Super Simple Dinner

I’m back from vacation and other than a terrible case of waking up at 4am, all is well!  Since I’m not quite into the blogging swing yet, you can check out my guest post over at The Empty Kitchen.

Like the title says, it’s an easy meal idea that you can probably making using what’s already in your fridge and pantry.  Check it out and poke around the site for some frugal recipes, saving tips and great stories from my friend Jana.



Saving for Vacation

Greetings all from the wee country of Scotland where I’m enjoying a 15 day holiday!

Yes, I’m having a blast so far and if you’d like to catch up on my journey so far check out my travel blog.

But for now I’d like to share an idea about saving for vacation.

The first order of business is to decide what you want to see and where you’d like to go. Pick up books at the library and check out your options online.  Then do a little pricing.  A good tour book should tell you the average price for a hotel, hostel or B&B in the region you wish to visit.  Go to and check out the round trip airfare two months out from today.

Put all these numbers into your cost book to get an idea how much your trip will cost. It may be less than you assume.

If you’re interested in spending 10 days in let’s say, Rome you might find the following:

Airfare round trip from JFK (New York): $800 per person15

(source: not including fees)

Nightly hostel $16 x 10 nights: $160 per person (private room)


Food & Incidentals $40 x 10 days: $400

So your base costs should be $1,360 plus 15% for passports, luggage, electronic plug adapters and everything else that pops up when you travel.

$1564.00 is the new total and wow, that’s a big number, especially if you’re traveling in a group.  But how about planning the trip a year or more out?  Let’s say you want to travel during the summer of 2011, maybe July.  That’s 15 months away and only $105 per month per person to save.  You’ll have a bit of a cash outlay when you book the airfare and again when you’re making reservations. The rest of the cash should be accessible in June so you can travel without worrying about money.

Is it possible to eat, drink and be merry in Rome for $40 a day? I don’t know but it’s a start.

Ideas on how to save:

  • Cancel cable and spend your time researching the trip
  • Take a second job and just work enough for $100 a month
  • Stop eating out as often and put $2o a week in your Italy jar
  • Sell items you don’t use until you earn $100 a month

Debate is Not the Real World

A college friend of mine is having her second baby this week and it brought back some humorous memories of meeting 8 years ago.  We went to rival schools and frequently clashed on the debate team. As fierce competitors we often let things get too intense and on more than one occasion I would shriek and rant and she would end up crying.

So how did we manage to become friends and remain so after such a rocky start?

Quite simply we learned that some things (most things) are more important than winning. For one, your reputation. Being a winner is fun, being a gracious winner is work. Competing against someone is easy, befriending them is harder.

Since graduation I’ve had several opportunities to work in positions that require a lot of interaction with vendors. Whether you’re trying to use a special coupon at the drug store or contesting a charge on your credit card statement, here are some of the things I learned in my debate tenure that I’ve found useful.

Debate tactic: Know your evidence

You can’t walk into a room with any sense of confidence if you don’t know the topic, your position and your evidence. Be prepared.

Real World Translation: Do your homework.

Before you call and make a fool of yourself know your account numbers, know your last payment date, know your usage history. Be prepared to state in one sentence who you need to talk to.

Debate tactic: Listen and respond proactively

When the other team has a chance to ask questions and challenge your evidence or reasoning pay attention. Always repond to the question asked (don’t be a

politican) and use the time to reinforce your position.

Real World Translation: Listen and respond proactively

When the customer service technician asks you for information don’t get frazzled and shout “I don’t KNOW!” If they have to ask you for that number *again* repeat it calmly. By the time you reach the negotiation portion of the conversation you will have distinguished yourself from other callers and earned a little capital.

Debate Tactic: Use your opponent’s concessions against them.

While maintaining decorum, use concessions and omissions to capitalize on a strength and win.

Real World Translation: Use mistakes as opportunities

If your service provider has failed in some way don’t browbeat them, use it to your advantage. When I called about reducing my trash service we realize I’d been charged for the wrong size can. The company did not complete the initial verification and therefore owed me the difference. Instead of getting angry I calmly stated that since the company had made the error they would certainly need to make amends by refunding that money and the clerk agreed.

Debate Tactic: Use emotion without becoming irrational

In 3 years I spoke on a lot of topics; death, starvation, war, genocide, environmental destruction and racism were heavy topics. After a few months you learn how to balance the importance of your topic without shrieking.  In my second year we could often tell if we’d won based on the judge’s reaction to my final speech. On more than one occasion a judge would cry and we knew it was a win.

Real World Translation: Be upset, not angry

You can certainly express your frustration with a situation without projecting anger, hostility or bitterness at a person or company. Most likely the person across the counter or on the other end of the phone did not single handedly create the situation you are in. If they did it’s best to speak to their supervisor or move laterally across the chain of command. Focus on the positive outcome you want and give them a chance to make things right.

Debate Tactic: Win the battle but don’t lose the war

While your win record matters there are other variables like attitude, decorum and personality that play in heavily. When two teams have the same win record a tie is broken by speaker points and how you treated your partner, opponent, coaches and the judge were big factors.

Real World Translation: Don’t be a bitch

I’ll admit to get frustrated a lot of times when it comes to incompetence but I’m careful to reign it in before I make people cry (a big improvement). Consider your words as if you will see this person every other weekend, 9 months out of the year, for 4 years.

Making a Wish List

Sometimes I like to pretend I’m six years old writing a letter to Santa only instead of Barbies and Legos I get big kid stuff like a Kitchen Aid Mixer and Legos.

Instead of flipping through a toy catalog or wandering the mall considering all the things I want, I look at my house to see what things I need and want. Using a variety of methods I write down items and a LOT of information.

True Story 1: Awhile back my Mom and Aunt met me in San Francisco for a little shopping. Eventually we made our way through the gate to Chinatown and started browsing. It seemed every time one of us mentioned what we were looking for it would pop up in the next store. Whether by power of suggestion or just becoming more aware of our surroundings by the end of the day all our shopping was done.

Here’s how I organize some of the things I collect:


I collect a variety of series, authors and genres but I have the memory span of a gnat  so I keep up to date lists on my phone. I open up a new email for each series or author and save it as a draft. With just a glance I call tell if I need #8 or #9 in paperback for a series. When I pick one up I delete it from the list. Add details like the author name, publication year if it matters and hard back or soft cover. For some series I track how much I’ve paid so it’s nice to see $1 at garage sale or $1.50 Salvation Army on my list.

Details for Bigger Projects

For my frugal framing project I’m interested in re-purposing frames so I jot down the dimensions I need. I keep the measurements for 3 curtains I’m looking to buy or sew. How about how long and wide your sofa is if you’re in the market for a slipcover? You may also include linens and type for easy shopping: 1-King set, brown or green, 1-Double sheets only flannel. If you’re shopping for children or a spouse it’s handy to write down their sizes which will save you time and money.


This is a little like creating a wish list for people in your life. If someone you know collects hard cover Jane Austen books, Marvel comics, pink china, purple hats, license plates or Christmas CDs from around the world write it down. Look it up when you’re out thrifting or at a garage sale.

Baby clothes, bibs, and toys are always on my list as so many people I know are spawning at any given time. It’s nice to have a variety of boy and girl things to choose from and it’s quite easy to pull together a gift basket on short notice.

Everything else

I would love a kitchen aid mixer. In red. While I seriously doubt I’ll one day stumble upon one lying on the side of the road abandoned, I keep it on my list as a reminder. For bigger items I like to put a little more information. Like the normal retail value, Amazon selling price and how much I’d be willing to pay.

When it’s appropriate I also jot down the quantity I’m looking for. No more than 2 dozen blue Christmas ornaments. 5 full size dinner plates to complete a china collection.

True Story 2: Last year my Mom and I decided to prepare a batch of enchiladas at my house. We bought the ingredients but Mom couldn’t locate her meat grinder for the beef. Saturday morning at the flea market we kept looking and before long found a vendor selling 6 hand meat grinder! He offered us a deal on all 6 but we just needed one and paid a measly $5.

Making a wish list is a little like balancing the tight rope between dreams and reality.  Sometimes you just don’t have the space for a two story 5-foot tall doll house. Other times you should really consider how much you enjoy reading a book series – are you enjoying them or just owning them? Don’t make the list so long you can’t find anything on it or leave it at home since it’s a little like carrying a phone book.

Review & Repeat

Just as my Christmas list from 1993 has little relevance now (unless my parents want to finally deliver on that pony…) your list should change and adapt as you do.  A list is a helpful way to plan purchases instead of making impulse buys.  Make time to review and decide if you still need or want these things. I might be a little weird but when I read through my wish list I mentally place those things in my home. If I completed my china collection how would it look in the china cabinet? If I hung three 20 x 30 pictures in the living room what would that look like? How would the guest room look like with a round rug? Jumbo floor pillows? A bean bag chair?

It’s a bit of a mental exercise but if you start to thing and plan for the things you want, you’ll avoid things you neither want nor need.

An example: In my living room I’d like a big clock. One that I can see from the kitchen or outside that isn’t hard to read. I want big and little hands, no digital displays, classic but not frilly and no cartoon characters. It needs to hang on the wall, no mantel clocks or grandfather clocks.  By virtue of knowing exactly what I want, I know I’ll know when I see it. More importantly I’ve seen 100 examples of what I don’t want and it’s kept me from buying the wrong clock a dozen times.

Finally, share your list. I don’t mean send out a mass email that screams GIVE ME PRESENTS! But let people who share your shopping goals know what you’re looking for. When I bought my new queen mattress I didn’t have sheets or a frame. My parents unearthed an old sheet set for my use until I found one I liked and my Dad “rescued” a metal frame that had a FREE sign on it.

Instead of complaining about getting things you don’t like or won’t use, prepare a wish list to share. I even noted that I prefer used books and would glad take a refurbished string trimmer for my yard. And, if you’re really picky, just let people know you’re considering a purchase. That way they have free reign to call you if there’s a furniture sale instead of buying a gift you would rather pick out yourself.

Photo Fun

On Saturday I arranged to meet some friends at Ikea when, like a plague, most had to drop out.  Missing dogs, classes, and the plague befell our little group until just like Survivor there was one left. I felt a little like Jeff Probst! Rachel and I had a lot of fun talking, sampling Swedish food and walking through the warehouse.

I don’t like to take pictures at a place like Ikea, too many lights, too many people. Instead I found this shot outside:

That’s straight out of the camera, no editing done yet.

I decided to darken the background to make the flowers pop.

I like it, a little more dramatic and you can really see the contrast.

Now what happens if I go even darker on the shadow tool:

I love messing around with photo editing, it’s always interesting and fun, like creating a new photo without leaving the house. I think I’ll take a few of these and frame them in the guest room, I’ve already got the 5 x 7 frames on my bookshelves!

Frugal Fun

It’s a little odd to be posting this just a short time before leaving on my vacation adventure which – while frugal- commands a pretty penny!  But part of the reason I am able to take off on this trip is because I’ve spent plenty of frugal nights at home, working on projects and being content with frugality.

Fun & Games

Board games are awesome; Monopoly teaches math and jail breaking skills, Clue teaches deductive reasoning, Battleship teaches war game strategy. Apples to Apples and Settlers of Catan are new favorites and the old standbys backgammon and Candyland can’t be left out.

But since I don’t have a lot of board game playing friends around here and it’s no fun to sink your own destroyer, I stick to single player games like Solitaire. Yes, I use real cards.

Puzzles are another favorite of mine, the Planet Earth series is quite beautiful and I prefer landscapes.

If you own a game system by all means try to reach new levels on games you own, trade for newer or more challenging games and unlock all the tricks. For every sit-and-stare-at-the-screen game you play, switch it up with an active game like the Wii Fit series, Dance Dance Revolution or even Guitar Hero.


We all have to eat, right? Use your frugal time at home to look at magazines or an old cookbook for a new recipe. Write your own recipe. Bake something for game night. And even if you don’t have the time for a master creation you can spend an hour or two preparing meal components ahead of time.

Juice a lemon or make orange juice, shred and freeze blocks of cheese, repackage snack foods in smaller containers or make smoothies for breakfast.


Most people have a half-finished photo album or scrapbook ditched in a closet somewhere. Pull it out and finish it over a few weeks. Finish that quilt or knitted scarf, sew buttons back on your clothes or finish a needle point.

I would like to finish painting my china cabinet but the sub-zero Artic temps in the garage and thwarting my progress (it’s 45* but still…).


Pick up a book, new or old, and get comfortable on the couch. Relax and read, see the world through someone else’s eyes. Whether you read fiction or non, enjoy what you’re reading. Life’s too short for bad books.
Finish a magazine, pull out old comic books, read the newspaper or a trade journal.  Whether you choose to relax or exercise your mind, enjoying reading time can be a fun, frugal activity.


Write down your goals, send a birthday card, make a list or just doodle.`Or (hint, hint), read a blog and write a comment. I’ve heard bloggers love that!

One Year Later

Today has been a full day. Mom & Dad were in town for a few hours yesterday and today so we did our Sunday things. Dad had appointments and a swap meet in Sacramento; Mom and I had coffee, breakfast and then picked up flowers.

We returned to the cemetery, one year after losing my dear Grandma.

After visiting with Grandpa, making arrangements for my upcoming vacation and doing the great stuff swap, Mom & Dad headed home. I, a master in avoidance, decided it was a great time to organize all the papers, photos and stuff in my office.

I’ve unearthed a lot in the last few hours while I listened to music from my iTunes library. But in short order I found the pamphlet I made for the funeral, a fiction piece I’d been writing last year, a picture of me in Grandma’s house and then YellowCard started playing.

And it all came back. Watching her suffer, waiting for days, wondering if she was in pain, wishing I could have done more. And then the Saturday morning, waking up on the couch at home, my Dad telling me what I already knew. She was gone.

I’m not a big fan of listing lyrics but this is a song Katie sent me last year and it says all the things I can’t voice.

View from Heaven by YellowCard (emphasis mine)

I’m just so tired
Won’t you sing me to sleep
And fly through my dreams
So I can hitch a ride with you tonight
And get away from this place
Have a new name and face
I just ain’t the same without you in my life

Late night drives, all alone in my car
I can’t help but start
Singing lines from all our favorite songs
And melodies in the air
Singin’ life just ain’t fair
Sometimes I still just can’t believe you’re gone

And I’m sure the view from heaven
Beats the hell out of mine here

And if we all believe in heaven,
Maybe we’ll make it through one more year
Down here

Feel your fire,
When its cold in my heart
And things sorta start
Remindin’ me of my last night with you
I only need one more day
Just one more chance to say
I wish that I had gone up with you too

And I’m sure the view from heaven
Beats the hell out of mine here
And if we all believe in heaven
Maybe we’ll make it through one more year
Down here
You won’t be comin’ back
And I didn’t get to say goodbye (goodbye)
I really wish I got to say goodbye

And I’m sure the view from heaven
Beats the hell out of mine here
And if we all believe in heaven
Maybe we’ll make it through one more year
I hope that all is well in heaven (well in heaven)
Cuz it’s all shot to hell down here (we need you)
I hope that I find you in heaven
Cuz I’m so…
Lost without you down here

You won’t be coming back
And I didn’t get to say goodbye (goodbye)
I really wish I got to say gooooodbye