31 October 2012

31 Days - The End

I am sorry I have been so absent lately, my friends. These last few days I have been feeling particularly and inexplicably exhausted. My routine hasn't changed, I didn't switch up my diet, I've still been drinking regular coffee, yet for these last few days, I've been napping when Abigail naps and still falling asleep on the rug on her floor while she plays. WebMD thinks its likely either a virus or multiple sclerosis. The verdict is still out.

In the meantime, I was flattered to be chosen as a guest blogger on an up-and-coming etiquette blog to discuss the etiquette of diction.

* * * * *
Today is the 31st day of the 31 Days Campaign. I tried to live frugally these last few weeks in hopes of saving money to pay off our law school debt faster.
I tried making bread, tortillas, crackers, soups, pudding, liquid hand soap and mixing in-season fruits and veggies I'd never heard of in dinner recipes.

I learned about freezing produce and homemade goods.
I decreased the amount of stuff I buy and became less resentful of using the resources we already have to creatively make something we couldn't otherwise afford.
I realized that I already had frugal-istic tendencies.
And I increased my awareness of how many other things I can make myself. The frugal living campaign ends today, so you can expect fewer posts centered around frugality in the future, but I really like making this a part of who I am, so the theme will still be present. Although unlike when we were in law school, this time the frugality is a choice.
Participating in an official campaign was a lot of fun. I enjoyed having a theme already in place each time I logged on to blog, I enjoyed the "New Year's Resolution" feeling of doing something new/kicking something old, and I enjoyed writing more. This is the 18th blog post in those 31 days, meaning that I blogged slightly more than every other day.
Happy Halloween, everyone! If we go trick-or-treating (I'm not sure if they do that sorta thing on our block), Abigail will be going as a butterfly. The costume (much of which comes from her birthday party in May) will work very well around her pink peacoat, keeping her warm on this chilly evening. Anyway, if we go, I'll be sure to take pictures : )

28 October 2012

Bar Results and Frgual Living

Weekends at our house are way fun now that law school is over because we can do whatever we want. We can spend half the day in our pajamas, we can play games or watch movies or go for walks. That last one is what we decided to do when Matt became intrigued by my walk-to-the-cemetery idea. We mapped out a new route, one with sidewalks the entire way, bundled up, and headed out.

The huge Catholic cemetery is primarily made up of Irish graves from the 1800s, but we did see a few 1700s and a section of newer (since the 1970s) graves. The older graves usually indicated what Irish county the deceased was born in. It was pretty wild to stand in front of the grave of someone who was born in Ireland, immigrated to Chicago, Illinois, and had been buried right in this very spot for over 100 years. What was Chicago like in 1888? When he left Ireland, did he imagine that he'd come to Chicago to live and die? Did he imagine that's where his body would lay until it turned to dust beneath the green grass? I think it is so wild to think about because each grave is a true story. And there is no getting around that we'll one day have forgotten graves in a large field between train tracks and a lake.

On a less serious note, I had thankfully thought to put a roast in the oven before we left, so we arrived home greeted by roasting, tender meat.

And a little something else was waiting for us when we got home as well. A 3-week early envelope from the State Board of Law Examiners. In explanation, the results of the bar exam.

Although examinees do get a numerical score, the exam is really pass/fail. Matt passed. It isn't really a shocker because he did so well in law school, but it is still an exciting moment to hold the piece of paper in your hand as extrinsic, tangible proof that the sacrifices are paying off. The next step involves a stack of paperwork and being sworn in before a real-live judge (good thing he interned for 3 of 'em). Since Matt took the Michigan bar, he has to be sworn in in Michigan, so we're tossing around the idea of doing it when we go back for Thanksgiving. Then maybe we'll have a swearing in party or something.

I'm going to take just a quick moment to answer some technical questions. If Matt gets a job out-of-state, he will probably have to take that state's bar exam in order to practice there. Lots of states have reciprocity, but they usually require a few years of experience in addition to bar passage. He doesn't have to take the Illinois bar for the job he has right now because he's technically an assistant to the General Council for a company, which means the GC's name is really the one on the bottom of the page.

Anyway, so where does one go on a Saturday night on the north side of Chicago to celebrate bar passage? There are lots of great answers, but only one right answer.

The Cheesecake Factory for coffee and cheesecake. That's Matt's extreme Oreo and coffee with cream on the left, and my chocolate raspberry and mocha on the right. Abigail helped us with our whipped cream. She also refused to sit still for a photo in the dim light.

And one of the best parts of the evening was getting home at 9pm and finding someone just leaving her wonderful parking space right in front of our building. Woot!
* * * * *

 I am participating in a 31 Days Campaign and have decided to try my hand at 31 Days of Frugal Living.

Homemade soap
I finally got around to making homemade liquid hand soap late last week. The recipe was simply: grate a bar of soap, heat with water on stove. Let cool. Voila!

In actuality, it wasn't that simple. After it cooled, my liquid hand soap was a solid. So I heated again, added more water, and let cool. I repeated this step about three times before I finally gave up and just poured it, before it cooled, into the soap dispenser. It didn't congeal in the soap dispenser, remaining a good consistency, but I forgot to add a few drops of peppermint oil for good smells.

I think if I could get the water-to-soap ratio figured out so that it only took me one round to make it, it would be worth it. One bar of soap makes a lot of liquid hand soap. More than I have dispensers for. The other consideration is the lack of fragrance or moisturizers. I already had a few bars of everything-free soap laying around, but it really leaves my hands feeling dried out. If this cleared up with a higher quality soap, I could definitely see doing this regularly.

Rabbit hole discoveries including making my own bar soap to put in my own liquid soap (we don't use bar soap in bar soap form around here) and making my own body wash! Let me give you a brief background on our body wash situation to explain my excitement. I normally buy whatever is on sale (or store brand, depending on what's cheap) for sensitive skin, but in the winter and when I'm pregnant, I get eczema, which means I need to buy the expensive stuff. In addition, kids with Ds are more sensitive to things like eczema, so I'll need to buy her the expensive stuff too (nearly everything for babies is "the expensive stuff," so right now we just buy fragrance-free Aveeno). SOOO, making my own all-natural stuff sounds exciting to me.

Homemade vanilla pudding
I just did a generic Google search to find this recipe, which I liked because it's relatively healthy (ie, no heavy whipping cream) and the ingredients are something I'm likely to have on-hand (ie, no heavy whipping cream). It was easy and incredibly cheap too. I'd say it tasted about the same as store bought, just a slightly thinner consistency.
Even though it's cheaper homemade, store bought is easier and faster. Ready in 5 minutes instead of a few hours. I think I'll keep buying it, but if I ever need pudding and don't want to make a trip to the store, I won't hesitate to make homemade.

Homemade Holiday Tips 
When I started this adventure, I signed up for About.com's Frugal Living e-newsletter. I got the most recent issue last week, which recommended freezing dough for holiday cookies, bread, rolls, and pie crust now. You can check out the cookie article here, with links to the other things at the bottom of the article. Matt and I usually give food to gift-deserving acquaintances (co-workers, Abigail's therapists, the man-we'll-call-Vladimir-the-maintenance-man), so we made lists of all the people we need cookies for, the cookies we need for us, the cookies we'll take to parties. We picked out which ones we want to make from a cook book, and I'll spend the next few weekends making and freezing dough. It's brilliant! When I'm ready, I'll just defrost the dough, slice, and bake - just as if I'd bought it from a grocery store!

Okay, this post has taken far longer than I anticipated to write and I have to move on to other things without even having the chance to proof-read this post. I apologize - but have a good weekend!

26 October 2012

Halloween Walks

When I got up this morning and checked the weather, I fully expected to see what I saw a few days ago: cold and rainy with a chance of flurries overnight. But what I got was much better: Sunny! and cold and sunny and windy and sunny. So after Abigail's morning nap, I stuffed us full of grilled cheese and bundled up in warm coats. Abigail was smiley and happy, looking very charming in her pink wool peacoat, but once the camera appeared, the only look I got was her Mommy, are you serious? face.

I wanted to head somewhere new and exciting, so I made plans to visit a giant cemetery about one mile north. We've driven by the very old, very beautiful place before, and I thought it would be a good fit with Halloween around the corner. I was a bit nervous about venturing outside of my comfort zone, but I was just so bored with our old route to the beach and back. So when I hit construction just 1/2 mile into the walk, I determinedly plowed through. We rambled over gravel sidewalks, back-tracked a block or two when we hit construction equipment, whatever it took. Along the way, I stopped and snapped pictures of fall and Halloween-esque things.

 Then I saw this building and thought it might have a future in haunted housing.

Someone call a talent agency.

I made it to the very corner of the fenced cemetery before my sidewalk disappeared and was left with nothing but a busy road and an icey lake. So in the end, we had to turn around. I was about a block from the apartment when I realized that Abigail had fallen asleep in the stroller, so I headed east, back to our old standby.

All-in-all, I am glad we at least gave it a shot and I trekked 4.3 miles in 1.5 hours, a substantial walk. And I even made sure to pass the house to get you the shot that will make your Friday. Remember a few posts back when I mentioned the leopard-print house? Feast your eyes, my friend:

That place is no joke. I don't know about you guys, but this week felt like it really flew by for me. Happy Friday, everyone. More frugality stuff coming this weekend.

24 October 2012

Baby, I Mean Toddler, Pictures

Frugality Update: I don't have anything to report yet. I'm making liquid hand soap right now (Tuesday) but writing this post to appear tomorrow (Wednesday), so I can't tell you if it works out or not. Taco seasonings = mostly successful. I lessened the meat and upped the black beans, but I don't think the black beans absorbed the seasoning as well. The beans were canned and I have another frugality goal to (finally) learn how to cook with dried beans. I also jotted down a recipe for homemade vanilla pudding and homemade crackers, which I will try out later this week.

On to more exciting things. Like my life lately. While the rain took a brief hiatus over the weekend, for which I was grateful, it has otherwise been raining with a vengeance since Thursday 11 October. Wednesday (your today, my tomorrow) promises to be gorgeous. I'll believe it when I see it. My iconic big city alleyway:

Rain, rain, rain. So we're cooped up inside.

Disclaimer: my kitties are always cooped up inside because I don't believe in outside cats. But anyway.

A two day headache had me wishing I was doing this:

But instead I've been chasing this:

It is Abigail's mission to catch a kitty. She tempts them with toys and grilled cheese bites. Occasionally she wins and the kitties sorely regret it.

I've started putting toys and pacifiers just out of Abigail's reach to coax her to start walking.

But it usually just earns me this face:

Abigail's eating strategy involves shoving as many grilled bites as she can into her mouth at once, chewing them with her four teeth while making this face:

And before they are even down her throat, she bangs on her tray demanding more. She is so independent that Matt and I joke that she already thinks she's ready to move out. The therapists always give me a weird look when I reference the joke as she expresses her independence in therapy. I think they think I shouldn't think about her moving out. But sometimes I think of her more as a person and less as Down syndrome.

After lunch, we make a lot of this face:

Some of this face:

And occasionally this cute face:

Meanwhile, kitty sees a suspicious leaf fall:

She stands still as a stone statue for a solid two minutes before she goes all bad ass on that .... baby gate.

We went to this unbelievably amazing grocery store that seems totally like a farmers market. I plan to dedicate some serious blog space to singing its high praises. Above: mommy, baby, and daddy pumpkins.

Above: I took a clear picture and then made it blurry in photoshop to make it all artsy and stuff. It didn't really come out like I'd hoped, but oh well.

And then I post this picture because it will make my husband happy:

It took him months to pick out that diploma frame and the colored mats. We bought it with gift money he got at graduation. So if you gave him money as a grad present, this is what he spent it on.

And then I post this picture because I think it will make you happy:

And OMG, it even has real pockets.

Well, that is all I have for you today/tomorrow. And one day soon I promise to make good on my promise to have Matt blog.

23 October 2012

31 Days - A History

Growing up, I moved around a lot, but the house I spent the most time in, seven years, was a sizeable house in Canton, Michigan, a suburb in between Detroit and Ann Arbor. It was a classic pre-2007 home: two car garage, living room/parlor, family room/rec room, dining room, generous kitchen, decent backyard, four bedrooms, and two and a half baths. The master suite was gigantic. It was so big, in fact, that my parents built a huge walk-in closet and still had a huge bedroom. The second bedroom was also incredibly spacious. It was so big that, for a time, my sister and I comfortably shared it. But this bedroom had a door to the bathroom, and my sister, who was young enough at the time to need bathroom access in the middle of the night, got the enormous room while I was stuck with the tiny pink room the in back. But it wasn't long before my parents tore down the wall between the two tiny rooms, and we had three of the most gigantic bedrooms. I kid you not, my bedroom growing up was as big as a family room in most homes. I had two closets, two dressers, an armoire, a large desk, a bed, and the room still felt huge. I used to dream of turning my bedroom into an apartment, drawing up floorplans to section off part of it to be a "living room," which I sort-of did with my cousin's hand-me-down, neon purple, blow-up sofa. I would move two more times with my family, six more times by myself (counting moving around in college) and six more times with my husband, and no other room I had would ever come close to the gigantic room I had growing up. Each time I moved, I would imagine one day settling down in my own home, which I dreamed would have a spacious master suite, a library, a breakfast nook, a formal dining room, a colossal kitchen with two ovens, a walk-in pantry, a fitness room, sometimes even a theater/game room. When I moved to Florida and secured a job in real-estate marketing, I found myself touring multimillion dollar mansions. The gorgeous detail of the houses fulled my passion. From the Italian marble flooring to the Brazilian cherry coffered ceilings, I carefully noted my favorites so that I could imitate them in the house I swore I would one day own. I printed out and took home the floorplans of my favorite homes, modifying them to be my dream home. Bedrooms grew larger, library became libraries, and the theater/game room became two separate rooms.

But the more time I spent in the colossal mansions, the more I began to realize their flaws. Half the time, I worked with property managers instead of home owners. Property managers are people who make a living off coordinating landscapers and maids and Christmas decorators. People need to hire them to keep track of how many times a year the marble needs to be polished and close their homes up for the winter (or, in the case of Florida, the summer). Their homes are so big, they require staff. I realized that I would either need to be this staff for my own home, or I would need to pay the staff. The more bathrooms you have, the more bathrooms you have to clean. The more contractors you hire, the more bills you need to pay. Neither one sounds fun to me.

As I gradually became disillusioned, I also began to realize that I would probably never make enough money to afford one of those homes. Most lawyers are not millionaires and it takes millions to buy and care for those homes. We could either become house-poor or spend our lives working to make enough money to afford a house we couldn't enjoy. So I went careening in the other direction. I direction I found to be much more in keeping with the goals I had in my life.

I strive for minimalistic living. I don't keep elementary school awards and dance trophies. I don't have plane tickets and newspaper cutouts from exciting events in high school. I have two shoe boxes of memories: one is full of love letters from Matt, the other one with trinkets with which I didn't want to part. My favorite thing to design is actually business cards because I love trying to pare down the information to strictly what is necessary and making work beautifully in a tiny space. When I was a kid, I designed a camper that would fit in a truck bed - complete with fold-down tables and a hammock for a bed - so that moving wouldn't involve packing. So where did my love of mansions come from? I have no idea. But I think it was a phase, because after it passed, I never heard from it again.

I went the way of the tiny house movement.The average American home has more than doubled since the 1950s (cite), even as family size has shrunk. One man in particular is credited taking the tiny houses mainstream. I fell in love with his philosophy of having fewer, higher quality pieces in a smaller space. Plus a smaller house means less chores, less money on maintenance, and smaller bills. This translates to more time for hiking and kayaking and more money for traveling. I also love that when you have a smart space, it doesn't matter if it's a small space. I love having a kitchen small enough that I can reach anything in it in just a few steps. I do prefer galley kitchens and I have a floor plan sketched out of the perfect galley kitchen with a pantry at one end.

My husband, who spent high school in a bedroom so narrow that the head of the bed touched one wall and the foot of the bed the other, doesn't mind the idea of a small house, though he's not excited about the idea of a tiny house (usually defined as being less than 900-1000 sq ft). Luckily for him, even the largest tiny house on Tumbleweed's website is too small to fit 3-5 kids, so we'll probably have to stick with something slightly larger.

I haunt the TinyHouseBlog, Apartment Therapy (which has a really totally awesome annual competition for cool, small spaces, complete with floor plans!), and FreeCabinPorn for inspiration.

Additional bonus: small house living comes with the potential for off-the-grid living, which means less dependence and fewer bills!

So many things to love about the tiny house movement! Anyway, as I'm writing this, a nasty storm is blowing in, so I need to post this before my Internet and/or power goes out. I'll leave you with one final thought...in picture form:

22 October 2012

31 Days - Maximizing the kitchen

Matt has been applying for scores of jobs as of late, primarily judicial clerkships, for which he needs to apply now in order to get one for next summer. When he logs online and starts browsing openings, he'll shout out the locations for my approval.
"Is that a yes or no?"
As the weeks go by, my preferences get less and less imposing.
"It's only for a year, right?"
"I guess why don't you apply."
No offense, Atlanta, but scorching hot weather isn't my cup of tea.
Sometimes Matt comes up with something more exotic.
"Hell, yes!"
Moving 1300 miles south will probably look easy compared to moving to an island, where it is hot and humid to boot, but it would be an unbelievable opportunity.
Sometimes I'll hop online and price-point a few apartments, see if we could maybe rent a house next time, calculate how long the drive would be to visit family. I don't mention the interviews because I don't want to have to make a point of announcing when he doesn't get a job. But when he gets one, then we'll start celebrating.

* * * * *

I am participating in a 31 Days Campaign and have decided to try my hand at 31 Days of Frugal Living.

In the meantime, I've been living frugally, over here. I made a second batch of homemade bread the other day. I tweaked things a bit and this time the bread came out lighter and fluffier than it did the first time. I also found some more recipe cards in the Michael's clearance bin. This time I found three packs of cards for $.01 a piece. That's right, one penny for 18 recipe cards. Times three. I told Matt that it was the deal of the century, but he thought I was blowing things a bit out of proportion.

One of my next adventures in living frugally was to re-organize my kitchen. In my experience, whenever I move somewhere, I put all our things away in places I think they should go, but after a few months of living, I realize that was an incredibly inconvenient place to put the serving bowls, or winter blankets, or what-have-you, so I end up doing some re-organizing a few months later. Most of my apartment is fine, but the kitchen needed some work. It is a pretty small kitchen, a slightly-wider than typical, apartment style galley. In order to maximize my frugality, I need to have storage space for giant bags of flour, and I need to know what I have so I don't buy things we don't need.

I don't mind small as long as it is designed smartly, but this kitchen is not very smart. When standing in the doorway to the kitchen, this is the wall to the right:

Do you know those tiny cupboards you probably have above your fridge? They're up really high, containing two shelves so close together you can barely fit a jar on them? Those are my cabinets, but all the way across one wall. I can't really reach them without getting a step ladder, so I only put things on the very edge of the shelf:

I'll put identical items behind one another, but for the most part, I have a lot of lost space. As I've mentioned before, we are not putting any money into this place, including buying baskets or mini-shelves that would make this kitchen more useful, since we're only living here for one year. I've lived in enough places to know that what works in one home may not work in another, and I'm not willing to spend money on a place I'm only living in for one year. So I have to get creative.

Across from the doorway is the door to the stairwell that leads to the back alley and a large window. I keep the trashcan and the cat food beneath the window, but other than that, the back wall is not useful for much. This is a picture of the left side of the kitchen, although I took it with my back to the back door instead:

Normal cabinets (although the space between shelves is still very narrow), more counter-space, and one cheap dishwasher that has a vendetta against me having clean dishes. I was super stoked to have an official microwave cubbie, which frees up my counter space dramatically.

A shelf in the dining room is the only way I can store "tall" objects upright, including spaghetti, oatmeal, and canola oil:

As a pan of veggies and lentils was boiling on the stove this weekend (Abigail's diet, not mine), I broke out the step ladder and started reorganizing. I found a way to get the cereal in the kitchen, I finished off a thing of protein powder and filled it with beans so that I could stop spilling the opened bag in the cabinet. I re-filled the spices on my spice rack and tossed out some old jars. This is the method I use for spices that aren't on the spice rack or are used to fill up those jars:

An old shoe box holds them all nicely and makes it easier to grab one when their way up high.

I finished in about 40 minutes (the time it took the lentils to boil), which included washing a sink full of dishes. My kitchen is more efficient and, when I put it to the test last night making bread, easier to navigate.

Some of the things I've noticed after 22 days of frugal living include fewer trips to the grocery store and smaller bills at the check out. I can't wait to see what making my own crackers, pudding, and soups will do for my grocery bill. I am also freer in the kitchen. For example, if I want to make veggie calzones but don't have pizza dough, tacos but don't have tortillas, or french onion soup but doing have dipping bread, I just make it. I don't have to run to the grocery store at the last minute, I don't have to put it off for a few days until I go grocery shopping, I just make it. And one thing I wasn't expecting was to have less trash. Maybe because I have less packaging?

I think this journey helped me discover and nurture the inner miser I didn't know existed. I enjoy the challenge of making an inexpensive radiator cover or creating a bath caddy to hold Abigail's toys without buying a thing. I like that my desire to shop is dimming while my desire to pay off debt is growing. I like seeing the life I profess I want and the life I'm living grow closer and closer. It feels very amazing when I find myself willingly doing without something I used to think I couldn't live without.

I largely use this website for recipes and this website for recipes, household products, and to learn about things. The further down this rabbit hole I go, the deeper I see the tunnels going. Like making my own crackers. Or foaming hand soap. I never knew it was possible. I never stood in a grocery store before and wondered if I could do it myself. I could easily keep this 31 Days adventure going for an additional month and still have new ideas to try. Today I am going to attempt making my own liquid hand soap. And next month, I'm heading out to the hardware store to pick up some small pots, a bag of dirt, and a few seed packets: mint and oregano to start. So many new ideas; In fact, I haven't even really ventured into homemade cleaning products yet because I haven't run out of my store bought versions!

I think the last day of this campaign will be a photo-montage of frugal things I've tried in the last 31 Days.

19 October 2012


It's Friday. I'm in love.

It's been a really long short week and I'm glad that today is Friday and we have nothing on the calendar. Yesterday was a my hair smells like cheddar cheese and vomit kind of day, and the never ending rain means that Abigail and I haven't been able to go for a walk to get away from these four walls in over a week.

The promise of Friday is magical. I can spend the entire day looking forward to 5:04pm, when Matt walks in the door and we know we have the entire weekend to do whatever we want. The promise of sleeping in and a no-count day and maybe good weather.

You know those old guys you had to study in high school who were all about self-improvement? Thoreau and Emerson (BTW, I HATE Thoreau. Just thinking about him gets my usually conservative blood surging with feminist hatred. But anyway). Maybe you read Benjamin Franklin's self-improvement journals? Andrew Carnegie pulling himself up by his bootstraps? That's me to a T. I'm all about continual personal development. I'm an never-satisfied perfectionist who doesn't believe it's ever good enough. Some birth-order theories argue its a first-born thing. I just think of it as a me-thing.

So anyway, I'm focusing on two aspects right now: holiness and discipline. In terms of holiness, I started a read-the-whole Bible plan. I read through it once before in 2005, when I was converting to Catholicism, but I still come across a lot of verses, or even entire books, that I don't remember. So each morning after I put Abigail down for her morning nap (the only dependable nap), I read a few chapters and lectio divina a chapter from Psalms. It is amazing to me how much this plus a brief nightly examination of conscious has done for my sense of humility and made temptations of sloth and gluttony during the day easier to avoid. In addition, Matt and I started a nightly tradition of bringing up one mistake we made that day and discussing what we learned from it (an idea I got from this book) to help us grow and overcome some of the obstacles we are struggling to get over.

I know I've briefly mentioned our health insurance woes before, but I can't find the blog post because my Internet keeps going out, so I can't reference it. Basically, Matt's job doesn't come with benefits, we make too much money to qualify for a government program, and we don't make enough money to afford private insurance (the premiums would cost as much per month as our rent and all of our utilities including our phones and Internet combined. For an 80/20 plan with a decent deductible. Which we'd meet. Fast.) So anyway, we've decided to pay for Abigail's care out-of-pocket. This will be mega fun. I seriously think it will cheaper than paying premiums. Yeah. Anyway, when Matt's job ends in July, his next job will either have insurance (we won't accept one that won't) or we'll be unemployed and qualifying for government benefits. So I only have to make this work for nine more months. Since we'll be paying for everything ourselves, I'm going to be pickier about what kind of care she receives. If I know she doesn't need a test, she won't take it. Sometimes I feel like my whole life is just one big fight. I'm going to make a playlist of songs that make me feel bullet proof and listen to it on the way to these doctor's appointments. It won't be the first time I've had to duke it out with a white coat about what kind of care is best for my Chica.

Phew. Happier topic? Amen. I am feeling so balanced right now. Daily exercise and eating right mean these jeans need a belt. Is it just me or is loosing weight totally a high? A mom's group and a book club mean I've been getting out and getting me-time. Frugality means we are under-budget in the food and household department this month, two categories that are chronically in the red. I've gone to bed early twice this week, which means I'm feeling energized. All Abigail's therapy is in order, which means Chica is standing much stronger, using her pointer finger, discovering new consonants, and drinking out of a big girl cup.

Today's frugality includes tacos with homemade tortillas and taco seasonings. I also hope to make baby food and more bread.

I'm in a weird mood today, but a happy one.

What am I thankful for? Well, you probably already know the answer to that one.

17 October 2012

31 Days - Curbing Spending

I am participating in a 31 Days Campaign and have decided to try my hand at 31 Days of Frugal Living.

Yesterday, I mentioned that I wanted to outline my plan of action to accomplish the rest of the things on my list. Here are my ideas:

Saving as much money as possible by buying less stuff.
I need to reduce the amount of advertising in my life. Less Target flyers, less browsing Amazon for fun. It is amazing how many things I didn't know I needed until I browse that darn Target flyer.

I also think one of my weaknesses is impulse buys that cost less than $3. I think to myself:
-It's only a few dollars, the budget won't notice!
-It's a cheap way to have a fun afternoon!
-It's so cheap that if it sucks, it doesn't matter!
I don't need more $1 junk. I need to stop browsing the dollar bins for fun.

When I do need something, I shouldn't buy the cheapest thing possible unless I am prepared to handle the poor quality. Matt insightfully noticed the other day that "they don't make things like they used to" isn't an accurate statement. They do make things like they used to. It's just that those things cost more. We have more options now, and some of those options are cheaper because they are made by overworked, underpaid Chinese factory workers. So when you go to the store and buy a $25 bookshelf instead of the $150 bookshelf, you're going to get a piece of furniture that falls apart after one move. It's a calculation to be made on a case-by-case basis: buy a cheap POS and deal with a cheap POS or save up the money and buy something nice. There is a time and place, my friend.

I also read a tip the other day that recommend making a list of all the things that pop into your head that you want. Then wait two weeks and see if you still want it. An "impulse buy" shopping list, if you will. I started, and I've got to be honest, taking a moment to think about an impulse buy makes me realize how stupid the item is, and half the time, I don't even want it long enough to write it down.

16 October 2012

31 Days - Vacation Style

Home sweet home.

I had a wonderful long-weekend get-away, but there is just something about spending that much time in a small cabin with your in-laws followed by 10 hours on the road (that's what happens when you drink too much iced tea on an 8-hour car trip) that makes being able to sit around in your pajamas in the comfort of your own home just as refreshing.

I am participating in a 31 Days Campaign and have decided to try my hand at 31 Days of Frugal Living.

For me growing up, a vacation usually included lots of site-seeing, shopping, and dining out. It's a good way to get to know a new city, but not a good way to save money. Matt's family, on the other hand, went to the same secluded piece of property and did outdoorsy-things. They fished and hiked and built trebuchets with branches they found on the 45 acres. It didn't cost any money. A vacation where you don't spend money? We're in.

My mother and father-in-law now have a cabin on that property in the up north part of the lower peninsula of Michigan. It is on a very, very secluded road in a very, very tiny town. They have some lake frontage, but the part of the lake the cabin is on is so secluded that you couldn't swim to the next nearest cabin. The sky is so dark you can see the Milky Way and the trees are so beautiful that every time you look out a window, it feels like you're looking at a picture. The red trees were so red they looked like glowing rubies and the yellow trees were so yellow it looked like the sun was shining on them even though the entire weekend was windy and rainy. On the drive up, Matt and I had deep, engaging discussions about politics, childhood, family - it was just like the kind of discussions you have when you're only dating and the routine of over-flowing diaper pails and expired milk hasn't dulled the conversation. Even when Abigail had a melt-down over being in the car for that long and we had to take turns sitting in the backseat with her, we kept the conversation going. We arrived at the cabin only to discover that all the other families who had planned on coming had bailed, although a few hours after we arrived, Matt's three brothers showed up. I put Abigail down for bed and just sat in the leather chair crocheting while all four brothers and their father whipped out their biggest, boldest peacock feathers and strutted around in a feigned nonchalance while trying to compete with stories of their recent adventures. When the boys get together, they get loud, aggressive, and competitive, but only minutes after an argument that ends with no one agreeing, they are all suddenly best friends again. It is amazing to me that over the course of three years, Matt calls or texts only a handful of times, but when all the boys get together, it's like they just saw one another last week. They have a sister too, one lone girl who couldn't make it up to the cabin for the 6th annual Whiskey Tasting, and even though she doesn't get loud and aggressive around her family, she has just as good of a relationship with her brothers as the boys do with one another. Our summertime Host made it up to the cabin too, much to Abigail's delight, though he wasn't able to stay for the entire weekend.

I was also able to connect with my mother-in-law in ways I never saw coming. Because I have a special needs child, I have gained and lost friends, even family, sometimes for no other reason that we no longer understand one another's lives. Sometimes it isn't about experience, but about the ability to listen and empathize. One person I've grown closer to is my mother-in-law. When Matt was born 11 weeks premature, no one was sure how long he would live. When he lived, no one was sure if he would walk. When he walked, no one was sure if he would run. In the end, he ran, he joined the basketball team in high school, he went to a notable school for his undergraduate degree, and he graduated 3rd in his class from law school. There is nothing to show for all the early pain and suffering except a slight limp when he walks and a few memories of physical therapy. But before everything turned out just fine, there was a lot of looking into the cradle at the tiny baby inside and wondering why on the part of his mother. When she was telling me about life with baby Matt, I could echo a lot of her sentiments with baby Abigail. And even though everything turned out just fine for her, she is very understanding of my fears of the future. How we'll never be empty nesters. How Ds at 30 won't wear pig tails and polka dot onesies. How people will do things and say things that will hurt. And we talked about how sometimes a crisis of faith can result in a stronger faith. It was a therapy-weekend for this mama, that's for sure.

And partially because of the rain, partially because we are trying very hard to pay off debt, and partially because I am living frugally for 31 Days, we went on vacation and didn't spend money. Instead we all stayed cooped up in a small cabin, sharing dinner chores, telling jokes, and tasting whiskey. It was good for our relationships.

* * * * *

We're just over half way through the 31 Days journey, so I'd like to take a minute to review my goals. On the first day, I said frugal living meant three things:

1. The focus of our life is on people, not money or things.
2. Wholesome eating, imaginative play, and family memories are the consequences of a frugal life.
3. We'll have more money for retirement and to take care of Abigail in the event she can't support herself.

I definitely think we touched on points 1 and 2 this past weekend. The third point is much more difficult because we won't see progress at the end of 31 days, or the end of the year, or even the end of next year. We are following the Dave Ramsey plan which includes paying off all non-mortgage debts before saving up for retirement or children. We have no credit card or car debt, we paid off our medical bills, but we still have to pay off our law school debt, which will probably take us three years. But every little bit counts, which is why we're even doing little things, like making our own tortillas.

I also said on that first day that the three tenets of frugal living are:

1. Saving as much money as possible by buying less stuff.
2. Producing things at home and/or buying used when possible.
3. Living the good life by doing things, not having things.

#2 is what I've been doing for the last 16 days and #3 is a consequence of doing #s 1 and 2. That leaves #1. This tenet is particularly difficult because we don't have a lot of fat to trim. I don't buy new blush, shampoo, or deodorant until my old one is completely empty. My cupboards and fridge are usually pretty empty by the time I go grocery shopping. We don't have a morning latte habit, we don't watch movies in theaters, we don't spend outside of our very tightly-reigned clothing budget. There is no easy fix in the category of buying less stuff. I need to sit down and make a list of the things I buy too much/buy unnecessarily so I can consciously choose to spend less money on them.

Lastly, here are the things I laid out that I wanted to do:

-make my own bread (added: tortillas, pizza dough) - CHECK!
-make my own laundry detergent (added: cleaning products)
-stick to the budget when it comes to eating out - CHECK!
-plan out meals (to help the grocery bill) - HALF check!
-reduce the amount of advertising in my life
-spend less time online and more time with my daughter - HALF check!

Okay, now time to do some brainstorming and lay out a plan of action to accomplish the rest of the things on my list. This will occur at some point this week and appear at some point later this week. In the meantime, I'm grateful for vacations and bonding with my husband and clean rest stops. Because I drank way too much iced tea yesterday.