Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Frugal Comforting Split Pea Soup

Yes, I am still here, as frugal as ever.  Blogging was paused due to a flurry of emotional events.  My mother's memorial was held over the weekend.  Last minute "to dos", relatives visiting from out-of-state, and a booster of grief over her passing consumed much of my energy.  Mixed into an already dramatic filled few days were scheduled depositions of the school staff, yes, the school we sued.  Delays, settlement offers, laughable settlement overs, rescheduled depositions, and within an hour of those depositions occurring today an offer that was at the minimum of justified in our eyes.  The specifics are not subject to discussion by the parties, can you guess which side asked for that clause?

Tonight, as a blanket of gray clouds envelope Madison, producing a steady drizzle and bone chilling dampness, I turned to comfort food.   Easy, healthy, and oh so frugal.  One bag of yellow split peas, add a container of broth (we prefer chicken), some water, and a bay leaf or two.  Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and you have perfect frugal comfort food in about 90 minutes.  Served with cheese, crackers and fruit slices, it was ideal.

Just off to the left you'll glimpse a stunning flower display given to us by dear friends.  It stood front and center at my mom's memorial, along with her urn and some photos.  Now it graces my kitchen counter, offering cheer during some long dark days (literally and figuratively).

Thanks for following along, and hopefully I have passed the apex of my overbooked schedule, and can return to more regular posts.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Dot, Dot.....Don't Need a Lot: Frugal Wisdom From a Preschooler

"Mom, this is what I learned in school today, you'll love it!  Dot, Dot.....Don't Need a Lot.  It means you do not have to use a lot of glue on art projects."  Oh, let me count the ways that I love UADC, the place where our wee ones spend a large portion of their week.  Today's lesson is one we can all meditate on.  As garage sales sprout, stores slash prices on winter products, or farmers offer a bounty at local outdoor markets, remember, you don't need a lot.  Ask yourself, what is enough?  Just because it is inexpensive does not mean you need to take it home.  Of the three Rs (reduce, reuse, recycle) the most earth friendly and frugal move is reduce.

Here is another preschool favorite, a great song from the Curious George movie soundtrack.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Bye Bye Blinds, Hello Frugal Curtains

Window covering ordeal solved!  Regular readers may recall a recent post about my decision not to purchase blinds from JC Penney.  It was not so much the price that turned me off, but the high pressure sales technique.  Had I gone through with the purchase I would have spent $1,852 dollars for blinds to cover six windows.  I passed, and my wallet now thanks me.

The windows are now covered, for $58 dollars.  Yes, as in less than $100, not over $1,000.  A simple set of curtains at Target for $20 fixed the master bathroom window situation.  And two panels from Bed, Bath and Beyond for $38 (total -- they were on clearance) covered the bare windows in our son's room.  We decided to make do with what we already have in the master bedroom and our daughter's room.

Curtains were by far less expensive than blinds.  Should be easy to clean.  And if we opt for something different in three years a lot less expensive to replace.  Also, I realized that our son is tall enough to adjust his new curtains.  That would not have been the case with blinds hanging far above his head.  Independence is a great thing in bringing up wee ones.  Yeah for curtains.

Our Earth Day was quite quiet otherwise.  Work and school.  Dinner of leftovers.  Time outdoors.  A reading of The Lorax before bed.  Really not too different than most other days here at the home of the Frugal Upside.  Thanks for reading, and be well.

Meet the new curtains.  Simple, utilitarian, and frugal.  What not to love?

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Bunny Cake in the Frugal Home

Easter Sunday, 2014 -- a day of simple pleasures and quality time with family.  The day began with a relaxed breakfast at home, cheered up with a single pack of gourmet coffee (chocolate cake from the local Victor Allen's).  Then off to an Easter Egg hunt at Prairie UU, what I call atheists with coffee.  It has the feel of church, but welcomes any and all, no what, if any beliefs they hold.  Husband and I got a decent image for Sunday Selfie on Facebook while our wee ones hunted down eggs.


 And success in the hunt!

We had quick stop at home for bagels and eggs before heading over to the friends we call The Village.  Multiple families gathered, each bringing a dish or two, resulting in a heavenly feast.  We were slated for breads (buy one get one free from Clasen's in Middleton), wine (again, on sale at the neighborhood Hy-Vee), and Bunny Cake. Pictured below, one has graced every Easter dinner table since my birth.  This year was the first that my mother, the one who introduced it to my life, was not with us.  Having taken the baton on this annual cake, I made it slightly healthier.  Just a bit of frosting, enough to secure unsweetened coconut.  Nuts, apricots, and chocolate chips provided the detailing (as opposed to my mom's use of jelly beans and licorice).  All it took was two spring foam round cake pans, and voila, bunny cake!

The upside of a frugal life -- joy in the simple, a holiday that does not strain the budget, and a life that walks just a little less on Mother Earth.  Have a great frugal idea?  Post a comment, inspire others and give me ideas.  Thanks for reading!

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Meet My New Brown Sweater

Spend some of that inheritance dear, stop with the thrift stores, get something nice.  Ever since my mother passed I have heard this countless times from countless people.  Thrift store shopping still seems to carry with it a stigma, some sort of deprivation.  Not for me, in fact it brings with the the high of finding a treasure. Toss in that it goes easy on my budget and treads lightly on Mother Earth, it seems like a win win situation. So even though our financial life is a bit flush lately (something the self-employed know is cyclical, with downs ahead) I am sticking to my frugal ways.  Here is my latest favorite find.  Just under $5 and I wore it this past week thanks to the winter that simply won't stop giving.

Here's to frugality, something I choose each and every day.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Breaking Spring Break Customs, Frugal Style

Spring Break -- an annual time to leave reality behind, head to warmer climates, and all too often break the budget.  With young children we have not yet experienced the full-force Spring Break of take a week off from reality, but this year our preschool gave the kids two days off.

Thursday was used as a day for errands.  Semi-annual dental cleaning for both kids followed by a much needed hair cut in advance of my mother's memorial service, again for both kids.  Toss in a work related errand for me (picking up legal papers for a new probate) and you have the recipe for a very boring Spring Break kick-off.  Thankfully my kids are too young to know any better, and I did manage to mix in quite a bit of frugal fun among the errands.

 Sunglasses!  Okay, in the dental chair, but they were fun.

Enough time between appointments for a quick self-guided tour of the Veteran's Museum. 
Free admission, we left a $5 donation.

After lunch at Ian's Pizza ($10) calories were burned off scaling Madison's State House (free).  Of course, I drilled them a bit on the three branches of government.  My 5 year old knew them again a day later at breakfast.  Spring Break may mean a break from routine, but not learning.  
Watch for education-based trips in future years.

Selfie with the kiddos.

First of three libraries we hit in our two day break.  This was taken at the downtown branch.  Our first visit, but it will not be our last.  Wonderful space......and perfect space for 3 year olds with tons of energy.  
Again, free

And then to our 2nd scheduled appointment.  Haircuts at the technical college. $7/each, plus a tip.  More professional than I can do in our home salon,
but not too expensive as to deter those college savings we tuck away.

Three and three-quarters, but only her 2nd time in a barber chair.

After our third stop (you don't need a photo of a lawyer picking up papers from another lawyer), we enjoyed treats at The Chocletarian Cafe ($15).  After we walked to Gail Ambrosia Chocolates where I used a coupon for buy one get one free -- boxes I use for gift certificates I donate to silent auctions (for legal services and my book).

Friday I found myself with a bit of cabin fever and Facebook envy.  Itching to get out of Madison I hastily made plans for a mini-road trip to a big cat rescue.  It was abandoned in under 20 minutes.  Why?  It felt rushed, unneeded, and unhealthy.  Admission was not free.  We'd be eating out, which is not healthy nor inexpensive.  And up until I saw the list in a Wisconsin With Kids book, we had had no immediate desire to visit the rescue.  We will one day, but not today.  Just because everyone else (or so it seemed reading my Facebook feed) was enjoying a beach vacation, did not mean I had to blow through gas, time and money. We stayed in town, and had a lovely day -- and it was frugal.

First Friday stop, Clasen's Bakery in Middleton where we used another buy one get one free for loaves of bread we'll contribute to The Village Easter Dinner on Sunday.

Then off to Wingra Lake near the zoo.  Muskie are making their annual spawning run, jumping the dam.  We spotted a few in the water, but left without any actual jumps viewed.  There is always next year.  It was a fantastic and frugal way to nurture my daughter's love of fish.  In a word that smothers our girls in princess motifs, influences outside of the box are welcomed, and embraced eagerly when they come for free.

A slightly impatient near 6 year old -- where are these HUGE fish Mama?

Before going to Wingra we stopped for our holds at our neighborhood library.  They did not have a sufficient supply of the LEGO books my son has developed an addiction for, but informed us that the branch on Monroe Street did.  How perfect, it is next to Wingra Lake.  And with that, this frugal family visited three different libraries in two days.  Books, movies, yoga DVDS, and here you see the children completing a picture for which the earned coupons for free custard at Culvers -- their favorite restaurant.
So, that is the first part of Spring Break 2014 here.  Tomorrow will be a quite day at the house -- a carpenter is installing a new door.  There will be yard work, laundry, and the baking of my annual bunny cake.  Sunday with be spent with our UU friends and The Village.  All low-key and frugal.  How have you been spending your Spring Break?  I'm taking frugal ideas as I look ahead to 2015 -- our son will have an entire week off, creating new challenges (taking time off from work when both parents are self-employed is not frugal) and opportunities.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Frugal Paths

Something happened when I turned 40 last September, my interest in running/jogging evaporated.  All of a sudden I had a desire to slow down, take it all in, not tune out and pound my knees.  Now that the extreme cold of the polar vortex has left Madison (even with snow in the forecast for overnight) I've been finding myself paying a dollar to walk the Lakeshore Path on the UW-Madison campus.

I leave the office, park, pay $1, walk, and then  pick my kids up from their pre-school perched on the edge of campus.  No fancy work out clothes or special shoes.  No need for my MP3 player.  Just me, my breath and my thoughts.

During my last walk I noticed the majority of those on the path were 20 years my junior.  Nearly all seemed tuned into their own private world.  Intense and in mighty fine shape, but not a lot of smiles.  Then there was me, dressed in clothes from the office, strolling the path.  Did we burn the same amount of calories?  No, but my stressed melted away.  I felt the wind on my face.  And I was happy.  With 40 has come a desire to be an active adult, not someone competitive with others or themselves.  I was that way a year or so ago, but not now.

My gym is a place for yoga class and laps in the pool.  Weekends I hike with my children.  Soon I hope to start patting around a tennis ball again.  And when I can, bike to work or run errands.  Take the stairs at the urban Target, as I did today.  I can do these things with my children, and a priority of mine is to spend as much time with them as I can.  Now that they are in school most of the day, I realize how little time we have together to simply "be".  And I know that time will only decrease as they mature and develop lives of their own.  And I know it sets a healthy example for them.  Lastly, it is a great way to stay fit without spending tons of dollars on exercise gear.

How about you, what are your frugal ways to stay fit?

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Versatile Frugal Spot - Madison, Wisconsin

From date night to wedding location to kid adventure to source of education and or quite contemplation, you can find it at in the UW Arboretum.  Ideal for those seeking frugality and nature.  It was today's destination for Frugal Mama and Wee Ones Weekend outing.

With my eldest a bit under the weather, we decided to keep our weekend "hike" local and rather short.  The weather was simply too nice not to push ourselves (okay, just him) and get out and about.  The UW Arboretum was a natural choice.  Minutes from our home it offers all types of hiking options -- woods, prairie, wild turkeys, sunken foundations from the turn of the century.  There is no admissions fee, so off we went.

This "free" adventure nearly turned into a costly one at the end.  My daughter fell asleep in the car and my son had the idea to wake her up by sticking a dried piece of grass that he brought home with him up her nose.  It woke her up, and then the blood started flowing, and flowing.  He was scared, she was annoyed, and I quickly called the doctor.  Thankfully it stopped on its own, otherwise we'd have been off to the ER this Sunday night.  And that is not a frugal spot for us (with an HSA we pay the frist $10,000 of medical expenses each year out-of-pocket -- with tax deferred HSA dollars).

If you are in Madison and seek a frugal spot, consider the UW Arboretum for:

  • date nights -- simple walks or a guided tour
  • classes of all sorts
  • summer camps for school-aged children (I've made a mental note for our family)
  • wedding or other commitment ceremonies
  • quite alone time
  • a place to walk, hike, jog, bike, or sit and meditate.
What is your favorite "free spot" here in Madison or somewhere else on the glob?

Thursday, April 3, 2014

A New Twist on Little Free Library

You've likely seen one, a wooden box placed outside a home, business or community center.  Designed in a variety of ways, they all have the title Free Little Library.  Open to all it encourages you to pick up a book and or leave another.  I've used them on occasion, one time walking away with excellent copies of classic children's books I read. Clifford the Big Red is now a favorite of my children thanks to the copy I found in one box.

Earlier tonight I did a book reading (Middle Class Philanthropist: How anyone can leave a legacy) at the Spring Green Community Library.  Afterwards we fellow book lovers and librarian junkies got on the topic of Free Little Libraries.  I had not heard of a new trend, but am intrigued.  Using the Google map of all the Free Little Library locations, people use GPS' to locate as many in their area, traveling with books to leave and a box to place new ones they pick up along the way.  Sounds like a random and inexpensive way to spend a Saturday, acquire some new reading material, and if you have wee ones in your home cultivate another generation of book worms.

Keep reading, this is something we'll add to our agenda.  I just have to figure out if my phone has a GPS and if so, how to use it!

The Free Little Library outside of Prairie UU church in Madison, WI.