Sunday, April 28, 2013

Night And Day

Yesterday was one of those days that started and ended in such complete polar opposites that it's hard to believe they were a day in the life of the same person.

My morning began by bringing Lou to the vet.  It's tough because it begins with a 30 minute car ride and is followed by all kinds of poking, prodding, and strange people.  He normally crashes on the ride home which is kind of sweet but shows you how exhausting the whole thing is-for both of us.  

Yesterday's vet visit was less involved than it normally is because I decided to stop giving Lou the three medications he had been taking daily.  I had a long and thoughtful  conversation with Lou's veterinarian who I trust and respect and as he puts it "Lou and I go way back".  We agreed to stop "putting our noses in the lab results" and focus instead on keeping Lou happy and content.  Lou's vet and I talked about making sure that Lou was interacting with me and enjoying life in his own way.  And Lou does.  This conversation was just one of many that I expect we will have and it felt very mature and respectful to begin having the conversations now when Lou is still a little champ.

He knows this is the way out of the exam room!

Coming back in after having his nails trimmed.

To the point that he still enjoys life we went outside today and he rolled and basked in the sun for quite a while.  However, a couple of things happened that really caught me off guard.  The first was that when I put his harness on I mistook the neck loop for the waist loop.  He is that skinny and it just floored me that I could mix up the two.  The other thing was that a lady stopped and mentioned that she just got a harness for her cat and hoped he would enjoy it like Lou.  I mentioned that he had been doing this his whole life.  And she said "he is an old man isn't he".  Just like that.  She said it very sweetly-not at all in a mean way but I guess I like to think that even though he's eighteen he looks much younger.  I guess no longer.  

So, that was my day and after a quick nap it was on to the evening.  When it was announced that Quiet Riot was going to be in Maine I totally wanted to go until I saw it was $39 a ticket.  I'm sorry but $39 for a band without Kevin DuBrow in Standish Maine just isn't worth it to me.  But then they announced a two for one Facebook deal and when I learned a friend was going I knew that an affordable plan was in place.  My friend is very into the opening band and I also enjoy them so we thoroughly enjoyed the opening act.  Once they finished their set I explained that I was moving right up front and was she comfortable coming with me.  She was and it was such a good decision!  We totally got lost in the music.  The vibe was fantastic and the band, despite only one original member, was very worthy of the Quiet Riot name.  I'm so glad that I got to go and have the whole experience.  I went with a longtime friend and I saw and chatted with bunches of acquaintances that I hope may develop into friends. 

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Homemade Vanilla

When I started eating a vegan diet I was doing a lot of my own baking.  I found that using a teaspoon of vanilla extract here and there added up to an empty bottle really quickly.  And that stuff is expensive (unless you use the cheap imitation vanilla flavor but you don't use that right?).  Once I discovered how easy it was to make my own I whipped up a batch and I've never looked back.  I had the first batch for a couple of years but recently decided it was time for a fresh batch. 

It's so amazingly simple.  You just need an empty glass jar, a bottle of any vodka (don't waste the really good stuff!), and two vanilla beans.  I buy them at Whole Foods where they are two for 7.99 but I've seen them at Shaw's and recently at a kitchen shop in the old Port where they were $4.99!

Score the vanilla beans with a knife so that they release their extract more easily:

Here is the jar on the first day.  It will take a while to "seep" and get that nice dark, rich vanilla extract color.

Here it is a week later.  It's just starting to get a slight tint:

Here it is two weeks in and it's already much more amber looking:

And here it is after about 6 weeks.  It's ready to dip a teaspoon in.  The vanilla beans will release some black specks but they settle at the bottom and don't hurt anything.  As the liquid runs low you can keep adding vodka for quite a long time before you will feel like you should change the beans out. 

That's a lot of vanilla extract!  You can experiment with using different vodkas and types of beans  but I promise you will never go back to expensive store bought!

Friday, April 12, 2013

Help With My Grocery Budget

It had been very clear for quite a long time that as much as I stretched the ends of my monthly budget that the ends just were not, could not meet.  There are a lot of reasons behind that but a big culprit was my complete devotion to Whole Foods.  I took a lot of pride in buying high quality foods.  I was willing to give up a lot of things in my life in order to make weekly trips to the appropriately nicknamed "Whole Paycheck". However, despite my wanting to make it a priority it became very clear that I couldn't continue these weekly shopping trips without the kinds of sacrifices that I wasn't willing to make.  

Last fall I begrudgingly began shopping at other stores.  I was very clear that I was unwilling to compromise on quality just to save money.  I still wanted fresh food without a bunch of funny ingredients.  I immediately began seeing a 35-45% drop in my grocery bill. Ok, I had to admit that this was working.  I began digging a bit deeper.  I browsed the sales flyers and also did some price matching.  In my web search attempt to get the Shaw's flyer a few days early so that I could plan my shopping trips I came across this wonderful lady: Darlene.  She was my introduction to couponing.

I admit that not only did I believe that using coupons was a waste of time but I also thought that they were only for packaged junk food that people shouldn't be buying anyway.  I firmly believed (as many people do) that you could just buy a generic product and get the same savings without all of the work.  Well, I must say that I was wrong on both counts.  Very wrong.  It's impossible to count my savings or highlight all the amazing deals that I've gotten but I am most definitely hooked.

I've been able to stay true to myself in only buying high quality foods that I would have bought even if they were full price.  I've been able to spend a bit of time planning and I've reaped so many rewards.  It extends so far beyond saving on my grocery bill.  I feel like I finally have gained control back of my financial world.  I didn't achieve that simply by changing how I buy food but it is a big piece of the puzzle.  I hope to fill you in soon on other things I've done.

So, without further adieu here is just a very small sampling of things that I have very recently gotten for free or very cheap.
FREE over and over again!  Months ago I had a coupon for 75 cents off one.  They cost only 75 cents so they were free and each time the register spits out a coupon for another 75 cents off one.  So each week I pick one up and get another coupon.  I'm wondering how long this will go one.  I hope for a while because I love these!

FREE organic grape tomatoes (they were in produce clearance and I had a coupon.  Technically I made .02 cents!)

.66 cents each.  I've been making a lot of my cleaning products homemade but soap hasn't made that list.  These were on sale at Target.  I combined a Target coupon with a Manufacturer coupon for this great deal on natural hand soap and dish soap.

Both FREE!  I got the last of these rice mixes but I have coupons left for a couple more so I'll be heading back to the store.  I've been using tons of non-dairy milk in smoothies so the rice milk is a huge score!

Only .19-.29 cents each!  I've been able to do this a couple of times by stacking a store coupon from Whole Foods or Target with a high value manufacturer coupon.  I actually could have gotten some for free if I bought another type but I really like the sweet potato ones!

Oh, and back to Whole Foods.  I will admit in the beginning it was actually emotionally hard.  I felt so happy and fulfilled simply pulling into the parking lot.  I really missed it the first couple of months.  But a breakthrough happened last week.  I headed to Whole Foods to pick up some bulk foods items that it really makes sense for me to but there.  I had some coupons that I hoped to use but now that I was really paying attention to prices I was appalled and devastated (yes, I know that seems theatrical but sadly true) at how insanely exaggerated the prices were.  I actually felt stressed and couldn't wait to leave.  There is hope...

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Random Follow Ups

This posting will tie up a few loose ends from a couple of recent entries of mine.  

I can happily say that I am completely done with my bedroom and living room.  Everything ties together so nicely and I'm glad to be done buying stuff for a while!  Here are a couple of snaps of the living room:

This is the new love seat, ottoman and rug:

Here is the TV stand with the new hardware:

Here is the new fabric on this chair:

And here is an overhead view of the room including the mantel:

A while ago I posted about the Tom Keifer concert.  I took a picture with my iPhone and one with my new camera.  The quality was very similar but I mentioned that I wanted to test out the zoom feature which was my main reason for buying the camera.  I got my shot (pun intended!) last night at the Carrie Underwood concert.  We had nice seats but in a venue like the Civic Center we were far from being up close and personal. Yet this camera made it seem like I was right on stage with her.  The zoom was great-not at all grainy and not all all blurry which is usually the case when trying to take a stabilize picture fully zoomed in.  Plus, I was a bit concerned about the battery life.  At the end of the show the battery meter hadn't dropped a bit!  Love it!

These are three of my favorite pictures from the night:

Coming up I think I'm going to be blogging some about some things I've been doing to save money and budget the money I do have.  It may not seem exciting but its allowed me to have a new living room, bedroom and Carrie U tickets so I think that is really exciting!