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. 

Gardening:
* 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.

Cooking/Groceries:
* 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.

Fun:
* 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.
This photo pretty much sums up a good majority of our
relationship.

Nature:
* 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.

Frugality:
* 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 did a little touch-up on the paint in Panda's room. I still have a lot left, but it is getting there.
* 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 painted Panda's room and touched up paint throughout the rest of 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.

Work:
* 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.

Health:
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).

Setbacks:
* 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 (if his old one works, we will use as a backup or give to Panda). 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.

Community:
* 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.
Gardening:
* 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.

Cooking/Groceries:
* 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.

Fun:
* 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 spent $1 on a book for Panda, but otherwise nothing. 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.

Nature:
* 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.

Frugality:
* 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. One mixed-media piece is perfect for Panda's room. It is a musical piece with sheet music incorporated. The color even perfectly matches her room.

Work:
My grandpa was so happy to see
another grandchild get married. He
was joking and running around
hugging grandson-in-laws and laughing.
I love seeing him this happy.
* 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.

Future:
* 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.

Health:
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.

Community:
* Daisy got a lovely gift for Panda's room. She found a lovely, large painting at a thrift store. It is beautiful and I'm so touched at how she wanted to do something special for her. Panda is going to feel so loved.
How was your week?
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