazing how easily grime wipes off with these things.
* I cleaned out the vent covers for the furnace and bathroom exhaust fans. I try to do it at least once a year.

Work:
* I enjoyed the break away from work. It was much needed. Trucker also took a break from his work to hang out with me. Whenever he had to knock out a project, we did it together so we got more time together.

Health:
* It is much to cold to walk outside (at least for us), so we have tried to find active outings that allow us to walk a lot indoors, even if that means walking the aisles at the grocery.
* I got a bit of a workout shoveling the driveway and sidewalks.
* I weighed in and realized that I have lost 11 lbs in the last 9 months. That was really exciting, since I'm now on two meds that can cause weight gain.
* My arms are still recovering from my medical procedure almost a month ago. The arm that had the procedure had to rest for a couple weeks, by which time my other arm was worn out from picking up the slack. Here is hoping for arm comfort this week!
$4 silk flower bouquet was
much nicer than $4 worth
of real flowers and it
lasts longer.

Setbacks:
* We hit a deer right after leaving my parents house on New Year's Day. Fortunately, I got slowed down enough that it just smashed up the bumper but didn't bust the radiator. We weren't sure if anything was damaged to make it unsafe for us to drive 50+ miles home, so my parents let us drive Dad's truck and they took my car to my cousin to look it over the next morning. The next morning I drove the car 3 miles round trip to get supplies for a house repair. I got a flat tire as I turned onto our street. There wasn't a spare in the truck, so they drove it out to us. Dad and Trucker changed it in 2 degree weather. When they first got there, dad unloaded his tools as soon as he got there. When he and Trucker headed back out, Trucker asked where the tire was. Dad had a brain slip for a second and thought he had left it at home. He was almost in tears and Trucker said, well let's check the car. They had a good laugh when they saw it in the trunk. Poor Dad. He is so kind to help us out. We all enjoyed some hot chocolate afterwards to warm up.

Community:
* My mom told me one day that an old family friend was in the hospital in my city. This is around 1.5 hours away from where they live. Her sister (her only remaining family) doesn't drive. Since she went into the hospital a couple days before Christmas, I didn't expect that a lot of people would have the time to devote 4+ hours to drive out to visit since they would be doing holiday stuff. Trucker and I stopped at a thrift store and found a beautiful silk flower arrangement for $4. Since she was in ICU she couldn't receive real flowers, and these will be just as beautiful next week as today, plus she will be able to take them home with her. She was so excited to get visitors and loved the flowers. She wanted lots of hugs and we talked with her for a bit until she started falling asleep again.
* We were really thankful that my parents helped us after the deer incident. I don't know what we would have done without them.

How was your week?
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