Friday, March 31, 2006

The new rules

So DH has been unemployed off and on for the last three years (wow, has it been three years already? Time does fly!). This go-round, the unemployment checks run out in just a couple of weeks. Until he finds a job, we've made the decision that we're going to try to make it on just my salary, without dipping into savings, unless there's an emergency (or the stupid car breaks down again). It'll be TIGHT, but we can do it!

I've been delving back into all my frugal living resources - a few forums, some books (specifically The Complete Tightwad Gazette, the "bible" of frugal living), a couple of new cookbooks, and the Hillbilly Housewife website. I'm getting all kinds of new and refreshed ideas!

Food is one place where we typically spend about three times what we need to. So, until DH gets a job, here are a few new rules for me to live by...

1. NO eating out. This means no Starbucks (*gasp*), no fast food when I don't feel like eating what I brought for lunch, and no dinners out when I'm lazy.

2. Grocery shopping once a week. From a list. Which I will stick to. No more "oh, that looks good", or "ooh - let's have THAT for dinner!". If it's not on the list, it doesn't go in the cart. Had some practice on saying that when I went shopping with my SIL last weekend - my three-year-old niece wanted EVERYTHING she saw and I just kept repeating "it's not on the list - we can't buy it!" It occurred to me that I need to say that very thing to myself more often!

3. $30-$50 a week limit on grocery shopping. It doesn't sound like much, but really, with a little creativity and open-mindedness we could probably eat for a month just on what's in our pantry and freezers, so it's not that big a stretch. I can restock later, when we're not so stretched. I should just be buying perishable staples - milk, eggs, bread, produce. Meat if I find an unbeatable sale (that doesn't happen too often around here).

4. Menu planning. EVERY week. Even if we don't eat everything every day it's on the calendar, at least we'll have a general guide so there won't be anymore "what should we have for dinner?" conversations at 6:00 in the evening. It's just much easier that way.

So those are the new rules. I don't know what this means for my weight loss efforts, but I haven't been buying too many specialty "diet" foods this go-round, instead trying to adapt "normal" food to my new plan. I've been buying frozen dinners to take for lunches sometimes, which will stop, but that just means I need to have leftovers or extra casseroles and such in the freezer, easy and quick. I can do that!

Friday, March 24, 2006

Food for Thought

Ran across this article the other day, about Whole Foods and buying organic:

It really made me stop and think. I shop at Whole Foods very rarely, usually only when I want to park in their parking garage and get validated for it. Their parking garage is centrally located to all the fun things in the Pearl District, where I like to meet people for happy hour. For the most part, I find Whole Foods to be overpriced, and I don't think they have a very good selection of "normal foods". I'd much rather be shopping at New Seasons or Trader Joe's, now that the Wild Oats in my area is closed (that was my favorite).

When I was young, my mom shopped at Honeybee Produce for natural foods. I don't think "organic" was on the horizon in those days (this was in the late 70s and early 80s), but natural foods were most definitely "in". I remember going with her and being amazed at all the different kinds of flour, grains, nut butters, and other similar things that she could get there.

When I was in college, I shopped occasionally at the local co-op. I wasn't a member, but their prices were great even for non-members. I've always loved to cook so I do buy a lot of "ingredients", and try to avoid processed and pre-packaged food, though I do use a lot more of those than I'd like since I work full-time and it's easy.

I haven't found a co-op in my area, but now I do some shopping at Trader Joe's, New Seasons, and the aforementioned Whole Foods. Mostly I shop at Winco, which is getting a better selection of natural foods, though not too many organics. I don't stress out about getting organic, mainly because we can't afford it. I find that organic vegetables are buggy and not too healthy looking, organic cereals taste about the same to me as the regular ones, and, well, I have no desire to pay $5 a pound for organic meat (we eat way too much of it) or $4 a gallon for milk. So I buy it when I can get it at a similar price to the other stuff, but I don't stress out about it.

Two points in the article intrigued me most: the fuel consumption argument (to bring organics from Chile vs. the other stuff from New Jersey), and the fact that most of the organic produce is grown on large corporate farms.

On fuel consumption: I keep reading that we should buy only seasonal, local produce. This means that I wouldn't see a fresh vegetable from November to March, so I don't really like this idea. And I'd never see citrus, and my husband would declare mutiny on me if I quit buying that (he's the one who eats two or three oranges every day - at least I know he's not going to get scurvy any time soon!). It's a good point I hadn't thought of that it takes a LOT of fuel to get some of that produce up here from South America. And with oil supplies in the world being what they are, maybe I should start looking for only "made in the USA" produce, or maybe that from our next door neighbor countries, too. I don't know. My puny little food purchases for my family of two don't amount to much, but maybe it's a start.

On organic farming: I get mail from an organic farming community somewhere in America's heartland. I really like their homey newsletter and they have good information. But I don't like the sudden realization that they could be one of these corporate conglomerate farming deals. I don't like corporate conglomerate farms. I would be willing to pay a little more to support small, local farms, because more and more of them (at least in my area) are being eaten up for subdivisions. Just in the two years I've lived in my little town, I've seen a lot of open land go, and big, overpriced houses take their place. I like farmers. I like the idea of farmers. Some of my great grandparents, and my great-great grandparents, were ranchers before the Great Depression when they lost it all. I want to support people like them. This means I have to get my rear in gear and find out when the farmer's market opens, and start supporting that. Even if it costs a little more. Which means I'll be buying seasonal, local produce. Which means Winco, New Seasons, and Trader Joe's (yes, and Whole Foods) will be getting a little less of my money.

But yes dear, I'll still buy your oranges. You know they're going to be out of season pretty soon, right?

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Wait, WHEN does life happen???

Dear 76 Gasoline Ad Executives,

I can't take it anymore. Your ad campaign is driving me crazy, causing me to yell at the radio/television and make others think I've gone off the deep end. Therefore, a correction:

Life, in fact, DOES NOT happen between empty and full. Well, I suppose a miniscule part of life happens between empty and full, but not all those big exciting life-changing moments you describe in your commercials.

The only thing that happens between empty and full is that we're sitting around, twiddling our thumbs, waiting for the gas station attendants to stop picking their noses and horsing around and come over and top off our tanks. Yes, that's right, I live in Oregon, one of the two states in the Union where the voters still think they're incapable of pumping their own gas. But I digress.

Life, in fact, happens between FULL and EMPTY. *That's* when we're out driving around. That's when young boys are taking young girls to the prom. That's when expectant parents are rushing to the hospital for the joyous delivery of their precious little one. That's when we go to the beach, the mountains, the Grand Canyon. That's when life happens.

You might want to change your commercials.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Be Prepared

Last week, I ordered five pounds of powdered whole eggs. For the curious among you, that's the equivalent of 340 whole fresh eggs. That should last us a year or two.

Be Prepared. Growing up in a good Scouting family, I heard that a lot. But to my young mind, that meant things like taking an extra pair of socks on a hiking trip, and making sure the first aid kit always had bandaids in it.

Now I'm a grownup, and being prepared has taken on a whole new meaning. As an adult, I have to wonder about things like terrorist attacks. Earthquakes. Bird Flu. Not worry, because I can't worry about things I can't control or I'll drive myself batty, but wonder. Will it come? When? What will my world look like if it does?

I read a lot of forums. Some just for fun, some for tips, some for serious discussions about saving money and getting out of debt. A couple have whole sections about being prepared for emergencies. And these people are PREPARED. They have their stockpiles. They have food, water, cash (because in an emergency plastic will be hard to use), some have gasoline, they have car kits, backpack kits, stay-at-home-without-leaving-for-a-month kits, all kinds of kits. Me, I'll have my powdered eggs. And I'll bow to their level of preparedness, because I'm not sure I can do it.

I've read some articles about Bird Flu. Some say that the reports are overblown and there's nothing to worry about. Some say that every chicken in the world will need to be destroyed (this explains my five pounds of powdered eggs). Some say that when it hits, no one should leave their house for a while. But, it'll take two years for it to run its course. Our own goverment says that water, electricity, and other services could all be disrupted for an unknown period of time. So we all have to be prepared. Put together our 72 hour kits and then some.

But how much is enough? How much is too much? At what point have we slid down that slippery slope from rational precautions to end of the world, Chicken Little, mass hysteria?

Being a compulsive grocery shopper, and a sometimes bargain hunter, we always have about a month's worth of food on hand. We have no water saved up, however. Sometimes this bothers me and I wonder if I should start stocking up on 10 gallon bottles or something. But where would I put them? Space is already at a premium in our 1200 square foot house. It would take some creativity to figure out where to put 10 days worth of water for the two of us plus our three animals, which is the number I've read on some websites. If disaster happens and we can get to the inlaws', we can get water from their well, so maybe that's why I'm not overly concerned on this point. Of course, I should be thinking "what if we CAN'T get to the inlaws'???"

Another area I'm not ready is pet food. They eat it all, we buy more. Unless a disaster happens when I've just made a Petco run, Hershey and Ringo are going to have to send Puck out hunting for them.

So I guess I can say I'm halfway ready for a disaster. I still feel like a good Scout. I'm prepared. Maybe not completely, but at a level I'm comfortable with. I'm cautious, but not panicking.

How prepared are you?

Friday, March 10, 2006

13 pounds

13 pounds. That's how much I've lost since December 27. And, to steal a line from a certain fast food restaurant (how ironic is that?), I'm loving it! Granted, I still have a ways to go - I need to lose 70 total, but I'm taking every pound I can get!

I've done this before. In the late 1990s I lost 43 pounds with Weight Watchers, which is a fabulous program. This time, I'm doing it with the assistance of a wonderful free weight loss website, I also have wonderful support from a fabulous private weight loss forum I've joined. Awesome people, all walking the same path.

My clothes fit better. My jeans are looser. One of these days I'll drop a size. This is the first time I've incorporated regular exercise into my plan, and I feel great!

There's no magic pill. Just counting calories (which the website makes SOOOOO easy!), exercising, and holding myself accountable, with the help of a lot of people, including my forum buddy, Lynn, who I'm convinced will someday come through the computer and kick my ass for eating chocolate instead of hopping on my Nordictrak. :-)

I'm almost a quarter of the way there. It's a long road, but I know I'll get there! Unless, of course, I get pregnant first, which is what I'm really hoping for. Then I'll just start over when the time comes!

Thursday, March 09, 2006

What am I, a grownup or something?

DH woke me up at 2:00 this morning with a kiss.

"Sweetie! It's snowing!"

Someone (I'm sure it couldn't have been me, lol) suddenly said with a wail "NO! NO SNOW!!!" Then I realized, it WAS me!

How did that happen? I love snow. Look forward to it all year. Get excited when it comes, and sad when it leaves. Because we simply don't get enough of it around here.

So where did it come from? Maybe it was the fact that it was 2 in the morning and I wasn't supposed to be awake yet. Maybe it was because I have to be downtown at 7 and that means I have to leave that much earlier. Because if there's snow in my town, you can bet there will be a back up on the freeway going over the Sylvan Hill (and looking at the news, you can't even see the road on the ODOT camera, because it's snowing that hard). And because something in the back of my head tells me that I'll get down there, and none of our breakfast guests will have shown up, because it's snowing. Maybe it's because our four-wheel drive vehicle has been down for the last month and I can't drive it, instead driving my regular car, a Saturn that can't accomodate chains.

Who is this adult? It certainly can't be me! But, upon further reflection now that it's 5 am and I have a cup of coffee, maybe it was surprise, not worry. At 2 am, anything's possible! It doesn't snow in Portland in March! Well, it does, because the first year I was at my job it snowed this very week. I was downtown early on a Sunday morning, handing out brochures at a race for an upcoming event. Something I'll be doing this coming Sunday. It snowed then, we'll see if it snows now.

I'd better get a move on. I normally have to give myself an hour to get downtown this time of the morning. It's snowing in the West Hills. I better give myself at least an hour and 20 minutes. And I'll bring my book, because with my luck I'll be there at 6:30!

Monday, March 06, 2006

A computer-free life?

I've long thought that I'm an internet addict. Forums, blogs, Google, email - I could read for days on end and not get bored. Well, now my eyes are a little messed up and I need glasses for computer work. So, while I wait for the glasses to come in, I decided to try a little experiment. Could I go a whole weekend without the computer?

Short answer...NO! Well, but I did significantly cut back. Probably spent only an hour or so actually ON the computer. And I wasn't quite sure what to do with myself the rest of the time. So I read a lot. And I watched a lot of movies. Yes, I could have cleaned the house. But hey, this is *me* we're talking about here... :-)

I've realized that the internet is my primary link to the outside world. Not just the web, but email too. It's how I keep in touch with friends and family (I don't even have a long distance plan), meet new people who share my interests, find support on various issues (like my weight loss journey), and keep tabs on what's happening in the world. At this point, I'm not ready for a computer free life. I

So glasses, please be ready soon, ok?

Friday, March 03, 2006

My poor neglected blog

Wow. Has it really been since October? Gosh, it doesn't seem like that long ago. Sorry Blog! I'll do better.

As you know, I was all fired up to write a novel in November. Well, four pages does not a novel make. But I'm dusting it off and getting it going again. My friend and I are meeting for a forced writing session tomorrow. DH wants me to hurry up and finish it, so I can make a million dollars and we can buy him a new truck. If only it was that easy!

I think what I need is a mind reader/text translator. The story's up there, in my head, it's just so much trouble to actually put it down on paper! But, if I'm going to share it with the world, it has to leave the confines of my skull, I suppose...

Wish me luck!