Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Reusing Christmas Cards

My sister-in-law Debbie is a frugal maven.  She loves a great deal, and rarely lets things go to waste. She has always reused last year's Christmas cards as gift tags for the following year.

This year she gave out thank you notes from her and the kids using the old cards.  She just cut off the portion that had writing on it and wrote on the back as you would a post card.  I thought this was a fantastic use of resources.

I did a little searching online and found this Better Homes and Gardens article that has some wonderfully creative ways to use those cards that are about to head to the recycling bin. If you are seriously constrained by budget, use these tips next Christmas, or as Debbie did, say thank you with this easy money saving project!

I think you could make some beautiful letter banners with old cards too!

Monday, January 5, 2015

12 in 2015

See ya, 2014!
Another year has come and gone. Christmas brought much needed re-connection with family. In a few shorts months it will be spring again. Life will be brought back from the seemingly dormant earth. It's a time to leave behind was not meant for us and move into the beautiful possibilities that are available to us.

I don't do New Year's resolutions - it is too reminiscent of punishment or some sense of unworthiness to me. I liken the feeling to that I had in confession as a child - the focus on how "bad" we are does not inspire change, but rather sets us up for failure. 

This year I will be doing something different. I will be choosing 12 experiences I'd like to have. It's so easy for me to get caught up in the "shoulds" of life. As a single parent I tend to focus more on responsibility rather than fun. We get to create so much of our lives - and most of us have an abundant supply of choices even within certain restrictions (whether they be financial, physical or emotional). So this year, I will be making a list of things I'd like to add to my human experience.  Some are small and easily accomplished. Others will require slightly more effort.  All are intended to create memories, celebrate, connect or simply to enjoy.

My list of 12 "Things," in no particularly order, for 2015:

  • Ride a horse.

  • Visit the Olympus Day Spa, also known as naked town (no, no it's not).

  • Follow an actual sewing pattern.

  • Take my daughter to the Oregon Coast.

  • Host a random White Elephant party.

  • Host a charity curry night to raise funds for a yet named charity.

  • Establish a neighborhood Food Program where spring and summer garden abundance is delivered to the food bank weekly.

  • Read the Marilyn Monroe Biography I've had on my list for years. It's not higher learning, but her life is fascinating.  Most of the books I read tend to be learning oriented, so something just for pleasure needs to happen!

  • Host a sushi night.

  • Sign up for a pottery class.

  • Sign up for a belly dance or tap class, or some other movement class sure to make me look a fool.

  • Wild card! That's right, I'm open to suggestions!

Some of these may not seem like the most frugal activities, but frugality as I see it, is not about deprivation, but rather putting your money where it gives you the the most value.  Money is meant to provide necessities, yes, but quality and value with vary from person to person.  Focusing on experiences, rather than stuff is my goal.  It is so easy to put your mental energy towards "getting the best deal" and while that certainly CAN be a part of the frugal and simple life, it can also play into consumerism in a big way. 

Who's with me for the 12 in 2015? Please share in the comments some of your 12!

Monday, September 15, 2014

A Week in the Life in Photos

This week I got to exercise my domestic muscles which I love.
Lots of time in the kitchen and a little bit of time in the garden.  The garden is slowing down quickly, but I managed to harvest this yesterday.  Not bad, eh?

Tomatoes, cukes, purple beans and kale.
The strawberries are still producing, and I can't wait to get them a patch of their own next year.

I ate my Spanish Tortilla everyday last week for breakfast, and my body loved all that protein.  I really feel like it kept my energy level constant throughout the day.  All my lunches were leftovers, which is excellent news for my savings account.

The cilantro in the garden has had it (it didn't do too well this year), but it did give us lots of seeds!  I plucked those and I think I will save some to plant and use some for spice (dried coriander is from cilantro seeds).

Not the best photo, but food really is to eat, not to photograph, right? *says no blogger ever*  Peanut butter, chocolate, almond and maple syrup granola. It was supposed to be for the kiddo, as oats do a number on me.  But guess who ate most of it? Sigh. 

My commitment to no more food waste inspired a little baked apple dessert that Little Girl loved. None was left for me, but I didn't need it anyway.  Speaking of, do your kids have huge appetites?  My kid can eat grown men under the table and she is skinny as a rail!

I tried my hand at gluten free Irish Soda Bread for the first time.  This will be my go to bread from now on.  My girl loves it, as do I.  Much fewer ingredients and heartier than the Udi's I've been buying for years. The only problem is, it tastes so good, it gets eaten up far too quickly. 

My sister who also loves to feed people and enjoys the simple pleasures in life planned a picnic for the three of us before her trip to Mexico for the next 3 weeks.  The food was delicious, and the view second to none. 

There is nowhere more beautiful than Seattle on a sunny day.
Another experiment in the kitchen led to some white bean patties.  Little Girl ate them up like she would never have chance to eat them again.  Served with salad and a bit of olive tapenade on top.

On Saturday night my niece and nephew spent the night.  They are both adorable little characters with a lot of personality.  They are more like siblings to my daughter than cousins.  That means more fights, but more love too. 
My niece wearing the cat mask my daughter made last year.
The two older ones repaid their lack of sleep with breakfast in bed for me.

Toast with about 4 tablespoons of butter, berries, juice from a juice box and a tangerine.

Sunday dinner was pork chops, green beans, salad, soup, soda bread and raspberry pie for loved ones.  If you've never heard me mention it, I have some of the loveliest friends in the world.  And several of them live just a few houses away.

After all the cooking and cleaning this week I felt a bit like a sleepy kitty cat in the evenings.  As someone who used to be chronically fatigued from illness, this sort of tired makes me feel truly, truly lucky.

Photo of our baby Charlie, courtesy of Little Girl. 

Waste not Want Not: A look Into My No Food Waste Commitment, Week 1

As explained here, I've made a public declaration to not waste any more food.  I feel the food I've been wasting is one of the shoddier parts of affluence.  How can I possibly throw anymore food in the garbage when there are people going hungry?  It's something I just can't stomach any longer. 

The benefits of the No Food Waste Commitment:


I've come up with some inspired dishes as of late.  As a creative person, this really feeds that corner of my brain the same way poetry or art does. But you get to eat it.  'Nuff said. 

*Money Saving

This doesn't need much explanation.  The organic broccoli I tossed out (on two separate occasions mind you) because I didn't get to it in time,  $4 each.  I certainly wouldn't toss four dollar bills in the compost, would you?

*Mindfullness (both a side effect and an important element of  doing this successfully).  

You must take stock EVERY DAY.  Being mindful and in the moment is a great way to relieve stress and feel grateful.  

*No guilt from food waste 

(Who am I kidding, I went to 13 years of Catholic school LESS guilt from food waste).

Yep, that's an abandoned breakfast apple my daughter left in the back seat of the car.  And yep, I ate it after work.


There's little question that to do this sort of thing out of anything but necessity means you have it good in the food department.  Being aware has a wonderful effect on my sense of gratitude. And gratitude = happiness. 

But, as with any sort of behavior change, there have been some unexpected challenges:

* Eating when not necessarily hungry so something doesn't go bad.  "Oh, I'm not hungry but there are two grapes left I should eat them."

* More cooking time and more mess.  To be honest, I really don't mind this part.  Because if I'm having fun creating anything, the result is usually time consuming and messy.  I'm ok with that. Most of the time.  Although cleaning my kitchen 6 times this weekend was a bit much...

A few recipes born from this commitment:

Scrappy Soup:

Zuchini guts and seeds, a few carrots, several tomatoes a day away from becoming compost, half an onion, garam masala spice (I think that's what's in that container!), a spoon full of leftover butter, a dash of olive oil, kosher salt, a dash of red pepper flakes, a gnarly looking piece of ginger, a dash of cumin. Everything finely chopped and simmered for half an hour.  The flavors and taste of freshness were divine!  The third time I made it I even threw in half of a green apple that needed using up.

The start of "Scrappy Soup"

This is delish with a little yogurt with honey and lime or coconut milk swirled on top. If I had cilantro I would have plopped some of that on top.  Add a side of gluten free soda bread, and you have a delicious meal. 

It's not the prettiest thing you'll ever eat, but it's freaking delicious.

I made this soup 3 times this week and everyone (I experimented on 8 people) except my daughter and my guy liked it. You've got to be a fan of the spices to truly appreciate this soup.  Tastes extra good when served in a pretty vintage dish given to you by your sister-in-law. 

Tangerines with citrus, kefir and honey dressing:

I had a tiny bit of kefir left in the bottle (mainly clinging to the sides).  Normally I would have thrown it own by now, but with my new found commitment I refused. I warmed up some honey, added it to the kefir and shook up the bottle.  I took some past prime tangerines and peeled and sliced them and drizzled on top.  Little girl suggested adding a squeeze of lemon to it - and boy was she right.  The only thing to have made it more perfect was a chopped mint leaf or two. She loved it so much she declared my favorite words after eating an at home creation, "Mom, you should open a restaurant."

Tangy and Sweet Lemon, Apple and Plum Kefir Rice Pudding

A flopped batch of lemon rice (too much water so it got gummy) turned into the inspiration for this treat.  I added kefir, a couple of plums, a green apple sliced up, some turbinado sugar and cinnamon.  The result is out of this world. And nephew Liam approved.

Some things I've found helpful so far:

1) Taking stock of the fridge every single day and planning around that.

By taking stock I was able to use up a bag of raspberries given to me by a coworker recently.  She grows the BEST raspberries. They were slightly freezer burnt because they were last year's harvest, but I cooked the bejeezus out of them with orange simple syrup from the last time I made Orangettes.  I had 2 pie crusts in the freezer from the last time I thought I was going to make pie (months ago).  The result was fantastic and I served it with a cheesecake inspired topping (cream cheese and powdered sugar).

Raspberry Pie!

Leftover gluten free bagels that my daughter no longer likes (sheesh, kids) became mini pizzas for my niece and nephew. 

Sadly, when taking stock this weekend I found 2 packages of sausage in the freezer from 2012 that were no longer good.  In addition, four pieces of moldy bread went in the trash along with a way too old jar of pickled asparagus.  I'm confident that as I go along if I stay on top of this this these wasteful moments will occur less. 

2) Use-up the food that is on it's way out first.  Sweet stuff can be tossed together in the freezer and used a few days later in rice pudding or some other concoction.  Veggies can be put in a plastic bag and used in scrappy soup when you have a few extra moments on the weekend.  Any leftovers become lunch, eaten in the order of how quickly it will go bad.

3) Feed people.  To be honest, I love feeding people.  I'm of the schmarmy sort who thinks you can taste the love in food. Share your extras with friends and family. Much better to see your labor enjoyed by those you love than to see it in the trash. 

What I hope to accomplish in all of this is simple: Stop wasting food, stop overbuying, get my food budget down so I can put more in savings and give some of the difference to food banks. 

Do you have any tips to share to successfully eliminate food waste?  Please share in the comments!

Friday, September 12, 2014

The BEST Way to Get Rid of Fruit Flies

It's plum and tomato season at my place.  Which means it's also fruit fly season.

These nasty buggers multiply faster than gremlins, and the time to take care of it is when you see the first fruit fly (but who ever actually does that?). 

All you need is a glass or jar, a large piece of paper, and some bait (i.e. Something sweet to attract them.  I used a bit of fruit, but vinegar or wine will do the trick).

Make your paper into a cone shape above the bait and watch those dummies fly around unable to get out.

Me -1, fruit flies-0
Make sure to dispose of outside so you don't let any of the buggers loose.  Feel proud you outsmarted hundreds of invertebrates. 

Thursday, September 11, 2014

How a $0.62 Jar of Classico Spaghetti Sauce Cost me $3,000.00.

It was a fantastic deal. With the promo going on at QFC and the printable coupons, each shiny jar of Classico pasta sauce was $0.62 a piece.  I couldn't make sauce for that.  

I spent a portion of my days blissfully googling recipes I could make beyond the standard fare of gluten free spaghetti and sauce...Minestrone! That's where I would start first.  Oh how I looked forward getting my hands on the little beauties.  They would fill out the pantry so pleasantly.  And the meals I could make for friends... oh, I was drunk off the deal as you can see.  It happens from time to time.

I gleefully told friends and family that like to save exactly how and when to make this dream, er, this deal, a reality. My sister Rose was JUST as excited as I was and passed it along to her friends.  Here I was, saving the world one jar of Classico at a time! Cough cough. 

I went to the store and collected the sauce. Four jars it would take to make the deal happen, but I decided on eight. I felt a momentary pang of something.  Selfishness?  Worries I was becoming a hoarder? Maybe, but I don't even think it was quite that.  I just wondered if I really needed to be doing what I was doing, and for some bizarre reason, if it was right.  Who thinks about if it's the right thing to do to buy 8 jars of pasta sauce?  <points thumbs enthusiastically at chest> THIS GIRL!

Despite the bizarre hesitation I bought the jars and brought them home.  The canvas bag which held them was quite heavy, and so there they would sit in my kitchen until I brought them downstairs to put away in the basement food cubby. 

They sat in the corner of the kitchen for days until a rainy Sunday afternoon in April when, while watching "The Blind Side" in what can be described only as "I've given up" pajamas and with pure disgust realized it was 11 am and I'd done absolutely nothing productive so far that day (pre-child days I would have never felt bad for such a thing). I paused the movie, and in a fit of slight discomfort went to put on a pair of fuzzy pink socks that my mom let me "borrow" only to never be in possession of them again.

With my toes properly cared for in fuzzy magenta socks I set out to do the bare minimum of guilt assuaging cleanup: I was going to put away the jars of sauce.

I hoisted the bag on my shoulder (it was heavy and awkward), opened the door to the basement, successfully navigated two entire stairs (Go me!), then slipped on my fuzzy magenta socks and saw my life flash before my eyes as I taboganed down the incline. About midway down the steps the jars crashed together and as my hand instinctively reached down to grip something, it landed with force on an open jar of discount black olive and mushroom.. 

Within seconds it looked like a very violent Al Pacino movie;  Blood and sauce and glass EVERYWHERE.  I didn't really feel pain, but knew I was hurt and bad and said as much repeatedly, out loud: "I'm hurt. Bad."

I called my mom because what else is a single 34 year old woman to do in a matter like this? She told me to call 911 and when I refused she told be she'd be over as soon as she could and to wrap up my hand.  

I could feel the adrenaline rushing through my body (thank you sweet adrenaline for helping me feel no pain) and knew I needed to sit outside before I passed out.  I had managed to not shed a single tear at this point (stop laughing everyone that knows me), that is, until my sweet neighbor driving my with her two kids knew something was amiss (not the fact that I looked like something dragged out of the drain - they see that frequently) and hopped out of the car to check on me. 

Being the badass woman she is, this neighbor who I shall refer to as H, took care of business by grabbing up the kids, taking me back inside, and cleaning up the blood I had trailed around my living room.  To commiserate with my pain, her kids told me stories about injuries they had heard about, and not to be outdone, the not quite four year old told me a story that he was clearly not supposed to have hear about the man who had recently tried to remove his "business." This brought some necessary levity to the situation. 

It only took ten minutes for my mom and dad to arrive which is quite the feat considering they are usually very cautious (read: slow) drivers and it typically takes no less than 15 minutes to get to my place (*favorite child).  I sat teary in the back of the car (why do I cry when people are concerned about me?) and in about thirty minutes I was in a room at the ER laughing about the hilariousness of it all including asking myself the big questions: why is it that every single time I go to the ER I'm not wearing a bra?

I sat confidently on the hospital bed thinking the worst was over (no, no it wasn't) until the Dr. who was ridiculously nice and good looking, told me the next thing he was going to do was going to hurt. Bad.  Thinking I am far tougher than I am I scoffed at his claim and proceeded to sob violently as he injected lidocaine about 30 times deep into the laceration.  After the cleaning and the X-rays and the stitches the the prescription for pain pills I was good to go. 

Several months later I received what I hope will be my final bill of $3,000.00 (that's with insurance). I'm not sure what hurt more, the lidocaine, or handing over my debit card. 

Thank god for savings. 

My bloody hand on a giant diaper.  You should all me thanking me for not showing you the injury. 

*Siblings reading this: that was for comic effect.  I don't think I'm the favorite child (**but I am)

**read above

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

I Will Not Waste Another Damn Piece of Food

Even during my lean times, when I didn't have money for new clothes or books, when I bought all my daughter and my clothes and shoes and gifts at garage sales. When I couponed like crazy and washed my hair with baking soda. When I made nearly everything by scratch (which seems like a dream now...never discount the luxury of time), I never went hungry.  My daughter never went hungry.  We always had enough.

I could pay the rent and the heating bill, and while it was a small budget for food, we made do. We always had enough. Enough.  Enough. Enough.  Saying it a few times and even the word itself sounds full. 

If ever there came a time when money was too tight, I could always borrow money or food from my family if it came to that.  I was lucky it didn't.  There was always enough. Now I was resourceful, I'll give you that.  I knew how to budget, the basics of cooking, and I didn't have champagne tastes (or if I did I could handle not having my heart's desire).  I had enough money to build a good pantry for cooking staples.  I watched every penny because if I didn't spend them wisely, there wouldn't be enough.  

I was raising a child on less than $20,000/year for a time in a high cost of living area and do you know how lucky I was to have the resources of a supportive family and friends, the ability to cook and to budget, and if I had ever felt I had needed them, the ability to contact a social service agency? I had safety nets. Plural.  I had enough. 

I wasn't a moocher.  I wasn't afraid of work.  I was a single mother with a small child trying to make the best decisions for my kid. I couldn't have afforded full time day care and living in an apartment.  I was able to get a low paying job as a nanny and bring my daughter to work with me.  That along with child support covered our needs. 

Now I'm more comfortable financially. Not rich, not even close, but comfortable.  Continually adding to my savings is of paramount importance.  I'ts another important safety net that I have had to use, and even live off of at times. Thank god for that.

I've been reading a lot more about hunger and food politics lately.  Those topics that are easy to slip by when you have enough. The punishment of the poor.  The hardworking poor who are no better or worse as people, just people like me doing there best to get by - often in worse circumstances than I ever was. There are people going hungry in this world.  Not just in underdeveloped countries far away, but in cities like mine. 

Every broccoli crown I've tossed in the trash, every lonely apricot that's rolled to the back of the fridge until it's unrecognizable...It makes me sick to think about the amount of food I've wasted.  Not only because it's like ripping up money and throwing it into the toilet, but I feel it's a slap in the face to every person who went to bed hungry last night.

I've had enough.  I will not waste another damn piece of food if I can help it. 

This week's no-waste fare so far: 

Overripe plums became a delicious base for Moroccan chicken and vegetables.

Not quite right lemon rice became sweet kefir lemon and apricot rice pudding. 

Roasted potatoes that needed eating went into a Spanish Tortilla.