Wednesday, September 28, 2016

This Week...Beyond Money TWO WEEKS 9/12 - 9/25

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

* I harvested a pound or so of herbs from the garden: basil, parsley, marjoram, oregano, greek oregano.
* I harvested peppers, tomatoes (harvested once they had a blush on them, then ripened on the counter), and okra.

* I made a huge batch of slow cooker caramelized onions.
* I made eggplant Parmesan using free Fairy Tale eggplants from the farm (bug-bitten bits cut out).
* I made slow cooker lasagna, but I wanted to make a healthier version. I basically eliminated the ricotta (and by that I mean I forgot to buy it and didn't realize until I was prepping the meal so I pretended it was for other reasons), trimmed back the pasta and mozzarella and drastically increased the amount of veg. So basically it wasn't anything like lasagna except it had lasagna noodles. It was still amazing. I layered in between the layers of noodles: caramelized onions, eggplant, sauteed peppers and onions with minced garlic, and a single layer of leftover ground sausage. I poured in 2 jars of tomato sauce and topped with a single layer of mozzarella cheese.
* We had popcorn as a snack a few times.
* I made sausage gravy and biscuits for dinner one evening.
* I made an ice cream pie one evening. I had a couple of premade Christmas cookie dough rounds left in the box (manager's special for around $.25) and not enough ice cream for us to each have a serving. I thawed the cookie dough and pressed it into the bottom of a small pie plate and baked until it was golden. Then I softened the ice cream and poured it over the cookie. I dropped in a couple spoonfuls of Nutella (manager's special) and swirled it in. I froze until it was solid. It was enough for 4 servings of dessert. I'd certainly make it again for a special occasion, but not frequently because it was way too much sugar.
* I went to Aldi and got some great deals: $.89/dozen eggs (bought 2), $1.59/gallon milk, $.44/lb banana, bran flakes ($1.69/box)
* Trucker made steak for dinner one evening. We also served sauteed kale with leeks and garlic and fresh sliced tomatoes.

Food Preservation:
* I froze more sweet and hot peppers.
* I froze more leeks.
* I dehydrated basil, parsley, marjoram and greek and regular oregano from the garden.
* I froze two more ice cube trays worth of caramelized onions.
* I made and froze another quart of tomato sauce.
* I dehydrated sweet Italian peppers, okra and eggplant.

* My mom came out to visit me for our birthdays (our birthdays are 11 days apart; my twin sisters share a birthday with her). I took her out for tacos at our favorite hole-in-the-wall taqueria. Afterwards, she took me to the zoo. She buys a family pass every year and gets to take 2 guests in each time. We had a wonderful time and laughed a lot. She is so much fun to be around and I'm so glad to get to make these memories with her.
* We went out for a few coffee dates.
* We stopped for Happy Hour at Diary Queen and got $2 frappes. We went hiking afterwards, so it's all good, right?
* We had Trucker's boss and his wife over for a cookout one evening. We made taco burgers with tomato, onion, jalapenos, black olives and hot pepper sauce mixed in. We also had grilled fairy tale eggplant, padron peppers, sweet peppers and onion. For dessert I served grilled banana splits with vanilla ice cream (on sale for $2.50/half gallon), goat's milk caramel (manager's special), whipped cream (from Aldi) and cinnamon. We had a great time.

* We went hiking at metro parks several times. The weather has been absolutely perfect for getting outside and exercising.
* One harvest morning, a couple of my coworkers and I were harvesting kale and collards before the sun rose. After a bit, the first pink hues were flooding the sky with a peppering of little puffy clouds. One of my coworkers cried out, "Look at the sky!" and we all stood silent for a moment. It was magnificent. I wouldn't trade this summer for anything.

Waste Reduction:
* I made stock from bone and veggie scraps.
* I saved the stalks from dehydrated herbs to add to homemade stock (they were already dehydrated, so I just tossed them in a jar).
* I composted a lot of things, especially brown and dry items.

House and Home:
* I put another pair of shoes (too tight of a shoe box) and a jacket into the donation box.
* I took 4 boxes of items to the thrift store. This included some items that we'd bought for the antique booth when we first started, that frankly, were amateur mistakes.
* I bought a dry erase board for the kitchen. I've been wanting one for awhile, but hadn't found a decent one at a good price. This one is simple but nice. It was in the clearance section at Meijer since it was a "back-to-school" item: $5.59. I will use it for us to keep track of our ridiculous schedules and shopping lists.
* Trucker got a frame for a Punisher drawing I bought him as a gift. He loves the Punisher. Usually a drawing like this costs $50, but this one was on sale for $12 at this funky thrift/novelty/hunting shop we found in a small town. He had priced frames and the cheapest he had found for the size he needed was $20. We went shopping and found one on sale for $10.

* I brought home loads of freebies from the farm. I rescued some "seconds" onions from the compost pile. I had to cut out about half of them to get rid of soft parts, but still got loads of onions for caramelizing.
* Trucker brought breakfast for his coworkers each Sunday and also sent me with muffins for my coworkers one day.
* I took home a fair amount of seconds: leeks, kale (lacinato and green), beets, radishes, a couple small watermelons and loads of peppers.

* I worked hard at the booth to rearrange things and straighten up for the party.

* Trucker continues to play softball with his league every week. He has also started doing a little bit of running so he can play better. I'm thrilled and hoping that he falls in love with running so he can run with me. I miss running a lot. I still go running about every other week, but then something happens or someone harasses me. It's taken the fun out of it. I need a dog or a partner to run with now.
* One evening after work, I went home and just slept. I napped for a couple hours, woke up, ate dinner, and then went to bed for the night. I woke up feeling so refreshed.

* Trucker's boss invited me to have lunch with them at his job. His boss' wife brings in a lunch every day for the three of them plus her mother. They are so sweet to him and I had a wonderful time laughing and talking with them.
* I started a box of items to donate to the food pantry at my job. We conducted a survey and found that, while most people were very happy with our food selection, we needed to distribute items such as hygiene items and pet foods. These items can't be purchased with WIC or SNAP benefits, but are still basic needs. When I was talking with the pantry coordinator (for an upcoming post), she mentioned that some people might appreciate coloring books and crayons for the kids to enjoy while waiting. The box I have started so far includes: dozens of travel soaps (I got them from a thrift store. They were 3 for $.25 and then there was a 70% off sale, making them less than $.03 each), a few coloring books (purchased for $.25 or less at thrift stores; I checked to make sure no pages were colored in), crayons ($.25 on back to school sales) and some malta beverage ($.15 each; I purchased a bunch when I found a good price, but Trucker didn't like them). Once the box is full, I'll drop it off when I visit the office.
How was your week?

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

This Week...Beyond Money TWO WEEKS 8/29 - 9/11

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

* I harvested okra, peppers, tomatoes and basil from the garden.
* I fed the bunnies farm seconds.

* I made taco soup and quesadillas one evening. I soaked a pound of pinto beans, then added to the slow cooker with homemade stock, dehydrated tomatoes, sauteed onions and sweet peppers, a pound of ground turkey (browned), and some seasoning. It cooked while I worked, and as soon as I got home from work, dinner was ready within 5 minutes.
* We stopped at a farm stand on the way to my parents' house. They were selling everything for $.25 each, but the sign said "If you can". I absolutely love seeing people take care of those in their community. I bought several items. I got some summer squash and zucchini since the farm didn't get much this year. Fortunately, I haven't had enough zucchini yet to be sick of it. I also got some big tomatoes and sweet peppers to bring with to my parents' house.
* We stopped at a salvage grocer. It wasn't as good as our regular salvage grocer, but the hours are much more convenient and it is closer to home. We got: instant mashed potatoes for $.50/box (these are not used regularly, but I like to keep some on hand for long-term storage. Once they are pretty well past their expiry date. I'll start adding them to soups to thicken them up.), Amish day-old bread ($.99/loaf; we served one at my parents' and froze 2), hamburger buns ($.50/pack; bought 3), Tabasco Worcestershire sauce ($.50/each; I had used half of my last bottle and had been wanting to stock up. I bought 8), a variety of bottled/canned drinks for $.25 or less (Iced tea, malta, seltzer water; we use these for road trips.), jerky for $.50 and some dessert mixes for $.25/box.
* I made homemade salsa using a flavor mix I got for $.10 at the salvage grocer. I used tomatoes, Hungarian wax peppers, Carmen sweet peppers, onion, and garlic from the farm (all free seconds).
* We grilled out one evening. We made hamburgers, Shishito peppers (the last for the year), zucchini, summer squash, onions, sweet peppers and leeks. We had leftovers for lunch the next day.
* I made homemade hamburger helper. It was really easy. I sauteed some peppers, onions, leeks and garlic (all from the farm), then added 1 1/2 cups of homemade stock, 2 cups of milk (manager's special for $1/gallon), 3 cups of egg noodles and cooked until the noodles were tender. I mixed in leftover crumbled burgers, 1 cup cheddar cheese, 1 tsp garlic powder, 1/2 tsp seasoning salt, 1/2 tsp pepper (I thought it was the perfect amount, Trucker requested less next time), 1/2 tsp chili powder, 3/4 tsp paprika, and 1/2 tsp Italian seasoning. It was pretty good and I will likely make it again, mainly because Trucker really liked it.
* I got two big bunches of broccoli for $1 each at the farmers' market. I used them to make broccoli cheddar soup. I cut down the florets, then peeled the stems (the stems are my very favorite part and I ate 1/4 of them as I prepped). I tossed all of it, along with some chopped leeks, in a pot with 2 cups of homemade stock. I cooked until the broccoli was tender. I transferred most of the liquid and about 2/3 of the broccoli (mostly the stems) into a blender. I pureed it all, then returned it to the pot. I added a cup of cheddar and a good sprinkling of cheddar cheese powder, pepper and seasoning salt, along with some bouillon powder. It was quite nice. I usually like to add some shredded carrot, but didn't have any left in the refrigerator. I had enough for two meals.

Food Preservation:
* I froze more sweet peppers, diced. Probably between 10-15 pounds.
* I froze a pound of mini sweet peppers, stemmed and seeded but left whole. These will be used for stuffing.
* I froze a few pounds of hot peppers, stemmed and seeded but otherwise whole. I also did the same for 1.5 pounds of Padron peppers.
* I froze more caramelized onions.
* I froze a two-meal portion of taco soup for another week.
* I sliced and froze 15 leeks.
* I made hot sauce for the first time. I used 25 or so Hungarian Hot Wax peppers, a medium onion and 4 cloves of garlic. I chopped roughly in the blender, then sauteed for 7 minutes. I added 1 cup of water and 1 cup of apple cider vinegar. I cooked it all for 20 minutes, then blended and ran through a food mill. It was pretty thick, so I added another 1/4 cup or so of vinegar. I ended up with a pint jar in the refrigerator and enough leftover to fill one ice cube tray. The website I got the recipe from says that the sauce will last 2-3 months in the refrigerator, and after that we can pop out an ice cube's worth here and there. It was pretty easy and tastes great. I will likely try to make some more soon.

* On Monday we went out to my parents' place for dinner. They supplied fish (from their last fishing trip) and shrimp. We brought side dishes: potato latkes (from a box: for shame. We got it for $.50 at a salvage grocer), tomatoes and sweet peppers (from a roadside farm stand down the road from their house; $.25 each), bread (from the salvage grocer), and pumpkin pie pudding (using manager's special pudding mix and pumpkin puree). After dinner, my parents, Trucker and I went to the lake for putt-putt golf. My dad had a BOGO coupon, so we only had to pay for 3 people. Turns out my mom is a bully and laughed hysterically whenever we goofed. :) We had a great time and laughed a lot.
* For the holiday, everyone got Monday off, but that is my usual day off. My boss told me to take Saturday off so I still got a long weekend. Trucker and I decided to go out to Chicagoland to visit his family. We headed out at 6 AM. We packed drinks and snacks to avoid costly stops. Along the way, we listened to an audio book together. Trucker's uncle took us all (Grandma, aunt, Trucker and me) out for dinner at a cute little restaurant I used to take his grandmother to when we lived nearby. We left tip. We had good talks and it was wonderful to see them again. Afterwards, we went into the city so I could go thrifting. I have had a really hard time in my current city finding good clothes and especially shoes. I was able to find a couple really nice pairs of shoes (one leather) for $2 and $4. We drove home that night, taking turns napping. It was a tiring trip, but it wasn't costly. We spent around $70 on gas, $10 on food and drinks, $15 tip and the items we purchased at the thrift were needed items, so the cost of the trip was only $95 or so.
* One afternoon, we went out with my friend and her 4 awesome kids. We met them at the Audubon park. She brought at amazing picnic for us. She is Egyptian and lemme tell ya, she has been feeding us some gourmet meals lately. Afterwards, we went walking through the wetlands, climbed the water tower, played on the playground, walked through the meadow and then relaxed at the observation deck over the river. We saw turtles, fish, snakes, frogs, ducks and deer. It was the kids' first time seeing a real live deer. It started to rain just about the time we were finished. We took them out for Frostys at Wendy's (on sale for $.50) and talked for another 45 minutes. They are the most amazing family and I love them dearly. Our entire afternoon cost less than $4.
* We went out on a couple coffee dates.
* My grandpa had a cookout for the holiday. We brought homemade salsa (all veggies from the farm), tortilla chips (from Aldi) and a sour cream dip (On sale $1). We had a great time. Trucker played volleyball with my dad, sisters and their boyfriends. I was going to play, but the ball fell in poison ivy. While none of them are much affected, I get deformed if I am exposed to it, so I bowed out as soon as the ball went into the thicket. I loved being able to sit under the maple trees and talk with Grandpa. He built this house a few years after he and Grandma got married. It was land just outside of town that his mother had always been in love with. He was a brick mason for 55 years, so of course, the house and garage are brick. It is an adorable 856 square foot house with three bedrooms. The garage, built a decade later, is almost as big as the house. After they got moved in, Grandma wanted a basement to store her canned foods in. Grandpa dug the basement out by hand and carried the dirt out by the bucket full. They were visiting my Grandmas' brother 50-some years ago, and he mentioned that they needed some trees. My great-uncle plucked a tiny maple seedling out of the ground and said "take care of it now". The tree is magnificent now. It was the climbing tree when I was a kid, the big one that I had to learn how to climb after I had mastered the other trees Grandpa had planted in later years.

* Trucker wanted to have our bedroom windows framed. He hated how boring it looked bare. He went to the hardware store and got some simple wood trim with
* I made an extra car payment.
* I paid extra on the mortgage.

* For my birthday this week, we went to a lake about an hour away. We enjoyed sitting on the shore and watching the herons fishing. We also took a short walk through the woods.

Waste Reduction:
* I went through all of my clothes again, including items in storage. I put lots of items in the donation boxes and got everything else hung up in the closet and organized by type.
* I composted lots of weird things. I've been a lot better about getting dry/brown items in the compost. The bug problem is resolved in 2 of the 3 bins, and the smell is much better.

* I brought home some peppers and tomatoes on Tuesday, but not much because I wasn't going to have time to preserve them. On Friday I brought home: paste tomatoes, sweet peppers, leeks and eggplants.
* I packed lunch each day I stayed for lunch, except for Friday. On Friday the boss brought bacon and buns for BLTs with lettuce and tomatoes from the seconds bin. She also grilled shishito peppers (If you haven't tried these before, you must try them. They are like a Russian Roulette pepper. Overall, they are mild, but 1 in 10 is spicy!), onions and Carmen Italian sweet peppers. It was amazing.

* We have been exercising a lot more.
* Trucker joined a softball league to get some exercise, sunlight and make some friends.

* I brought a bag of farm leftovers to my friend.
* One farmer at the farmers market sent me home with a bouquet of flowers.
* My co-worker said she has had terrible luck getting watermelon this year. Her dad got one, but It was massively under-ripe. Then she bought one, but it was fermented. She said she didn't think she would get a watermelon all year. I told her, "I have a guy!" My oldest friend sells at the same farmers market I do and grows amazing melons. I went to buy one at the farmers market. I told him the story and he laughed. He ended up throwing in a free cantaloupe. She was thrilled.
* My friend also gave me a sunflower heavy with seeds. I hadn't eaten sunflower seeds fresh from the blossom since I was 5 (I remember when my friend's grandma cut one from her garden. My entire world was rocked).
How was your week?
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