Living Well, Spending (not quite) zero

Oops… I started this post a few weeks ago, and meant to post this closer to the beginning of November, but life happened. Mostly in terms of I’ve only been averaging 4-5 hours of highly interrupted sleep for the last 2 weeks, thanks to a baby who keeps waking up every 1.5-2 hours. Needless to say, writing hasn’t been much of a priority.

Anyway…we made it to the end of the month! And while we didn’t quite follow the challenge completely, it was an educational time for us. So I figured I’d elaborate on what did and didn’t work, and some different things we tried out that we probably wouldn’t have otherwise.

What worked:
-It helped a lot that our only child is still so young. I’m breastfeeding and using cloth diapers, and he has a couple of months to go before he’s ready for solid food. So we didn’t have to spend a penny on him this month.
-That also helped curb our entertainment spending. We do have cable, mostly because we haven’t found a feasible way for my husband to watch his one and only sport love–hockey–without it. Especially because neither of the teams he follows are the most local one. And right now, it’s hard to keep up with any tv shows when the baby often starts crying too loudly to hear the dialogue partway through. So usual temptations, like getting a Redbox movie, are pointless right now.
-We started using our library more. I’ve borrowed a couple of books, including on my Kindle, and D discovered that he enjoys listening to audiobooks on his weekday commute. (I’m so pleased that he’s found a way to enjoy books that works for him!) Books are a strong temptation for me, so this is a good development for our budget.
-Avoiding the temptation to buy craft supplies was fairly easy, since I’m a slow crafter these days. But at least the day about clothing refashioning was an easy one for me to get into.

What didn’t work:
-I found it extremely difficult to plan enough meals to get us through the month, since I’m currently limited to things that cook fast or in the crock pot. Because of this, we ended up cheating and ordering pizza twice, on particularly stressful days where the baby wouldn’t sleep and we were just too exhausted to come up with anything on the fly.
-We also didn’t get the house all cleaned and organized, since baby carriers aren’t working for us, and he doesn’t like being put down for long. But this may be a blessing in disguise, since we want to do our thorough cleaning closer to when the baby starts crawling. Which he’s getting close to.
-I had one other cheat, but I’m not sorry. A former flute student of mine whose family moved away is adopting, and did an online book fair as a fundraiser. So I did buy a couple of kids books, and plan to use two of them as a jump start on Christmas shopping for the baby. It’s a good cause, and the show closed the day before the freeze ended.

I asked D his thoughts at the end of the month, and we agreed that we want to try again in a few months– tentatively March– and see if we can do better. My plan in the meantime to help us prepare is to keep trying to use up some of the oddball things in our pantry, and work on building my repertoire of crockpot recipes and freezer meals. And especially to get some things in the freezer for those days when pizza seems like the only option. And, well, try to find ways to save some money in December, considering that we have Christmas and two family birthdays to contend with. (We already bought our niece’s birthday and Christmas presents, so that should hopefully help by spreading things out a bit.)

And now, the fun part– things we tried that we probably wouldn’t have otherwise, with pictures!
1. Freezing extra homemade pizza dough. It took longer to rise, and probably needed a little more time than I remembered to give it. But it’s just as easy to mix a double batch as a single, so I think I’ll keep using this trick.


2. Crustless quiche. I wouldn’t make it the same way, since I was trying to use up some random summer sausage, and one thing I’ve learned this month is me eating sausage or pepperoni seems to correlate with the baby being extra fussy the next day. But with a different meat, I think this could be a good option for using up extra veggies. Or maybe as a vegetarian side dish.

3. A Tex-mex style fried rice, which I improvised the recipe for. This actually turned out tasty enough that I’d make it again. It would have been even better with some cheese, but it’s a start.




4. Making homemade chocolate syrup, for chocolate milk one night. D said he still likes the Hershey syrup better, but it was a good way to use some of the ridiculous amount of cocoa that we have.


Pin-testing: Cheeseburger Soup

I didn’t take a picture this time. The thing about crockpot recipes is that they’re not the most visually appealing, more often than not. But this is the sort of cooking that’s easiest with my teaching schedule, so I’m trying to increase my repertoire.

I made this cheeseburger soup, originally from Stacey Makes Cents. But I made a few changes right off the bat, which I think I’m keeping. My changes are in italics.

Crock Pot Cheeseburger Soup

1 pound ground beef, browned
½ cup chopped onion (I just did one small onion, and cooked it a little on its own before adding it to the raw beef.)
½ cup chopped pepper (Upped this to 1 cup)
1 can diced tomatoes (14.5 ounce)
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon oregano
½ teaspoon pepper (increased to 1 tsp, as my husband is quite fond of pepper and adds extra to everything I cook anyway.)
3 cups beef broth (increased to 4 c, so I could use the full carton)
4 cups diced potatoes
¼ cup flour
1 cup milk (decreased to 3/4 c, to compensate for the extra broth a little)
8 ounces cheddar cheese, shredded (used Mexican blend because that’s what I had.)
I also added 1 tsp each of garlic powder and Italian seasoning.)

Combine the beef, onion, pepper, spices, tomatoes, broth and potatoes in your crock. Cover and cook on low for 8 hours. About 30 minutes before it is time to eat, combine the flour and milk. Whisk until no lumps remain. Stir into soup. Add cheese and stir again. Cover and cook until soup is thickened…about 30 minutes.

Yield:  6-8 servings

I actually only cooked it for 6 1/2 hours before adding the rest, because the baby delayed my prep. But it worked out fine. As for the results, we both ended up liking it– hubby more so the second day, after it thickened up more. I think adding the extra seasoning and cooking the onion helped a lot. And even though that added an extra step, it was still pretty easy to throw together.

Book #38: Scarlet

Title: Scarlet (The Lunar Chronicles, Book 2)
Author: Marissa Meyer
Genre: Sci-fi/Young Adult
Length: 512 pages
Read: 10/26- 11/1/15
New or re-read? New read
Why did I pick it up? Because I wanted to continue the series.
Rating: 5/5
Would I read it again? Yes!

(Cutting here for necessary spoilers, since it’s a later part of the series)


Book #37: The Borrowers

Title: The Borrowers
Author: Mary Norton
Genre: Children’s/Fantasy
Recommended age for reading: 7-10 years old
Length: 192 pages
Read: 10/17- 10/20/1
New or re-read? New read
Why did I pick it up? As part of my children’s lit-focused Classics Club list
Rating: 3.5/5
Would I read it again? Maybe. Most likely as a read-aloud option, but it probably wouldn’t be my first pick.
Would my kid enjoy this?
He’s too young to say, but I could see boys and girls alike enjoying this one.
Arrietty Clock lives in an old house with her father and mother, in a cozy little home under the floorboards. She and her family are the last of the Borrowers to have stayed–all of the others left for the country long ago. All Arrietty wants is to be able to go out “borrowing” with her father to find the small bits of food and forgotten household things that make their existence possible. When she finally gets her chance, the worst possible thing happens– she is seen by a young boy who is staying with the elderly spinster aunt who owns the house. Their unlikely friendship and the fallout from it are the rest of the story.
Other notes:
I expected to love this book, given my nearly life-long love affair with fantasy books. Especially since I remember being quite fond of stories with a similar idea, like The Indian in the Cupboard. It’s not precisely that I disliked it– I really did like the premise, because that would explain so much about my inability to find things after I misplace them. I found it vaguely disappointing, though I can’t quite put my finger on why. It might be partially that the Victorian setting was a little off-putting after first getting acquainted with the story through the more modern The Secret World of ArriettyIt might be that I found the housekeeper’s behavior and reactions disturbing, though that probably wouldn’t entirely be a turn-off to any kid who’s familiar with Delores Umbridge. It might just be that I was mostly reading it between the hours of 1 and 4 am while feeding a baby, and therefore found it harder to connect with the story. (Though that shouldn’t be the reason, because I do a lot of my reading that way right now.)

I wasn’t aware that this was the start of a series, though I’m not feeling particularly motivated to continue it at this time. I also found it amusingly fitting that this ended up being the first Kindle book that I borrowed from the library.

Book #36: Snow White and Rose Red

Title: Snow White and Rose Red

Author: Patricia C. Wrede

Genre: Fantasy/Historical Fiction
Length:288  pages
Read:10/8- 10/16/15
New or re-read? New read
Why did I pick it up? Because so far, I haven’t come across a book by this author that I haven’t liked.
Rating: 5/5
Would I read it again? Yes
A retelling of the classic fairy tale–the one in which Snow White has a sister, not the one with the seven dwarves. Each chapter is preceded by a fragment of the original, in which there’s one dwarf– but in this case, the “dwarf” is the real-life Elizabethan astrologer/mathemetician, John Dee, and his friend Edward Kelly. As for Snow White and Rose Red (Blanche and Rosamund in this tale), they live with their widowed mother in a cottage near the borders of the Faerie kingdom, and sometimes cross into it to collect herbs for their mother’s healing poultices. They’re content to try to keep out of the affairs of Faerie otherwise, until a bear shows up at their doorstep, in need of aid. They quickly realize that the bear is really a man suffering from an enchantment–in this case, a magic spell by Dee and Kelly gone awry, in order to steal the power of Faerie to power a crystal that allows them to practice alchemy. When the man’s brother shows up to find him, the sisters learn that he (John) and the bear (Hugh) are half-human, half-Faerie princes, and determine to do what they can to see Hugh’s enchantment broken–all the while, trying to stay out of the way of Dee and Kelly’s work, and avoid accusations of witchcraft themselves.
Other notes:
The story was a delightful, well-crafted blend of fairy tale, The Faerie Queen, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. (There’s even a small role for Robin Goodfellow, aka Puck.) I’ve read enough Shakespeare that I didn’t find the Elizabethan dialogue difficult to follow at all, though I can see how that would be off-putting to some people. In glancing at the Amazon page to get the length of the book, I did see that this was the number one complaint. On the flip side, I can also see this story being a nice way to introduce an older child to the language of Shakespeare, especially if he or she was already familiar with the plot of the original fairy tale. Amazon also classifies this as a read for ages 12 and up, so it seems appropriate for that use to me.

I really do think that Wrede is underrated as a fantasy author. So I fully plan to continue seeking her books out. I should probably think about re-reading her Enchanted Forest Chronicles sometime, too. If you haven’t read them, do. They’re the most hilarious princess-and-dragon stories I’ve ever read!

Book #35: The Complete Tales of Winnie-the-Pooh

Title: The Complete Tales of Winnie-the-Pooh
Author: A. A. Milne
Genre: Children’s/Classic
Length: 368 pages
Read: 9/6- 10/15/15
New or re-read? New read
Recommended age for reading: 8-12 years, according to Amazon. I’m assuming this is for a child to read on his/her own.
Why did I pick it up? Part of my Classics Club list
Rating: 5/5
Would I read it again? Absolutely
The charming adventures of Christopher Robin and his collection of animal friends that occupy the Hundred-Acre Wood. This volume is a compilation of two books, Winnie-the-Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner, for a total of twenty stories in all. Each chapter is a mostly self-contained tale, though there is some continuity that means it must be read in order–the introductions of Kanga, Roo and Tigger, for instance. This was one that I missed as a child, other than seeing the Disney cartoon versions. And mostly not even the complete cartoons, it was generally the Sing Along Songs that we often watched at my grandparents’ house. So there was definitely some familiarity to the stories, like the opening tale of Winnie-the-Pooh trying to outsmart the bees to get honey out of their tree. (Even though the accompanying poem was completely different, I still got “I’m just a little black rain-cloud” stuck in my head. Thanks, Disney.) But there was also a lot that I missed. Like grammar jokes. Seriously.

See? Run-on sentences!

There were also other elements that I didn’t know about, like Rabbit is kind of a jerk. And Eeyore is a lot more intellectual, or at least thinks he is, than I would have expected. But overall, it was thoroughly charming. 
Other notes:
This story pretty much demands to be read aloud in order for a child to hear it at the age range where he or she would be most likely to appreciate it, so I’m glad I got the practice reading it aloud for naptime feedings. Now I know that I need to work on my character voices, since it’s not always clear at first glance who’s speaking otherwise. At least Eeyore is an easy voice to do. All I have to do is talk slow and sound depressed.

Book #34: Prophet

Title: Prophet
Author: R.J. Larson
Genre: Fantasy
Length: 352 pages
Read: 9/27- 10/7/15
New or re-read? New read
Why did I pick it up? Amazon Kindle freebie
Rating: 4/5
Would I read it again? Possibly. I’d be more likely to continue with the series and leave it at that, though.
It’s sort of a retelling of Old Testament Biblical prophets– I definitely recognized various moments in the plot, such as Elijah’s taunting the prophets of Baal, or Elisha instructing Namaan how to be cured of his leprosy. But set in a fictional world. Ela is called by the Infinite (the name for God used in this story) to be a prophet to the neighboring country of Istgard, and warn them of their impending destruction if they don’t repent of not following the Infinite and their recent massacre in the Tracelands. She’s the first female prophet to come out of Parne, so nobody takes her seriously at first. Then her prophecies start coming true, and she forms an unlikely alliance with a Tracelander ambassador, imprisoned in Istgard, named Kien.
Other notes: 
It was certainly a creative spin on stories I’ve heard all my life. And I found her relationship with the Infinite interesting, since how exactly God spoke to His prophets wasn’t always clear. All in all, a decent Christian fantasy novel.

Book #33: Cinder

Title: Cinder
Author: Marissa Meyer
Genre: Sci-fi/Young Adult
Length: 400 pages
Read: 9/15- 9/26/15
New or re-read? new read
Why did I pick it up? Honestly? At the recommendation of a friend’s teenage daughter. I don’t see that family much anymore, but we used to talk about books and Doctor Who.
Rating: 4/5
Would I read it again? Yes
Yes, there’s a prince, a stepmother (of sorts) and stepsisters, and a ball. That’s where the Cinderella influence ends, for the most part. In this world, set in a futuristic Asian alliance (specifically New Beijing), humans survive as best as they can with a 100% fatal plague ravaging the population, androids are commonplace as household servants, and cyborgs are second-class citizens at best. Cinder, an orphan with a gift for mechanics no memory of her life before age 11, when she woke up with her machine parts, is one of the latter. Her life is fairly unexciting until the heir to the empire, Prince Kai, shows up at her shop and asks her to repair one of his androids. When the younger of her stepsisters, Peony, gets the plague after she accompanies Cinder to a junkyard to salvage some parts, Cinder’s stepmother volunteers her for a government program that uses cyborgs as guinea pigs for potential cures to the plague– basically a death sentence. Except somehow, she doesn’t get sick. She then finds herself fighting against the clock to find a cure in time to save both the Emperor and Peony, and unwillingly at the center of a plot by the mysterious queen of the Lunars (the descendants of colonists on the moon, who are no longer fully human themselves) to enslave Kai into a marriage that will allow her to establish power on Earth, while trying to fight her own forbidden attraction to him. And she finally learns the truth about her own mysterious past.
Other notes: I definitely plan to continue with this series, and am currently on the waiting list to get the e-book from my local library system.

Spending freeze update

Now that we’re almost halfway through the month, it’s probably time to check in. So here’s how the Living Well Spending Zero challenge has been going for us so far:

The first week: easier than I thought.
For me, anyway. It helps a lot that I’ve already put a self-imposed moratorium on spending on the areas I’m most tempted in–mainly, craft supplies and books. I have plenty of both and am trying to work my way through that. Music too, to some extent, but I can stream new stuff on Amazon Prime and can therefore wait to make sure I really want to add these albums to my collection.

Food was what I was most concerned about, since I usually plan based on grocery sales. Not every meal was great, but we managed with what’s in our pantry, only buying $12 of groceries over the weekend. (Milk, cheese and eggs, since that stuff doesn’t necessarily keep. Also a loaf of bread so we could quickly make grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch that day.) Since we usually spend between $75-$100 at the grocery store in a week, depending on if we also need household items like dishwasher detergent or I’m stocking up on sale meats, that’s significant savings! And, since we were able to use cash (more on that later), it certainly helped with our goal of paying off our credit card.

My husband had a bit of a harder time, since he volunteered to not buy Coke (his favorite drink), and didn’t really have anything to munch on at work. So there was one cheat day where he just had to buy something to get through the day. He brought snacks after that.

The second week: getting harder.
One major challenge was Friday. We had already planned a day trip to one of the two somewhat local aquariums before this came up, since he had a day off of work. And we decided to still go. The admission itself was already paid for, thanks to a Groupon that I’d bought back in September. But we still needed to pay for parking and food. I found out when we got there that we actually could have brought our own food, thanks to some people we spotted who had brought lunchboxes. Oh well, noted for next time. But we did bring cash to cover those things. Aside from that, a postcard (our traditional souvenir from the places we travel together, since those fit very nicely in a scrapbook) and a small item for the baby’s room ($5), we didn’t buy anything else, and stayed enough under our allotted budget that we were able to use the rest of the cash for that small grocery trip!

Food is still tough, especially planning what meals to make strictly from the pantry. And especially since my music lesson schedule means dinner is something I like to get on the table quickly, and it’s been hard to plan for things like crock pot meals in particular. We honestly don’t have much around in the way of vegetables, so the meals aren’t quite as balanced as I’d prefer to cook.

The other big challenge for me, personally, is that this week’s focus is on cleaning. I don’t particularly enjoy it, and it’s been difficult to do it since late in my pregnancy–I was too clumsy/sore/unable to get up and down then, and baby doesn’t like carriers and not being held for longer stretches of time now. So, while my husband had his list of things he wanted to take care of, and finished that, here’s how my list went:
Morning: I’m going to clean the living room, kitchen, dust the bedroom, and clean the master bathroom!
(Insert needing to wait to do baking for the evening’s Bible study, because I was one egg short for a recipe I had everything else for, a couple of feedings, and unexpectedly having to give baby a bath. By the time I got the pumpkin bread in the oven and made our grilled cheese sandwiches, it was afternoon.)
Afternoon: Ok, new plan. I’ll do the bathroom and bedroom later, and just clean the living room/kitchen.
(I got things dusted, wiped down the counter, and cleaned the door that leads to the deck plus two very dirty windows that our dogs like to watch our parking area from. This picture is halfway through, so you can see how bad they were. Before I could start vacuuming, baby woke up from a nap hungry. And since we had Bible study to drive to, that pretty much ended that.)

We didn’t really have much in the nursery to deal with, since he’s too little to start making his own messes and clutter yet. But circumstances yesterday didn’t allow me to catch up with our main living areas, let alone tackle other rooms. So I think I’m going to be slacking for the remainder of this week’s assignments, since morning naps are extremely hit-and-miss when I’m not holding him. Case in point, today’s only lasted long enough for me to put away my personal laundry, get dressed, and open the door to the sewing room to start tidying up.  And I do have travel time for teaching to factor in for afternoons. But we’re considering asking one of our moms to babysit for a few hours on some upcoming weekend, so we can deep clean the house and make sure everything is baby-proofed. He’s working very hard to start crawling, and we figure it’s better to get this cleaning done closer to the time he succeeds, since at this point, our dogs would undo any efforts on the floors in particular.

Yeah, maybe I am using the baby and the dogs as an excuse to procrastinate. Just keeping it real here, folks.

But, I do think this is helping. I was just talking to The Mister, and he said that this month hasn’t been nearly as bad financially as he initially thought, since a change in the pay schedule at his job meant that our monthly income would be reduced. But we’re doing fine. And hopefully maybe even making some headway.

Book #32: Miss Marple: The Complete Short Stories


Title: Miss Marple: The Complete Short Stories
Author: Agatha Christie
Genre: Mystery/Short Stories
Length: 359 pages
Read: 9/6- 9/25/15
New or re-read? New read
Why did I pick it up? Truthfully? We just started visiting our very small local library, which has been a 5-minute drive from my house for the last 2 years. Shameful, I know. But it was hard to justify borrowing books when I had so many unread on my shelf. I wanted to renew the card for e-book access, since that is still the easiest for me to read, but I felt like it would be wrong to leave the library without a book. And since this was my first attempt to read a tangible book since having the baby, I figured short stories would be the easiest to work in.

Also, Agatha Christie. And I’d never read a Miss Marple story.
Rating: 4/5
Would I read it again? Perhaps. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy it, but mysteries are often hard to re-read without several years’ distance. After all, then you know whodunit.
Miss Marple is an elderly spinster who has lived all her life in a small English village, and has gotten quite good at reading human nature through her observations of her fellow villagers. This book is a series of short stories that are unsolved mysteries told to her by her friends at first, and later on incidents that she finds herself involved in. And she figures out the culprit every time.
Other notes:
My main reasoning for giving this a “4” rating was that I think I would have enjoyed several of the stories more if I’d understood the references. Turn-of-the-century English village life isn’t exactly my specialty, and that often made the solutions quite obscure to me. That being said, I’d still read more of these stories. (I have to, because I have at least one Miss Marple novel on my Classics Club list!)

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