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Monday, October 11, 2021

Summer/Fall Summary 2021

I haven't blogged in a really long time!  We had some big projects that took many weekends.  We helped my cousin move out of her home of 35 years.  She's the last family member left to live in this house so it was rather daunting to get through the collection of items that a family picks up over so many years.  We did two yard sales, many trips to the dump, packed boxes, cleaned, painted, fixed things and finally the house sold this past weekend.  I'm sure for my cousin it was an emotional journey, for me it was more of a tactical one in getting her relocated and working through all the details.  

After our work was done on my cousins house we were ready for a camping adventure.  On the appointed day we ran late packing and getting our camper ready which included a trip to the store for a hitch part that was suddenly on another vehicle at another location!  We left so late we had to get Chick Fil A for supper, so late we couldn't even cook when we got to the campground which was only 45 minutes way.  As soon as we hit the highway I looked in the side mirror and noticed the side of our camper was pulling away a good 6 inches from the frame!  We immediately went back to mom's house, ate our CFA and began planning the rework.  It was less involved than what we did to the front of the camper 2 years ago but extensive enough that it took about 4 weekends of non-stop work to complete.  Suffice it to say, no camping trips in the camper yet this year, but, my friend Gina did have us up for a weekend in August where she rented a cabin for us on a weekend when our SUV was broken, it needed a new head gasket and that took three weeks to repair.  So we took our entire camping gear in the back of our pick up truck, on a day that was threatening to rain all day, and some how made it there with dinner and food for the entire weekend!

It's been a crazy summer/fall to say the least.  

Next we have to rebuild the floor of the camper.  We didn't finish it correctly the first time.  I won't go into the details just now, it's a tale of too many things to do and not enough time to get to them, but it can't be put off any longer.

We want to use our camper for spring break next year and our summer trip to Montana so we will be working hard to finish the floors this fall.  We also plan to redo all the furnishings and repaint inside, it should look pretty awesome when finished.

Thursday, May 27, 2021

2020-2021 School Year is OVER!

 After I wrote my last post, my third born decided to return to school so I guess she had about six weeks with her class.  My oldest held out until the last two weeks of school and then returned for special events, some of which stressed her out and gave her headaches but she enjoyed being with her friends.  So even though it means kids are home again and I'm balancing work from home with them here, I'm happy to have them back.  Looking forward to a fun summer!  Also, no trip to Texas this summer, a break in a 6 or 7 year tradition.  I might need to go on a Tex Mex bender in July to compensate.  I'll learn how to make homemade tortillas and Pork Asada.  

Saturday, May 15, 2021

2021 Garden Update

May 15th - finally got all the plants in the ground.  We waited this long because the nights had been in the 40's and this is the first point where it seems to be solid 50's at night for the next 10 days.  I had excellent success with my seedlings, much better than last year, credit goes to heat mat and wrapping the plant stand in plastic with a heater in the room keeping temps in the 80's.  Once the plants reached a point where I could begin hardening them, my husband suggested I turn off the heater so they could get used to 70 degree temps in the house which were closer to what they'd experience during the day once planted outside.  I'd say they spent about a month in the super humid 80's environment and then 2-3 weeks re-potted and waiting to go into the ground.  I thought I started my seedlings late by starting April 11th but it turns out to be perfect for this year.

I also had the incredible fortune of turning one purple sweet potato into enough plants that I did not need to buy any, but I had placed my order back in February to Filaree Garlic Farm so I called and asked them to switch it to Beauregard sweet potatoes.  They couldn't have been nicer and made the switch so now I have to figure out where to put 12 more plants when they arrive.

The following is a photo of my purple sweet potato plants grown from one - just one - purple sweet potato!  I may never need to buy slips again!


Wednesday, April 14, 2021

One kid pushed back into school!

They've been home for two quarters, in this time we've seen one major surge of coronavirus in this area which I covered in November/December.  The levels in our area appear to have fallen back to 5% as people are getting vaccinated.  I guess it's fair to say our quarantine is coming to an end.

Evie is the first to go back because she needs more reading time with her teacher than what I can provide.  Despite my best, or I should really say floundering efforts, she's not where I'd like her to be and I know she will benefit from being in school.  She was so excited to go back, up at 6:30 and promptly dressed in her best outfit, it is literally the first day of school all over again.  I'm really happy for her.

The others, well I'm sad to say Sam didn't do so well this past quarter.  He missed many assignments, there's been lots of debate over the how and why but regardless, the numbers don't lie.  I ordered new school pants, he grew out of the ones I bought for the school year, and they arrive on Friday so next week he goes back!

Charlotte has been a rock star in all this, and I don't say this to compare apples to oranges when it comes to my kids but the simple truth is she's more mature and has handled her work load well.  She wants to stay home and I'm of a mind to let her.

That leaves Violette, who also wants to stay home.  She gets her work done and her class is super full at school so I'm of a mind to keep her here.

We might have a 50/50 split for the remainder of the year.  I guess that's fine.  

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Ten Years of Travel

It's time to renew my passport!  I know that once I turn it in that I won't get it back.  I'm sad to say goodbye to some of these stamps, Japan and Paris are two fond memories.  For these more unusual trips, one never knows if they will happen again!  

Apparently 2011 was a BIG year for travel for me:

  • February 26th - went to Japan, had a layover that because the original flight left late, meant I had to spend the night in Japan!  They put us up in a hotel and gave us dinner.  For me it was so incredibly cool because I've always wanted to visit.  I spent hours the next morning walking through the airport and had a nice teriyaki lunch before boarding my flight to Vietnam.
  • After Vietnam, I went to Hong Kong and China for a few days.  Then back to Vietnam for a few more days and on my return to Hong Kong, while in the airport, I watched in horror as the tsunami coverage unfolded on every television in the airport.  I literally watched live coverage.  It was heartbreaking.  I then had to return through Japan because United would not change my ticket.  My flight was the first back into Japan after they were able to return to work.  It almost felt disrespectful to barge in right after a national tragedy but they were so polite and professional.  It was so tragic.
  • July 8th I went to Paris!  To date it's the only time I've gone and it was a trip I'll remember for the rest of my life.  I was actually pregnant with Violette at the time!  After Paris, we went to London!
  • In September I was back in Hong Kong and China 
Violette was born on 4/3/12 so I did not travel this year.

In 2013 I went to Asia in the spring and fall.  I also went to London in February and it was my last trip there as our client merged with their US office thus negating the need to return. I'm forever sad about that.

In 2014 I went to Asia in the spring.

Evie was born on 12/29/14 so I didn't travel in 2015

In 2016 I went to Asia in the spring and fall.  I was given a 10 year visa to travel into China!  It's funny that my passport was set to run out in 5 years but I think they only offered like 1 year or 10 year after you get through the shorter months of 1 month or 3 month.  I don't think they'd offer me another 10 year at this point given the cooled relations between US and China.

In 2017 I went to Asia in January.

In 2018 I went to Asia in October.

In 2019 I went to Asia in January.  The rest of 2019 was filled with Hong Kong people rioting so all trips were canceled.

In 2020, Covid-19 took over the entire year so there was no travel.

In 2021, who knows what will happen, it's still early!

In summary, I went to Asia 10 times, Paris once, England twice, had two babies, and experienced one international corona virus lock down.  Looking forward to the next 10 years!  

Sunday, April 11, 2021

2021 Garden started

With Mike gone for two weeks, I struggled just to keep the basics going and put off the seedlings until his return.  Now I've removed all live food from the pantry room to prepare the room to be in the 80's for the foreseeable future.

I've also wrapped the shelves in plastic to hold the heat in and seedlings are on a heat mat.  Now we wait for sprouts!

Here is a list of what is planted:

  • Purple tomatillo - 2
  • Anaheim peppers - 6
  • Zucchini - 2
  • Jalapeno - 4
  • Red Bell Peppers - 6
  • Butternut Squash - 6
  • Roma Tomatoes - 12
  • Beefsteak Tomatoes - 30
  • Yellow Squash - 3
  • Lavender - 2
  • Coleus - 2
I also have edamame and purple sweet potatoes on order and I plan to plant black beans in May.

Wednesday, April 07, 2021

Mike is Home!

 After two negative tests we are sure Mike did not catch the virus.  This despite being in a home with two Covid-19 patients, three times a day for seven days.  He wore two masks, one N-95 and was fastidious with hand washing.  Super thankful to have him back, but I also proved I can manage the kids for two weeks without him.  This was literally my first two weeks without him!  I've gone on many long trips over the years and left him alone.  It was interesting to be on the flip side.  He found himself doing the same thing I do when I get back from a trip, diving in to do whatever needs to be done!  

My cousin and aunt are getting better.  My cousin will probably need another 2-3 weeks to get her strength back, she was hit pretty hard with this virus.  Thankfully we have care takers in place to help with my aunt and some substitutes at school to help my cousin ease back into work.  

Friday, April 02, 2021

Mike was called in

We'd prepared ourselves by discussing our covid quarantine plan at length, it was simple, if one of us is exposed we live out of the camper.  My husband was undaunted by cold nights saying his sleeping bag is rated for 40 degree nights.

We got the call on March 24th, my cousin was too weak to help my aunt get out of bed and my aunt needed help getting out of bed and down the stairs so Mike left his classes at 11am and he's been over there three times a day ever since. 

We pretend he's on a long work trip.  I did plenty of trips over the years where I was gone 2-3 weeks but this is different.  The kids are stressed about Amanda's health and now Aunt Joyce's health, both are dearly loved family members.  This makes for lots of kid fights and picking, they can't seem to leave each other alone some days.  Yesterday I instituted a policy where you apologize to the family for disturbing the peace for yelling at someone, screaming, making obnoxious noises more than 5 times, bossing someone around, etc.  First apologize to the person you yelled at, then apologize to the family for disturbing the peace.  We spent considerable time on this over dinner last night, I can't say if it's helping or not.

On March 31st we found out Joyce had Covid but Mike tested negative.  I guess his mask worked!  He was in a covid house 3 times a day for 7 days and didn't get covid.  Fastidious hand washing and wearing a well fitted mask did the trick.  

By April 1st, care givers had been hired and began working.  Now we count day from 7 days from last contact, get Mike retested and then he can come home.  I wanted him to get a rapid test but he argued they are not as accurate and then all this separation could be for nothing if he still brings it home.  Well, it sucks to say the least because he will miss Violette's birthday and Easter.  I'm struggling with that but I'll be okay.

Last night temps dipped to 27 degrees.  Mike survived with a heater and his 40 degree sleeping bag.  He says he slept well but I don't think I'd be eager to try it.  I wonder if they make 0 degree sleeping bags?

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Covid Hits Close to Home - Again

This time it's my cousin, who takes care of my aunt who has dementia.  Last Monday we got the confirmation that my cousin was positive and it was too late to move my aunt because she had already likely been exposed, we also didn't have anywhere suitable to move her.  We're on constant standby should someone need to go to the hospital.  The plan is simple, if one of us (myself or husband) steps in to help and gets potentially infected, we will live out of our camper until we are covid-free.  

My cousin has a really bad case and so far hasn't needed medical intervention, but she's also extremely sick and isn't turning a corner.  We don't know when my aunt will get this, or if she already has, and if or when we might need to take one or more to an appointment.  I'm hoping my cousin can get approval for the antibody treatment but we'd need to do it in the next 2-3 days.

If my husband is exposed, he'd need to stay home from school where he's substituting for my cousin.  Our lives are so intertwined.  If I get exposed, then our kids who are currently doing school from home would need to go back to school with their dad, and that's if I don't manage to get them exposed in the process.  

This is a terrible illness for those with weakened immune systems.  

Usually this time of year I'd be dropping off consignments, prepping plants for our garden, and preparing for Easter.  My BFF wants to go on vacation but I can't commit to anything right now.  I'm numb to everything, just solely focused on my cousin, running errands for her and standing by.  

Saturday, March 06, 2021

Farmers to Families Food Box

I call it the church box because we pick it up at a local church but it's part of the Farmers to Family Food Box Program.  We've been getting this throughout February and it looks like they have funding to continue through March and April!  It's always exciting to see what will be inside.  The first few weeks were bags of chicken, followed by three weeks of ham and hotdogs, now we're back to chicken (rotisserie). 

The veggies are fun, one week we got four crowns of broccoli, the next a huge head of cauliflower, a bag of onions, kale, potatoes, and tomatoes!  Considering it's winter, I think some of the items are coming up from Florida, like the Roma tomatoes from last week's box.  It's been fun to find recipes to keep up with all the food, I'm not a big veggie person but I don't want waste anything.  The only items that have gone to waste are the foods that came in looking bad like the kale and a few onions. 

One week, I got so much cream cheese and sour cream I made a cheese cake!  The sell by date was about 3 weeks past by the time I realized I needed to use it up.  Another week I made an apple pie!  I feel like we're eating so well from these boxes.  It's foods I don't normally buy for the family but we do our best to incorporate them into our meal plan.  

Currently I have a huge surplus of apples (our neighbor gave a 10lb bag of apples to add to the 5lbs from the church box), two boxes of strawberries (making smoothies tonight), 10lbs of potatoes - and just got another 10lbs of potatoes from a school donation!  Liquid eggs two weeks in a row, we've had so many egg dishes!  I guess the only thing I'm really stuck on is what to use up the 20lbs of potatoes on!  I think next week I'll put stew and Shepard's pie on the menu.  

Friday, March 05, 2021

My Violette is Changing

In this past year she's shot up in height, I always said she's be the tall one, but when she started wearing her big sisters shoes, the ones her four years older sister wore LAST YEAR - even I was astonished.  She's turning 9 in a month and wearing 10/12's that her 12 year old sister (soon to be 13) just recently stopped wearing!  Sorry to say, big sister is going to be the shorty of the family, although hoping she gets a little taller then me.  At 5' 4", I will probably be the small Moma of the family, lol.

In addition to her sudden height, she's started talking like an older kid.  Today she announced that we really should have a bag ready for emergencies with flashlights, food, money, etc.  I lost count of what she was saying should be in the bag while I marveled at her train of thought.  

Just a year ago she despaired reading, now she's super anxious when she finishes a book and doesn't have another lined up.  I have two more in the mail that are taking FOREVER to get here.

She enjoys taking long walks!  Just a year ago she would get stressed out over a mile, now it's two miles and she's like can we keep going?  We get home and she's hardly phased.  I'm really happy to see this, there was a time when I thought she'd never get on board with walking - which is truly needed for big parks and stuff.

She takes showers and doesn't need help with anything!  I'm loving the independence.

She can unload the dishwasher and put almost everything away.  

I'm just overwhelmed by the sudden and continuous signs of her turning into a TWEEN!  I'm also so glad she's still doing some little girl things with Evie, they love to watch PBS all morning and play with toys together.  They both get their school work done in an hour and then the morning is theirs.  The older kids have more school work, so it's still the littles together.  I wonder what this means for Evie's growth?

Thursday, March 04, 2021

My Struggles with Spring

Cold, warm, cold, warm, repeat.  This is March.  Not quite cold enough for a winter coat.  One day so hot we are all in panic over wearing too much clothing, the next piling on hat's and gloves because it's in the 40's and windy.  

On the warm days I want to dive into the garden and get things growing, knowing I can't because it's still in the 30's at night.

Parks are open, but bathrooms are not. 

Oh the agony of early spring!

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Furlough Day

I like to put my furlough day right smack in the middle of the week.  Two days of work, off in the middle, then two days of work.  At first I wanted to work another job and make up the difference, but then I told myself when will you get another break?  I remember when I graduated from college and couldn't find a job in my field.  I only had an associate degree in Industrial Design, from the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, so it wasn't a very useful degree.  I quickly realized that employers were looking for bachelor degrees and found I could finish in Fort Lauderdale, but I needed to work a full year just to save enough money to get there.  That year I was very hard on myself, I took every freelance job I could find, and when I wasn't working, I was despondent about being stuck in Pittsburgh.  I wish I would have used that time to enjoy all the art museums, spend time at the amazing Carnegie library, visit the beautiful parks, and enjoy time with friends.  Instead I remember being so impatient.  I couldn't wait to get a full time job in my field, and then once I did, work hours averaged 50-60 in the first few years!  It finally got down to a manageable 40-45 hours in recent years but it took quite a bit of discipline.  Now I'm paid for 28 hours, which I spread over 4 days.  I do look forward to getting my full hours back some day, but expect it to take a year.  During this time I want to challenge myself to enjoy the time off and not panic about making up the difference.

Today I did the following:
  • Worked for one hour preparing consignments for an upcoming spring sale
  • Paid bills
  • Watered my plants
  • Ordered a plant warmer and purple sweet potato slips
  • Made cookies for Violette's class
  • Took kids to school in the afternoon to spend time with their teachers
  • Played Pokemon Go
  • Came home, made a latte, did a few dishes, read a book for an hour
  • Went to the library which just re-opened this week to check out more books, dad and the kids met me there on their way home from school and we enjoyed browsing together
  • Wrote this blog post
In the first month I would have a huge amount of anxiety on every furlough day, but lately I've been feeling happier and more relaxed.  I thought I might spend more time working on the house, but I think what I need is a few more relaxation days like today.

Tuesday, February 09, 2021

Random Tuesday Thoughts

Happy Random Tuesday!  The following is the most random thing I can think of at the moment.

My mom is in her mid-seventies and she gets hit with an unbelievable amount of junk mail.  We call anything that is not a bill junk mail.  She tries to get through it but after getting Covid last November she slowed down and it piled up.  It might have even piled up before then because she had over seven bags of mail in her spare room.  One day I asked if there was anything we could do to help and she asked if we'd go through her junk mail and shred the parts that could be recycled.  I told her it's an assigned kid chore and we'd be happy to help.

The kids feel like they've hit a gold mine, every letter seems to have a gift.  Apparently retirement is the age to get tons of charity requests, which is weird since retires are on a fixed income.  

In this picture we have found: money in the form of $1.00 bill and some change, playing cards, a stocking, tiny dream catchers, keychains, a CD, hundreds of address labels (grayed out for privacy), tons of notepads and shopping lists (LOVE THESE), travel toothpaste and toothbrush.  Not included in this photo is a pair of socks!  My oldest was happy to acquire these.  We now have 25+ calendars to choose from, sometimes the same company will send them twice!  It's been fun to go through the mail bags but I can see why it was getting overwhelming for mom.  Glad we can help her out!

Random Tuesday Thoughts

Monday, February 08, 2021

Sam's Club VS Costco

We've been Costco members since 2006.  We became members because I had a college class that took us on a field trip to the local Costco where the store manager gave a tour and told us she made over 100K in salary.  I believe this was to show us the variety of ways we could use our MBA upon graduation, prior to this tour I might have assumed a store manager would make 50-60K max.  As a side note, I dropped out of the MBA program after four classes when I realized it wouldn't benefit me at my job but that's a story for another day.  Anyway, she really sold me on the awesomeness of Costco, so much so that we've been members for 15 years and have only recently begun to question our membership.  

I recently began a Sam's membership to compare prices.  They offered $45 reimbursement in product, basically making the first year free because annual membership is $45.  

We've decided we cannot keep both memberships so the following is an exercise in determining which is the better option for our family.

Which warehouse is more beneficial in terms of distance?  

We live 3.6 miles from Sam's Club and 27 miles from Costco.

Conclusion - Sam's wins this easily.

Can we get the same products at Sam's and are prices comparable to Costco?

I don't know if Sam's offers the following yet, I consider them "extras" that were great deals but they are not part of the core reason we use a warehouse membership.

  1. Classic Lego set 1500pcs for $39.99 - this makes the price per brick $0.026 per piece.  On average, Lego's cost $0.104 per piece, so this is a pretty incredible deal for a Lego collector.
  2. 32 degrees tops and bottoms - bought in November with $3.00 off coupon for $12.99, I live in these during winter.  
  3. Kids clothing - over the years I've found great coats and mittens and usually from great name brands.  
  4. 3 storage containers for 11.99, making it basically $4 per container and these are 21 x 13 x 10", this is definitely something I've never found cheaper anywhere, except sometimes being given away free from a neighbor, just found 6 in January!  

    Costco is also great for gourmet foods, but we've recently begun to cut back on these so I don't think it matters as much if we can find them at Sam's
    1. Boom boom shrimp - an appetizer which I used to get at my favorite sea food restaurant Bonefish Grill.  It felt like we were saving by buying these and not eating out but they cost $13.99 per box for two servings.  I'm at the point now where if I want it badly enough I'll figure out how to make it myself. 
    2. Tikka Masala - this recipe takes two days to make from scratch so I prefer to buy pre-made, but not at the price of keeping a membership for one item.  I'll find an alternative.
    3. Chicken Taquitos - I can get the same brand at Walmart but haven't found at Sam's yet.  
    4. Madras Lentils - I'm going to try to recreate these myself.
    Outside of extra's and gourmet items, I narrowed down our monthly purchases to 24 items and of this list, only 3 items could not be found at Sam's.  When I compared the remaining items line for line, the differences was $16.70 more at Sam's.  

    Costco Membership is $60

    Sam's Membership is $45

    Hence they are basically at a break even point for me when only considering comparable cost of similar items.

    Gas prices - currently Costco in Frederick is $2.22 per gallon and Sam's Club is $2.33, our typical gas tank fill up is 27 gallons so we'd save $3.06 at Costco, but the 54 mile round trip would not make the savings worth the drive.

    Conclusion:  if we can live without the "extras" and gourmet items, we can probably make it work at Sam's.

    Is it really worth the money to still buy in bulk?  

    I've been under the illusion for 15 years that buying anything in bulk at warehouses equals savings.  When we first became members in 2006 this may have been true.  We lived in Fort Lauderdale and shopped at Publix or Winn Dixie until Aldi arrived in 2012.  In the early days I remember Aldi not having good produce, having a very small selection to the point of needing to shop at both Aldi and a main grocery store.  In the last two years, I've noticed Aldi has expanded their store footprint and has significantly increased their offerings so that I'm down to a handful of items needed elsewhere.  

    Recently I've started breaking down every item to see if it's worth buying in bulk and I've realized many items are not worth it.  For example:

    • 12 pack Tomato Paste $5.99 = $0.50 each at Costco
    • 1 Tomato Paste at Aldi - $0.29
    It's the same story with Nutella VS Aldi store brand, canned corn, canned green beans, unsalted cashews, butter sticks, cheddar, milk, eggs, etc.  The only reason to keep a membership is for the cheaper gas and any name brand products we are still buying.  Warehouses do tend to have much cheaper gas than local gas stations.  I use the Gas Buddy app to compare prices and in our area the typical savings is $0.15 - $0.18 from Sam's VS local.  

    Conclusion - warehouses are only worth it for gas and name brands.

    How does Costco credit card compare to Sam's?
    Sam's is better for gas, and if you are a Plus Member, which cost $100 per year, then you can get 3% back on purchases.  I'd say Costco has an edge on this area because they offer 2% back for the basic membership.  Sam's is really pushing their Plus Membership and you can only do their Optical and Pharmacy with this membership.  We use GeniusRX to get discounted prescriptions so I'm not concerned about Sam's holding out on their Pharmacy.  I've never had the opportunity to use Costco's optical so I cannot effectively compare the two.

    Conclusion - I'm happier to get 5% back on gas and get Sam's lower gas prices, I think this will pay for the membership price of $45 in less than six months.  

    Final conclusion - we've chosen to not renew our membership with Costco at the end of this month, thus ends a 15 year relationship.  If you're reading this Costco management, it's purely down to location and our frugal attitude to not drive 27 miles to get your awesome products.  We've also pared down our purchases of gourmet goods considerably so all your tasty treats are just a distraction from our end goals.  Trust me when I say we've truly loved being Costco consumers but it doesn't fit our lifestyle goals at this time.  I don't chose Sam's because it's better, it simply meets our basic needs at this time.

    This has really been an eye opener for me in terms of comfort level and familiarity with a store, Costco, and pushing myself to consider other options.  It's so easy and comfortable to say "this is the way we've always done things, no time to reconsider other options, etc". I feel like I've broken one more cycle of repetitive behavior that has cost us more than I had ever realized. I will miss Costco, but I feel at peace with canceling our membership at the end of this month.

    Tuesday, February 02, 2021

    Meatball Soup - Recipe updated

    I first made this soup 10 years ago when I had a 2 year old and baby!  A few things have changed, okay many things have changed, like twice as many kids and we now live in Maryland for starters!  We've been gardening since we moved here and some of my ingredients are now based on what we grow and how we freeze/can it.  

    The original recipe is HERE.

    Updated recipe:

    • 3-4 gloves finely sliced
    • 1 cup of celery (can be frozen or fresh)
    • 1 carrot finely chopped
    • 1/2 yellow onion diced
    • Small drizzle of oil
    Sauté these ingredients together for 5-6 minutes taking care to not burn the garlic.
    • Beef Broth - 1 quart (chicken broth will work just fine)
    • Tomatoes - 1 quart bag frozen (which is simply tomatoes with skin removed in hot bath then frozen), this would equal a 28oz can if bought in store (use fire roasted for extra kick)
    • Zucchini sliced or pureed - 1 quart bag frozen (alternative would be one fresh zucchini, at least 1lb) - I found that pureed makes a thicker soup broth
    • 1-2 cups of corn (frozen or fresh)
    • 1 teaspoon basil  
    Add these to the sauté and simmer for 4 hours, about 30 minutes before serving, sauté 1/2 a bag of Italian meatballs or 1lb if you're being precise, then add to the soup.  

    Monday, February 01, 2021

    Homemade Chai Tea

    There are many Chai recipes online, but my contribution is the addition of turmeric root.  This lovely yellowish orange spice boasts of many medicine properties and has been used in Indian food for thousands of years.  I personally suffer with very sensitive skin in the winter, so I was pretty happy to discover this has anti-inflammatory effects and is a very strong antioxidant, both of which are very much needed during the winter!  I'm so excited about turmeric that I want to grow it and make my own spice powder.  I can just imagine it in small jelly jars.  

    Recipe for Chai Tea brew:

    • Ginger Root - 1 inch with skin removed
    • Whole Cloves - 1 Tablespoon
    • Cinnamon Sticks - 2
    • Whole Cardamom Seeds - 1 Tablespoon
    • Whole Allspice - 1 Tablespoon
    • Turmeric - 1 root with skin removed (they are about 1-2" long)
    • Water 3 pints
    Simmer on medium heat for 30 minutes, the idea is to simmer it down to one quart.  Once it's reached one quart, turn off the heat and add two large iced tea bags.  Let this sit for at least 30 minutes.  Strain the spices and remove tea bags.  This should finish as one quart of Chia Tea. Sometimes it's one quart + one cup which is nice because then I can drink one cup right away and still feel like I have a full jar for later.

    I buy ginger and turmeric in bulk and freeze it.  Microwave for 10 seconds to thaw and then peel.

    To make Chai Tea:
    • 1/2 cup of chia tea brew
    • 1/2 cup Vanilla Oat Milk
    • Add honey or preferred sweetener (currently loving raw honey)
    It's great cold or hot but my preference is hot.  

    I've been experiencing with reusing the seeds (cloves, cardamom, allspice) and cinnamon sticks for a month now with no noticeable change to the flavor or intensity.  Once a week I brew a new batch, dry out the seeds and sticks, and use it again the following week.  

    I try to make iced tea at the same time so I can reuse the tea bags in the iced tea at least once.  Then they go into the compost.

    The turmeric and ginger roots go into the compost after one use.

    I realized that making Chai once a week was resulting in our compost smelling much better!  But I was also concerned about rebuying spices so frequently so that's what prompted the testing of reusing spices.  I might try bigger batches, but I have limited fridge space and I really don't like the taste of iced tea when it's sat out for 2-3 days.  I guess what I'm trying to say is don't be afraid of experimentation. Chai is a forgiving and meditative experience to drink and make.  

    Monday, January 18, 2021

    Mindful Changes

    2020 was a tough year for the toy industry, I could tell early on that business was slowing down for the toy company I work for, international clients were closed for large portions of the year, new development pushed out to 2022, it didn't take a genius to see the writing on the wall.  We redid our personal budget in April and saved as much as we could possibly save while reducing our spending in every single category in anticipation of a salary cut.

    In November 2020, I received notice that my salary would be reduced 30%, we were already living well below that number so we felt prepared to weather the storm.  I was advised to expect this to last for at least a year.  While it's hard to give up that much salary which means no savings for IRA's and less savings, I've gained an extra day off per week.  At first I wanted to make up the difference by finding other work, but in November my mom got sick with Covid, and while she did recover, she's still regaining her strength.  I found myself less motivated to find replacement work and used my day off to help her with errands and to work with the kids on their at home lessons while also getting all of us ready for Christmas.

    This year I've been reading multiple financial books to see if I've missed any possible detail in our number crunching and I'm pleased to say we've done quite well.  I've been reading Frugalwoods and signed up for her January spending challenge, so far I haven't read anything new but I do find it inspiring to be reminded every day on saving money.

    I think we're down to what I'd like to call "mindful changes" which are:
    • Working with the light off in front of a window that provides adequate light - I'm a total light hog, I don't like dark rooms, I turn the light on to walk down the hallway, etc.  Today I'm working with the light off, hoping to cure myself of my desire of super bright rooms.  My room has five very long windows, but it's January and overcast so it feels a bit shadowy.  
    • Shorter showers - that's a tough one, I love long showers every single day.  
    • Heater set at 65 - my preferred setting is 70, today I've added a lap blanket and am feeling quite cozy.  We keep the house thermostat at 67, but with my office/bedroom having 5 huge windows it's always a bit chilly in here.
    • Using less butter - I actually wrote a post about butter because I was so shocked at how much we were consuming, my baking habit got a bit out of control!  I'm working hard at keep it to one box per week and proud to report I've stuck with that so far.  
    I'm not expecting huge changes to our bills, but every little bit helps.

    Other areas I plan to tackle are:
    • Sam's Club VS Costco - on my next day off I'd like to go to Sam's Club to see if we can get everything we enjoy at Costco.  I've recently narrowed down the items I get at Costco, removing bulk butter, green beans and canned corn because they're cheaper at Aldi.  It's funny how we can get into habits just because we've done it that way for years and it takes a scrupulous willpower to go through every purchase line by line.  
      • Reasons for trying out Sam's Club - the annual membership is $20 cheaper and they are local whereas we drive 30 minutes to get to Costco, so even though we've narrowed it down to going every two months, it's still a drive we might not need to make if we can switch to Sam's Club.
      • Costco has a credit card with great money back rewards, but I want to see if we can find something that offers better rewards elsewhere.  I can't blindly accept it's the best card just because it impressed me three years ago.
    • Cell Phones - we are switching from Cricket to Tello - savings $32 per month for the same coverage, the only trick is husband needs to get a new phone that works on the Sprint network so researching options.
    • Pre-made foods - we buy many pre-made foods for lunches and sides and I'd like to replace these with more homemade and/or healthy options
      • Frozen Costco pizzas are $2.00 per pizza
      • Appetizers/Sides - Taquitos, Jalapeno Poppers, Mozzarella Sticks, Cheesy Broccoli, Madras Lentils
      • Kid lunches - Pierogis, chicken nuggets, pizza rolls
      • Canned beans - replacing all with dried beans
    Last year we cut back on dining out, which was easy because we couldn't eat in restaurants due to Covid-19 so we just had to cut back on take-out.  After comparing our annual food expenses to 2019, I was aghast to see we only saved on average $20 per month on food (including dine out) in 2020, I really thought we'd done better than that.  I think we ate more pre-made foods to make up for not dining out.  This year we will beat the 2020 number as we work towards "mindful changes" in all purchases.

    In summary, just because we managed to live on a budget within the 30% lower salary isn't a reason to slack off on ways to save money.  We want to increase our savings despite the salary situation and that means cutting out all unnecessary expenses.  What if a bigger salary cut comes through, well, I'd probably end up taking another day off and definitely getting a second job!  Or what if this salary cut isn't rectified?  Regardless, I remain optimistic this year will improve once people worldwide can get the vaccine, then things should slowly start going back to normal - until the next calamity!  I guess that's optimism with a dose of prepper mentality.

    Tuesday, January 05, 2021

    Random Tuesday Thoughts

     Hello to the first Tuesday of the new year!  I stayed home with my brood, as I have for the past three days.  I haven't even walked the dog due to bad weather or husband getting home at 5pm and I hate walking after dark.  

    On Sunday I ran out of espresso, this is like a really big deal for me.  The only times in my life that I go without an espresso in the afternoons are when I'm sick or in China.  Regardless, I've shown incredible restraint and still stayed home to focus on getting the kids back into virtual learning and myself back to virtual work.  Husband came home today and proudly presented a bag of espresso and you'd have thought it was Valentines day already!

    Prior to husband's grand entrance I decided to make due with this old can of Cafe Du Monde, it tasted like dirt, I was so confused, then I checked the bottom of the can and it's expiration date is 12/23/19.  

    So I switched to tea.

    That's all I got for today, but I am excited to rejoin Stacy's Random Tuesday Thoughts which she has faithfully kept going for a very long time.  Stacy, if I had a glass, right now I would toast you for your wonderful consistency.  

    Monday, January 04, 2021

    2021 Amaryllis

    For the past two or three years my uncles from Pittsburgh would come down to visit us in the spring and fall.  Each time they bring an amaryllis for all of us.  This past year, due to the coronavirus, they sent a care package to me of six bulbs and a gift card to purchase pots and dirt then distribute them to each family member.  It was my absolute pleasure to do this.  Now my bulb has finally bloomed!  This is also my dad's favorite flower and it's his birthday month so this is like the loveliest gift for me.

    Sunday, January 03, 2021


    I may have overdone it on the butter.  Last weekend Mike bought two boxes, I've gone through both and almost did a panic run for more today but it was sleeting outside.  

    Today's lunch menu was the following:

    • Spiral Ham - no butter
    • Cornbread Casserole - one stick
    • Butternut Squash Casserole - one stick in the casserole and 2 tablespoons in the topping, I ran out right before making the topping and had to put this in the fridge for another day 
    • Mashed Potatoes - the back up dish from not serving the Butternut Squash, but still required butter so used the spreadable kind
    • Green Beans - no butter
    • Shells and Cheese - no butter
    Where did all the butter go?  I know yesterday I made more awesome pumpkin scones which take 1.5 sticks of butter.  Prior to that I have no clue.  We must use butter sticks with obscene frequency.  I should probably cut back, but it is a Covid-19 year.  We need butter laden comfort food!

    Saturday, January 02, 2021

    Lemon Bread

    Lemon bread is perfect when I need a break from squash, chocolate, spice, and other fruit breads.  This recipe is very light and fluffy and not at all dense like a pound cake.

    I probably use an excessive amount of lemon compared to most lemon bread recipes but I really want to taste it!  I love juicing fresh lemons and getting that heavenly smell in the kitchen.

    Wet Ingredients:

    • 3 large eggs
    • 1 cup granulated sugar
    • 1 cup plain whole milk yogurt (Greek is also fine)
    • 1/2 cup canola or vegetable oil 
    • Juice of 1 lemon squeezed and strained (I know this can produce more or less depending on the lemon size but I haven't found it makes a difference)
    • 1 teaspoon lemon extract 
    Mix above together in medium bowl.

    Dry Ingredients (in Kitchen aid or large mixing bowl):
    • 2 cups flour
    • 2 teaspoons baking powder
    • 1/2 teaspoon salt
    Add wet ingredients to dry and mix until just combined.

    This recipe makes one 9 x 5" pan and one mini loaf pan 5 x 3".  I had considered cutting back the recipe but the mini loaf is so special and tender.  Maybe I should just do 4 mini loaves!  I buy loaf pans from Williams Sonoma and they sell a four pack of the minis.  The goldtouch pan make exceptional bread.

    After putting the mixture halfway full into each loaf pan, bake the mini for 30 minutes at 350 and the regular size for 50 minutes.

    • 1 cup confectioner sugar
    • 3 tablespoons lemon juice, strained
    • 1/2 teaspoon lemon extract
    Wait until bread has cooled then pour icing over tops, use a knife to gently pull bread away from the sides of the loaf pan and drizzle down the sides.  I keep my bread in the loaf container and cover with foil or put in a plastic cake saver.  

    Friday, January 01, 2021


    Happy New Years!  Today was a nice relaxing day spent at home.  It was raining outside with the forecast of freezing rain.  I don't go anywhere when it's freezing rain.  Once, when I was a teenager, it was freezing rain after two weeks of being snowed in.  A friend begged me to come over, said the roads would be fine and convinced me to give it a try.  My dad didn't say no, but strongly warned me to not try it.  I went anyway and slid out of the driveway and into a ditch on the other side of the road.  Classic.  My dad didn't tell me I told you so, he just got to figuring out how to get my car out and I stayed home.  Since then I stay parked at home when it's freezing rain.

    Thankfully we have all that we need and had no need to go anywhere.  For our New Years celebration we made:

    I also made my favorite Lemon Bread for breakfast.  January is a month where I don't have any assigned fruit or veggie to cook with so it's time to bring back the classics for a few weeks.  

    Post meal we launched The Two Towers disk 1.  It's alot to get through with four kids and we do an intermission mid-way for dessert.  I think most of them are enjoying it but they did seem to respond better to the Hobbit movies.  It's fun to have epic movie nights and my brother has been been coming over to enjoy them with us.

    I feel like I should say something poignant about how we are going to make this the best year and yada yada go team but I'm feeling really mello these days, and a little bit melancholy.  I really do hope and pray for the best but we're still in the midst of Covid-19 with the future feeling very uncertain.  I'd just like to say I'm super thankful for family right now and we are doing our best to make the most of our time together, with those we have left.