Saturday, June 16, 2012

Catching up with you

It's been forever since I posted, I know. A lot has happened since then-- I got bangs now.

About 2 months ago I started an intensive CELTA program designed to teach me how to teach. It worked. Or, rather, it got me a job. I graduated and I had 3 job offers in a week. It was pretty amazing, and I'm incredibly grateful for it.

The program was 4 weeks long and took up nearly all of my time. You can find out more about it here. During this time, Jord was trying to finish up his first year and lock down that Master's degree. Right in the middle of all of this, I was trying to fancy up a presentation for one of my classes. This required the use of my laptop. I have a sweet laptop bag that was given to me by a former student of mine, and so I went ahead and used it to carry my precious cargo. Bad idea. The bag, though very nice and snazzy, is not a "running" bag. So, say, you're about to miss the train. This bag will not only ensure that you do, but will snap as you are running and allow you to drop whatever is in it.

My Macbook was in it.

This is the same laptop I've had since 2007, but I love(d) her. Jordan and I had been sharing her for the whole of our marriage. I knew that her time on this earth was running short, but I didn't anticipate her death at my hands*.

Spoiler alert! I broke her that day. Just the backlight. But she wasn't really operable at that point anyways.

Because school was pretty expensive for us we didn't immediately have the funds to fix her. We decided to go ahead and replace just the backlight first and see if we could limp by. After about a week and a half of using library computers for all of our work, we finally got the part in. Jordan installed it after watching a ton of Youtube videos. It was very delicate work**.

After it was in place, we had to team up to put the screen back on. Everything was going well-- until it wasn't. An LCD screen is a gentle beast and does not like to be pressed on with, say, a fat thumb. So that's exactly what I did. So she was operable but she also had this huge black circle right at the tippy top of the screen. Also, there were cracks. Everywhere***.

The story has a happy ending: right after all of this, Jordan called his parents and mentioned the laptop situation; they generously offered to buy us a new one! It was completely unexpected and amazing. We got our newest favorite toy about a month ago and she's perfect. Our old lappy is now being used like desktop. Eventually we would like to replace the entire display and use her like a laptop again. As she's been sitting still on our desk, the black spot hasn't traveled or grown and she's still working great. So no RIP yet. Not yet.

At the end of May I started working for a local language school teaching ESL to adult learners. It's a demanding and rewarding job, natch. I'm gaining a lot of practical teaching knowledge while Jordan is playing househusband.

Oh yeah, ladies. He has dinner ready for me when I walk in the door.

He finished up his semester on a very strong note, and he immediately started looking for a job. If you know George, you know that he can't not be doing something. So he works for a moving company most days and cleans the house the other days.

I've really struggled to keep our expenses low as I've been gone more, but he's really tried to take over the finances/grocery shopping/scratch stuff that I like to do. He hangs loads of laundry to dry, waters our garden and makes fresh bread every day. He's a champ.

He's also really into Minecraft.

Anyways, as this (very cold) summer is winding up, I'm excited to see what it brings. A whole lot of new things, it seems.

*I mean I did see it, but I didn't. I expect most electric things to be dead by my hands in the next 5 years.
**Swears were said
***"It's like a plumbah party"-- said by two girls talking about their cracked iPhone screens. Applicable here.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Clothing and Toms Repair

The no new clothing purchase thing has become a challenge (see what I did there?). This is because a). I love buying clothing and b.) all of my things seem to be wearing out. Take my jeans, for instance. I have 3 pairs of jeans that I can wear and they're all wearing out-- the pockets in the back, the knees, that thigh rub area-- you get the idea. My other pants are too large now. I mean, how does one alter corduroys?

I did find a nifty way to hem jeans* without losing the original seam around the bottom. That's the extent of my sewing successes so far. I tried to slim down a pair of pants and I ripped the seams out so many times I thought I was going to cry. Maybe I did cry.

And though a certain type of patching is socially acceptable, I don't think Jord and I would look classy with patches all over our pants. Who cares though, right?
He cares.

I obviously want this experiment to work but I'm willing to purchase new items if I need to. I did, however, have limited success repairing my Toms shoes. I'll be the first one to tell you that I'm a recovering slacktivist and I think the Toms model is seriously lacking, but I do love those shoes. I've had them for about 4 or 5 years and when we first moved here I wore them everywhere. Eventually the soles in both wore out and my left shoe developed a hole near the edge of my foot. I decided that instead of tossing them out or buying new ones I would repair the ones I have.
This is what they looked like.
It took some time, but I think it worked out okay.

First, I took them apart and washed them-- inserts and all. The upper soles are composed 3 layers: the top, thin leather layer; the bottom foam layer; a foam arch support thing. The leather is sewn to the foam and the arch is glued to both; all three are glued to the bottom of the shoe. I took care of the inserts first.

I used a seam ripper to separate the leather from the bottom layer-- I essentially tore one seam out and the thread pulled out on its own. I think this may have more to do with the fact that the shoes are old than with the manufacturing, but it took me less than a minute to undo both leather tops from the bottom layers of the soles. I repaired a tear in one of the bottom layers (it was torn so I did a quick whipstitch around the tear) and used both as a template. This is where things got murky. The bottom layer is made of a foam like material that is very stretchy. After years of wear these bottoms have molded to my foot, which meant that when they were flattened out they were bigger than the actual sole of the shoe. I didn't know this when I was making the new leather sole.

I have a bolt (?) of leather that my mom found for me at a thrift shop. I'm going to use it eventually to make a leather cover for my butterfly chair, but I have plenty extra to fool around with. I cut two pieces from the leather and fashioned a leather top for the sole. It's a little thicker than the tissue paper they use on the inside, but I think it will work out better in the long run. After regluing the arch support to the bottom of the sole I used my sewing machine to run along the outside of the leather to attach it to the foam bottom. 
The insert.

I followed the basic sewing pattern that the original makers used by following the marks in the foam (so it was foam side up when I sewed it). I then placed it in the shoe. It was too dang big.

I trimmed it little by little until it fit perfectly. Same thing happened on the other side. Eventually, I got them snug and tight.

I then took on the tear in the side. After patching it on the inside with a small canvas fabric scrap, I used a small piece of matching red fabric from the inside of the heel of the shoe to repair the hole. The heel fabric is not as thick as the canvas that makes up the rest of the upper, but it is the same color. It's also the only part that is double layered-- I could essentially cut out that piece without damaging the shoe in any visible way.
The replacement.

End game.
So that's it. In the end, they were a little more snug and looked a lot better. Not new, for sure, but better. Eventually the bottom will wear out and I'll get old tire treads and attach them and then repost. I know what my audience is begging for**.

*I essentially have a 17 inch inseam. Stumpies.

Winning Arguments: One Woman's Unhealthy Relationship with Grocery Shopping

If there is one thing I inherited from my mother*, it's my overall disdain for grocery shopping. So it was with great pleasure that I told my husband on Sunday I didn't need to go grocery shopping because I thought we had enough food to last us through the week. 

When I said this, I was full of fries and hamburger patties from our free Burger King lunch**. I was thinking that making bread from scratch and cooking several pounds of chicken would be a fantastic time-- that is, after all, the mark of a homesteader. And he really wants to homestead. But he also doesn't really mind shopping and he wasn't too excited about this. He remembered all the times this hasn't worked out. You can probably make that mental leap without a walk down memory lane with me.

But I'm thinking that any extra money we save this week can boost us next week. For some reason it is so much easier to shop with say, 70$ than it is with 35$. A 70$ trip might mean that we get to go to Costco (squee!). I should probably say here that I've never been to Costco. Or that 35$ can just stay in our pockets. We're expecting a huge expense soon that will drain our savings and so every penny helps, right?

But many of the best Burger King plans are laid to waste when Shakespeare gets hungry. Two days later we bought a 7 dollar pizza for dinner because I forgot to thaw everything.

It's tricksy finding delicious ways to stretch the food we have. I had enough peanut butter for one sandwich. No cheese, eggs, fruit or tomato sauce/paste. I did have a lot of frozen chicken and vegetables. George only eats on campus 2 days a week so I had to come up two meals that weren't leftovers (no microwave) and could handle a beating in a backpack after his bike ride to school. ~~SoO KEwT~~

And so began the day where I made a bunch of food I don't really like to eat to avoid grocery shopping and prove a point.

I had to figure out what can be made and taken to school with what we have. We're out of bread, so I decided to make sourdough rolls and chicken salad. Both are things Jordan likes, and I only like the sourdough rolls part. I decided to make a large batch of both. Bread making is not always fun.

We already had sourdough starter ready, but this was its first use out and sourdough tastes better and better the more you use and feed the starter. I followed a recipe I found online and it took FOREVER to knead it. It was a very sticky dough and difficult to work with, but the end result was-- tada!--very tasty.
Lil' muffin breads (*^▽^*)

I don't like cold salads (categorically), but Jordan does. I had everything I needed to whip it up, and after I cooked up the chicken and let it cool, I shredded it and added the ingredients. Only we were (and still are) out of pretty much every spice. Ack.

Though we had fresh onions (gag), he doesn't like fresh onions in his chicken salad. I ended up adding a little more dill and fennel (which I crushed with mah pestle); I also added spicy brown mustard to taste. His taste. He loved it.
"My wife is hott and smart and that was the best lunch evar"

And sauerkraut. Yes. That.

Cabbage has finally reached its (presumably) lowest price of the year at 19 cents a pound; we got one head. Who eats a lot of cabbage?

Anyways, I'm not a cabbage lover. Boiled cabbage couldn't look or taste less appetizing to me, but it's cheap. Also the sauerkraut. Jord loves him the sauerkraut.

It's actually very simple to make: chop up the cabbage into very small pieces, add kosher salt (1 tbsp to 1 cup) and shove down into a jar. The cabbage and salt become pretty briny right off the bat.
"S" is for salt, ya dingus
 I actually used 3 washed peanut butter jars for this-- I soaked them in a water/vinegar solution first to kill off any of the remaining peanut butter oil smell. They worked perfectly.

The taller one has been sauerkrauting a little longer, and it's obvious to everyone.
And so that's all, really. Not as dramatic as I made it sound to myself.

Today I'm making stock. Hopefully, my bad attitude will carry over. Hurray!

Oh, and we ended up staying under our budget by 46 cents, including the pizza. Boom.

*Also: dramatic phone conversations; caffeine addiction; my magnetic personality and charm
**They were giving out free fries for St. Patrick's and we also had a 10 dollar gift card from Mypoints. So yeah. We got sundaes.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Groceries and Gardens and GIFs

We've finally gotten into a smooth rhythm when it comes to grocery shopping. We try to keep our weekly grocery bill under 35 a week, though that's been a recent achievement. Obviously, it was much easier to keep it low when we lived in the south.

As every Muppet knows, shopping around is the best way to ensure the best prices on food. This is also a way to murder joy.

We have two shops relatively close to us: Stop and Shop and Save-A-Lot. Save-A-Lot is nationwide, I believe, so you probably have seen their empty parking lots as you drive by.

Stop and Shop is a relatively expensive and very conveniently located. I track prices there and can occasionally find pretty good deals. They have a great seafood area, like fresh cod for 2.99 a pound good*, but we don't do a whole lot of shopping there. That leaves, well, you know.

It's not as bad as you might think**.

It's a pretty convenient bus ride away and we buy almost all of our staples from Save-A-Lot. A local bakery sells its day old bread there for 99 cents a loaf. We usually pick up two loaves for the week. Cheese, peanut butter, tomato sauce, eggs… Stop and Shop's rock-bottom sale price is the average price at Save-A-Lot.

But yeah. That place is the Daytona Beach of beaches.

I miss Kroger. I could get free items regularly there. I still have a mini stockpile of health and beauty*** products from my time near a Kroger. This was facilitated by double coupons, owning a car and better deals. I used to wonder about people who chose to shop exclusively at heavy discounters (which is what Save-A-Lot is) instead of just utilizing coupons at big retailers; I see now why people choose to shop this way. It's just easier somehow.

Another thing that factors into our grocery shopping is the fact that we don't have a whole lot of room for convenience purchases anymore. Until I can find a grocery cart abandoned by somebody's grandma on the side of the road, we're hauling it in backpacks. We've just resorted to eliminating boxed foods from our grocery list. It's not always easy or fun. If we want swiss cake rolls or pizza or mac and cheese*** then we make it from scratch. I mean, I don't make the mozzarella or cheddar. That would be obnoxious.

And we don't buy organic, usually****.

So our garden. It's a thing that exists now.

I purchased seeds about a month ago from Walgreens when they were running a 5 packets for 1.00 thing. They didn't have a huge selection (an alarming number of sunflower varieties, though) so I just got what I thought we would like: tomatoes, squash (of the hott summer persuasion), cucumbers, lettuce and peppers.

I've already been growing some parsley and I finally planted this seed paper thing I found in my backpack. I don't really feel like explaining the whole story, so just go with it.

I had 2 little terracotta pots that used to hold basil and thyme. As peppers are supposed to be very persnickety I put them in there. I made additional seed planters from newspaper. This way when I plant them I won't have to remove them from their home-- the newspaper eventually dissolves. Or so I'm told.

I made them by wrapping newspaper around a cup and then folding the bottoms under. The soil keeps them intact, but I still wrapped them in some jute string that I had leftover from the rug. The markers are from a fake credit card I was sent today.

I'm also trying to grow celery from an end-- it's something that is apparently pretty well known in gardening circles. Just chop the end off the celery (the part you would normally throw out), place it in water and plant it when it spouts. I just started it last night, so we'll see.

Overall, I think the highlight of my day was when I opened the bag of soil and involuntarily said "agg! So dirty!" out loud to myself. So there's that.

*Those glassy fish eyes staring at me. Can't do it.
**If you're thinking it's the Myrtle Beach of beaches.
***Dream meal
****I think all the pesticides make me a better person.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Spring is Here, Woman Sees B.D. Wong Everywhere

Unless you live in Arizona it's a dry cold you are probably experiencing the same fantastic weather we're having up here. The timing of our move was perfect, I guess. I mean I only have light jackets and sweaters, no long johns or anything.

I've slowly been cleaning my house and trying to complete projects that have been bothering me. One of the big ones was an area rug in our little dining nook. My mom found a stack of jute coffee sacks at a yard sale for a few dollars a piece and bought them all. She's pretty clever, and she suggested I make/sew them into some sort of area rug. Or did I come up with that idea? We'll never know. 

I found instagram, you guys.
I took the coffee sacks apart with my bare hands and kept every scrap*, like the true hoarder that I am. No but seriously, I just used the jute twine to bind it together. When my cat Joe isn't perched in a window, chirpin' at the entitled squirrels, he's rootin' around underneath the jute.

In other news, I'm seeing B.D. Wongs everywhere. Does he live in Boston? Someone Google that for me.

I bet he has a fantastic area rug in his home. Made of saxophones.

"I'm in your sweater boxes, just staring"
I'm jinxing the weather by putting away all my sweaters and wool socks. I dragged out our summer clothes and found that I vastly overestimated the amount of summer clothing we own. Or rather, I vastly overestimated the amount of fun, appropriate* clothing we have. 

But how many clothes does one actually need in the summer? Just a few summah shirts, I'm sure. 

We'll see.

*I'm actually keeping them for another project. Squee!

Friday, March 16, 2012

More Spend March

This isn't a surprise for anyone who knows me, but my no-spend March has already been both a giant failure and the most fun. I mean, the very first weekend after my declaration we bought a 6$ pizza. And then Jordan and I went on a spontaneous and awesome trip to NYC to see two of our best friends, other great friends and some of my former students. New York costs money to be sure, but our friends graciously hosted us and we got to experience some of the most awesome free things ever.

Living in a large city is something I think most people desire at some point in their lives. After living in Boston for the past 6 months, I've become accustomed to things like traveling by train and tour groups blocking my way into the 7-Eleven. Visiting New York (which is, to me, a vast wonderland of confusing train lines and wonderful Indian restaurants) reminded me of how lucky I am to have all of these amazing, free opportunities at my fingertips.

Anyways, as this blog is mostly focused on money, I have to say that every penny spent was more than worth it. What is the point of earning and saving if not to enjoy life?

Also, our hosts gave us two things that make our tiny frugal lives even more enriched: Hope taught me how to knit, and Chad let Jordan borrow Skyrim. These are two things that have made our lives so much sweeter the past few days.

In other news, my SAD study officially ended today. It may have been the great weekend I was coming off from, but the study doctors said that they believe I'm well. I gave back my watch and original light and I received an "open label" light to use for the next 6 weeks.

I'm going to miss my lil' Actiwatch.

Though I'm receiving a little bit of compensation for returning the items, I would've done the study for free. I really do feel that it pulled me from a lonely place. The new light they gave me is bright blue (almost blindingly blue) and I'm going to be using it as well. I also want to track my wake and sleep times. The doctor in charge of the study told me that SAD is sneaky; it starts with sleep that isn't restful. This causes later wake up times, throwing off the body's natural circadian rhythms. It's not easy to recognize it early on unless it is being looked for. This upcoming fall I will probably start keeping a wake/sleep diary to make sure I'm not slipping down again. I will also invest in a light. I think that it's totally worth it. 

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Swagbucks and No Spend March

You guys already know about Swagbucks*, so I won't bore you with the details of how it works. But I did want to let you know that my casual use of it has netted me 165 dollars in Amazon money. I imagine I make an extra 5 dollars a month just searching, so that's cool.

If you're not a member, you should be. That being said, my new favorite thing is the Bing Rewards. I used to do Club Bing and that was boring as heck. In fact, I only cashed in points for airline miles. I can never get that time back again.

They just changed to a new system, so go ahead and check it out already. For simply following directions** I was able to get enough credits for 100 xBox live points. There are a lot points flying around.

Bing searches are pretty much identical to Swagbucks searches (try to stay with me) and the point systems are different and award at different levels. Either way you can fund your various and sundry habits hobbies with little to no interest/work/bandwidth.

So that brings us to March. This month George and I have decided to make it one of those classy "no spend" months. We can obviously spend money on groceries, personal care items and bills. We make the rules here.

Here's why: we used to use a cash only system when Jord brought in cash tips from work. In fact, we literally*** used envelopes. Paper ones. It was a great system, but that's just not the best thing for us right now. Fortunately, Mint is my digital envelopes, if my envelopes reminded me about my upcoming student loan payments.

Mint recently reminded me that we spend a little over 200 dollars on entertainment, eating out and other things that aren't necessary.

We also spent a little over 150 on mystery shopping. We'll get this back, but we're not doing that this month. We may wait until I get paid to start again, and use that as a revolving budget for restaurant shops.

350 extra dollars this month would be fantastic, you know? And when I'm in the middle of it, a quick pizza purchase seems to make a whole lot of sense. And sometimes, it really does. But we're going to try to just put that stuff off for this one month. We'll see how it goes.

Either way, it's just the 1st. Things are looking up.

*Gotcha! Or also:
**Very simple. You do need to know how to read.
***Chris Traeger, anyone?