Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Internet is Magic

On Sundays I post a few links for fun stuff I discovered in the past week.  It may not have much to do with frugality, but it also may--you never know what you're going to get!

  • So I found this video, and watched it.  All I have to say is: why? How long does it take to do this, and why would you?
  • Have you discovered Swackett?  It's a weather website, but unlike most that just have pictures of happy suns and stormy clouds--Swackett tells you what to wear!  You can also put it on your smart phone (I don't have a smart phone), which seems a bit silly to me because if you're out and about, you can't really change clothes--unless you go buy something (not frugal).  But seriously, it's awesome.

  • The eight worst types of blogs via Confessions of a Science Librarian via  We've all encountered these at one time or another, I'm sure, and I personally fell victim to: "The Parrot Blog. This is a blog which seems to exist solely to reprint, quote or link to other people's content. You can find these blogs everywhere, but by their very nature, they prefer cropping up in the more heavily populated parts of the blogoverse."  I wrote a great and highly controversial blog post for my library blog (yes, I have like a million blogs), another blogger mentioned it, and one of my commentors gave her credit for it!  Not right! And yes, I realize the irony here in that I'm parroting one blog that's parroting another :)
  • If you ever find yourself in Minnesota or North Dakota (my homeland) and wonder "what to do that helps me savor the unique flavor of the region?" peruse this list of all the random and usually food-based festivals around the region.
  • It was too hot and humid to go running on Saturday, so I decided to do some yoga instead--here's how that turned out.
Watson looks pretty regal, but he wasn't doing the proper
breathing technique--not even trying.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011 Round One

I finally set up my account with Smartypig.  It took far longer than I thought it would because I had issues with the online registration, and then had to wait for them to send me something in the mail. I don't know if they're just super, super picky, or what, but I failed the address verification portion.  No complaints though, I like my financial institutions to be particular to the point of being obnoxious.  The point is--I made it!  I have an account, it's set up to automatically transfer $25 twice a month from my savings account, and I keep track of that by looking at this adorable piggy graphic.
Saving is the cutest!  I fell like I'm fattening a Christmas ham!

 I had been hoping that  I could somehow embed that little piggy graphic in the blog's sidebar so we could all watch him plump, but either that's impossible, or I'm too stupid to figure it out.  If you want to watch my piggy grow, you can check out my personalized smartypig page:

So far, so good.  I'm 10% closer to my new iPod!

Thanks to Anonymous's helpful comment, I have now created a piggy widget!  It's over in the sidebar and is oh so cute!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Moneywise Monday: Window Shopping--Without the Windows

As I've mentioned before, I tend to buy too many clothes.  What's unusual about my clothes-buying problem (I admit, I have a problem), is that I actually kind of hate shopping.  It gives me a headache most of the time, but sometimes--every now and then, it makes me feel important.  It's kind of like when I used to watch The West Wing in the mornings while having coffee before work.  All I wanted after watching it, was to have a job where I had to walk fast through hallways having smart-sounding conversations.
Give me the file and try to keep up--this is important!
Sadly, at the time, I was working in a call center and was actively discouraged from walking around in an important manner as it prevented me from actually taking calls.  That's another story for another day.

The point is, that sometimes going to stores makes me feel smart and like a gal about town who knows what she wants, and other times it makes me want to curl up in the corner and go to sleep.  Online shopping doesn't make me want to go to sleep, in fact, it's always very cathartic, which is what gets me into trouble.
Fabulous gal about town--this is what I aspire to

I also have a tendency to buy clothes for a life I don't lead.  This has been a problem for years, so I've often seemed oddly over dressed.  Example: When I was in grad school working in my MFA in writing, we had most of our classes from 6:30-9pm.  After class, we would go drinking, because we're writers and that's what writers do. Writers, and grad students, also tend to keep odd hours and frequently look disheveled.  One night I strolled  into class in a nice button-down with a cute sweater, fab pants and killer heels.  My friend MK, who was wearing ripped jeans and a Jem t-shirt, asked "why are you so dressed up?"

I responded with, "Oh, you got a haircut!  It's cute."

And then she told me that she had gotten gum in her hair, left it there for three days, and the stylist had to cut it out.

Why not look fab to go get a coffee?
So I looked a little out of place.

In my current profession, I have to wear clothes that keep me warm in the air-conditioning, are not sexy (because I get hit on by gross old men all the time), and sensible shoes (because I walk all over a building with concrete floors all day).  Naturally, I then buy too many cute dresses that are just a little too sexy for the workplace and are better suited to fancy art gallery events or the theatre.  I tell myself that they will come in handy in "X" situation, but since I work four nights a week, that situation never comes up, and they languish in the closet.

What I've started to do to combat this is ordering things and then returning them.  Sorry, merchants, but this is a way for me to get my fix without going broke.  I spend enough that I get free shipping, try on the clothes in the privacy of my own home, and then return the bulk of them.  Sometimes I wear them around the house for a bit before deciding that they're not for me, or before I can talk myself out of them.  I thrill to see the refunds appear on my credit card statement, and I get the added bonus of kind of cleaning out my closet but actually getting paid for it (in the form of a refund of my own money)!  Of course, I keep the things I really like, but since I'm not in a I'm at a store, must make a decision in this harshly-lit dressing room mode, I actually make better decisions because I feel more in control.

It's all very strange, but it's working pretty well for me.  Anyone else come up with methods to save money on  that one thing you always seem to overspend on?

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Fun Stuff I Read this Week

A lot of bloggers tend to do a weekly wrap-up of good things they found via other blogs, etc.  I think I might start doing this, if for no other reason than it helps me keep track of it for myself!  Hee hee, seemingly altruistic, but actually self-serving.  We'll all benefit though, and I'll try to keep it up.

Stir Fried Tofu with Scallions, Garlic, Ginger and Soy Sauce

  • Elizabeth posted this one first and as I remain intimidated by tofu, I snapped it up.  I don't know if she's made it yet either, but one of us is bound to at some point!
  • I found a new book at work, which then led me to a tumblr: What I Wore, which I now love. Why did I never read daily outfit blogs before?  I love seeing what Helen is wearing on Afeitar, but it didn't occur to me that there's a whole world of these out there!  Cue the reduction in productivity.
  • Kristen goes canopy walking and zip lining at the Whitefish Mountain Resort and I'm insanely jealous--but I'm always jealous of her adventures.
  • Forever YA is re-telling one of my all-time favorite books, Little Women, but this time from the perspective of the characters.  This section is from the point of view of the Hummel family--you know, the poor people that the Marches are always bringing food to--yeah, I kind of forgot about them too.   It's Hard Out There For a Hummel  

Friday, July 22, 2011

Weekend Reading: Get Thee to the Library!

As part of my frugal summer (and life) plans, I've been reading a lot.  There's nothing quite like the summertime... or really fall, winter and spring to curl up with a good. book.  Since a big part of my job is helping people find books to read, I though I might throw in a short list of what I've been enjoying lately--some good "summer reads", if you will.

  1. Elin Hilderbrand.  Hilderbrand was first recommended to me by a wise grad school chum, and I've been smitten ever since. She (the author, not my friend) writes stories that take place on Nantucket, which makes her books perfect summertime reads.  To date, I've read almost all of her books, and recommended them to many a library patron.  I actually looked on the shelf the other day and noticed that even though we have about four copies of each of her titles, they were all checked out.  Now I need to come up with another "beach read" recommendation.
  2. Laura Lippman's Tess Monaghan series.  I had heard of Laura Lippman, but I've never had a lot of library patrons ask for her, and our library doesn't seem to have many copies of her books.  Then I saw her speak while I was at the ALA conference this past June, and learned that a friend actually got her baby name from Lippman's lady PI, Tess Monaghan.  Naturally, I had her sign a copy of one of her books for my friend, and then I read it in the hotel room.  I have to say, the woman weaves a gripping yarn.  I'm not much for the murder mystery genre usually, but her writing is less gruesome and more intriguing, and Tess Monaghan is a delightfully flawed badass, which is what I've always aspired to be.
  3. Izzy Spellman Mysteries by Lisa Lutz.  I know I said above that I'm not much of a mystery reader, but these books (full disclosure: I've only read the first one so far.  There are four in the series), are like a delightful mix of The Westing Game and Mrs. Pollifax with a dash of The War of the Roses (which I haven't actually read, so I may be waaaaaaaaay off).  Anyway, good stuff.
  4. Pretty Little Liars series by Sara Shepherd.  Now is the point in the list where I start to wonder if I've actually been a big mystery reader all along and never owned up to it... I am a bit obsessed with Nancy Drew... Regardless, I first dismissed the PLL series as Gossip Girl with slightly more boring covers.  Turns out, that despite the somewhat cardboard teen character casting i.e. The Smart One, The Arty One, The One With The Eating Disorder, etc., these books are seriously well-written and devourable.  I couldn't stop reading them, and now I can't stop talking about them.
  5. TC Boyle. Anything by TC Boyle.  I have loved TC Boyle for many, many years.  He runs the gamut from historical to hilarious to heartbreaking and I make it a point to have at least one of his books on a display in the library at all times.  He's the ultimate satirist, and he can bring your emotions bubbling up to the surface without you feeling the slightest bit used or tricked. For funny, I recommend Drop City; to make you think, The Tortilla Curtain; for history, The Road to Wellville; and if you just want a damn good book, When the Killing's Done.
  6. Bill Bryson.  I love Bill Bryson.  He's funny and smart and thoroughly entertaining. He basically tricks you into learning, which is awesome.I read his newest book At Home, a few months ago while serving jury duty, and it was fascinating.Then I told a co-worker about it, and every time I saw him, he'd say something like, "Can you believe that's how it was?!?!?"  I love his travel books too, he makes you feel like you're there, but without being all pretentious about it.  Good stuff.
So that's just a short list, feel free to add your own suggestions for me and the other readers.  And if you hate one of the books/ authors I mentioned, let's have a delightful brawl in the comments section!

    Thursday, July 21, 2011

    Closet Clean-out Continues

    Thus far in my closet clean-out, I've dropped off two huge bags at Salvation Army along with a few other odds and ends that wouldn't fit in the bags.  The interesting thing is I kept the giant bag sitting on my floor, right in my way while I was filling them up (so as to encourage myself to fill them up); then when they were finally full enough to drop off, I missed having the bag around!  As soon as I dropped it off, I started seeing all other things in my closet that need getting rid of, so I implemented a slightly new system.

    Yes, it's just a plastic bag, not a real system
    Closet mini-bag! Whenever I find something in my closet that I haven't worn in at least a year, I try it on, and if I don't think I'll wear it, it goes in the bag.  Once the bag is full, it goes into the trunk of my car, once I'm in the neighborhood of Salvation Army, it goes in the donation bin.

    It's a system--kind of!

    Blurry picture of my crowded closet
    As you can plainly see, I still have a lot of work to do.  It looks worse than it may be, just because my closet is long and deep (worst closet design ever!), but it also just has too much stuff in it.  I've also started cleaning out my drawers.  Did you know that I don't actually need ten bras I don't wear?  Even though I'm loathe to throw away something so expensive as a bra, if it doesn't do its job, and I'm not wearing it, why keep it hanging around?  I can now actually find things in my drawers!

    This closet clean-out has also inspired me to keep the rest of my office tidier. Exhibit A:

    Yes, that's a sign stolen from a public library (which I do not
    advocate doing), but it was a gift!
    That is a clean dresser top, people.  Normally, that would be covered in ten days' worth of clothes in various states of cleanness.  Then the cat would sleep on them, and they'd be covered in fur just in time for me to wear to work--so much for librarian cliches.  Now the cat has to sleep here:

    Used Whole Foods bag--Watson recycles.

    In about two years, I should be all done with the closet clean-out.... and I just bought two new skirts.  It's never going to end, is it?

    Wednesday, July 20, 2011

    Why I Don't Need A Smart Phone

    My brother has that second one, and he accidentally
    dials me from his pants pocket all the time--not smart.
    Obviously I want my phone to be smart enough to make calls, and text, but that's about it.  It seems like every day another of my friends gets a smartphone, and every now and then I get a little jealous of them.  But once I sit back and think about it, I realize that the jealousy is just "shiny new gadget" jealously and isn't really me, it's just me being such a good actress gushing over a phone that I've even convinced myself!

    Yes, it might be handy to have a smartphone, but I've lived a full life thus far without one, and I think I'm going to keep on keeping on in my way for quite a while.

    1. Too expensive.  First you pay for the device, and then in order to use the device to its fullest potential, you need the huge data plan.  I currently pay ~$50/month for my non-smart phone, and even that makes me grumble sometimes, especially when I consider that I use it mostly as a clock.  I've asked around, and no one that I know pays less than $100/month for their smart phone.  Do I want to double my phone bill?  Answer: no.
    2. Too distracting.  Do I really need to play Angry Birds whenever I have a moment of downtime?  Do I need to check facebook every ten minutes?  Do I need an app that simulates bread toasting?  Yes, a gadget-loving co-worker has told me about a few comparison shopping apps that might be a bit awesome, but I'm certainly not going to save any money with them if I double my monthly phone bill!  I won't let her trick me, she's already talked me into buying a Nook that I never use.
    3. I already have a GPS--that's another practical use for a smartphone that certainly applies to me, but I've already got that base covered AND it was only a one-time fee, technically a gift.
    4. I kind of hate people with smartphones.  I've found, that having a smartphone around means that you have to google everything all the time, or you just constantly have it in hand for one reason or another.  Yes, it's handy it you want to spontaneously go to a movie, or if you're off on an adventure and you need to make new plans, but you can also figure things out.  I like relying on my ingenuity, or speculating about something rather than just having the (sometimes dubious) answers right there.  If I really, really need the internet, I can call someone, or the library, and have them google it for me.  I've done it before.
    5. I want my phone to be a phone--and sometimes a clock.  That's all I really need, and I barely talk on the thing anyway.  I hate talking on the phone and I much prefer texting or IMing, which is clunky on a smartphone.
    So yes, sometimes I'm made to feel like a Luddite, but honestly, if all your friends have smartphones, save your money and just make them do all the "smart" stuff you may need.  They'll feel proud of their gadget, and you'll feel proud of your bank account.

    Monday, July 18, 2011

    MoneyFAIL Monday: That Damn Store Card

    Normally, on Mondays, I do a Moneywise post where I recount my biggest money success story of the week and encourage my readers to share theirs as well.  This week, my face is far too red for that.

    I have three credit cards-- American Express, Visa (for when American Express isn't accepted), and an Old Navy card (because they give me coupons).  My Amex is my primary card, and I use it for almost everything since I get travel points.  The Visa sees a little action, and the Old Navy card gets used pretty infrequently.  Since I hate having paper bills, I get all of my billing statements electronically, and it all works out pretty well.

    Except for the Old Navy Card.

    This card has the highest interest rate, and is the one I forget about the most frequently, since I use it the least.  I used it a little while back to order clothes from Athleta.  I ended up returning most of what I ordered (swimsuit), but did keep a skirt, and then just totally forgot I had even put it on my Old Navy card.  I kept wondering why the refund wasn't posting to my Amex, but I figured they were just a little slow.

    Finally, I started getting phone calls from the Old Navy credit service center, and they wrote me a letter telling me that my account was months past due, and if I couldn't pay it, I'd better make arrangements with them.  I checked my account online, and it turns out that I'd had an Old Navy charge on there from April, and then added to that, the Athleta order.  I was charged interest plus late fees, and now I feel like a total moron--a poorer moron: Insult + Injury = Poorer Moron.

    So what to do so this doesn't happen again?  Go back to paper bills it seems is the only/ best option.  I hate doing this because I hate paper and I don't have a shredder but still fear identity theft, but if having a paper bill is the only way to remember that I bought more clothes from Old Navy et al., that's the way it's going to have to be.


    Saturday, July 16, 2011

    Another Paradox of Thrift

    This morning, I went to a Skinny Cow Perfect Cup event.  What this is, is a rather inexplicable promotional event where you go, get free Skinny Cow ice cream, up to two glasses of wine or lemonade, get a free bra fitting and bra and a goodie bag. Basically it sounds too good to be true.  It costs nothing, and you get free ice cream.

    What I found though, was that it was absolute chaos, I had to hang around for over an hour, and you don't actually get a free bra, but rather a coupon for a free bra.  Still, it's my day off, I went with a friend and we had a lovely brunch beforehand.

    Here's what baffles me though, yes, I expected it to be a little less of a wait, but it was still lots of free stuff.  It wasn't even a situation where you are kept waiting so you can be talked into buying things, it was just a "hang out, have some snacks and a drink while you listen to pop music" kind of affair.  Still, I heard nothing but complaining from the women waiting.  After an hour, I was ready to leave, and I did; other women were yelling at staff and bitching to each other about how long it was taking.  If you don't want to wait, I say just leave, why ruin someone else's day?

    Why do people seem to complain more when they're given free things?  I see this at the library all the time as well--this incredible sense of entitlement.  Come to the library, and everything is free. You get four hours of free internet use per day, though if it's busy, you may have to wait; you get helpful librarians; you can check out five CDs, five DVDs, and 100 books at one time--in short, it's the best deal in town.  But that's just not good enough for so many people.

    People demand more time on the computers, people expect you to have every book ever and get angry if you don't, people call with strange questions and get impatient when you actually have to look for the answer, adults complain when kids make noise, people complain that it costs $.15 to print something... I could go on and on, but the point is, it's really disheartening.

    There is just so little gratitude out there, and I don't understand it.  If you're getting something for nothing, you don't have to fall all over yourself thanking people, but you don't need to complain if it's not perfect either.  If an ice cream company wants to do a little promotion and you get free things, shouldn't you be happy about it?

    I'm going to go put on my free sparkly lip gloss now. Thank you, Skinny Cow.

    Tuesday, July 12, 2011

    The Awkward Side of Frugality

    Warning: This blog will most likely turn into a rant, so just be ready for that.

    I think we can all agree that the most awkward thing about trying to establish a frugal lifestyle is when other people have expectations for how you should spend your money, or when you have to turn down social invitations.

    Scenario one: Friend wants to try new fancy restaurant that has a 
    pre fixe menu for $35/person and your monthly food budget is tapped 
    because you just stocked up on barley.

    Fancy restaurant is not frugal
    Thirty-five dollars a head plus tip is not just a try it because you want to restaurant, it's a celebration restaurant.  Plus, I think about how many meals I can make at home that cost waaaay less than $35.  I'm all for being fancy, but if you're not totally switched on by the thought of this restaurant, or you're a vegetarian like me and know that spending $35 on what will likely be bread soup and salad (of course it will be gourmet soup), it's just not worth it.

    In the past, to get out of a situation like this, I would have foot-dragged and blamed my work schedule.  I would have stalled my friend to the point where I could safely say, "You know, my schedule is so hectic these days, why don't you just take x instead."  That kind of behavior would have no doubt cause my friend to be frustrated with me, and spend the fancy dinner complaining about how non-committal I am, while I would have been at home eating a sandwich fuming about how my fancy dinner having friends just don't understand my financial circumstances!

    So yeah, it's a way out of something, but in the end, probably not worth the tension.

    These days, if it was a casual friend, I would say I have other plans (even if I don't--hey, it's just a casual friend!).  If it's a good friend, I would say something like, "I know you really want to try this restaurant, but I'm not that into it.  Since I'm a vegetarian, it's ludicrous to spend that much on one meal, and I'm really cutting costs right now.  Why don't you bring someone else who really wants to go, and you and I can grab a delicious cupcake afterward."

    Mentioning cupcakes is always a smart move.

    Scenario two: Co-worker is selling candy bars/ Girl Scout cookies/ 
    boy scout popcorn/ any other children's fundraiser you can think of and he or 
    she expects that everyone in the office will buy something.

    Girl Scout Cookies--delicious, but deadly to the budget
    I hate this one even more than dealing with friends because you have to see these co-workers ever day and some people think because their raising money for their kids you refusing to buy something means that you hate their children and would throw garbage at them given the chance.  My thoughts are, if you have a co-worker who equates refusing cookies with pure loathing, let him or her think that.  Just say, "I'm sorry, but I can't afford it." After a while, word will get around that you're pinching pennies, and you may not have to say no as much.

    I'm not in love with my poor as a church mouse reputation at work, but it certainly saves me money.

    Scenario three: I get a deal if we all spend
    Very relaxing, until your credit card bill comes
    This scenario is how I ended up in Mexico for Spring Break.  Sigh.  The vacation package i.e. if I can recruit six more people to share this bungalow, we can all save $50!  I love a vacation, I sure do, but this is not the way to go.  Even if the savings are significant, do you really want to go to the Turks and Caicos with a handful of friendly acquaintances?  Doesn't your dream vacation lie elsewhere?

    Plus, there's the notion of vacationing with a large group of people, which is necessary to get these deals, and the high price tag. Your friend who is looking for vacation buddies may have to cast the net a bit wider and invite that really annoying guy just because he has the cash.  Then you're vacationing with Annoying Guy, and you can't back out because you were first to commit. 

    It's not worth it.  I vacationed in large groups even with some of my closest friends, and it's always caused problems.  It's just not fun to try to organize that many people, and there will inevitably be a clash of personalities at some point--probably one before drinking, and one after drinking.  A friend who was recently invited on a stunning Greek vacation remarked to me, "If we had $8000 lying around, we would finish the basement." Save your pennies for the vacation you really want instead of going for the deal.

    Scenario four: The bachelorette weekend.
    Umm, no
    Remember when a bachelorette party was just that: a party?  A one-night fete where women drank a little too much, ate a lot, and celebrated a friend's approaching nuptials in a slightly more bawdy way.  Now it seems that if a bachelorette party is only a one-night affair, it has to include about twelve activities and a limo.  More likely, you will be invited to the bachelorette weekend, which will include transport to an exotic locale, lodging and all the expenses that come with "doing it up right." and "making it special" Of course the bride doesn't have to pay for anything, so you'll help cover that as well.

    To be frank, this is bullshit.  I don't know when a simple night out morphed into so much extravagance, but I'm totally over it.  Even in the movie Bridesmaids, they all flew to Las Vegas for the weekend.  Come on!  I love a night out with my girlfriends, but if I was getting married, I would not need a limo, spa treatment, mani/pedi, pole-dancing class, fancy dinner, drinks.  I don't blame the brides, I blame the bridesmaids who put together such an elaborate scenario.  It this bridesmaidzilla behavior?  Is that what's happening here?  I want to celebrate my friend's happiness, why do I have to pay for pole dancing class to make that happen?

    In this situation, I just say no.  I really don't think it's unreasonable to tell a person, "I'd love to come, but I can't afford an entire weekend in the Poconos, I'll make it to dinner before the rest of you leave."  The problem too, is that since this extravagance is often organized by someone else, it may not be what the bride actually wants, and she ends up feeling bad when no one can afford to come.  If you're really close with the bride and the girl who is planning it, just be upfront about what you can afford; if it's more of a friendly acquaintance situation, just make sure that the bride doesn't feel spurned.  Be honest with her while her friend runs amok.

    Saturday, July 9, 2011

    A Better System

    A little bit of background:
    BF and I have lived together for two years, and try to split the groceries and household stuff in an equitable way.  At least, that's what we said when we first moved in together.  In practice, what ends up happening, is that I work across the street from a grocery store and near a Target and other shopping venues.  I typically stop there after work to pick up x, y, z, and therefore end up footing most of the bill for these things.  Occasionally, I nab his credit card, and buy a bunch of groceries, but that's a huge headache because I either don't remember to take it when I need it, or I forget to give it back.

    BF doesn't have a car and hates shopping, whereas I have a car, and don't mind it too much.  Because I don't mind, and because I think of things more often, I've paid for the bulk of the household supplies i.e. cleaning products, toilet paper, etc over the two years that we've lived together.  I also maintain (though he disputes this) that I've paid for more of the groceries even though I eat significantly less than him, and what I buy for myself is usually ingredients whereas he eats a lot of processed foods, which are much more expensive.

    So, how to solve this problem so that I don't keep going broke feeding my man the garbage foods he loves so well?  I've suggested that we get a credit card in both our names to be used for shared household expenses.  Obviously, when I go to the store to buy salad for myself and he goes to buy a bag of chips, we can just pay for those individually, but for grocery/Target runs that include shared items, they go on the shared card.  Then we split the bill 60/40 because he eats more than me.

    This suggestion led to him panicking that I'll start overspending his money, since when I currently get his credit card (about every other month) I tend to stock up.  That's where we are right now.  Any other suggestions from the blogosphere as to how to make this work more smoothly?  I think it's a solid plan, but who knows?

    Friday, July 8, 2011

    Food Waste Friday: Icky Arugula

    This is what arugula should look like--
    Mine was much sadder
    I love me some arugula, so when I went to Trader Joes the other day to load up on coffee and olive oil, I grabbed a bag of theirs.  Normally, I get the Earthbound Farms clamshell variety, but then I would have had to make a second trip to the grocery store.  Trader joes rarely lets me down, so even though the bags of arugula looked a bit dubious, I took a chance.


    This stuff is slimy, and has a strange smell.  I put some on my sandwich yesterday, even though it tasted funny, and now I have a tummyache.  Could be unrelated, but I'm ditching the arugula anyway.  Trader Joes has a policy that you can return anything you don't like, but the store is too far from home to make it worthwhile, and if I stop there after work, it will mean either leaving arugula in my hot car for eight hours, or schlepping it into the break room fridge, which is just weird, and really doesn't sound like something I'm into.  I'll take a $2.50 loss and never buy Trader Joes leafy greens again.

    Wednesday, July 6, 2011

    July Goals

    Better late than never, eh?  Let's take a look back at the month of June though, and see how I did.June goals were:
    1. Buy a beach pass
    2. Stay on track with spending
    3. Focus of the retirement fund
    4. Remember minimalism
    I did not buy a beach pass, sadly.  I meant to, never got around to it, and then as of July 1, they doubled in price.  I was thinking though, I'm not a super beachy girl, I don't honestly know if I would use the pass as much as I envision before Labor Day when the beaches are free anyway.  Pre-July 1, the beach pass was $30, but all summer long, it's $10 per visit.  I'm going to see how much I actually go, and then base next year's purchase on that.

    I managed to stay on track with spending, even acheived my pre-vacation goal of crushing that Amex debt.  I spent a lot on groceries for the month of June, so I need to reign that in for July.  As to my minimalism leanings, I'm still rooting through my clothes and getting rid of things--man, I have a lot of clothes.  My closet looks great (I can actually find things!), and I'm being a bit more cutthroat rather than thinking well, I haven't worn that in three years, but I'm sure I will.

    For July, I'm going to be dull.
    1. Spend wisely/ save wisely
    2. Use downtime well--I have more downtime these days, but don't want to look back on the summer and feel like I've frittered it away.  There's a ton of free/ cheap stuff to do in town, and I've made a promise to a friend that I'll get back to fiction writing--I need to keep my promise.
    3. Keep running!  Yes, this may mean getting up at 5am to beat the heat, but I have another race at the beginning of August, and I want to do well.  I've got my super cool hydration belt, and all of the running magazines assure me that I will get used to the heat (I'm skeptical).

    Tuesday, July 5, 2011

    Vacation Hits and Misses

    Ahh, the French Quarter
    Overall, I did quite well on my vacation-- spendingwise.  Perhaps I spent a bit more than I thought I might, but my vision of the vacation was a bit austere, so I'm not going to beat myself up about it.  I had a grand time, that's for certain, which makes coming back to real life a little easier.

    Hits: Free food!  I didn't subsist solely on larabars while waiting for my free food opportunities, but I did pretty well.  I got a lot of free food and a lot of free beer, which certainly made this vacation a lot cheaper.  Plus, double-bonus, a lot of the free food was stuff that I might not have tried otherwise, which nets me adventuring points! (Note: there's really no such thing as adventuring points, but you too can earn these phantom points by seeking out new experiences).

    Hits: Roommates!  I was in a blind panic a while ago because I had booked a luxury hotel room and had no one to share it with.  Thankfully, two lovely ladies from the library I used to work at in Fargo, ND, mentioned on facebook that they were going to the conference and agreed to bunk with me.  That saved me about $700, and we had adventures too!

    Misses: Internet.  I had my groovy borrowed netbook with me, but my hotel did not offer free wi-fi.  I paid for two days of wireless access before realizing that I could have totally checked email in the business center downstairs, which also had free printing.  $20 for a lesson learned, but it was also nice to facebook away part of an afternoon while laying in bed when it was 90+ degrees outside.

    Hits: Free museum access!  Three of the free food functions that I attended were in museums, that I got to tour while drinking free beer and eating free nibbles. There is no feeling quite like examining Napolean's death mask while eating gumbo and listening to an awesome zydeco band.  I felt a bit fancy, and I liked it.  We also went to a function at the New Orleans Historical Wax Museum.  The function was a bit of a let-down, but the museum was a cheesy good time.

    Misses: Overpriced Tuna Salad Sandwich.  I treated myself to a 1/2 day plantation tour and brought along a larabar for breakfast.  Unfortunately, I failed to bring anything for lunch and ended up paying about $6 for a tuna salad wrap that was drenched in mayo and made me feel a bit sick.  Always bring extra snacks!

    Hits: Boat Ride!  My roommates and I went on a city tour our first morning there, to get the lay of the land outside the French Quarter, and arrived back at our starting point to find that we were just in time for a two-hour lunch cruise.  Two hours included a narrated tour down the Mississippi and a ton of butter-drenched southern food.  I was stuffed and soothed.

    Misses: Failure to pack my Passport to your National Parks.  This is the second time I've done this and I'm so ashamed.  A while ago, I was in Boston with my brother and foolishly thought that I had acquired all the National Park stamps that city had to offer--then we went to the USS Constitution, which I had never visited before, and hence had no stamp.  This time, I thought I certainly don't plan to visit a National Park while in New Orleans, and accidentally discovered one while I was out exploring one afternoon!   Lesson learned, National Parks crop up where you least expect them--always carry your passport!

    Friday, July 1, 2011

    Cucumber Summer Salad

    This is seriously the best thing I've eaten in quite a while, and it's perfect for all those 4th of July picnics you plan to attend this weekend.  For my international readers, it's perfect to just eat all the time.

    For years I loathed cucumbers.  Just the smell of them would set me off, even though I really love pickles.  Then, like last week, something changed.  Now I love them--how weird is that?  I certainly don't understand it, but I am loving these cucumbers.

    To feed my new obsession, I decided to recreate a recipe a friend made two summers ago, except hers didn't have cucumbers in it, or else I wouldn't have eaten it.  Despite the fact that I've been vegetarian for fifteen years, and was an unenthusiastic meat eater before that, I really never any many vegetables growing up.  In fact, making this salad was my first foray into buying/ cutting cucumber at all, so I'm pretty darn proud for how diverse my tastes have become.

    1 large or 2 medium tomato
    1 can black beans (about 1.5 cup dry)--well rinsed
    1 medium or 1.5 small cucumber--the cucumbers in the store were tiny!  What's up with that?
    1 cup corn--I used frozen, and rinsed it in hot water to thaw
    1 tbsp white vinegar
    salt & pepper

    • Dice all the vegetables to desired smallness--except the corn.
    • Add to medium bowl
    • Stir and add vinegar, salt & pepper to taste
    Look at my delicious dinner: veggie burger, salad
     and grilled zucchini.  Yummers!
    That's it!  It's a little tastier if you make it ahead and let it spend some time in the fridge, but it's also good at room temperature.  If you had a little fresh cilantro, that would probably be a good addition too, but I did not have cilantro.

    I'll be back to regular blogging Tuesday, but you might see a recap of my frugal vacation before that--who knows!  Sorry to be a tease.

    Happy 4th!

    p.s. a bit of advice please, RE: cucumbers.  I peeled and seeded mine because I've heard people say "cucumber: peeled and seeded", do I need to do that?  I swear I've eaten cucumber seed and lived.  What's the deal with that?