Books #27-30

I’m going to do these slightly out of order, since it just makes sense to do 27 and 29 together.

 

Titles: William Shakespeare’s Star Wars/The Empire Striketh Back

Author: Ian Doescher

Genre: Sci-fi. I’d also say parody, but it’s a very respectful one, so that word doesn’t quite seem to fit.

Length: 176 pages apiece

Read: late June- finished the second one 7/17.

Summary: The original Star Wars trilogy, if Shakespeare had written it. (Parts 1 and 2, anyway.)

New or re-read? New read for both.

Why did I pick it up? Because the idea was too hilarious to me not to!

Rating: 5/5

Would I read it again? Absolutely. I’d also love to see this performed sometime–are you listening, internet?

Other notes: I actually read part of the first one last year, when my best friend and I were killing time before our state’s annual outdoor Shakespeare performance. We had a great time taking different parts and reading it aloud! Also, this could be a really great way to introduce kids to Shakespeare–take a story they understand, help them see that the language isn’t really that much of a barrier, and then move on to the real thing. Kudos to you, Mr. Doescher.

Title: Longbourn

Author: Jo Baker

Genre: Historical Fiction

Length: 353

Read: early July

Summary: A loose retelling of Pride & Prejudice, from the perspective of the servants.

New or re-read? New read

Why did I pick it up? Because I am a sucker for anything connected to Jane Austen. Especially P&P.

Rating: 4/5

Would I read it again? Yes, though not as often as I’d re-read the original story.

Other notes: a) This is a great book to be reading while doing a heavy house-cleaning. There’s nothing like reading about chamber pots and having to shovel out the outhouse to make you appreciate the relative ease of cleaning a modern toilet. b) The main servant girl that this book focused on really didn’t seem to care much for Elizabeth–though I guess it would be easy to be bitter if you were the one who had to wash her petticoats after her long walks. c) This was so much grittier than anything Austen ever wrote, but I guess that makes sense with the focus on the lower class of the time period. d) It was rather refreshing to see such a different take on it. And I’ve read a lot of retellings/sequels to P&P. Probably more than is healthy. But that doesn’t mean I’ll stop.

Title: Dragon Sword and Wind Child

Author: Noriko Ogiwara

Genre: Fantasy/Mythology

Length: 263 pages

Read: 7/18-7/23/14

Summary: From Amazon: The God of Light and the Goddess of Darkness have waged a ruthless war across the land of Toyoashihara for generations. But for fifteen-year-old Saya, the war is far away—until the day she discovers that she is the reincarnation of the Water Maiden and a princess of the Children of the Dark.  Raised to love the Light and detest the Dark, Saya must come to terms with her heritage even as the Light and Dark both seek to claim her, for she is the only mortal who an awaken the legendary Dragon Sword, the weapon destined to bring an end to the war. Can Saya make the choice between the Light and Dark, or is she doomed—like all the Water Maidens who came before her…?

New or re-read? New read.

Why did I pick it up? I bought this at the same time as Longbourn, when I had an Amazon card to use up on Kindle books. I’ll admit that I slightly judged by the very pretty cover artwork, but the description also sounded interesting and it was rated well overall.

Rating: 4/5. Some of the reviews classify it as a kids’ book, but I’d say more YA, since there’s some pretty brutal things that happen during the war.

Would I read it again? Most likely.

Other notes: I’m glad I picked this one up. I do love books that are based on mythology, and while I don’t believe this is a retelling of an actual Japanese myth, it certainly has that feel to it. I’m admittedly not very familiar with a lot about various Asian cultures, so this was a nice change from the usual more Greek/Roman/Celtic/overall European style stuff that I’m more familiar with. The style of the writing is very poetic, too. It was like reading one of those nature-inspired Japanese brush paintings that I’ve seen in art museums.

Book #26: Backward Compatible

Title: Backward Compatible

Author: Pete Clark & Sarah Daltry (at least, Sarah was listed on the cover on my copy)

Genre: Fiction

Length: 257 pages

Read: mid-Juneish

Summary: Two college kids home for Christmas break meet at a midnight release for a new video game, fight over the last copy, and end up falling in love.

New or re-read? New read.

Why did I pick it up? It was free at the time that I downloaded it, and I was lured in by the promise of geek humor, which I do quite enjoy. (Thus my propensity to love shows like Chuck and The Big Bang Theory.)

Rating: 1/5

Would I read it again? Not a chance. In fact, I started a new collection on my Kindle for “Books to Delete After Empty Shelf” just because of this book.

Other notes: I really wanted to like this one when I started it, but I just couldn’t in the end. The two main characters really weren’t likeable at all, the guy’s best friend was extremely annoying, and the whole plot line just felt really cliche. I’m not one to shy away from any form of profanity in a book, but the amount in this one was ridiculous. Even the geek humor overall wasn’t really that amusing to me on the whole, though it did have a couple of funny moments. It probably doesn’t help that most of it centers around video games, and while I do have enough RPG experience that I was able to follow the big anti-climactic battle at the end, I wouldn’t say I’m necessarily a gamer geek. Aside from Lord of the Rings Online, board games are pretty much how we roll around here. There was a lot of Hobbit movie bashing, too. (And while I’ll agree that 3 movies out of one kids’ book is a bit of a stretch, I do think that the additions are good on the whole and do help to tie it in to the tone of LotR much better. Since LotR is my number one fandom, that did get under my skin a bit.)

At least the book was free. I would have been quite put out if I’d paid the $5 that it’s listed at now.

In which I try to learn to handle timey-wimey stuff

I suck at time management. At least, the adult version of it.

I don’t remember this being so much of an issue when I was in high school and college, where my class times were pre-set, and all I had to deal with was juggling homework, the small social life of an introverted teenager, the occasional family event, working on my art and music stuff, and the occasional part-time job. Which was usually in the summers when I didn’t have school going on anyway. Two of those years in college, I even managed to get into the undergrad summer research program, which meant that I basically got paid to practice and work on music stuff for two summers straight. How amazing is that?

It all came crashing down when I hit grad school. The good thing was that I didn’t have to rack up any student loan debt in order to get a masters’ degree–I got a teaching assistantship, which I’d decided would be my determining factor on whether I attempted to go on for more education or not. I didn’t want to take out loans to earn a degree in a field in which I was highly unlikely to find a full-time job with benefits. (Which is a good thing, because to this day, I’ve never had one.) The bad thing is that suddenly I was juggling what basically equated to multiple jobs and being a full-time student—I was teaching flute to kids both within and without the university setting, doing my TA work, still trying to practice, be involved in my church, deal with some lingering issues from a horrible breakup during my senior year, etc. etc. I was pretty burned out by the end of those two years, though I did finish the degree, but all of the time management skills I had basically flew out the window and never came back. And it’s only gotten worse as I’ve added things, like multiple part-time jobs and still trying to practice my flute and being married and having a house to try to clean instead of just one room, and so on.

All that to say, the next two things on my Empty Shelf after my last post were time management books. Both were Kindle freebies that I got off of Amazon, and I read them both in a single day at work, while I had nothing else to do but sit and wait out my shift and think about all of the stuff I could be doing at home instead. How ironic.

So, in a battle of the books, here’s the two I read:

Book 1 (or 25 of the Empty Shelf challenge)

Title: Done! The Art of Managing Priorities

Author: Kapil Apshankar

Genre: non-fiction/self-help

Length: ~103 pages. (This one was Kindle-only, so this is Amazon’s estimate.)

Read: Sometime in June. I don’t remember the exact date.

Summary: Claims to be a simple, fool-proof way of achieving one’s goals.

New or re-read? New read

Why did I pick it up? See above.

Rating: 2.5/5.

Would I read it again? I doubt it.

Other comments: This one didn’t really click with me overall, to be honest. I think a big part of it was that the author was extremely insistent that the secret to getting everything done was to do it as early in the day as possible, to the point of saying that night people don’t really exist. Honestly, I think that’s a load of crap–not everyone is wired the same way, I’ve learned through experience that my body really does run better on, ideally, a midnight-to-8 sleep schedule (not that sleeping till 8 happens much in my world), and that the earlier I get up, no matter how early I try to force myself to go to bed the night before, the less cognitive function I have during the day. And probably the next. I get irritated rather quickly with people who think their solution to life’s little problems is the only way to do anything–probably also why I have a really hard time swallowing the whole Dave Ramsey approach to finances. Another huge issue for me was the grammar. It was very poorly edited, if it was edited at all, and that is a huge pet peeve of mine.

Book 2 (26 of the Empty Shelf)

Title: Time Management

Author: Shawn Chhabra

Genre: non-fiction/self-help

Length: ~290 pages. (This one was Kindle-only, so this is Amazon’s estimate.)

Read: Sometime in June. I don’t remember the exact date.

Summary: Claims to be a simple, fool-proof way of achieving one’s goals.

New or re-read? New read

Why did I pick it up? See above.

Rating: 3.5/5.

Would I read it again? More likely skim over it.

Other comments: I’d be far more likely to implement the ideas in this one than the first one. To quote Pirates of the Caribbean, his “rules” were more like guidelines, really. That leaves a lot more room for experimenting and figuring out what would really work for me as an individual. I did kind of like that it had suggested useful websites and apps for helping one to manage his or her time, but at the same time, I feel like this would date the book really quickly. Technology changes so quickly. The two things that did drive me a little crazy about this particular book were all the ads in the front, and that literally half of it was appendices for things like quotes about time management, yoga techniques, recipes, etc. I guess they could be useful resources, but it makes for really dry reading material when you’re at work. Thankfully, since this was on my Kindle, I had other things to choose from. So I do have to admit that I only skimmed through that half.

 

Overall, I don’t think I’ve found my perfect time management system yet, because I honestly can’t really remember most of the principles in either book. I guess I got distracted or something. But at least it’s a start towards making a positive change, right?

Books, books, books!

I fell quite behind in my blogging during April/May. So rather than kill myself doing a full review of every single book I’ve read in the last 2 1/2 months, I figured it would be best to summarize what’s been added to my Empty Shelf project since my last book post, and then start fresh with the two I finished today. (Work was that slow.)

Book #14: Dead Beat by Jim Butcher, book 7 of The Dresden Files. This happens to be one of my favorite books of the series to date, particularly the climactic battle at the end. I know “epic” is an overused word these days, but it really is! Finished sometime around mid-April.

Book #15: Lord of Glory: A Daily Lenten Devotional on the Names of Christ, by Ray Pritchard. I don’t normally do too much for Lent, having grown up Protestant and all, but this one was a Kindle freebie and I figured it would be a good mini-study to do. I liked it overall, and would probably go through it in a future year.

Book #16: 5 Days to Budget Breakthrough, by Kimberlee Stokes. Part of an e-book bundle that I bought, and since the budget is something we’ve been trying to get under control, I read through this one in about one sitting. I’d probably need to read it a second time to really implement some of the ideas, though.

Book #17, which I apparently forgot to add to my Pinterest board: Proven Guilty by Jim Butcher, book 8 of the Dresden Files. In which one of the older minor characters comes back in a much more major capacity that has strong implications for the series thereafter.

Book #18: White Night by Jim Butcher, book 9 of the Dresden Files. Serial killers and vampire politics sounds like a pretty good non-spoilery way to sum this up.

Book #19: Small Favor by Jim Butcher, book 10 of the Dresden Files. Harry gets suckered into doing a favor for Mab (think Shakespeare and faeries) that’s pretty likely to kill him.

Book #20: Skin Game by Jim Butcher, book 15 of the Dresden Files. Yes, at this point, I skipped ahead. I finished Small Favor the day that this one was released, it happened to be the last of the paperbacks (i.e. books I hadn’t read in at least 5 years), I only had one more book in my possession at the moment because my sister-in-law borrowed 12-14 from me, and I wanted to know what happened next! Overall, I liked it. The most non-spoilery way I can say it is supernatural heist story, recurrence of a couple previous major-league baddies, lots of backstabbing, and stuff blows up. Because it’s Harry.

Book #21: The Complete Sherlock Holmes, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. I guess this one’s a little bit of a cheat, since I’ve been reading it off and on since last April. But I finished it, so it counts! Between the Robert Downey, Jr. movies, the exquisite BBC adaptation, and Elementary, I’ve been watching a lot of pop-culture Sherlock Holmes for the last several years, but I’d never actually read any of the stories. So I decided it was time to remedy that. It was definitely a nice one to have on my Kindle, because that way I could just pull it out and read a short story or 3 in between things without having to lug a 5-pound book everywhere. Which is why, as much as I love real books, I’ve become a real fan of classics on the Kindle, too. (Also, you can often snag them for free. And free books are always a good thing.)

Book #22: Son of Sobek by Rick Riordan. I’ve read and thoroughly enjoyed the Percy Jackson books and the Kane Chronicles, so it was fun to get a short story where Percy and Carter team up to fight a monster. It looks like there’s an Annabeth/Sadie story out now, too, so I’ll have to add that one to the collection.

Book #23: The Mark of Athena by Rick Riordan. I’d read through the first three Heroes of Olympus books last year or so, and since I’m done with the Dresden Files re-reading for now, it seemed like a good time to get back to it. To summarize, this continues the story arc in the first three books, in which teenage demigods of both Greek and Roman descent have to team up to stop an ancient goddess from awakening and tear the world apart. This one was particularly fun for me since it’s very Annabeth-centric, and I did always like her.

Book #24: The House of Hades by Rick Riordan. Deals with the massive spoilery cliffhanger at the end of MoA, so in a way, I’m quite glad that I didn’t get to that one until recently. This one also had some perspectives from newer characters that I haven’t seen as much insight into, particularly Frank and Leo, so that was fun. There was one story element that I honestly could have done without, which made me like this book less than the previous ones in the series, but I guess I’ll have to wait and see how it develops. Aside from that, it was enjoyable.

And since I finished that one yesterday, that seems like a good place to stop!

 

in which I ramble on about grocery shopping

In all honesty, it’s still kind of weird to me that I’m now primarily responsible for feeding myself and another human being. I can’t help thinking that every time I go grocery shopping.

We’re working on paying down a credit card bill, and one of the things I’ve been primarily focusing on is trying to cut how much money we spend on food. Some of it is kind of no-brainy, like we probably shouldn’t eat out too much. My brain knows that, but it’s also hard to argue the point on, say, the Saturdays that I have to drag myself to my retail job and the last thing I want to do when I come home is cook food. Especially on the open-to-close days. Or the recent incident we had where I’d planned for leftovers from the casserole that I cooked two nights before, but then I opened it up to find a dead fly on top! It had been buzzing around irritatingly the whole time I was cooking, and since I didn’t know if it had landed before I’d cooked it or before I wrapped it up to put in the fridge…yeah, we ordered pizza instead. (Actually, I probably shouldn’t blame myself too much for that one. Flies are disgusting creatures.)

And then there’s meal planning. Which I have been attempting to do pretty steadily for almost a year now, but honestly…. I just haven’t gotten the hang of it yet. It seems that I either plan too many meals or too few in any given week. It’s kind of hard to figure out when you’re cooking for two, and most recipes make servings of at least 4 or 6! My husband’s pretty good about eating leftovers the next day, but he does get antsy when we have the same thing for 3 or more nights in a row. So I do try to mix it up as my schedule allows, and freeze extra meal-sized portions when I can.

Even so, I still feel like I’m spending an awful lot per month on groceries for just the two of us. I’ve noticed a few challenges so far:

  1. Costco is pretty great for stocking up on some things. But no matter what I do, I don’t think we’ve managed to walk away from there without spending over $100 yet! So we definitely need to work on that.
  2. Meat. I’m not even trying to do organic or grass-fed or whatever at this point, because then there’s no way I’d be able to afford to feed my avowed carnivore of a husband. (Or myself, for that matter. I get hungry way too fast on the occasions I’ve tried vegetarian food.) So there’s this constant balancing act between trying to have meat for dinner every night in a quantity that keeps him happy, and not spending way too much money on it.
  3. Couponing doesn’t seem to work too well if you’re trying to minimize processed foods! So most of what I’ve been using them for are things like toiletries instead of food. I guess every little bit still helps.

Just for fun/my own learning benefit, I thought I’d evaluate today’s shopping trip.

What I did wrong:

  • The aforementioned meat. The chicken breasts were buy 1 get 1 free, but I’ve noticed that when they do that, the price per pound is way more expensive. I bought them anyway, since we’re almost completely out of any chicken, but I think I need to watch for whenever it’s back down to $2/lb and stock up better then. (Which is about as cheap as I’ve ever seen it around here.)
  • I misread the labels on the shredded cheese I bought–I thought it was 2/$5, and it ended up being almost $8 for both of them because that was really for the item below it. The worst part is that I almost swapped it out for another brand that was listed as $2/5, but then decided to just stick with what I’d already carted!
  • I didn’t entirely stick with my list. But at least most of my splurge items were healthy things, like fruit to make smoothies and bring for lunches.

What I did right:

  • For the most part, I’ve gotten pretty good at training myself to not be too brand-loyal. I do have a few exceptions, but I’m working on it.
  • I unintentionally saved an extra $2 on the sausage that my husband requested for breakfast (and it’s hard to say no to him for that, since he so rarely eats it!) There was a manager’s special coupon on there that I didn’t notice until I got to the register!
  • I did plan enough to decide to try a new side dish recipe this week based on something I’ve had in the pantry for awhile and some produce that was on sale. Red bell peppers for $1 were hard to pass up, though I honestly had to think about it because the quality didn’t look so great. But they’re baked instead of raw, so hopefully it’ll be ok.
  • I’ve been playing around with an app called SavingStar, that credits your account for cash back on purchases made on grocery cards that are saved to your account. I think it’ll take me forever to save up the $5 that you have to get before they give you money back, because of the processed food thing, but they do have a healthy offer of the week that I’ve been trying to take advantage of and plan produce purchases around. Again, every little bit helps.

What I’m not sure about:

  • That healthy food challenge I did awhile back made me feel rather guilty about some things, like not paying attention to added sugar in things. I spent a solid 10-15 minutes in the jelly aisle, comparing ingredients to try to find one that didn’t have sugar or corn syrup listed that still wasn’t ridiculously expensive! I did end up buying two jars of a healthier option (sweetened with fruit juice instead) on sale, and I guess I’ll just have to try to not go through them too terribly quickly. Which may be a challenge, since I literally eat PBJs every day at my retail job. It’s the only thing I can manage to shove down over long periods of time between answering phones and helping customers. (And sometimes even after work, as was the case today–I just didn’t even have time to eat the entire sandwich!) Also, my homemade bread is bigger than store-bought bread slices.
  • I also had a hard time with the flour. I probably spent another 5 minutes deliberating between the organic white flour and the regular white flour. (I mix in white whole wheat flour, too, which tastes way better than the regular whole wheat flour IMO, but my experiments so far have indicated that entirely whole wheat just doesn’t taste as good or bake as well. And if it doesn’t taste good, why bother?) I finally ended up going for the regular, because I just couldn’t justify spending twice as much money on it– I’m honestly thinking it’s probably better to save that money for the next time I need to buy more of my white whole wheat flour.

I guess it’s all a learning experience, right? And hopefully I’ll get the hang of it before too long. But for now, all of this talk of food is making me hungry, so I guess I’d better go finish making that pizza!

overwhelmed

I’ve been pretty quiet here for awhile…it’s been a rough month, to be honest. It’s just been so overwhelmingly busy.

It’s not all bad stuff. There was a week where I had five rehearsals and a concert in the span of seven days. It was exhausting, and I had to be very careful about time spent on the computer that week to protect my carpal tunnel syndrome-prone wrists, but it was a lot of fun, and I felt pretty good at the end of it. There’s still been several rehearsals since, as I have a concert with a different ensemble tomorrow. It’s good to be playing again and actually participating in the world I spent so much time during college preparing for.

I’ve also had way too much going on at my side job. For the last 3 weeks straight, I’ve been doing 6-day weeks. And it’s been hard to find the time I need at home to rejuvenate when I’ve been out of the house early and for long stretches every single day. I probably shouldn’t complain, since I’ve gotten off in the early afternoon for the last two, but it still makes Saturdays feel hectic. Plus the introvert in me just feels totally drained after spending even 4-5 hours constantly dealing with phone calls and customers.  (Or constant boredom during the stretches where I don’t have any, like today. On the plus side, no one’s commented on me reading at the register yet when I have nothing else to do.) Thankfully, I didn’t get scheduled for next Saturday. It’s amazing how good knowing that you’ll have just one day off is for one’s morale.

It was sobering to glance at my 14 in 2014 list today and realize just how far off-track I’ve gotten. I have probably about 4 books read since my last review post that I haven’t gotten to talking about on here. I’ve still been fiddling around with new recipes here and there, though I’ve been cooking a lot less on the whole. Exercise has been a total lost cause for several weeks now, and while I’m feeling the mental push to get back on it, I just haven’t had the time. I’ve barely been reading my Bible outside of church– I’ve gotten into the habit of reading through some daily devotionals, which I guess is better than nothing. I’ve also noticed that I have a tendency to get really anti-social when I get really busy like this too–all I want to do is be home and get some stuff done there. My husband’s been great about all of this–he cleaned a huge chunk of the house while I was out today! So that’s another thing to be thankful for.

I’m hoping that this coming weekend is a sign that things are slowing down again, and I can get back to the stuff that I need and want to do.

 

4 1/2 days of “clean” eating

First of all, mini-rant– is it just me, or does this whole “real food” thing sound just a little pretentious? I’m all for eating as naturally as possible, and there are certain foods I would concede are “fake”. Like Cheese Whiz. Or that artificially flavored brown chemical liquid that the average grocery shopper/restaurant diner seems to think is “iced tea”. That stuff is basically the stuff they describe in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy as “almost, but not quite, entirely unlike tea”. Seriously. But I wouldn’t go so far as to call things like normal flour and rice “fake”, just because they aren’t quite as good for you as the whole wheat/brown rice are supposed to be.

Don’t mind me. I’ve been way more hungry than usual all week, and it’s making me cranky.

So here’s how my Facebook/30 Days of Hustle-induced experiment has been going:

  1. I didn’t go 100% cold turkey on this “clean food” thing. For one thing, I’m also trying to work on our grocery budget, and I couldn’t really justify buying new peanut butter and jelly when I already have several jars at home. Moreso on the jelly. People keep giving us jelly for some reason, and I haven’t had to buy any since the wedding, despite eating PBJ’s pretty much every single lunch that I’ve worked at my garden center job. Also, I already had perfectly good homemade bread, despite it having some white flour, and I didn’t want to waste it. Because yum.
  2. As I said, I’ve been getting hungry every 2 hours ever since I started this thing on Monday. I’m used to getting hungry about 2 hours after breakfast, and feeling hungry again by the time I get off of the garden center job, but this whole time period between that and dinner have been really hard. I’ve been having trouble finding snacks that fit the criteria and are portable enough/not likely to give me garlic breath before teaching flute, and the fruit I have been eating just isn’t staying with me. (I can’t really stand yogurt, which doesn’t help.) And when you generally can’t eat dinner until anywhere between 6:30-8 at night, getting hungry again around 4-4:30 makes it feel like a reeeeeeeally long time.
  3. Also, frankly, I miss chocolate. It’s not like I pig out on it every day, but I like to have just a little something sweet after having things that are spicy or tomato-based. Like one mini Reese’s cup. How’s that for portion control? So I’ve been feeling kind of deprived. Which doesn’t help.

It’s Saturday morning right now, and aside from the PBJ thing, I mostly stuck with it until Friday night. The mister and I went out for dinner and the new Captain America movie, and he really wanted Buffalo Wild Wings, since we hadn’t been there in awhile. I got a salad for my main meal, but I did split a few boneless chicken wings with him for an appetizer. It’s really hard to be sorry about breaking the challenge “no CRAP” rules when it was the first time I’d felt full for an extended period of time after dinner all week, you know?

So here’s the recipes I tried, and the overall reaction.
Clean Eating Basic Waffles. This one did not turn out well at all. They were tough and chewy and tasted a lot like cardboard. My husband commented on how hard they were to cut into, and mentioned a weird aftertaste. So I will definitely be looking for a new waffle recipe, and if they need regular white flour in order to taste good, so be it.

Superfood Rigatoni. This was more successful– I didn’t mind the cooked spinach in here, and usually cooked spinach grosses me out, though I have no trouble eating it raw. Also, “Carnivore Guy” (as I called him on the Facebook group for this week) didn’t notice the shredded zucchini or the fact that I used whole wheat pasta instead of regular. (Don’t tell!) I did make a few tweaks to this one, like using pre-roasted turkey that had been in our freezer since December instead of ground turkey, and adding a few extra spices (oregano, crushed red pepper, and salt. Because this recipe didn’t call for any, and the sauce was tasting kind of bland before I added those things.) I also upped the amount of pasta, because I wanted to use the whole box instead of leaving 1/3 of the pasta to figure out what to do with later. The only problem was that I did get hungry again pretty quickly, though it felt filling at the time. So I’ll have to play with this and see if I can remedy that, because we agreed we could both eat it again.

Crock Pot Santa Fe Chicken. This one was definitely a keeper–I was really excited to see a crock pot recipe that called for cooking for 10 hours instead of 8, because that meant I could make it on a weekday! My husband already had one when I met him, so I didn’t register for one, and didn’t realize until too late that a programmable one would have been useful, since we generally don’t both get home to eat dinner until a solid 10+ hours after we both leave in the morning. I served it over brown rice. Again, filling at the time, but I did get hungry again 2 hours later. Rats. Maybe I’m just eating too quickly and should have taken more?

Oven-Roasted Asparagus, which doubled as Pin-testing. Tasty, super-easy, definitely a keeper.

My takeaway from this: I’m glad I tried it. I don’t want this to come across as bashing the people who do choose to cut things like sugar from their diets. If that works for them, great. This just didn’t really work for me, especially dealing with how quickly I got hungry during the several days that I was being very careful about it. I’m not in a place in my life where eating 6 small meals a day is possible, given that I have trouble even finishing one large water bottle in the span of the 5 hours I regularly work my retail job, and since I get shaky and cranky when I’m really hungry, this issue makes it an unsustainable change at this point. I’m not convinced that it’s possible to make good breads and waffles without at least a little white flour, and I still like desserts in moderation. I think that’s the key–moderation. Because I’d rather work towards adding more vegetables to our meals and experimenting with whole(r) grain baking, and still be able to enjoy a meal out with my husband, or a chocolatey treat with a friend, than be all legalistic about cutting things from our diet left and right.

Catching up on the Empty Shelf

I have 2 books to record today!

Book #12:

Title: Thyme and Oregano, and more than 30 ways to use them

Author: Evelyn (no last name was given)

Genre: non-fiction/DIY

Length: ~72 pages. (This one was Kindle-only, so this is Amazon’s estimate.)

Read: 3/28-3/29/14

Summary: An overview of various health benefits of thyme and oregano, both the actual plant and essential oils.

New or re-read? New read

Why did I pick it up? The good reason was that since it’s sloooooooooooooooooooooowly getting warmer and I need to replant my deck herb pots soon, I was trying to use this to make an informed decision on whether to try growing oregano again– I hardly used my plant last year. The embarrassing reason is that sometimes when I’m having trouble falling asleep, I’ll pick a random freebie non-fiction book on my Kindle and use it to help me wind down. It’s not really a commentary on the author; it’s just that fiction stories are more likely to engage me and keep me wanting to read more than non-fiction, no matter how good the information in the latter may be.

Rating: 3/5. It was informative, but I was disappointed that the overall focus was way more on essential oils than using the actual plants.

Would I read it again? I’d use it for reference, but I probably wouldn’t read it straight through again.

 

Book # 13:

 

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Title: The Good Life For Less

Author: Amy Allen Clark

Genre: non-fiction/DIY

Length: 240 pages

Read: 1/2/14-3/30/14

Summary: A bunch of ideas for living on a budget, frugal cooking and general household maintenance, and inexpensive family fun.

New or re-read? New read

Why did I pick it up? I actually got this book for Christmas from my in-laws–I’d put it on my Amazon list because it looked like it could be interesting and useful.

Rating: 4/5. A lot of the tips were things I’ve heard before from various sources, but it’s in an easy-to-read format, and I liked the little “geek idea” sidebars.

Would I read it again? Yes, though I think it would probably be something I’d refer to more in sections, like just focus on the budget section/try some of the homemade pantry replacements/etc. I also think this would be more useful for people with younger kids, since it gives good suggestions about dealing with gift-giving occasions and thrifty family fun stuff, but I think those will be good ideas to have access to before I actually have those.

Other notes: So what does it say about me that it takes me the same amount of time to finish one non-fiction book as it did to read about 9 1/2 fiction books?

The Budget Project

I think I mentioned in my last post that I was going to do a different “hustle” this month, which is focusing on getting our budget under control. Well, if I didn’t, I’m mentioning it now. (I’m a little behind. I have 2 books I need to write about, too.)

So yeah, we need to get this sorted. Because there’s a couple of things we need/want to take care of, and we need money to do them:

  • Getting our credit card paid off to the point where we can start paying it off in full every month again. We were doing that for the most part, and then December happened, and things got a little crazy.
    (Disclaimer: Yes, I’ve read Dave Ramsey. I know that he thinks that credit cards are the plastic spawn of Satan and need to be cast back into the fiery chasm from whence they came. I respectfully disagree, because a) I like having that extra layer of protection between hackers and my bank account, especially for things (like my fabric) that I can’t always source locally and need to shop online for, b) Rewards points for stuff that are necessary to buy anyway, like gas and groceries, are awesome and great for gift shopping or extra treats, and c) in the real world, we still need a credit score for one of the items that I will be adding to this list shortly. This is why I say paying it down, not getting rid of the one and only credit card that my husband and I share between us.)
  • Vacation. Since we’d like to take one this year.
  • The big one: we’re hoping that once the market in general and the housing prices in our development in particular pick up a little, we can put our little townhouse on the market and move back “above the canal”, as we usually say in this state. We both work and go to church up there anyway, and the shorter commute + lack of tolls that we pay every time we both cross the bridge on an almost-daily basis would save us a ton of money!

Our game plan for this month is to really start tracking our expenses, try to keep our expenses covered by his salary so my paychecks can go towards busting out as much of that credit card bill as possible, and my extra side project is to work on keeping our grocery bill down.

I’m also doing a little food challenge this week to try to keep our meals as “clean” as possible, considering that I still don’t really have a choice on bringing PBJ’s to work. I don’t get a real lunch break there, and it takes way too long to eat a salad or any fruit that is more complicated than a banana when you’re literally choking food down between customers and phone calls.  So I’m trying a few new recipes this week, and here’s what I ended up getting:

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  • 1 container organic baby spinach, $3.99
  • 1 bundle of asparagus, $.85
  • 1 bundle organic cilantro, $1.95
  • 1 bundle broccoli, 2.29
  • 1 lb organic carrots, $1.39
  • 2 zucchini, $1.76
  • 1 bunch bananas, $1.55
  • 1 box orzo, the regular type because my store didn’t have whole wheat like the recipe called for, $1.49
  • 1 box whole wheat rotini, $1.25
  • 3 cans of no-sugar added tomato sauce, $3 (I only need one for this week, but bought extra because they were on sale)
  • 1 jar tarragon, $4.49
  • 1 bag of frozen corn that I didn’t need because I found an unopened one in the freezer when I got home (oops), $1.99
  • Almost 8 pounds of chicken breast, $16.29 (They were buy 1 get 2 free. It looks like it breaks down to $2.10/lb, and I guess I could have done slightly better, but the pieces are huge so I might be able to get multiple meals out of each pack.)

Total spent today, not counting the extra food I got for Bible study: $42.29. There’s a few other things the recipes call for, which I already had in my pantry. I’ll probably have to add milk later in the week–we had an almost-full one because we went through the last one pretty fast and needed to buy a second gallon, so I’m sure we’ll run out before next Friday.

I did do a little price comparing on the produce, because I bought that at a farm-market type store on the way home, and got the rest at my regular local grocery store. It tends to have pretty crappy vegetables, and I figured that if I’m going to try recipes that are heavy on them, I’m going to do it right. It looks like the asparagus and organic carrots are cheaper at the farmstand, the zucchini and broccoli were slightly more expensive (but looked much better), the spinach per unit was more expensive but the box was a much more manageable size for 2 people, the cilantro was cheaper when you consider the size of the bundle vs. the tiny plastic container at the grocery store that wasn’t even organic, and the bananas were the same. Lots of number crunching, but if I’m going to learn how to feed us as cheaply and healthy as possible, it’s worth it, right?

At the end of the hustle…

I’ve mentioned that “30 Days of Hustle” thing that I’ve been doing. Today’s day 29, so I wanted to take a minute or two and reflect on the outcome.

The bad: I’m not sure how “in shape” I’ve actually gotten over this last month. And I’m still having to send a fairly substantial chunk of clothes that fit me last summer to the thrift store, because they just don’t zip up all the way anymore. Mostly my dresses. And I’ll admit that I’m probably more sensitive to this than a lot of people would be, given that I make a majority of my own clothes. Also, my jeans that I made and fit perfectly at the time still won’t quite zip up.

The good: I did get the full hour and a half that I set out to do (and resolved to do at the beginning of the year) 3 out of the 4 weeks this month. (I was half an hour short last week, mostly due to some late nights out with a couple of girlfriends and both events happened to fall in the same week. I’ll definitely have to write about one of them later.) This is the most consistent I’ve been since the beginning of the year, or possibly since I was forced to take gym class in high school. (If that even counts, since gym class exercise for me, unless it was a day where we were forced to run laps, was generally staying on the fringes of the field, deciding I was done for the day when I kicked the soccer ball once, and letting the girls who actually cared about sports and were way more aggressive players handle things.) I’ve also been making a more conscious effort to drink more water, since someone on the Facebook group hosted a little “side hustle” for trying to drink a certain quantity of water a day. I’m still not great at it, especially on days when it’s cold and/or I’m at the day job and just can’t get to my water bottle as much, given that work so far has been mostly moving things around the shop and painting bookshelves. But I’m trying.

So, even though I don’t think I’ve made much of a dent in the little bit of extra weight I picked up after the wedding, I’m choosing to focus on the positive here. I wanted to establish a good habit, and I think I’ve managed to do that. It’s helping my time management a little, because I’ve discovered that I can walk briskly on the treadmill and read my Kindle at the same time, so I’ve been specifically using that time to read through the sewing blogs I like to follow but can become a little of a time suck. I also recently discovered that once I run out of those, the classic I’ve been working through for almost a year now can still be read well on there. And it’s definitely easier for me to exercise when my brain is engaged with something else. And, at the suggestion of someone in the group, I’m trying out the MyFitnessPal app to also track calories and such for a bit, and see if I can figure out the weight loss issue.

I’m planning on continuing on with round 2. Though since this was more about a lifestyle change that involves the same ongoing goal week after week, instead of a more specific goal, I’m changing my focus to a more financial goal. Though we have some longer-term goals in mind, I think the best plan at the moment would be to focus on making a budget that actually works for us–so far, it hasn’t–and learning to cut expenses where I can. At the moment, I think the grocery bill is going to be where I start, because though I’ve been trying to do things like use coupons, shop based on the sale circular, and plan meals, there’s definitely room for improvement. So I probably will be tracking some experiments on here to figure out just how much recipes cost to make, things like that.

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