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Monday, November 4, 2013

No-Spend August Part Deux!

Okay, on to the finer points of a no-spend month!  Let's get to it.

One of the main things that you have to remember when you are planning a fiscal fast for a month is that you have to make time for fun things.  You have to be able seek out free events to do in order to keep your sanity.  Trust me, you will NEED to get out of the house.  We were lucky and found several in our community, including a cool classic car show downtown and a free showing of "The Little Rascals" at our lake's sports complex.  We also have a really nice park that has all kinds of things to climb on and trails within our community to bike or walk on.  I feel like that's what helped keep us going through the majority of the month.

The second thing that helped keep us going was the prep work we did ahead of time.  I already told you that we did buy some stuff ahead of time.  Mainly, we bought toilet paper and extra shampoo, body wash, and conditioner.  I also use a lot of homemade cleaners.  So, when I was planning this, I already knew I had plenty of homemade laundry detergent.  The type I make is called White Silk Purse Laundry Soap.  I add several squirts of Dawn dish soap and half of a 24 oz. container of Oxiclean to the recipe as well and it makes enough to last about 6 months for my family.  (2 adults and 2 part-time kiddos)

When I planned the 8-10 meals for the month, I tried to make sure that a lot of the ingredients weren't going to be perishable within a week and I tried to integrate a lot of them into different recipes.

The best part of the prep work was freezing some food to have on hand for when we really didn't want to make anything ourselves.  That's where BIEROCKS come in...mmmmm, bierocks.  I know that they are sometimes referred to Runzas in Nebraska and such, but bierocks are a staple here in the German-settled towns of northeast Kansas.  They are basically like rolls filled with meat, cabbage, and cheese.

The recipe I used is fantastic!  It's homemade dough and it rises beautifully and tastes delicious.  I like to use Guinness to steam the cabbage and add flavor.  This recipe makes about a dozen bierocks.  I made up the hamburger ones first and they tasted super yummy.  Then, I made the sausage ones.  My husband and I just stared open-mouthed at each other when we tested the filling..it was even better than the hamburger filling!  I highly, highly recommend these.  They freeze very well and reheat easily.  To freeze you simply want to wrap them individually in aluminum foil and freeze them individually.  Once frozen, we transferred to gallon freezer Ziploc bags and stored in our deep freeze.  To reheat simply unwrap, wrap in a slightly damp paper towel, and microwave for 2-4 minutes, depending on your microwave's power.  The damp paper towel helps keep the dough from getting too hard.  You can also slap those babies on parchment paper on a baking sheet and place in the oven at 400 degrees for 20-30 minutes.

Bierocks

Dough:
3 1/2-4 cups flour
3 T. sugar
1 tsp. salt
1 T. instant potato flakes
2 pkgs. active dry yeast
1 cup milk
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup margarine or unsalted butter

Combine 2 1/2 cups flour, sugar, salt, potato flakes, and yeast in a large bowl.  In a small saucepan, combine milk, water, and margarine.  Heat to 130 degrees (margarine does not need to melt).  Add liquid mixture to dry ingredients and beat well.  Add enough additional flour to make a soft dough.  Turn out onto lightly floured surface; knead until smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes.  Cover with a towel and let rest 15 minutes.

Filling:
1 1/2 lbs. ground beef or sausage (or a mixture of the two)
3/4 tsp. salt and pepper
1 onion, chopped
2 cups cabbage, chopped
1 bottle Guinness beer
1/2 cup jalapeno slices (optional)
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese (optional)


Brown beef, salt, pepper, and jalapenos.  Add the onion and cabbage; cover and steam until onion is crisp-tender and cabbage is wilted.  Add beer and and let reduce down about 10 minutes or so.  Stir in cheese and let melt.

Pinch off a small amount of dough, about the size of an egg.  Roll into a circle and place 1 heaping tablespoon of filling on dough.  Bring edges together and pinch; place on greased pan.  Bake 375 degrees for 20 minutes or until lightly browned.

The second staple of our no-spend month was bread.  I didn't want to buy several loaves ahead of time, because I hate the taste of frozen bread and didn't want it to go bad before I could eat it.  I found a great recipe for a half wheat/half white bread.  It is easy peasy and tastes delicious, especially when it is still warm.
You can find the recipe here:  Whole Wheat Wonderfulness

A lot of details went into planning and prepping for this fiscal fast, but needless to say, it was worth it in the end.  We saved up a lot of money quickly and learned the value of making things from scratch.  I also found that because of how we planned and being able to use what was on hand, I have curbed my grocery shopping quite a bit.  In fact, just yesterday for lunch I made a poorman's meal for the family.  It consisted of fried potatoes and onions, mixed with hot dogs, scrambled eggs, and cheese.  We used up stuff we had on hand and it was a hearty meal.

I almost forgot that I also was so determined not to spend anything that I ended up bartering with my neighbor for items I needed.  I had canned several different kinds of pickles and jams this summer and traded some homemade peach jam with her in exchange for some extra all natural enzyme cleaner (I add it to my dishwasher load, along with homemade dishwasher detergent) and eggs (she has her own chicken coop).
I hope that this gives you some ideas for your own fiscal fast.  Please be sure to comment below and send any questions to me.  I would be glad to answer in more detail.

Thanks for reading!



Saturday, October 5, 2013

Today

October is Pregnancy/Infant Loss and SIDS Awareness month.  This post was originally written on another blog I started in May 2011, but I didn't blog again after that.  I really like this piece, so I am publishing it here.


I was supposed to meet you this week.  It's strange.  I didn't even know you before you were gone and yet, I miss you still.  You were mine, but it was never meant to be.  Every time I think of you, I ache.  Grief can be transient, but the thought of you remains constant.  I never wanted anything more than I wanted you.

I miscarried my child at 7 weeks.  October 8, 2010.  I had been trying for over 2 1/2 years to have a child.  The day that I miscarried was like any ordinary day.  My husband and I were going to our best friends' house.  We had been back from vacation for about a month.  I had PCOS, so I didn't always have a consistent period.  I had stopped taking pregnancy tests a while ago, because every time I thought I might be, it was a negative.  I thought this was just another hiccup in my cycle. I had started spotting a tiny bit that morning, but I thought it was just the beginning of my next period.  I had used a tampon.  When I took a shower that evening, I removed it.  That's when it happened.  I didn't realize what the heck was going on at that moment.  Later, it all made sense.  That's when I miscarried and the waves of disappointment came crashing in.

We had taken a 6-years-late honeymoon in Cocoa Beach, Florida.  It was gorgeous.  We laid on the beach, waded in the ocean, and ate fresh, fabulous seafood.  We even did some deep-sea fishing and kayaked with manatees among the mangrove trees.  Utterly perfect.  In between of course, we made love.  A lot.  I remember telling my husband to quit nipping at my breast, because MY GOODNESS THAT REALLY HURTS, STOP IT!!  That should have been a sign, but I never connected the dots.  I was so used to disappointment.

After that shower, still in shock from what I thought had happened, we went to our friends' house and I asked my friend questions, as she'd had 2 miscarriages before they got pregnant with their little boy, who was only a month and a half old at the time.  She confirmed that's what it probably was.  How could that be?  I was stunned.  I'm not a hugging type, but she put her arms around me and let me know she was there for me.

But this week is the week.  It would've been the final week (assuming I hadn't gone early).  My coworker is due 4 weeks from now.  My younger sister, the same.  My sister-in-law in 7 1/2 weeks.  Several of my friends have had children in the last few months.

This aching grief has attacked again.  This is why I am blogging.  I no longer know what to do with my thoughts.  They tumble through my mind.  I have to organize them and so here I am.  Labeling my grief and storing it in a box for posterity.  The hurt lingers, but I will go on.  Even knowing what this week means...never meeting YOU, child.  I miss you.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

In remembrance

Today, as I was driving into work, after I had prayed my daily rosary, I reflected on that terrible day a dozen years ago.  I couldn't help but think how far our nation had gotten away from that date.  For many weeks and months following 9/11, the United States stood in solidarity to grieve for, and honor, those who were rushed to Heaven's gates that day.
I felt an urgency to do something, anything, to remember the compassion and love our nation strived for in the wake of that tragedy.  So this morning I stopped at the Kwik Shop to get my morning pop and breakfast burrito.  Fortuitously, the man behind was also someone I recognized as a regular, so I told the clerk that I wanted to pay for his stuff as well.  The clerk welcomed the offer and asked the man what he had.  That man was a bit confused and I stated again that I wanted to pay for his food.  He asked me why I would want to do such a thing and I said that well, today was Patriot Day and I just felt like I needed to do something for my fellow man to remember that day.  He thanked me profusely as I stood with tears in my eyes.  I was so nervous about doing that, about committing a random act of kindness and I was so focused on remembering that day, that I was actually tearing up over it.  The clerk was a bit taken aback and just told me how cool that was to do.  I said that I had often thought about doing things like that, but sometimes it is hard to put into practice, because you are nervous or embarrassed.  

The reason for this story is simple.  Never forget the compassion and love that come during tragedy because that is what strengthens humanity.  The simple acts of courtesy and kindness that we display to individuals on a daily basis become the bridge that we build to help us connect with people that are strangers, that we find hard to love, that we sometimes gossip about or condescend to, and I don't want to forget that feeling that comes with humility.  Humility in serving your fellow man is absolutely one of the best feelings in the world.  I hope to slowly get better at it every day.  I encourage all of you today to commit to one act of kindness.  It doesn't have to be huge, it doesn't have to be monetary, but I don't want anyone to forget the best intentions that come with remembering love for our fellow man.  Never forget.  We CAN change the world.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

No-Spend August! Part One

Okay, this is what you've been waiting for (all one of you that is)...no spend August.  How? Why? What?  

The premise is simple:  Go the entire month without spending any money, with the exception of your regular bills and mortgage/rent.  


When people asked me at work, they inquired about groceries, gas, etc.  "You're spending money on milk and bread and stuff, right?"  "Nope."  *gasp*  "Did you just buy a whole month's worth of food in the month before?"  "Nope."  *gasp*  "Well, how DID you do it?"  Well, it was definitely a trial and we did not make it all the way through August.  More on that later.

First of all, I want to tell you where this delectable little brainchild came from. Extreme Cheapskates is a show on TLC and one night my husband and I happened upon it.  That episode had a couple named Jeff and Denise Yeager.  He periodically does a "fiscal fast" where they spend the bare minimum and instead tried to use what they had on hand to live.  In a great interview with them, at LearnVest he says that he usually does it for a week at a time, but on the show they fasted an entire month.  On the show he was shown using the remainder of a jelly jar, splashing a little vinegar in it, and creating a vinaigrette for a salad he was serving.  The show and the idea of a "fiscal fast" really resonated with me and stuck in the back of my head.


Then, we had a month where we spent like we were millionaires on crap we found useful, but wasn't altogether necessary.  That's when I really decided to put the plan in action.  

My husband and I have gone through the Debt Snowball with Dave Ramsey and eliminated credit cards and all of our debt (except our mortgage) within the last several years, but I really wanted to put away some extra in our savings.

My goal was to save $1000 in one month.  We netted about $1500, which is clearly more than I was expecting.  Awesomeness!

Our plan in action

First the caveats:

1)  We buy our meat from a locker in bulk and therefore, had a reserve in our deep freeze.

2) We are part of a CSA.  What's that?  So glad you asked...Local Harvest and CSAs.  Therefore, no need to buy fresh produce.  We do try to eat as cleanly as possible and this helps us continue to work toward being off of processed food.  

3)  We have children, but they are my husband's and he doesn't have residential custody of them.  Therefore, he pays child support and this means we don't physically buy the school supplies and clothing ourselves.  (Child support and the dead beat parents is a whole 'nother rant waiting to be written.)

Now, we did stock up a wee bit before August hit, mainly on toilet paper and toiletries, but we also planned about 8-10 bigger meals for the month that we specifically shopped for before August as well.  The rest of our meals came from our pantry, freezer, and CSA.

Finally, I want to tell you that my husband is a wonderful man and totally bought in.  As I was explaining this to him, he asked questions, a lot of them.  I started the conversation in June and we worked through contingency plans.  My husband smokes and he was worried about being able to buy them.  I told him, back in June, to start stocking up on cigarettes and I would start trying to stock up on beer.  I'm sorry, but the thought of going 4 weeks without a Busch Light made me die a little inside.  ;)  However, my husband made the unilateral decision to give up smoking in the month of August.  In order to help with that, he requested that we give up drinking beer for the entire month as well.

There are many more details that go into a no-spend month.  This is just a brief overview.  In my next blog post I will go into some of the finer points of living without buying anything for an entire month.  The one thing I have loved about doing a no-spend month, among many things, is that we had to depend on more creativity to get through.  I learned to love baking fresh bread, making up pan sauces with what I had on hand, and also found that I really love not having to go to the grocery store for an entire month!  We did 3 solid weeks of dedication.  Unfortunately, my brother-in-law passed away on August 22nd and that interrupted our spending.  However, I still haven't gone to the grocery store.







Sunday, August 25, 2013

Shadows pass over us

This piece was started on August 22nd, but I couldn't think clearly enough to finish it that night.  

I can't even wrap my head around what I need to say.  I just know that I need to get these emotions out.  Let them wash over me and fade into darkness.  The truth is so incomprehensible that all I can do when I think about it is to shake my head no, it cannot be.

My husband's brother died today.  He, of the vibrant blue eyes, hardworking attitude, carefree and loving, generous to a fault, has returned to God today.  He was 38.  Two years older than us and an exuberant and dynamic person.  His name was Scott and he was a stranger to us a year ago.

In brief summary, my husband's father, fathered a child himself before he married my husband's mother.  My husband's father never knew of his son (eldest son at that) for 37 years.  Finally, his son's half-sister was riddled with guilt and confessed this to my husband's father and stepmother.  One year ago, almost exactly, was when we found out that there was another sibling out there.  We were curious and joyful and excited to know him.  We were also saddened, because my father-in-law is not in good health.  He has advanced pulmonary fibrosis and is on an oxygen concentrator 24 hours a day.  He cannot even get up and walk to the bathroom without having to turn his concentrator up all of the way.  We were saddened to think that our newfound brother and in-law never had a chance to know his father in the way that my husband and his twin brother knew his father.  He didn't know him as the robust man who was strong enough to bring high school football players to their knees with the touch of a hand.  He didn't know him as the man who could outrun his sons well into his middle years.  We also thought how sad it was that he wouldn't get much time with his father.

Never in our wildest imaginations did we contemplate that my father-in-law would never get a chance to truly know his son and that my husband would never get to really know his half-brother.  They said his death was caused by a heart attack and that it wasn't his first one.

So now my father-in-law has outlived two of his children.  My husband has lost 2 siblings and Scott's fiancee' is left alone at 25 and their 2 1/2 year old son doesn't know why papa hasn't come home yet.  My heart aches for all of them.  I am so thankful that my father-in-law was able to know that he had another son out there and got to meet him.  I can only imagine how much more devastated he would be if he only knew after Scott had passed away.

Scott will always be in our hearts and I know that he was loved by many people.  He gave us a great reminder to live every day as if it were our last.  My husband and I just look at each other and think of how we need to tell our friends and family much more often that we love them.  We must cherish our time together here on earth and use it to enrich other people's lives. Grief is like a shadow that covers a piece of our souls.  Thankfully, those shadows eventually pass and we can see the sun again, a beautiful ray of redemption that gives us peace in knowing we will meet again, Scott.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Perfect serenity...

There is nothing so close to perfect in this world as taking a hot shower, climbing into nice, clean jammies and fixing yourself a hot cocoa while listening to the likes of Edith Piaf, Billie Holiday, and Louis Armstrong.


Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.  That is the perfect serenity right there.  I am settling in to read a memoir and hopefully drift off to sleep to the sound of rain.  (The Rain Sounds Android app. is awesome.  I am partial to the sound of rain on a tent.)

I have been valiantly trying to get back into writing mode and listening to the Edith Piaf station on Pandora while in the shower, I thought about blogging again.

This isn't much, but I'll take what I can get.  I hope everyone else has found their perfect serenity tonight, too.

Goodnight!

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Embarrassment happens, but I don't have to like it.

Okay, perhaps I am the one who is a little odd.  Fine, I am the one who is a little odd.  My husband could provide proof in various forms as evidence of this.

I guess I should ask if I'm the only one who feels this way, but I don't like embarrassment.  Yeah, it's bad enough when I am the one who is embarrassed, but how do you feel when it is someone else's embarrassment?

And by someone else, I mean fictional characters.  Yup, I'm odd.  These are the things I think about on a daily basis.

My husband and I had this discussion last night.  We came across a show called "The 40 Biggest Fails of 2011".  The Packers had already basically closed the door on the Vikings and the only thing left to watch was Saturday Night Live.  We never watch it, but of course, the one time this year that we did watch it, was the repeat of the Louis CK one that was on.  That's when we came upon this show.  It showed the video of the guy biking in Africa that got basically run the hell over by an antelope.  Ouch.  Not so bad.  Then it showed a video of an older woman that was trying to bump and grind up against a rapper at a pool party of some sort.  My husband thought it was hilarious.  I, on the other hand, felt badly for this woman.  I was uncomfortable watching her do this and in the process, fall over and wipe out on the cement.

Thus began our discussion of things that make us uncomfortable. I cannot watch things that make me embarrassed for those individuals or things that are potentially dangerous for individuals.  My husband brought up the video of the people in Brazil that got pranked when they were riding an elevator and the lights were turned off.  When the lights were off, a little girl who was made up to look dead (white all over, crazy hair, etc.) crawled through an opening in the side and then the lights were turned back on.  The people in the video freaked the F out.  Big. Time.  He thought it was great and even stated that he would have loved to have been pranked like that just so he could see his reaction.  I, on the other hand, despise being scared and didn't find the video funny at all.

This leads me to my oddity.  I cannot stand to see people embarrassed.  My example is the scene from "Bring it On" where they go to the regional cheerleading competition only to find out that the team just ahead of them has the same exact routine with the same musical montage.  I own this movie, it's a guilty pleasure of mine, a fun, frothy film that is pointless, but I just love it.  Anyhow, any time that I watch  this movie, I have to leave the room when that part starts.  I just can't watch them being humiliated like that.  Fictional characters.  Yup, officially weird.  It's not just fictional characters, but that's where it seems to happen most frequently, because there are a lot of instances in movies that I've seen a kajillion times where I just can't bear to watch that person (fine, character) get embarrassed.  It truly makes me feel bad.

Anyone else out there have quirks like this?  Or, maybe just like mine (please, oh please!)?  If so, what movie scenes can you just not watch?

Thursday, January 3, 2013

On Watersheds

No moment in my life has been so important as the moment that I realized that this life isn't all about me.  Have you ever gone through the motions in your life, only to be pulled up short by a thought that if you died today, you'd have left a legacy of bitterness?  Your life would be counted among those countless ruinous lives that faded away in regret and left nothing noteworthy behind.  I'd love to say that moment occurred years ago, but sadly, it's only occurred in the last several years.  I have to say that this watershed began the day I fell in love with my husband.  No, I take that back, it was actually after that.  Several years after that, in fact.  It was the day I realized that I loved my husband more than I loved myself.

If anyone tells you that a realization such as this is bogus, or that it isn't right, or that it is constraining, don't listen to them.  This realization is one of the most freeing things in the world, because it allows you to step outside of yourself and grow for the better.

Years ago, I was a very angry person.  As a young child, I was very passionate and very vocal.  This combination is not really a good one as you grow up and go through school.  I could never bite my tongue, I could never reserve my thoughts.  I had to blurt them out, usually in a vociferous manner, and they usually disturbed others.  I was not a good listener and I would never admit fault.  This particular type of passion was negative.  It didn't uplift anyone, it didn't motivate people to like me, it drove people away.  I was self-righteous, a know-it-all, uncaring, violent, petty, just not a good person.   I sabotaged myself, over and over.  I couldn't just be happy, I couldn't get happy.  I self-harmed, I tried so hard to get any attention I could get, positive or negative.  In high school, I finally learned to start liking myself.  I started shedding that insecurity that comes with being a big girl, with a big mouth and few friends.

College was bucolic compared to my high school experience.  People actually liked me for me and not the preconceived notion of me that came with living in a small town where everyone knew your past and your present.  I started changing and growing, some of the cracks in my heart started getting bandaged, and I found lifelong friends that got my goofiness, that liked my quirks, that really and truly liked me.  Then I hit a wall.  I fell in love.

It was my first true love, the kind that makes you smile quietly to yourself when you think about it.  For 9 months that love became my life.  I drove 2 hours each way every weekend to see him.  I gave myself to him, body and soul.  It was great, while it lasted.  Slowly, ever so slowly, cracks in the facade started appearing.  There was a slow erosion of our relationship.  When it ended, it ended with a whimper and I became broken.  I limped through the last semester of college and barely passed a couple of my classes.  I started my old bad habits.

 I went on a tear for the next 3 years that included self-sabotage, jumping from job to job, including an epic failure for one single solitary semester as a secondary English teacher, and barely eking out a living.  I lived in crappy ass apartments and partied every night with friends who were as destructive as I.

Then I met my match.  He was actually a set up for my best friend through one of their mutual friends.  After that first meeting, I actually told my friend that he looked "dorky".  Insert chortle here.  Oh, silly me.  I mean, I was a total band geek in high school!  Like I really have any room to talk.  I should have known better.  Anyhow, if you're still reading, I'll shorten it up a bit.  We met, fell in love, married, and several years in, I finally realized it.  This man is so important to me, that I will put him above myself.  I will put his happiness above my own.  The moment that you actually swallow your pride and say sorry is empowering.  It's empowering because you are saying it to ensure that this person you love stays happy and in doing that, you give yourself the opportunity to grow and give more and more.

You know, it's ironic that it took me this long of a story about myself, to get to the point of my story, that this life isn't all about me.  Haha...wow.  I guess I need to work on that vanity a little bit.  Anyhow, this love, this marriage, this beautiful dorky man that loves me, off-key shower singing, dancing in the kitchen fool that I am, and all, it made me whole.  I resolve in this new year to remember that this life isn't about me.  I resolve this new year to get rid of any residual bitterness.  I resolve this new year to blog it out, then let it go.  I resolve that I won't post a blog this long every single day.  Truly.  Thanks for reading this and welcome to The Rarely Wicked Stepmother!