Friday, September 30, 2011

Weekend Reading: American Wasteland

American Wasteland: How America Throws Away Nearly Half Its Food (And What You Can do About It) by Jonathan Bloom. De Capo Press, 2010.

Much like when I recently read a book about hoarding and kept finding myself hopping up to clean and organize things, so too was I hyperaware while reading this book of the excess of food in my house, what I was going to need to eat next and how long those zucchini had been chilling out in my crisper.  If everyone read just a little bit of this book every morning, kind of like how some people read the bible, I bet food waste in this country would go down significantly.  Either way, this is a fascinating, if depressing, book that actually features a few of my favorite frugality bloggers and manages to make a clear point without being preachy--I like that.

Best Takeaways:

  • In 2009, the average American household wasted $2200  worth of food (24).  That's just depressing.  Add to that the cost to grow, harvest and ship that food and the food waste, and it's just horrifying.
  • Even our produce is getting supersized (100).  Whenever I think of large portions, I think of restaurant food.  When I go out to eat, I typically come out feeling so overstuffed and sick that the notion of going out to eat at all is less attractive to me.  Add to that the fact that I will most likely be eating my leftovers for the next meal, possibly two.  But I also noticed last summer when I was going through a banana phase, how hard it was to finish even a single banana.  I'm not saying this to try to convince you I'm some kind of delicate flower or something, but there is often a finite amount of banana that I want to eat in one sitting, and even though I would purposely grab the smallest bunch I could find--or take smaller bananas off of other bunches and have a bunch of loose, I could usually only eat half and then I would have to come up with a way to make it last until I wanted it again, which is a pain in the ass.  People love baby carrots, give me a baby banana!  Apparently, food retailers think large produce looks better, I assume healthier, but once you open a banana or cut an apple, it just doesn't last as long.  Let's get back to normal sizes, please.
  • Reed College in Portland, OR has a "Scroungers Line" in their cafeteria where students who don't have a meal plan line up and share the unfinished food from the people who do have a meal plan (249).  I'm still a little fuzzy on how this works, but it's reducing food waste and feeding hungry (and thrifty) students, so that can't be a bad thing.  Double bonus, the scroungers believe that their immune systems are strengthened by the constant consumption of different germs.
  • We can harness the power of garbage.  There are facilities in England where people (usually food processing companies) bring their excess food waste for anerobic digestion.  This is where the food waste is put into a machine and allowed to break down releasing methane, which is then captured and re-routed "Methane can power a generator in order to create electricity.  It can be compressed into a natural gas... and it can be cooled and used as a liquid natural gas." (259)  Methane is a natural byproduct of food breakdown, but in US landfills, it's often just vented out of the pile using long, curved pipes.  That keeps the landfill from exploding, but doesn't actually do anything with the methane except release it into the atmosphere.
  • Plate Waste. One restaurant owner in California, in an effort to reduce food waste overall, but plate waste (the food left on the plates of diners that can't be donated or re-used) in particular was very worried that his customers would think he was ripping them off by reducing the amount of homefries that come with breakfast.  He studied how many got consumed, on average, and then reduced the number served to that amount.  Then he put a line in the menu that anyone who wanted more homefries could have unlimited refills.  He said some people request the refill, most don't, and very few diners take advantage and abuse the policy.  Serving people what they can actually eat--makes sense to me.
  • We really do eat with our eyes.  This is something I've heard many times, and agree with completely.  If you serve people more food, they will eat more.  We eat based less on how full we feel, but how much food is gone from the plate.  Studies have shown that people served large tubs of stale popcorn will still consume about half even though they don't like the taste; the author mentions a study where people were eating soup from bowls connected to tubes that automatically refilled them.  Those people ate 30% more soup than people eating from non-refilling bowls.  
All in all, a fascinating (if depressing) read that I would recommend to anyone.  It also, reminded me again, that I need to start composting.  Problem is, I have no yard of any kind and therefore no place to put the compost.  I heard a while ago that there are compost barrels at Whole Foods, but possibly not at all stores... I need to go check that out.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Let's Invent a Recipe!

Today we're going to play a game that I just invented, and it's the game of inventing!  This is a firm bite of the thumb to those menu planners who claim that no good can come from flying by the seat of your pants, mealwise.  What is a recipe anyway?  Recipes can't be copyrighted because people can change then wily-nily, and some recipes are not recipes at all, but rather instructions on how to eat food.  Exhibit A: Late Night Bacon. Exhibit B: Dark Chocolate as a Snack (Sadly, they've taken the recipe for this one down, but the reviews are still up.  Also, I remember the recipe perfectly as all it said was Take one ounce dark chocolate, eat it and enjoy!).  So in that vein, let's invent a recipe, and by invent a recipe, I mean, take ingredients and make a meal.

Today, I would like to use up the little bit of quinoa that I have, and also incorporate some black beans as I have those on hand, and am on a bean kick.  Just the two of those together sounds a wee bit bland, so I'm going to throw in a can of diced tomatoes, which I bought on sale.
Black beans are just out of the freezer, but I'll defrost them.

I cooked up the quinoa according to the directions, and added my own little magic flavor bullet:
My hand looks huge!
Vegetable bullion.  This is an excellent way to make quinoa more interesting to eat, but is high in sodium.  Since the beans we're using were dried, not canned, we should be just fine.  No hypertension here.

I added about 1/2 the can of tomatoes, and half the container of beans to the quinoa once it was done cooking.  I could have added more, but I only had about 1/3 cup quinoa left in the bag.  Why do they tell you to cook it one cup at a time, and then put about 3 1/3 cups worth of quinoa in the bag?  That's just like the hot dog bun thing, but I've got ingenuity on my side.

End result:

A delicious lunch!
I sprinkled on some feta I remembered I had, and voila!  Healthy, hearty and tasty.  Is this the most delicious thing I'll ever eat?  Of course not, but I'm very happy to eat it, and to bring it to work for lunch tomorrow.

So there you go.  I've proven my point most effectively.  Once you know a bit about cooking, or are brave, you don't need to plan meals to the letter.  Being creative is more fun, and then you have a meal that not only tastes good (hopefully), but one that you can take pride in because you really made it all on your own.

I'm just going to guess at the cost of this, but I estimate:
~$,50 for the quinoa, $.15 for the beans, $.40 for tomatoes, $.30 for feta = $1.35 for two servings.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Remix: Round Three

I got this dress for $4 at Target about two years ago.


Because it was hella on clearance, I had to take a size large, which is just a wee bit too big, but since it's all loose and flowy, it doesn't matter too much.


I just loved this detail too much to pass it up.  The problem is that this dress has pretty much no coverage on top, and because of the deeps V, I can't even wear a strapless bra with it, meaning I have to go braless.  I do not go braless.  Because of that, this has become my "lying around the house" dress, which works, but seems like a waste since it is so cute.  Now, I am going to try out that whole using a dress as a skirt thing, and I think this is an ideal first candidate.

First I tried wearing the skirt with a navy button-down over it:

Not bad.  The issue here is that because the dress is so large, the belt really pinches it making those gathers which I do not care for. I tried it first with a tighter belt, which was a huge problem, so I also had to settle for the belt with the cut-out shape in the front, which doesn't really disguise the shirt knot that well--that belt had a lot to contain.  Overall, I do not care for it.

I swapped out the button-down for a tank top and cardigan.  The cardigan serves both the purpose of keeping me warm, but also hiding some of the bunching around the waist.  End result:
Much better, I think.  The tank top is thinner, so I feel less bulky overall, and the cardigan handily disguises many of the weird wrinkles.  Add in my pair of brown boots, and we've got some hippie librarian chic!

What do you guys think?

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Beans!

Anyone who has even dipped a toe into the waters of frugality  already knows that beans are among the frugalest food options out there.  They're super cheap, they're full of fiber so they fill you up and they're full of protein to give you energy.  But I have recently been stumped by the bean.

In my mind, you don't just eat beans on their own, you have to do something with them or put them in something, and I frequently got hung up on what that something you put them in is.  But then I realized that, as I often do, I was completely overthinking the bean because I was trying to look at it through the lens of frugality and not just as a delicious food item.

I made a kick-ass vegetarian chili when I was back in college, but haven't made that in years (not sure why--make a note of that...), and I come from a long line of Lutherans for whom the pot of baked beans is a constant at all holidays and family meals.  I used to actually eat garbanzo beans out of the can with a spoon, and love it.  What the hell changed? Why did I suddenly forget about my constant companion, the bean?

So  I've been making a conscious effort to change that.  To get back together with beans, or at least just be friends if not in an exclusive relationship.  To date: I've made my own hummus, I'm exploring the world of black beans, I made my own falafel, I frequently make awesome split pea soup and lentil loaf. Plus, I've finally gotten the hang of dried beans, which are significantly cheaper and lower in sodium (I sound like such a grownup!)

One of my favorite, and easiest way to eat beans is to just dump some pre-soaked black beans (or canned, rinsed black beans) in a bowl and season with this:

Spices!  The poor man's way to flavor!
I never would have tried this in the past because it's steak seasoning, and I do not eat steak.  However, I had dinner at a friend's house once and she sprinkled this little wonder liberally on some grilled zucchini (note, it's also great on grilled zucchini), and I was forever changed.  Sprinkle this on some black beans, and then just eat them with a spoon, I kid you not.  Plus, this stuff is super cheap, frequently on sale, and comes in a variety intended to be used with chicken, but that also goes well with not chicken.

If the thought of eating a bowl of beans for dinner makes you feel like a hobo, then just use them as an accent with rice or quinoa.  Or make this salad, or these spicy black bean cakes.

What I've discovered about dried beans, is that it takes forever to get them softened--unless you use a crock pot!  If you do not yet have a crock pot, start a smartypig savings account to get one post-haste!  I used to leave dried beans in tepid water on the counter for what felt like days.  Sometimes I'd jostle the container and get water everywhere, sometimes I'd get the brilliant idea that by adding a bit of vinegar, it would make the beans soften faster.  Then I read that that is exactly the opposite of what you want to do.

Either way, I'm good with my legumes now, and am super excited about experimenting.  Expect many more bean recipes to come as I traverse this new, and colorful land.

Monday, September 26, 2011

How Quickly We Forget

The other day BF expressed interest in a new DVD player.  We presently have two (one upstairs and on in the basement near my treadmill), so the thought of getting a new one, when our two work perfectly well, was appalling to me.

"We could get one of those ones... stream Netlix... switch to Amazon prime cause Netflix is being stupid..."  His argument was reasoned, I guess, but it just seems incredibly silly to pay money to buy something that is strictly not needed.  There are plenty of other things I would rather bring into our household (though I can't really think of one besides food) before we go replacing items we already own.  Then what happens?  We get a souped-up DVD player and start realizing that watching movies that aren't blue-ray is completely unentertaining, they we have to re-vamp our DVD collection?  It's a vicious, vicious cycle, and I want no part--No Part!  I do not need to be able to look into the pores of the actors in order to enjoy a movie, and I stand by that.

OMG!
When I was a kid, I got an allowance.  I had a set amount of money coming to me each week, and once it was gone, it was gone.  Because of that, I was very, very discerning about what I spent it on.  I saved up for things I really wanted; I tried a new candy only after it had gotten a positive review from a trusted friend, and I did this automatically because I knew there was no worse feeling (having found out the hard way) than squandering my allowance on crappy candy bars, or some toy that broke right away, or silly string (total ripoff!).  If I spent my five dollars at the beginning of the week, and then the local store got in a shipment of the must-have item like, for instance, slap bracelets, I would be out of luck and tragically uncool.  I would be forced to beg my parents for an advance on my allowance (which they would never give me), try to hustle up a babysitting gig, or beg money off of my brother (and then get into trouble with my parents).

Somewhere along the way, I lost sight of that, the memory of how I used to really want things and spend in a more discerning way.  Instead of saving up, now I just charge it and deal with paying it off later.  The ability to do this certainly comes in handy when I have an unexpected crisis, like a car repair, but I should really be more thoughtful overall about with I spend my limited disposable income on.

I was kind of doing that when I started the smartypig account, but, in the interest of full disclosure, I must admit that I've already actually acquired my new iPod even though the piggy is only 70% full.  I set my rate of saving too low, but the experience was rewarding nonetheless.  I'm going to look back through my budget and from now on, really stick with the spending limits I've set.  Yes, I do really, really want this dress, but practically speaking, it's jersey, and may not look as flattering on my figure as it does on a dressmaker's dummy.  I don't need to spend $7 on shipping to learn that.

Say no to the dress AND the DVD player!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

I Could Sell You Water

The University where I work started out as a business college in 1863.  Since that time, it has expanded, but business, and similar majors, are always the biggest draw.  Every year students in Business 101 have to come up with a product and complete a business plan.  They have to research market share, competitors, figure out costs--it's actually pretty fascinating not only to watch them to the research, but to learn what these future capitalists are going to try to sell me next.

The other day, a student sat down with me and told me that he was researching the soda industry and that he needed some help.  I showed him a couple sources including Hoovers, which does industry profiles.  As we were looking at the profile of Coca Cola, he said something like "That's the number one soda in the world, one in three people drink Coke daily."

"I've heard that." I said.

"Of course, Pepsi is very popular as well."

"This is true."

"Which do you drink?" he demanded.

"I prefer Coke to Pepsi, but I don't really drink soda."

He looked shocked, "So what, you drink water?"

"Yes."

"I could sell you bottled water then." He said this with a kind of finality that made it seem like every time he interacts with a person he tries to figure out what he can sell that person.  It was the statement 'I could sell you water' that just stuck in my head though.

I remember when I was in high school, the thought of buying water was absolutely insane, it just wasn't done. This may have been because we were teenagers, and finally had the disposable income necessary to buy candy and soda every day, or it may have just been the idea that paying money for something you can get for free seems incredibly stupid.  I actually started buying bottled water is high school though, because I was frequently out with friends and just didn't want to drink soda all the time.

People made fun of me for it, "Don't you know Evian is Naive spelled backwards?" and now, a handful of years later, people with perfectly good water coming out of their taps, go to the grocery store and buy water by the caseload.  It baffles me, it really does.

"I don't buy bottled water." I told the student.

"You what?  You drink tap water?"  he sounded completely horrified and said tap as if it was a dirty word.  "You never drink bottled water?"

"Well, if I'm far away from home and I'm thirsty and didn't bring water with me, then, yes, I might buy a bottle of water.  But that happens pretty infrequently.  I really don't want to spend my money on something I can get for free, and there's nothing wrong with tap water."

He sat there for a moment mulling this over, and then admitted, "That's smart."

"Yeah, I know."

So even though this kid is a freshman in business school, and we have no idea where he'll wind up, it felt really good to say, "No, you can't sell me this, you cannot have my money for something I do not need."

It's a small victory.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Food Waste Friday: Rotten Tomatoes

Guys, I suck at tomatoes. Tomatoes and basil never seem to last once I bring them into my house.  I got a six-pack of tomatoes on the vine from Trader Joe's last week, and managed to eat one.  Three were rotten about four days later, and then bf threw the remaining two away.  It was as he was throwing them away, that I realized that my basil was also looking pretty tragic.

Ok, I consulted this list about how to properly store vegetables, and I followed the instructions, but it hasn't worked!  It seems like I pick the prettiest, greenest basil at the store, and as soon as I bring it home, it starts turning brown, and quickly devolves into a science experiement.  Then all I want is basil and I can't have it!

I've found that tomatoes do seem to last longer when I put them in the crisper, but the list says not to do that because it makes them mealy and flavorless.  So now I'm down to: do I want to throw away rotten tomatoes, or eat mealy ones?  I'm so torn and so sick of wasting these delicious foods that comprise 1/2 of my favorite breakfast (fried egg with basil and tomato on a bun).  Help!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Remix: Round Two, Summer into Fall

This past week, The Everyday Minimalist did a series on remixing outfits that was totally helpful and awesome.  It's like she read my mind! I really like the idea of using a dress as a skirt or a top rather than as a dress, and I think I'll get there soon, but not quite yet.  This week a dress is still a dress, just appropriate for a different season.

Behold, my adorable dress from Modcloth:
Love!
Perfect summer dress and it has enough coverage in the boob area that I can wear it to work at the library.  But since it's a summer dress, that means I have to put it to the back of my closet at the end of August, no?

Hell no:

With a little cardigan and a belt: voila!  Perfect for fall.  It's still warm enough that I could go barelegged with a pair of black flats, but once it gets colder, I can go with tights and boots and be just as cozy.  Double bonus, I have a similar belt in brown, so I can re-remix this outfits in earthier tones should I feel like it.

What's likely to happen in this situation, is that I will remix this dress in so many ways that my co-workers will get sick of looking at it, but who cares!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

A Lovely Week

It's not really cold enough here for things to look like this...yet
Since last week was hectic and stressful, I have decided to take this week off a treat myself to a lovely week.  I'm still going to work (can't get out of that), but instead of getting all stressy about things, I'm going to just check things off of my to-do list and indulge a bit here and there.  It's the perfect fall weather here where it's crisp and cool and it just makes me want to put on fabulous clothes and get things done.

The Agenda:

Monday:  Worked 5-10pm.  Before going to work, instead of getting all petulant about the fact that I have to go to work, I made home made falafel and tzatziki sauce and read a lovely book (more on that later).  I had planned to run some errands, but turns out, I didn't feel like it.

Tuesday: Work 6-10pm.  In about fifteen minutes, I'm going to go for a nice run--probably 5-6 miles, but if at four miles I feel like stopping, I'll turn back around.  After that, I'm going to eat something delicious, and then go run errands.  Later this afternoon, if it's not raining, I'll walk to the post office near the shoe store and mail a package.  Then I'll go to the shoe store (that I have a groupon for!) and browse. Finally, on my way home, I'm going to stop at Starbucks and use my free birthday drink coupon to treat myself to a Pumpkin Spice latte.

Wednesday: Work 11am-7pm.  Going for a run in the morning, then to work, possibly to Old Navy before work to return something, but I may want to linger over brunch instead.  After work, meeting two fab gals to celebrate a friend's new job.  I will be having a martini and a chopped salad!

Thursday: Work 1-5.  Maybe go for a run in the morning, but I might not feel like it.  Leisure: TBD--I can't be too structured.  May make Cuban black beans.  Probably will try on more outfits in the hopes of creating more remixes. May go shopping for foundation garments.

Friday: Work 9-5.  Clean office?  Squeeze cat?  Watch classic whodunit film And Then There Were None.?  The sky is the limit!

Saturday: Day off!  Long run in the morning then off to the Ecotarium (for which I also have a groupon).  Possibly home-made pizza for dinner, possibly last chance of the season to sit on the deck at my favorite bar and look at the water, possibly martini with a stylish friend, possibly just sitting in my reading chair devouring the VC Andrews classics I have on deck: Flowers in the Attic and Petals on the Wind (read them in HS, but I should probably take another look...)

Sunday: Work 4-10.  Leisure TBD.

So there you have it--one lovely week.  I'm pretty pumped, and I'll be checking a lot of things off of my to-do list while relaxing and drinking fancy coffee.  Not to mention, spending very little money this week, but I still forsee plenty of satisfaction.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Internet is Magic Link Love

Want to make more money for doing nothing?  Then you might consider a high interest rate checking account.  Bankrate.com did a survey of what's available including APY and account balance limit.  Sorry this sounds so much like a commercial, I just really love earning interest!

LearnVest examines whether or not you need a tailor to fix your clothes--genius!

The lovely Annabelle from Shopping Detox is participating in the Food Basket Challenge, which is where regular, non-food pantry users get their food from the food pantry for a week (they don't get to pick what they get), and embrace the challenge of eating healthily on a "mixed bag" of items.  This is fascinating because there have been times when I've considered actually going to the food bank, but never felt quite poor enough to do it.  Plus, like Annabelle, every item I've ever donated has been something like a can of spagettiO's or Pasta Roni i.e. not the healthiest stuff and not something I'd want to eat. It's great to learn what the food pantry actually gives a person, but how you have to use a bit of ingenuity.

I like most of what Kristen has to say on The Frugal Girl, but this post made me sigh a little sigh of agreement. Although, in my case, I'd change one line to "learn to like the companionship of cats" instead of dogs.
 
I mean--come on!  What's better than that?


I love xkcd web comics--and I really love this one where they talk about "frugal" behavior.
Pajama Jeans are the worst thing ever.  Worse than jeggings.  We should talk about this more often.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Weekend Reading: Not Buying It

Not Buying It: My Year Without Shopping by Judith Levine. Simon & Schuster, 2006.

I found this book while wandering in the library stacks and initially thought it would be an interesting read.  Then I started reading it and thought it was a piece of pretentious garbage; then I got over that and realized that I actually liked it quite a bit--so many feelings!  I was initially drawn to this book because I've failed spectacularly in the three No Buy Months I've attempted (always in February), so I was curious to see if someone could actually pull off a whole year.

In addition to talking about her own experiences, Levine actually explores other aspects of consumer culture i.e. the rules of gift-giving, and she does some research.  I have a very well-developed set of prejudices against any books that includes the phrase "A year of" or "My year of" because it's so  gimmicky, and it seems like you can always get something out of an experiment like that if you know you're planning to write a book about it.  That said, I'm always racking my brains to come up with something I could do for a year and then write a book about, so maybe this is all sour grapes.

Either way, this is a real book (if a bit gimmicky) written by a talented writer, and she has convinced me that she has something to say other than just complaining about how she misses her smartwool socks.  Judith and her partner Paul (I can't believe she convinced someone else to go along with this, but it would have been truly awful if 1/2 the couple didn't participate--like every time I've done this), spend a year, New Years Day to New Year's Eve only buying what is absolutely necessary.

The Rules:
No eating out
No prepared foods--including those from the grocery store
No gifts unless those gifts are home-made foodstuffs or re-gifted items

What's allowed:
Only necessities for sustenance, health and business i.e. toilet paper, but no q-tips

Best Takeaways: 

  • In the beginning of the experiment, there was a lot of complaining, a lot of deprivation, but by the end, the author actually says "As our stockpiles of socks and sauces dwindle and the buffer between ourselves and extremity fall, I can see that Paul and I have everything we need.  This makes me feel less, not more afraid... Having less, I feel more financially secure than in decades." (194)  I have to say, that since our household lost most of our food to the pantry moths and tropical storm power outage, I've actually taken pleasure again in coming home and figuring out what I can make to eat with what I have.  I actually found a recipe online that I'm going to make for dinner tomorrow, and was shocked to realize that even though I feel like I have no food, I have everything I need to make it already.
  • "The preference for private over public is based on at least two fallacies.  One is that a dollar circulating through the government's till behaves differently than one moving through Wal-Mart's.  Now, there are differences in how these dollars are spent.  For one, unlike the Wal-Mart cashier, the worker at the Motor Vehicles Bureau is likely to belong to a union and therefore earn a decent salary and get health insurance and a pension.  Anti-tax pundits would lead us to believe that we taxpayers are bankrolling the fat wage and benefits package of the public-sector worker, while Wal-Mart is carrying its own weight.  In fact, by declining to offer its workers insurance or sufficient wages to buy the basics for themselves, Wal-mart shifts the bill to the state.  After all, the cashier gets sick anyway, her children get hungry.  When these things happen, she turns to Medicaid or food stamps, and the rest of us subsidize not just the cashier, but Wal-Mart itself."  
  • "As I noticed on the mountain trails in Bozeman, leisure is a form of work.  Teach a man to fish and he will buy a pair of $400 Simms waders."  That was a bit of a slap in the face after my recent overspending on hobbies woes.  I've been toying with the notion of doing back to back weekend 1/2 marathons--one this Sunday, another the next week.  It's a new challenge, and could be fun.  But what might be just as fun, is not paying another $60 and driving 45 minutes, but just running 13 miles because I can and want to.  Yes, the pressure of competing and paying registration ramps up the excitement, but it also makes me very aware that a lot of people run faster than me, which crushes my spirits a bit.  It's a mixed bag, but I've decided I'm going to save that $65 for next season.
Final verdict: recommended.  It's interesting, a bit preachy in parts, but overall--solid.


Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Remix: Round One

I know that Fashion Instruction Legends Stacey and Clinton always urge people to buy pieces that they can then mix and match, but I find that I keep getting hung up what I think of as the One Outfit Thing.  The one outfit thing is where my brain says: That skirt, you wear it with that top, maybe that other one, but no other.  This results in me not only buying the same clothes over and over, but also wearing the same thing all the time.  I have a full closet, so there's no reason for this to happen.  I also have a tendency to just wear the stuff on the top of the pile, and neglect the clothes a couple layers down, but I blame my closet's poor design for this as well as my own laziness.

Does this happen to anyone else?

This fall, I am going to make a serious effort to remix my wardrobe and trick my brain into thinking that I have more clothes than I do.  Hopefully, this will make my existing wardrobe more fun for me and I'll stop buying new outfits.  I'm also quickly realizing that with fall semester comes the "everyone wants a piece of Andria" time of year.  School is starting, which means that I have to teach a whole lotta classes at job #2, and job #1 is going to start giving computer classes in October, which I will also be teaching.  This means extra running around, and extra standing in front of large groups of people, for which I'd like to look good.

I'm going to spend some time trying on outfits, and, in the spirit of Cher Horowitz from the movie Clueless, I'm going to take pictures of them so I remember what I did.  It would be nice to be the type of girl who just opens the closet door and yanks out the perfect outfit, but I have to admit, time has proven that I am not that girl.

For my first trick, I re-evaluated my navy skirt.  I bought it because it's a classic piece, has a great shape, and because it goes with everything.  What I failed to remember is the part about it going with everything!  The first time I wore it, I paired it with a lighter blue sweater, and the result was apparently so pleasing to me that I haven't worn it with any other top since.

Last week I set out to change that.

This is my standard outfit when I wear this skirt:
Cute, right?
Totally comfortable and cute, I'm just sick of wearing it.

Here's the remix:



White polka dots on a dark brown shirt because,
brown goes with navy!  It took me a while to
figure that out, sadly.
This outfit is a double remix because that brown shirt was languishing in my closet, unworn, due to the fact that it had some serious ruffling going on in the front.  It was just too much ruffle.  Then, when I looked at it, I realized that the edges of the ruffle were unfinished, that means I can cut off the offending ruffle without ruining the shirt!  So I did!  Now I have a shirt that I like and will actually wear, and this outfit inspired a man in a tracksuit to say "I like your style."

The goal is to remix at least one outfit per week.  Let's see how I do.  I wish a had a mannequin...

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Austerity is a Pretty Word

I was just reading an article in The Guardian: Greece Braced for Mass Protests as Austerity Cuts Bite, and I realized that I get a little thrill when I see the word austerity.  Obviously, 10,000 Greek public sector workers losing their jobs is a terrible thing (and I say this as a public sector employee), but sometimes I just wish we could all sort of band together in the spirit of austerity.

I watched BBC's 1940's House for the first time years ago, and it's the only one of that whole series that I've re-watched.  What it is, is kind of a retro reality show, where a family live under the conditions of World War II London.  They wear the clothes, the build a fallout shelter, they plant a garden, they put up blackout tape on the windows, there are simulated air raids and they undergo rationing. It's absolutely fascinating.  From the back cover of the DVD: "One modern family takes on the challenge of domestic life on Britain's home front in this recreation of a World War II household. This time-travel experiment covers the period from the outbreak of the war in 1939 to Victory Day in 1945, compressing the events of six wartime years into nine weeks. While the military threat is metaphorical, the privations are real and the pressure creates tensions nonexistent in modern society."

Growing up in the upper Midwest, I've dealt with my fair share of overland floods.  Pretty much every year around the same time, Fargo, ND goes under water.  1997, when I was in high school, our region underwent the most severe flood in over 100 years.  It completely devastated the region, and school was canceled for about a week so everyone could go out and sandbag--even if your own house was fine.  While that flood certainly wasn't a good thing, it really did bring home the "we're all in this together" feeling of solidarity that is decidedly lacking these days.

It was inspiring (which is not a word I bandy about too often) to see strangers just turn up at someone's farm because they heard that person needed help.  And even watching last year's flood via the internet and facebook, dozens of my Fargonean friends would post statuses like, "I want to go out and help--who needs help right now?"  I sandbagged the houses of people I'd never met--I couldn't even tell you their names.

My hope with the great recession of the past few years had been that we would get back to a little more of that "we're all in this together" mindset.  Certainly, massive unemployment is frustrating, but the push to live more simply hasn't come through as much as I had hoped.  Initially, when the bubble burst, there was a push for people to do more volunteering, help those in need and maybe learn a bit about how the other half lives.  That seems to have gone by the wayside, and even though we at the library have people trying to volunteer all the time, we don't have the staff to supervise them.  Now it seems like everyone is just bickering sniping and blaming Obama.

Regardless of what the rest of the country and world do, I'm going to keep up trying for austerity.  Austerity without severity--that's my new motto.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Back to School Link Love

Really, none of these links have anything to do with Back to School, I'm just hyper-aware that it is back to school time and all of my summertime lollygagging may bite me in the ass right quickly.  Don't ask me to explain Ebsco to you just yet, give me some time to catch back up.

In this meantime: from nearby Massachusetts, there's a Bat in the Library!!!  I love bats, I think they're among the adorableist creatures, but if I had one in my library, I might just jump up on a chair and scream.  It turns out that that's what I do when my cat catches a mouse, so bat, probably, even though standing on a chair puts me closer to the bat.  I can't explain it.
Full disclosure: I've never read this
Keeping with the bat theme, these videos are awesome, and this research is being done just three blocks from my house (give or take, I'm not sure which building).

I can't deny I've got a pretty serious crush on ultrarunner Scott Jurek.  I don't want to do what he does (100 miles in a single race, I'll stick with 13.1, thanks), but I love reading about it nonetheless.  Plus, he's from Minnesota (like me!) and he currently lives in the same city as my BFF, which means that we're destined to be pals.  Anyway, he just finished his fifth Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (google translate tells me that means tired but elated (not really)), so here's a recap


Thursday, September 8, 2011

Secret Shopping is Kind of a Racket

Not really this glamorous.  I would bet that she's just shopping,
 not secret shopping
When I finished grad school and went through my I can't find a job/ how will I eat and pay rent!?!?!? panic, I explored every possible way to make a little bit of cash and save money. Ok, maybe not every way, but I was pretty thorough, I think.  Most of my efforts are outlined in this blog post from way back: Gimmicks and Schemes, but I though I'd take another look at one that sounds fantastic but rarely is: Secret Shopping.

The two secret shopping companies I registered with were Bare International and Ath Power.  In order to qualify to secret shop with these companies, I had to take a battery of tests covering everything from my work ethic to my opinion of secret shoppers to my ability to do quick mental math.  I passed, thankfully, and then started trolling the job boards for something I was willing/ able to do.

The problem was, for the amount of work involved, the payoff was usually pretty lame.  $7 to go to a store, interact with a store employee in a very specific way (there was a script!), buy something and then return it five hours later?  The bulk of the listings were a lot like that: time-consuming and at stores I wouldn't shop at, and if you didn't do exactly what the instructions said, you either had to do it again, or didn't get paid.  Some of the shops required you to open a credit card, some required you to apply to get through airport security even though you weren't flying anywhere just so you could buy a slice of pizza at the Wolfgang Puck Express and rate the experience.

So not worth it
The first shop I did, I was in a serious panic. I printed off the instructions, read and re-read them in the car beforehand certain that I would be called out as a secret shopper.  What would I do then? Clearly, I would run away in shame.

The thing that I failed to remember before that first shop, is that when I worked at Huge Corporate Bookstore, we got secret shopped all the time.  Sometimes you could figure out who it was just based on the fact that it was a new face and not a regular customer, other times we had no idea.  Even if I was certain the person was a secret shopper, I never exposed him or her in the vaguely Scooby-Dooish manner I expected, cause then I (the merchant in this scenario) would have totally failed the shop!

If you do try secret shopping, I promise, this will never happen.

So even though I was registered with two companies and could theoretically be secret shopping all day every day, I really didn't want to do most of what was available.  Usually I can convince myself to do nearly anything that involves a cash incentive, but it turns out that going to Urban Outfitter, interacting with two store employees, trying on a skirt and returning it five hours later and meticulously detailing my experience all for $10--not worth it to me.  Also, there's the added sting of rejection when you apply for a shop, and they don't pick you.  That's right!  Just like applying for a real job, they can say "no thanks" and then you haven't even made that $7.  Eventually, I found my niche in bank shopping.

This was a bit awesome in that you just go to the bank, deposit a check, and then rate the transaction.  Since I have two separate bank accounts, this was no problem, and I made about $10 per shop.  The downside to this one, was that I was only allowed to shop a bank once every three months or so, so I kept having to travel farther and farther away to new and exotic bank branches, which seriously cut into my profits.

Finally, the bank that I did most of my secret shopping at added a $5/month fee for a checking account with a balance below $5000 (seriously, why would I keep that kind of money in an account that doesn't earn interest?  Do I look like a fool!?!?!), so I severed ties with them and with secret shopping in general.  Over the course of the year, I probably made about $200, which is certainly handy, but at the end of the day, just not worth the effort.

Anyone else tried secret shopping and had a different experience?

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Curse of the Activewear

Fitness is a fashion show--just like life!
I buy a lot of clothes.  I buy too many clothes, and I admit that here often.  I'm working on it, I swear I am, but my brain keeps foiling my plans!

I know that I don't need more skirts.  I know that though I would like more dresses, I don't need them.  And I know that with a little ingenuity, I can create new outfits with the clothes that I already have without spending a penny.  I know all of this.

But then there's the activewear.

When I was in high school, I used to work out in old, worn-out t-shirts.  I had no problem with that because I was either working out in my basement to a Denise Austin aerobics video, or I was in a 6am step aerobics class with a bunch of 40-year-olds.  I had a cute little outfit I wore for physical education class (where I never actually exerted myself enough to sweat), but otherwise I just didn't need much.

Fast forward to the present day, and I'm going to run a 5k next Sunday, and my 9th half marathon the Sunday after that.  I log about 20-25 miles per week depending on my work schedule, so that means that unless I want to do laundry every day (I don't want to do laundry every day), I need to have a good rotation of activewear.  I also now realize the value of having well-made active wear, which means that the old t-shirts don't cut it anymore.

I need clothes that wick so it's not too heavy when I start sweating; I need clothes that don't chafe me (or at least chafe me less); I need clothes that fit well, are long enough, and don't ride up my hips; I need clothes for hot humid summer days and freezing cold winter days.  Basically, it's a lot of stuff that I need.

I've got a good collection going.  I can usually wash my running clothes every other week, depending on how many days I've run.  The problem now is, I would actually like to look cute as well as high-performance, and Old Navy has gotten into the activewear game in a big way.

I used to just go to Target, buy whatever Champion had on sale, and call it good. It's well-made, inexpensive, it  works.  But they don't really have any fun colors so I was wearing nothing but black all the time, which also makes it potentially easier to get hit by a car.  Old Navy, on the other hand, realizes that I not only want to look like a pretty girl instead of a goth girl, but they've come up with a line of running tops that make me look thinner by having built in panels that hold in my fat bits and make me look like I have a waist!  Turns out, I love feeling pretty when I run--who knew?

Tiny Pocket!
Not only do they make me look thinner, but they have tiny pockets where I can stash my running treats and/or lip gloss!  Gah!  At first I bought one of these tops, but then I loved it so much that everything else I already own looks like crap.  Oh, I need some lip gloss!  Nope I'm wearing that crappy, old top that doesn't have a pocket!  I hate my life!  This is what goes on in my head.  So I bought two more, and a jacket, and another pair of shorts.  I also bought a pair of pants, but I'm going to return those. I look like an Old Navy commercial every time I go running, and I will seriously evangelize this activewear to anyone who has the misfortune to ask me about it.


Once again, it seems that this hobby of mine is draining my finances dry.  Yeah I save by not having a gym membership, but perhaps I'm just using "health" and "fitness" as an excuse to buy outfits.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Moneywise Monday: Free Money is the Best Thing Ever

I've had a savings account since I was a little kid, but it's only in the past three years or so that I took an active interest in it.  I set up an account with ING that has a decent interest rate, and I have a percentage of my paycheck from job #2 directly deposited in my regular savings account every other week.  The balance has been growing rapidly with no effort at all on my part.

One thing that I really love that ING does, is they tell you how much interest you've earned that month, and how much you've earned for the year.  I glanced at my total the other day, and was shocked to find that I've earned 63 dollars so far this year.  Sixty-three dollars of free (though taxable) money that I got for basically sitting on my ass.  Between this account and the other two that I have through ING, I'm on track to earn $100 in interest by the end of December.

Then I checked the balance on my Roth IRA. Even though the S&P has been floundering these past few weeks (seriously, who am I that I know these things?), I've invested about $1000 of my own money, and my current balance is $1300.  It's like they're just throwing cookies at me!  This is insane!  I may actually be able to retire someday if I keep this up!

Craziest part: I've only had that IRA for three months.  That's it, three months.  I've made almost $200 in tax free money in three months, and I feel like I must be doing something illegal (or unethical) but I'm totally not (I read the fine print).

Is this what they mean when they say it takes money to make money?

Profit margins--on the rise!
I realize that I sound like a commercial for ING right now, but seriously, I'd totally do a commercial for them (call me!).  It's just so shocking that I'm seeing such tangible results in so short a time.  Yes, I've had this savings account for a while, but I've doubled it in the past year, and like I said, that IRA is only three months old.  I'm flush with the glow of savings.

Now I want to save more--MORE!!  I want to save it all!!  No, that's not smart, but I am going to start contributing more to the IRA.  Since I can only put in $5000 per year, my goal for the next few months is to get as close as I can to that with out doing anything stupid.

Any other Moneywise successes out there in blogland?

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Sunday Link Love

How to store fruits and vegetables so they don't rot!  Brilliant!  I think I may print this off and hang it on the fridge.  I am determined, after the massive amounts of food waste of the past month, to avoid food waste by any means necessary!  This list will help.

Look what still exists!  It's a slap bracelet that tells you the time!  I bought a super low-rent version of this at a small-town gas station in Vermont, but this website's version of the slap bracelet watch actually seems sort of non-crappy.  Don't know if I'll buy one, but it warms the cockles of my heart to know that these are out there.

This is depressing: Since When is it a Crime to Be Poor?

This sure looks good: Grilled Zucchini Dip with Flatbread and Crackers, and it fits in with my goal to consume a lot of zucchini.  I think I'll make it for dinner tonight.
I bought this beer while in New Brunswick only because it had a LOL Cat on the label.  Turns out--it's delicious!  We left Canada before the liquor stores opened, so I couldn't bring any back with me, but if anyone goes to NB any time soon, please pick me up some??  Please??

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Semi-Frugal Minibreak Hits and Misses

I'm back from the Great Frozen North!  Of course, this time of year, it was just foggy not frozen.  Fun Fact: Did you know that Saint John New Brunswick is nicknamed The Fog City?  Their Roller Derby team is called The Fog City Rollers, and apparently (according to the hotel desk clerk) it's the foggiest city in Canada, although some other sites that I looked at said St. John Newfoundland and Labrador is foggier.  Either way, one night it was foggy enough that I could not see clearly more than six feet in front of myself.  Thankfully, we were walking, not driving.
FOG!
Hits: Frugal minifridge and microwave in hotel room!  I'd checked the weather before we left, and I also knew a hurricane was coming, so I upgraded us to a slightly nicer-than-our-usual hotel room since we'd probably be spending some time there.  One night, because it was soggy out and we wanted to watch the tropical storm coverage, we went to the grocery store and bought a lovely assortment of dinner items there.  Then we went to the liquor store and bought beer.  In total, we probably saved about $50 on dinner (food and drink was very expensive in NB), and had a lovely, low-key evening.
Minifridge after frugal dinner in hotel--there was
much more food, but I am a hungry girl
Misses: There's not a ton to do in Saint John.  It's a lovely city, but it's more of a stop on a tour of the Maritime Provinces than it is a destination.  On our first day there, we went to the New Brunswick Museum, which was great, but after that, we didn't have much else to do.  A lot of the sights and activities were outdoorsy, and the weather made them unfun/ impossible to do, but honestly, I'm content to just hang out and be low-key, so we were both pretty happy regardless.
You're obliged to take a picture of a moose every time you visit Canada
Hits: Natural Beauty. Even though there's not a ton to do, we still managed to keep ourselves entertained.  One of the biggest draws to Saint John is their unique tidal phenomena.  The Bay of Fundy drops 26 feet at low tide, which is the largest tidal drop of any body of water.  It also has a current opposite of that of the Saint John River, so when the two meet, it creates these mini-rapids and whirlpools.  It's pretty rad.  Note: Two years ago, Bf and I went to Niagara Falls and stayed on the Canadian side of the falls, so technically, this trip to NB was our second trip to Canada to look at water.  Since looking at water is free--bonus!

Reversing Falls look much more impressive in person--I promise

Market!
Hits:  Market!  The Saint John City Market is the oldest market in Canada, it's beautiful and it's full of yummy goodies.  We had a frugal and delicious lunch there AND bought a groovy souvenir from a very nice lady.  The ceiling of the market was designed to look like the inverted keel of a ship, which is a nod to the city's maritime history and status as one of the world's former shipbuilding centers.

Hits: Exotic Candy.  One of my favorite things to do in a different country is sample as many different kinds of candy bars as I can find.  This makes me sophisticated and well-rounded.  Double bonus, candy bars are cheap and delicious.  Even though I grew up 30 minutes from Canada and have sampled her candy wares many a time, it's still a treat to gorge myself on Coffee Crisp for a weekend--and I did.  I also bought a giant bag of Toblerone at the duty free store, because you pretty much have to do that when crossing a border.

Hits: Side Trips!  On our way to Saint John, it was about an eight hour drive, we stopped in Portland Maine for the night.  The following morning, we visited The Desert of Maine, which is a delightful roadside attraction that is an actual desert in Maine, which is totally weird.

Of course there's a camel, it's a desert!
Fun fact: The Desert of Maine has been in operation as a tourist attraction since the 1930s, once upon a time they did have an actual camel with the idea that the camel would be a petting zoo type creature.  Apparently they did not get the memo that camels are jerks because our tour guide said, "That camel was not nice at all."  I think it got donated to a zoo or something.

On the way home, we took the scenic shore drive and stopped at the Easternmost Point in the United States.
Easternmost Lighthouse is at West Quoddy Head--it's fun to say
And on the way to the easternmost point in the US, we saw this:
Easternmost Gift Shop!
That sign seriously made my day, and we bought a whale carved out of driftwood there.

Hits: Hotel Breakfast.  I mentioned above that I picked a nicer-than-usual hotel room, and another reason I picked it is because it got rave reviews for the breakfast, which is included in the price of the room.  Those reviewers were spot on, because that breakfast was AMAZING.  We stuffed ourselves each morning, and skimped on lunch, which saved us even more money, and I snagged a bagel and an apple for the road (border patrol confiscated my apple, which makes me feel a little bit bad-ass).  I think that the excellent breakfast is something that Holiday Inn Express is known for, but maybe it was just this one.  Either way, two frugal thumbs up.

Overall: Semifrugal minibreak was a success!  We saved where we could, kept ourselves entertained, and returned to the US rested and refreshed (if a bit sick of driving).  Next time you visit the Maritime Provinces--bring an umbrella!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Food Waste Friday: Everything

Let's hearken back two weeks ago when we lost most of our dry goods to a pantry moth infestation.  Now, in the present time, we've lost the contents of our fridge to what wasn't the worst hurricane of the last 20 years, but a mere tropical storm.  If the universe is telling me that I had hoarded too much food, I hear you loud and clear.

Fie on you, Irene. If you were going to wipe out my power, you could have at least been mildly impressive.  Of course, I was out of town for the whole thing anyway, so who cares.

In the past month, I've wasted approximately $300 of food, and it does not feel good.  Since I'm a perpetual optimist, and there's really nothing I can do about it, I gave the fridge a thorough scrub, and went to the grocery store, list in hand to replenish my stores.

All that was saved was some mustard and hot sauce
but look at how clean it is!
Since I've been trying to eat from the pantry anyway, my monthly goal for September is to not go overboard with the food buying.  I'm going to eat what I have, and only keep a reasonable amount of food on hand.  Plus, we still have a bit of the Lipton Noodles and Sauce from my hoarding days--that needs eating.

I'm hoping too that since we have less food in the house, bf will actually be able to see what we already have. It seems to be a trait among men that they can never find anything, so since there's fewer distractions, maybe he'll know where his kraft singles are (note: they're always in the cheese drawer).  Wish me luck!