Friday, February 15, 2019

Asking the Readers...Chicago, Chicago!!

Today I am reaching out to readers, near and far. One of my goals for February was to completely plan one rail trip (I'm aiming for more than one this year), and for the past couple of days I have been working on a train trip to Chicago.

And today, I want to hear from you, the readers, what you would consider your musts, musts nots, what you loved, hated and everything in between. From where to go, where to eat, and what to see.

So far, my train would arrive in Chicago on 2 PM on Thursday, and depart on 2 PM on Monday-both at the beginning of June.  So I have three full days to eat, drink, tour and be merry, and I'm not yet sure how I'll fill those two half days. I suspect it may depend on where I stay (a downtown hotel or an Airbnb or VRBO, which are more likely). 

Below is my tentative plan so far, but it's just a plan.So friends and visitors, hit me, hit me, and hit me gain.  Just realize that there is no way I am doing the 360, looking down through glass, or probably going up in the wheel. I do want to eat in some really good restaurants and I do plan to get Theater tickets. Wrigley Feld is not on this list. Will I regret not going in June?

Thursday-Arrive at 2 PM, find hotel, explore and find a good restaurant

Friday-Tentative plan to do a two hour Van tour, have lunch and be outside for awhile and then take a boat tour

Saturday-Tentative Plan to go to the  Aquarium and the Field Museum

Sunday-Tentative plan to go to the Art Institute and spend the rest of the day outside-Michigan ave, Navy Pier, whatever.

Monday-no plan yet for the morning

For my frugal followers, I have subscribed to a website called Chicago on the Cheap, as well as a couple visiting Chicago on a Budget type web pages.  The aquarium is the really expensive thing on the list (other than theater tickets and on really good restaurant) so I'm interested in hearing the value-and other tightwad ideas as well as what to see!

I look forward to everything my readers have to share..........the good and the bad!

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Makin' it Monday on Tuesday: Hearts and Pancakes

One of the thing's I've committed to in the past couple of years is that I sew and knit for myself. Occasionally I sew or knit for a family member, but rarely do I bother to commit to a specific day as such-instead of a "birthday shawl", I just give a shawl when it's finished. Occasionally I make an exception for a special event and occasionally I still sell or give something away. But generally I sew when I want to, I don't when I don't and that all works out.

Which is a good thing, because for the past two days, I've done nothing on my little heart mini quilt wall hanging and matching table topper. Nothing, I say! I also did not make heart shaped sugar cookies, but that's not a fail since I decided not to have tempation in the house and instead fill my portion of the gift basket with Valentine kisses or other candy.

The mini table topper unpressed and in progress.......

Sunday I went to church and took my son out to dinner. And yesterday, well yesterday, I did nothing. Absolutely nothing. Except binge watch four episodes of my current Netflix TV shosw(Bordertown, Season 2).  Oh, and then later I watched the world champion edition of America's Got Talent.  And that was pretty much my Monday. No exercise, no sewing, no housecleaning to speak of. According to my little notebook of notebooks, I was supposed to sew hearts. And walk a fast mile and workout with weights. And begin to completely re-organize my room. And yes, write a blog post.  Fortunately, I'm retired, and most of the time the things on that list are, as they say, just a guideline. A guideline ignored yesterday in spades.

I somehow managed to sort my laundry, make a quick batch of sloppy joe's and an angel food cake for my son from a cake mix.  A high energy day, let me tell you. On the one hand I can say I had a completely frugal day with no out of the house shopping, but on the other hand........

Fortunately, I'm okay with the wall hanging not being done or even hung until Wednesday or Thursday, because this is a "hanging of the month" and there is still month left.  I'll make every effort to make up the exercise thing for the rest of the week, and the room organization thing will still be there.

I'm going to need that exercise especially because, well, today's gal's day out was brunch. At the Original Pancake house. Where I had a full order of pumpkin pancakes and sausage and real maple syrup with water and a milk chaser.Three hours later, I'm still full-and thankful that I went off the frugal reservation and bought a deli chicken to have this evening with things (healthy things, mind you) on hand. 

pumpkin pancakes (Original Pancake Photo since I forgot)

Pumpkin pancakes still left after I had my "I haven't eaten since last night" fill and offered to share!

Seriously, look at the size of that omelet, which also came with pancakes and sausage!

Tomorrow, retirement life is somewhat back to normal, whatever normal is around here. I managed to find two large packages of short ribs marked down in the manager's meat sale section and I plan to make slow cooker deviled short ribs. I also have my regular knitting group, and this week we are presenting a Valentine's thank you basket to the staff so I'm bringing the basket, some candies and some painted rocks a friend made for me.

And somehow, I'm gonna get in that two mile walk-or as close as I can get.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Five Frugal Things: Food Budget Edition!

This year, one of my retirement goals is the get the ole food budget down to seventy dollars a week (with a really long long term goal of a possible fifty dollars), while eating "well"

Just like plenty of households, retired and otherwise, we have a non traditional makeup. Besides myself there is my sister who works traditional hours and leaves the house before eight, and my almost thirty year old son, who works and goes to school full time. The end result of course, is that we are all our own for breakfasts and lunch and we generally eat together at dinner most days, although adult son may eat earlier or later.

My sister is not a breakfast person, buys the sweet morning snacks that she eats at work, either buys her own frozen Trader Joe's lunches or eats leftovers. My son and I eat traditional breakfast style food, leftovers or sandwiches for lunches.

So how does this all work in the grocery, cooking department? The working gal buys the above stuff and generally cooks the two nights she is off. She generally "cooks" more than I do making things from hangar steak to complicated things like oxtail stew. I cook the other five nights unless my son actually has a night off and wants to cook. We are not obsessive round here about grocery cost equality, because it works out in other ways. For example, my sister buys the plants and does the yard work. My style of cooking tends to be slow cooker and cool casseroles which usually are frugal as well as easy. And usually a meal in themselves (barring a salad or bread). Like the slow cooker chicken pot pie recipe below.

Put briefly, my method of cutting the food budget is this: We have a set amount of food items we buy every week and I buy those no matter what but am happy when they are on sale. This includes milk, bread, eggs, juice, produce, healthy snacks, and a couple other things.  Things in our house that are so regular that Clicklist (see below) now recognizes them without fail. For everything else (with a few exceptions here and there like oatmeal) I shop from the sale section of the paper (mainly the front page) and buy more than one of each. I plan my meals from our freezer and pantry, rather than making a list. And it has to be said, we are not picky eaters. I can count on my fingers things that I do not eat, and I am the pickiest. So in our house you will find beef, chicken, lamb, pork, fish and seafood, Indian food, Oxtails, shortribs, German food and yes, calves liver on a regular basis (although because of price and cholesterol, the calves liver has it's limits. You will, however, rarely find vegetarian dishes. We are what we are.

Having shared all that, here are the inroads I made in our food budget planning this particular week.

1.  I've decided to shop exclusively via Clicklist, and then drop into other stores to grab sale stuff only.  Clicklist recognizes my regular purchases and fills them in for me, and while I won't say I don't do ANY spontaneous buying (this week I got valentine cupcakes from the bakery), there is none of that grabbing stuff that looks fun as I go up and down the aisles. Four dollars a week is a small price to pay for pulling up to the store and having bags loaded into your car and leaving again.. And yes, they select good produce and meat. 

You can also get paper bags, which I usually prefer because I use them for recycling!

2. I've made two very low cost meals this week that gave a second day for each (plus lunches): slow cooker minestrone with hot bread and a double batch of sloppy joes made with 93 percent ground beef at half price.

3. The past couple weeks have not yielded much in the way of those front page loss leaders (lots of steak and chicken wing type stuff). This week, thankfully, is different. Boneless chuck is half price, boneless chicken breasts and pork chops are both less than half price, and butter is $1.99 just at a quick glance. So I may be spending a bit more than my weekly to stock up on things-this always averages out with the weeks that there is not much.

4. Cooking and freezing has never really been my thing other than baked goods. This week I decided that especially when I make casseroles or oven bakes like this one, instead of making one big casserole, I will make two smaller ones and freeze one. For the moment I bought some of those eight inch square casserole pans to help me on my way. If I succeed, I'll start getting glass. While I do freeze soup and such in Ziploc bags, I avoid plastic or metal for freezing because I prefer to reheat in an oven, I think it tastes better.

5. Starting next week I will have one day when I am gone throughout the day including lunch. I purchased a nice little lunch container, so that I can take food with me from my church/bible study group to my knitting group. Admittedly this is not officially grocery savings because fast food and restaurants are charged to my entertainment budget. But I'm sure at least one week a month I'll be hitting my local A&W which is directly on the way for a diet float and a hot dog, but three weeks out of four ain't bad. I still need a good quality water bottle that is still "cute and colorful". 
When in doubt? Vera Bradely-used or on clearance, of course!!

As of next week, I'll be sharing the menu stuff in my frugal posts. Should I add the grocery list? Meanwhile, what's been frugal at your Casa? Food related or otherwise.

Monday, February 4, 2019

......And on To February

Just a quick aside here folks! I love Scandinavian shows., and Russian shows. I've watched many of them with subtitles, and loved them. Today, one of those shows started again-and I was thrilled. Only instead of subtitles, it's now dubbed in English. Am I the only one who would prefer subtitles to hearing English with lips moving that don't match??

So, February. The shortest month, as they say. The first month of winter is gone. The snow comes, it hits sixty and sometimes feels like seventy with the snow, and the circle begins again. All in all though, the month has begun well. A relaxing weekend (with not much being done), a long church meeting, and Sunday evening at DB's house, where I brought the queso. 
I'm a big belever that less is more in recipes. This one from Betty Crocker is a loaf of Velveeta and two cans of Rotel (one mild, one hot), I threw a pound of pork sausabe in the mix and let the slow cooker do it's job. ****I'm aware that Velveeta is less than healthy. I however, come from the school of thought that if I eat healthy daily including low fat mainly, that allows me those occasions that include Velveeta Queso or baked potato and sausage soup made with cream****
Now it's time to make at least a few goals and plans. There are three  birthdays between now and March 4th, two of them my offspring (it seems that over eighty percent of the people from the extended families on both sides celebrate birthdays in the late January through early March period or the late September through Halloween period. What that means, I'm not sure). While Valentine's is not a huge thing for me (never was, actually), we do our "thanks" for the independent book store that hosts the knitting group on that day, so some baking and planning are in order. Add somethings to do around the house, and adding new kinds of exercise in-along with trimming the food budget-and there ya go.

February Goals

  1. Exercise out of the house two times a week at least (I have a good mix of in house exercise but need to do Tai Chi elsewhere I'm thinking)
  2. Have one hour of quiet time before bed, with the special Kindle Fire cover for non-blue reading being the exception
  3. Aim for three hundred dollars absolute max for groceries (I'll be blogging about the specifics on this)
  4. Spend an average of an hour on the house daily as I put it to right (I am not the only person who cleans or does other things)
  5. Completely plan and budget one train trip start to finish.
  6. Make three Valentine things: a watercolor card, a mini quilt for the front entrance, and decorated sugar cookies for the bookstore  
    I plan to use this as inspiration

    Use these fabrics plus white

    And make a new quilt to hang in this spot as you enter the door-I want to do one for every  month/season instead of a wreath on the door.
  7. Finish one of my four in progress knitting projects
  8. Finish sewing together the yellow quilt and have it and the vintage one ready to send out to the quilter.
  9. Watch eight episodes of a new online course from the Great Courses plus, two a week.
  10. Make at least two half day on my own excursions/explorations this month.
  11. Get all birthday gifts and cards purchased, wrapped and mailed on time (you have to know me)
  12. Aim for no more than three hours of online time daily that does not include reading kindle wise.
And two goals that aren't really goals but reminders for future months, if you well,
  1. Start thinking about how to change around my front room. We don't have a foyer, you walk in and see the hanging above and then go right to the kitchen or left to the "fireplace room" The hall closet is at the end of the hall. Right now we make do with a coat rack, but I want a dedicated "landing area" that fits in with the front room and entrance.
  2. Remind my self that within the next two months the below photographed passport issue needs to be dealt with. No words are necessary (it expires in July anyway) 
    Whatever you are imagining here, you are probably right. Sigh.

And there you have it. The last two are open ended and really not goals as such, just thinks to think about and put on my calendar. In true bullet journal fashion, I have even made a little weekly tracker in my notebooks of notebooks. And for what it's worth, I plan to blog on at least numbers 2, 3, 5, 6, that notebook of notebooks and maybe even the story of the passport.

Happy February, all!


Thursday, January 31, 2019

January wrap up

Wow. Here we are. On the one hand, winter has really been here. On the other hand, it has left a day later. And I can take 20 degrees one day if it's fifty the next five. I am very grateful right about now that I don't live in Michigan, or Chicago, or New York, or heck, probably even Washington DC right this very week. With apologies to all my readers.

So what all happened this past month? On the social front, it's been a good month. I've gone to regular happy hours and lunches/brunches with my gals group, done the knitting and happy hour thing every week, went to a book group, went to a friend's house to make jewelry and participated in two family dinners. One was a football play off event with Lox, Bagels, Cream cheese, scrambled eggs and donuts. The other was a " let's go through some of the family memorabilia and deal with it thing", and I had Egyptian food for the first time.

Oh and yesterday at happy hour with my knitting group, someone suggested we consider doing some traveling together. Small trips like to Santa Fe, and even further. I mentioned my planned trip to Chicago in June, and we could have a new group in the works. Who knows?

On the health front, I was not as successful as I had hoped. Mainly because, well, I fell and couldn't walk for a week and then could barely walk for the second week. I have continued my seated strength workout (see my health goals in the sidebar above), started taking CoQ10 and Glucosomine/Condroiten, and did find a Tai Chi for seniors and modified yoga class. I should be able to participate by next week. Why is it that the recovery is always many times longer than the actual injury and immediate aftermath?

Money-wise, I hope to have the groceries close to 70 dollars per week soon (again, see 2019 goals above). Since I had that "clean out the freezer and fridge thing" before the holidays, part of my grocery strategy is still restocking. I did make a monthly list of upcoming events and expenses for the year (obviously a moving target), and I did repurpose two things.

I also did one of those "sign up for our checking account and get 300 bucks" things. While I don't recommend this any more than the changing your prescriptio every two months thing as a rule, I had some good reasons on this one. My current bank (since like 2000 or so) is USAA. I LOVE USAA. But they don't have a real branch. If I want alot of cash I up my own limit and go from machine to machine, and do everything else on my phone. So I now have a local bank and branch. Also, I wanted to split my funds. I'll keep my social security in one, and everything else in the other. So not only have I done something I've been meaning to forwhile, but I'll get $300 to go straight into the summer vacation fund. I can live with tht.

When it comes to the house and family front, as mentioned previously on the blog, I am far behind in the organization phase. I did purchase some large bins today for corralling and have been making small steps, limping as I go. Both offspring have birthdays in February so this month I did not specifically worry about helping or doing small things-they'll get big things next month!

While that's as far as the I made it on the goal front, I have also read seven novels (see book list up top), watched Black Earth Rising which was fantastic and about which I cannot say enough, and Maniac (meh). I also, I am ashamed to say, have watched a few episodes of the show Behind the Mask, including watching the unmasking of Margaret Cho and Terry Bradshaw.  I'm convinced the bumblebee is Gladys Knight. And on the project plan front, I finished a quilt, am working on another, and have started a pastel triangle shawl scarf just for me.

Plans for February? I'll get right on those!

Monday, January 28, 2019

Makin' it Monday

If you're a Facebook follower, you already know how I spent my Friday, the day after our little snow. First off, I traded cars with my son. I purchased my car in Texas and while I am living proof that you no NOT need four wheel drive for control in bad weather as such, the friend I was visiting has a VERY steep driveway that at nine am was still icy. So I decided discretion was the better part of valor.

After I made that trade off, I drove down the road to meet with some knitting friends and have a jewelry class. I also had hot chocolate, cinnamon rolls and fruit. People, let me tell you. That small collection of beads I have that I've shared here before? Nothing, nothing, compared to this gal's collection. She has her beads in bags and sorted by style and color and I'm not sure what. Thankfully, though, she was willing to show me how to make the nice loop that appears at the top of a pair of earrings. Actually I learned two methods. I now have three new pairs of earrings. And at least one may not be a perfect match (one a teeny bit longer than the other). But if that bothers you, or if you even notice probably were way to close or have way too much time on your hands! I now feel more confident that when my daughter returns with my tools and stash I will be able to create. Next time this group gets together........necklaces!  

These came out the best but took me much more practice!

Not a perfect match because one wire is longer....but who will really notice?

Just because the day is coming and I didn't have anything red or Valentine-ish!

I also managed to make a serious dent in this frighteningly easy shawl (I chose it because of the rounded rather than pointed back), and finally decided on a border for that good old classic vintage quilt of mine. It should be off to the professional quilter to be finished sooner than later.  

My yarn choice!

This quilt sat forever because while I knew my sister in law would like the pale green wide border that was on it, it was wayyyy to plain for me, vintage or not. I now have the gray-green as the inside and something much brighter on the edge. It'll have bright red along the edging.

So I finished a project, learned a new thing,  and continued work on a project that should be finished next week, with no expense (at least out of pocket)! A good week overall.

As for today, well, today is one of those "at home all day" things. I'm gonna try out baked potato and ham soup, try and get a couple bags to go out of the house, read, and maybe knit a little bit. Do some yoga perhaps. And try to find a new show this evening perhaps, now that I've finished Black Earth Rising which I absolutely love!! Bottom line, a nestling in day with no money spent, which I always love.  

  My challenge goal/use materials I always have/learn something new challenge for this week is to download the  paint by number picture above as found on the blog A Beautiful Mess, and transfer it to a small canvass, so that next week I can actually open those acrylic paints I've never used. In different colors, though! For sure!

And for a bit of humor this week, I've been following the "vote for your favorite Geico commercial" spots. While this may not be the favorite..........

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Sewing and Sunshine and Sorting

One of the blessings of Denver is that if it's not snowing or raining, it's sunny. At least a good part of the day. And since we are a mile closer to the sun, said sun both melts the snow and ice quickly and feels generally ten degrees warmer than the actual temperature. Yesterday, it snowed a bare three inches and then the sun came out melted most of what was unshoveled on the streets, sidewalks and paths. Yesterday? Sunny. Last night and today?  Windy and snow showers, maybe an inch, maybe more. This afternoon and then Friday? Clear and then sunny again-with a high in the mid fifties on Sunday.

Which means I am never suffering from SAD or the like, I am out of the house almost every day of the year, and the shorts, t-shirts and sandals stay out year around (albeit often with socks). If there is a downside to all this, it's that the end of April can be the snowiest time of the year-which is why most of my excursions are in April and May, including an upcoming one to Chicago.

Meanwhile, it has to be said. That goal of cleaning, decluttering and organizing a room of month? I overstepped myself when it comes to my poor little sewing and craft room. Originally this smallest bedroom was my son's, which he took willingly. However the second bedroom was too BIG to be a sewing/crafting space (I want to be able to move from place to place in my chair on wheels) and my six foot six son and his extra large queen bed and headboard needed space. So I turned around and changed rooms out in a weekend. Without changing the greenish color on the walls, or doing much of any thing else. Add to that the fact that I was creative and used what I had when I unpacked mid 2013. I had moved from built in storage shelves, and I cobbled together an unused desk, two baker's racks, and shelves and bins in the small closet (I took the door off). 

Quilts in progress, yarn projects in progress, yarn, fabric, and up in the left hand, jars to be used for salves and bath salts and the likes-and that's just what the photo actually shows.

I haven't done a lot of organization since then, I've never painted or upgraded this room, and I've added a hobby (or two or three or four) along the way. I do sewing, quilting, drawing, painting and other art, weaving on a small loom and experiment with lotion and salve and natural recipes, all in this room! And occasionally, I use it as an office. Good Grief! 
I forgot to make the jewelry  making thing (hence the toaster oven). Right now leftover mailing boxes are storing things for homemade soap and other stuff-a trip to the container store will be due sooner rather than later.

On top of that you have my goal of re-using  and digging deeper this year, so I am loath to throw or donate that odd fabric or half skein unless I am sure that I cannot put it to good use in this year-be it for charity or another purpose. to date my  organization has included putting all the pieces of felted wool in bins in my bedroom (because I have stair difficult I have a corner of my bedroom which I use for some seasonal bin storage as I await help from those who can carry up or down). I've also gotten rid of a bag that included torn pattern pieces that could no longer be used (I kept the envelopes to use for cards or college). I've re-organized the myriad of storage drawers in said room so that all like items are pretty much together, although I have not eliminated a thing (Sorry Marie). I've gotten rid of a quilt rack that was taking up space (I'll hang projects on my wall), I've organized the fabric on hand, and made a written list of unfinished projects and what if anything I need to finish them. I've also, within the limitations of stuff, done my best to clean areas of said room.  
That poor green really is as bad as it looks. I use a large white piece of art board when I photograph normally, or am trying to plan a quilt!
The good news? This is a goal, a plan, not a commitment. Other rooms will take much less effort, and since I'm "doing" in this room multiple days I week if not every day, I can (hopefully) work on that organization thing in between the creating thing. 

Today, said studio is also an office, at least briefly!

And this summer, we'll see how much it costs to empty the room, paint it a nice cream color and put everything back in, because I have quilts and art waiting to be hung.

It sounds like a good plan, anyway.