Tightening Our Belts (again)

Home ownership comes with a whole new set of responsibilities, and that can be a difficult adjustment for serial renters like us.  Let’s review: Since we moved in together, over 18 years ago, Shane and I have rented 2 apartments and a townhouse in Arizona, and 3 apartments and 3 houses in California.  Oh, and Shane rented an apartment in California when he moved out here shortly after we were married.  That’s 10 rental homes.  We have learned the ins and outs of renting.  We know how to negotiate with landlords.  We know how to read a lease and determine what is our responsibility, and what is theirs.  Home ownership is different.  It’s our responsibility. It just is.  Even if it is covered by our home warranty, or homeowner’s insurance, it’s our responsibility.  We have to make the calls, we have to make the decisions, and we have to pay whatever bills come our way.

Well, okay.  We knew that.  We also knew that we were going to have to repipe the original part of the house within the next couple of years.  I mean, the house was built in 1954, and it has not been repiped.  We knew it was coming.  Perhaps, we should have seen the replacement of the line out to the street last April coming, too, as well as the broken sewage line under the house and replacement of the mainline in to the house last week.

The mainline pipes replaced looked like this:

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I think replacing them was the right decision.  Unfortunately, we hear that the rest of the pipes in the original part of our house look much the same.  Yikes.  We’re going to have to do something about that soon, I guess.  I’ll spare you a pic of the sewage pipes.  Trust me, it was not good.  

Yeah, those repairs kind of surprised us.  We thought we were just calling the plumber in the week before last to unstop a toilet.  Turns out, the real problem was a broken sewage line, and that’s not really something you can put off having fixed.  So, we didn’t.  Then, the guy saw the mainline in to our house and, since he was also doing the other work, offered to replace that for about half off what he would usually charge for that job.  Luckily, Shane has had a few recent side gigs, so we actually had money this time to pay the bill in full, instead of carding it and paying it off later, like we did in April.  We will still be able to make our house payment,  and pay all of the bills on time.  

Nevertheless, it would behoove us to play it very close to our chests for the next month or so.  To that end, I am trying to save as much money as possible around the house.  I have been baking bread, and recently made batches of muffins and granola bars (and pumpkin pie ~ yum!) for lunchboxes.  I keep thinking I need to run to the store, then looking around and realizing we have plenty of food here.  So, I am trying to shop very minimally, just to fill in the gaps.  This week, I have spent a grand total of $59 so far, and I don’t anticipate spending much more.  We have everything we need to make roast chicken (vegetarian, I happen to have one in the freezer, believe it or not), greens, corn and biscuits one night, stir fry and rice another, and pasta another night.  That will leave us with plenty of leftovers, and there are some other easy options of hand (beans, rice, pastas, soups, potatoes, eggs, etc), as always.  If I get a wild hair, I might even make quiche one night.  That’s a crowd pleaser, and I can make two at once, and put one away in the freezer.  

Of course, working with what we have on hand sometimes leaves us needing to think outside the (lunch) box.  Today, two girls took cheese sandwiches, pumpkin pie, a drink (almond milk for one, juice for the other) and a snack (I forgot what), and the third took soy turkey, popcorn, pie and almond milk for lunch.  Popcorn is part of a healthy lunch, right?  Especially with pumpkin pie on the side.  Well, she’ll eat it, which is more than we can say for a lot of foods.  On the up side, the pie is relatively low in sugar, and made from fresh pumpkin.  That totally counts as a vegetable…ish…maybe.  Come on, I need it to count.    There are banana cupcakes or pumpkin muffins for after school snack, as well as eggs, nuts, fruit and yogurt, and we’ll have a healthy dinner, so that’s good.  

Anyway, when I was at the store yesterday, I saw some multi-grain pancake mix on sale for $1.99, and I almost bought it.  Then, I read the ingredients, and that jogged my memory ~ I had all of those ingredients at home, as well as a recipe for making my own pancake mix.  I know it’s not a lot of money, but why spend $1.99 if you don’t have to?  

So, last night, I finally made my own pancake mix.  It took a few minutes to throw together.  I remember that my mom used to make hers, too, when I was a little girl.  I wanted a multi-grain mix, because that’s what we usually use, so I had searched the internet and come up with a recipe I thought sounded like a winner.  The only thing was, it called for oil to be mixed in the dry ingredients before storing, and I thought that sounded like it would just cause the mix to spoil sooner.  The recipe states that it can be kept at room temperature for 2 weeks, or the the fridge much longer.  To be honest, there’s not enough room in my fridge for a jar of pancake mix.  So, I decided to leave out the oil, do the math, and add it when we mix up our pancakes.  

This is the recipe I used:

http://www.kingarthurflour.com/recipes/homemade-whole-grain-pancake-mix-recipe

Ours looks like this:

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My jar is HUGE!  If we go through this quickly, I will double the recipe next time.  

I added a label, so I will remember how to mix it up.  (Please note:  I took the picture before I realized that I had written “1 1/2 c. oil.”  It should be “1 1/2 TBS oil.”  Please DO NOT put 1 1/2 cups of oil in each batch of pancakes you make .  Tablespoons.  I have since fixed the label, but didn’t catch it before I took the picture.)  

We took our mix for a spin this morning.  I added some applesauce to the batter, as I usually do, and they were eaten with butter and/or homemade raspberry jam.  Thumbs up from everyone, so I guess the recipe’s a keeper.  Give it a try.  It might save you a few bucks, and it will definitely keep a few boxes out of the landfill, not to mention saving the fuel needed to produce and package those boxes of pancake mix and transport them to your local store.  Oh, and you get to eat wholesome, homemade, piping hot pancakes.  Not a bad deal, if you ask me.  

Fun at the Laundromat

Saturday at the laundromat!  do we know how to party, or what?  Thanks to the kids for all pitching in to get ‘er done quick and easy.  The general consensus: it wasn’t so bad. 

Justice and Kaia goofing around at the laundromat, before the proprietor pointed out the “no riding in the baskets” sign.  Oops!  Luckily, he wasn’t too angry, and still gave everyone in the place free little packets of chips.  

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Hallie enjoying one of the games:

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And, finally, the laundry:

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Brief Update ~ by Sam

Hello, my fellow lowlifes.  Hmmm….maybe not the nicest way to greet people.  Let’s try again.

*ahem*

Hello, lovely readers!  We are so happy to have you.  We hope you are all enjoying our blog, and we want you to know that we welcome your comments.

That said, I will give a very brief update (hee-hee…or so she says), as the title implies.

It has been a helluva week.  At the end of last week, we got the  very sad news that our oldest cat, Muggles, has cancer of the lungs.  The vet says there is not a lot we can do at this point, other than help him enjoy his life as long as he can.  He still likes to play with his jingly ball, snuggling up on the kids’ beds, and kitty treats, so we are making sure he gets lots and lots of all that.

A few days later, we had a plumber in to unstop a toilet, and learned that we have a broken sewage line under our house.  Not really any cheap (or stress-free) way to deal with that, so, instead, we are just dealing with it.  One kid is bunking with her sister, and we cannot use the powder room or the laundry room until it is fixed.  Gotta do what you gotta do.  Yes, yes, welcome us to home-ownership!  We totally knew this stuff was coming.

Today, we awoke to find that one of our fish seems to be not long for this world.  At this time, he is still hanging on, but we really think it is just a matter of time.  Kaia is having a very hard time with this, as well as the news about Mugsy.  Too much sadness all at once for a tender-hearted little girl.

Somehow, we are managing to keep the stress at a manageable level.  Kaia was able to spend Friday and Saturday with friends (Girl Scout meeting, sleepover with very best friend, and then a park clean-up with the GS troop on Saturday morning), which kept her mind occupied.  Hallie made a short film with friends on Saturday morning, while Justice and I visited an import market that is only open to the public 6 times/year, so she could practice her French (more about that later ~ remember, this is the brief update), and we could buy lots of delicious treats.  Saturday afternoon, we all went to the laundromat and did every last bit of our laundry, in about 2 hours.  That might sound stressful, but, actually, it was pretty awesome.  We walked across the street and bought Slurpees, then played old arcade games while we waited for our laundry to be done.  Everyone pitched in to fold and put things back in to baskets, and we headed home with every stitch of clothing (and the towels) clean.  Tonight’s dinner was vegetarian sliders (I made a huge batch a few weeks ago and froze a bunch for future use), and we will have enough left over to send in kids’ lunchboxes tomorrow.

So that’s it, really.  Sorry, not much info. about how we spent our money in this post.  I will say we got a good deal on the the sewage line replacement, I think, and we have been sticking close to home, which always saves us money.  Oh, and we have been working out carpooling arrangements for various activities ~ saves time, money and stress, is good for the environment, and lightens up traffic on the freeways…you know, all good stuff, and not just good for us.

The weather is mild and lovely, and the finches love to hang out in our herb garden, so it is quite nice here, lately.  Hope you are enjoying these first days of Fall with the people you love best of all.

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Let Them Eat Cake…er…um…ICE CREAM! ~ by Sam

Okay, I don’t usually dole out unsolicited parenting advice, but this one goes so far toward the “low stress” part of our plan, that I am going to throw it out in to the world.  Here goes:

Sometimes, when your kids ask if they can have ice cream for dinner, just say, “Yes.”  Really.  Mind you, not ALWAYS, but I really feel it’s fine, once in a while.  There are ways to make it a slightly less unhealthy choice.  We like Trader Joe’s Frozen Vanilla Fat Free Greek Yogurt.  As Kaia says, “It’s a little more sour that regular ice cream, but it just…works.”  It also contains more protein than ice cream, as well as some active cultures, so that’s awesome, from a health standpoint.  Offer toppings like fruit (we had bananas and cherries tonight), natural peanut butter, graham crackers, granola, and nuts, as well as a few chocolate chips, and maybe a little chocolate sauce.  They can use the graham crackers to make “ice cream sandwiches,” crumble them into the ice cream, or eat them on the side.  

Tonight, Kaia made an ice cream sandwich by spreading graham crackers with peanut butter, then adding a few chocolate chips and some frozen yogurt. She had a banana on the side.  Justice topped the ice cream in her bowl with peanut butter, chocolate sauce, walnuts and sliced bananas (not sure if she used the graham crackers at all).  Hallie made a banana split with cherries, nuts and chocolate chips on top.  

This isn’t a new idea.  About once a year, in the Fall, my mom used to make apple pie for dinner.  I loved it.  Warm apple pie with milk poured over it ~ yum!  And look, it’s apples, bread (crust…yeah, I know, it’s greasy), milk.  I mean, it’s not that bad.  Think of Bill Cosby and his chocolate cake.  (If you don’t know about Bill Cosby and his chocolate cake, go straight to YouTube and search “Bill Cosby Chocolate Cake.”)  Once in a while, embrace the silly, be that parent who says, “Yes,” and put those smiles in the bank, so you can withdraw them from your vault on a tough parenting day.  

Sure, there’s a lot of sugar, but, if you don’t serve it at every meal, every day, and you make healthy food choices most of the time, I see no reason not to let them eat cake…or pie…or ice cream.  

At out house right now, bellies are full and everyone’s happy ~ and that is absolutely priceless on a Friday night, at the end of a very hectic week.  

The Farm Report ~ by Sam

Okay, so we don’t have a farm.   We do have a bountiful, beautiful, garden in which, thanks to our fabulous Southern California weather, we have been able to grow an abundance of vegetables, herbs, fruits and flowers.  Our garden has produced enough in the past few months to not only feed us and allow us to put up jars of tomatoes, spaghetti sauce, vegetable soup and tomato soup, but also to trade with others in the area for items we do not grow.  If I recall correctly, we have traded guava, zucchini, peppers, lettuce and herbs for oranges, apples, tangerines, lemons and peaches.  That’s not a bad haul.

Nevertheless, as Ecclesiates tells us, there is “a time for planting, a time for uprooting what has been planted.”  For us, the time for uprooting was this weekend.  Shane did all of that hard work for me, while I ran the kids to band practice and did a little grocery shopping (and had my car hit in the parking lot…but that’s a whole other story).

Our zucchini and tomatoes were wonderfully prolific, while they were.  At a certain point, our zucchini almost died, then appeared to recover, started to produce lovely little zucchini…which promptly shriveled and died.  The plant looked healthy and green, but it was no longer producing viable fruit, and was robbing the remaining plants of water and nutrients.  The tomatoes ~ oh!  the tomatoes!  They were glorious!  In salads, sauces, stews, soups, caprese, on sandwiches, fried while still green, canned for later…they really were wonderful tomatoes.  Unfortunately, the leaf-legged bugs agreed.  We tried everything to get rid of the nasty little things.  We don’t like to use chemicals on our food (or in our environment, for that matter), so we tried safe, natural alternatives first (soapy water, soapy water with hot pepper, picking them off by hand).  When our home remedies did not work, we tried a couple of sprays approved for use in organic gardening.  With every try, the bugs would be chased away for a day, and then they’d be back, with reinforcements.  We cut back all of the dead branches, chased off the bugs, washed down tomatoes and leaves, sprayed with our organic-gardening approved sprays, picked as many tomatoes as we possibly could…all to no avail.  I want to thank Justice, who, knowing how phobic I am when it comes to bugs, did a lot of the picking during this time.  She is a real trooper, and saved a lot of tomatoes.  There were still so many tomatoes on the vine that we just couldn’t give up, so, in a last-ditch effort to save them, we took the plunge and sprayed a regular old garden pest spray.  I don’t think doing so saved a single tomato.  These tenacious little bugs just would not go away, and there were just too many for us to pick off and dispatch of by hand.  Last week, we finally looked at the garden and admitted to ourselves that we had gotten as many tomatoes out of our plants as would this season.

While I appreciated Shane doing all the work ~ and I knew it needed to be done ~ I have to admit, I was a little sad to come home and see this:
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Then, I got to thinking.  We got a lot out of our garden this year.  We ate tons of healthy, homegrown food, and we spent lots of time working outdoors with the plants.  We got exercise, sunshine and nourishment ~ for our bodies and our souls.  Our garden has been a great source of food (saving us money), has helped us connect with others in our community, and a wonderful stress management tool for me.

I decided to catalogue what we do have, instead of dwelling on what we don’t.  It needs a good weeding, to be sure, but there are still plants in our garden.  Only the tomatoes and zucchini are gone.  We still have:

ImageGreen Peppers

ImageJalapenos

ImageFennel (yes, yes, I need to weed!)

ImageA little bit of basil that was hiding under one of the tomatoes.

Imageand a few rogue carrots that we really didn’t expect to grow, considering how off-season we planted them.

We also have marigolds and petunias, but I really need to rescue them from the surrounding weeds, a.k.a. “grass,” before I can photograph them.  Poor things.  Where we live, we find that subscribing to the “weeds as grass” method of lawn maintenance saves us tons of water, but leads to the “grass as weeds” problem in our vegetable garden, as is evidenced above.

Our herbs continue to thrive:

ImageLavender

ImageMint

ImageCinder block full o’ thyme

There are tiny kumquats on our little baby kumquat tree:

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and tons of hard little green guava just waiting to be beautiful, juicy guava:

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There are even a couple of lovely pomegranates hanging over the back wall from our neighbours’ yard:

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So, all in all, I would say we are doing just fine.  I am starting to look in to what (and when) I can start planting for next growing season.  Looks like we have a lot of wonderful options.

In the end, maybe we didn’t lose plants so much as we gained space to put in new plants.  After all, ” There is a season for everything, a time for every occupation under heaven,” right?

Perhaps, it is now my time to sit on the porch, watching the birds.  It will be time to plant again soon enough.

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NEW SOFA – by Shane

A few years ago we bought this sofa from Ikea…well, it is more of a chaise/loveseat combo. TYLOSAND is the name of model, and it was eggplant purple. 

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It was a fine sofa, for three weeks, until the first spring underneath it popped loose.  You see, the designers at Ikea had the bright idea of using plastic clips to hold them in place.  Not the best choice…as springs kept popping loose every month or so.  Sometimes when I was sitting on the sofa, sometimes when my littlest child was sitting on the sofa.  Sometimes when no one was sitting on the sofa. 

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All in all I fixed this problem 25 times.

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Meanwhile, while I was drilling lead holes and screwing in eyelets and straining to put the springs in those lead holes, and fixing the other side that would pop loose while I was straining to fix it…my family was off in Costco-land, discovering a new and wonderful sofa, that they all decided they wanted to live on.

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My lovely wife, Sam, texted me that photo one day at work, saying that not only did the kids want to live on that sofa, but it was ON SALE!  Normally this sofa runs $1299…far of our reach. But here it was on sale for $750!….because it was the demo model.  Now, that was still a bit high, so I said let’s sleep on it for a day.

So we slept on the idea, and another spring popped off of the Tylosand, and we decided to go for it.

BUT…it was gone. Things on sale don’t last for long at Cosco. So we left, bummed.  Then my wife, who also was in love with the sofa and wanted to live on it, did a little searching on the internet, seeing if she could find it on sale somewhere else. It is  a Canby 7 piece sectional, by the Emerald company. Each one of those pieces is separate, and can be arranged any way you want. Or, you can connect them via connections on the bottom. This is the perfect sofa for my wife, as she loves to re-arrange the house on a regular basis. 

This was her dream sofa…she wasn’t going to settle for anything else.

Then, she found it on Craigslist, searching for “Emerald Canby 7-piece sectional.” There was a listing for it at a discount warehouse, and one not too far from us…one mile away. We hopped into the car and raced over there as fast as we could.

Aaaaaand, it was gone. RATS and DOUBLE RATS!  Quite a let down, for sure.  So Sam asked about the Canby sofa that they had advertised, if it had sold or what? They said unfortunately it had sold, but they could check their other stores, and their warehouse for us.

So while we waited on that, we wandered about aimlessly and discovered that this discount warehouse was stock full of really cool things. Open box things, like sidewalk lights and sink fixtures and water purifiers and furniture and appliances and clothing. Funny, most of the items there were the Kirkland brand…Costco’s brand. We asked the employees about this and they said that they buy up all the demo units and overstock merchandise and things with damaged packaging from the local Costco stores, and sell it at a discounted price.  Not the food, but everything else.

It was glorious!

OK, back to the sofa. The employee took our phone number and said that they would call us if another one came in.  Later that day they called saying that they had located another Canby sectional at their other store, and that they would bring it to this location if we wanted it.  WE WANTED IT! So they said they’d call when it arrived. They really went above and beyond.

Next weekend they called…it was in!  We raced down there…bought it, and took it home in a few trips.  Good thing it was a sectional, otherwise we’d have to rent a truck. But, all we had to do was throw a couple pieces in the car at a time and take the quick jaunt home.

We now have our dream sofa.

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Now we have room for all of us to sit on the sofa at the same time…including the cats.

Where did we get this great deal? Where is this wonderful place with all the Costco overstock merchandise?  It’s called SoCal Outlets, and it’s at 13245 Sherman Way, North Hollywood, CA.  If you are in LA…you should check it out.image

 

 

Not Exactly Weekly Not Exactly Update ~ by Sam

So, it’s been more than a week since I last gave the general rundown of our progress.  Our progress has been somewhat backward this week (or two), so I guess I have been shy about writing.  We decided to buy the sofa.  More on that from Shane later.  Suffice it to say, it cost us a rather large chunk o’ change.  It was, however, considerably less than we thought we would spend on a sofa, so ~ Score!

On the homefront:  It has been roughly nine million degrees out here lately, so no one feels like cooking, and no one feels like eating.  Nevertheless, there are dinners to make and lunches to pack.  I did so well my first week or so with the cash-only spending, but then, this week, it sort of fell apart.  I got my cash on Saturday, as planned.  Shane deposited his check on Friday, and he got enough for my weekly $100 (that’s groceries + whatever else comes up), as well as cash for the sofa, which we had decided to buy.  Now, my $100 usually goes to grocery and household expenses, but, somehow, I got all mixed up and use some of it for something else (a gift, I think, and maybe a PTA membership…I can’t remember).  So, then I had much less than usual to work with.  It also happened that this was a Costco week.  I needed some of the bigger staple items, and that took a big chunk out of the budget.  So, by Monday, I was down to $27.  I thought I could stretch that through the week (because I am insane, apparently), but it just didn’t work.  After we bought the sofa, we split up the leftover money between the two of us, and…well. mine is gone.  I don’t even know where it went.  However, there is some good news (besides the fact that we can finally all sit on our sofa and watch a movie together):  I just counted all of the coins in our jar, saved from the past couple of weeks, and..*drumroll*…we have $12.30 in our little coin jar.  Not bad!  If we save up 5 or 6 bucks per week, we’ll have…um…more money in there at some later time.  (I am so good at math!)  Fine…I’ll use a calculator.  If we manage to put $5 in the jar each week, by this time next year, we will have saved about $260.  That’s not too shabby, in my opinion.

Today will be about trying to get myself back on track (it is a constant struggle for me to stay on track).  I have many raspberries in the fridge, waiting to become jam, tons of flour that needs to be turned into bread, scones, etc., and a few things to clean and organize.  I made a huge pot of refried beans, and a huge pot of rice a few days ago, so I can probably put off grocery shopping one more day.  Before I begin, however, I will sit and enjoy a cool and refreshing homemade (and probably vastly more nutritious than the kind I used to buy) iced mocha.  I use cold-brewed iced coffee and dark chocolate almond milk.  Pour it all over a tall glass of ice, stir, and enjoy.  Not only is it delicious, but it is high in calcium, and I didn’t use any gas or waste yet another disposable plastic cup.  And, yes, that does make it especially satisfying for me.

Oh!  Before I go, I will leave you with a recipe:

1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup organic sugar/evaporated cane juice
1/2 cup peanut butter (creamy or crunchy, depending on your preference)
3 cups cheerios (or try chex, corn flakes, rice crispies, broken pretzels…)

Grease an 8-inch square pan with coconut oil or butter.  In a medium saucepan, bring honey and sugar just to a boil.  Turn off heat.  Stir in peanut butter until smooth and combined.  Stir in cereal, coating well.  Using lightly oiled or buttered hands (or spoon), press mixture evenly into prepared pan.  Allow to cool for at least 1 hour.  Cut into bars or squares.  Yummy!

Got the recipe here http://www.cheerios.com/recipes/honey-peanut-squares/b70cfd8a-9589-4a7a-9991-ba90100ed8be#.Uin1N2Q9CYJ, and didn’t change it much.  Kids love them, and they are easy to pack in lunchboxes.  Cheaper than packaged bars, and no nasty disposable packaging.  You can probably add in other ingredients, too (dried fruit, chopped nuts, ground flaxseeds, hemp seeds, shredded coconut, etc.  I am going to try this method to make granola bars, using oats instead of at least some of the cereal), and I am sure you can sub something (soy or sunflower butter, perhaps) for the peanut butter, if you have allergies.