Monday, February 28, 2011

Grandpa's birthday

My grandfather turned 91 years old this past week. This weekend, my family gathered at his and my grandmother's home (grandma is 86) to celebrate with a feast of soups and chili, cold cut sandwiches, salads and of course...cake.

It's an amazing feat to turn 91. My grandfather, actually starting last year, has expressed every year since then that he cannot believe that he has made it to his current age. He talks of how his own father passed away at 86 years of age and how he never fathomed living to see 91 years old.

While this is a subject that my grandfather finds so unbelievable (and it is!), a subject that I find  even MORE unbelievable when I think of my grandma and grandpa is all of the technological advances and changes that they have experienced in their lifetime. Included in these changes, is the notable difference in consumerist patterns.


My grandmother and grandfather, offspring of German immigrants, grew up during the Depression Era. As we all know, these were especially hard times. From stories I've been told, my grandfather grew up in a poor family. He did not have the money to go to school and had to be working when he was young. Education is something he finds very important for his grandchildren. When he finally met my grandmother, they decided to get married and have a family of their own. At that time, he also did not have the money to purchase his own farmland. Luckily, my grandfather was able to obtain some land from my grandmother's family and finally, years later, was able to purchase a farm of his own. Despite my grandfather's lack of schooling, I've been told that he was a most excellent and wise farmer. I've heard my father reminisce in the past about the amazing farming skills and knowledge that my grandfather possessed. Rightly so, as he and my grandmother successfully raised five boys and, by the time I came around, my grandfather had a huge farm that he maintained and yes, owned.

Occasionally, my family and I chat and poke fun at the habits that my grandmother and grandfather have when it comes to saving and reusing things. It is not meant to be negative, but I frequently think of it as our own lack of understanding as to just how difficult things must have been for them at times and how little we can actually relate.

Dad as a youngster.
My grandma and grandpa must have been amazing when it came to spending, not out of desire like myself, but out of necessity. I frequently ask my father to recount stories previously told to me about the way he grew up. Candy and sweets, something I consider an almost obligatory and unquestionable part of childhood, were not a regular part of my father's childhood. Instead, trips to a bakery, once a month I believe, were made where they lined the bed of a truck and shoveled all of the day old baked goods into the bed. Later, they would sort these baked goods at home between what was salvageable and what wasn't. They relished in the sweet breads that were edible and that was likely all the sweets they had. Of course, my dad did not grow up with a television, (I don't have one out of choice), and if I remember correctly, one was finally purchased when he graduated from high school. Plumbing? Nope. Yes, in the cold Minnesota winters, an outhouse was in use. I believe that my grandmother churned her own butter and also made her own soaps. My grandmother was also a seamstress and I imagine that many of my father and his brothers' clothing was handmade.

Grandma and I
Despite the few giggles that my family and I share about my grandmother and grandfather's habits at times, I ultimately think of my grandparent's as the ultimate frugal beings. Yes, perhaps some of their habits are odd to my family and I, but I can only imagine that so many years of practicing these habits, always preparing for the worst - the crop that is destroyed by storms, necessary machinery unexpectedly breaking down, cattle falling ill -  makes them very difficult to break. Just in the same way, my spending habits are equally as hard to break. I am most certain, that I could stand to learn some of the skills my grandmother and grandfather possess. This blog is for grandma and grandpa, strong survivors of the times - through and through.

Do you have any relatives with whom you can relate this story? What are their stories? What could you learn from them?

It's Monday and life is beautiful - song!

Goldfrapp - Happiness


Thursday, February 24, 2011

Oh no! My board is blank!

The other day, I posted about feeling frustrated about not having worked on some goals I need to be working towards. I have been losing some motivation in other areas as well. I will discuss this later.

While I have my large goal board which identifies longer term goals, another tool that I've been utilizing to accomplish everyday mini-goals is my whiteboard. It hangs on my door and I see it every day when I come and go. I like to write mini-goals that I would like to accomplish every day in working towards accomplishing the larger goals.

The whiteboard came with a marker (of course) which has a teeny tiny eraser at the end. This teeny tiny eraser gives me HUGE satisfaction. I use it to wipe out every mini-goal that I accomplish! It signifies another task completed, bringing me one step closer to the finish line! 

Lately, I've been letting these mini-goals slide and I haven't been writing anything down. Could this be contributing to the lack of motivation I've been feeling? Not having any sense of accomplishment can feel, well...let's face it, uninspiring. Completing some task, albeit small, gives me a great sense of joy and pride and reminds me what I'm working towards! 

Today, I've decided that the whiteboard mini-goals are BACK! Every day, a new mini-goal will be placed up and with hope, erased!

My previously mentioned other areas of slipping?

I've been letting myself slip with my food and thrifty eating lately as well. I played dodgeball till late last night and therefore grabbed a slice of pizza from Pizza Luce. Pizza Luce has AMAZING pizza, I highly recommend it. You can even buy it by the slice which is ideal for someone living on a budget. Now, just eating Pizza Luce wouldn't have been a problem, however getting back late last night also lead me to not cook something for today for lunch. I ended up getting Chinese takeout. Le sigh. Tonight, I made a command decision to change that!

I stopped by the grocery store down the road and purchased Thousand Hills Cattle Company ground beef. Yes, it is a bit pricier than regular beef. However, it is locally raised cattle and also all of the cows are grass fed and not given hormones or antibiotics. How great is that?! I spent $7.99 for a 16 oz pack of 18/15 lean beef and it was well worth it. I do not purchase beef often so when I do, I am willing to do my part to contribute to the environment. I also know for a fact that they sell it at the Kingfield Market in the summer. Check them out and do your part! Support your local farmers (my Grandpa was one) and the environment! Even though I live on a budget and don't buy beef often, when I do, I try and spring for the good stuff and make it a locally raised and environmentally friendly choice.

I purchased the beef today because I decided that I could make chili. I had all of the other ingredients at home. I put half of the package of the beef in a pot and cooked it with some diced onion. I made the rest of the beef into two patties and threw them in the freezer for another day. I then added a package of my frozen already-prepared kidney beans, a can of white beans, 2 cans of diced tomato, a green pepper that was soon to go bad, a lot of chili powder, some pepper and garlic powder and there you have it: chili! :) Now I have some lunch for tomorrow too!

Do you have your own "whiteboard" at home? How do you ensure you are achieving small steps to work towards your big goals everyday?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

One more!

A friend sent this song by Macklemore to me when I was expressing some frustration about some feelings I was having and some lack of productivity. I really enjoyed the song and general message. Check out the lyrics here.

Caution! There is some offensive language in this song.


A minimalist's post...

A motto to live by! (Taken from the streets in Portland, OR. by yours truly).

Monday, February 21, 2011

Doing good on day off.

Yesterday, there was a major blizzard here pretty much all day. So, I locked myself inside and spent a lot of the day lounging in my bed. Yeah, I know. I was going to take a nap, as all of that being lazy I was doing was making me tired. Then...I decided I would be better off being productive.

I looked around me and realized this: I'm a pig. ;) Yes, overnight my place had turned into a giant disaster. Clothes stacked in piles, papers and boxes all over the floor.

Many people closest to me would realize that this isn't all that abnormal. I have quite a history of stacking clothes in piles and letting my living areas become a disarray. Usually, I clean it and get it all nice and organized and then gradually it becomes a huge mess again until I cannot stand it anymore and I have to clean it up or go insane. I chose cleaning.

Reflecting on how it had become this way, I narrowed it down to a few things. New boots arriving, Friday clothing dilemma and Saturday night costume party. Friday and Saturday, while attempting to make outfits, it led me to pull a lot of clothes out of the closet in a hurry and not put them back. My boots arriving contributed to boxes and papers being tossed all over. I also had my coupon collection in a heap next to the filing cabinet.

I got to work starting to put everything away. However, I quickly got sidetracked by another project I had thought of earlier in the week at work. A lovely woman had donated some coupons to the food shelf. Previously, I had mentioned my thoughts of offering budgeting and thrifty living classes to the food shelf. I did discuss this with my bosses, but it seemed there wasn't too much enthusiasm about it. I guess they had tried it in the past and there wasn't much interest. When the woman donated her coupons, it sparked the thought that since I am couponing anyways, why don't I bring in the coupons I am not using so others CAN use them? Perhaps if they are made more readily available to them, they would be more apt to use them. I got to work, cutting out my own coupons and the leftover coupons I wouldn't need. I arranged mine in my new coupon caddy that I had received in the mail during the week. You can find these here.

I had so many coupons for the food shelf, I needed some way to arrange them. I began searching online for other coupon caddies and I discovered a way to make a coupon caddy yourself at home. I wondered if I shouldn't have done this for myself so that I didn't spend $8.00, but I realized that I really needed something that could be kept out of the way and the one that I purchased is perfect as it sticks right on the fridge. I love it! Also, when I was clipping my coupons, guess what I found? A coupon for a FREE coffee, no purchase needed at Butter Bakery Cafe, one of my most favorite places to eat in Minneapolis. Yep, the people there know be my name. (A testament to my previous spending habits.) SCORE! May be using that this week as I need to get some work done where I'm outside of my house and not easily distracted.

For the food shelf however, this would be perfect! Thus, I began my project.

Place envelopes one after the other and glue flap.
Place following envelope on top of glued flap, ensuring it is straight and not impinging the envelopes natural fold.
Place your coupons in the different envelopes.
Label all of the envelopes in different categories
Fold the envelopes like an accordian, one up, one down, etc.
Do not glue the last envelope flap and fold that flap over the rest of the folded envelopes but don't seal. Tie together with ribbon or string. Ta dah!
Oh, and by the way...this is how my place turned out. Not perfect, but a definite improvement!

What is one of your constant organization battles?

 What have YOU done today for someone else lately? What small project could you do to improve the lives of those around you?

It's Monday and life is beautiful - song!

Dee Lite is one awesomely sexy beast. I've been known to get down to this song on more than one occasion...many more. Where there is a dance floor and Alyssa, there will be Dee Lite! ;)

Enjoy and dance your booty off - in your cubicle if you must! 

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Last night, I went shopping...and didn't spend a dime!

Yes, you read right! My friend, Mary, (that genius of a woman!), organized a clothing swap for myself and a bunch of other girls to get together and swap clothes; getting rid of those that we don't need and with hope, finding ones that somebody else doesn't need and exchange. It was also just a chance for a group of goofy girls to hang out together and have a good time, sans spending.
Ah, the merchandise!
Mary reclaiming items she meant for exchange, isn't she a doll? 
Trying on Mary's roller derby bloomers for size.
Nita trying out a headband.

I found a most excellent top. The moment I saw it, I just knew it was meant for me! Today, I jazzed it up with some accessories I had purchased for $2.00 at Goodwill and my NEW boots from Steve Madden that finally came in the mail! I was super pumped and felt like I was looking smokin' hot! I really am feeling a self-confidence boost from all of these great fitting clothes and just knowing what to do with them and how to put it all together. It IS true! If you look good, you will FEEL good! :)

I went out today and did a little more shopping...but this time, it did cost money! I have been in contact with Sally since I purchased my Banana Republic jeans and it turns out, those weren't the right fit for me. She recommended that I check out the Heritage jeans at Talbot's. It's a spendy store, but guess what? The jeans were on sale for 25% off and cost the same amount as the Banana Republic ones! Yippee!

I think I found 2 pair, that actually fit me just as I think that they should! I sent Sally a pic to double check, but I think I nailed it down. Now, to the thrift store to sell my other jeans so that I can recoup some of the spending!

Have you ever had a clothing swap or another type of get together where you switched belongings rather than purchase them? What was it? What was your favorite item you obtained?

Thursday, February 17, 2011

A coffee dilemma.

I was recently asked at a sales party, what I would do with an extra $1,000 per month. Of course, the person was promoting positions within this sales company. While I certainly do not need another job, it did make me contemplate how I would utilize extra money, should I have it.

What would I do? My answer was this: pay bills! 

This can more easily be tied to one of the loves of my life. Nope, not a man...COFFEE. I drink at least a cup to two per day. Previously, coffee was an every day outing to Caribou Coffee, Dunn Bros., Starbucks, Spyhouse, Uncommon Grounds or the like. Of course, with trying to be less wasteful and save money. This nasty habit had to be! 

I've taken a quick moment to calculate exactly how much one might spend with a habit like the one formerly known as, "Alyssa's Habit". If you had one flavored latte per day at a coffee shop, the price would likely be $4.00. $4 x 365 days = $1460! That's enough to pay for a vacation...outside of the country!

Speaking with a friend recently, I was contemplating what my attraction was to going out for coffee rather than just having it at home? My coffee maker has had a long history of sitting in its own isolated corner of my kitchen collecting dust. For the most part, it appeared to be a decoration rather than a tool. 

What makes me feel SO great about going out to get a cup of coffee? Is it just the fancy whipped cream and highly sweetened lattes? Is it the lure of "see and be seen"? Do I simply relate coffee as being a social activity and just enjoy the atmosphere of being out around people? Am I simply lazy and having someone else make it for me is so much more appealing? Has it become an emotional comfort?

I don't know if I have come up with an answer to this question. It could be that it is a combination of all of these things. Though I don't know the answer to the why yet, I do know the answer to the how the heck do I solve this problem?!

I've decided  to utilize several resources to attack the issue at hand: wasting paper cups and wasting my money on coffee I could just as easily make at home. During the week, I've decided to only drink coffee at work. My work provides it for free, so why not utilize it? Sure, it isn't any fancy organic or flavored coffee, but it does the trick. I make my own coffee at home during the weekends. Since I drink it all week at work, I also don't have to purchase my own coffee grounds quite as often. I've begun purchasing a larger container of half and half. I pour part of it into a jar that I keep in the fridge at home to use during the weekends and I take the other part of the carton to work. A teaspoon of sugar and some half and half and I'm off to coffee bliss.

Have I completely eliminated the fancy schmancy coffees? Nope. I've decided to allow myself 2 coffees per month, a budge of $10. I've stuck to this for the last two months. I'm not going to lie and say that it's easy to do this. It is quite trying to not slip back into this old habit sometimes. I don't have a refillable coffee cup to use when I do go to the coffee shops. I would like to purchase one of these at some point to eliminate using the paper cups all together. I have realized though, when I am able to go to get the fancy coffees...I savor and appreciate it even more!

My new coffee habit savings? $4.00 x 24 days = $96.00. Much more manageable and pleasant to think about than the previous number.

Food news for the evening:

I got sick of minestrone tonight so I made a fried egg sandwich. You can't see in this picture because it is gone already, but I did add some green pepper to it. This is a ciabatta roll (I had bought some to go with the minestrone and then I froze the leftover rolls) buttered and grilled in a pan, shredded mild cheddar cheese and an egg (a little runny only). Was soooo delicious! 
Egg, cheese, green pepper and ciabatta roll.
I also made myself a small treat. This is a dessert my mother used to make when I was younger and something she continues to make for herself quite frequently. My love for this dessert was only reinforced when I lived in Mexico for a year. Of course the way it's made in Mexico is a little different and longer process than this, (I've made it before), however this is my quick method.  It is "arroz con leche" in Mexico and I don't know a name for it in English but it's rice, milk, cinnamon and sugar. I had some leftover brown rice I made a little while ago for a dish and it was going bad quick. I needed to eat this small amount left. I put the rice and milk in a pan and heated until the milk thickened a little and it was visibly cooking. I then mixed in a small amount of sugar and some cinnamon!  Raisins or Craisins go really good in it as well. Delicious!
Make-shift "arroz con leche".
Do you have any nasty spending habits that you would like to kick? What has your tactic been in conquering your habit? What type of savings could you make by changing your habit and what would you do with the savings?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Organization mania.

I have been slacking. A lot. I'm still working on my goals, but somehow these last couple of weeks, I seem to have lost some steam! Contemplating this last night, I realized I need to get my butt back in gear again, at the very least with blogging!

This past weekend, I did have some organization mania. Along with simplifying, I need to organize and get less cluttered! My head feels chaotic when I have so much stuff and even more so when it is strewn about!

This weekend I worked on some of these tasks. I had a drawer full of ziploc baggies to store my meats and frozen goods as well as bags of teas tossed in the drawer. Some loose leaf teas were still in their original paper bag and I others that were in boxes, but already in tea bags. The boxes took up so much space it didn't seem I could fit any other items in the drawer. I began by pouring all of the the loose leaf teas into some glass containers to better store them. Then, I took all of the tea bags out of their boxes and combined them all in a plastic tupperware container for easier storage. Then a little other rearranging and VOILA!

I then began working at my filing cabinet. Now, it would be good if a filing cabinet had an order to it, wouldn't it? This is what they are for after all. Mine, did not. I did have to spend some money going out to Office Max to buy some expandable folders. Many of my files have smaller items that I didn't want falling out. I went through all of them and began to label all of the folders. Now? My documents are easy to find and file! I did have one problem, however. I made a "coupon" file. It has since occurred to me that this is completely useless and disorganizes all of the organization I just accomplished! I hopped on to and purchased a new coupon holder that is magnetic and will attach to my fridge! It has an area to store a scissors and cards for categories. I will have to start clipping the coupons I get immediately and filing them. The cost was $8 and no shipping was charged. Today, while working at the food shelf, I also realized I could simply bring in the coupons that I don't utilize; coupons for diapers, formula and food coupons, and keep them in my office for those interested! It will be my new contribution to the food shelf! Can't wait!

Out with the old...
In with the new!

Finally, I had bought a new microfiber mop and a broom. Microfiber will be a huge cost savings due to not having to purchase disposable cloths and will also help me to eliminate waste.  I hooked these to my wall with some 3M hooks. Nice and handy, but still out of the way.

I used another 3M hanger to hang my grocery bags. I try and only use the reusable grocery bags when I go to the store. Not only does it get me a discount at Rainbow Foods, but it's better than using tons of paper and plastic. I like to have them handy and this 3M hanger (originally meant for cords) is very useful as I know they will not fall off but are right within quick reach when I'm out the door.

Other side projects involve:


I made myself a treat for Valentine's weekend! I've been craving going out for brunch. Breakfast foods are my favorite and a weakness of mine was frequent brunching out. Rather than going out, I realized I had some old pancake mix and I went out to purchase some Jimmy Dean sausage that was on sale. I made the lowest amount on the pancake box and had 2 pancakes left over which I froze in a Ziploc bag. I at them later in the week.

In addition, I set out on a new project of starting to use beans in bulk rather than cans. Just a little more healthy and a bit cheaper. I read how to prepare these using the quick method: Boil for 2 minutes and then let sit in the hot water for an hour. Super easy! I did have one downfall in that I think these could cook a little longer. I used some of these to cook a soup (see below) and they were not completely done. I would recommend a little more time for boiling. This is something I will have to continue to experiment with.

I portioned out the beans into baggies with a cup per baggie. I poured a little extra water into each baggie as I've read they keep better with liquid in them. I put 2 cups of the red beans aside to use for this WONDERFUL minestrone soup! It's a mimic of Olive Garden's recipe and I love it! I have been making this soup for a while now and every time I do, it feeds me all week! I've been thinking about portioning some aside and freezing it, just not sure if it will taste the same. I used my own vegetable broth that I made in the minestrone soup.

Veggie broth:

Place any leftover vegetables except leafy vegetables and broccoli into a stock pot. I used potatoes, onions, celery and carrots.  Put enough water into the pot to cover the vegetables. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Cook for 1.5 hours. Add water as needed when it begins to get low.

My minestrone:

Clothing and STYLE!

I've been working all week on putting together outfits and I feel like I'm actually getting a hang of this! It does however, require me to do some extra shopping and spending. The boots I had before were not the most flattering for me, as Sally at informed during my consult. They were hitting me at the widest part of my calf. I set out this weekend to look for boots. I checked at all the thrift stores, but found nothing. I headed out to the Mall of America. I was scared because I honestly hate shopping, especially at the Mall of America. I went to almost every shoe store and couldn't find any boots I liked. Then...Steve Madden's came into my life. I picked the best time! Boots were on sale! I found this pair which I think will work well. I am going to purchase the brown pair. These were marked down about $70. Then, I picked up a 2nd pair, a different style with heels, that were black for only $19! They were originally over $100! What a steal! What do you think?

I also went to the Goodwill over the weekend to pick up some extra things Sally had encouraged me to look for. I got a really cute green sweater and a purple scarf as well as some accessories. I'm so proud I've been able to come up with some really cute outfits on my own with these items! I've been taking some pictures and here they are! :)

Sally had also encouraged me to try on some high waisted jeans as I'm a pair shaped woman and these would be the most flattering for my figure. I bought a pair, (also on sale), at Banana Republic. I think that this is how they are supposed to fit and I can definitely see the benefit as there is no space in the back of the pants like usual with low rise pants. Yea! No more plumber's cleavage! :)

All of this clothing and feeling good about how I look reminds me of another goal: I need to get on top of losing my stress pounds! I've maintained the 5 pounds lost that I had previously discussed but it is time to get down to business. I'm ready to get back to the health me! I've been exercising more lately and I'm really going to try and make an effort to eat better as well. I also joined a dodgeball team which has been an exciting way to be active and meet new people.

I guess after looking over all of this, I realize I have achieved some goals this week, haven't I? ;)