Friday, September 10, 2010

I'd call this progress

This morning on the way to work I stopped at the ATM to get $20, because on Friday mornings my office has breakfast together. And I figured it was time to get some more cash, since I hadn't been to the machine in over a week.

Well. Imagine my delight when I was putting my card and cash back in my wallet and I still had LAST PAYDAY'S $20 in there -- that's from TWO WEEKS ago, folks!

That's right. I had money left over because I've been taking my lunch every day, cooking from scratch and mostly ignoring the vending machines at work.

It is a lovely feeling!

Monday, September 06, 2010

Home-made pizza success!

After a disasterous recipe for biscuits failed miserably, I needed to get back up on that oven again and come up with some sort of baking success.

I was hungry for pizza. And having just read The Tightwad Gazette's recipe for pizza crust, I made it. Here's the recipe in all its perfect, wonderful goodness. MAKE THIS. IT IS GOOD. And besides, you can make the whole pizza for about $2.50 and not have to wait for delivery.

Thick and Chewy pizza dough
1/2 to 3/4 cup warm water (105 to 115 degrees F)
1 package (1 Tablespoon) dry yeast (I use the bulk yeast in the jar -- make sure it's new)
1 teaspoon sugar
2 cups flour (I used unbleached all purpose)
1 Tablespoon vegetable oil (I used olive)
1/2 teaspoon salt.

Combine 1/4 cup of the water with the yeast and sugar. Stir to dissolve the yeast and let stand until bubbly, about five minutes (Note- I had this in an 8-oz. cup. Use something bigger!)

Put the flour, oil and salt into a food processor using the steel blade. and process about 5 seconds.

Add the yeast mixture to the flour mixture and process about 10 seconds, or until blended.

Turn on the processor (on high) and drizzle just enough of the remaining water through the feed tube so that the dough forms a ball that cleans the side of the bowl. Process so that the ball turns around about 25 times. (Ironically, my processor quit running just at that time...)

Put the dough ball on a 14-inch greased pizza pan or large cookie sheet (I used my Pampered Chef cooking stone.) Cover with plastic wrap or a bowl (I just turned the food processor bowl upside down on top of it.) Let it stand 10 minutes.

Pat the dough out so that it covers the pan, making a ridge on the edges.

Spread with pizza sauce (it doesn't take much) Add cheese and toppings. Bake at 425 degrees F for 15 to 20 minutes or until the crust is golden and the cheese bubbly.

I will never order pizza again after making this.

As a matter of fact, I'm going to make a hamburger, pepperoni and sauteed onion pizza for tonight's supper.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

An update

Things are going very well with the austerity program. This is the end of the first week and I am pleased with the results of being just a bit more conscious of my spending.

Of the shopping trip mentioned in my previous post, I have used the ground beef in three meals that consisted of beef patties I broiled and topped with cheese (no buns; don't need the carbs!) I've added a veggie to each from my freezer or pantry stash, not included in the shopping total.

In addition, I made a huge pan of "spaghetti pie" on Sunday which has now provided at least six meals. I'm on track to finish the last of it tonight or tomorrow for lunch. Yep, I'm getting to the point where I really can't stand to look at it much longer. I prepared a 9x13-inch pan; my lesson from this is to make two 8x8 pans and freeze one so I don't get so incredibly bored with it! LOL.

I've eaten the three peaches as desserts, at a cost of about 25 cents each. Sure beats putting 85 cents in the vending machine for a candy bar, for so many reasons.

One more week left until my next payday, and I actually have money left -- a good sum. My phone bill will be the next drafted payment before payday. The other bills will come out of the next paycheck, but I am so well set with groceries that I will only need to make a small purchase, if I have to purchase anything next week at the grocery store.

I did make a tiny supplemental trip to Aldi's yesterday and picked up some shortening, a can of corn and celery. Less than $5. The shortening will be used for baking and the corn and celery will go into another casserole that will last a few days.

To say I am pleased would be an understatement. I had lunch at Taco Bueno yesterday-- just two bean burritos -- and I got my very first senior discount! So with a drink, lunch was about $3.50. Not as cheap as taking my lunch, but since I needed to run an errand to Aldi's, I'm not upset.

In the next week or so, I will have finished paying off a hospital bill to the tune of $300 a month. I will now roll that over to pay my doctor's bill. However, my next major hurdle will be getting a loan so I can have central heat and air put in my house. I need to do this soon, as the season is changing. My floor furnace is kaput and cannot be repaired so replacement and upgrading is my only option. I crippled through the summer with my window air conditioners, but even they are at the end of their useful life. Upgrading will make the house more comfortable, no doubt, and will be value added. I just hate having to pay for it!

I will keep you posted as I continue with my plans of eating breakfast at home, taking my lunch to work and then cooking items that will last for several meals. (This will get better as I empty out some freezer space and get to the point where I can freeze and rotate meals instead of eating one thing until I'm sick of it.)

Friday, August 27, 2010

Austerity is not a dirty word

I've begun the program I'm creating to cut costs, save money and still not feel deprived.

Yesterday was payday, which means I finally was able to go to the grocery store again. If you look at my cash register receipt, you might accuse me of shopping hungry and really giving in to pent-up demand. Yes, I was hungry, because I didn't get to the store until well past 7:30 last night after a long day at work. But I made this trip work for me.

Yes, there was added work once I got home, wrapping bundles to restock the freezer in the top part of my refrigerator. For a minute I worried that I had overpurchased and wouldn't have room for everything, but careful arranging made everything fit.

So, I will share with you my purchases and their prices:

Corn meal $1.29
Dry milk powder $7.69 (this one surprised me because I have never bought powdered milk before.)
Butterscotch pudding mix 99 cents (my treat)
Baking powder $1.95
Flour $2.69 for five pounds (unbleached, all purpose)
Yeast $7.05 (jar)
Buttermilk $2.19 (half gallon)
Skim milk $1.91 (half gallon)
Cottage cheese $2.55
1-lb. roll of sausage $2.99
Sliced pepperoni $2.05
Whole chicken $4.45
Boneless pork loin chops $4.21 in saver pack of eight chops
Boneless eye of round roast $7.62
Eye of round steaks $6.28 for a saver pack of six steaks
Ground beef $8.64 in a family pack
Pork sirloin roast $3.42
Smoked ham hocks $3.56
Mini Babybel cheese $3.99 for six
Dozen large brown eggs $1.79
Butter $3.39
Diet Coke $5.00 for four 2-litre bottles; my vice
American singles cheese slices $3.29 for 24 slices
Shredded taco cheese $2.59
Two loaves of whole wheat bread $4
Broccoli crowns $1.12
Peaches $.77
Plums $1.45
10-pound bag of potatoes $3.79
Strawberries $2.59
sweet onions $1.32
Tomatoes $1.43

And then for the dog:
Two bags of Bil-Jac food $6.65 each for $13.30
Cool Jac treats $3.71
Milkbones $4.15
A toy $5.75.

With tax, my total was $146.79.

For supper last night and tonight, I was pressed for time and needed something mindless and fast so I broiled hamburger patties and topped them with a slice of cheese.

Instead of spending 60 cents on a can of Diet Coke, two of my 2-litre bottles have gone to work with me and are living temporarily in the employee fridge. The company provides bagged ice, so I can fill up my travel mug. I calculate I can get at least five drinks for the price of two from the machine. Yeah, I'm not perfect enough to give it up completely, but I am drinking more water in between, hoping someday that maybe I just won't want it. But not yet. As vices go, I don't feel too bad about this one.

So over the next few days, as time allows, I'm planning to do a major cooking and baking day, all from scratch. Stay tuned as I share how many meals I get from this shopping trip. I'll let you know what works and what flops, and what I find out about how these prices at my regular store compare to the other stores in my area.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Time for an austerity program

I've been reading the three "Tightwad Gazette" books by Amy Dacyzyn (sounds like "decision") the past week or so and I've gleaned a few good ideas and a few good philosophies about spending money. And I'm at a point where some financial belt-tightening is necessary for a while.

So, as they say, the place to begin is at the beginning, right? This morning I took a few minutes to look at the "money leaks" in my budget, just to get a rough idea how much money I may be wasting.

What brought me to this? I got a notice a week ago that I was overdrawn by $1.05. I was mortified. Part of the cause was that my auto-draft on my car and house insurance payment went up $11 this month after my rates were adjusted for this six-month period. But you know what? I shouldn't have been so close to the margin that $11 would put me in peril.

So for the past week, I have spend zero money, other than $15 in coins I found around my house. With that $15, I bought $5 worth of gas so I could get to and from work; $5.90 for groceries; and I held on to the rest. If I can do that for one week, I can certainly plug some other budgetary leaks.

I've started by getting online and looking at my bank transactions for the past two months -- I opened a new account and now have online banking with this account so I can check any time I want.

I've checked to see how many times I have made cash withdrawals from the ATM-- it was far more often than the once-a-week I *thought* I was doing. Yikes!

I also checked to see how many times I was putting "lunch" on my debit card. Again, it was shocking!

This week I've been surviving by bringing my lunch and using the items in my pantry and freezer that I've just been looking past. And I'm REALLY looking forward to going to the grocery store tomorrow! With this break in the weather this week, bringing cooler temperatures, I'm thinking of all the inexpensive meals I can fix that will be good for lunches as well as dinners.

I've also returned to scanning the coupons for the items I use, then checking the store ads to see where I can get the most bang for my buck.

I don't think I'm at the point of washing baggies and aluminum foil to reuse, but I do use my oilcloth lunch bag (with a velcro closure) and tight-sealing containers for my lunch selections.

Instead of buying a tuna salad sandwich on a croissant at a downtown cafe, with chips and a drink for almost $8 (outrageous!) I've been making enough tuna salad at home for lunch and supper in one re-sealable container. Figure 69 cents for the tuna, a little more for a squirt of mayo and a spoonful of pickle relish, then whatever the cost of two slices of bread from a 79-cent loaf of bread from the bakery outlet store... you can see I would have saved WAY more than the $1.05 I was overdrawn! On average, lunches out are $6 to $7.

Starting tomorrow, I'll post my menus and the cost, plus how many servings they provide for me. And I'll let you know how many of those ATM trips I can cut out, since that cash probably also goes to meals I didn't make. I'll even commit to making a list of any cash purchases to see if I can cut down on my weekly cash allowances just by being aware of what I'm spending.

In a month, I'll let you know how this plays out -- whether I'm still walking along the edge of the financial cliff or if I've been able to step back and keep some money in savings.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Bonus post!

** Click on the pictures to see the full frame.**

Baby Bernie

I forgot today's "Bernie" story!

This morning I let him in after his morning outside time. I was dressed but still had time to spend a few minutes with him, which usually involves me chasing him around the house, trying to get him into his crate.

Well, he was a pretty muddy mess this morning and I was trying to keep him off the furniture, with little success. A couple of muddy swipes on my sofa (NO! NO!)
and a pounce on me -- leaving my cute turquoise shirt and black jeans covered with muddy pawprints, dang it!

As I was assessing the damage and mentally trying to picture what I would change into, Bernie brought me his leash! Yes! All by himself he got it off the doorknob. Of course, in his excitement to bring it to me, he somehow managed to wrap it around his tail and I nearly choked laughing at his dismay at leading himself around backwards.

I couldn't resist his request, and since I did have a little time, we walked to the end of the block (a double block) and back. It made me realize how negligent I've been in continuing that portion of his training. We do really well with our morning exercises of "Sit" "shake" and "down," and he is very good riding in the car, but walking on leash we've neglected. (Bad mommy!)

We'll start working on that with some regularity. He did do well with sitting on demand during the walk, but he was pulling too hard to lead me, rather than heeling. Of course I did not have the advantage of putting on h is pinch collar so I didn't have full control with just his regular collar. It's a fingerbreaking exercise to put on the pinch collar and takes far more time than I had this morning. I think that will be reserved for evening walks until we get back into the groove.

Not sure when the fall dog training classes begin, but we will be there faithfully again. Bernie is a quick learner and very smart. He just needs more consistent direction and stimulation, so I better get my act together.

I think it's also time to schedule him for his first grooming appointment. He could use a good bath, and although I could do that, I also want to get his nails clipped and get a couple of matted areas trimmed. I'm very lucky that mats are few and far between with his type of coat, which is more like hair than fur, for the most part. I miss his puppy softness, but it's still on his face and head. I hope he will be soft again when his winter coat comes back in. His summer coat is still beautiful, with swirling curls parting across his back.

Well, he's now asleep in his crate and I should soon be asleep in my bed. He likes to wake me up about 5:30 which is so inconvenient and annoying, since my alarm is set for 7 a.m. Maybe I'll get him a watch to celebrate his first birthday, which was Tuesday. My boy is a whole year old!

Big Boy Bernie

Just sort of floating

I don't quite feel like I'm "in the groove" at the moment. Can't seem to get focused clearly enough to work through the daily tasks -- at least not today.

I haven't been feeling great for a couple of weeks, with the weather being SO hot and then the change to cooler, rainy weather. I feel a bit feverish, alternating between chills and sweats, never knowing which will hit next. And it seems that for several days, as soon as I can get out of work, I'm heading home and napping for a couple of hours while Bernie has outside time to run and play.

Maybe I'm sick; maybe I'm just having summer stress. I don't know. For several days I was percolating right along, getting things done like gangbusters.

It's the nature of the news business, though, to get thrown for a loop by an unexpected story that is, or has the potential to be, a tragic event. And we had one of those here this week. It all ended safely, however.

Because of this floating cloud around me, though, tomorrow and Saturday have the potential of being tough days with a ton of stuff being compressed in a short time. Or, there could be magic and things will fall nicely into place, all wrapped up in lace and ribbons. What a lovely dream!

You know, I don't really see much of a point in what I've written. Dang, I did just remember something I have to attend right smack in the middle of my day tomorrow.... my thoughts are pulling me back and forth tonight. Maybe I need to send myself an e-mail to the office right now so I don't forget the things that are buzzing in my brain. Then the best course of action may be to go to bed early so I can reboot. Good plan.

Good night, all!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

A nice rainy day

I believe the summer heat has broken here in mid-August. The past three days have been much more bearable, and we're getting some rain today.

I'm a rain lover. I'll take a wonderful, cool rainy day any time over the blistering heat! It makes me feel more alive and much less likely to turn to dust.

I had to trick Bernie again with the leash this morning. It won't be long until that trick loses its effectiveness, and then what will I do? I do feel bad being dishonest with him, but it was a matter of some urgency for me to leave the house earlier today. Work required me to go to the county seat this morning and I dared not be late.

Water was deep enough on the road to cause a moment of panic when I hydroplaned for a second near my destination. My fear was compounded by the car that attempted to pass me on the right just as I hit the giant puddle that attacked. Everything turned out just fine, though.

I've spent the rest of the morning so far trying to get things scheduled for the next month. Since I've taken over a weekly section of the paper, planning has become a critical matter. My life goes so much easier when I'm not scrambling for a story idea at the last possible moment, hoping I can fill up the cover, let alone the other seven pages of the section. September is a busy month so I have sort of the same problem, but in reverse. I can't have an abundance of material for one week with nothing for the previous week. So, the balancing act begins. Not everyone is happy when I have to re-arrange things, but hey, that's life in the little city.

Back to the grind... I'm still not finished putting some order to this all, so I feel a bit uneasy yet. Time keeps moving along, though, no matter what.

Hope you've got some weather relief, too. If you do, enjoy it -- go splash in a puddle or just feel the air on your face. It's good for you!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Fun With Bernie

I felt bad this morning because I had to trick Bernie into going into his crate when I had to leave.

It's a morning ritual that takes a good 30 minutes of our time -- me loping along behind him, trying to convince him to go into the crate. I bribe. I plead. I try to ignore him and fool him into thinking it's his idea. Finally, at some point I catch him off guard just enough to grab him and carry him to the crate. It's exhausting and it's not the way I want it to be, but I've failed at finding a good method that works.

This morning it got to be so frustrating that I resorted to THE LEASH. He LOVES to go anywhere and THE LEASH almost always is a guarantee of a fun adventure.

So. I get the leash and Bernie goes nuts, dancing around the house and squealing like a little pig. I follow along, actually leading him to his crate, like I'm trying to get hold of him to attach the leash.

The ploy works -- for now. We made it to the crate and he was insane enough that I just shoved him right on in.

OH NOES! the gnashing of teeth and the wailing of "I've been tricked!" It was almost pitiful and I almost felt sorry for resorting to it, but then remembered how many times my own mom pulled the football out from in front of me when I was about to kick it, a la Lucy and Charlie Brown. Trickery has its place, now and then.

All day, though, I carried the burden of my guilt with me, like a St. Bernard lugs its keg of whiskey. I felt I owed Bernie some makeup fun.

So tonight I really did put his leash on him and we went for a ride around town, radio and air conditioner blasting. He got to see other people walking other dogs. He squealed with longing to be the one walking. He saw others riding in neighboring cars and they exchanged knowing glances -- kind of like teenagers pulling up to the light at the same time and knowing "Yeah, I could take you."

After making a loop around the city, we headed to Sonic, where I pushed the button and Bernie placed his order of "whiiiiiinnnnnnne! whiiiiiiimmmmper!" When the human answered, I placed our "real" order. Two junior deluxe burgers, one plain. A small Diet Coke for me and an ice water for Bernie. He gets the plain burger. I carry a small Rubbermaid container with a screw-on lid which is just the right size for me to put his ice water in.

He sits in the back seat and is a very good rider. I let his burger cool down just a bit then spread it out for him. He eats. I eat. He drinks, I drink. It's symbiotic.

When we're all done, I screw the lid on the container and we head out to drag the strip one more time. The street lights have come on now and I can only imagine what goes through Bernie's mind as the light and shadow alternately speed by his windows.

Finally we make it home and I pull under the carport. When I gather up the cups and open his door, I tell him to wait until I get his leash. He looks around, spots his leash and picks it up with his mouth to hand it to me. Isn't that something? I juggle those icy cups and the leash and pray he doesn't go charging down the street. Tonight I'm lucky and he goes right up the front steps. Then he balks when I get the door unlocked and urge him inside.

Seems like he would be real happy to head back down the street. Come on leash, and hold, please!

Eventually he remembers that the last step of our adventure is up the steps and in! Yessir! Good boy! Excellent job!

I get the door shut and unclip the leash, hanging it on the doorknob for the next adventure -- or trick.

Um, hi. Good to see you again!

Wow, six months since my last post! I'm almost embarrassed to post again, but I miss blogging.

So much of my time has been sucked away by Facebook. At first I thought it was really great -- to be able to stay in touch with my real-world friends and family so easily. And I still think Facebook is great for that. One post and I can catch everyone up on what's happening in my little world. It's pretty nice to have contact with so many people in such a quick, compact way, with photos or messages or even videos. Honestly? It's very cool. And a real marker of the changes we're going through in this day and age.

But. Seriously, it's sort of superficial, isn't it? The games -- and sorry to tell you, friends, but I block all the applications so I'm not buried under your posts about your farm or whatnot. I've still got too much of a life to be buried under that part of Facebook.

We just don't get the chance to share the matters of our hearts on Facebook, either. It's not the same as being able to blog. With the blog, we can either do a simple "mind dump" and spill it all out randomly, or we can give it thought and construct thoughtful essays. I've done both.

I guess tonight is kind of a "mind dump" sort of night since I've been away so long. I'm sort of hanging out waiting for the late-night laundry to wrap up and for the dishwasher to finish running. I have to unhook the portable dishwasher and turn off the water (reverse that order, please.) I'd also like to get the dishes put away. Fortunately (or not) I slept away most of the day so it won't kill me to be up a bit later tonight.

We got a break in the weather today. Not sure what our high was, and really don't care about the number. At one time I think I saw 75. All I know is it was very pleasant, and I actually shut off my air conditioners for a while.

Bernie has spent most of the day outside. I think this cool front has made him much more comfortable, too. American Eskimo dogs need to cool down! I wonder if he has any idea that cold weather is just a few months away.

I had a great weekend. Friends of mine came to town yesterday to perform at our local historic theater. They are "Hankerin' 4 Hank," a tribute band to Hank Williams Jr. The theater was full and everyone enjoyed a great performance. I was seated front row, center. Loved every minute of it!

Time to check up on the appliances. Hope to return soon. Hope someone is out there.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

A Saturday Off --Must Be Cleaning Time!

Am I a nerd because I'm excited to have a day off to clean house? I think I must be. Or it could be that I've just been stretched so thin lately that I can really enjoy a domestic day at home.

Ahhhh home. I miss it. This house I'm in is not "HOME" to me. It's just a too-small house where I keep my dog and come to sleep. Pitiful! I guess I have two choices: I can make this "HOME" or I can move. And at the moment, as much as I would love to, I'm just not up for a move. I don't have the energy or the money to find a more suitable dwelling.

It's kind of like being a hermit crab, y'know? This house just doesn't fit any more, but it's the one I have so I have to make it work for now.

I'm starting today with a good cleaning. Maybe I'll be able to displace some of the "stuff" that is crowding me. I started yesterday by returning Bernie's first crate to the woman who loaned it to me. He outgrew it, and another good friend let me borrow a bigger crate. So now I've returned the small one that was in my room -- it's left a clean spot on the bedroom rug and I need to match the rest of the room to it.

I've also got to gather up laundry. My fancy-dancy front-loading washer has been breaking down on me and I can't afford to call the repairman, so I've been hauling my stuff to the laundromat where I can get it all clean at one time. There are advantages to that! Also some drawbacks with the hoisting and the lifting and the carrying and the watching my machines like a hawk thing.
But I usually have been doing it once every week to week and a half, and there are things I do enjoy about the exercise. I get to catch up on my reading -- some enforced down time. That's always good.

Bernie has left me a lot of shredded paper around the house to pick up. He loves all kinds of paper. Fortunately most of it is Kleenexes he's managed to steal. I'm getting much better about keeping the important stuff out of his reach.

Well, now I'm all warmed up and inspired, so I better get on with the cleaning process. The mood and opportunity don't come together often enough, so EXCELSIOR!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Hello, Fellow Travelers!

It's been a good long while since I posted. I can only blame work, exhaustion and Bernie. Oh, yeah, and Facebook.

Yep, Facebook is the place where I post most of my trivial thoughts these days. It's also where I have the kind of three-second interactions that make us believe we're REALLY connected and staying in touch. But there's a good part of me that doesn't really believe it. At least I hope that our personal connections are worthy of more than three-second posts. I think we're worth more than that, don't you?

Anyway, I don't know if anyone still comes around. I did get a call from my friend Buddie, who reads but never posts a response. And I apologize here that I haven't called back, Buddie. I will.

It has been an interesting season, this winter. Especially this month of February. I've had countless banquets to attend, including one tonight for the Teacher of the Year being held by the school district. I've been to some awards banquets where I've actually won some awards for my work. That's been very nice -- but I have to say the quality of banquet food this year has varied WIDELY from pretty yummy to totally inedible. There was one banquet where none of the meals served were eaten because the entree was tough enough to make shoes for all the Haitian children. (Not my line, but it certainly describes that tough hunk of beef that probably got recycled.)

The best news of late is that Bernie the Wonder Eskimo Dog and I started dog training classes last night. He is a whiz! A genius! He really did so well and I am very proud. He can do "Heel!" and "Sit!" like a champion. I look forward to practicing with him more. I'm also a little sore today from spending an hour walking around the armory listening to the instructors who had us practice these two commands. I didn't think about me getting so much exercise from Bernie's class!

In the "Nothing New" category, I'm still working far more hours than I would like, but kind of feel like it's a hopeless fact of life. I daydream about calling in and taking a few days off to hibernate in a quiet hotel with clean sheets, a TV with cable and room service. All I want to do is sleep and turn into a sofa spud, just for a little while!

I am looking forward to spring's arrival in the near future. We've had way more snow here in north central Oklahoma than usual. One nice thing is that the weather provides plenty of excuses for dreaming of a new life in the spring. The anticipation is pretty nice. What will it be? A vacation? A new flower garden? (Not with Bernie around!) Will I finally paint the kitchen and dining room?

We'll see how it all turns out. Maybe I'll just buy some new stretchy pants after all these banquets!