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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.