Hello again!

Hi everyone, I’ve been away for awhile, but I figured I would check in. How are you all doing?

Me, I’m doing pretty good. Planning a move in a couple of weeks, working on my curriculum and my rhythm for the Fall, and I’m quite excited about some of the stories I’ve found on http://www.mainlesson.com.  It’s a site with hundreds of free stories, many from the early 1900s, very sweet and in keeping with my own values and aesthetics.

Since I last wrote, my girl turned 5, we completed our 1st homeschooling year, and we went away for another month at the cottage. We also found out that we got the apartment we were hoping for–a 3-bedroom stacked townhouse in our same neighbourhood, with 2 little balconies (container gardening–yay!), and a laundry room! No more doing laundry in my kitchen and hanging clothes in the dining room!

Our homeschooling year went well. Of course there were tough times–like most of February! But I think we all get the winter blahs if we’re prone to them, whether we homeschool or not. I’ve gotten to know Waldorf a lot better, and have met many homeschooling parents in the area and made some very nice friends. And to top it all off, I’ve had the ultimate compliment from my daughter who told me, “I have the BEST teacher!”

So I’m trying to do even better this year, with a rhythm that will be doable, and also with some story content 🙂 For those of you unfamiliar with Waldorf, the kindergarten years are meant to be filled with the rhythms and work of the home, with rhymes and stories and songs and art. So the parent-teacher gets the chance to work on their consistency during the days and the weeks, planning this day for mending and this day for baking and so on, and the children get to know the days of the week not as “Monday, Tuesday” but as “Mending Day, Baking Day”.  You know you’ve succeeded when your kid asks you, “Mom, is it Washing Day today?” Extra gold stars if it’s because they want to help you wash the floor!

It ain’t easy, but it sure is fun.

On top of all that, moving to a bigger apartment means higher rent, which means our frugality skills need to ramp up a wee bit, which will be fodder for some new blog posts I’m sure. Over the time since I started this blog 3 1/2 years ago, our bank balance has wavered between the black and the red, but you know what? Each year we are moving forward. So I have faith we can meet these new challenges ahead.

And if not, I can always move back to drying laundry in my dining room.

Advertisements

Five Dollar Dinners?

I recently found a website that specializes in $5 dinners. Unfortunately, I can’t fix any of those dinners for the prices listed–mostly due to the price differences with meat, eggs and dairy items in the US. And vegetables. Sigh.

Not that I think all our food should be that cheap. In fact, most of the problems with our food system are due to the super-cheap prices we demand. North America spends less on food than anywhere else in the world, which leads to all sorts of problems like concentration of power, over-use of chemicals, mono-cropping, super-sizing animals with hormones, etc. etc. etc.

But. It is a challenge to feed a family of four healthy foods on a budget in downtown Ottawa. Yep, that’s 50% of my blog content summed up right there.

So I’m going to try producing some of my own $5 dinners. Not $5 per serving. Not $5 per night. $5 for the whole dang healthy pot of dinner. Now, I guarantee these won’t be anything fancy. You won’t find any arugula or pancetta or anything else in French or Italian. You might not even want to admit to eating this for “dinner”. But I will guarantee they will be healthy, balanced, and contain at least some fresh vegetables.

I’m going to try making this black bean casserole I saw online some place, and if it comes in under $5, I’ll blog the recipe. Until then, let me know your favourite cheap meals! If they’re under $5, I’ll add them to my list.

Work Lunches: a new strategy

Some times you have to spend money to save money. It’s a hard, cruel fact. One that I’ve ignored for far too long. Today I broke the bank with pyrex, but it should save us a bunch of money in the long run!

Now that we’re doing Your Money or Your Life step 2 (part 2)–which involves tracking every cent that comes into and goes out of our lives–I’ve realized just how much money is being spent on food outside the home. Lots! One area where we have fallen down is in organizing my partner’s lunches at work. When he doesn’t bring something from home, his lunches out can easily cost around $10 per day. And that doesn’t count the $5 afternoon Starbucks run. Fifteen bucks a day adds up quick, and my partner is the first to admit that the food is crappy and not worth it.

Now that the baby is eight and a half months, things are beginning to stabilize a bit in our household, and we can start building some systems again, start re-organizing. So we had a chat about the lunches, and came up with a strategy for reducing his food costs at work.

Basically, the plan is to have five lunches ready and waiting in the fridge or freezer at the beginning of each week so that there will always be something to grab each day and he won’t end up needing to buy lunches any more. The specific strategy points are as follows:

1. Try to do better with leftovers. I always “intend” to make sure there are leftovers to take, but too often I forget to actually allow for them in my cooking. Leftovers will be priority #1.

Spaghetti lunches, ready for the freezer

2. Make big-batch home-made “frozen” lunches. This is where the pyrex comes in. I finally broke down and bought five glass freezer containers suitable for a decent portion of food for my partner’s lunch. My idea is to do just like the frozen dinners do and have a bed of noodles or rice dumped over with a good helping of sauce. Only this version will be home made, and it will be super duper cheap!

So, today I did a big batch of spaghetti. We ate a good helping for dinner, and then I made more noodles and packed up five yummy portions for frozen lunches. Easy peasy lemon squeezy. I’m planning to make big meaty saucy stewy meals every Sunday from now on to stock up the frozen lunches for the week. These home-made frozen dinners will be priority #2.

3. Buy enough frozen meals to last a week. My partner doesn’t mind the President’s Choice frozen Indian dishes, so I will try to make sure there are at least five in our freezer at the start of the week. That way, if we fall down on #1 and #2, at least he has those.

4. Make cookies. What can I say? My man likes my cookies. I figure for the cost of maybe two cookies at Starbucks, I could make a full batch of cookies at home. If I make them, he’ll eat them. And we all save money.

So there you have it: the new plan. It involves a lot of Sunday cooking and shopping, but I think we’re ready for it. There is a lot to be said for getting ready for the week on the weekend, instead of playing catch-up the rest of the days.

I also wanted to add that today I shopped at the Isabella Loblaws and found some great sales. First off, the PC frozen meals were on sale for $3 each, so I bought enough for two weeks. There were also all these bread products, reduced to 50% off. Due date: June 15! I don’t know who is getting fired over this, but I got a loaf of bread, a bag of english  muffins, and two bags of bagels, each for between $1 and $1.50.

So we are really really really well stocked at the moment. It feels good. But MAN my freezer is full!

Year in review and a new project

Your Money or Your Life
Your Money or Your Life

I missed my “blog-a-versary”, but I thought I’d chat a bit about what I’ve seen happen over this past year. Lots of changes, especially with the birth of my little guy, but we’ve also made some progress financially.

For one, we made a decision to pay off our line of credit from our daughter’s education fund. When we looked at our bank summary and saw that we were actually “in the black” by a few thousand dollars, it suddenly seemed foolish to be paying interest on the line of credit portion of that tally. We’ve been able to continue, and even increase, our deposits in the RESP, which now includes our boy as a recipient as well.

We have also become more aware of the cost of traveling, and have reduced our pleasure traveling significantly. This has also been due to having two little ones making traveling harder, but also because we noticed that our “little” trips to Toronto or Montreal would leave us reeling financially. We would check our balance a few days later and end up shaking our heads and asking “How did that happen??”

We still travel to Sudbury to visit our family a fair bit, but we are lucky that we almost always get those travel expenses covered. Our families like to see us I guess 🙂

I’ve been trying very hard to keep our food expenses down, and it’s getting easier now that the little guy is a bit older. Now that his naps are more regular, and I can leave him to roam around the living room a bit longer, and everything is just a bit less intense, I’ve had more of the requisite time to cook and plan meals. Actually I’ve noticed that the planning is almost everything in terms of staying on top of meal frugality.

There are other things–I’ve reduced my spending in many other random ways, and so has my husband, we’ve made some loose financial goals and have started moving towards them, and I’ve been using my freezer to stock up when things are on sale. All good changes.

So it only makes sense to bring things to a new level with the coming year. I recently got Your Money or Your Life out from the library. It is a nine-step plan to achieve Financial Independence, defined as having enough money to live on from a source other than paid employment.

Wow! Who doesn’t want that! Right now that seems a bit impossible, but even without fully achieving that goal, I do feel confident that we can reduce our spending, and refine our financial goals. Our next big ones would be paying off my partner’s 2 remaining student loans, and saving up a down payment for a house.

I’m giving the book a primary read-through, but we’re going to start tracking all of our spending right away. The beginning of the month seems like a good time to do it. I will give updates along the way, and who knows–maybe some day I’ll be writing “frugal + rural” posts from my organic farm in Northern Ontario, having achieved Financial Intelligence, Financial Integrity and ultimately, Financial Independence!

Week in Review–no-spend week #3

It’s now three weeks down in my no-spend month, and this week was the best so far. I don’t think I cheated once this week, except for a bus ride back from the Experimental Farm where we went for the sheep shearing festival yesterday. I have a membership so we didn’t have to pay admission.

I’m really enjoying this no-spend month, and I’m almost tempted to keep it up for the summer. I might have to get a haircut at some point, and we will be doing some travelling at some point, but other than those little things, I’m feeling good about the no spending.

One great thing is that weekends haven’t been about shopping. Too often I’ll make some grand plans for a bus expedition out to Canadian Tire on a Saturday afternoon because I can’t make it there during the week. That takes up my whole day, and nothing gets done. This weekend we spent two whole days together as a family, going to the Nature Museum on Saturday (and beating the crowds with our membership card!) and the farm on Sunday. Then today I organized a corner of our dining room that’s been needing attention–a major accomplishment!

Of course tomorrow I’ll have to do a big-ish grocery shop, but I’m happy to confirm that one of the fringe benefits of not buying anything apart from groceries is that I’ve been able to spend a lot more weekend time with the fam. And that, my friends, is priceless!

The miracle of life–a sourdough starter

I started my new starter three days ago, according to Peter Reinhart’s new “Artisan Breads Every Day”:

Day 1: combine 1 oz flour with 2 oz pineapple juice. Stir together and leave at room temperature for 2 days, stirring three times per day.

Day 3: add 1 oz flour and 1 oz pineapple juice to the Day 1 mixture. Stir together, and leave at room temperature until it becomes frothy and bubbly, stirring three times per day.

The idea is that the pineapple juice prevents the bacteria leuconostoc from taking over, and the stirring  prevents the mixture from getting moldy. The next step is adding 2 oz flour and 1 oz water, leaving for 1-2 days and stirring intermittently. Then adding 3 oz flour and 1 oz water to 4 oz of the previous culture, at which point you let it ferment and then it is ready to become your Mother Starter.

So today is day 4 and I am delighted to report that my goop is starting to bubble! It is delightful to be bringing a new starter to life. It holds the promise of amazing tasting bread to feed my family. The promise of not having to go out and buy bread because I’ve just baked up a couple loaves. Just the smell of sour yeasty goodness makes me verklempt. (Really. I get choked up very easily).

Now, if only I had thought of doing this at the beginning of winter instead of the beginning of summer!

A Cheaper Way with Beans

Cans of beans were on for 99 cents for the last few weeks, and I stocked up on some of our favourites: black beans for soup, mixed beans for tabouli, kidney beans and white kidney beans for chili and other stuff, and our favourite: chick peas, for hummus, tabouli, and many other things. But darn, they take up a lot of room! And is 99 cents really a bargain?

Well, we ran out of chick peas, and I really want to make both hummus and tabouli this week, but the sale is over. So I finally pulled out the giant 2 kilo bag of dried chick peas from the back of the cupboard. I measured a cup of dried peas and almost 2 litres of water into a large bowl, and left them out to soak last night. This afternoon I’ll give them a good boil for about an hour, and I’ll be good to go with the equivalent of 2 cans of chick peas.

And is it cheaper? Well, if memory serves, my 2 kilo bag of chick peas cost about $3.99, or $2 per kilo. 1/2 cup dried peas (equivalent to one can) weighs about 110 grams–about 22 cents. Yes, it takes some energy to boil them afterwards, but it’s still about 1/4 the price.

The other benefit is how little space dried beans take up to store compared to cans. A great benefit in our teeny tiny kitchen.

Once I’m done this 2 kilo bag, I’ll head to the Sandy Hill People Food Co-op and pick up some organic beans for $3.85 per kilo–still around half the price of conventional canned! I’m all about bringing down the price of organics.

So, for beans, as with many other things, I can either spend money or time, and in the words of Erik Knutzen, “my time is cheap”! (And BPA free.)