Friday, June 23, 2017

Frugal Fun in the City

City living comes with a lot of high costs, but the city offers a lot in the way of entertainment. At times when we had little money, we were able to fall back on lots of free sources of entertainment to keep us from being bored while we were trying to stabilize our finances. Small towns offer some of these things too, so even if you live in a small town, look into some of these options.

* Go to any free festival you find interesting. Over the years, Trucker and I have gone to countless festivals and have never paid a penny to get in. Big cities often have fantastic festivals, and rarely charge admission. In my experience, mid-sized cities are more likely to charge admission, although there are free festivals to be found. I love going to art festivals or blues festivals. Sometimes, I go to other festivals just to broaden my horizons and experience something new. It's a great way to have fun without spending a ton of money. It can even be free if you eat before you leave and bring beverages from home.

* We love to get out deep into the woods for an all day hike, but sometimes car trouble or gas prices keep us from making the journey. On those days, we make a day of walking and exploring in the city. We'll pick a direction or a street and venture out. I pack a snack and a couple water bottles for the journey and we'll usually have a bit of spending money, although we leave the cards and big bucks at home, just in case. A couple of weeks ago, we walked to an ice cream shop to get $.50 cones before walking home. Other times we'll walk to get coffee and then walk home, foraging for wild berries as we go.

* Find out about free access to museums. In Chicago, you can check out passes at any library branch to get into different museums for free (up to 4 people). In my current city, there is no such option, but most of the museums have some option. One museum is free one (very crowded) day a year, another is free every Sunday (with free concerts in the summer!), and a few small museums are free every day. The summer reading program at the library offers a couple one-time free passes for two small museums after you read 4 books during the summer. These are great options for the curious city-dweller, with or without kids.

* Sign up for newsletters with local events. One trendy local site sends out a newsletter with every kind of event going on each weekend. Many of these are way beyond my price range, but there are almost always a few free events going on. Sometimes the events aren't up my alley; sometimes they are the perfect thing for a fun weekend.

* Enjoy the arts. Go to a gallery opening or hop. Watch an art demonstration. Take a long stroll through a neighborhood with a lot of galleries.

* Check with your local theatres. One theatre near us has free symphony performances a few times a year. Another had a free documentary viewing and a meet and greet (with free gourmet ice cream) with the local actor who made it. Yet another has $10 symphony tickets for several shows each year.

* There are likely more movie options in the city than in a small town. You have several theater chains to chose from, so call around for the best matinee prices. Maybe you even have a discount theater. Our's charges $2.25 admission; on Tuesday's it is $1.50! The fancy theatre downtown has a summer movie program. When you buy a strip of 10 tickets, it is only $2.50 each for a really nice experience. Lots of local parks have drive-in movies, so there are lots of movies to chose from. Bring your own popcorn and beverage.

* Art in the park. Many cities offer concerts and plays in the park. These can be fantastic. At one park in my city, it's an all-out thing. People bring short tables and pile them with fine food and pop open a bottle of wine. It's fantastic and costs nothing to get in.

* Find some coffee house culture. Poetry readings or concerts at coffee houses are incredibly frugal events. Often there is no cover, and you can sip your coffee while you enjoy the entertainment. Cost out can be as low as $1.50 a person.

* Go to the library. Not just for books, movies, CDs, magazines, internet, and ebooks (although, certainly check these out while you're there!), the library can be a fantastic source of entertainment. Ask about concerts, movies, lectures and classes at your branch or nearby branches. In one city I lived in, there was a month of financial classes for free at various branches around the city. We bused it out to several events to learn as much as we could. Made for an educational night out and gave us things to talk/dream about on the bus ride home.

* Go to book releases at coffee houses or book stores. These are great fun, depending on the type of book. The best book release I ever went to was for a true-crime mafia book (Trucker and I are obsessed with Mafia movies, so the real-life stories of people we'd heard about was fascinating).

* Take a walking tour of your downtown or a historic neighborhood. Do your research before hand, then venture out. Make sure you know some good trivia to impress your date/interest your kids. Try to hit places with fascinating stories, intricate architecture, or vibrant street art. Stroll around interesting little stores (unless you've got kids that would get bored or destructive) or maybe hit a tiny, very localized museum. If you'd like, take a bit of pocket money to pop into a candy shop or grab ice cream cones if you'd like.

* Visit an ethnic neighborhood for fantastic grocery shopping. I love to visit Chinatown to stock up on my favorite herbal teas. The prices are great, and it's fun. This can also help to kick you out of a cooking rut. Since you're just grocery shopping, it doesn't really cost anything out of the entertainment budget and if you do it right, can save you on your grocery bill.

Even if your expenses are high in other ways, city living does offer some great ways to economize in other areas.

Share your favorite frugal city fun tips in the comments.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

This Week...Beyond Money TWO WEEKS 5/22 - 5/28

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 got some collard, onion and scallion transplants from the farm stand and popped them into my garden.
* We have lots of lovely growth in the garden. Overall, everything is looking good.
* I harvested some mulberries from the garden and also foraged some when we went out hiking.
* We stopped at the farm stand twice. The first time I just got a head of lettuce, bunch of beets and some sugar snap peas. The second time I got collards, kale, lettuce and peas. All but the lettuce from the U-pick. I harvested some sugar snap peas and some that were a bit more mature. I figured that leaving them on the vine would reduce future yields, and I would love to have some fresh peas to serve this week.
* I harvested the largest garlic scape harvest yet.
* Trucker whacked down some of the Japanese honeysuckle. It will surely be back with vengeance, but at least he keeps it from overtaking the house. Japanese honeysuckle is by far my least favorite plant right now.

* I made an epic brunch one day. I made fried eggs (free from mom; she got them in exchange for watching a friend's chickens while they went on vacation), Brussels sprouts ($.99/lb on managers special), collards (from the farm), toast ($.50/loaf from aldi) and grits ($.10/box at salvage grocer; used 1/3 box and added herbs from the garden). I served hot grape gelatin to drink (never had it? It's an Amish drink for when you aren't feeling well. We use it to get extra gelatin in our diets).
* I made a wonderful quiche for lunch one day with enough leftovers for each of our lunch the following day. I made my own pastry and filled with leftover Brussels sprouts (manager's special), collards (from the farm stand), sliced sugar snap peas (from the farm stand), sauerkraut (free from Trucker's job) and garlic scapes (from the garden). I used 3 eggs (on sale for $.69/dozen), the rest of a container of spinach artichoke dip and milk for the custard and used both mozzarella and romano (manager's special) cheeses. It was amazing the first day and better cold for lunch the next.

Food Preservation:
* I froze some garlic scapes, diced up. I'll add these to soups, casseroles, tacos, and whenever sauteing a mix of veggies as a base.

* I had one particularly rough day. We decided to stay in and relax. Trucker went out to pick up pizza (we had a BOGO coupon in our entertainment book, so we got two mediums for $10 with plenty of leftovers). We cuddled and watched movies all evening.
* We had a couple coffee dates.
* We went fishing one day at a new place. We went a little too early in the afternoon, so they weren't biting well. I caught two, but nothing big enough to keep. Trucker caught no fish, but did catch a turtle. We were able to get the hook out without hurting him.
* We went to another gallery hop. It was one of the nicest evenings I can remember.  There were just a lot of good shows. Lots of hope in spring. My favorite shows was one in which the artist had painted each and every one of her possessions. It definitely makes you to take pause to consider the Tyler Durden quote about what you own owning you. The weather was perfect. The company was perfect. I guess that makes for a perfect night.
* A theatre troupe in our area does Shakespeare in the Park. We went one evening to see Julius Caesar. It was my first time seeing it live. We packed a lovely picnic from home: manager's special seafood salad, manager's special crab and jalapeno dip, manager's special beer cheese, store brand crackers and drinks from home. Total cost for the food was around $6 and was comparable to the cost to prepare dinner at home (In general, I tend to make nicer dinners on the weekends since I don't have time to cook at all during the week). I always love spending a nice evening outdoors, watching talented actors, eating good food and hanging out with Trucker.
* In planning our vacation, we decided to buy an Entertainment book for the city we were staying in. For Memorial Day they had a $10 sale with free shipping. At that cost, using it for one meal or museum would pay for it. They had a 25% off promo code if you bought two or more books. I called my parents and asked them if they wanted in. They got one as well, bringing our cost to $7.50 each. They are going as a big group (My parents, all three sisters, plus 1 husband and 1 boyfriend), so the BOGO coupons at most restaurants won't be a great deal for them. However, they plan to use a lot of pizza coupons, as they can order whatever size pizzas needed to feed them all. For us, BOGO coupons will make up whatever meals we will need to buy (We plan to use gift cards for 1-2 meals, eat breakfast at the hotel and get no more than 1 meal out a day). Also, a lot of the area museums have BOGO coupons, so we will be able to have affordable options if it rains.
* After a long day of working on the house, we went out for pizza. We went to a place just down the road that had a special since it was Sunday ($10 pizza and one of the best in the city). Whenever we knock out a big project or spend a day doing work we hate doing, we take a little cheap date afterwards to relax and reward ourselves.

* We went for a couple mile walk at the Audubon. There is an obstacle course which I of course ran. I love seeing all sorts of less-common birds. Next time I need to bring my field guide.
* We went for a 4 mile walk at the park. It was a nice, warm day. We didn't see a lot of wildlife, but we did see loads of pretty plants. I loved seeing that the blackberries are coming along nicely.
* We went hiking a few more times.

* My mom's cousin looked at both our cars. Trucker's exhaust was broken in two places and he needed spark plugs changed. He charged $40 for all. I had him look at my car to make sure everything was looking good for our vacation. He replaced the radiator cap and charged me $10. We would be in so much trouble without him.

House and Home:
* We are still line drying clothes. I enjoy it for the most part. I've only once had to go to work in (slightly) damp work pants, which is pretty good when you consider how often it has rained, how high the humidity is and how much we work.
* Trucker made an online query to get some quotes on our electric work. We will get several quotes before we decide on a particular person.
* When we were at the gallery hop, we found a store going out of business. They were selling everything for really cheap. I got some little boxes to use for storage for $.50 each.

* I worked overtime several days. I took one day off (without pay but without using a call-off day) and we had the day off for the holiday so I got a 4-day weekend. It was so needed.

* We went to the gym several times between the two of us.
* I went for a run out in the real world!
* Trucker got a sty on the inside of his eyelid. It was causing him a lot of discomfort so we went to the Little Clinic at the grocery store to be prescribed an antibiotic eye drop (free with our insurance since we asked for a generic). We definitely wanted to get it looked at since his uncle died from not treating the cancer he thought was just a sty.

* One day as we were getting ready for bed, Trucker noticed that my tire had gone flat. This was particularly frustrating because his car was in the shop over the weekend. The plan had been for him to ride with me to work the next morning, drive my car home and my mom would meet me with one of their cars to borrow (We could have borrowed it earlier but I didn't want them to be short a vehicle, especially since we didn't really need it if I was off work). We tried to get the tire off, but we couldn't (torqued too tightly). We called our insurance and they sent someone out who was able to replace it for us. The next day Trucker took it to the tire shop, where they replaced it for free since we had a warranty.
This is my favorite piece from the gallery hop.
* My sister sent me a text and said that at her job they were throwing away the items that had been in the lost and found box for a long time. She said there was a really nice black coat and asked if I wanted. It was a black Dockers brand heavy-duty coat in great condition.  Trucker has been needing a nice, black coat and had just asked me two weeks ago to look out for one for him. This one fits him well.
* When I stopped by the farm stand, my former coworker said that the volunteer she was supposed to meet hadn't showed. She had no one to run the farm stand, but had needed to do some deliveries for her business. I ended up running the farm stand for a couple hours. It was really nice to see some of my clients.
How was your week?

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Mulberry Bonanza

It's that time of year, folks: Mulberry season!
For those of you not in the know, mulberries are where it's at. They are misunderstood and neglected, but you can totally use that to your advantage. Mulberries are considered a weed in a lot of the country and many homeowners despise them for the stains left on sidewalks, driveways, cars and bare feet, not to mention the blue-colored bird droppings that can stain everything else.

But the mulberry is so much more than that. Mulberries are a delightful delicate berry that would certainly sell like crazy at the farmers market if only it could handle the ride. Their hardiness is also a great boon for homesteaders and gardeners who want a dependable crop. They have a delicate flavor that can border on blandness depending on the variety (more on that later).

When I was young, my grandma would have me over to harvest mulberries. We would spend the entire day harvesting her many trees. I'm pretty sure I ate more than ended up in the buckets, but she was awesome and let me eat my fill. My hands would be stained purple for days and I loved it. I felt like I was in a different world. It was the essence of youth and summer and living forever. When Grandpa came home from work, we would gather in the living room and fill big bowls with mulberries, cover with milk and eat. It is still one of my favorite snacks. And just a hint, use milk, not cream as the heaviness of the cream seems to overwhelm the delicate flavor of the berries.

They are very nutritious and low in calories. They have a fair amount of potassium and iron (1 cup provides 14% of the recommended daily value). They also have a lot of vitamin C, some calcium and plenty of other nutrients.

Unripe berries that will turn purple.
If you want to harvest mulberries, first you need to find some trees/shrubs. If you are not so fortunate as to have them on your property (my house came with 7!), you can easily find them. Look for red/purple stains on sidewalks. If it is public property, harvest as you please. If it is on someone's property, technically you can harvest anything overhanging the sidewalk, but it is better to ask. I can almost guarantee that you'll never have someone say no; they'll just be happy to have less of a mess (hint: frame this as you being a kind-hearted person selflessly helping them avoid said mess). Check parks as well. In my neighborhood, I have dozens of trees, so I am never in want.

Now, a mulberry is not a mulberry is not a mulberry. In fact, there are a few kinds of mulberries and they are all slightly different. Red mulberries are native to North America. White mulberries were imported from Asia with the intent of creating a silk trade here. That didn't work out and now these are considered an invasive species (so really, by eating them so they don't grow new trees, you are doing a public service). This does not necessarily refer to the color of the berries when ripe, and they can also hybridize. Many mulberries start green, then ripen through white, pink, red and finally to a rich purple/black color. However, many varieties will be ripe at red, pink, lavender, or even white! The varieties that are red or purple when ripe tend to taste the best and have the most pronounced flavor. White and lavender varieties tend to be on the bland side. They are super sweet but lack the tartness that balances it out. I harvest whatever I can get. I prefer the red and purple ones for eating fresh, but the white ones are fine when mixed with others in baked goods and sauces. And honestly, I'll take whatever I can get. In my neighborhood, I've found that the tree that gives lavender berries has the largest berries, so I get more bulk by harvesting that tree.

The leaves are serrated and can be either heart shaped or lobed. Generally, the younger trees tend to have lobes. See photos.

So how do you tell if a mulberry is ripe? Basically, it's ripe if it is laying on the ground. Many people mistakenly think you pick mulberries, but this is guaranteed to leave you with fewer berries and most of them unripe. When mulberries are fully ripe, they drop off the tree at the slightest touch. If you go to pick one, 50 fully ripe berries will drop to the ground. If you have to pull at all, they aren't ripe yet.

When you have found your tree, watch it carefully. Once you see a few berries laying on the ground, grab a tarp or old sheet. Lay the tarp under the tree and shake the branches. You can use a hoe or stick to get higher branches if needed. All of the ripe berries will drop onto your sheet and you just pick it up at the corners and carry in your harvest. It's that simple. Not only will this give you the best berries, but you'll be able to harvest huge amounts in no time.

The berries don't all ripen at once, so you will need to go back a few times to get more. This is ideal though because you can get just what you need over a longer period of time.

Ripe purple mulberries
When you plan to use them, you'll want to clean them well to get rid of dirt and the tiny bugs they often have. Just submerge in water and remove the bugs that float. A couple washes should be sufficient.

They won't keep long, just a few days in the refrigerator. If you need to keep them longer, either cook them and store the cooked berries in the refrigerator or toss into the freezer. They are delicate, so avoid manhandling them. Don't store in deep containers as the berries on the bottom will be crushed.

A lot of people recommend clipping off the tiny green stems before using. Honestly, I don't have time for that. I use the berry whole and have never felt that the final quality suffered for it. If you decide that you need to, use scissors or nail clippers to easily (although not quickly) remove them. And if you are going to use them for juice, jelly or syrup, leave them on and strain them out.

If you are not one to wear the purple hands as a badge of honor, there are two methods to remove the stains. Rub lemons/lemon juice on your hands or rub unripe fruit on your hands then wash them with soap.

Use them as you would other blackberries or raspberries. Use in muffins, cobblers, crisps or scones.

Toss a few into your morning smoothie. The flavor won't stand out much, but it is a good, nutritive filler and adds some nice color (if you use a darker berry).

Add to oatmeal or toss in with cold cereal such as bran flakes.

These make an excellent pie. In fact, it is my favorite berry pie. They would be lovely in little tarts or a cooked puree added to thumbprint cookies.

Add whole to cheesecake or swirl in a cooked puree.

Add to pancake batter. Double points if you serve with a syrup made of the berries (Cook them down in a little water and a healthy amount of sugar, then run through a strainer).

Make a berry sauce or ice cream topping.

Put them in parfaits, popsicles, slushies.

You can juice them, I suppose, although I've never tried. You could also make wine.

Use in tea.

Make ice cream or sorbet.

Mulberries are a fantastic fruit for the frugal foodie or aspiring homesteader. Free, low maintenance, great nutrition and a lovely flavor make this one of my favorite plants for growing my own food.

Give it a try! You'll love it!

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

This Week...Beyond Money TWO WEEKS 5/8 - 5/21

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.

There was another active shooter event in our metropolitan area again this week. I really don't have adequate words. All I can say is always be aware of your surroundings and if your city/county offers citizen response training, do it.

* I harvested several springs of oregano from the outdoor garden. The leaves are huge and so fragrant.
* I went out with mom to buy seedlings. Transplants were packs of three for $1.99 or a flat of 12 packs for $14.99 ($1.25 each). We each picked out what we definitely needed first. I had 11, so I grabbed an extra pepper pack. Mom had 7, so for $1 more, she ended up getting 5 more packs. She got one more pack of tomatoes, 2 more packs of peppers and two packs of flowers that she loved. Mom got three strawberry plants ($2.99 each) and 5 lbs of seed potatoes ($.99/lb). We had looked into buying seed potatoes from a catalog. It was going to cost $12/lb, plus $7 in shipping! Dad had only planned on getting 3 lbs at that price ($43). By buying locally, she got 37 seedlings (one of the tomato packs had a freebie), 3 strawberry plants and 5 lbs of seed potatoes for $28.91.
* I planted all of my tomatoes and peppers. I spaced them out a little more than usual and added some organic fertilizer (usually $8/bag, found on clearance at $2.29). Hopefully I'll get a decent yield this year.
* The forecast called for 3 days of rain, so I decided to get my seeds planted in the garden. I planted lettuce (Oakleaf, Thai Oakleaf, Red Sails and Black-Seeded Simpson), radishes (Cincinnati Red, Sparkler and an Easter Egg mix), carrots (Little Finger), New Zealand spinach, basil (both in the garden and a container) and dill.

* We went to the farm stand one day and got a bunch of radishes. The radishes are amazing. They have great texture and aren't as spicy as your typical store-bought ones. Trucker and I walked to the farm stand to save gas, get exercise and enjoy each other. While there, I got to see one of my old coworkers and talk for awhile. I miss her. I miss the farm. I will have to try to get out to volunteer at some time.
* The next time I went I got strawberries (The first of the year!), sugar snap peas (half of which I ate while driving home) and two bunches of radishes. I always donate a fair amount to support the farm and my community members who can't afford to pay, but considering what produce of this quality goes for, I feel I'm getting a good deal.
* I made grilled pizza one evening.
* Trucker made spaghetti with tomato sauce and polish sausage. It was so good.
* We got more fish for the freezer. The only cost was for the fishing license, which I basically consider an entertainment cost, so it was free. We caught 15 bluegills large enough to bother with. I buried the heads and guts in the garden.
* I pulled some pork from the freezer (leftover from our party) and used to make BBQ pulled pork sandwiches. I added BBQ sauce (store brand on sale), mustard (salvage grocery) and sauerkraut. I served on store-brand bread (on sale) and added a sprinkling of cheese and a heavy serving of kraut on mine.
* I made taco soup to use up the rest of the party leftovers. I added some seasoning to the containers from the freezer and cooked in some pork stock. Trucker said it was one of the best soups I've made.
* I went to Aldi and got some bargains: shredded cheddar ($1.99/lb; at Kroger the cheapest cheese ever goes on sale is $1.79/12 oz and this is rare), eggs ($.59/dozen!) and bread ($.49/loaf, manager's special).
* We went to the Amish grocer in my hometown. We were quite lucky. They were having a customer appreciation day and were giving away free homemade ice cream (A real serving size too!) and samples of their bakery's fry pies and brownies. They were also having a 10% off sale. We bought 2 packages of cheddar cheese powder, a package of BBQ seasoning, a package of honey mustard powder, some trail mix (a gift left for mom) and chocolate covered peanuts (a gift for Grandpa).
* Trucker made an amazing breakfast for us one morning. He made french toast (I sliced strawberries, banana and mango over mine) and ham and egg omelets. Perfect start to the day.
* I made beef stew with some beef from the freezer (manager's special). I used random veggies from the refrigerator and pantry: carrots, onions, scallions, radishes, celery (dehydrated) and beets (dehydrated). I also tossed in some leftover sauteed collards and seasoned with herbs from the indoor garden. I cooked it in the slow cooker while at work so it was ready when I got home. It turned out really good.
* We made a pesto pasta. I fried a couple pieces of bacon and sauteed onions in the grease. I tossed with cooked pasta, diced tomatoes (canned) and pesto from the freezer. It was amazing.

Food Preservation:
* I air-dried oregano, sage and basil.

* I met up with Doodles for coffee at a local diner. It was nice to catch up with her.
* I took Mom out one day. She drove out to the city and we went to a local nursery to get all of our gardening stuff. Then I took her out for Greek food at a local restaurant we love. We went shopping a little, but I didn't spend anything. It was a wonderful day. She is so sweet and fun.
* We went out on a couple coffee dates.
* We went on a date to a local restaurant. A couple of our friends had given us a gift certificate for our anniversary. We had a wonderful time. We split a burger and fries and a flat bread (happy hour special for $5) and drank water. We have a little left for a discounted second date. Afterwards, we took a stroll through a historic neighborhood and talked. We thought about going out for ice cream, but opted to buy some to take home. We got a gallon of ice cream for 2/3 the cost of going out.
*Our movie group went out to the discount theatre to see La La Land. Tickets were $1.50 each and we did not buy concessions.

* We enjoyed killing it. We went fishing one evening at a pond at a park near our house. We couldn't keep the fish off of our lines! We caught around 50, but only 15 were big enough to bother cleaning. It was a lovely evening. The humidity was low, it was warm enough to not need a jacket and the geese and ducks were everywhere. It was a quite peaceful way to spend an evening.
* A state park near us opened two new trails for the first time in 50 years! We went down for a late morning hike. It was a really pleasant day, although the return trip involved a lot of climbing! It was a great workout.

* I got some mud on my jeans when we went hiking and fishing one day. After washing, they were still pretty stained up. Fortunately, we are line drying now so the stains weren't set. I used some stain remover and after some scrubbing was able to save them.
* I found an awesome purse at the thrift store. It is cyan and brown and goes perfectly with the rest of my clothes (all of my other purses are leftover from previous styles, but I won't get rid of them til then wear out). It only cost $1.50! There is a small scuff on the bottom, but I think it will be easy to remove. Even if not, it is barely noticeable.
* We returned a couple items that we didn't end up needing. We got $24 put back on our card.
* We sent away two rebate for items we would have purchased anyway.
* We went to a community yard sale in my home town. We did really well. I got a nice dolly for $4. It only needs to have the wheel tightened a bit. I also got a chippy coat rack for $1, a fish skinner for $.25 (I'd been thinking of getting one the last time we cleaned fish), cute produce baskets (a stack of 10 for $.25) and a pair of jeans in my size in a free box.
* The next weekend we went to a community yard sale in a neighborhood near us. I only bought one item: a lunch box with my company info on it. It was insulated and very cute. It cost a whopping $.25. I also grabbed two nice glass bottles in a free box. They were from a fancy juice place down the street, but will be great for bringing drinks with us when we go out to concerts, festivals and plays in the park.
* I got my hair cut when Great Clips was having a $5.99 sale. Even after tip, it was quite affordable and I am happy enough with it. I cut it a little on the short side so I can go longer between cuts.

House and Home:
* We continue to line dry clothes. I am enjoying it, honestly. I get an excuse to go out into the yard during perfect afternoons. It definitely takes more planning, but that is the only downside.

* Trucker picked up an extra shift at his job.
* Trucker gets an amazing job perk. He is able to take home sauerkraut on jarring days. He brought home two jars. They retail at $9 each. It is some of the most tasty kraut I've ever had. I am so delighted. I already crave it each day and plan to make sure we consume a little each day.
* I took a penalty-free day off. It is nice to get a little time to relax and take care of me. This was the day I took Mom out, so it was time well spent.
* I packed food each day.
* I worked a fair amount of overtime the days I did work. My department doesn't work a crazy amount compared to other departments, so any overtime I do get is welcome to compensate for my days off. The way I see it, each hour of overtime I work funds an hour and a half of time off.

* Trucker had another acting job. He is in a commercial for a local grocery store chain. I am so proud of him!
* Trucker had another audition and he thinks he did well. I'm proud of him.

* Trucker was still fighting his cold, so he didn't hit the gym hard the first week. The next week he went more often and we went a couple times together.
* I am finally running a little on the treadmill at the gym. I wore a different pair of sneakers and these slide a little less. I do not enjoy running on the treadmill, but I am just trying to get my endurance back. Once I get my endurance back and a little more strength, I hope to return to running outside, where I enjoy it.
* We are eating kraut every day. It will be interesting to see how we do getting daily probiotics. I've already told Trucker he is never allowed to quit this job.
* There were some pain relief patches that the dollar store sold for $1/20 pk. They worked well and were a great price. Then the local stores stopped selling them, although a different chain started carrying them at $4.50/20 pk. Trucker suggested I look online. I was able to order a case of them for $1/pk and will be set for a long time.

* My cousin got married this week. It was a beautiful wedding that fit them perfectly. They are both musical, and the ceremony involved her singing to him when walking down the aisle, her dad singing, the couple singing a song together at the end of the ceremony and her mom playing the trumpet as they walked back down the aisle. The location was at an opera house. It was great to get to talk with family.
How was your week?

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Grocery Shopping While Travelling

Coming from someone who values locality in food, this seems heresy to say, but sometimes my food travels. Or rather, when I travel, I look for local food to take home with me. I don't travel far away and I never fly. I do take day trips to see family an hour or so away, and I take weekend trips within the state or maybe the state over. When I do, I look for opportunities to enjoy local or "exotic" food at a good price, and bring it home. The gas consumption is minimal since I'd be taking the trip anyway, so perhaps a tiny bit extra for the extra weight (although I'm sure 10 pounds of food isn't adding to my gasoline consumption too much).
When I visit my parents an hour away, I visit a favorite grocery store. It's a scratch and dent grocery and it's phenomenal. I find organic cereal for $.33/box and whole grain pasta for $.59/lb. Every so often, I find ends-and-pieces of local jerky for $5.99 for a 5 lb bag. However, since it is an hour away, I don't make a special trip just for that store. It's only ten minutes from my parents, so I stop when I'm already out that way. The savings over buying those items at the grocery store is more than the cost of gas, meaning I essentially get paid to take the trip out there. Win.

When we drive out to the boonies to go for a day-hike, I like to stop at farm shops and roadside stands to get the local's garden surplus. Just outside my favorite state park, there is a little roadside stand. The offerings are just whatever the home-gardener has a surplus of, but it's fantastic produce and a great price. $1/lb for tomatoes, $.50/large squash, $.25/zucchini or small squash. I prefer my money to go to a real-life family, rather than some grocery store.

When we took our honeymoon to Amish country a few hours away, we really hit the food jackpot. There were several scratch n dent groceries. We bought pasta and canned veg at bargain prices. We drove by a grain mill that sold whole wheat flour at the same price per pound that white flour cost in our city. We bought a few bags, and tossed all in the freezer upon returning home. Our honeymoon package included a $150 gift certificate good at the inn's restaurant, bakery, gift shop, or general store. We ate our meals at the restaurant. On the last day, we had over $100 left. We went to the bakery and got a few loaves of bread (some for the freezer) and a few sweets. Then we went to the general store and spent the $90 left on jams, jellies, coffee, tea, pasta,spices and bags of trail mix.

When we go to Chicago to visit family, we have a few stops that we have to make, mainly to bakeries. One bakery sells cookies for $.20 each and sub rolls for $.33. A few ethnic bakeries offer some of our favorites that we can't find here, and don't (yet) know how to make. This provides a little splurge, but at a discounted price. We'll sometimes stop in Chinatown for our stockpile of herbal teas and other items, or we'll stop by a neighborhood with a fantastic selection of exotic produce at bargain prices.
By keeping our eyes open when we travel, we're able to get great scores on food. We often save money over buying more exotic selections in our town, and we get to try lots of new things without the cost of going to a trendy restaurant. Often, the grocery savings is close to the cost of gasoline, thus making our trip less expensive. Whenever you venture away from your neighborhood, keep your eyes peeled for some fun, new food adventures.

How I Threw A Frugal Anniversary Party

Last month was our ten year wedding anniversary. We had planned for years to have a big gathering to mark the occasion, but we didn't want to spend a fortune.

We thought about having the party at a metropark. Ultimately we decided against this as April (our anniversary month) is hardly a dry month and to plan sufficiently in advance we would be unable to know how the weather would be. We didn't want to have the expense of restaurant meals/drinks, especially given how frugally I can prepare a meal for a crowd.

I always try to prepare a good meal. I love good food and like to show off a little. I also want to keep the cost reasonable, since we are saving for our goals. The most important thing to accomplish both objectives is to have a clear plan, with the ability to be flexible. I decided I wanted to do a taco bar for this party. I had thought of having a grilled cheese bar, but didn't want to be tied to a griddle for the entire party.

From there, I brainstormed different dishes I could prepare. I made an extensive list of ingredients needed for different dishes and made my shopping list accordingly. A few days before the party, I headed online to check sales flyers for Aldi, Lucky's (a Trader Joe's type store), Meijer and Kroger. I had already hit the salvage grocer and got some hot sauce, salsa and horchata mix ($.10/bag!). For my shopping list, I listed the store, then each item on my previous list that was on sale. As I checked out other stores' ads, if I found an item for cheaper than I'd previously listed it, I'd cross it out and write it under the new store. For any items on my list that I didn't find on sale, I wrote on the back of the sheet and looked for unadvertised sales while shopping. I ended up getting a pretty good discount on everything.

Here is a list of the dishes/items I offered and the prices of ingredients:
Tacos: ground beef ($2.29/lb at Kroger; two other stores had it on sale, but not this low) with taco seasoning ($.39/Aldi), al pastor- pork butt ($1.29/lb at Meijer) with pineapple ($1/Kroger, but I only used some of it) and seasoned with a little enchilada sauce ($.49/can at the salvage grocer) and taco seasoning (Aldi), Mexican pinto beans- pinto beans ($1.29/2 lb bag at Aldi), salsa ($.49/jar at the salvage grocery), sauteed onion ($.33/lb on sale at Meijer) and peppers (free from the farm; frozen), cilantro lime rice - rice (bulk purchase from the ethnic grocer; I can't remember the price), cilantro ($.49/bunch at Lucky's; used 1/4 bunch), limes ($.25/each at Lucky's; I used 2). Other fillings: tomato ($.91/lb at Meijer on a buy 10 get one free sale), sweet peppers both sauteed and raw (free from the farm; frozen), onions both sauteed and raw ($.33/lb on sale at Meijer), cilantro ($.49/bunch at Lucky's , I used just a bit), scallions ($.50/bunch at Lucky's; I put the stubs in water to grow more), two kinds of lettuce ($1.99/lb at Kroger; we used around a pound), sour cream ($1/16 oz for regular; small container of fat-free for $.59/clearance), cheese ($2.29/lb at Aldi), salsa ($.91/jar at Meijer) and hot sauce ($.59/bottle at the salvage grocer).
Cheese dip- generic processed cheese...stuff ($4/Aldi, with some leftover), 1 jar salsa ($.49/salvage grocer), a can of drained tomatoes/chiles ($.25/salvage grocer; drained fluid went into a container in the freezer to make taco soup later), tortilla chips ($1.19/bag at Aldi) and corn chips ($.91/Meijer on a buy 10 at $1, get 1 free sale).
Stuffed pepper/poppers-A combination of jalapeno, padron and Hungarian peppers (free from the farm; seeded and frozen whole), stuffed with a mixture of cream cheese ($.99/Aldi), sour cream ($.99/Aldi), a drained can of tomatoes/chiles and cheddar ($1.99/12 oz at Aldi).
Pan-Fried Corn-sweet corn (frozen when it was on sale for $.10/ear), onion, jalapeno, sour cream, and cheddar cheese powder.
Horchata- horchata mix ($.10/bag), milk ($1.69/gallon) or walnut milk (for the vegans; $.59/quart).
Iced tea-made with store brand tea and white sugar
Coffee - just plain ol Folgers
Cookies - Maple Bacon (from a mix from the salvage grocer $.50 plus a stick of butter and an egg), confetti cake mix cookie (Cake mix was $.50 or less, with oil) and sugar cookie (from mix, $.50, plus egg and butter), cream cheese icing ($.50/jar, manager's special because it had a holiday print on the label). While I would have preferred to make something from scratch, there wasn't time or energy for that.
Churros- $.79 from Aldi

We had a couple folding tables around and threw lace curtains over them as tablecloths. These were curtains that I used to use for staging for my Etsy photos and were briefly used as tablecloths at the booth. We pulled out all the chairs from around the house-lawn chairs, desk chairs, whatever. I repaired a little foot rest to provide one extra seat.

My dad brought his corn hole and hillbilly golf games for us all to play.

I made a slideshow from all my favorite photos from the last ten years. I ended up having 450 photos. We made a playlist on Spotify with our favorite love songs that played in the background. I just set the laptop up on the chest freezer for people to watch. We got a lot of laughs.

There was no rhyme or reason to the event. People showed up when they wanted, left when they wanted. We enjoyed getting to talk with everyone.

All told, we spent around $65 to feed 25 people with so many leftovers we could barely stand it. So the cost per person was $2.60, not factoring leftovers. I have never heard of any caterer charging that price for an event! We used the leftovers as is for a week and the rest were made into soup a couple weeks later which served for another few days. All in, we got around 14 meals for two out of the leftovers, which effectively brings the price-per-meal down to $1.67. Also, when we go out to eat with friends, it is easy to spend $30, so the cost of our event was equivalent to two evenings out.

Entertaining can be done frugally. With a little planning, you can put on a great party without ruining your budget.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

This Week...Beyond Money TWO WEEKS 4/24 - 5/7

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.

* Trucker helped me in the garden for a bit. While I dug out some weeds that had popped up in one of the beds, he used the hand-tiller to work the soil up. I planted several things: Detroit Red beets, turnips, Black-Seeded Simpson lettuce, White Icicle radishes, Cherry Belle radishes and a row of scallions. Immediately after planting, one of the stray cats started digging. I buried some plastic forks to hopefully deter him. This will be an interesting year for the garden.
* I planted some starts. I'm a little late, but I think it will be ok. I planted Sweet Banana peppers and Christmas Tree peppers, Detroit Red beets, scallions and chives. I had a couple broken seed trays from the farm that were going to be thrown away. A friend of mine gave me some display trays years ago. They were in my attic ever since. I used them for condiments at the party last week (condiments and veggies went in little bowls and I filled in around them with ice). I decided to see how the seed trays fit. They are perfect! They fit in my windowsill perfectly and will keep stray soil from getting everywhere.
* I harvested a lot of sage and some basil from the indoor garden to air dry.
* When I was passively weeding some garden beds, I discovered that a lot of herbs came back strong this year. The rosemary is doing well, a thyme plant is putting on some major growth and I found a massive oregano plant. I'll harvest some of the herbs to dry soon.

* We ate a lot of leftovers.
* We made taco dip to use up some leftovers. We layered mashed beans, shredded pork, fried corn, the last of the stuffed pepper filling mixed with sour cream, lettuce, tomatoes, sauteed peppers, onion, cheddar cheese and black olives. We served with tortilla chips.
* I used some of the leftover pork to make BBQ pulled pork wraps. I served with the last of the fried corn and a few stuffed peppers.
* I made some more cilantro lime rice and served with pork and sauteed onions, peppers and scallions. It was a nice basic meal.
* I used the last of the cheese dip and vegetables to make a hamburger helper style dish, using some of the leftover pork (the rest went into the freezer).
* One evening we were both exhausted and I hadn't pulled any meat from the freezer. I was tempted to order out, but stopped at the grocery instead. I found pre-cooked stuffed chicken breasts on sale for $3.99 (for a pound). I went home and tossed that into the toaster oven to reheat, put some grits on the stove top ($.10/box from the salvage grocer) and put a can of green beans on. It all finished up around the same time. It was a simple meal, but satisfying and at $4.48 total (with leftovers!), it was cheaper than any take out option.
* I made sausage gravy and biscuits. I used store brand sausage and canned biscuits. I sauteed a healthy amount of onions and scallions in the grease before making the bechamel. It tastes amazing that way and I rationalize the meal since it has a good dose of veggies.
* The farm stand is open for the year. I stopped by and got some radishes, salad mix and some purple asparagus. I donated what I would have paid at the grocery store. I like getting fresh food (does it get more local than .4 miles from my door?)  and knowing that the money I donated goes to helping feed those in the neighborhood who can't afford to pay.
* I made breakfast one morning before we went out for coffee. I fried a couple of eggs and sliced sausage (1 sausage from a pack of 2 for $1, store brand on sale) and pan fried some grits with a light layer of cheese on the bottom to crisp up. We also had a slice of maple streusel bread ($1/loaf on manager's special) and coffee. It was really good. Several hours later, out of the blue, Trucker mentioned what a nice breakfast I'd made.
* I made stir fry one evening. We brought some pork on manager's special for $4. I cooked rice with a little bouillon since I didn't have any stock. I stir fried random veggies I had on hand: onions, scallions, cabbage, radishes, carrots, green beans and celery. We had enough leftover for two lunches.


* We did a couple of coffee dates, using our travel mugs.
* I booked a vacation for us for this summer. I can't wait! More details to come.
* Daisy and I went out one evening while Trucker was out of town.
* We used the library a lot. Since we got internet at home, we no longer use the library for internet. Our new city doesn't offer museum passes like our old one did and we listen to spotify instead of checking out CDs from the library. That being said, we still get around $9,000+ value from the library each year. The library is one of the most enriching frugal life hacks imaginable. When we lived in Chicago, we used museum passes, internet, magazines and CDs. Our annual use-value back then was over $30,000 (considering we made $15,000/yr, this was amazing).
* We had Daisy and her hubby over for a movie night. I grilled pizza using a boxed pizza crust mix (salvage grocer for $.10/box; used 1 1/3 box), pepperoni, sausage (leftover from breakfast), sauteed onions ($.33/lb from Aldi) and black olives. I par-cooked the crusts in a cast iron skillet on the stove top and let everyone assemble their pizzas as they liked. Then I grilled them with the asparagus from the farm. They brought chips and salsa which we devoured during the movie. We had a great time. I love them so much.
* The antique mall had a party. We spent 4 hours wandering the mall, laughing at weird finds and gasping at the amazing ones. We bought a few items that were useful and affordable.

* We had a glorious day in the woods. We went to a lake down south a bit (the one we hiked around for a bit a couple weeks ago). Trucker spent the afternoon fishing. I brought a chair, blanket and book. It was perfect. I loved having the excuse to spend several hours curled up in nature reading. I loved watching insects scurrying around, listening to frogs splashing into the water and eavesdropping on a couple of birds fighting. It was one of the nicest days I can remember.
* I spent a little time worming. I went out after a rain and was able to catch a dozen or so.
* We had so much fun, that two days later we went back down to the lake to fish again. I packed a picnic and drinks. We froze the fish after cleaning.

* Trucker got a rebate from a website he signed up with. He put the $22 into savings.
I have a collection of dinosaur toys. I displayed them by
my Ray Bradbury books. I think he'd be pleased.
House and Home:
* We had our furnace tuned up. We get free spring and fall tune ups for two years as part of one package when we purchased the furnace.
* At the antique mall, I got a large metal school trash can for $7 and a rugged old feed bucket for $3. We will use the trash can to hold recycling, as our tiny trash cans aren't practical for that. The feed bucket will be hung in the utility room to hold rags.

* Trucker got a new job. I found a listing on a local homesteading and farming group. He is working in the kitchen for a local food business. They ferment and can a variety of vegetables that they get from local farms. He will learn how to can while he works there, so that will be a good skill for us to have. He makes the same pay rate he got at the old job, but this job won't destroy his body like the other one did. It is a set schedule for one day a week. This is perfect. All we need is something to act as a bit of cushion for months when his royalties are lower and to get him out of the house regularly. He doesn't do too well when he is alone 12 hours a day for 5 days a week. He seemed to get along well with his coworkers.
* I took a no pay/penalty day off of work. I'd worked an overtime shift a couple weeks ago and worked some overtime this weekend, so I basically don't lose any pay.
* I ate a packed lunch every day. I brought taco fixins and a bag of tortillas. I kept it in the cooler in the cafeteria (they clean it out every weekend, but it is fine to leave stuff overnight during the week) and heated up what I wanted each day. It makes it much less likely for me to succumb to the cafeteria food if I don't have to think about making lunch at 4 AM.
* Trucker picked up a short shift one day this week.

* Trucker had another audition.
* Trucker filmed this week for his first movie. The director liked him, so he is in a lot of scenes and has prominent placing. We can't wait to see it! He left at 2 in the morning, filmed from 6 AM til 10:30 PM, spent the night at a hotel, then drove 3 hours back and worked a full shift at his job before coming home. Phew!

* Trucker went to the gym fairly frequently and I went a couple of times (I lost track exactly).
* Trucker came down with a cold. He had just finished his round of antibiotics to get rid of a chronic ear infection. It had started to feel OK after several months and now he has an earache again from the cold. Sigh.
* We have both been watching how we eat and drink better.

* Our dryer is fried. We aren't sure what caused it yet (and I haven't had the time to investigate further). The electrician said that it may have been struck by lightning. We will replace it relatively soon, but for now we are line drying clothes. While it is frustrating, it is encouraging to see how far we have come. This won't kill us financially and we have the ability to line dry clothes so we aren't having to cart our clothes off to the laundromat.

* We picked up our piece from the gallery this week. It was so exciting to pick it up and we were glad to buy a piece from a local art student. The gallery framed it for us, which made it an even better bargain. I love this piece. Trucker hung it by the front entrance.

This picture doesn't do it justice. It is an amazingly vibrant piece.
How was your week?

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

This Week...Beyond Money 4/10 - 4/16

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.

This week was our ten-year wedding anniversary. I am so thankful for Trucker's presence in my life. He is my best friend and a great partner. I couldn't ask for more. 

* I'll confess, I'm terrible about taking care of the front gardens. I haven't mulched them once since we moved in. Needless to say, they looked terrible. A big problem was that that first year we lived here, I was very intense about weeding, but didn't realize that the entire front garden was filled with poison ivy. I'm terribly allergic, so the terror of touching it has pretty much kept me from doing anything there since. Last year, I sprayed some round-up (I know; however, it is much too rampant an invasion for someone with my level of allergic reaction to try to dig up all of those roots). I killed out a good portion of the poison ivy, but of course, the surrounding flowers are gone as well. This year, I decided to get it looking good again.
* I bought 19 bags of brown mulch at Menard's. It was on sale for $2.25/2 cu ft. I had a lot of rebate cards, so I got all 19 bags, 1 bag of grass seed (to reseed where I had to spray round up on the poison that had spread into the sod) and 3 bags of organic fertilizer (the same kind we used at the farm; usually $8/bag, on sale for $2.29) for free/no money out of pocket.
* I wasn't perfect about the mulch, mainly because I'm still terrified of the poison ivy that I know is lurking under the soil, just waiting for me to expose a bare ankle or a wandering elbow so it can strike. Gotta watch out for that jumping poison ivy. I basically went around and mulched somewhat carefully around the plants I wanted without touching anything (Trucker did come out and help me with some parts that were particularly poison ivy prone last year). Then I filled in around those plants, covering some that i wasn't too keen on. I raked in some flower seeds in the blank spots ($.25/pack from the dollar store). I don't expect they will do wonderful, but they are cheap enough to get and I'm really just looking for the bare minimum effort.
* I harvested herbs from the indoor garden.
* I went back and got 8 more bags. I used 5 more to finish the main front gardens, and have 3 bags leftover to fill in spots as weeds grow and to start on the next projects. I want to also mulch down the corner of the yard/driveway to the tree in the front yard. There are a lot of flowers growing around that area, so it is hard to mow it properly without decapitating blooms. I'll also mulch around the back of the house and along the back fence line.

* We made stir fry one evening. We used a leftover pork chop, 1 1/2 medium onions, 3 ribs celery ($.69/bunch at Aldi), 2 carrots ($1/lb at Aldi), several cabbage leaves ($.29/lb during St. Patty's; rather than cut at the head, I remove individual leaves and the head lasts a very long time), a handful of green beans ($.99/lb on sale) and served it over rice cooked in homemade stock.
* Trucker made steak one evening for dinner. We saved about 1/3 of it for another meal. He also served canned wax beans and mashed potatoes. I made a quick appetizer of  pepper poppers (I mixed the last of a package of cream cheese, some salsa, hot sauce and cheese, piped into seeded and frozen jalapeno and padron peppers, then baked til the peppers were soft).
* The next night we used the leftover steak to make tacos. I sauteed onions, sweet peppers and garlic scapes, then added the steak and seasonings. I added half a can of refried beans. I served in tortillas with sour cream, tomato, pickled peppers, pickled beets and pepper jack cheese. We only used about 1/3 of the meat mixture. I added the rest of the can of beans, the last of a jar of salsa and a generous dousing of hot sauce. I will use this for work lunches in the coming week. To prepare ahead, I put sour cream, cheese and pickled veggies in containers and pulled a pack of tortillas from the freezer. I'll bring all this to work and leave it in the cooler.
* One evening after we spent the whole day cleaning, we ordered a pizza. We had rewards points that were expiring in a couple of days that got us a free large 3-topping pizza.

Food Preservation:
* I froze some extra raw hamburger that I didn't end up needing for the party.
* I froze some of the party leftovers for a taco soup later, when we aren't sick to death of tacos.
* For our party, I was able to use a lot of food from the freezer. I'll have to remember to always throw a party as a way to use up items to make room for the new growing season.

* Instead of going out for coffee one day, we stayed at home. The weather was perfect, so we ate dinner outside, then grabbed our laptops to work out on the patio. The air was crisp and there was a gentle breeze. It was absolutely perfect. Trucker pointed out that each time we have our coffee date here instead of going out, we save $3 (approximately, since we sip on whatever we have at home). If we do that twice a week for the next six months, we will save over $150. Also, I found myself much more at ease since it was a lot quieter.
* We went out for pizza after spending the whole day working on the house. I used a coupon from our entertainment book, making it $7 with tip.
* We went to a free event at a local theatre.  A locally based stage actor made a documentary about his experiences on the road. It was quite entertaining. Afterwards there was an ice cream social, serving ice cream from a local maker. We had a really nice evening.
* We used the library for books, audio books and movies.
* For our anniversary, we had a nice date. We went to a local German restaurant, for which we had a coupon. We got the buffet since it was about the price of a meal and were able to try lots of yummy dishes. Afterwards, we went downtown to the park for a free ballet dress rehearsal. We got to listen to the director, fencing consultant and some of the dancers talk, as well as watch several of the dances from Romeo and Juliet. We finished up by heading north to a local meadery (since Trucker had never tried mead), and took a stroll around the neighborhood. It was a lovely evening.
* We had a party at our house to celebrate our anniversary. We had my parents, sisters and grandpa as well as many of our friends over. I made an absurd spread, as I do. We had a taco bar with ground beef, al pastor, cilantro lime rice and Mexican pinto beans. For sides, I made pan fried corn, cheese dip (with tortilla chips and corn chips), and stuffed peppers. For toppings, we had two kinds of lettuce, tomato, olives, raw and sauteed sweet peppers, raw and sauteed onions, two kinds of cheese, salsa, cilantro, limes, and sour cream (full-fat and fat-free). I had slices of radishes and cucumbers for nibbling. I made cookies using mixes from the pantry (usually I prefer to bake from scratch, but there was not enough time and the mixes had been purchased for pennies) and bought churros from Aldi. I had soda, homemade iced tea, coffee and horchata to drink. I made a slideshow of the best photos from the last 10 years. It was filled with important, sweet and absurd photos and got many laughs. My parents brought corn hole and hillbilly golf. The forecast had called for rain, but it ended up being a lovely day. We had so much fun catching up with old friends. We really have the most lovely group of friends and I love getting to see them. A couple of our friends drove from over 3 hours away! I added up the cost of all the food and, once you subtract the things we didn't use, it was basically the cost of going out to eat twice.

* We went on an amazing hike on one of my days off. We first hiked for a bit at a state park. We got to watch a family of Canadian geese for a bit. It was pretty muddy, so we took off for a national park, Hopewell Culture. It is the site of a lot of burial mounds. There is a museum on site filled with artifacts from the mounds.
* We went for a couple mile walk at a park near our house. We usually walk into the woods then down to the river to explore, but this time took the trail in the opposite direction. We got to enjoy a swamp and the sunlight was the perfect balm for my soul.
* We went hiking several times. One time was at the Audubon. We loved watching the herons coming in to roost, the fish swirling about, the turtles basking in the sun. This time of year is perfect.

* I took my car to my cousin to fix an exhaust leak. It wasn't terrible, but would need done sooner or later. Since I drive so much, I'm trying to keep ahead of the game to prevent a breakdown and subsequent call-off. He charged $40 to fix it.

House and Home:
* I had a lovely mustard footrest that I got at a thrift store for $1. The bottom was coming undone and it was leaking a little dust. Instead of throwing it away, since I really liked it, I decided to put some fabric on the bottom. I couldn't find any material in the scrap bag (because when I decluttered, I threw away most of the scrap bag...I knew I'd need it if I did), so I hit the rag bag. I was able to use two rags cut from an old t-shirt. I super glued one to the bottom, then cut the other into pieces to cover the rest of the bottom. After the glue dried, I trimmed away the excess. So far it is working great.
* I used my generic magic erasers to clean up the bathroom. They are amazing for removing soap scum.
* We made another donation to the thrift store.
* Trucker moved some shelving around and we were able to get the kitchen better organized.
* We made a huge amount of progress on the house. Over the last couple of months, we have drastically reduced our belongings and eliminated clutter and organized everything else. We touched up paint throughout the house. We organized our bookshelves, kitchen cabinets and tools. We fixed things that needed repaired, threw away things that were beyond repair and donated or sold many things that we no longer needed. We mulched the front garden and killed most of the poison ivy (I hope!). I think the house looks the best it has since we moved in. Most of it was a result of Trucker's endless efforts. He is such an asset.

* I picked up a shift and took a no-pay day. We have some non-production days scheduled (when we can work on projects or take the day off without pay or using a call-in day). I took the day off (and scheduled a doctor's appointment, allowing me to hoard my days in case of emergency) and have scheduled off the next one in two weeks as well. I then worked an extra shift on the weekend, so I got paid overtime. I worked a 9-hour shift, so I essentially got paid for 13.5 hours. Basically, once you consider the commuting cost I save for the shift I didn't work, it is the equivalent of working 7 hours each of the no pay days, but I get an extra day off.
* I packed my lunch each day. I have bought a lot of items at the salvage grocery that are perfect for tossing in my bag as I run out the door.

Gym visits this month: 17
Trucker: 11
Me: 1
* I've been drinking flavored seltzer a lot instead of high-calorie beverages. I need to get a water purifier because our local water tastes bad, but for now this works. I get it for around $.05/can at the salvage grocery or $.50/liter at Aldi).

* Trucker spilled water on his computer. We have it in rice for a few days to hopefully get it working again, as he had three books almost ready to publish that weren't saved to the cloud. I did buy him a laptop just in case. I shopped around online, then we hit two stores in person. We ended up getting a basic one. It was the third cheapest, but the others had no disk drives and very little storage space. As it was, we decided those features were worth the extra $25.

* Daisy gave me a few jars of homemade flavored vinegar. I can't wait to try them! I am thinking of using with my greens and to make salad dressing. For our anniversary, she gave us a beautiful bronze wine cooler/ice bucket and some items she made for our house. She is an amazing friend.
* Daisy's hubby looked at Trucker's computer when they came over and was able to help him get to his files! He is a lifesaver! We were both so distraught about the possibility of losing months of work. We are so relieved.
* We were really touched by how many people came over for our party. Nothing is as wonderful as being close to friends.
How was your week?

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Use It Up: Egg Shells

Many things are tossed into the garbage can when they still have lots of good life left in them. Use It Up will be a section on how to use this "trash" to make new, useful items for your home. I'll try to give a variety of projects so that you'll find some that are useful for you.

This time of year, we go through a lot of eggs. Since we like to avoid sending things to the landfill unnecessarily, I've been looking for ways to use them up around the house and gardens. I generally compost them, but there are lots of other practical ways to use them up.

Compost them. The high-calcium egg shells are perfect for composting. Don't rinse them out, as the membrane contains a fair amount or organic matter. Crunch them up before adding them. Powder them before adding to worm bins.

Use as a soil amendment for the garden or for houseplants. Blossom end rot in tomatoes, eggplant or peppers is caused by a calcium deficiency, so a healthy handful of crushed egg shells will go a long way in prevention. Tip-burn in cabbages can also be caused by low calcium. For houseplants, soak egg shells in water for several days, then use to water the plants to give them a little boost. You could also use the water used to hard boil water to water house or garden plants (after it cools, of course)

Apparently deer hate the smell of them and will leave your garden alone if there are egg shells lying around the beds (being in the city, I don't have enough of a deer problem to properly test this). Leave roughly crushed eggshells lying all over the soil so that cats will not walk through your garden (and hopefully not do anything else!). As they break down, they will also increase the calcium in your soil. After some reading, I discovered that the traditional wisdom of egg shells murdering slugs is a myth!

Some people use them as seed starting containers and then plant the whole thing. I personally haven't had luck with this, but that doesn't mean it isn't worth a try.

Feed to chickens/ducks/geese as a calcium supplement. Dry them in a slow oven for a few hours, then crunch them up well. You don't want the shells to look like egg shells, lest the poultry attack their own eggs.

You can also add some crushed egg shells to a dish near your bird feeders to give the wild birds the same supplement.

Use as an scouring powder for cleaning pots and pans. Place egg shells and water in stained thermoses or coffee mugs. Allow to soak overnight, swish around for a bit, then wash as usual.

Throw some down the garbage disposal to sharpen the blades. You could also chuck some egg shells and water into the blender and run to sharpen dull blender blades. Then dump the contents of the blender on the garden, houseplants or compost bin.

Keep a couple egg shells with membrane in the kitchen strainer to catch more particulate from going down the drain.

Use to make a bathtub or tile scrub.

Use to make side walk chalk for the kids!

When you are cracking eggs, if a bit of shell falls in, use a large piece of shell to fish it out. This was the quickest way to remove those little pieces when I was a baker (and would sometimes crack a hundred eggs in a day).

Add to the mix when making stock to up the calcium levels. I don't bother to remove the membrane or rinse out egg residue. I'll be cooking my stock down for 8-24 hours, so I'm sure any pathogens will be dead. I compost them with the plant material after straining (some people don't think it prudent to compost anything with a hint of "animal" to it, but I haven't had an issue).

Soak egg shells in vinegar for several weeks, then strain and use the resulting high-calcium vinegar just as you would regular vinegar. This vinegar can also be applied to irritated or itchy skin. It can also be applied to bug bites.

You can also boil the eggshells in water (or save water from boiling eggs) to use in place of regular water for a bit of a calcium boost. Just use in recipes as normal.

Add to your coffee grounds before brewing. This makes the coffee less bitter, and then together can be used in the garden.

Add to your water kefir to give them their daily multivitamin. Kefir grains will break down the egg shell over several days, leaving behind a pretty gross looking membrane, but all of those minerals will now keep your kefir strong and healthy and the resulting beverage will be better for you. I have found that my grains would reproduce more when fed egg shells regularly.

Make a powdered supplement. Dry the egg shells in a low oven for a few hours. Powder in a coffee grinder or blender. Make as fine a powder as possible. You can put in gel caps, or mix into smoothies or recipes. It will be a bit gritty, so take that into consideration when deciding how to use it.

This supplement can also be given to pets.

Mix with egg white and use as a face mask.

Apply the membrane to torn cuticles to aid in healing.

Powdered egg shell can be used as an exfoliant for hands, feet and knees.

Cover cuts with the membrane and wrap to aid healing.

Place the membrane over pimples to bring them to a head or over splinters to draw them to the surface.

Place the membrane over a broken blister.

Do you have any other ways to use up egg shells? Comment below and I'll update the list (giving you credit, of course).

Sunday, April 9, 2017

This Week...Beyond Money TWO WEEKS 3/27 - 4/9

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.
* There are mason bees in the bee hotel. We are really excited.
* My spider plant is about to have babies!
* I harvested fresh herbs almost daily. This is great! My sage plant looks like it could be heavily harvested for drying.
* The garlic looks good. A couple of weeks ago I found several garlic shoots in the grass. Apparently I dropped a bulb of garlic during the harvest last year. I dug them up, separated them and planted them with the rest of the garlic. They seem to be doing well.

* I made another batch of homemade hamburger helper for work. I make this frequently because it is easy and reasonably healthy. I make a triple batch, but use less hamburger than a single batch. I make up the bulk with loads of vegetables, whatever I have in the freezer or that needs used up. It always has an extremely high volume of alliums (onions, garlic, leeks, scallions, garlic scapes). I use less cheese than required and cut the milk with stock.
* Trucker made steak, fried potatoes and green beans one evening. The next night we made stir fry with leftover steak, random vegetables from the frig/freezer and leftover rice.
* I made grilled pizza again to use the other half of the pizza dough. I topped with leftover bacon, leftover steak, caramelized onions (frozen, free from the farm), sweet peppers (frozen, free from the farm) and mushrooms (manager's special, only on mine since Trucker is allergic). I served it with a small salad (I purchased the lettuce at Kroger. It was a baby head sold at the same price per pound as larger heads. Since it is just the 2 of us, we have a hard time getting through a large one sometimes, so we save money by not wasting. The lettuce head cost around $.50).
* I made popcorn to snack on.
* We stopped at the salvage grocery. We spent around $50 total and got a heaping cart full: organic cereal ($.50/box), random items for work work lunches such as packages of crackers (worked out to $.05-.20/pack; these sell in the vending machine at work for $1), 2 cases of coconut latte drinks (they aren't fantastic, but they are incredibly refreshing on hot days at work; $1.99/12 pack), spring roll wraps ($.10/pack), mac n cheese ($.25/box which makes it cheaper than making from scratch), salsa and enchilada sauce ($.50 each), mayo ($.10/jar), packing tape ($.50 roll), popcorn ($.50/14 oz; the pantry is officially restocked) and instant horchata mix which I love for summer and plan on serving for a party later this month ($.10/big bag).
* I made bean burritos one evening. I sauteed some garlic scapes (frozen, free from the garden as an edible trimming) in a little grease, then added some water and dehydrated peppers (free; farm seconds) and cooked until the peppers were rehydrated. I dumped in half a pack of taco seasoning and a can of refried beans ($.50 at the salvage grocer). I served in tortillas ($.50/12 pack from the salvage grocer) with a little cheese and sour cream. I also pan fried some padron peppers (free, seconds from the farm) and corn (frozen when I found it on sale for $.10/ear), well seasoned with some zesty seasoning ($.10 from the salvage grocer) and cheese powder (Amish grocer) with a little buttermilk ($.99/half gallon on manager's special; usually I would use sour cream or milk, but I used what I had on hand). I had just a little of each left, so I mixed them to use for work lunches.
* I made breakfast Saturday morning: buttermilk pancakes and fried eggs. I had half of the batter left and didn't want to make too many extra. I put it in a little freezer bag and tossed it into the freezer. Now I can just toss it into the frig to thaw, then clip the corner and have virtually effortless breakfast.
* I made another batch of stock. I reused the marrow bones with fresh veggie scraps. I added some herb stalks as well and it came out quite fragrant. It didn't gelatinize, but it will make a suitable soup base.

* We went out for ice cream using BOGO coupons from our entertainment book.
* We went out for a couple coffee dates, travel mugs in tow.
* We went to another gallery hop. We had such a lovely time. We ended up buying a piece, the first time either of us has purchased from a gallery. It was a beautiful piece done by a student at the art school near us. It was very reasonably priced and we were happy to be able to support a local artist. The show goes through the end of the month, so I will post a photo once we can pick it up.
* We went to the Big Book Sale at our local library. They were having a bag sale. You saved $3.50 if you brought your own bag, bringing our cost to $5 for tons of books. I got a few cookbooks, some homesteading books that were on my wishlist, a couple books on string theory and two audio books for my commute (including Wicked Bugs!). Trucker got several as well.
* My cousin got married. She was a lovely bride. I am trying desperately to get my sister and her incredible boyfriend engaged. I successfully got her to catch the bouquet (which I got photographic evidence of and told everyone was legally binding). When it came to the garter toss, the guys all stood in a half circle and watched it drop to the ground. I ran over and grabbed it and threw it at my sister's boyfriend. Should work, right? :) I took some photos at the end after the photographer had left. I got some good candid photos of my grandpa talking with my cousin about his and grandma's wedding. It is so nice to be with family.
* One day we walked around the antique mall.We didn't end up buying anything. We had a lot of fun and found some really weird things.
* We read a lot from the library. I am especially enjoying audio books on my way to work.
* We went on a double date with Daisy and hubby. We went out for pizza at a local joint during happy hour, then went to the theatre downtown for a free symphony performance. It was a lovely show, as always.
* My mom took me out for dinner one day. We had a great time talking and laughing. We went grocery shopping together as well.
I love the naturalized Grape Hyacinths.

* We went for a 2.8 mile walk at a metro park a few miles away. It was a rather warm evening. As we neared the end of the loop, we entered the pine forest. The sun was setting and shining through the trees and the scent of pine was intense. It was perfect.

* I mended a few items of clothing, including a house dress I love.
* We got our taxes done. Phew. So glad to have it done and over with (finally). We went to the same place as last year. They have a policy of not increasing your fees beyond 10% of last year's. Since we had a series of job transitions, business and health insurance switches, it would have cost almost $1000, so with the discount we saved over $500. We try to work it out so we get a tiny refund. A large refund just means you gave them an interest-free loan for the year, whereas owing at tax time is not fun.
* Trucker got some cat litter on auction for cheap. We have been finding really good, less dusty litter for the price of the cheap stuff.
* I returned some items to Menards that I didn't need. Since it had been awhile (several months...oops), I got a check to use in-store, which is fine with me since we are working on fixing up the house.
* I used a Menard's rebate to cover half the cost of a new grill cover. I still have about $60 left between the returns and other rebates.
* I redeemed my rewards points on my credit card to pay down the furnace. I made a double payment on a credit card.

Waste Reduction:
* I got rid of a purse that I have had for 7 years. It finally wore completely out. I am always satisfied when I use an item to its end.

House and Home:
* I touched up the paint in the stairway.
* I touched up some little dings in the walls from moving furniture. Whenever I notice a ding, I'm never in a position to take care of it. Finally, I grabbed the spackle and walked around the house examining all the walls. I'll touch up the paint later this week.
* We spent the better part of an afternoon working on the house together. We played some music on Spotify, sipped some tea and talked while we worked. I was astonished by how much organizing we got done. We work well together. Trucker is a fantastic partner and makes even the boring stuff better.
* Trucker rearranged the store room to free up a shelf to move into the kitchen. He put all the big kitchen appliance, such as dehydrators, slow cookers, and popcorn maker on it. This was really helpful. Previously many of those items were on top of the cabinets, so whenever I wanted to use them, I'd have to climb onto the counter (short people problems). This will be quite handy. I may line the tops of the cabinets with some of my less frequently used cookbooks.
* Trucker bought us a lot of paintings at auction. We will sell a few of them. It is a musical piece with sheet music incorporated. The color even perfectly matches her room.

* I am enjoying my job a lot. I have so much fun with my coworkers. They are really just the most lovely, kind, helpful people you could ever hope to work with. Whether it is helping with paperwork when I'm on a busy job or sharing recommendations for home repairs, they are quick to offer help. They are so fun to talk with. One of my coworkers and I have had an ongoing, in-depth conversation about the zombie apocalypse.

* Trucker got an extras part in a major movie. They had him go up north this week to get fitted. We are really excited. It's not a speaking role, but it is still his first movie. Filming is next month.
* Trucker is almost finished with another book.
* I contacted my loan officer to explore options for our eventual move. With the murder rate in our city getting very high, we are wanting to expedite our transition to the country.

Total gym visits in March: 25
Gym visits this month:
Trucker: 4
Me: 1
* Trucker's health has noticeably improved since he started going to the gym. He is even able to run now. His breathing seems to have improved and his muscle tone is better. I'm so proud of him for continuing to work so hard at his health.
* My shoulder was hurting a lot, but I started working it out again and the pain is better. I'm still super sore by the end of the week, but the pain is gone by mid-day Saturday and I'm good after that. Hopefully with continued work, I will be good as new soon.

How was your week?
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