Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Frugal Ways in the Kitchen

Regular readers of my blog know that our kitchen consumes a fair amount of corn on the cob as well as blanches a good number of veggies that are frozen for winter consumption.  Eating local is frugal -- buy direct, cut out the processing, reduce the amount of oil for transport, etc.  With a few thoughtful steps in the kitchen, you can get even more bang for your buck.

One, remove corn or blanched veggies from the large pot of water with a tong or slotted spoon.  Set the water aside to cool.  Instead of pouring it down the drain, use it to water a plant in your yard or dump it on the compost pile for extra moisture.

Two, when trimming and cutting up veggies and fruits, make sure to toss the unused portions into a large bowl.  It will fill up quickly, and is great material for your compost pile.  In a few short months it will turn into a magical mix for your flower beds.

Three, any paper products (cartons, bags, etc.) that you receive at the market (or any store) can be torn into small pieces and added to the compost pile.  I find this very helpful during the summer months; our veggie and fruit contributions increase and yard waste decreases.  Brown paper, cardboard, etc. are all brown matter and are essential to maintaining the proper balance in the pile.

There you have it, three little steps to getting every ounce of value out of your farmers' market buys.  Did I overlook your favorite?  If so, please share in a comment.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Farmers' Market and Frugal Cooking

Another Saturday and another trip to our neighborhood farmers' market.  But it was not our usual outing.  First, instead of hauling out the double stroller, my soon to be four year old opted to walk.  Pushing a single stroller was amazingly easy.  But the thrill was my older child getting a more hands on experience at the market.  He helped select cobs of corn, searched for the largest zucchini, and at the end darted off towards the building and discovered a little, hidden garden.  Under the tree canopies we found tables, chairs, plants, and a new brick terrace.  What a delight!

Market finds were frugal as well.

  • $1 for three zucchini.  Shredded, each will yield a zucchini bread this winter.  It pairs wonderfully with an egg dish, and sneaks some veggies into the kids' meals;
  • $2.75 for 7 ears of corn.  All but one were perfect.  Once boiled and consumed, the husks and cob were added to our compost bin, where they will nurture our flower beds next Spring;
  • $1 three leeks.  Added to chili (made with the remains of last Monday's baked chicken) for a less intense onion flavor.
Great buys.  Minimal carbon footprint.  And I've got two kids learning their fruits and veggies as well as some of the story on where their food comes from.  If frugal living is your desire, farmers' market shopping is a must.

Friday, July 27, 2012

What Is Frugal?

When you write a blog on frugal living there is a strong change you'll get a lot of comments from folks on what they do that is frugal.  I should clarify, what they think is frugal.  Frugal is in the mind of the person, and is relative.

An example is when I have people say, "hey, I got a great deal, this was 50% off!"  When I hear something was 50% off I may think, that was a good discount, but it doesn't make it frugal.  To me frugal living is the efficient expenditure of time and money.  Instead of buying something, could it have been borrowed?  Why is ownership so important.  Not only does it cost you money to acquire it, but ownership requires space (which is not free), maintenance, insurance, and replacement costs.

If you want to embrace frugal living, my kind, then I urge you to resist the "good deal".  You'll save money, have less to juggle, and walk a bit more gently on the earth.  And with that, I wish you a happy and relaxing weekend.  I'll be back Monday!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Frugal Little Kid Bed

This past weekend our son graduated to a big boy bed, and it didn't break the bank.  Since taking down his crib he had been sleeping on the crib mattress that was on the floor.  Why?

  • the ease factor, no shopping involved;
  • decreased the chance of falling out a higher bed and hurting / breaking an arm (or collar bone, which happened to a friend's child); and
  • making use of an item for as long as possible....we got 4 years out of a crib mattress!
But, he is about to turn 4 and something larger was required.  Futon was my answer.  A simple, unfinished pine frame.  My only challenge was finding it.  And I really hate shopping, especially if it means having to take my kids along.  They prefer the park to a store any day.  In a moment of inspiration I remembered the furniture I had worked with when we bought our house and I opened my legal office.  I fired off an email and got the response I wanted -- he would be getting one in stock on July 21st.  Perfect.

Quality Furniture is located on Stoughton Rd in Madison, and is owned by Danny.  Danny is my "furniture guy". He sells new pieces that are moderately priced, and he sells used pieces.  This futon, frame, mattress, and cover cost me $129.  And I joke, partly, that our son will take it to his college dorm room.

Image credit:  taken by author, M. Gustafson Gervasi, July 2012 -- special thanks to Willa the Cat for modeling.  
Actually, she jumped into the shot when I pulled out the camera in only the way a cat can.

I know many frugal folks who swear by Craigs List -- I swear by Danny.  I can give him specifications for what I want.  He knows furniture.  He has a truck to transport furniture.  I have limited time, and doubt I could have found a better deal (factor in gas money, finding a vehicle to move it in, time away from work or running the aspects of my house I am good at, mainly cooking and cleaning).  If you have endless time and access to a large vehicle, Craigs List may be a great resource.  If not, outsource to a well priced professional.  Think outside the box of frugal living.

And as I focus on practicing law, raising my kids, cooking frugal meals, and keep a clean home -- Danny is looking for a pine table I can put in my basement.  He has a price limit and time frame.  Delegation feels great!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Living Like It's Vacation

Does it ever seem like the universe is trying to send you a message?  It's felt that way for me this past week.  Twice while reading two very different books, I came across the same message.  Live life like you are on vacation and life will be more enjoyable.  And living life on vacation means living with only the essentials, toss the rest.

The first book was Anne Morrow Lindbergh's A Gift From the Sea, a delightful little read full of meditations on life, love, parenting, solitude, and more.  She urges the reader to live life with only the bare essentials, and I agree.  Slowly I have been clearing clutter from the flat surfaces where it seems to congregate.  There is something tranquil about walking into a kitchen and the morning light spreads out on a clear counter.

Another book that I glanced at before returning to the library was Sharon Kreighbaum's Is Your House Overweight.  Quirky is the adjective that comes to mind when describing the book.  It fell short of my expectations, with the caveat that it too drummed the message that living like you are on vacation leads to a better life.  Get rid of things you truly do not need.

This message not only motivates me to donate items to Savers, but echoes in my mind on the rare occasions I am in a store.  Really, do I need that?  Will it actually provide countless hours of use or enjoyment.  Most likely not.  It stays on the shelf.  My total at the register is less.  And my carbon footprint just a bit lighter.

Living life like I'm on vacation, this is an easy mindset to get used to!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Party Food Transformed to Curry

This past weekend we held one of our three annual parties.  This was a pre-show event for the free Opera in the Park that is held about a block and a half away.  On hand I had a platter of fresh veggies and hummus.  After the guests had departed I saw I had a good amount of fresh veggies leftover.  Sunday morning I turned the broccoli and cauliflower into a veggie curry.

Saute garlic, the veggies, curry paste, a can of chick peas and a bit of water.  It was froze for later in the week, to be added to brown rice for a simple dinner with Monday's leftover chicken.

Even if you are not hosting, curry from party leftovers is an option.  Often people are trying to send food home with guests.  Don't pass on an opportunity to transform munchies.  You'll save money, eat healthy, and tread a little lighter on mother earth.

Monday, July 23, 2012

A Sunday Farmers' Market

This past Saturday we held our annual pre-show Opera in the Park party (watch for posts about frugal entertainment later in the week).  That meant I spent the day preparing for the 50 to 70 guests who had said they would stop bye.  My regular farmers' market trip was not a good fit; I could buy, but I'd have no space to store until I had the time to freeze.  Instead, I took the children to the Sunday morning market in Monona.

It was a perfect fit.  My husband spent the morning doing the work he would have normally done on Saturday (his schedule was also altered for the party), so I had a few hours to kill with the children.  The market is small, but plentiful.  And it is located immediately next to a small park.  Fresh veggies, then swings, a perfect way to start the day.

My purchases were small.  I got a whole chicken, which will be transformed into several meals throughout the week.  Sweet corn was too good to pass up; 4 ears for $2.  Making for a simple dinner Sunday evening.  It was paired with party leftovers.  Three zucchini were purchased for a $1 and are still waiting to be grated and froze, to repair this winter in the form of bread.

Simple, fresh, relaxed, local -- and the highlight of the adventure were the two sandhill cranes that danced and pecked a few hundred feet from the play structure.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Frugal Eating In the Spirit of O'Keefe

Longtime readers may remember a post I did some time ago about having a meal plan; Monday is curry night, Tuesday pasta, etc.  My belief was that having a rhythm to our meals would bring predictability, simplicity, and frugality.  I was all for the ways of homemakers of decades past.

But, I live in modern times.  That means I juggle a legal practice, parenting, a spouse's career (which currently involves growing his own business), aging parents, pets, a house, and on and on.  Predictability is great, but the scope of my meals was too great.  My kids are 4 and 2 -- if you've been in my shoes you know that meals can be a contest over control.  So, I've taken the effort to simplify more this summer.  There is still a rhythm to our meals, but the complexity has faded.

Reading a passage in the book How Georgia Became O'Keefe: Lessons in the Art of Living by Karen Karbo I was delighted to read she too had followed this path.  There were no kids or a spouse to balance at the time, but the following was her meal plan most days:

  • Breakfast:  whole-grain bread, fruit, some kind of meat, tea;
  • Midmorning snack: homemade yogurt or protein drink;
  • Lunch: salad, made from whatever was ready to harvest in the garden;
  • Dinner: Fruit and cheese
-Karen Karbo, page 205.

Mine is not too far off, and works well with kids.  I bake a chicken on Monday, served with veggies and a grain.  It reappears Tuesday with pasta, sauce, and beans.  Wednesday it is still there with tortillas and soup. Other meals from that one chicken are eggs scrambled with chicken and salsa or a soup.

Simplicity, it is so freeing.  How about you?  What old ways have you tossed aside in order to live with less?

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Staying Frugal In the Heat

As I write this news reports air that half of the US is in a drought.  Summer rages on, and the impact is taxing both our wallets and the planet.  Here are ten things our frugal household has done to keep down costs and walk a little lighter on the earth:

  1. Unplug items when they are not used.  Tiny improvements add up.  I unplugged the clock radio in our bedroom and realized we never use the alarm function, our phones serve that purpose now.  Into the SAVERS donation bag it went.  It will find a new home, cut down on our energy use, and free up space.
  2. Focus on compost.  Make sure you are putting brown into your compost pile.  This includes empty toilet paper rolls and shredded Sunday newspapers.
  3. Make a plan for depressed or dead lawn.  Since moving into our home I've wanted to tear up the grass in the front and replace it with perennials.  Mother nature has given me a head start.  We have not watered the front and I plan to put down cardboard with mulch soon.  We'll leave it over the Winter (assuming we have one) and in the Spring it will make for easy flower beds.  Work with what life gives you.
  4. Stay home.  Driving costs money, wears on your car, pollutes the air, and keeps you sedentary.  Instead of trips to places that are cool we read books on the hardwood floor and play in the shaded backyard.
  5. Use water from kids play to water trees, plants, and grass.  There is a nice green ring of grass where my kids spend time splashing in the backyard.
  6. Maximize food from farmers' markets.  You cut out the middle man, buy local, and eat fresh.  If you are lucky you work or live close enough to walk or bike, cutting down on care use.
  7. Cook with covers.  We keep cooking to a minimum because it heats up the house, but when we do we make sure the pots are covered.  You'll reach the boiling point faster, using less energy.
  8. Turn your thermostat up one degree, and dress for the weather.
  9. Keep shades and drapes drawn as much as possible.  Blocking the sun will keep the room cooler and decrease energy use.
  10. Explore the use of gray water for our landscaping -- some claim it can cut water use in half.  The cost of keeping plants and trees alive will be far less than replacing them next season.  Plus most trees and plants help filter water.
Those are 10 of our steps.  What are you doing to make the most of the heat and still stay frugal?

Image credit:  www.sxc.hu - free image

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Frugal Turning Point: Starbucks, A Goose, and a UU Song

Monday is nature walk day with my kids.  We leave the house with a small notebook in hand where we record our destination, the date, time and our observations.  To be noted are the things we saw, heard, smelled, etc.  As the seasons pass we hope to return and compare notes.  Its a lovely way to slow down, be aware of our world, and we spend very little resources on a wonderful entertainment.

Does a Waldorfesque image of a mother in a flowing dress and hat with the hands of her wee ones in hand come to mind?  Nature walks we do, but modern life creeps in, diluting the experience.  Case in point, two weeks ago we headed to Madison's Lakeshore path.  Sleep deprived as I am I made a quick decision to get an iced coffee for our trek.  To the Starbuck's drive thru I went.  And there we waited along with about 9 other vehicles.  Most carrying a sole driver.  My kids impatience grew as did mine.  The line is configured in a way that once you enter it, leaving is not really an option.  One word came to mind, one I hesitate to write, but modified it was a cluster-cloud of cars.  What in the hell am I doing here? was the though bouncing in my mind.  Salvage occurred once we were on the path.  We found the small beach, deserted, and there my children dug in the sand for an hour.  Ducks splashed in the water, nuts fell from trees, sailboats bobbed in the distance.  I drank that iced coffee and noted how an old yogurt container filled the function of bucket.  My yearning for a more simple life rose up.  No more drive-thrus.

The problem with those feelings is the tend to well and not be sustained.  But they are coming more frequently.  Saturday evening, after returning from a trip to Milwaukee with the kids (French poster for Bastille Day), I made a solo run to Savers.  Dashing off before it closed I noticed a lone goose wandering in the parking lot.  My impression -- it was wondering What in the hell am I doing here?  My trip found several needed clothing items and something for the house.  Having made a donation I saved $12.85 and walked out with a huge bag for $54.86.  Frugal yes?  But the image of the goose stuck with me.  Life is on hyperdrive.  Being frugal and hyperdrive don't really mess, not in my book.

And they always say things come in threes -- we've begun attending services at the Prairie Unitarian Universalist church.  And on a recent Sunday the program listed a song that really speaks to me.  Sadly I did not get to enjoy it with the congregation because I was called out to childcare for a child who missed Mama. Craving a listen I turned to YouTube (brilliant whomever came up with that idea).  There are many versions, but I found one my Jewel to be most enjoyable.  Here are the standard lyrics.  And with this post I renew my focus on simplicity.  From it frugality will follow, and I'll find myself in just the right place.

Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free
'Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
'Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gain'd,
To bow and to bend we shan't be asham'd,
To turn, turn will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning we come 'round right.

Click to hear a modern version by Jewel

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Progress on the Biking Front

Last week I made good progress on the bike front, or at least the non-car front.  One day I biked to my office.  The next I walked to work and at the end of my meeting met up with my husband to go to an event near campus.  Two days of work commute, two days of leaving the Honda in the garage.  It is not earth shattering news, but it is progress.  A change happens in small steps.

Once again we are facing a heat wave, with daily temps hitting the three digits.  It is not common for Madison.  The heat makes biking and walking a challenge, but it won't keep me from biking.  Distance does.  Tuesday I have meetings that are not bike-able.  Wednesday my schedule is jammed, but I am going to try and re-work it so I have enough time to pedal to work.  Thursday is normally a day I work from home, but once again I have meetings that require transportation.

For a bedtime story last night I read All About Electric and Hybrid Cars: and who's driving them by Stephanie Bearce.  It fueled my motivation to leave the Honda at home still more.  It asserts that half of all carbon dioxide polluting the earth is caused by modern vehicles.  Reading this aloud, to my four year old, really hit home.  Words in a book can be powerful, but children learn by watching a parent.

So how does not driving fit with frugal living?

  • driving less prolongs the life of our car, putting off another purchase;
  • less gasoline is required;
  • walking and biking lead to a more active life, which has long-term health benefits;
  • carrying what I've purchased makes me spend less and more wisely; and
  • getting out in nature has great mental health benefits.
So, the Honda is still a large part of my life.  My goal is to keep minimizing that goal.  It will save me money, improve my health, and be just a little more gentle on the earth.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Frenzied, Fatigued, and Frugal

Does life ever remind you of the Lucy episode where she is in a chocolate factory and the conveyor belt speeds up.  Soon she is drowning in candies, falling behind, and a total mess engulfs her and Ethel.  That sums up how our summer has been since we took our Summer Solstice vacation.  Out of routine, way too many obligations.  The pace isn't slowing down.  It will intensify.  And so to cope, I toss things overboard.  Frugality has been one of them.  And writing about frugality is hard when you aren't living it every day.

I did make it to the farmers' market Saturday, bringing home some local bounty.  For the freezer:  blue berries, summer squash (chopped and portioned into bags for winter curries), and swiss chard.  For the present moment: corn on the cob, potatoes, and carrots.  I know that the market is a good deal.  Fresh, local, the best value for my dollar.  I'm glad I already now this, because my mad dash there and back didn't give me much time to think and make well planned purchases.  And without that ingredient, frugal living is hard.

How about you?  Has summer sped up your life?  Are you on purchase autopilot?  Do you feel like that Walmart winter holiday commercial where a man is sweeping the last of everything on the shelf into his cart, no thought required?  If so, you are not alone.  Remember, life has cycles.  I'm in a frenzy one at the moment.  It will pass, and my intention is to slow it down as fast as I can.  Read more as I work to get back into a more intense frugal groove.

For now, I'll leave you with I Love Lucy!

Friday, July 13, 2012

Frugal Ideas for Bastille Day

I'm ending the week with thoughts on how to make the most of tomorrow, July 14th.  For those Francophiles out there, you know that it marks the anniversary of the storming of the Bastille and the end of the French Revolution.  A national holiday I had the pleasure to first enjoy back in 1996 while travel in France, I make an effort each year to pause and savor life on that day...and toss in as much French culture as possible.  Here are some low cost ways to join the celebration:
  • If you are in Madison, visit La Baquette on Mineral Point Rd.  You won't regret it.  The owners are French and the food is superb;
  • Pick up a bottle of French Red Table Wine at a Trader Joe's, cost is about $4.99 a bottle;
  • Check out a french film from your library on on-line vendor;
  • Whip up your own french food using The French Slow Cooker cook book (I'll be making a roast pork dish over the weekend);
  • Seek out a french celebration in your area (Madison has Fete de la Marquette and Milwaukee has Bastille Days); and
  • If you are within driving distance of Milwaukee, check out the Posters of Paris an the Milwaukee Art Museum -- I'm headed there Saturday with my two small children, the perfect introduction to museum visits!
Bonne Fete!

Image credit:  www.sxc.hu - free image

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Frugal Date Night Ideas

Looking for alternatives to dinner and a movie?  Here are a few "date night" ideas that will make your dollar go farther, improve your health, and ease your step on Mother Earth:

  • Picnic out instead of dine out.  Keep it simple with bread, cheese, fruit, deli meat or hummus if you are vegetarian.  Water flavored with lime, cucumber or other summer produce is refreshing and dirt cheap.  Walk to a nearby park or enjoy the splendor of your backyard.  
  • Walk in nature.  Great locations are State and or County Parks.  Bring along water and trial mix.  Turn off the Smart Phone and enjoy the sounds of summer before they are gone.
  • Sign up for a 5k run/walk.  This might drive the cost of the evening up a bit, but the entrance fee is likely tax deductible and you'll get a great work out.  Avoiding restaurant food will cut down on the carbon impact of meals away from home.  Slightly uncommon, you can find 5k runs in the evening.  My husband and I are signed up for one on July 28th.
These are three ideas that come to mind, but there are countless more.  A client of mine, who was a psychiatrist, once said, date night is worth the price of a sitter.  Without them you'll face the cost of a divorce attorney....and that will cost a lot more per hour!  Don't be so frugal as to scrimp on valuable couple time that you put strain on a marriage.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Frugal Pain Relief

"For decades my natural response was to grab for the bottle of generic Ibuprofen when I had a headache of other minor pain.  Recently I've changed that habit, and now I reach for a bottle of aspirin.  Influenced by his book The End of Illness I was motivated by several factors.  One, aspirin has been around for a long time, and its side effects are well known.  Two, aspirin is associated with lowering the risk of heart attack and stroke in those over 40 (which is a milestone not so far off for me).  And third, a bottle costs about $1.00.  
And there you have it, new tricks can still be learned.  Please do not read this as any form of medical advice.  I am a lawyer, not a doctor.  It is essential that you consult your physician about making changes in your medicine.  Moreover, I do not give my children aspirin as it I can have dangerous results.  I'm just a frugal midwesterner who wanted to share a small money saving change I've made recently.

How about you?  Do you have a frugal story to share?

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Backpacks, biking, and a frugal life

Late Summer, 1991:

Father:  $79 for a backpack? Are you kidding me!
Daughter: Dad, it's Eddie Bauer, a quality brand.  It will last me until I finish college!
Father:  What?  You get a new backpack every Fall.  This won't last.
Daughter:  Please dad, this is nicer than any backpack I got in the past.....I'll make sure it lasts.
Father: Okay, it's yours.

Flash forward to July, 2012
Wife: I'm going to bike to the gym and swim....have you seen my backpack?
Husband: Bike?  It is really hot out there, drink water before you leave.  The backpack is in the hall closet.
Wife: Thanks, and I'll drink some water.  

The daughter/wife in these scenarios is the same person, me.  And the backpack is the same Eddie Bauer my father did not deny his only daughter as she headed off to college (a first for his family).  After 21 years that backpack is still my go-to bag.  I lugged it through undergrad, then two years of grad school, put it through the ultimate challenge of law school books for another three years, and now I use it for biking and hiking excursions as a parent of young children.

Quality -- it pays to buy items that will last years, decades if possible.  Sadly I cannot tell my father about how his purchase is entering its 22nd year; he passed away in 2009.  He loved stretching a dollar, and like to think on some level he knows that $79 is still bringing utility to my life.

And as you can see, I'm still working at biking as much as possible.  Not an easy feat when mother nature throws 100 degree days into your life.  My goal for this work week is to bike to my office, and not drive once.  Check back for a status update.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Farmers' Market Day: Plan B, Peck's Market

Shopping at the neighborhood farmers' market on Saturday morning is a constant in my life, usually.  That constant when chucked out the window when sleep deprived.  Friday night I pushed my luck staying up until 11:45pm watching The Daily Show on the internet; why pay for cable when I can get premium shows for free, on demand!  Just as I reached to turn off my bedside light my daughter let out a cry.  I froze as any sleep deprived parent of a young child does, wondering if they had gambled and lost.  Three hours later I knew I had lost....my daughter is charming and lovely, even when she keeps us awake from midnight to 3am.

Within a matter of minutes of tucking her in "for the night" and then myself I hear the unmistakable sound of a sick cat.  Up again, seeking out the mess.  One does not need to stumble upon it early the next morning.  By 4am I am attempting to sleep.   Mission accomplished ..... for about 1 hour.  At 5:00 am my son, nearing 4 years old, cries out in his sleep.  Apparently dreaming that his little sister is stealing his plastic snakes, I find myself searching the house for these toys in order to get my "earlier riser" child to stay asleep.

My dear husband (who was up with my daughter and I from 12am - 3am too) got up with our son at 7am, and once our daughter was awake, he ushered both of them out the door.  Mama slept until 11am.  I missed the market.  No stories of summer bounties frozen for January.

Yet my DNA seems to require a farm experience on the weekend, and so I opted for Plan B: Peck's Market East.  Sunday afternoon, while my husband caught up on the work he missed Saturday morning while I slept, I packed up my little family for a 30 minute drive to the Village of Spring Green on Highway 14.  On the outskirts is a great roadside market, complete with deer park.  And that park includes bison, a donkey, goats, pheasants, deer, pigs, a cow and much more.  There is no admission, and the store offers a great selection of local products.  After checking in on our animal friends, my son helped me shop.  Included  in our purchase was: wild rice, honey, maple syrup, and popcorn, all from Wisconsin.  We also snagged fresh blue berries, corn, and zucchini.

If you find yourself in that neck of the woods, I highly recommend Peck's.  The area is full of amazing attractions and cultural events, all of which have a steep admission fee.  Peck's offers simple, inexpensive fun.  Weekends include free wagon rides, and the place is a fall bonanza once pumpkins are ready for selection.  Here are a few pictorial highlights from Plan B.

Llama keeping cool in the mud.  Our heat wave broke, but it was near 90 on our visit.

Getting up close to the reason Wisconsin is the "dairy state".

Cuteness makes me reconsider vegetarianism again.

Released from the double stroller, the Gervasi kids clamor to get a better view of the ducks.

Peck's East -- not sure of the back story with Peck's West.....I think there was a family feud (seriously).

We have the makings of a future cook.....or at least an adult who is comfortable with purchasing and preparing food.  These little carts are pure genius on the part of Peck's.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Frugal Travel Accomplished By Eating In

As we wrap up this holiday week, I am ending with a final post out about recent trip to Bayfield.  Frugal living allows us to splurge on the things we enjoy, and travel is at the top of the list.  It is a summer tradition for us to spend the summer solstice in Bayfield, Wisconsin.  Many frugal folks may find this an ideal area to camp, but we are not a camping family.  Instead, we allocate most of our travel budget to lodging, and keep the rest of our expenses small.  This is pronounced in the area of dinning.

When in Bayfield we stay in the Ada O'day Condos.  Complete with gas grill, full kitchen, and a washer dryer.  It is home away from home, and that means this frugal wife/mom cooks the meals.  During our 2012 trip we ate out once, on Madeline Island.  I spent most of the meal wondering how the bill reached $35 -- two burgers and two grilled cheeses.  Sure, if you eat out a lot this may seem normal, but we don't eat out a lot.  And the quality of food I prepared at home blew away the food in the restaurant.  Here are some photo highlights.

And the point of this post is -- if you want frugal travel, stay in a place where you can cook up a storm (assuming you know how to cook).

Dinner the night we arrived:  leftover pizza, cottage cheese, and scrambled eggs .  Cleaning out the fridge at home was a great way to use up items that would have gone bad.

Breakfast of eggs topped with salsa, berries and sausage.  All brought in a cooler from our home.
Dinner Night 2:  grilled hot dogs (from farmers' market in Madison), beans, cheese, and berries.  The  berries were bought at the Bayfield Farmers' Market on Saturday.

Breakfast Day Two: more eggs and salsa, bacon (frozen at home and helped keep the cooler cool on the drive) with yogurt and berries.  Again, all brought in the cooler.

Dinner Night 3: wild rice (from home cabinet), corn, mushrooms and garlic scapes, grilled pork chop, and split pea soup.  The meat was from the Bayfield Farmers' Market and is too date the best pork I've ever prepared.  The condo even had a slow cooker....I made the soup in the AM and it was simmering while we were out enjoying the area.

Reusing ice cream cups for the kids beans....the condo did not have toddler friendly dishes.

$5 for berries -- brought us breakfast and snack foods for 2 days.

Cava -- from Spain, inexpensive alternative to Champaign.  Purchased back in Madison.

Brown bag popcorn:  again, from home cabinet.  Oil, kernels, salt, brown paper bag and 2 minutes in the mircowave.  Stick to 2 minutes.  The second night I went closer to 3 and can tell you it takes time to air out burned popcorn smell from a condo.....thankfully the smoke alarm didn't go off!
Lunches consisted of leftovers, and the one meal we ate out.  In all, I spent less than $100 on food because we bought items in Madison (which is less expensive), bought local items in Bayfield, and prepared most of our food in the condo.

Next year (yes, the reservation is already made...and we got the smaller condo and will save $45 a night -- advance planning saves money) I don't think we'll eat out at all.  The exceptions will be the ice cream shop and the cafe for coffee.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Frugal Fun With Kids in Bayfield, Wisconsin

Over the Summer Solstice we took our little family north to Bayfield, Wisconsin.  There you will find fine dining, little shops, cruises and countless other ways to spend money.  On the drive up I received a call from my brother, during which he said, "now please enjoy yourselves and don't be frugal".  We may have left our work planners at home, but our frugal ways followed us north.  Sorry Big Brother, but you can have fun and be frugal.  Here is one example -- exploring the Bayfield Fish Hatchery (aka Les Voight State Fish Hatchery)!  Admission is free, and it is ideal for curious minds.

We pulled in to an empty parking lot and figured it must be closed on Mondays.  Wrong, we were simply the only people interested at the time.

Image credit: M. Gustafson Gervasi, June 2012 -- main building.....doesn't look like much from the parking lot.

But this sign indicates that others must find this place tempting.....no camping allowed!

Inside are tanks with local fish swimming about.  Included are displays, maps, and photos teaching visitors about the area, fish, and the water system.  Even our son's question of "why is it so dark in here" was answered -- baby fish prefer the shade of a log....hence, low lighting.

Image Credit:  M. Gustafson Gervasi, June 2012, inside tanks.

Reviewing the facility map I learned that larger outdoor ponds were available, so out we went, searching.  Behind the building we found tranquil north woods views and sounds.  Sadly the mosquitoes had found it as well, cutting our visit a bit short.

Image Credit: M. Gustafson Gervasi, June 2012, Outdoor ponds

In all, this is a great way to spend a few hours in the Bayfield area.  You can't beat the price, the wonder of nature is waiting for you, and a sense of calm is restored.  That's the upside of being frugal.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Frugal Thoughts on the 4th of July

Federal holidays are days I spend with my family.  
We'll be celebrating America today with good friends.  I leave you with these words from a Founding Father:

Beware of little expenses. A small leak will sink a great ship.
-Benjamin Franklin. 

Image Credit:  www.sxc.hu - free image

Enjoy the holiday, I will be back tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

What I've Been Reading: Smart Mama, Smart Money

Last week I finished another library find on frugal living, this one entitled Smart Mama, Smart Money: Raising  Happy, Healthy Kids Without Breaking the Bank by Rosalyn Hoffman.  The material she covers ranges from clothing to food to family finances to kid activities.  With the exception of learning about the website Zappos.com, I didn't take anything to new from the book.  Most of her advice is something we do or that I would agree sounds like a wise move (some was related to older children).  However, the tone in which the book was written made it painful for me to read.

Short bursts of information, web sites and resources are great, but a tone of "you are a diva Mama with kick-ass shoes" just didn't sit well with me.  The glaring omission from the book was the other parent.  Rarely is there mention of a parenting partner, and when it is made, is usually assumes the missing parent is off earning the paycheck.  Overall I felt it was a bit too much on on how to spend frugally rather than how to live frugally.  There were some passages that reference a dual working family, but they were a bit too few and far between for me.

I did finish the book, but it promptly went back to the library.  If you love to shop, and I mean shop as a sport, then you might enjoy the book.  But, if like me you cringe every time a clerk makes a reference to "Mommy and baby shopping time!!!!!", then you may want to skip it.

Monday, July 2, 2012

2 Kids, 600 Miles, and No TV

Chances are several people placed bets on what Target store we would stop at to buy a video player for our car this past June when we took a family vacation.  If bets were made, only those who thought "no, those to would never spend money on that" won.  Yes, we successfully drove 600 miles round trip without a TV or other video device to "entertain" our nearly 4 and 2 year old children.  And no, we did not drive at night when they were asleep.  Here is how we pulled it off:

  • Bag of books, strategically placed in the middle of the back seat.  When needed I'd pull out a book and launch into an animated read.  Books are a passion of mine, and I could read all day.  Hats off to the 5 Little Monkeys series....they love it at the moment;
  • Nature magazines to thumb through -- a stack for each child;
  • Lunch boxes stuffed with fruit, juice, and crackers.  Full children are happy children;
  • CDs of kids music from the library;
  • Creative sing-along renditions of Old McDonald Had a Farm where kids give you the word to insert....my son likes farms with lots of construction vehicles (yes, I sang "and on that farm there was a rotto mill");
  • In-case-of-emergency-break-the-glass toys.  From deep in my bag in the front came a few new toys. Never seen before, one for each, quelled the whining and shouting.  Think plastic snakes, toys that squeak, pencil bags that zip open and closed.  
This method of travel avoids expenditures for gadgets, batteries, ancillary toys marketed through the videos, etc.  Very little new was purchased.  And the best part, we had a great time interacting with our kids.  My advice  - sell the video devices and connect with your kids.  A little advance planning goes a long way!

Jony's Beach, Madeline Island off the coast of Bayfield, Wis. -- the motivation behind driving 6 hours one-way.  
Photo taken by M. Gustafson Gervasi