Monday, October 29, 2012

Oh Sandy Baby!

BF and I just went for a walk by the hurricane barrier to see the storm surging, but it takes a while for the storm to get all the way up to RI, so we're ok for now.  For the rest of the East Coast, I hope you're safe and still have power, but prepare nonetheless (if you still have time).

Providence Hurricane Barrier--closed
My friend Bonnie put together a handy list of tips for hurricane preparedness, which I'm just going to copy and paste while linking back to her more silly list on her blog:

Having lost power and water for a few days last year during Irene, here are my best tips: (Note: these are more for a couple days of weathering an outage in relative comfort and safety, not hardcore survival tips for a week. Though, you'd be surprised how many of these things sound dramatic but really come in handy after about a day.)

1. Shower while you still can. Then...

2. Make sure your bathtub is clean and fill it with water. If you have a Brita or some other kind of filter, you can drink it if you need to. If not it comes in handy for cleaning stuff, including yourself and to have in case of an emergency. Especially if you have a gas stove and therefore can boil it, use it for instant food. (sadly, this year, we don't.)

3. Make lots of ice. Any big container can be a cooler for things you want to keep out. Good in an emergency. Put it in ziploc bags and you have ready-mades for an emergency or you can drink it when it melts later if you run out of water. You can also freeze bags of water.

4. Freeze any freezable food, it will make it through if you only have a minor outage.

5. If you are a coffee or tea drinker, make lots of coffee or tea ahead of time. You'll want it later.

6. If you have a crockpot, make food now, transfer it to the crock pot to finish cooking or keep it warm as long as your power is on. The stoneware part will keep food hot for at least a few hours (probably more) after the power goes out and at least one warm meal will be nice.

Cook perishable foods and wrap them in foil separately and pile them in the crock pot, just as "hot storage" - baked potatoes, veggies, chicken etc. if you don't want to make a hot dish (or just so you have options). Also make easy-prep foods, sandwiches etc. like you'd do for a road trip.

7. Eat lots of protein while you still have power, later on when you don't have power, most easy food to eat will be carbs. Aside from being healthy cause protein now will sustain your energy better later, you are just going to get sick of snack foods, crackers, granola bars and cereal. So eat something different now.

8. Wash all the dishes you can, as long as you can. Dirty dishes will pile up so much faster than you could imagine, once the water goes out. Fill a couple tupperwares or pitchers with water to help wash or rinse for a while after.

And if you still have internet, here's a video of footage from the 1938 hurricane set to dramatic music:

I hope everyone is safe and dry!  Back to your regularly scheduled programming soon.

Friday, October 26, 2012

I Am An Accidental Culinary Genius

I eat a lot of soup, especially this time of year.  It's filling, it's handy to bring to work, and I can make a big batch of it on Sunday and then eat it for the rest of the week.  People who don't eat the same thing for days in a row are strange, curious creatures to me (what do you do with the leftovers if you don't eat them!?!?!).  I was particularly stoked to discover recently that a pal of mine from grad school started a blog.  If there is one thing that I know about this girl, it's that she loves wine.  If there are three+ things I know about her it's that: 1. She's serious about food  2. She's vegetarian like me!  3. She's a good writer.

All these things add up to create the melange that is my new favorite blog, and after reading her recipe for Cleansing Mulligatawny, I knew I had to try to make it, and incorporate my most beloved kitchen item, the crockpot.

Only problem was, when I went to buy supplies to make the soup, I only bought cabbage, two jalepenos and Bragg Liquid Aminos.  I either forget to get the rest, or thought I already had it (I did not).  The soup that I ended up making, however, was amazing!  Also, strangely, much more similar to another recipe my friend posted: Lonna's Everything Vegan Detox Soup, but I wasn't even looking at that one!  Must have internalized it.

Anyway, that's just a long rambling lead in to tell you that I either invented or copied a fantastic recipe, which I'm just calling cabbage soup, that is both insanely good for you and super cheap to make!

  • 1/4 head of cabbage cored and chopped small
  • 1 jalepeno diced
  • 2 vegetable boullion cubes (or two cups stock)
  • 1 can crushed tomatoes
  • 3/4 cup either lentils or Bob's Red Mill Whole Grains and Beans Soup Mix (something to give the soup some protein and a bit of fun texture
  • Dash of curry powder
  • Dash of garlic salt
  • Wee bit of Olive Oil
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  1. Add all ingredients to the crock pot
  2. Stir
  3. Cook on High for five hours or Low for ten
Seriously, this soup is so good.  I had it for dinner, and immediately started craving it again.  Tomorrow, I'll probably just have it for lunch and dinner--why not!?

Monday, October 22, 2012

Cheap(er) Gadgetry

I say over and over that I am not a gadget girl, and that's true.  Recently though, I stepped a toe into the waters of the future and bought myself a GPS running watch.  This is a completely nonessential item that I have lived without happily for years, but I finally decided that I wanted one after a few things became apparent to me.

  1. Running this year has been hard.  I've been battling injuries, loss of muscle from having to recover from said injuries and gaining weight from being unable to exercise (and, to be honest, from eating too much...).  My stride is off and running just feels like a lot more work than it used to.  Because I just wear a stopwatch watch when running, it's easy to sort of fudge my times and think I'm going faster than I am.  Now, thanks to GPS technology, I know that I have slowed waaaaaaaay down, and I have goals to work toward.
  2. Better/ easier organization.  I've got a pretty good system with using google maps to plot out running routes, but they don't allow a lot of room to mix things up.  For instance, I have a four-mile route, a six-mile route, seven, eight, etc. I do not vary from these routes, but sometimes I want to.  I also still want to hit the miles I set out to do when I left the house that morning.  GPS watch will tell me how far I've actually run if I veer off my usual route for a change of scenery, which also makes running more fun.
  3. Digital record.  I can just plug my watch in at the end of a run and upload everything I just did to Garmin connect.  This gives me my split times (time per mile), and houses all of my previous runs so I can track progress. I just found out (though I suspected) that my six mile running loop is actually 5.8 miles, so I've been cheating myself a bit in training, now I won't let myself get away with that anymore.
So, those are the positives about this little gadget, and I apologize if I sound like a shill for Garmin, it's just that I've been researching these devices for over a year, and most runners conclude that this is the best brand.  Problem is, they are not cheap, there are about a million models out there, and some of them are just huge.
That's like a computer on your wrist--not interested
So I went for the brand new Forerunner 10 because I figure since it's new and Garmin has been doing this for a while, they've now worked the kinks out.  At $129.99, it's much more affordable than other models, and it's small!  It looks like a regular watch.

I could even wear this in real life
 $129.99 is not a price that I scoff at, which is why I've been contemplating buying one of these gadgets for over a year but have been unwilling to shell out the cash.  This time around though, I used the 43 points I had on my Visa to bring the price down to $87.  If I had been more ambitious, I could have brought my change collection to the Coinstar and gotten another Amazon gift certificate.  I do wish I had done that, but I was too lazy/ too eager to place the order.

Either way, it's a win/win for me!  I don't super love Amazon, but I do love that you can buy from a third party through amazon, and save money plus get extra points.  After listening to a co-worker go on about waiting in line for hours to buy an Xbox 360 just because it was painted red (he already had an identical Xbox--what is up with people?), I started to feel pretty damn smug about being a discerning gadget shopper.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

I Got Cocky

The month of reduction is going really well so far.  I've been much more sensible with spending in general, clothing in particular, and have had many a no-spend day.  Also, my recent student loan payment took a cool $3.50 off the principle! Chipping away!

November is a three-paycheck month, which I'm totally stoked about.  I was planning to refortify my savings accounts and stick a lump sum in my Roth IRA.  Maybe I'll pay ever more toward my student loan, I thought!  I had all these great ideas and was doing tabulations and feeling pretty damn smug.


I keep running into the unexpected and un-fun expenses.
  1. Car tax of $84 was due end of October (I paid it early because I do not trust Rhode Island to not stick me with a late fee).
  2. My windshield wipers broke necessitating a $65 repair
  3. I still need to get my oil changed (ugh)
  4. I just got a bill for my car registration
  5. Car insurance is due December 6th and I haven't saved up anything for it
  6. I needed to get two pairs of shoes re-soled, which is going to cost $80.  It's worth it because they're great shoes and now I'll be able to wear them that much longer, but it sucks to pay that much!  BUT, I'm supporting a local business and being green by repairing what I already have.  I'm also supporting an industry that needs to exist and is rapidly dying off (I assume, but I've been actually waiting a while, so maybe they're really busy).  Still sucks though.
Aside from the cobbler expense, it's all car stuff, which leads me to believe that karma is paying me back for telling some people that I didn't have jumper cables on Sunday when I totally did. In my defense, we were in a packed parking lot (bound to be someone else with jumper cables), I'd just run a half marathon, and I was feeling sick and bedraggled.  I didn't want to hang around and be a good samaritan, and now I have a bunch of unexpected car expenditures to make--not the fun kind.

Remember last year when I failed to help that woman stuck outside of my apartment and then immediately broke my power steering? Well fool me once shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me.  Yes, I know that my registration would be due regardless, but this doesn't seem like some simple coincidence.

If you need me anytime soon, I'll likely be changing someone's tire in the pouring rain, or driving around looking for someone with a dead car battery and no cell phone.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

It's Not That I Can't, It's That I Don't Want To

Doesn't this look lovely!?!
This is something that I noticed the other day, not a new thing, but just something that caught my attention.  I was locking up my bike at work, and the custodian, who was taking out the trash did a double take before he waved at me.

Once I got inside, he asked, "You can't afford gas?"

"It's not that I can't afford it," I told him, "It's that I can better afford the calories and don't want to pay for gas."

Likewise, I kind of got into it with a library patron one day when he asked for help downloading a book to his smartphone.  I referred him to my older co-worker for help, because she actually has a smart phone and downloads books all the time (in return, I field the patron questions about eReaders--it's a nice balance).  This patron looked at me and asked, skeptically, "You don't have a smart phone?"

"I can't afford one." I told him. This has been my go-to explanation for years, and I've never had issue with it before.

"But they're only like $50 a month!" he told me, "You'd pay that much for a regular, non-smart phone."

I didn't want to debate with him about the cost of the actual phone, data plan, etc., but it really got me wondering: why do people find the need to try to spend your money for you?  I'm sure he was just trying to be helpful, and I'm sure if I hunted around I could find a decent deal on a smart phone, but I genuinely do not want one.  I should have just said that instead.

I'm sure I'm guilty of this as well.  I worked with a few cellphone holdouts back in the early 2000s, and even though I can't remember specifically, I'm sure I said to at least one of them "you should get a cell phone."  Is this a distinctly American trait, or does this happen everywhere?

In the small town where I grew up, almost any time you saw someone out walking, you offered him or her a ride.  I remember one night, a friend of mine just wanted to go for a walk, and she got stopped several times by people offering her rides and who seemed confused when she said "I just want to go for a walk."

It's kind of a Catch-22 because people do these things to be nice (kind of), but it's also a bit condescending.  I guess it's similar to people telling you that you have to watch a certain movie, or you must like the Beatles  Am I overthinking things?  Has anyone else encountered this?

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Do You Give To Panhandlers?

I grew up in a very small town, and went to college in a medium-sized town, so I never really ran into the phenomenon of panhandling until I did study abroad my junior year of college.  I went to college in Oxford, England, and we were warned from practically the second we stepped off the plane never to give any money to panhandlers.

We were told, at least in this situation, that people who operate in Oxford near the shopping district and universities are 'professional panhandlers.' They sit on the sidewalk all day collecting money, and then get their Lexus (it was always a Lexus) out of the parking garage and drive back to their stately home.  This was an image that was pounded into my head by not only people associated with my school, but by locals I befriended over the course of the semester.

Personally, I'd rather go to a regular job than sit on a sidewalk all day, but I'm sure that the story that I was told can't be the whole story.

Certainly I've encountered panhandlers in other situation as well and I don't think I've ever given them anything.  There are tons of professional beggars all over the major cities in Europe, and if they pick you out as a tourist, they're actually rather rude if you don't give them anything.  I almost gave leftovers from a restaurant to a man in Washington DC, but I was worried that that would seem condescending.

Since the economy has been in this downward spiral, with Rhode Island hit particularly hard on the unemployment front, I've seen more and more people out at intersections holding signs and saying 'anything helps.'  I always feel guilty and avert my eyes, but I also had it drilled into my head by my Republican mother that if you give people who are down and out cash, they just spend it on booze.  So what to do in these situations?

I want to give something, but I almost never carry any cash, and I also don't want to be an enabler/ get taken advantage of.  I feel very bad for people outside in all weather just asking for help.  I can't imagine that it's very easy, psychologically, to stand up and beg for help, but maybe I'm just thinking like a sucker.  I'd rather give food than cash, because I'm sure that even if they're going to a soup kitchen, they're still probably hungry, but is that a rude thing to do?  I'm genuinely curious--do other people give?  Sometimes?  All the time?  What's your personal philosophy when it comes to people with signs and a hard luck story?

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Update: New Car Insurance Scheme

A while back, I mentioned that I was starting a new discount program through Progressive where I plug a little gadget called a snapshop into my car, and it records the number of miles I drive, what times of day, etc., and could potentially get me a discount on my policy.  After 30+ days of collecting data, I'm pleased to report that my projected discount is 10%!

Since I did way more driving than usual in that first 30 days, I'm fairly confident that I can get that number even lower before my policy is set to renew end of December.

One thing that I have found frustrating with this little gadget is the penalty for hard braking.  Every time you brake hard, which they define as reducing your speed by more than seven miles per second, you get an angry beep that lets you know you've done wrong.  I'm not much of a lead foot, so I really didn't think this would be an issue, but I've still gotten dinged a few times.  Problem is, most often, I brake hard to avoid running into another car or killing a pedestrian.  Unfortunately, there's no way to tell the Snapshot that, so I have to listen to the awful three beeps and just shake my fist in futility.

Overall, I'm pretty pleased with the program.  Since I'm someone who doesn't drive much, I'm guaranteed to save money, which I'm a huge fan of.  It also makes me think a bit more about those times when I do take the car.  I'm even more vigilant about clustering my errands and biking when I can, and I haven't bought gas in a month (though BF has filled up since I last did).  I'm on track to save ~100 per year, possibly more, and I can think of a lot of things I'd rather do with that money than give it to Progressive.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

My Home Gym

Winter is coming.

Not for a while, obv, but eventually, and I have decided to be prepared.  Every year I feel somehow surprised when it gets bastardly cold and all I want to do is hide under a blanket.  Every year I convince myself that I'll be able to run outside in January, and every year I make myself sick.

No more.

Since I now know the value of cross-training and since I am breaking up with my gym, I have decided to create the perfect home gym that will carry me happily through this winter and the winters to come.  I do still have a plethora of winter outdoor running gear including yaktrax:
Looks like a murder weapon, doesn't it
But, even my stoic Scandinavian heritage fails on the coldest days, and honestly, who am I trying to impress?  Sometimes, it's just too cold to go running, and on those days, I have my home gym.

We live in a pretty large apartment, and have a room that we don't really use for anything.  It was supposed to be BF's office, but it's too hot in the summer and too cold in the winter (and personally, I think he just prefers to work in front of the tv), so I'm turning it into a workout space.  I spent a small amount of money on some gear:
And BF and I already had some freeweights of varying weight, and I have a yoga mat. We also have an area rug to put over the hardwood floor (thank god), and I bought a carpet-sized lint roller to get the cat fur off of it.

Then I went online and downloaded the complete collection of Zuzana Light's ZWow workouts.*  The reason I downloaded then is threefold:
  • Now I can get right  to the workout without having to watch commercials
  • If she ever takes them down from youtube, I will still have them
  • If, for some strange reason, our internet stops working, I will have no excuse not to work out!
She uploads a new workout every week so there's always something new, you don't need much, if any, equipment to do them, they only take 20-30 minutes and they are HARD.  I'll probably only do one a week because they're so tough--much harder than I would be on myself if I was going to the gym.

So, for the low-low price of $77, I have a pretty good home gym.  I have everything I need to get in a good workout at home and my own trainer to keep me motivated.
Yup, her boobs are ridiculous, but I would like those abs
If I ever get bored of the 36 workout videos I have (which is doubtful because I've never even owned that many workout DVDs), there's a new one each week, and they're all free!  Isn't the internet great?!

*If you want to download and save videos from Youtube, you just need to download and install a free program called aTube Catcher.  It downloads videos from the url, and then you can store them on your harddrive or a flash drive.

Monday, October 1, 2012

The Month of Reduction

That's what we're going to call October.  I'm going to reduce spending, reduce my waistline and reduce my possessions.  Do you ever feel like I'm always working on the same goals month after month?  Yeah, me too.

September was a strange month.  I had a forced week of from work, during which time I failed pretty spectacularly to accomplish any of the lofty goals I set for myself.  Then, I went to Minneapolis for a week to hang out with my little brother.  That was possibly the best week I've had in a long time.

I went to the Renaissance Festival:
Minnesota Renaissance Festival!  Since 1971!

And discovered that I don't think I'm a Ren Fest type of gal.  I can see that it might be fun with friends, but my parents were not super into it, and it seemed to me like a dusty shopping mall full of people wearing costumes.  So now I know, and I will save money on future Ren Fest admission!

I ran in the woods:
Fall comes early to the north country
My brother lives right next to a small State Park, and I spent a major part of the week exploring the network of trails that run through it.  It was a fantastic sporty adventure, and I discovered a Nature Center, an Outdoor Gym, a boat launch and other woodsy wonders.  Good stuff.
Outdoor Gym!  How cool is that!?!?
I also spent the week lazing around (recovering from running, um, yeah), catching up on True Blood, seeing old friends and eating a lot of chips and pizza.  Seriously, when I got back and went to a hot yoga class, I smelled like sour cream and onion.  Sorry you had to read that, but honesty is important.

Therefore, my October goals are as follows:
  • Get back on an exercise routine.  My next half marathon is October 14th, and I want to do well.  The weather is perfect running weather, and I just need to get out there instead of sleeping in all the time.
  • Get back on budget.  My vacation to Minneapolis was actually quite frugal because I stayed with my brother for free, he paid for pretty much everything and I had $200 worth of Southwest vouchers to pay for the plane ticket.  So that was the cheapest vacation of all time, but I'm still feeling a bit off, and need to get back into a money, as well as exercise, routine.  I'm not carrying a balance on my credit cards, but I haven't really been saving.
  • Do more reading.  I've been a total tv whore and have woefully neglected my beloved books.  I'm currently reading Tell The Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Brunt.  Anyone read it?  It's really, really good (so far) and if you haven't, you should.
  • Explore crock pot recipes.  I feel like I've been eating out forever, even though I bought a bunch of groceries when I was at my brother's.  Here's the rub though, he doesn't eat normal food.  I had to think of foods that I could prepare in his house with his limited supplies.  Example: I bought eggs thinking I could scramble or fry them.  He doesn't have a frying pan, so I had to boil them.  I had to buy instant coffee because he doesn't have a coffee maker, and he didn't have a knife sharp enough to slice a cucumber.  So, I'm looking forward to more home cooking.  Last night I made vegetarian chili in the crock pot, and it was awesome.
What do you have planned this month?