Wednesday, October 4, 2017

This Week...Beyond Money 9/25 - 10/1

For me, a life beyond money is making choices so that you can live the best possible life, regardless of your income level. Obviously, you have to make a living, but there are many ways to improve your quality of life without increasing your income levels and correspondingly your expenses. This regular post will be some of the ways that we improve our quality of life beyond just trying to make more money.
Gardening:
* I harvested a few cherry and medium-sized tomatoes and a few Christmas Tree peppers.
* I planted more mustard micros.
* I harvested some micros.

Cooking/Groceries:
* I made a strawberry apple crisp pie. I used a boxed pie crust (again, bleck) to use it up. The apples were from my parent's trees and the strawberries were just a few left from snacking that needed to be used soon. I made a crumble topping. I didn't add any sugar other than to the topping, so it wasn't overly sweet, but made for nice breakfasts.
* I made a cheesy pasta using up a box of elbow macaroni (store brand on manager's special, $.50/lb), the rest of the cheese and milk (to use up before our trip), two onion halves (I had previously cut into one not realizing I already had a half in the refrigerator), sweet peppers, hot peppers, cherry tomatoes (sauteed) and carrots. We used it for lunches for a couple days.

Food Preservation:
* I froze several medium-sized tomatoes. We were leaving on a weekend trip and they were going to turn before we had a chance to use them. I tossed them, skin and all into the freezer.
* I froze portions of the pasta dish to use later.
* I froze some shishito peppers (sauteed) for later.

Fun:
* We had a long coffee date one day before work. Trucker had to run errands afterwards and I had to go to work, so when we got hungry we decided to order food there. I had a coupon that if I placed my order online I got $5 off. We ordered online and just walked up to the counter to pick it up. After the coupon and taxes, the meal was $2.75. Not too shabby for a pretty filling meal for two. We used our travel mugs to get a discount on the coffee.

Nature:
* I loved spending time on the beach. Letting the water crash in around my legs. Climbing rocks. Watching that awesome sunset. I got a cold from getting wet but it was totally worth it.

Frugality:
* Trucker has opened a couple of micro-investment accounts. One he has a small portion invested each week. The other rounds up his purchases to the next dollar and invests that money. He also has a Roth IRA that he has money transferred automatically each month. I ran the numbers and just at those three accounts, he is putting away 10% of his after-tax income. He also saves a variable amount into a savings account. I make more than he does, and he does more around the house than I do (especially important as we are working at getting the house sale-ready). However, between the two of us, we are saving a good percentage of our income and making progress.
* Between debt repayments and savings, including retirement, I saved 30.3% of my after-tax income in September.

Work:
* I worked a bit of overtime most days.

Future:
* Trucker filmed for a new movie this week. He played a villain and got shot!
* He also had another audition.

Health:
* We ate way too much during our weekend trip. Back to the diet now!
* My blood pressure is decent.
* Trucker is running a lot at softball. I am really proud of him.

Setbacks:
* One day while organizing we found a paper that was supposed to be sent to the insurance company for our new house insurance policy. I called to let them know what had happened and that I'd be sending it out that day. It was a good thing I called. Apparently, they did an inspection, saw the unused dog kennel out back that I hadn't gotten around to dismantling ("evidence of a dog"). Since my application didn't state we had a dog (since we don't), they didn't know whether the breed was on the restricted breed list or not, so they assumed it was and cancelled my policy (but had never contacted me for clarification and I hadn't gotten the cancellation notice). I explained the situation and am waiting to find out if my policy is going to be reinstated. The woman I talked to said that time was of the essence, but seemed to think that it would be reinstated.

Community:
* Two of our dear friends got married this weekend. We took a weekend trip so we could be there. Originally, I was supposed to work the day of the wedding and wouldn't have been able to get there until the reception was wrapping up. Thankfully, work was cancelled the day before. As his gift to them, Trucker was the officiant for the wedding (He got ordained online and paid a $10 fee to be licensed in our state) so he went up the night before for the reception. I got off work at midnight and drove 2.5 hours to the hotel (Used hotel.com and earned two nights towards a free one). The next day we went to the wedding. It was a brilliant affair. Their friends let them borrow their beach-front house and the neighbors let them set up the dinner tent on their yard. We ate tacos (taco bar) and pizza (they got a pizza truck with mobile wood-fired oven!). The ceremony was beautiful. Trucker did a great job. Afterwards, we stayed for several hours playing Cards Against Humanity, nibbling leftovers, and I ran out into the water and climbed rocks along the water front (despite the fact that it was frigid!). They are two of the most lovely people I know and I was so glad they each found such a perfect person to spend their lives with. I couldn't be happier.
* I wanted to share a sweet thing I witnessed. It was the birthday of one of my coworkers this week. His family is all in Puerto Rico and he is really worried. So one of my other coworkers (the amazing woman who is always taking care of everyone) decided to make it the best birthday she could. She brought in homemade salsa and chips and birthday cake (she had the boss sneakily chat with the guy to find out what kind of cake was his favorite). It meant so much to him. It was beautiful to see her do something to bring some joy to a stressful birthday. There is good in the world.
* That coworker and I brought snacks for each other. I gave her some Israeli snacks that I got at a salvage grocer (Which she liked until her daughter's friend told her the texture reminded her of fried mealworms!) and another day brought her more Korean crackers since she said her grandson adored them. She brought me Rice Krispie Treats the next day. The snacks I bring don't cost a lot, but she feels appreciated and we are building a friendly sharing relationship.
* Her grandson went into the hospital while we were at work one day and she mentioned that her husband had taken him to the hospital in her car. I offered to drive her there after work, but her daughter's boyfriend picked her up.

How was your week?

Monday, September 25, 2017

This Week...Beyond Money 9/18 - 9/24

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:
* The wheat grass is growing great! Even though the berries are several years old, they had a strong germination, even growth and grew quickly to a good size to give to Raycat. I'm going to let her nibble them down a bit, then put the container up again and see if I can get a second growth.
* Update: Ray nibbles on the wheat grass, but doesn't go as crazy as she does for other grasses. Then again, this is more a supplement than a major part of her diet, so I think that is ok. I have 25 lbs or so I want to use them up however I can.
* I harvested micros throughout the week. I don't get a huge harvest, but it is lovely to snip fresh microgreens to add flavor, texture and nutrition to whatever we are eating.
* I planted more mustard and cilantro micros using store-bought spices. After another spotty germination, I read that cilantro has really spotty germination and is aided by weighting the trays. I will try that next time I grow cilantro. The mustard germinates fine, albeit with varying growth rates.
* I harvested cherry tomatoes, one large tomato and a couple handfuls of small peppers.

Cooking/Groceries:
* I stopped off at the farm stand one morning for an eggplant, 4 poblano peppers and a good handful of shishito peppers. It is looking to be nearing the end of shishito season which is heartbreaking.
* I made shakshouka, only I served it with pasta instead of bread because I have a lot of pasta in the pantry needing to be used up and no good bread. I served with pan-seared shishitos.
* I made a strawberry cheesecake pie...thing. It was not my best dish ever, but it was good. I had some pie-mix in the pantry (the add-water type) that I'd gotten at a salvage grocer for a quarter. I need to use them up, but don't enjoy the taste or texture, especially compared to my homemade pie crust. I had just a little time to make something, so I decided to use them up. I filled a single crust with a basic cream cheese filling (8 oz cream cheese, 1 egg, 1/4 c sugar) and sliced strawberries on top. It was good, but that was just because of the cream cheese and strawberries. I had some leftover dough, so I made several pop tarts using some strawberry jam my mom gave me. I didn't try any of them, but Trucker ate them all for breakfast, so I guess he liked them.
* We made brats one day (manager's special).

Fun:
* We took a crazy day trip for a concert. I know a musician from up north who used to play concerts at my coffee shop hangout when I was a teen. I caught a show about 6 years ago but haven't been able to make it to a show since. My work schedule is aabout to get crazy so i wanted to get to a show this weekend. He was playing a farming festival 3 hours away. We took off as soon as we woke up. We enjoyed the festival. There were demos and samples (where applicable) for apple cider, apple butter, homemade butter, wool spinning and flour grinding. There were calves, goats, sheep, pigs, alpacas, chickens, ducks and rabbits. We enjoyed educational exhibits and a wagon ride. The wagon dropped us off at the campfire where we roasted marshmallows and enjoyed his show. I got to talk with him for a bit on his break. It was amazing to be able to listen to him live. He has a lot of new material since I last saw him. I love his voice and guitar playing and his songwriting is storytelling at its finest. It was totally worth the 6 hour round trip.
* Trucker has been doing more social things in the evenings. Especially since I'm gone so much, I want him to get out more. He went out with his softball league after their double header one day and went out with our discount movie club another night ($1.50 tickets that night).

Nature:
* I loved getting to explore the farm. Getting to enjoy the sunset during the concert was pretty epic too.

Frugality:
* I went thrifting to try to find a dress to wear to a wedding. I didn't look at anything else because I knew if I did, I would find something. As it was, I didn't end up finding a dress, so I didn't spend a penny.
* I worked on my health and financial challenges through my job to get a discount on insurance and a free gift card.
* I had a portion of my paycheck put into my savings account and 401k with employer match.

Waste Reduction:
* I composted a lot of items.
* A portion of a houseplant got pulled off the main plant. I put the stem in water for a couple weeks and it finally sprouted some roots. I have it in soil now and it looks pretty good.

House and Home:
* I went through my shoes in the closet. I got rid of 15 pairs to donate or toss, depending on condition. I also have two pairs that I think I can fix with a bit of super glue. I'll attempt and if it doesn't hold up the first time I wear them, I'll toss them.
* I set aside a trash bag full of clothes to donate.
* I have started a bag of items to donate to the dog shelter: old sheets, a set of curtains I made from sheets and towels.

Work:
* I worked a little overtime each day this week.
* I packed healthy snacks for work. My appetite/digestion is weird since switching shifts, and I can't really handle meals well anymore. It got to be too easy to eat junk or nothing at all. Now I plan ahead to bring things like mixed nuts to nibble on at work.
* I bought prescription safety glasses and new work boots. I was delaying the purchase, but figured that since I spend most of my life at work, it makes sense to be as comfortable as possible. I get reimbursed for most of the cost of each. The glasses will cost around $15 and the boots will cost $30 after reimbursement.
* It looks like my work schedule is about to be crazy for the next several months. I'm a little nervous about how I'll hold up working 6 days a week when I'm gone 12 1/2 hours a day, but I'm going to do my best. Hopefully we continue to put a good amount into savings and towards debt to keep me encouraged.

Preparedness:
* I put a blanket and some granola bars into my car just in case.

Future:
* Trucker had another audition for a commercial.
* Trucker got another role in a movie. He gets to play a villain!

Health:
* I convinced Trucker to try a new barber. He had been going to a chain because they were cheap, but every time it was bad and he was self conscious. I found a barber that was $5 more and got him to try it. It will cost $1 a week, which I think is a fair price to feel confident every day.
* Trucker played softball on his league.

Community:
* My sister had a vow renewal ceremony for her 1-year anniversary. She had eloped but decided she wanted a wedding with friends and family after all. Mom and her friends really put on a lovely event. It was a hunting theme (they both hunt and fish a lot) and they used his duck decoys, branches and logs from my dad's wood pile for decoration. A lot of her friends let them borrow decorative items from their outdoorsy-themed homes. Mom bought the food and my sister's MIL cooked it.

Finally, I thought I'd share a quote I found.


"Libraries will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through times of no libraries.” – Anne Herbert

How was your week?

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

This Week...Beyond Money 9/4 - 9/17

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:
* Turns out that all that coriander I bought will not germinate. I'm gonna try again, but it looks like I'll have to find out how to use 10 bags of coriander! Word to the wise: Try a small amount of a grocery-store seed you want to grow into microgreens before investing in a bulk purchase! Fortunately, those ten bags cost $5, so the loss was quite small compared to buying catalog micro seed.
* The mustard germinated nicely. However, I have noticed that half is growing slower than the other half, so I'll have big and small micros in the same cuttings. It wouldn't do if I was growing to sell, but for personal use it is fine. Besides, the cost is about 10% of catalog seed.
* Update: Exactly two cilantro micros sprouted. I will try again, but I think mostly I'll use the coriander as a spice rather than seed.
* I harvested lots of peppers, some cherry tomatoes and a few baby carrots.
* The basil has all succumbed to some sort of wilt or blight. Therefore, there was not basil to freeze for the year, but I did get a goodly amount to use fresh.
* I dropped the container of carrot micros while trying to rotate them. There goes 2 weeks of slow growing. About 1/4 seem like they might survive.
* I planted some old wheat berries. I'm not sure if they will germinate, b.ut it can't hurt to try since I have them. My cat loves to nibble houseplants, but if I have grass available for her, she leaves mine alone. It would be much cheaper to grow my own wheat grass than to buy it at the pet store!

Cooking/Groceries:
* I made sausage gravy and biscuits.
* We made tacos one night.
* I made a big batch of beef vegetable soup using tomato juice, a manager's special steak and a random assortment of veggies that needed to be used up.
* We had air popped popcorn as a snack frequently.
* I made Colcannon again with collards from the freezer. I added some leftover ground lamb.
* There is an organization that arranges produce giveaways throughout the city. Farmers donate food that is unsalable for whatever reason. I know a lot of the organizers who said that at the end of the day, food leftover is usually thrown away. I stopped by in the last ten minutes of one event. They said that there wasn't as many different items left at that point, but I was okay with that. I got two huge cabbages (cracked), 10 lbs of potatoes (each potato has a bit of damage that keeps it from storing well), 5 lbs of apples (I honestly can't figure out why they were there; they were perfect and delicious), 12 lbs of onions (all of them had either sprouted or the skins had burst, meaning they needed to be used soon) and 4 dozen (!!) small eggs. While ugly produce needs a little more prep work and has to be handled quickly to prevent spoilage, I was excited that the food was diverted from the waste stream.

Food Preservation:
* I made salsa and froze it in small baggies for later use. I used tomatoes (parents' garden), peppers (parents's garden and mine), onions (free from Kroger because of a wrong price), garlic (from my garden) and cilantro (Aldi for $.69). In all, I made around 2 gallons of salsa!
* I froze about 8 lbs of tomatoes whole because I didn't have time to make more salsa and the tomatoes were dead ripe.
* I chopped around 10 lbs of sweet peppers and froze on cookie sheets. Then I bagged them up. Last year this was one of my top 3 favorite preserved items (Other two are caramelized onions frozen in ice cube trays and basil pesto).  It makes it a snap to add veggies to darn near anything. I can add just what I want directly to the pan. This ease of use meant that I added veggies to a lot of quick meals that might otherwise have been lacking in nutrition.

Fun:
* We went out for coffee, using our travel mugs.
* We went to my company's family festival. They rent out an amusement park and we only had to pay $10 each to get in (and $10 parking). Tickets are usually $54 each with $20 parking, so for $30 we got a $128 value. While we would never spend $128 for one day at an amusement park, It was a fun day. It was my birthday weekend, so we had allotted some money for eating out and such. I'd wanted to take Trucker to a certain Amish restaurant. They had a buffet so we ate there before going to the park. That filled us up so we didn't need to eat for quite awhile. The server even sent me with a free cupcake as a birthday gift. My parents packed a huge picnic, so we ate a light dinner later. My sister made a cake for my birthday. We carried a bottle of water and didn't purchase anything at the park. We had a really fun time. We spent a good amount of time with my parents, two sisters and future-bro-in-law and a good amount of time just the two of us. My sister's boyfriend was a hoot. It was his first time riding roller coasters and he was making jokes and screaming maniacally the whole time. I like him. We also took part in a "treasure hunt" the company put on to tell us about new benefit information. We didn't win any prizes, but got 8 cooling cloths for working out. I'll definitely use those next summer at work. Including the buffet, we spent $60.
* The next day was my birthday gift from Trucker. One of my favorite old-school bands had a show in another city about 2 hours from us. He used a Groupon to get BOGO tickets, so it cost $40 total (Possibly less; he bought the tickets over six months ago and can't remember the exact cost, but know he wouldn't have spent over $40 total). We stopped for BBQ (I am always up for BBQ).  I ordered just a sandwich.He ordered a meal and we split the side and drink. They had free ice cream for dessert. We were able to bring in bottled water to the concert (which we already had on hand) so we didn't have any other costs. Total cost for that day (not including gas): $53.
* All in, my birthday weekend cost $113, plus around $15 in gas. We budget $150 for birthdays (Some from our joint account and some from my birthday checks). I always want a trip of some sort rather than an item. We came in under budget and it was still a lot of fun.
* We went out to see It with Daisy and her hubby. We had BOGO coupons from the summer reading program at the library, so we hooked them up as well. Each pair paid $10.75 for two tickets. Not too bad for a weekend evening showing. It was so fun to hang out with them.
* We went to the art museum for their free Sundays. I have missed the last several gallery hops due to travel or weather and was starting to need some culture. We only went through about half of the museum this time, but plan to go back again soon.

Nature:
* We went for a couple mile hike at a local metro park.
* We went on a hike at a nature preserve down south.
* There is a city park nearby that has a topiary landscape of George Seurat’s painting A Sunday Afternoon on the Isle of La Grande Jatte. It was a short excursion, but was fun.

Frugality:
* I put 3% of my paycheck directly into my savings account. Another 6% was taken out for my 401k, with a 100% match and an additional 2% that my company contributes.
* I paid my credit card bill the first day of the cycle, with a little extra beyond the minimum payment. I plan to make more payments throughout the month, but by paying as soon as possible, I minimize the interest paid for the month. While it won't be a game changer, that little bit of interest saved will mean that next month a little more of my payments will go towards the balance, expediting the payoff. I've heard of some people paying their mortgage semi-monthly or weekly, dividing the payment by 2 or 4 to match their pay cycle. That makes it easier to budget and reduces the interest charged. I plan to talk with my credit union about having my car payment taken out of my paycheck instead of once a month from my checking account.
* I spent an hour on my company's health website updating different challenges I am a part of. I earn points to get discounted insurance and can earn gift cards just for being healthy and trying to save money.
* I played around with some calculators on my retirement account website to see about how I am doing. Their assumptions are a little faulty I think, but it looks like I'll be ok.

Waste Reduction:
* We composted a lot of random stuff.

House and Home:
* We needed to touch up the paint in our bedroom but didn't have any paint from the previous owners. I went to Menards and found a color that matched. I only needed a quart and found a decent brand on sale, marked down from $16 to $9. Menards also had their 11% rebate going on through that day (I made a stop on the way to work on Friday so I didn't miss it). I also bought some fall bulbs to plant to make the landscape look decent in case we do sell next year.

Work:
* I work a half hour of overtime most days.
* We got sent home early one evening. Given the amount of overtime I worked, it was a wash pay wise, but I got to get home in time to hang out with Trucker for a bit before he went to bed.

Preparedness:
* Trucker bought a new-to-us jack to put in my car. The jack that came with it was so small and weird that it was really hard to use. This one was $11 at auction.
* I put a bottle of water and a jacket in my car now that it is getting chillier. Soon I'll need to get my snow gear in there!

Health:
* I got back into the habit of hitting the gym before work. I particularly enjoy swimming. I feel so invigorated after swimming some laps, then relaxing in the hot tub for a bit before work.
* Trucker is playing softball on a league at the park.

Community:
* One of my coworkers is just the sweetest. She brings in snacks for people. She gave me a lot of delicious tomatoes from her garden. One day we were sharing recipes and she told me about this epic salad she makes and I said it sounded amazing. The next day she brought in a salad kit for me. She had all the veggies, seasonings, croutons, a good mozzarella and a homemade dressing. It was without a doubt the best salad I've ever had. I told her so the next day. Later she told me how much it meant that I told her how good the salad was. I felt like that was so little compared to how kind she has been to me, but it made her feel appreciated. It was a great reminder that it doesn't take a lot to make someone happy.
* I brought her some Filipino snacks I got at the salvage grocer.
* Daisy gave us some cotton candy grapes. Have you tried these? They are the most incredible things. They are as sweet as candy but not as cloying. Daisy, you have ruined me for any other grapes!


How was your week?

Monday, September 4, 2017

This Week...Beyond Money 8/14 - 8/27

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:
* I harvested a lot of basil, cherry tomatoes and peppers from the garden.
* I have been thinking a lot. Basically, I don't have a lot of time for the big garden and honestly, the shade keeps it from producing much. Considering we are wanting to relocate within a year or so, I think this is my last year growing a conventional garden. I am debating whether or not to plant garlic (I think I'll try to find someplace that I can plant it that can be easily fixed up when it is time to sell. I think this autumn I'll seed the garden to grass. Next year I'll do some container gardening or perhaps put some greens into the flower beds.
* That being said, I have been reading about microgreens a lot (a lot, a lot. Several books so far) and have gotten excited about it. I ordered from Johnny's a variety of microgreen seeds: sunflower (1 lb, organic), daikon radish (1/4 lb), cutting celery (1 oz), large leaf Italian basil (1 oz), parsley (1 oz), Vates collards (1/4 lb) and Early Wonder beets (1/4 lb). I didn't buy huge quantities of anything because I wanted to make sure this is something I enjoy growing and eating and don't tire of quickly. If I find that I go through these seeds quickly and want more, I will order larger packages.
* I started my first microgreens and it is really exciting! I planted daikon radish and sunflower shoots. I had bought bulk popcorn that I packed into jars and I had just a little bit of popcorn that wouldn't fit into the jars, so I sprouted that. It took just a couple days to germinate. Two days after germination and the radish seedlings will be ready for lunch tomorrow. The sunflowers and corn are growing well.  Honestly, seeing those micros pop up so quickly makes me feel like a magician. I haven't felt that as a farmer and gardener in awhile.
* I have heard that some people buy whole mustard seed from the bulk spice section of the grocery store and I plan to explore this option as well. That would eliminate shipping costs and likely be cheaper than buying microgreen seed so it is definitely worth a try.
* The Daikon radish micros are amazing. Starts out nice and peppery with a strong kick at the end. Perfection. The sunflower micros smell like sunflower seeds, taste nutty and have a nice texture.
* At the salvage grocer, I found coriander for $.50/oz and mustard seed $.99/oz. I bought one mustard seed and all of the coriander. I have mustard and cilantro micros in my future!

Cooking/Groceries:
* At the salvage grocer, I got some Soda Stream syrups for $.99. The same ones were at Meijer for $5!
* I went to our other salvage grocer one day because a detour on the way to work took me right by it. I got some goodies: cereal for $1/box, tortillas for $.50/12 pk, whole-grain flatbread 10/packs for $.50, ginger beer for $2/4 pack, and some whole-grain snacks I like for $.25/little bag (these I use for work lunches/road snacks).
* I went to the farm stand and got lots of yummies: tomatoes (cherry, beefsteak and paste), peppers (banana), kale, carrots (a mix of purple, yellow, white and orange), cauliflower and a watermelon. The next time I went I got peppers, tomatoes and a bunch of kale.
* I bought a tub of spinach artichoke hummus from Kroger on manager's special: $1.69. I have been enjoying open-faced hummus sandwiches with peppers (from my garden), tomatoes (from my garden or gifted), onion (Aldi), green olives (salvage grocer; $1 for a big jar) and lettuce. It is the perfect little meal.
* We made dinner together one day. We made cubed pork steak, cheesy cauliflower, candied carrots and a squash casserole. It was pretty yummy.
* I made nut rolls. I made a smear, added peanuts (I would prefer pecans, but cost is a factor), and then added refrigerated cinnamon roll dough. It isn't healthy or from-scratch, but it is quick and pretty cheap.
* I bought a 2 lb bag of onions at Kroger. They rang up at the wrong price, so they were free.
* We made tacos together one evening: ground beef from Aldi, microgreens (windowsill garden), tomatoes (parents' garden), peppers (parents' garden), onions (free), and sour cream (store brand on sale).
* I got a gift certificate in the mail after I contacted the grocery store about a problem I had.

Food Preservation:
* We went to my parents house one day to help in apple processing day. We made 18 quarts of apple sauce, enough sliced and frozen apples for 35-50 pies (I didn't get the final tally) and a few gallons of cider. We canned the cider and sauce. The cider was pressed from the cores and peels left over from pie slices. For years, I have tried to change my family's method of sauce making. My dad is a picky eater and would refuse to let us leave peels on. Finally, I brought my food mill and sieve and convinced him to let us make the first batch with the peels and he could decide whether we peeled subsequent batches. He relented. We just chunked the apples into the pot, peels, cores and all. We blended them (we had 3 blenders going), then my sister's boyfriend and I got to work with the sieve and food mill. When dad came over and saw the smoothness of the sauce, he was amazed. He kept going on about how he had never seen such perfect sauce. I delighted in showing him the tiny bits of peel waste pressed out and he realized on his own that there was more peel in the than that, but it was so smooth that it wouldn't affect the quality. I think that was an important moment for him. All of my talk about lessened food waste, nutrient levels in the skin and flesh directly under the skin, reduced labor and flavor improvements by leaving peels on was not enough to convince him to eat applesauce that had gross tough bits in it. Once I was able to show him that he could have it both ways, he was sold. I have been trying to accomplish this for seven years, so this goes to show it is never to late.
* We made a small batch of tomato sauce and froze it for winter.
* I froze some soup for future meals.

Fun:
* I got to have lunch with my BBF, Daisy, and her incredible child. I always enjoy hanging out with her. We met up at Panera and talked for a couple hours. We were both a little down on ourselves (as I think a lot of women tend to be) for not being "good enough" at the major life changes we have going on. Daisy and I have such a good friendship. We both encouraged each other and talked through some of the mental hurdles we have been facing. We both came away more hopeful. That is exactly what I need and want in a friend and I am so thankful for her. And it isn't just all the deep stuff! We brought presents! I brought her a little terrarium with a plant that looks like brains (bought at the salvage grocer, of all places) and she brought me teenage mutant ninja turtles spoon and fork set! For what more could you ask in a friend? (Trucker also sent a Star Wars travel cup for her hubby and Daisy gave Trucker a gift for a weird little collection he has).
* Trucker and I splurged on a really fun date night. A local theater had a horror movie marathon. We ate a big meal before we left home and brought some of our own snacks (but did buy a large popcorn and sodas to split for $13). We sneaked in a couple of energy shots we got from Aldi (for around $1 each) that we took around 3 AM. We intended to stay the entire event and score free movie tickets and coupons for popcorn, but we punked out at 4:30 AM. The event lasted until 10 or so! Even without the freebies, it was still worthwhile. We got to see three movies in a posh, historic theatre and eat yummy snacks. Plus, the money supported the local art scene, as this theatre is associated with the local art association and hosts a lot of documentaries and independent film.
* We went out for coffee, using our travel mugs. We earned free coffee with our rewards card.
* I went out shopping with my mom and sister to get ready for our other sister's wedding/anniversary party. I didn't spend anything, but helped my mom find deals on items she needed.
* One day when Trucker had to work during the day, I went to work early to see my old coworkers. I brought cookies that I got on sale at the grocery store ($6). It was so fun to get to see them and catch up. After that, I went across the street to my gym and went swimming for an hour. I had forgotten just how much I love swimming. I also relaxed in the hot tub for a bit which felt a little like heaven.

Nature:
* We went to a park in the suburbs for a fiddle concert. We also got to walk around and look at some beautiful gardens.

Frugality:
* After a recommendation from a friend on an online forum, I am reading Elizabeth Warren and Amelia Warren Tyagi's book All Your Worth. It is a great read and has gotten me back into a proper mindset for working towards our goals. They propose a very basic budget: 50% for Must-Haves (expenses you need to survive and would continue to pay if you lost your job), 30% for Wants (items that are not necessary for survival, but make life more enjoyable) and 20% for saving/debt repayment. I ran the numbers and now that I have the new job, it looks pretty good. I've got 14% total going towards 401k (She says to include employer contributions to retirement). I have 3% automatically put into my savings account (a small amount, but I wanted to just get started putting something in and plan to increase the amount now that I know we are making it). So far this month, I've put 4.5% of my pay towards extra debt payments (I consider the minimum payments to be a Must-have and extra payments can come from the savings category). That brings us to 21.5% so far. I pay my mortgage with my next paycheck and have one more before the end of the month and plan to put another large payment onto a debt with that. Note that this is pre-tax income and her plan says to use post-tax income, so I'm feeling pretty good.
* I redeemed some rewards points I had for cash. I got an $8 check that I put onto a credit card.
* I checked my credit score for free on my bank's website. It dropped a little all of a sudden. I did some digging and the only thing I can think is that last June, I paid off one of my credit cards, the oldest one (score date was July 31). I wonder if it isn't being reported as active since I hadn't used it for a year. If it is considered inactive, that dramatically decreases the average age of my accounts as I've had this for well over a decade. I used it to charge a couple of small things and paid it off a week later. We will see if that has any impact. As it is, I'm still in a decent range for qualifying for a mortgage, but want to get it as high as possible for the best rate.
* Trucker got both our cars' oil changed. He said that they tried to charge him almost $100 to change my air filter. He said, "no thank you" but was glad for the reminder. He picked up an air filter for $10, minus a $3 rebate. It was a five minute fix, making his tax-free hourly rate $1116.
* I have gotten in the habit of checked the manager's special racks at Meijer for undergarments. I have found underwear marked down from $6 to $1.50-2.30 and bras for $5 for regular (marked down from $25-30) and $2 for sports bras (marked down from $18). Granted, they don't always have my size, and the sports bras tend to be in colors I wouldn't chose, but for that discount, it is always worth checking.
* I am making lots of extra little payments onto my credit cards. I made a few more payments since the above calculations.

Waste Reduction:
* We composted lots of things.
* I had two tank tops that were stretched out badly, so the straps were constantly falling down. I used them under my work uniform for awhile, but it got annoying. I cut them down into rags and ended up with only the straps being thrown away.

House and Home:
* Trucker replaced two doors in the house that had some dents in them.
* We got a new pot holder on manager's special for $4. When we got home, we threw out the 3 we had that were falling apart. Part of me wanted to save them to recover with new fabric to make new, but honestly, since I have so little time, I knew that it would just be clutter.
* We also bought a set of sheets that were on manager's special for $15 (down from $45) in a color that coordinates well with our other sets. We got rid of a couple old sheets.
* Mom gave me a pretty planter for my birthday coming up.

Work:
* Work was cancelled one day due to a supplier issue. We were tickled pink to have an unexpected day/night off together. We miss each other terribly during the work week and the weekends fly by, plus there are family and friend obligations. We made lunch together, cuddled and watched a movie, went out for coffee, got Dairy Queen blizzards during their special buy-one-get-one-for-$.99 deal and walked around town. Then we went home and worked on some house projects together. It was one of the nicest days off I've had in awhile.
* I have a couple of funny random work benefits that I never would have planned, but that will shave a little off the budget. First, we have a laundry service available for our work uniforms that I wasn't eligible to use as a temp. Now, I use it and it reduces our laundry by one load a week (saving on detergent, electricity and water). Also, after work I am disgusting. It's true. Now that I am not in a hurry to get home and see Trucker (he is asleep before I get home), I take a shower at work each evening. It wakes me up so I have a safer time driving home. When I get home, I don't have to worry about waking Trucker up while getting ready for bed and I can just crawl into bed as soon as I get there. Also, it saves me from the water cost of doing 5 showers a week. Sure, water costs aren't the biggest budget expense, but it certainly can't hurt! The Simple Dollar estimates the cost of a load washed/dried clothes at $.97 just in water and energy. Assuming $.25/load for detergent, this will save us $55-60/yr. For showering, this calculator estimated the cost at $.46/shower in water and gas to heat the water. This brings us to around $110/yr. (note: I specifically avoided using websites that were trying to sell washing machines or shower heads. Those figures were several times higher than this which makes sense since they wanted to convince me to drop money on their products.) So, these two little benefits save me $165 or so a year. Certainly not a game-changer, but is enough to make a difference when that money can be thrown towards debt repayment. Quite a ramble this is! This is how my brain works...all the time. haha
* I worked a half hour overtime most days. We will likely begin working some Saturdays within a month or so.

Future:
* I talked with two loan officers (the credit union at my job and the bank where we have our current mortgage) and a realtor. If everything goes according to plan, we should be able to start looking for properties in the country in spring. I also talked with my current bank and they said they have no problem with us renting out our current home if we chose. That is an option we would like to do, as we can rent the place out for significantly more than our mortgage (Our house needed some repairs costing around $5k when we bought it that had kept it on the market for a long time, leading to a $20k discount on the house). Does anyone have any thoughts on renting out the previous house? We love the idea of multiple streams of income (If you haven't read it, I highly recommend Robert Allen's book of that title).

Health:
* I got my annual physical for free this week. This gives me a significant discount on insurance.

Setbacks:
* Second shift is rough. I'm starting to adjust, but it is really frustrating. My low point came when my local theatre called to offer me discounted tickets to the symphony and I had to say "no" because I'll be working every evening that there is a show. I've consoled myself by promising that once I go back to first shift, I'm buying Trucker and I season tickets for one year. I'll likely be on second for 4-8 years, so it would only be a buck or two a week. As strange as it sounds, just that decision has made it easier on me. I realized that the worst part of this new transition was having nothing to look forward to. When I worked first shift, all day I looked forward to coming home and hanging out with Trucker. Now, when I wake up, my darn mental clock starts ticking until I have to leave, and then at work, I have nothing to look forward to other than lying in bed reading alone, as Trucker is already asleep most nights. I went through a pretty rough patch for a bit, but I think that the idea of an outrageous luxury later on is helping. We have always had a bit of spending money earmarked for each of us to spend on things that will make us happy. During the worst of the recession, it was $5 a month. Now it is higher, not outrageous, but enough that Trucker can buy some books he wants and help with crowd funding different art projects. I, on the other hand, almost never spend it and it gets absorbed into the family budget. Trucker gets on me for not feeling I deserve to treat myself. Warren encouraged having a section of the budget dedicated to "wants" that you spend absolutely without guilt. Once I ran the math, it was obvious I can give myself a little something and not harm our financial well-being. If saving $1.75 a week for me to spend at a later date on 12 amazing shows at the symphony keeps me going on the rough, lonely nights, I think it is money well spent.

Community:
* My coworker gave me some wonderful tomatoes from her garden.
* Trucker volunteered at the shelter.
* My parents sent me home with apples (Dad teased me that I was welcome to take any apple products that hadn't been processed at all. So basically apples.), tomatoes (they were so over making tomato sauce after last weekend's fiasco of a wheelbarrow heaped full of tomatoes turned into sauce and the sink getting plugged up and having to removed the plumbing all the way back to the main line) and peppers (Dad was overly generous since he doesn't like peppers; I gave some of them back to Mom so she could have them with her eggs).
* I gave my parents some cases of canning jars. I'd gotten them years ago and still haven't learned to can. We are trying to clear out clutter as we intend to move in a year. They have given me canned/jarred items in the past, and while I try to always remember to return them, I know I forget sometimes. This should cover me.
* At the farm stand I got to talk with an old ally from my work in food security. We were both feeling a little down, and ended up spending two hours talking and laughing together in the rain. It was a needed meeting.
How was your week?

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Flavoring Mixes for Popcorn

I have a new favorite snack: flavored popcorn. Somewhere in the last few months, we had started eating chips. While I suppose the occasional Pringles pop isn't going to kill anyone, I didn't want to eat high fat/salt/sugar snacks and pay a lot for the privilege. We eat popcorn a lot as a cheap and healthy snack, but it got boring for me. Trucker eats his with salt and butter and is quite happy. As a self-declared frugal foodie, I need some variety, some novelty, some spice.

When we went to the Amish grocer, I checked out the spice blends they offered and I'm so glad I did! Their bulk prices are amazing and they had a decent range of blends. I got a fairly large container for around $2.

I got my cheddar cheese powder (which is seriously one of the greatest things ever), bbq seasoning and a honey mustard powder. My favorite store bought snacks are bbq chips and honey mustard pretzels.

When we popped popcorn with our air popper, I spritzed with some oil and the added a generous sprinkling of bbq seasoning. It tasted very similar to bbq chips. Granted, it didn't have the same texture and not quite the same flavor (I think the main thing is that this is less in fat), but it was pretty darn close. The honey mustard popcorn has since become my very favorite snack.

I use cheddar cheese powder on popcorn, sometimes adding taco seasoning for a nacho popcorn. I also have a zesty dip powder I got at the salvage grocer that is pretty tasty on popcorn.

I can't wait to get back for more yummy flavors. Buffalo. Chipotle Cheddar. Thai Chili. Cajun. Jerk.

Granted, I could make my own mixes. However, with my busy work load, I have noticed that the convenience foods are becoming more tempting. For me, I find that sometimes picking one convenience item is acceptable when it prevents a more unhealthy alternative (pre-made mixes for flavored popcorn compared to store-bought chips). I love being able to have just as many options in my flavored popcorn as there are store-bought chips. I get my novelty, but a little bit healthier and a lot cheaper.

Beckie on Facebook shared: I bought a bunch of ranch dressing packets on sale at our local store and I've used that on popcorn too, delish!

Kathy shared: My kids like it with cheap lemon pepper seasoning.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

This Week...Beyond Money 7/24 - 8/13

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:
* I harvested more large tomatoes. I harvest a handful or two of cherry tomatoes each day. My garden is fairly well shaded, so I do not get a huge harvest. However, I get enough to provide a good supplement and I know once I get that "perfect land" with a "perfect plot" I'll have better results.
* I harvested a ton of basil. Okay, not a literal ton, but a fairly substantial harvest. I've also been harvesting bits of parsley, oregano, rosemary and sage.
* We are getting a decent amount of peppers, all of them small. Again, shade.

Cooking/Groceries:
* I went to the farm stand and got: purple carrots (both Dragon and completely purple varieties), lettuce (red and green loose-leaf lettuces, one head each) and zucchini. The second time I went, I got shishitos, lettuce and patty pan squash. They also had you-pick flowers so I picked a bouquet for Mom and another small one for Trucker.
* We made pork tacos with some ground pork we got at Kroger in the manager's special section. It was a whopping $.75/lb! We bought all three packages they had. We served them on hard shell tacos (from the pantry. I'd bought them for our anniversary party and no one wanted them. I don't care for hard shell tacos, but they were fine after we warmed them in the toaster oven for awhile). We also had sour cream (sale), lettuce (farm stand), tomatoes (my garden), pickled peppers (put up awhile back) and a pinch of cheese.
* We made yummy sandwiches for lunch one day: fried egg, bacon, pepper jack cheese, tomato (first large tomato from our garden!) and loads of basil (from the garden). It was marvelous.
* Trucker got some avocados on sale, so I made avocado toast for breakfast (Does this mean I don't get to keep my house?). I served with bacon, fried eggs and sliced tomato. It was amazing.
* Trucker made me breakfast in bed twice this week. Once it was french toast, fried sausage, banana, roll and coffee. The other time it was pancakes, eggs and banana. He is so wonderful.
* I made breakfast one morning. I made pancakes (Trucker had put half of the pancake batter into the frig. All it needed was a good stir and it was good as fresh), fried eggs, pan-seared cherry tomatoes and shishito peppers, and a little squash bake I made with sour cream, cheese and crushed crackers on top (simple and weird, but very good).

Fun:
* We went out for dinner my last night on first shift (since I needed to stay up super late to be ready for the next night). We went to Olive Garden with a gift certificate that a friend had given us for our anniversary. We paid just a little after the card, plus tip. It was a lovely evening. I always enjoy dating Trucker.
* We did a several coffee dates, using our travel mugs for a discount.
* We went out to my parents place for a fish fry. They had gone to Florida on vacation and brought back fish. They fried up the fish, along with some shrimp. I brought caprese salad, coleslaw and sauerkraut. My sister had bought some really good honey so she served that with some corn bread. We had a lot of fun talking with the family. We are all a pretty goofy group. It is kinda fun watching our family grow, now that we have a bro-in-law and another on the way.
* We went on the World's Longest Yard Sale. We only hit one state, but it was great fun. We found some fun items. I got some jewelry for $.25-1 apiece. We each got some books for $1 or less, including some fun books on our wishlist. I got a couple funky vintage containers to use for storage: an old cash box and a rusty old trash can with lid. I think that I will store *something* (unsure exactly what yet. Maybe yarn since I have way too much in my stash now) in the trash can in the bedroom and put one of my spilling plants on top of it. We found some decorative items for a room we are working on. I found some awesome houseplants. I got a giant canna plant for $4, 4 hen and chick plants for $.25 each, and elephant ear plants for $1.50 each. Trucker got some new loppers for $3.

Nature:
* We went hiking at a nature preserve about an hour away. It was an awesome day. We loved looking for mushrooms and checking out butterflies. We also got to walk around the old canal and through a tunnel.
* We went to a local arboretum. We walked through the half we haven't seen yet. There were so many beautiful gardens and interesting trees. They had a nature discovery center that they use for kids' programs and homeschooling events. There were lots of taxidermy animals, owl pellets, bones, feathers and a beehive that was set up so you could see inside. We also went to the arboretum history center to read dedications and speeches from famous people who planted trees there.
* We went to the living historical farm just outside of the city. We go a couple times a year and I always love it. There is something so reviving about being able to be on a farm, pet the animals, and see what projects they are doing, from butchering turkeys to making tomato juice.

Frugality:
* I signed up for a raffle at work for attending a farmer's market. I can sign up each time I visit one until the end of August. I also signed up for a raffle for doing some healthy practices each day. The company offers a lot of raffles and drawings for different healthy or community-driven activities. I plan to sign up for all of them. I won't win most, but eventually I might win something.
* I signed up for our insurance a couple days after I officially started. While I had 31 days to sign up, I was afraid something would come up and I would miss the deadline. The insurance looks great. For the rest of this year, it is completely free. Next year it will cost $6-46 dollars a month, depending on which plan I chose. Either way, it is much cheaper than the $105/month we were paying (after our subsidy)
* I signed up for my 401k. I get a 100% match up to 6%, plus my employer kicks in an additional 2-4% depending on how long I have worked for them. I got a letter saying that they are counting my time as a temp in determining how much extra they kick in. I also set it up so that every year on January 1 it bumps up my contribution by 1%. I invested in a target date account. All told, I'll be getting a good amount put away for retirement.

House and Home:
* Trucker did some small projects around the house, such as adding a spring to the front screen door and putting in screens in windows.
* Trucker hung up some new art.
* Trucker fixed the patio door that was having trouble opening properly.
* In general, Trucker has been fixing a lot of things around the house. We are wanting to move within a year or two, so he is handling fixing up little things to make it easier to sell. We are saving a bundle by not paying a professional to do. We use Menards rebates when possible and buy items on sale.

Work:
* I started the new job this week (the first week of this post....sorry for yet another delay). I am so excited and relieved to be in a good, stable job. The first few days of the week were spent in classes and hearing different higher-ups speak. It was exciting to hear about some possible career paths and talk with people about steps to take. I feel hopeful.
* I got sent back to my old department, although now on second shift. I'm so happy. I loved the work I was doing and am so happy to continue. They say they try to keep you doing what you were, but it depends on their needs, so I got myself prepared to go elsewhere. When they told me I got to stay, it felt like I won the lottery. My new crew seems pretty nice too.
* Still a few weeks in, I like the crew and the work. I've also learned some new jobs, so now I get a lot more variety in my work day.

Future:
* Trucker's commercial came out. It is so cool to see him in a commercial!

Health:
* I got signed up for our new insurance. This is the first time I've had real benefits at a job (I had a job once that offered health insurance and it was twice as expensive as our previous ACA exchange insurance and had a huge deductible we had to hit before copays kicked in, whereas our ACA plan had a copay before deductible...in short, it had cost us way more for less coverage). I am amazed at how much coverage we get with the current plan. For this year at least, the company pays all of our (really generous) health, dental, vision, prescription, life, short and long term disability insurance. We will not have to pay a penny for any health care until after the first $2000, then we pay a small deductible, then have copays. I added accidental death and dismemberment and extra life insurance for each of us for a grand total of $35/year. Not too shabby for all of our health care needs. As I understand it, the costs will go up nominally next year, but this is still fantastic.
* Our insurance is free/super cheap only if we earn a certain number of points for healthy activities each year. In general, I support this idea. Yeah, the reason they do it is to save money on their expenses, but I do like adding that financial incentive to patients/clients to maintain healthy practices. Already, we each have 400 of the 1000 points I need for next year.
* We signed up for a membership at the health center my employer offers (3 locations, one is across the street from where I park for work). It costs $24/year, so $1/month each. I will obviously use it more than Trucker, as it is an hour from home, but he will use it occasionally. I get to work early each day since I drive to work during rush hour traffic now and a lot can go wrong. My dad suggested working out before work (I'd planned on doing it after work, but this saves me time) since I'd be there already. So now I park, walk across the street to the fitness center, get a run in and lift a little, then head back to work. This is going to be a great way to get back in the shape I want to be in. Trucker and I drove past the factory on the way to my parents place, so we stopped and went swimming for an hour. We didn't swim laps, but were active and got a good workout in.

Setbacks:
* We had some car trouble and had to take the car to my cousin to get repaired. It ended up being just a loose hose and it cost $20 to get fixed. Without him, there is no way we could afford to have a second car and I definitely couldn't afford to drive so far to work since the maintenance would be cost-prohibitive when commuting 500 miles a week. I don't know what we would do without him.

Community:
* Trucker volunteered at the homeless shelter.
How was your week?

Monday, July 24, 2017

This Week...Beyond Money THREE WEEKS 7/1 - 7/23

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.
Thanks for your continued understanding as my hectic schedule keeps me from updating as often as I'd like.

Gardening:
* I harvested tons of herbs from the garden.
* I harvested 75 heads of garlic. Some weren't huge, but overall I'm happy with my harvest. I have it curing on the patio and will bring it in when it is to rain.
* I'm harvesting a lot of peppers, mainly banana and Hungarian hot wax, but also some padrons and serranos. No bell peppers yet, but I wasn't expecting those to do well (I do regret buying bell pepper starts since my garden doesn't seem to grow large peppers well).
* I've been harvesting cherry tomatoes almost daily, just a few, but enough to enjoy.

Cooking/Groceries:
* We got more free sauerkraut. This time it was kimchi. I love this perk.
* I made shakshouka for dinner one day. I can't believe I waited to make this. It is basically just eggs poached in tomato sauce, but oh my goodness. I had some tomato sauce in the freezer from last year (free tomatoes from the farm, cooked down without seasoning and frozen) that I cooked down further with half a large onion, sliced thin and sauteed with a small head of garlic. I added Worcestershire, a healthy pinch of paprika, some chile powder, salt and pepper. Once it was cooked down enough, I added some oregano, thyme and marjoram from the garden and added the eggs. Once they were poached (I did overcook them a little, so the yolks were firm, but in my defense it was my first time poaching an egg), I added a healthy handful of basil from the garden. While it is traditionally served over toast, we had it over spaghetti since I didn't have any decent bread. It was phenomenal. It will definitely get into the regular rotation. I've been trying to use more seasoning in cooking and this well-seasoned tomato sauce explodes with flavor. The eggs provide plenty of protein for a great vegetarian meal that is cheap and hearty.
* I hit the motherload. Awhile back a coworker of mine told me about this wholesaler at the airport that sold to the public. The schedule didn't really line up with mine, so I just got around to hitting it and I'm so glad I did! In addition to a decent selection of produce, meat, cheese and imported goods, they also had a clearance section. These were items that were intended to sell to restaurants, but that were slightly past their prime. They were already cleaned and in some cases prepped. There were also less-pretty items at a steep discount. I got a half gallon of half and half ($1), a half gallon of heavy whipping cream ($1), several pounds of broccoli (cleaned and cut into florets) for $2, a giant bag (10-15 pounds) of green beans for $.99, local tomatoes at $1.49/lb, 4+ lbs of jalapenos for $1, and several pounds of celery (cleaned and cut into sticks). I also got jumbo brown eggs from a local Amish farm for $2.50/dozen. Some other goodies I saw but didn't purchase: a giant bag (probably close to 5 lbs) of cilantro for $.99, lemons for $.10, oranges for $.20, grapefruit for $.33, mangoes for $.50, giant butternut squash for $1, canner tomatoes $5/15 lbs, and onions $15/25 lbs. I do plan on going back for some onions to caramelize for the freezer.
* I made stock with produce scraps and some bones from the freezer. I used strained and frozen tomato juice from last year when I made tomato sauce. That added a lot of flavor and was perfect for beef stew. I used the bones in a second batch of stock with fresh veggie scraps. The second (and third and forth) batches of stock with bones aren't very flavorful, but there's still some nutritional value as the bones continue to break down. Often for later batches, I'll add some bouillon cubes for flavor.
* I used my first batch of stock to make a beef vegetable soup. I seared some beef with onions, then added garlic, garlic scapes, carrots, celery and patty pan squash. It cost around $3.50 and was enough for 6 meals.
* I made shrimp scampi. How have I not been doing this before? (This seems to be the question of the week). I didn't really use a recipe, but it turned out great. I found frozen shrimp for $4 at Aldi, added half a box of angel hair pasta (manager's special for $.50, so $.25 for the recipe), used half a stick of butter ($.65), half an onion ($.15), a small head of garlic (free from the garden; next time I'll use more), parsley (free from the garden). basil (free from the garden) and 1/3 bottle white wine. The wine was one we got on vacation. (Once you factor in the coupon, it cost $5. However, once we got home, it just didn't taste right. Slightly vinegary. Not unbearably bad, but not pleasant to drink. Rather than dump it down the drain, I used most of the bottle in stock making in place of vinegar.) It worked really well in the scampi, although using a Niagara wine in a Italian dish was far from authentic. So, since the wine would have been dumped if I didn't decide to use it in cooking, I'm not factoring the price in (I made scampi as a way to use the wine instead of throwing it away). The cost was a hair over $5 and was enough for 5 meals.
* We had popcorn as a snack.
* I made roasted chicken (manager's special) with roasted veggies (beets, carrots, potatoes, garlic and onion) for dinner one night. We pan seared shishito peppers  as our appetizer. It was amazing.
* On "National Ice Cream Day" we bought half gallons of ice cream for $.99.

Food Preservation:
* I froze some half and half in ice cube trays to use small amounts to add creaminess to soups, colcannon, mashed potatoes or other dishes.
* I froze all the remaining celery and garlic scapes. I sliced the celery and froze on cookie sheets before bagging. The scapes were simply chopped and bagged.
* I chopped too much basil for the scampi so I put it in a small container, covered with water and froze. That will get chucked into some soup at some point.

Fun:
* Vacation week!!!
* We took a weekend trip to Niagara falls. We stayed on the American side because I didn't want to spend the extra money on passports. It was a wonderful time. We used hotels.com to reserve our room and earned a free night to use later. I used the Entertainment book to save money on dinner and outings. We went to the Aquarium of Niagara using a BOGO coupon and got to see a sea lion show. We went on a lot of hikes and got up close and personal with the falls. We'd thought about going on the Cave of the Winds tour, but neither of us felt like getting wet. We explored the ruins of the Schoellkopf power station and rode the elevator down. We also went on the Niagara winery tour and sampled some yummy wines (Niagara is my favorite grape, so I was happy). Our entertainment book got us some BOGO coupons on tastings and bottles, which dropped the price considerably. We went cherry picking and paid about the same price as cherries cost at the store, but they were super fresh. On the way home we stopped at a farmers' market on the Seneca reservation. I got banana bread, a mini rhubarb pie and sour cherries. It was a nice little trip and short enough that I still got ample time to have fun at home as well.
* We went to a billiard hall and used a BOGO coupon to get two hours of play for $8. I'm terrible at pool, but determined to learn and Trucker is patient as he teaches me.
* We earned a bunch of coupons for participating in our library's summer reading program: BOGO movie theatre, BOGO burritos at Chipotle, free cookies, coupon for a local pizzeria and a bbq joint, and a free book from the Friends of the Library sale.
* I'll definitely continue to purchase entertainment books. Whether for a vacation destination or our home city, we get our money's worth every time.
* We had a beer tasting with a few friends one evening. Everyone brought a few beers that we all sampled and some snacks. We had a lovely evening of laughing and talking.
* We used one of the Chipotle coupons for dinner while out one day. We get the bowls and a tortilla on the side so we can make the size burrito we want (restaurant portions are way too much). We had enough leftover to make enchiladas the next day and that provided another 3 meals.
* My family was on vacation for longer than we were. My grandpa stayed home and we knew he would be lonely since he usually goes to my mom's house for dinner every night. We drove out and took him out for Bob Evans for dinner. Trucker had a BOGO coupon and Grandpa was excited to get a chicken pot pie. I just wanted a salad. Trucker ordered a meal and it cost $1 extra to get a second side and $.50 to upgrade it to a salad, so for $1.50 I got the $3 salad I wanted. We were all full and content. Afterwards, he took us on a tour around town to show us where he grew up and all the buildings he had built in the area (He was a brick mason for 50 years because he is amazing). It was a perfect evening. We brought him gifts: sauerkraut (free as a job perk; he LOVES sauerkraut), banana bread (from our trip) and a DVD set of 50 war movies that Trucker got for $.50 at a garage sale. Grandpa is a big history buff and was so excited about the set and kept exclaiming the titles of the movies and said he was going to put a disk in as soon as we left and have the banana bread with some milk. It just goes to show that you can make someone's whole day without spending much; thought and care is the important thing.
* We went fossil hunting, using a BOGO coupon, $9 total. We found a ton of crinoids, corals, brachiopods and trilobites. It was such a fun day and I checked something off my bucket list!
* We spent a day with my parents, sisters and bro-in-laws at the lake near my parents house. We had a wonderful picnic, fished and swam. It was marvelous.

Nature:
* One day we went to a local arboretum. We had a lovely time walking around the gardens. They had a canopy tour that was amazing. Afterwards we climbed an 8-story tower for some spectacular views.
* We were in awe at the falls and loved walking up and down river to see the multitude of smaller falls. It was great getting to see new flowers that don't grow in our state.
* Trucker has been loving the bird feeders by the office window.
* We enjoyed a walk at the audobon. We loved watching turtles by the river.

Frugality:
* We bought some allergen protection covers for our pillows, but once we opened the package they were really loud and uncomfortable. We returned them and had the money put back into our account. That saved us $9. We returned them when we were already going to be next door to the store.
* Trucker signed up for the loyalty program at Meijer. We already got $7 off purchases and have coupons for $1 off a future purchase and a free head of lettuce.

House and Home:
* I reorganized my clothes. I don't really have a good system (and never have found one that works since we moved in), so I'm trying again. Without a good system that works for me, my clothes live on a chair until I wear them again and the drawers/closet are just filled with the things I don't like as much. I took everything out of the dresser, got rid of a good 1/4 of those items and separated out the items that fit but are too worn to wear in general or to donate. I'll have a drawer dedicated to chore clothes and will wear them til they fall apart.
* Trucker tackled the scary tupperware cabinet. It was terrifying, really. He separated out each type of container and then I went through everything and threw out food containers we didn't need (I had a ton of large yogurt tubs that I used to save back when I didn't have a tupperware set that included large containers) and items without matches (I still had 3 containers from my old tupperware set, but 12 lids!).
* I put all of our fossils from our adventure and put them in a pretty bowl in the entrance. I had previously had a bunch of pine corns and acorns in the bowl, but I moved those into a little metal bucket that now sits on a shelf.

Work:
* It's summer break from work, so I have been enjoying some much needed time off. I go back for a couple days and then get another long weekend. We get a break in July and another for the winter holidays. So basically about the time you are burning out, you get a nice, long break to revive.
* The countdown is on for starting second shift. Two more weeks.
* Friday was my last day with my coworkers. It was a really sad day. They are really amazing, just some of the best people you could ever hope to know, let alone work with. I'll miss them a lot.However, I do know that I am making a smart choice and am looking forward to the new job next week.

Future:
* Next week I start my new job! I can't wait. This will give us security and a future, so I'm happy.

Health: 
* We have gotten back in the habit of hitting the gym regularly. I'm mainly concentrating on my arms and cardio. Trucker didn't go while we were on vacation, and then got a cold, so he had to ease back into it.
* I got a cold the weekend before I start the new job! Oh no! While I usually try not to use medicine unnecessarily, I will definitely use something to make training tolerable (and me less gross to my new coworkers!).



Community:
* Daisy is an absolutely amazing friend. When we were out of town, she took care of all of the fur babies. It was comforting to know they were alright (and the house wasn't burned down!). I am continually thankful for her (and her hubby's!) friendship. Making friends as a grown-up is awkward and more than a little hard which makes it all the more special that we found them.
* I left her a few little goodies: sauerkraut, garlic scapes from the garden, some extra cukes from the farm stand, sriracha ketchup and a basil transplant. I potted up the basil into a little pot I already had. I also brought her a goody from our trip.
* Daisy left me a few little gifts for when I got back: a candle with a lovely quote about friendship, some teenage mutant ninja turtles stickers (Because she knows me well!) and a trash can for the bathroom. Daisy has one of the best eyes for decor and is my inspiration when it comes to crafts and decor. I've been decorating my main bathroom in a sunset on the beach theme. Everything was looking pretty nice and I considered it almost finished, other than wanting to replace bathtub knobs and the sink. The only problem was that I still had the terrible kokopelli trash can we got when we first moved in together. Daisy bought a basic white trash can at the dollar store and wrapped it in twine. It ends up being a beautiful, simple trash can that oozes beach charm. I love how she can take basic materials and make a fantastic piece that is exactly what you needed.
How was your week?

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Pepper Poppers

Pepper poppers are one of the cheapest and easiest appetizers you can make. They are also incredibly popular and go well whether you are serving a taco bar or having a party for a sporting event. They don't take long to make and can even be assembled in advance and tossed into the oven a little before guests show up. My garden is producing loads of peppers this year, and this is a great way to use up a bunch. The farm stands also have them pretty affordably as well. When peak pepper season is on, I like to core whole peppers and freeze them.

Jalapenos are my go-to, but I also use small hungarian hot wax, large padrons or shishitos, sweet banana, mini bells and lunchbox or other small sweet peppers. Depending on the size of the pepper, ease of removing the seeds and desired presentation, I'll either core them out and shake out as many of the seeds as possible or cut in half longways and scoop out the guts. Reminder: Don't forget to wear gloves if handling hot peppers.

I don't use a recipe, I just guesstimate based on what I have that needs used up. I will use sour cream, cream cheese or cottage cheese, as I have it. Sometimes if I have a little bit of a creamy dip I'll use that as all or part of the creamy addition. I'll also use up little bits of salsa or hot sauce. Sometimes I'll mince onion in. If the filling needs some oomf, I'll use either a packaged seasoning blend or just add some black pepper, salt, chili powder, onion powder and granulated garlic. Blend all well, then put into a piping bag or sandwich bag and cut the tip. Squeeze the blend into the pepper. If you are using frozen peppers, you don't need to even thaw them. Just fill when frozen and bake a little longer than you otherwise would.

I place them all in a baking dish, overlapping some. Sometimes I cover them all with enchilada sauce or cheese. Sometimes I leave them plain. I bake at around 350 until the peppers are soft, around 30-40 minutes. I often use the toaster oven to keep from heating up the kitchen.

These are always popular and disappear fast. If I do have any leftovers, they are great for my work lunches and I think are even better chilled.

What are your favorite frugal and easy appetizers or sides?
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