Archive for September, 2012

Friday Food: A Weekend Trip

This past weekend Jason and I attended the Mother Earth News Conference in Seven Springs, PA, about an hour away from our home. I’ll write up a recap soon because it was a great place to learn how to do and make just about anything you can think of that revolves around food, livestock. gardening, home, or energy.

But for now, I’ll tell you how we frugally prepare for a weekend trip.

Even though our lodging was free, we didn’t have much to spend on food. That whole renovation thing is looming, along with a family wedding in San Francisco in a few weeks.

On our first weekend alone in 4 years and 8 months (but who’s counting?), neither of us wanted to spend time cooking. But eating out is expensive, and we don’t like much fast food.

Before our trip, I went to Trader Joe’s. That’s the secret, right there. Of course, you could go to any grocery store, but that’s just what I was nearby when it occurred to me that we should pack a few meals rather than eating out the whole weekend. I really did put exactly that much thought into it.

I bought a roasted vegetable frozen pizza, toaster waffles, fruit and vegetables that traveled well, and fruit and vegetables for juicing (of course I took the juicer!). I also packed up most of the fruit we had in the fridge. Let me stop here and say that we don’t usually eat toaster waffles or frozen pizza, preferring whole foods, but there is a reason these things are made. They taste fine, they are convenient, and are much less expensive than eating out!

I have a sturdy box that I keep in our storage “area” (read: shelf) and use that to pack food and the juicer to take to my mom’s when I visit. With that and one of our small, soft coolers, I packed quite a bit of food. We also took coffee, creamer, sugar, already assembled peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and some cookies. And some wine.

For both breakfasts we had toaster waffles, asian pear, clementines, fresh green juice, and coffee. Lunch on Saturday consisted of pb&j sandwiches, carrots and apples eaten on the fly during and between sessions. Saturday evening we found an inexpensive restaurant and treated ourselves by taking two pieces of cake back to the condo. Sunday we bought both an early lunch and late lunch (both small meals) at the conference, managing to snag the very last drops of chili from an amazing vegan mobile food vendor.

A vendor who is locally-based but for whom I can find no contact info on the web! Ranita’s. Anyone know it?


Do you pack any food when you travel?



Renovation Update Week 7

Jason sanding drywall mud

This picture still makes me laugh.

The House

Other than finishing the drywall mud in the bathroom (Jason) and the cleaning in the laundry room (me), we took much of the last week off.

We did make our punch list, somewhat in order of priority, that we hope to accomplish during the contractor’s hiatus over the next couple of months. Anything with an asterisk will be mostly or entirely hired out. Here you go…

Laundry Room

  • Clean
  • Move things back in

Move radiator lines

  • Move living room radiator
  • Move 2nd floor bedroom pipes

Allegheny Millwork-Andy

  • Call with measurements for estimates
  • Order stairs


  • Finish mud
  • Prime (Christi)
  • Install door
  • Bathtub surround
  • Vent/fan
  • Paint vanity (Christi)
  • Install vanity
  • Medicine cabinet
  • Lights & outlets
  • Trim
  • Paint trim (Christi)
  • Paint (Christi)
  • Clean fixtures & floor (Christi)

2nd floor bathroom

  • Plan
  • Build separation wall in kitchen

Donate old doors and windows


  • Living Room
  • Dining Room
  • Blocking


  • Make plan
  • Plan reviewed by electrician
  • Install Boxes
  • Run wires


OSB Walls


The Money

No money spent! I suspect this will be the last week that happens for a long time!

The Kids

Nothing new to report.

The Lovebirds

First weekend away from our kids where one of us isn’t in a hospital. Enough said.

Foodie Friday: Cooking Once A Week

Crockpot on low

This week we had one doctor’s appointment each day, several volunteer obligations, and some friends to see as well. The week culminates today in us leaving the kids with Jason’s aunt & uncle so that we can have our first weekend away (that doesn’t involve a general anesthesia) since having them. Woohoo!

(You know we’re probably going to play Scrabble and be asleep by 10pm, right?)

We’re attending the Mother Earth News Conference, which I’m pretty excited about. They offer tons of sessions about everything from solar panel installation to my favorite, worm bins!

This means that I wanted to spend almost no time cooking this week, but still keep our foods up to my standards. So I cooked on Sunday.

Granted, much of our food for the week was already prepared in the deep freeze and unearthed in last Saturday’s freezer move. But here’s what I found in the freezer, and here’s what I cooked on Sunday:

Freezer Meals:

  • Blueberry Oatcakes
  • Pumpkin Prune Oatmeal
  • Organic Hot Dogs (part of our Aunt & Uncle’s freezer clean-out a few weeks ago)
  • One-Pot Spaghetti
  • Joy’s Cincinnatti Lentil Chili
  • Rice
  • Broccoli Cheddar Soup
  • Mushroom Barley Soup

Cooked Today:

  • Carol’s Granola x2
  • Papa John’s Crockpot Roast Beef
  • Red Lentils (made to taste and be used like mashed potatoes–delicious!)
  • Braised Baby Bok Choy (we ate all of this at dinner & loved it)
  • Barbeque Chicken Crockpot Packet (I couldn’t find this recipe on the site, but I know it’s available in this e-book–that was offered free when I signed up emails)

So I had two crockpots going from early in the morning, and then while I was making the lentils and bok choy for dinner, I made and baked the granola. Dessert Sunday night was spoonfuls of hot granola–yum!

I am preparing for a bulk cooking morning with a friend next week by trying to eat up odds and ends in our freezer, which will hopefully make room for the new meals. The things I cooked or thawed today will cover us for most breakfasts and dinners this week!


How do you prepare for a busy week?

Spending Triage

J asleep in his snowsuit, which we affectionately nicknamed “The Coma Suit” for its ability  to get him to fall asleep. Probably about 19 months old.

There’s a lot to balance right now, and I let the money slide.

In February, Jason and I overhauled our budget to maximize the amount of money going toward our renovation each month. Suddenly, there are many unexpected expenses cropping up that are needs. These expenses will be ongoing for a couple of months at least. We can’t put the entire renovation on hold, nor can we put on hold the doctors appointments, birthdays, or weddings. And although not financially smart, I downright refuse to put our first weekend away from our kids on hold. That’s a need, right there.

With more sudden ongoing expenses, and me not taking the time to find room in our budget (i.e. spend less in other categories or save less) for the last month or two, we have a small problem.

It’s time to perform Spending Triage.

Spending Triage happens when I realize that we are on the threshold of spending a large amount of money that needs to be spent, but that we weren’t able (or didn’t think) to predict.

Spending Triage is the process of separating wants from needs. Jason and I sit down together and look for places we can cut back. The “gifts” category is one that immediately jumps to mind. If this year needs to be all homemade cards, ornaments, and baked goods instead of our usual calendars, prints, and other gifts, our families and friends aren’t going to love us even slightly less.

Personally, I’m grateful that we need to do this. Sure, having lots of extra money pour into our laps would be super easy and some stress would melt away. But life isn’t always going to be like this, and it’s good to know how to cut back and even save in tight times.

Spending Triage is the process of holding one expense up to another and deciding which is more important.

I’m grateful that we had the forethought to take out a Home Equity Line of Credit, so that we don’t need to put the renovation on hold. I’m grateful for awesome friends who don’t mind hanging out at our home for a potluck. And I’m grateful for all the times before now when we had to hitch up our suspenders and really pinch every penny, because those times make this feel like a walk in park.

It just so happens that this is about the time when we do a big yearly review, so hopefully we’ll be able to do that and a little triage in one fell swoop very soon.

I’m actually looking forward to it: Jason and I always have such great conversations when we are working together to fix a problem. Even though he hates money.

Hmmm…why DOES he hate money?


How do you know if your spending is going crazy? And do you consciously reign it back in?

How To: Mop the Floor With Kids

How to mop the kitchen floor with kids

P and J having a really good time. This was taken right after I put the bowls down, so they hadn’t yet had time to drech themselves completely.

I’ve mentioned we’re a little busy right now. In a few weeks, things will calm down a bit. Mostly though, this pace will stick with us for the foreseeable future, and I’m working to adjust to it. In order to make room for a few things, I had to make a conscious decision earlier this year to let go of a few things, and cleaning is one of them. Daily cooking is another–you can read about that one on Friday.

I’m not saying I’m going to let that piece of cheese rot on the floor for the next year. Only that I’ve relaxed my standards. I used to like to mop at least every two weeks. Our kitchen is small and we have two young kids (and added a few thousand worms to it recently). Two days after mopping it, it is visibly dirty again.

Mopping is a task that isn’t easy to do in a tight space with two little kids underfoot. Historically, I would put them down for a nap, vacuum and then mop, and have about half an hour before they woke up. Now, I use every minute of nap time either writing, doing volunteer work, or keeping up with friends and family.

I can’t remember why I was desperate, but something happened on the kitchen floor in the middle of a crazy few days this spring, and I didn’t have time to mop.

Then it hit me–a housekeeping hack! Why not let the kids help me mop the floor? 

Here’s how you can have your own anklebiters helping you mop the floor in no time:

Step 1: Gather bath towels and a full change of clothes (including diaper) for each child and place in the room adjacent to your kitchen.

Step 2: Gather various sizes of cups, pans, bowls, spoons, and rag-towels. Rag-towels (n): Hand and bath towels no longer fit for post-bathing, but good for cleaning up messes.

Step 3: Fill the larger bowls & pans with warm, soapy water. I use a few drops each of castile and dish soap.

Step 4: Put the pans & bowls of water in the middle of the kitchen floor. Give the kids the spoons and cups, and they will typically sit or kneel down to the level of the bowls & pans. *Put lots of rag-towels around them. You can either join in at this point or sit at your kitchen table, sipping a hot cup of tea, congratulating yourself on your brilliance while you occasionally throw another rag-towel into the melee.

*In our house, our kitchen floor slopes so much that I only need to put towels on one side of them.

Step 5: When the kids are finished, dump all of the containers of water into a bucket and ask them to help you scrub the floors with the rag-towels, which are conveniently already wet and soapy (you’ll probably need to wring them out a bit). They won’t do a great job but, hey, they’re learning!

Step 6: Get a sponge or mop or whatever and use the last of the water to mop! Our kitchen is small with lots of corners and nooks, so I always just use a sponge on my hands and knees with the kids.

Step 7: When the kids can’t clean any more, the towels and clothes are ready for them in the next room.

Please note that if you have flooring that you love, flooring that isn’t waterproof, or flooring that was made after 1990, this probably isn’t how you should clean your floors.

There you have it: A way to make a not-so-fun task fun AND kid-friendly during times of crazy schedules. And if you join in, you just turned mopping the floor into a quality time activity!


Have any great housekeeping “hacks” you can share with me? I’m always looking for more!

Renovation Update Week 6

Drywall dust mitigation

Jason cleaning up drywall dust in between coats of mud.

The House

We’ve enjoyed showing off our fledgling renovation project to our friends and family over the last week. It’s such a stark contrast to the crammed-full-of-junk rooms that the first floor used to be.

This weekend we were on the receiving end of the Homeowner’s Co-op, so there was an extra set of hands (and another strong back!). Jason and his friend worked in the basement laundry room (not actually a laundry room, but a large room with the laundry area in one corner). They fastened wires and pipes to the new floor joists above and cleaned a little, while I cleaned off one of the workbenches in the middle room and then sanded the drywall mud in the basement bathroom. It was a very, very dirty day. This, after showering and looking all nice a few hours before for our family photo swap.

Basement Laundry Room looking to workshop

Basement “laundry room” that will be mostly storage when I finish cleaning it. this view is looking from the back door into the workshop.

Then I emptied out the upright freezer that’s been living in our kitchen for the last three months and the guys carried it downstairs. Boy, was I glad not to have that job again! The going up two flights of winding stairs left my back sore for days. As a bonus, taking everything out and then putting it back in allowed me to quickly organize the freezer.

Basement laundry room

Basement laundry room looking towards the back of the house.

The Money

We’ve spent a little over $8 on 2x4s this week (giftcards covered the rest), so no significant spending right now. I’m guessing over the next three or four weeks, we won’t spend much.

The Kids

Nothing new to report.

The Lovebirds

I realized this afternoon that I’ve had to remind Jason (twice in the last 24 hours) of the next items on our punch list that we recently talked over.  Unfortunately, there’s a lot to accomplish and an order in which we need to work on our projects during the contractor’s hiatus. I think he and I should sit down and put our plan for this time in writing so we (I’m guilty, too!) don’t get distracted by some project thats more gratifying but less of a priority.

Buying Term Life Insurance, or, How We Quit Smoking

Photo by vwallac

What do smoking and term life insurance have to do with each other, aside from the obvious one-makes-the-other-more-expensive correlation? In my life, plenty.

In February of 2006, still newlyweds, we made our first appointment with our commission-based financial planner to go over our finances and areas of risk. The outcome of that meeting was that we signed up for term life insurance policies. Because we were in our mid-twenties and healthy, the policy had a very low cost to us, and I’m still glad we did it.

Our advisor looked at us when filling out the paperwork and asked, “Are you smokers?”

I didn’t miss a beat, answering, “Nope.”

Jason didn’t say a word. Of course, we were given a lower rate because we were non-smokers.

Here’s the part I’m ashamed of: I LIED. Definitely not one of my finer moments.

We were both smokers. I’m not sure when Jason started, but I’d been smoking regularly since my sophomore year of college.

What I didn’t realize was that, at the end of our appointment, our advisor explained that someone would make an appointment and come to our house to do blood and urine tests to confirm how darn healthy we were. He advised us to eat pretty healthily and to avoid alcohol the day before the tests. I started to panic.

Needless to say, we went home, fired up the internet, and spent a stressful evening trying to figure out how long nicotine and other chemicals from cigarettes remained in us.

The answer: 72 hours.

But it’s the internet, and we had lied, and there was money at stake. And we didn’t know when our testing appointment would be (turned out it was almost two weeks from that day). So that very night we smoked our last cigarettes.

I’d tried to quit many, many times before. Smoking is expensive, and I’d always had low-paying jobs with nothing left over at the end of a pay period. Not smoking would have freed up a lot of money (to me).

None of those times had stuck. My previous long-term boyfriend had smoked, and most of my friends smoked, as well as my mom and much of my family. This meant that most of my social and home situations involved cigarettes, and had for a very long time. My husband and I had developed rituals around smoking, both together and apart. The first cigarette of the morning with coffee, taking breaks from work or schoolwork to have a smoke, smoking in the car, while waiting for the bus, at a bar with friends. You get the idea.

This time, Jason quit with me.

Those first days were awful, with headaches, stomachaches, and so grumpy that we were really angry all day. We bickered, avoided as many social situations as we could, ate granola bars, nuts and carrots non-stop, and just tried to get through it.

I was definitely the weaker of the two of us, and almost gave in once that I can recall in that time before our testing appointment. Jason said something so powerful that it became our mantra:

“The nicotine is long gone–we’re only battling ourselves now. Do you really want to go through this hell ever again?”

We’d read online that after 72 hours you’re no longer battling the chemical withdrawal, you’re battling your own body’s addiction.

After our testing appointment was over, there are at least two or three times that I was ready to buy a pack of cigarettes, and I think I even had one that I begged from a friend. Each time, I reminded myself how hard it had been, how awful I had felt and how terrible EVERYTHING was for over a week. And I reminded myself that I didn’t want to go through it again, in a million years.

I also sat down and ran the numbers: Assuming $3.75/pack in 2006 and one pack/day, even though I smoked more than that very often, I was spending:

$26.25 each week

$105 each month

$1260 each year!

That’s still a lot of money to me. Remember that I often smoked up to two packs each day, so this could probably have half added again, for a total of $1890/year! And I can remember times I was eating beans for the 30th night in a row because I was broke, but could still buy cigarettes. This makes no sense to me now.

I should add in here that both of our term policies cost us a total of $48.24 each month. So the smoking I’m not doing smoking pays for both our policies AND we’re still saving money!

The moral of the story: I’m ashamed and sorry that I lied on that term life insurance application, but it helped us do something that I’m not sure we would have done on our own at that stage in our lives. Oh, and another upside? We’d never celebrated Valentine’s Day, but for the last six years we’ve celebrated our own special holiday on February 23, our Quit Smoking Anniversary.


Have you ever calculated the cost of your addiction? Maybe I should figure out what coffee was costing me when I was addicted to it!