Add-Ons, Apps & Computers, Oh My!

Levi in one of his frequent poses.  I figure the image captures computer problems quite well.
Levi in one of his frequent poses. I figure the image captures computer problems quite well.

Today, I got to see an iPhone up close and personal.  It was sleek, had a good weight, and was pretty clear to hear.  The text was flashier and shinier than my old Motorola v325.  “Thou shall not covet thy neighbors possessions” rang strongly.  But, I realized something as I held back my drool of the shiny, new iPhone.  I realized I prefer my free add-ons to 99 cent apps.

Recently, our computer crashed.  We got the blue screen of death’s father: the black screen of death.  “Insert boot media into drive,” commanded my screen on Monday while failing to recognize the CD drive.  Fortunately, we have multiple hard-drives, one of which was waiting to be used because it was partitioned properly.  It took us 4 days to remember the importance of updated drivers.  And, we are very thankful for a working, stable laptop with wireless so our ‘browsing needs’ weren’t compromised.  This also allowed us quick access to getting that updated Ethernet driver that was causing so many problems.

Once the driver was installed, like magic, the computer recognized the modem, and we had instant Internet!  A miracle on Thanksgiving Day!  Instead of taking the day to relax while I arranged the meal, Peter worked on the computer.  He cleaned up the area behind the computer, organized the insane wires and fitted them with twist ties, installed the old and newer hard-drives, updated the drivers, and started getting the desktop back on track.  He was up for 20 hours by the time he got home from work early Friday morning.  Later, that evening, I realized we also need the video controller driver so we could then install the monitor driver.  Now we have (knock on wood, eh) a quicker computer, with files where I want them (i.e., not on C: with windows) and a crisper, cleaner display.

I really like to use Outlook and Firefox.  With using the laptop and the desktop regularly, I found it necessary to use a product put out (not created by) Microsoft called Sync Toy, and then I began using more add-ons with Firefox. I briefly played with Thunderbird on the laptop, but because I had my Outlook didn’t focus my attention there.  It was a joy to have all my bookmarks exactly as I want them on the computer I am using.  Sync Toy worked like a gem to quickly and efficiently organize my files.  I don’t need the frills offered by Migo’s software, and I found Migo worked much too slowly.  Not to mention the fact they have been sending me annoying advertisements to upgrade from $20-$40 for a software program I got free with purchase of my jump drive!

So, the computer crashed.  I habitually ask whatever email client I am using to leave messages on the server.  The question isn’t, “If my computer crashes…,” rather, “What do you do when your computer crashes?”  So, I leave backups.  (Peter is also quite habitual about this, although we organize things differently.) I began to use Thunderbird because I had no desire to try and fix our problem desktop until after Thanksgiving.  What good is a simple email client, though, if it doesn’t have a calendar?  So, I looked.  And it does.  Thunderbird has Lightening, and by adding an add-on you can simply use your on-line calendar.  I had already been writing things down in my planner, entering them into Outlook, and syncing them with a tool from Google to my Google account.  So, now, I just had to add that calendar address to Thunderbird and I have a freeware version of what Outlook could do.  Having multiple copies of something doesn’t do much good, you really need to be able to access the original data.  Google’s idea of labeling items will go far for organizing people and offices.  So, syncing is another option that has come a long way since Microsoft’s Briefcase feature.

Seeing my friend’s iPhone today was fun.  It was kind of like being a kid in the candy store, but the proprietor was the devil saying look but dont’ touch!  Regardless, I realized something in light of these computer problems.  The apps sure look like a lot of fun, but the freeware versions are often just as good, and as the name suggests, they are free.  So, I’ll hold out for my free-ware, touch screen phone, which I’ll probably buy used in 10 years.

What Does It Mean to Live Frugally?

Flowers from Sauvie Island Farm, u-pick; muffins made from u-pick blueberries and bulk flour.
Flowers from Sauvie Island Farm, u-pick; muffins made from u-pick blueberries and bulk flour.

I’ve been noticing a lot lately, a lot of talk regarding living frugally and what that means.  In large part, I have sought information out because I want to glean what I can from others who have lived well frugally.  I wanted to see their tips on how to “think outside the box”.  I want to get tips, simply, that I haven’t thought of.  I forget, honestly forget, how engorged we are in spending.  The concept, for example of “Buy Nothing Day” has been one which I have been familiar with for upwards of 8 years.  The idea is not new to me to avoid shopping malls on the day after Thanksgiving.  It helps, to be sure, that my parents saved their Christmas shopping for December 24th, every year.  An argument for waiting?  The prices are lower and no one is in the stores.

My husband and I have about $2100 take home pay to work with every month.  We don’t have the luxury of deciding to live on a frugal budget, we must or we will be using lines of credit from the bank, furthering debt and giving them pennies we could have put towards items like milk.  We use W.I.C. and recently qualified for energy assistance.  We are college graduates and we qualify for government aid; how’s that but a humbling reminder to sometimes inflated egos?

Living frugally, though, forces creativity and has urged me to get back to whole foods cooking.  After we got married, I found I couldn’t cook the way I like because Peter’s tastes didn’t jive with things like arugula and tofu.  So, I went back to meat and potatoes cooking, and lack of imagination even showed how Hamburger Helper could be a happy medium.  We’ve finally gotten serious, and about at the same place on the same page, this past year, so we’ve been able to all but eliminate foods like Tuna and Hamburger Helper.  (We did find it’s much cheaper to just buy the box of Mac & Cheese rather than make it homemade.)  So, what do we do to live frugally?  Lot’s of different things.

Buying in bulk is the number thing.  We’ve been buying very large containers of TP, for example, for months.  We do not have a membership to Costco because there are local alternatives that offer the same bulk rates without the membership fee.  How would a membership fee help us to live frugally?  It’d be $40 we could have put towards car registration, for example.  So, everything we can manage to buy in bulk monthly, we do.  We buy flour in bulk, meat in bulk, vegetables in bulk.  This means I have to prepare things, and has increased our spending on quart and gallon-sized freezer bags, but I have found that as I get in the habit of doing it, these minutes of prep save hours in the end.  So, the 4 lb bags of veggies are pared down to 5 or 6 quart sized bags of veggies.  That 5 lb package of ground beef distributed out of Clackamas, OR was split into half and 1 lb sections.  We’ll use 1/2 lb for those remaining Hamburger Helper meals instead of the suggested pound.

6 lbs of blueberries picked and separated in June.
6 lbs of blueberries picked and separated in June.

We eat more vegetable dishes rather than more meat based dishes.  I’ve gotten back into my protein combining with beans and rice (Thanks Frances Moore Lappé!).  This was one thing I couldn’t do when Peter and I first got married because he simply wouldn’t eat much of the food and we’d have leftovers that rotted in the fridge.  But, we’ve come to a middle ground where my cooking and his palette have both changed.  So, he can eat and enjoy Walnut Cheddar Loaf now.  We’ve explored U-Pick farms, not farmer’s markets, for vegetable options and have fallen in love all over again with Sauvie Island.  Since my beloved mother got me a food processor, we found that truly homemade pumpkin pie is much better than anything canned.  And, because we’re getting back to whole foods, we’re doing what I love: controlling ingredients. Controlling ingredients helps our budget and it helps our health.  I get the satisfaction of using what sugar I went and how much, and I also feel like I am free to be less guilty about those occasional hamburger helper meals because I’ve gone local and organic where we can afford it.

We’ve read advice books and listened to some advice radio, namely Larry Burkett and Dave Ramsey.  Peter’s aunt gave us a Larry Burkett book for our wedding gift, which I found helpful for suggesting what pecentage of income should go where.  I had no idea how housing costs, for example, should break down and equal 38% of your net pay.  If you have to overspend in one category, what can you give up to make the budget balance?  This continued control has given us freedom to buy ice cream because we’ve only spent 2/3 of what we allow ourselves on food for the month.  We know what has to go where and together we are accountable so it’s not just a selfish justification but a double check.

As we’ve gained control, we’ve also been able to lighten up.  Peter loves to check out craigslist for deals and fun things.  So, now, when he asks if he can get that $50,000 boat, I feel free to say, “Yes,” because I know he knows that I know that we can’t afford it.  And, we hopefully now have the hindsight to continue this accountablility especially since we know our income will increase sometime in the future.  I still have loans to pay off.

So, what does it mean to live frugally?  It means we are accountable to each other, first and foremost.  It means for us, that we talk about how to trim the budget discussing what we can go without (soda and coffee).  For us, it means we shop together.  It means I cook and Peter works on the cars.  It means we use cost-saving environmentally methods for cleaning.  I think it has brought us closer together and continued to show that we know the answers and those outside books (like the Yankee How to Live on a Shoestring) only offer random tips that won’t add significantly to what we’ve already done.  It means we use the library more and get new a lot less.  But, how often do we really need new?

Buy Nothing Day, version 2008

Last year we saw tips on how to budget shop like a pro.  In light of recent economic trends, when people have a more immediate need to watch their spending, let’s try any number of these alternatives on Black Friday while we switch the paradigm to Buy Nothing Day.

  1. Don’t go shopping, for anything
  2. Stay at home, relax
  3. Play with your kids, spouse/partner, friends
  4. Play board games
  5. Call up that friend you’ve been meaning to call during the holiday season now
  6. Make cookies, decorate with your family
  7. Enjoy hot cider
  8. Sit by a fire
  9. Sing carols
  10. Volunteer (soup kitchens, your favorite organization, neighborhood groups, churches, schools)
  11. Make Christmas wreaths with your friends
  12. Make Christmas cards and ornaments
  13. Decorate your Christmas Tree in a timely (not early) fashion with said homemade ornaments

Let’s use this year’s economic cautions as a reminder for what really counts at the holidays: Loved Ones, not Stuff.

Thanksgiving Revisited

Our cost for Thanksgiving, because we got an insanely cheap turkey at 29 cents a pound, is $26.26, and we’ve got all the items needed.  Today, New Seasons posted in their weekly ad a local harvest Thanksgiving for $50.  I could feed ten with the feast I’ll make, but I’m banking on lots of left overs to get us through, plus freezing turkey and/or broth after the main feast is done.  It’s just interesting to me how this new budget idea for Thanksgiving is all the rage.  It’s like advertisers finally caught up with the layoffs and belt tightening the rest of America has undergone for ages.  Certainly, we continue to live in an era of opulence, but it’s like it’s a less shiny version.  Quiet pontifications for a different way of doing Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving Dinner

What is Thanksgiving all about anymore when very few actually harvest anything? Is it a reason to just engorge on traditional food while placating ourselves with family? Or is it really a time to give thanks for all the blessing we have, the food, the shelter, the family who keeps us sane and guides us through rough times? It is quite interesting to me how much Thanksgiving’s image has changed from our grade school plays. Pilgrims coming in, thankful for these Indians who knew how to plant and harvest, they generously shared their knowledge, and then we shared a meal. Let’s not discuss everything our grade school teachers didn’t teach us about Thanksgiving (the first), and rather compare the differences. Who of us now make it a true harvest meal? We had a garden of peppers and tomatoes. Because we planted late, we still have some last remaining tomatoes, but our peppers have all been devoured . So, our harvest dinner should include the remaining tomatoes, yes? Instead, we are having a more traditional fare, by ourselves no less, embarking on a new, smaller, quieter tradition.

What then will our menu be made of?  The following:

  • One 10 lb Turkey, not free-range this year as we are on a budget, $0.79 per lb at Safeway
  • Stuffing, made from one loaf of cubed homemade bread, about $1.50
  • Green bean casserole (God I love it no matter how trite), our most expensive per person item, about $3.76, the beans were purchased from a frozen 4 lb bag at $3.70 with about 1 lb to be used, the cream of mushroom soup will be about 0.90 and I may use 1/2 can of fried onions at about $1.50
  • A relish tray (for example only, probably will not serve) 1/2 lb each of celery & carrots, $0.85
  • 1 gallon of milk for mashed potatoes and beverage, $2.75
  • Fresh cranberries, 12 oz, $2.50 purchased from Fred Meyer
  • Potatoes, 10 lb bag $1.98, I’ll use probably 6-10 potatoes for garlic mashed potatoes, let’s say 5 lbs (too high an estimate I am sure) for about $1
  • Apple pie (homemade!), $2.60
  • Pumpkin pie (2), also homemade including fresh (now frozen) pureed pumpkin, $1.60
  • Bread (homemade!), $1.50
  • Cream (maybe…), $2.00?

The total?  $28.46.  This meal will be for a measly three.  A choice we have made.  With plenty of leftovers.  Realistically, we could feed 6 and 1/4 with a per person price of $4.55.  I doubt we’ll drink all the milk, and I will probably get myself some coffee for this day.  If we weren’t going to have green bean casserole, the price would drop to $25.63 and $4.10 each. The reason for this detailing?

The U.S. Farm Bureau released today that the average Thanksgiving meal will cost $44.61 for 10, or about $4.46 each.  The menu presented from the Farm Bureau uses purchased pie shells, rolls, and pumpkin pie mix.  They do not include apple pie, and they use stuffing mix!  Most of my ingredients I already have on hand, a form of modern day harvest, yes?  I included milk in the price because the Farm Bureau did, although we always have enough on hand.  I am not including the cost of butter and sugar as again, it’s a staple.  I’ve guessed at the price it will cost me to make pie dough (thanks Grandma for the great recipe) and bread.  I buy my flour and oils in bulk, for example 33 oz of extra virgin olive oil costs me about $7, whereas if I were to buy it per bottle at a normal grocery it would cost almost $10.  In fact, the only thing we have to purchase for Thanksgiving is the Turkey itself, which we’ll get at the deal posted above from Safeway this week.  I figure we’re making up with all the homemade goodies for not having a free-range turkey for one year.

I suppose I’m gloating.  I’m quite proud that we’ve been able to take these cost saving measures, maybe even so far, and still feel like we’re eating good.  It’s very important to me that my family’s nutrition does not suffer and that we train Levi up to be a good eater.  I have over 16 individual spices in my spice rack, whereupon I grew up with my mother who had about 6.  Curry, for exmaple, has been a frequent dinner lately.  We mix it up between standard meat and potatoes and the somewhat exotic for our Eastern European pallets with hot and spicy.  We trip into 30-minute glamor with the help of Rachael Ray and my imagination, and we’re doing it on a true budget.  And, Thanksgiving will be on the Cheap, but it will be a healthier meal than the one advertised by the Farm Bureau.

How to make Creme Fraiche

I believe knowledge should be shared, and free.  Together, I believe we hold the resources to make any life we want.  But, along the way we embraced that we should be appreciated for our knowledge through payment.  There are others who can explain in a better, clearer manner than I the history of money and why we do things the way we do.  That said, I am including a recipe I found from Lynn Rosetta Casper of the Splendid Table on how to make homemade creme fraiche, a delectable treat, I am told, for just about anything.  Find the original article here.

Ingredients

  • 1 to 2 tablespoons cultured buttermilk
  • 2 cups heavy cream (pasteurized, not ultra pasteurized or sterilized, and with no additives)

The steps

  1. Combine the buttermilk and cream in a saucepan and heat only to tepid (not more than 85 degrees on an instant reading thermometer).
  2. Pour into a clean glass jar.
  3. Partially cover and let stand at room temperature (between 65 and 75 degrees) for 8 to 24 hours, or until thickened.
  4. Stir and refrigerate at least 24 hours before using.
  5. The cream will keep about 2 weeks in the refrigerator.

Enjoy!

Living Room Tips

  • ½ tsp olive oil and ¼ c. lemon juice makes furniture polish.
  • You can clean windows with vinegar in a spray bottle, then wipe clear with a dry newspaper.
  • Rubbing alcohol on cloths will disinfect most surfaces and costs much less than Mr. Clean wipes.
  • A solution of 2 teaspoon Tea Tree oil mixed with 2 cups water in a spray bottle, sprayed on and left, will eliminate mold spots in your shower for a month or so. Straight vinegar will do the same, most of the time.

What do you value?

Kitchen Tips

  • Rubbing alcohol on cloths will disinfect most surfaces and costs much less than Mr. Clean wipes.
  • You can clean windows with vinegar in a spray bottle, then wipe clear with a dry newspaper.
  • Clean bottoms of iodized copper pots with sprinkled on salt and ½ a lemon. This also works on rust stains.
  • A solution of 2 teaspoons Tea Tree oil mixed with 2 cups water in a spray bottle, sprayed on and left, will eliminate mold spots in your shower for a month or so. Straight vinegar will do the same, most of the time.
  • Rust and hard water stains can be removed with full-strength lemon juice.
  • ½ tsp olive oil and ¼ c. lemon juice makes furniture polish.
  • For your morning coffee – use either unbleached filters or a ‘gold’ filter, which is a mesh material that you reuse every time.
  • Compost those food scraps – in a 3’x3’x3′ homemade composter or an Earth Machine.
  • Disinfecting those countertops – use white-distilled bleach and hydrogen peroxide. They must be kept separate. Have vinegar in one spay bottle and peroxide in another (it must be in a dark container, easy solution put a sprayer on the bottle it came in).  Spray area to disinfect one after another and wipe dry. This has been known to work better than commercial counterparts.
  • Keep in touch with natural rhythms – especially when meal planning. Keep in mind the seasons and what is currently available when making those weekly menus.  Think about food storage and planning for later, especially when considering what do do with those leftovers.  Freeze what you don’t expect to use in a few days for a quick, easy meal in a few weeks.