Monday, October 01, 2012

When the Going Gets Tough...the Tough Go Trashpicking

It's garbage "amnesty week" here in my corner of the world, which means it's essentially sanctioned garbage picking week.  I am always watching curbs and trash piles for something I can use, so this is like Christmas in comparison. 

Actually, it's almost exactly like Christmas because a large percentage of the things people throw out are Christmas related.  Yesterday I picked up a pre lit tree (I'm not sure if it works, but that's okay, I can put new lights on.  I also picked up a little miniature tree to put on the buffet; it was in a fancy little urn and also had lights and pine cones.  At one house I found a bonanza of 7 evergreen wreaths.  I snipped off the old greenery and now have 7 wreath forms available to make new wreaths with.  (These cost $5 or more to buy new).  Some of them had stands (I'm suspecting this collection was either a display or came from the cemetary :-) which Mr. Knitty will reuse for his Halloween display.

I picked up an expanding file to augment my rapidly-filling one, a brand new blank book I needed to keep my financial records in, a pretty crackle-glass candle holder, a stuffed animal "tree" (a stick in a stand with elastics attached with staples; you put the animals through the loops to store them), a big binder, a watering can, three novels, three books about trees, a Santa Claus jello mold, two plastic Christmas thingies (does anyone else remember the ones that were like little blops of plastic melted together?  You hung them up and the light shone through), a basket of faux poinsettias, three foam wreath forms, a string of 6 lighted candy canes, four basketballs, a nerf football, an embroidery hoop, a length of pink fabric, a brass plate stand, two pieces of statuary for Maggie's garden, a wooden Father Christmas, a few flower pots, a wooden shamrock on a stick, a wooden plaque with a fish shape cut out that says "the one that got away", and a really cool big light-up spider web decoration for the window. 

I'm sure it comes as no surprise to many that people throw out things simply for want of a screw, a glob of glue, or a touch of paint.  Some people toss out things in perfectly good condition that they just don't need anymore.  This says much of our excess both in purchasing and in gift giving.  While I'm a huge fan of gifting, it seems that there is a huge industry of "gift ware" that is essentially inoffensive generic gifts, for people you want to give something to but have no idea why!  A few of these pieces make for good decor, but a lot of it makes for garage filler.  In any case, I'm happy to scoop them up and have a few "dust catchers" :-)

I wonder if the neighbors down the street have driven by my house and seen my spider web decoration in the window.  If they have, I wonder if they scratched their heads and thought "hey that didn't work anymore...that's why we threw it out!"  Only half of it lit, but that's just because it was missing a bulb.  An extra bulb (from one of the wreaths I dismantled) made the whole thing work (and made my daughter very happy that we had "Halloween lights").

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

5 Meals, One Chicken

This is a plan for making 5 simple, nutritious meals using one chicken plus pantry items.  The chicken is the only meat.  These meals feed three people plus enough for leftovers (or a surprise guest).  I purchase a 4-5 lb. chicken at Aldi for about $4-5.  I keep it in the freezer until I'm ready to cook it.  On a day that I'm home, I put the chicken in the oven at 325 and cook it about 4 hours (I don't thaw it first).  Depending on the time I have and my mood, I sometimes place the roasted chicken right in the fridge in its cooking pot.  Other times I pull all the meat off then while it's hot.  It's easier to remove the meat when it's hot.

Day One, I slice one side of the chicken breast (or shred it, depending!).  I put pieces of rye bread down on a baking sheet, spread them with pesto sauce or ranch dressing, lay the pieces of chicken on top, cover the top with swiss cheese, sprinkle with paprika, and place under the broiler on low for about 8-10 minutes.  Obviously you can change the cheese, seasoning, or spread, but the basic formula remains the same.  Half a good-size chicken breast will make 4-5 sandwiches.

Day Two, I chop up the other side of the chicken breast and use it for chicken pot pie.  I never liked chicken pot pie because I always had frozen ones.  Homemade is much better and not much harder.  I line a pie pan with premade pie crust (the rolled kind from the refrigerator section; they taste better than the frozen ones).  I put chicken, a can of mixed vegetables, and about 2-3 cups of white sauce.  I make my white sauce from scratch, but if this is a hurdle for you you could use 2 cans of condensed cream soup (cream of mushroom, cream of chicken, etc).

Day Three, I use the meat from the legs and thighs for chicken tacos (or enchiladas).  My daughter doesn't care for standard taco seasoning, so I use a seasoning from Penzey's called Arizona Dreaming.  It provides a nice flavor that she enjoys also.  Depending on what I have, we also put black beans, grilled veggies, avocado, tomato, lettuce, and/or cheese on them.

Day Four, I place the chicken carcass and all of the bones I've been picking into the pasta insert for my big pot.  I fill it with water and boil it for several hours.  I get nice clear soup because I can simply lift the pasta insert out of the broth and it takes all the bits of chicken and stuff with it.  I then pick through this and usually can get close to a cup of meat out of it.  Sometimes I put this meat in the broth and make chicken or chicken-vegetable soup.  Other times, I freeze this meat and use it for quesadillas, or for a small meal for just me and my daughter.  If I save up this "extra" meat from two rounds of chicken, I have enough for an extra meal for all of us.

This provides us with a lot of flexibility and makes budgeting much easier.  I spend much less on groceries than I did in the past.  I also never have to wrestle with a raw chicken (I never quite got the hang of that, and plus I feel like my kitchen is germy afterward).  I pick my frozen chicken and just go from there.  I never have to worry it's spoiling on me because it waits for me in the freezer.

Sometimes we have the roast chicken for dinner the night I make it, which will still give you multiple meals, but probably more like 3.

For an even easier version, you can get several meals from a pre roasted chicken that you can buy at the deli.  These chickens are smaller, and you pay a premium for having it cooked, but if you only cook for one person it might get you almost as much mileage.  The soup made from a well seasoned rotisserie chicken carcass is delicious!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

On Being Home

The last time I posted to this blog, I had a job I loved and I had no idea that in less than a week I was going to be told my hours were being cut and the conditions of the job would become untenable.  I had no idea that I would choose to stay home rather than find another job.  I had no idea at all.

It has certainly been a period of adjustment.  In a world where most people have two incomes, our income and a half meant that we were pretty thrifty to begin with.  I didn't imagine we could make it on less without drastic changes.

So far, however, it's been okay.  I had always heard that working costs money.  While I agreed with the theory, I figured it didn't apply to my situation.  After all, I only drove 10 miles a day so I didn't really have a commuting cost.  I ate my lunch at mom's and I didn't need a professional wardrobe.  Most significantly, my mom did my childcare and so that was free as well.  Oddly enough, however, I realized there were costs I didn't realize were creeping in.  Since I was spending 5 hours a day in a job where I didn't always have 5 hours of work to do, I did a lot of shopping.  Browsing online gets expensive, even when you are really really good at finding the best deal.  Having friends who make lovely things makes you visit places like Etsy and end up buying lovely things.  Finding hobbies like Blythe dolls costs a lot of money as well.

Since I didn't work that many hours, I didn't figure I was really subject to things like "you end up relying on convenience foods and restaurants".  But I was, and way more than I thought.  Even though I didn't work too many hours, I got home at the same time as my husband and I was HUNGRY.  Usually it was much easier to say "screw it, we'll go out" than to prepare something.  That also meant we wasted a lot of food, as I always bought enough on the weekends to prepare dinner every night, and then we would go out and not use it.

In addition, my reduction in hours pushed me to finally check out Aldi.  Let me tell you, I am a convert.  I can buy a week's worth of groceries for less than half what I'd pay for the same items at a regular store.  I can afford to buy a few convenience foods, which are good for those nights you'd rather go out.  And there are far less temptations like fancy cheese, the deli counter, etc.  The food is basic and simple but good.  I can do more than 90% of my shopping there, and I have only found one item I don't care for that I regularly buy.

So now that I'm home, I can more easily organize my shopping, cooking, and preparation so that we have dinner on the table every night.  I am able to keep up on my cleaning.  I am able to keep up on my garden.  I had to give up my gym membership, but I have found that I am actually losing weight because I am not spending 15 hours a week with my butt in a chair......and then plopping down when I get home because I'm so mentally exhausted from the boredom.  I feel like I found a new reserve of energy somewhere.  And I found I don't really need that gym membership after all.  Cleaning, gardening, home projects, and walking Maggie to school is all the exercise I need!

In short, I'm doing okay.  I am angry at the people I worked with for treating me like a number rather than a human being.  But I am mostly over it, and I believe they actually did me a favor.  I am happier and less stressed, even with the cut in pay.  I have time to be more creative in coming up with solutions like thrifting and cooking.  Heck now I can make 5 meals from one chicken!  Now that is an accomplishment.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Take THAT, JCPenney

So, back in February, JCP rolled out a "new" pricing plan.  No longer would they have sales or coupons.  Now everything would be at a constant price until it was permanently marked down.

People like me, who shop with a coupon, who carefully compare prices, and who enjoy the thrill of the bargain hunt, hated it.  I personally haven't been in JCP since mid January when I used my last $10 off coupon.

People who don't care about coupons, who can't be bothered to watch for sales, who just want to get X item right now thought this pricing strategy was genius.

Everyone made much of the concept of "marking up to mark down".  Yes, JCP had ridiculous prices on their  merchandise, and then a big "percent off" that would bring it down to a more reasonable price.  I understand that.  The theory is that the "new" structure would eliminate that, giving each item a fair price right out of the gate. 

Problem is, they used the opportunity to mark up the eventual price by a few dollars, and did away with some of their best deals in the process. 

JCP wants you to believe that under their old pricing structure, they'd take a $50 shirt and offer it for 30% off ($35), and under their new pricing structure, the shirt would be $35, plain and simple.  Problem is, what they did was take that shirt that would have been $35, and make it $38.  Now it LOOKS like the shirt is offered at a lower price to begin with, and they can argue that the shirt is worth $38 forever and ever and ever amen.

But in the past, they'd offer that $50 shirt at 30% off and then mail you a coupon for $10 off, making the eventual cost only $25.  Or the following week they'd offer the $50 shirt at 60% off ($20).  Hmmmm.  When compared to their worst sales, the new pricing structure is grand, especially if you can't be bothered to wait for a sale.  But if you DO wait for sales, JCP gives you nothing now.   It won't matter if you wait; that shirt will be the same price. 

My first stop when shopping at JCP was the clearance racks.  Yes, I realize that at 70% off, the clearance was only a shade less than the 60% sale.  However, 70% off of a $20 item is still a significant savings, and if you have a coupon, guess what, it's free.  You can pick up two of them for a total of only $2.  Tell me how that is MORE expensive than a "fair" price of $15 to begin with?

I read an article today that claimed consumers prefer being shafted to getting an actual fair price.  That they want to FEEL like they're saving money, and the actual savings doesn't matter.  Bullshit.  I only ever shopped at JCP when I had a $10 coupon.  I would frequently pick up a blouse for $2 or a workout outfit for $6.  I often had to pick up a second item in order to make the $10 purchase minimum!  At the change of the seasons, I would find tons  of great shirts for my husband for less than $10---sometimes I'd  come home with 2 shirts for $4 after the discounts and my coupon.

You want "fair", JCP?  You can't shaft me, because I am smarter than you.  You lost all my business!  

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Party Favors--super bargain!

My daughter is in preschool, and they are celebrating the summer birthdays during the month of May so the kids get a chance to have their birthday in school.  The "approved treats" list is very restrictive, and kind of expensive.  Special allergen-specific brands and prewrapped treats; nothing homemade.  So I decided to make goody bags. 

It's been a while since I made goody bags I suppose because as I looked at the aisles of "theme birthday" merchandise at my local party shop, I was shocked.  Favors were never really high quality, but these were total junk---and for $3 for a package of 12.  I'd have to buy 2 packages so that's $6 just for one item; and I'd need several per bag.   Plus, the "value" packs were nothing such; the individual items were 25 cents apiece loose and the same price in a value package.  As I wandered the store and brainstormed, I saw boxes upon boxes of things back in the Halloween costume area in the back--boxes marked "50 cents each, orange stickers only".

Well, most of the items didn't have a sticker, but clearly (since there were several lines worth of merchandise, all shopworn packages and jumbled together) these were supposed to be discounted in some way.  I rooted through boxes under the tables and found packages of Backyardigans stuff.  Some of the packages were worn, but I'm taking the things OUT of the packages anyway!  50 cents for 12 pieces of plastic junk is much more acceptable.

I loaded up my basket, deciding to make treat boxes for her actual birthday party as well:  3 packages of 8 mini frisbees, 2 packages of 12 pencils, 3 packages of 8 yoyos, 2 bags of 12 mini crayon boxes, a special baseball hat for the birthday girl, and a package of assorted card games (there was only one package of 10, so those will be for the regular party not the class).  I even got special little Backyardigans treat boxes so they will be extra special.

I took my basket up to the front and explained that while they did not have orange stickers, they were clearly meant to be discounted.  They rang up full price.  I persevered, saying since I had to dig under the table, they must be discounted.  The clerk asked for a manager who said they didn't get the stickers on the stuff yet, and it was 50 cents for everything.  They had to get another manager to override the prices (which was fine with me).

All in all, I got enough to make 24 themed treat boxes for only $8.66 including tax.  The items originally rang up over $30. 

I'll call that a success!

Friday, April 20, 2012

Hand Me Down Event Tote Board

For me:
1 tank top
4 pairs of shorts (this is huge, I didn't have 4 pairs of shorts when I was skinny)
1 pair of jeans
1 fine gauge sweater
1 chunky cotton sweater
1 super stretchy tank dress
1 stretchy work top
2 pairs of workout pants
2 skeins of chunky worsted yarn
5 balls cabled cotton yarn
1 small cone of unusual art yarn
2 framed pictures
1 original watercolor
1 seen-better-days-purse that I got to salvage zippers and buckles

For Peanut:
1  Hanna Andersen tunic
4 yards of floofy pink chiffon (will be a skirt someday)

For Mr. Knittykat:
1 never-worn shirt in his unusual size, in purple!

For my friend Jess who couldn't make it to the event:
1 black dress skirt
1 cone of black wool cobweb yarn

Things that didn't work and I will pass on:
1 pair of black work pants that are too short
1 coral colored tshirt which is too short
1 winter jacket for Peanut with a broken zip
1 black dress which may hit the sewing table for modifications

Out of all that stuff, that's pretty impressive success rate.  And all of this fits right out of the bag--a couple things are missing a hook and eye or something like that, but nothing needs major alteration.  I'm thrilled!  A few new tshirts and I am totally set for summer!

Monday, March 26, 2012

A Tale of Two Chairs

I love vintage furniture. I have always had a fascination with mid century modern stuff, which is enjoying a resurgence right now. Of course this makes it look like I'm just one of the herd, when truth is I liked it well before it became fashionable (oh yes, hipster statement, and no I'm not a hipster LOL).

Due to the fashionability of it, mid-mod is PRICY. My family was never inclined towards mid-mod, but they bought good solid furniture that lasted forever and they never threw anything away.

Ergo, slowly I am rescuing pieces of not-really-mid-mod-but free and bringing them in to the 20th century. I decided I was tired of Ikea and what a treat it is to move to actual WOOD.

A while back, I needed a chair or two for our guest/craft/sitting room. All that Grandpa's house yielded was a couple of gold-and-venge tufted and caned um.."beauties". But the springs were good, the wood was solid, and most of the caning was in good shape.

I took one apart and made an enormous mess of my living room. I replaced the upholstery on the seat and on the back. I painted the chair and the caning with aqua blue. It hardly looks like the same chair anymore.

While I was working on that one, my daughter and my cat developed a fondness for the OTHER one, you know, the one that was still gold and venge and tufted and...euch. Miao lays in the little depression in the seat just like Grandma's little dog used to. I have not yet been able to refurbish it. And frankly, when I want to sit in one of them, I end up in that one too.

So right now they sit next to each other; a living "before and after". I'm not sure if I'm going to refurbish the second one or what I'll do to it. I'm considering painting it black and putting a black printed upholstery on it. Right now, I'm not doing anything.