Monday, April 27, 2015

Homemade Granola!

We may have more hours of sunlight in our lives, but there was no denying that lovely orb's descent towards the horizon.  After a day of client drafting, kid drop-off and pick-up, delivery and supervision of kiddo swim lessons, and a dinner to prepare, I found myself starring at the wall calendar.  Circled in red, April 28th, Class Snack.  Yes, after a full day I still need to prep 22 snacks for a kindergarten class room.  "Rooster [not his real name] do you mind if I skip making the banana-chocolate chip muffins and go with, easier?"  Thankfully he was not overly wedded to the muffins and agreed.  Pushover Mama you think?  No, just a realistic one, trying to conserve energy and avoid the irrational temper of a tired and hungry 6 year old.  Success - the muffins are not a must!  But no what?  A quick scan of the pantry revealed homemade granola was doable, and thanks to the recipe of a dear friend, easy as pie!

This will make a double recipe (just enough for 22 plastic ziplock "snack" bags:

  • mix 9 cups old-fashioned oats and 1 cup nuts (we used sliced almonds and pecans today)
  • in a small sauce pan heat and mix 1/2 cup unsweetened apple juice, 1/2 cup maple syrup (real), 2 tablespoons canola oil, 4 teaspoons cinnamon, and 1 teaspoon salt.
  • pour mixture over oats and nuts, bake for about 25 minutes, stir every 10 minutes, at 350 degrees.
  • once cooled, add 1 cup coconut, 1 cup raisins, and in our house 1 cup chocolate chips (Ghiradelli).
Easy, fast, somewhat healthy, and gentle to both the earth and my food budget!

Friday, April 24, 2015

Good-bye HP Calculator: The purge of 2015 continues!

As a steady spring rain falls outside the window I hit sum on the spread sheet titled "2015 Purge". With a click  I learn we have purged 1,034 items from our house since the first of the year.  Yes, we passed the 1,000 mark, inching our way closer to 2,015 items gone by years end!  It was looking like a small increase this week until yesterday, when I tackled by home office, purging binder after binder of outdated materials.  Papers went into the recycle bin, binders boxed for a Goodwill donation.  Yet it was one small item whose departure was most husband's 20 year old HP graphing calculator. Turned obsolete by the power of computers and more recently phones (apparently there in as app to mimick the calculator) he posted it on Ebay.  To our delight it was sought after, fetching $152 on the auction site.

1,000 items and change gone, but there is still plenty to relocate here in our frugal home.  Thanks for following along, and have a frugal weekend!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Earth Day & A Question

"May I ask you a question" asked my husband, standing a few feet behind me.

"Sure" was my response, mentally preparing myself for something in depth - maybe a question related to the allocation of our retirement funds or the rate on our mortgage.

"Do you have a theory about hanging wet towels?" he asked, his eyes lifting over my head, focused behind me on the chocolate brown towel I had just draped over the shower rod.

"Um, no.  Why?" was my response, caught off guard by his question.

"You put them up there, scrunched together.  I keep having to straighten them out so that they dry evenly.  It puts off washing them just a bit longer.  Saves money.  Might make for an interesting blog post."  And then he walked away.

Yet, I cannot argue with him.  An evenly dried towel is less likely to smell musty, delaying its washing and the use of resources to turn it clean and fluffy once again. Life with an engineer; efficiency jumps out at him everywhere, and usually saves us money, treads a little more lightly on the earth, and or improves our health.  As we celebrate Earth Day, founded by Wisconsin's very own Senator Gaylord Nelson (an aside, my husband advocated for naming our son Gaylord, he is that big of a fan of the environment and Wisconsin, but the name did not end up on the birth certificate....) I will leave you with a few of the ever efficient quirks I have picked up in the nearly nine years of marriage to an engineer.  Give them a whirl if you find yourself on a frugal path in life:

  • always cover the lid when a pot is on the stove -- this reduces the amount of time, and energy, required to bring it to a boil, etc.
  • when using stainless steel pans, turn the burner off a few minutes before the item is done cooking.  Those pans hold a "great deal of thermal mass".  Stay tuned, my better half has brought home a multi-meter (I think that is what it is called) to measure the amount of energy held in a pan on a burner that was turned off -- future post in the making;
  • never run a fire place when the temperatures are too cold, you are just sending heat up the chimney.  His formula (of course there is a formula!) is not to use the fireplace when the outside air temperature is 20 degrees colder than the inside temperature (we keep ours at 62 degrees, so no fire when it is 41 degrees or colder  outside), and your fireplace does not have a heatilator;
  • run the air conditioning, with the windows open, when the outside air temperature is colder than the inside air temperature; and
  • hang damp/wet towels evenly and near a vent air source when possible!
Have a wonderful Earth Day, and keep it frugal for the other 364 days of the year too!

Monday, April 20, 2015

Celebrate Earth Day 2015!

Wednesday, April 22nd of this year marks Earth Day, how are you going to celebrate?  No sure what to do?  Here are a few suggestions from our frugal house -- all of them honor Mother Earth, plus help out your health and budget to some extent.

  1. Go on a trash pick-up.  Pick your favorite walking path, shoreline or city park.  Bring a two bags, one for recyclables in your area, the other for trash.  Gloves may be wise as well.  Bring along some friends and make a contest out of who can find the most bizarre item!  Perfect for kids or adults;
  2. Thrift Shop.  With mother's day, father's day, weddings, anniversaries and summer parties just around the corner challenge yourself to buy 2nd had gifts. Think garden pots (add some packs of seeds), frames you can fill with a photo, jars filled with scented Epson salts, be creative;
  3. Go vegan or at least vegetarian for 1 or all 3 meals of the day.  If it is damp and cold where you live, try this Greek stew we adore, Fasolia Gigandes;
  4. Plant flowers, veggies or even a tree in your yard or a pot on your patio; and
  5. Leave the car at home, use public transit, a bike, your feet, or try telecommuting for the day.
Those are just a few suggestions.  Need more ideas?  Look through past posts on this blog; the upside of frugal shows how a frugal path in life is good for your budget, your health and the planet.  Be well, and Happy Earth Day to all!

Saturday, April 18, 2015

National Parks Free This Weekend - April 18th and 19th

You can thank the Twitter feed of a frugal friend, which alerted me to the fact the US National Parks are free this weekend!  Too late to plan a last minute trip?  Check out this web page from the National Park Service for additional free days this year:

  • August 25th;
  • September 26th; and
  • November 11th
Two the the three coincide with either summer break for the kids or my birthday.  I'm thinking some day trips will be in order, weather permitting.

Share a picture if you make a trip!

Friday, April 17, 2015

Closing in on the half-way mark - the Great Purge of 2015

Drum roll of today our family as purged 963 items from our home since January 1st! Yes, we are closing in on the half-way mark!  Accomplishments this week are due in large part to being party-poopers.

Not so long ago we threw several parties a year at our home -- a fall celebration, a Pi Day party in March, and then a gathering for the free Opera in the Park just around the corner.  When the number of guests swelled, we opted for a once a year Hello Summer party at a local State Park.  It was nice, but instead of an annual event, it will be a one and only.  The reasons are complicated, but boil down to time.  We have little free time and opt to focus on smaller, more frequent gatherings with a smaller group of friends over the once a year bash with those we rarely see.  One day we'll go back to hosting parties, but for the near future, lights out.

With that decision comes the realization we no longer need the plates, cups and utensils we'd bought at Goodwill. The idea was to use things over and over, washing after each party.  A frugal and earth friendly approach to entertainment.  Into the Honda trunk went the supplies, and off to Goodwill they will go.  Should we decide to through a party where we need lots of plates and cups there is never a shortage at our local thrift stores.  No need to store them here.

With this great purge comes the desire to clear out cabinet and closet space, allowing us to give permanent places for the items we treasure and opt to keep.  A great mantra I've read was never put something down, put it away.  To do that, everything needs a home.  And even though we are 963 items fewer here, we still have a lot of things that need a Nikon for one!

Check in next week to see if we cross the 1,000 mark.  And there will likely be intermittent posts -- our local farmers' market season starts Saturday.  Our chest freezer is empty of all items from last season.  No, not used up, just small enough to fit into the fridge freezer for easy access and contemplation over recipes.

Thanks for reading, and keep on being frugal!

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Frugally Fit: Bikes and Yardwork

Ever chase a 6 year old learning to ride a bike?  Hands down more enjoyable than pounding away on a treadmill at the gym.  That membership we gave up at the end of February -- not missed once! Both kids are learning to ride, at the same time, which means lots of after dinner trips around the neighborhood.  With each day they get more confident, a little stronger, and a wee-bit faster.  From a walking by their side, we now do a nice jog.

Then there is the yard, beckoning me with rake and clippers in hand to uncover the beauty of Spring. Questionable workout?  Tell that to my aching arm muscles the day afterwards!

How long until the training wheels are gone?

No gym can beat this view!  Goodbye CNN on TV screens, hello Spring Bulbs.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Track 11: Follow Your Arrow

"Say what you feel.  
Love who you love.  
Cause you just get so many trips around the sun.
You only live once....
Follow your arrow wherever it points."   

Pressed in an interview to declare my theme song, it would be Follow Your Arrow by Kacey Musgraves.  Filled with numerous quotable phrases, it is track 11 on her CD that gets cranked up daily while starting the oatmeal, sweeping crumbs from under the chairs, or prepping coffee for the next morning.  Those who know the personal details of my childhood will be able to take one listen and know my heart aches that this song was not out there for my mom when she was a young women, battling the scorn of small town life filled with small minded folks.

"Cause you just get so many trips around the sun" -- a beckon of words reminding me, prioritize.  As the song plays in my mind, or on my little thrift store score of radio/CD player sitting on the kitchen counter, releasing the butter bell I purchased sometime ago is easy to send off to Goodwill.  My purge of 2015 has now extended to the intangible.  Today I said good-bye today to a volunteer position I have held for about 7 years.  Musgraves sings "love who you love", and I'd offer up, love what you love - pitch the rest!

Follow your arrow wherever it points she sings. Yes, and mine points down a frugal path as I make my trips around the sun. One where life balances in favor of my health, my budget, and my planet.   Take a listen, and start tossing what you do not love!

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Skipping the CSA Craze!

We are less than a week away from the 2015 Farmers' Market season here in Madison, Wisconsin.  Heavy spring rains earlier this week followed by a sunny warm-up mean things are sprouting, turning green, and people are turning to thoughts of summer foods and fun.  Unlike many of my local Madisonians, I opted to skip the CSA movement once again this year because based on my analysis it is just not a frugal move for this family.

Many years ago we did purchase a 1/2 share of a CSA with an aunt of my husband's.  The time could not have been worse.  We had an infant, pick-up was near their home (not ours) requiring us to drive, and the narrow pick-up time of Thursday from 4pm - 7pm.; I was either working at my legal practice or juggling a tired infant after having worked most of the day.  Throw in far too many greens in the basket, and you had one annoyed frugalista.  This just didn't add up.

Testing my theory I took a $20 bill to the market the next season, when we were not a CSA member. I bought two times as much produce, all things I knew we'd eat, and was convinced -- CSAs are not frugal for our family.  It boils down to two reasons: we are short on time and we place a higher priority on purchasing food for a good price over underwriting a farm.

To maximize a CSAs cost, one needs time.  Lots of it.  If you go with the set time and day for a delivery, you need to have it locked in to your schedule.  If you opt for the market share CSA that is becoming common (i.e. meet us at our stand at the market and make your selection) you again need to have a set day/time frame you can go, and cross your fingers the weather cooperates.  When new-to- you items appear in your weekly share you need time to be creative, even if recipes are provided.  And what it you simply hate it?  You're stuck with it.

Our home has two kids, three cats (two of which are seniors with health issues) and dual business-owning parents.  We have flexibility over our schedule, but very little "free time".  Living in Madison you can guarantee there is a local farmers' market nearly every day of the week, except Mondays it seems.  Multiple vendors ensure competition on price.  I can take a lap around the stands and figure out which produce looks the best, and is at the best price (I'll pay more for better options).  Being disciplined we do try new to us foods, but in a reasonable amount, during a week when we have the time.  There are the You-Pick parties, on-site, at the farm thrown in as an enticement.  Again, on a day and time set by the farmer, not you.  If you cannot tell, my control freak is emerging.  Control freak has a negative connotation associated with it, however, to be frugal one needs to control his/her money.  Embrace the control freak within!

Lastly, CSAs are a wonderful way to take ownership in a farm.  Supporting locally grown foods is something I support without question.  But I am not interested in owning a farm, even a sliver of a farm.  I am not a farmer.  I do not want to weather the weather.  Bad crop this year because of drought?  You'll see the impact in your weekly share -- far fewer options.  This point seems to escape many people.  What, you're frugal and you don't belong to a CSA?  they ask me.  Our chosen way to support local farms is to frequent their stands on days markets work for us, pick our own fruits and veggies when we take a trip, and enjoy the fall festivals so many farmers offer at the end of the season (thing corn maze!).  As for investments for business -- I prefer the much more diversified index fund through my broker, not a farm.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Status Check -- Purging 2,015 items in 2015

With a few hours left in this Friday I am happy to report that our home has 814 fewer items!  Yes, we are closing in on the half-way mark of 2,015 items out the door this calendar year!  Accomplishments this week mainly fall into the category of books -- big books (think dictionaries), kids books, piano books from the 1980s -- all out the door. Some donated others recycled. We also started purging from the garage -- it is amazing how quickly something leaves when posted for free on social media. The highlight was finding a home for two kids bike helmets -- several have been passed on to us, now we paid it forward.

Reflecting for a moment, our house still feels as though it were bursting at the seems with stuff.  Stuff that we do not love or treasure, stuff that just accumulates.  We have a lot more to purge.  The one big thing I can tell about this purge is how it has shut down my purchasing, and that is from someone who doesn't really shop much. On numerous occasions I have found myself delaying a purchase, knowing that under our rules this year any new item negates any item purged, zeroing out the effort. While I may not see the difference on the floors our counters (isn't that were all stuff congregates!), I can see a difference in our spending.  It's down, and that makes me smile.

Thanks for tuning in.  I am signing off just as my bike-riding husband returns from his late-night run to the library for our weeks worth of entertainment.  Keep it frugal!

P.S. "I could only find one of your library items, so I asked.....says my smiling husband upon walking in from the garage.  To which the library staff responded, ohhh, when someone gets that many holds we set them aside in a bin, here they are!"  Yep, we make the most of the free items at our local library - do you?

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Decluttering Inspiration in a Tiny Book!

We are deep in our efforts to purge 2015 items from our home in 2,015.  Some items were a no brainer, things sitting in corners or shelves that we'd meant to get rid of but never got around to.  Slowly those items are making their way to the curb, recycle bin, or hands of a friend.  But the easy pickings are running low, and we still have over 1,000 items to purge.  

With perfect timing, a tiny book by Donna Smallin showed up in my library holds.  Clear the Clutter, Find Happiness: One-minute tips for decluttering and refreshing your home and your life is packed with great ideas.  Vying for top spot for suggestions would be putting all of your hanging clothing items with hooks facing backwards.  Then, when you wear something and it is rehung, put the hanger in the proper orientation.  Then, after 6 months or a year, anything that is on a backwards hanger needs to be donated -- it was never worn.  Brilliant!  My husband and I plan to give this a try as we shift seasonal clothing items this month.

One tip was to ask yourself - if you had twenty minutes to pack your car before it was destroyed, what would you take?  Once answered, get rid of the rest.  For me this was too harsh.  We have kids in the house, and they delight in helping me pull out the seasonal decorations, some only displayed for a few weeks.  We may only enjoy them for a short period of the year, but we do enjoy them, so they stay.  My standard is -- would I pay a moving company to move this item?  If the answer is no, its time to go.  How do you make the decision - does it stay or does it go?

Looking for a little boost to your own purge efforts?  I highly recommend Clear the Clutter, Find Happiness: One-minute tips for decluttering and refreshing your home and your life by Donna Smallin!

Image result for clear the clutter find happiness

Friday, April 3, 2015

2015 Purge - Spring Break Boost

Happy Friday everyone!  Just a quick little update for all of you on our frugal families efforts to purge 2,015 items from our home in 2015.  As of today we have donated, recycled, tossed or otherwise removed 739 items.  Our hope is to clear out the clutter, say good-bye to what we do not love and need, making our home easier to clean and enjoy.  This past week we had a huge boost from photo albums, framed pictures, and the like which I had inherited from my parents.  Keeping those that meant something significant to me, the rest are boxed and being mailed to other relatives for them to enjoy.  We also unearthed several toy trucks from the backyard which are headed to Goodwill for another life with another family.  How is your Spring Cleaning going?

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Free Zoo: Como Park Zoo & Conservancy in St. Paul, Minnesota

Regular readers of Frugal Upside know that our frugal family recently returned from a mini-Spring Break in Minneapolis / St. Paul.  A four and a half hour drive from our home in Madison, Wisconsin, it proved to be a lovely and frugal escape.  The highlight, hands down, was our last day attraction -- visiting Como Park Zoo & Conservatory in St. Paul, Minnesota.  Admission is free, but we happily paid the suggested donation of $10.  And being frugal, we charged it for: 1) a receipt for 2015 tax donations, and 2) our credit card company pays us 1% on every purchase - cash, at the end of every calendar year.

As for the zoo, oh my!  What a beauty.  It reminded me a lot of our local zoo in Madison, Henry Vilas Zoo, which is also free.  But with just a bit more oomph -- kind of like Minneapolis / St. Paul has just a bit more oomph than Madison.  Como Park Zoo & Conservancy has been around for over 100 years, offering a tropical garden, big cats, African animals, aquatic life, and much more.  Highlights for our kids included two sloths and a snow leopard.  We also met the two young polar bears who will be moving to our hometown zoo later this year.

Warning, we went in late March, before a lot of the money making attractions open.  For example, this lovely site will likely drain any frugal budget.  If you plan a visit, I recommend going during the "off" season.   Our day was filled with good exercise (we climbed into the Honda for our 4.5 hour drive back home immediately after exiting the zoo), up close time with great animals, and lots of laughter.  We never made it to the conservancy section, but hope to return again in the future.

From the analytics here on Frugal Upside, I can tell you that "Free Zoos in the United States" is the most popular post I have ever written.  With two young kids and a bit of wonder lust in all of us, we plan to visit more of the zoos listed in that original post.  I will leave you with some of my favorite images taken on our visit to Como Park Zoo - enjoy!

One of the young polar bears who will relocate to Madison, Wisconsin later this year.

One of the two adult polar bears that will remain at Como Park Zoo -- shaking off winter!

African animal representation.

Up close on the Wolf Walk.

Frugalistas beware -- this is where you'd end up blowing your budget.  
Visit while this place is closed!