Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Frugal Birthday at Aldo Leopold Nature Center

It was a hit!  Inexpensive considering what $160 bought us.  Kids had a blast.  Enjoyed the outdoors.  And very low stress for the parents.  The cost included 10 kids; access to reusable cups, flatware, silverware, etc, table set up with decorations; two hour naturalist; gift bags for each guest; and coupons for free admission - two of them.

Here are a few photo highlights:

Gathering flowers on our nature walk, used later to build ferry nests in the woods.

Coupons on my coupon board, which we'll use on a day off from school.

Naturalist leading a walk to gather flowers and plants.

Corner of party room, set up for nature stories.

Other part of party room - perfect for food.

We brought in our own food - keeping it healthy and frugal.

Such a wise choice, and delighted we'll be back in about 3 weeks when our son turns 6.  He opted for the space themed party.  If you are local to Madison, give Aldo Leopold Nature Center consideration for hosting a child's party.  No stress on cleaning my house before, and then after.  No worries if a guest suffers from cat allergies; we have three cats.  And an idea setting to celebrate another spin around the sun in a way that does not overly tax Mother Earth (or a frugal Mama).  Thanks for reading!

Saturday, July 26, 2014

It's A Keeper: Cream of Cauliflower Soup From Crockpot

Yesterdays post mentioned my first attempt at a crockpot cream of cauliflower soup.  The results, in a word, winner!  Okay, the kids would not try it, but I loved it and look forward to this being on a weekly rotation in the kitchen.  My take on the recipe from this book:


  •  Florets of medium cauliflower (mine was from the local farmers' market);
  • chopped leeks (2 small, I'll add more next time, also from the local market);
  • container of broth (I used chicken);
  • salt and pepper
  • simmer on low for 5 hours

Immersion blend, add 1/2 cup of heavy whipping cream as well as more pepper, blend and serve.  It was excellent alongside fresh cucumber (gift from frugal friend and neighbor) as a hotdog.  Delicious, fresh, frugal and took very little time to make.  Added bonus is the use of a crockpot; it was a cool evening, but on a hot summer day, the crockpot is far more efficient that a soup from the stove. That is a winner in my recipe book!

Friday, July 25, 2014

Frugal Friday With Cauliflower Crockpot Soup

It's a lazy Friday afternoon.  Having taken the day off from work at the office my morning was errands, mainly grocery but a few birthday prep related.  The early afternoon was in indulgence of Netflix's viewing -- House of Cards, Second Season.  Honestly, I cannot remember the last time I watched something for fun in the middle of the day. True treat, and free!

Before vegging out, I gave a new crockpot sous a whirl.  Cauliflower florets, leeks, broth with salt and pepper have been simmering on low for two hours, with three more to go.  Then I'll add heavy cream and use the immersion blender.  Inspired by my French slow cooker cookbook.  I'll report the results once it has been sampled.  May be the easiest dish I've made in a long time.

We are headed into a birthday filled weekend.  At ages 4 and 6 both children, who have summer birthdays, are getting "friend parties".  I'll report on how those go. After much debate we opted to rent a room at the Aldo Leopold Nature Center.  The first hour comes with a teacher to lead a theme inspired party.  Our daughter selected ferries and gnomes, our son went with space exploration.   There is a cost, but the ease, lack of cleaning and ability to bring in our own food all indicate it was the most frugal approach.  Let's see if that is true after the weekend.

Be well, be frugal, and thanks for following along.  I'm off to view the garden of a frugal friend and neighbor. What will I learn?

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Foot Power: Healthier Me, Earth and Wallet

Lugging my Honda Civic on errands is not my first choice, but for too long it has been my autopilot.  Habit set in  motion with the arrival of our first child, reinforced with the birth of our second, and cemented when I adopted a far too strict time schedule for work.  I either had too much to schelp to do errands on foot, was purchasing insanely bulky items (two kids, both in diapers, plus cats need litter), or there simply wasn't time to leisurely walk for errands.

But, things change.  Both kids are out of diapers and attend preschool five full days a week.  My work load was drastically slashed when I opted to go back to flying solo in the world of estate planning.  Okay, we do still have three cats and the subsequent litter purchases, but today and going forward I am pretending I live in a cute little European town with a City Center for daily errands.

After dropping the kids off I park the Honda at my office.  The space is charming; bricked walls and southern facing windows looking over a fountain and garden.  The rent is inexpensive, and the location ideal, situated just on the edge of the Hilldale Mall campus.  Aimy for a daily walk before, between or after meetings, I tend to immediate needs, and not worry about too far off.

Stop one - farmers market.  Veggies to go with eggs for dinner.


Admire lovely flowers along the mall that I would have drive by had I been in the Honda.


Stop two - Target for allergy meds and the tomato soup my kids adore, rejecting all other kinds, including homemade.


Shrewd in the aisle, I figured that the 30 count Target Brand of allergy meds was $0.14 per tablet versus $0.16 if I bought the 100 count or more.  Never assume bulk is cheaper, run those numbers.  Pennies add up.


Stop three - Metcalfe's market for bread, bananas and a salad/soup bar for my lunch.  Reminder to self -- figure out a way for more time to brown bag healthy lunches.  Efforts impeded recently by older child's growth spurt.  He basically eats from 4pm to 10pm, not leaving much time in the kitchen to prep for the next day.

Stop four - post box, where I drop off mailings from the office.  Pick up is at 3pm, so they will go out today.  Then it was back to the office, do a quick post, and return my focus to a client.  After, on to pick up the kids and figure out how to keep feeding that growth spurt of our sons'.  An upside -- working in a little more walking/activity into my sedentary day, plus, no added gas costs for operating the Honda.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

3 Ways to Repurpose Water for the Garden

To Do List.....
#27 - Install rain barrel.

Yes, it is still there, on our to-do list.  One day we will install a rain barrel, allowing us to reduce watering costs for the garden. Rain barrels are great, but installation takes time and money.  We'll get to it, but in the meantime we have our own little repurposing tricks.


  • Pour cooled water from cooking pots onto potted plants.  This time of year we boil a lot of vegetables: spinach, corn, beans.  And once it cools I pour it on the potted plants on the front steps, just beyond the kitchen;
  • Dump dehumidifier container into watering can and head outside to the tomato and pepper plants.  This is water literally pulled from the basement air, and it nourishes the garden plants!
  • Catch water in the shower with a watering can.  Our kids love to play and splash in the shower at the end of the day.  Once they are inside the shower, I drop in a watering can and after they are in bed, head outside to finish watering any plants that are too dry.
Do you have another great way to repurpose water in the garden that is virtually free?  If so, please leave a comment!

Monday, July 21, 2014

Efficiency At The Corner Of A Frugal Life

Most posts here on Frugal Upside focus on what I do in my daily life to be frugal.  Some include quips and practices from my husband, who is also frugal. Today I turn the focus on him directly, and literally.

When an inexpensive pair of sunglasses breaks, he does not toss them out and head to the dollar store. Nope, he pulls out the crazy glue and fixes those dollar store shades.  Twice.  Yes, he has glued this pair back together two times now.  He says after the third time he will break down and get a new pair.  They work just fine, all they need is a little adhesive, which he keeps handy in a kitchen drawer.

The fix is a vertical line, on top, aligned with his nose!

And then there is the subject of his cell phone.  Having lived without one until late in 2005, he is very reluctant to buy the latest and greatest phone.  Just recently his old carrier, a regional one, announced they were going out of business.  He was forced to go with a new plan, and with it received 4G service.  His phone however is still at 3G, or as I type I think it might actually be a 2G.  Oh well, the phone still works and he sees no need to replace it.  The model was purchased on-line, and had default settings for Ireland.  The price was right, and did not require a trip to a mall store.  No financing was needed, it was basic, it worked, it was frugal.

Thinking what's the big deal, lots of us use okay phones and service plans that are becoming outdated.  Sure. But how many of us are electrical engineers with a masters in digital signal processing that spend our days designing and building circuits boards that make all those snazzy tech devices work?  My husband is, yet he uses old technology.  He can design the very brain of these tech devices, but will not part with them, or the money to buy the latest and greatest, until the old one has been used up.  And then he will sell it on Ebay where it will head to Mexico or Africa for another life.  That my friends, is frugal.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Simplicity Parenting: A Saturday With the Kids

Dance class, errands at Target, cat sitting, beach.  Those were the ingredients in my simplicity approach to parenting yesterday.  Doing the necessary, with a splash of adventure and a pinch of appreciation for the mundane.

Stop number one, the Madison Ballet School.  Minutes from our house, we could walk, and will in the future.  While my youngest enjoys "creative movement", the precursor to pre-ballet, my son and I cuddle on the floor.  Between his trusty copy of Legos Stars (used, from Goodwill, a gift from an aunt) and his stop watch for practicing number recognition -- well it was a parenting dream.  Quality time and really no expense other than the $70 for six Saturdays of dance.

Stop number two, Target.  From cat food to tooth paste to selecting match box cars for a classmate's birthday gift we chatted and wandered and took advantage of the Target Red Card DEBIT card, which saves us 5% on every purchase.  Note, it is a debit, not a credit card.  And Target always offers up great conversation topics with the kids -- such as pink aisles do not equate to "girl aisles", at least not in this mom's approach.  Once I start going on how offensive the "boy" vs "girl" sections are, both kids are eager to find the check out.....and a little bit more of my philosophy sinks in, all at Target.

Stop number three, cat sitting.  A dear friend is out of town caring for her ill mother.  Giving us the opportunity to scope our her amazing collection of cookbooks and bond with Paulie and Tiny.  Well, just Paulie, Tiny is a bit anti-social around my kids, who we affectionately call "the gibbons" because of their energy level.  Again, it was quite time together.  Another chance for me to talk with my kids about why we were her, why friends are so important, what it means to be a friend.  And to top it off, we learned that Paulies' favorite spot is perched on the closed toilet.  Classic memories in the making.

Stop number four, our last for the day.  Saving the best for last as my Smidge declared, was the beach at Fireman's Park in Verona.  Total admission was $13 for one adult and two kids. They splashed and dug and splashed some more.  We snacked on cold cuts, cheese, crackers, and lemonade girl scout cookies I pulled from the freezer.  Then they splashed some more.  We opt not to join a neighborhood pool, we simply would not use it enough to justify the $700 one-time admission fee to the pool, and the $700 annual fee.  Sure, swim lessons are included, but the kids are too young to be too structured.  At the moment they spend five full days in preschool, that's quite enough structured time.  One day we may join the neighborhood pool, but for now we'll swim in various spots around town, fitting it into life and our budget.

All in all it was an ideal day.  Errands completed.  Little bodies exercised.  Faces enveloped in smiles.  And a feeling of warmth in a frugal mom's heart.  What more could I ask for?  And that is the upside of a frugal life.

I will leave you with Paulie, just too darn memorable!