Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Homemade Dishwasher Detergent

Sparkly clean dishes for nothing!
Photo by africa

I found a recipe for dishwasher detergent!  It’s really super complicated, so get your pens ready, okay?  Here it comes:

Mix equal parts of Borax and washing soda.

That’s it.  Seriously.  It works just fine, comparable to the big name detergents.  In fact, it actually works better than the generic stuff from Fred Meyer (never again, that stuff was awful).  The dishes are totally clean, the glasses are sparkly, no streaks or residue or anything.  

I mixed the two ingredients (which I still have a ton of by the way, despite several batches of laundry detergent and household cleaner) and have them in a plastic container under the sink.  You use the same amount that your dishwasher requires for any powdered detergent, about 1/3 cup for our machine. 

Dishwasher detergent for less than a penny a load.  Gotta love it. 

Monday, February 27, 2012

Black Bean Linguine

A new twist on pasta.
Photo by lobster20

This is a recipe that was provided to me by my cousin Tandra.  It’s an excellent choice for a healthy and inexpensive meatless meal.  Plus, it went together very quickly and was delicious!  I’m providing the recipe as we made it, with notes about how it differed from Tandra’s recipe.  Enjoy!

Black Bean Linguine

8 ounces linguine (we didn’t have linguine, so we used spaghetti)
¼ medium onion (the recipe calls for 1 whole onion, but we don’t like a lot of onion)
1 clove garlic  (we used the diced garlic that comes in a jar)
1 15 ounce can black beans
1 TBL vegetable oil
12.5-oz can stewed tomatoes
1.5 C picante sauce (we used enchilada sauce because we like the flavor better)
1 tsp. chili powder
1 tsp. cumin
1/4 tea oregano
4 ounces colby jack cheese (we used cheddar cheese)
cilantro (we didn’t add any)

We also topped ours with some light sour cream.  Yum!

Cook pasta using package directions; cover to keep warm.

Chop onion. Mince garlic. Drain and rinse black beans.

Heat vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium-high. Add onion and garlic, cooking until onion is tender.

Add undrained tomatoes, picante sauce, black beans, chili powder, cumin, and oregano.  Mix well and bring to boil, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes.

Uncover and increase the heat to medium-high. Cook, stirring frequently, until desired consistency is reached (about 5 minutes). Place hot cooked pasta on plate and spoon the sauce over. Top with cheese and cilantro (or sour cream!!).


Thanks again for the recipe Tandra!  This is one of our new family favorites and we usually have the stuff on hand.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

“Why Save When You Have Debt?”

Because sometimes it comes to this.
Photo by Daniel St. Pierre

This question was posed to me in response to this post, in which we discussed our budget (I was also thrilled by the lively Facebook discussion that ensued).  I thought it was a fair question.  The logic behind it was, we are charged a much higher amount of interest on our debt than we could ever hope to earn on our savings.  This is true, and I’ve noticed that even experts can’t agree.  Some state that you should put every extra penny into paying down the debt and leave saving until the debt is gone.  Others argue that you should do both because you never know what life is going to throw your way.

I personally agree with the second camp.  What good is paying down the debt if every one of life’s little tailspins causes you to add onto it?  Take the car incident.  If we had had our emergency fund built up, we could have just run to the bank and solved the problem.  Instead we had to borrow money and just tacked on more debt.  That’s not helpful.  It’s completely a step in the wrong direction.  If every time something goes wrong I add on more debt, I’m just endlessly throwing my money into a bottomless pit.  The point of saving while I work on the debt is to keep a stash of cash handy for dealing with emergencies. 

While the logic behind not saving until the debt is paid off is sound, I believe that it doesn’t take the reality of day-to-day living into account.  Shit sometimes happens.  I want to be prepared when it does.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Back to the Budget

Not one of my favorite things to do...
Photo by Stuart Miles

Tonight we finally got our act together and worked out… not so much a budget, but a map of where our money should be going.  I figured out one of the reasons I utterly hate looking at our finances on paper:  It’s completely stupid.  There’s honestly no reason on earth why we should be struggling the way we do.  Even with my own meager earnings, we should be getting all this stuff paid with room to spare.  I just don’t understand why it never seems to work out that way…

Well, that’s not entirely true.  There’s crap like the car repairs.  Plus, we always seem to be starting from behind.  But at least we can play a little catch-up – we filed our taxes and should be getting a little refund by the end of the week.  Nothing amazing, but at least enough to keep swimming for a while longer.  I’m really looking forward to the flashcards project payout.  That’s going to give us some really good breathing room.

One of the other things we accomplished with this was that I was able to see how much I actually need to make per day to stay afloat.  Once again, what gives?  I can do this, easily.  I don’t know how it’s not happening, honestly.  But at least I can have that number in my head every day so when I sit down to work I know what my daily minimum is.  I’m not going to count the flashcards project toward that minimum.  That’s going to be gravy, as far as I’m concerned.

I’m not going to lay our entire budget out for inspection; we do need to keep some things private after all!  But I wanted to at least show you our categories.  We haven’t yet set up the categories for things beyond the basics.  Most of our expenses really are monthly.  I didn’t set up an entertainment category, although we do have a spending money category.  Once we have this running somewhat smoothly, we are going to look at options for one evening out a month and hopefully a regular date night.

The budget categories:
  •  Rent
  •  Groceries
  •  Power
  •  Gasoline
  •  Water/Sewer
  •  Internet
  •  Emergency Savings Plan
  •  Debt repayment
  •  Cell phones
  •  Bus fare
  •  Taxes
  •  Spending money
  •  Netflix/Hulu

I should probably mention that I’m not counting things like insurance and such that come directly out of Gavin’s paycheck.  When we calculated our income, I only looked at the net that actually comes into the checking account.  The taxes category is for the taxes that I have to pay, since mine aren’t deducted automatically.

The next step in this process is going to be to track how much we are actually spending in each category to make sure the numbers are fairly accurate.  I think I overestimated in a few areas; groceries and gasoline come to mind.  I’d rather be over than under though.  

Monday, February 13, 2012

Weekly Meal Plan 2/14 to 2/17

Image by chawalitpix

This is a short one… we’re shopping tonight, then again this weekend, so we only needed a few meals to get us through the week.  Some of the ones I found look pretty tasty though, so I wanted to share them with you.

Tuesday – Appropriately named for a Valentine’s Day dinner, Romantic Chicken with Mushrooms and Artichokes.  We’ll be serving spinach salad with it.  And I’ll probably treat myself to a glass of wine with dinner.

Wednesday – Spaghetti with kielbasa and pasta sauce, because sometimes it’s nice to just throw stuff together and be lazy.  This is one of our go-to lazy meals.  I could give you a recipe, but the listing pretty much says it all. Fresh salad on the side.

Thursday – Extra lean ground beef is on sale this week (still pricier than I like, though) so we are going to grill hamburgers and let the side dish of home fries star.  This recipe looks fantastic, so I hope they turn out as tasty as they look.

Friday – My cousin Tandra Zimmerman, posted a photo of a recipe she made on Facebook called Black Bean Linguini.  I thought it sounded great, so I begged her for the recipe.  We’ll give this one a test run and post the recipe later this week!  I’m looking forward to trying it!

Any of these sound especially good to you?  What are your dinner plans for Valentine’s Day?

Saturday, February 11, 2012

All You Need is Love? Valentine’s Day for Cheap

Across the county, wallets everywhere are weeping.
Photo by zirconicusso

Here it is, that special time of year when you can’t turn on the TV without a massive guilt-trip and a plea to buy shiny little chunks of stone that will set you back about a week’s salary.  Oh, yes, it’s Valentine’s Day.

I know, I know.  It’s a made-up Hallmark holiday designed to sell cards, flowers, cutesy stuffed animals, and jewelry, blah, blah, blah.  I’m not going to get involved in that argument, and I’m not going to write a dissertation on the origins of Valentine’s Day.  Let’s just leave it at this – it’s part of our cultural, you’ve been hearing about practically since Christmas, and really, what’s wrong with taking a day to shower your loved one with (more than your usual) love and affection?  I can get behind that.

The thing is, there’s a lot of pressure to spend a small fortune just to let someone you know you care.  Not necessary.  Gavin and I brainstormed a few ideas for cheap ways to celebrate each other (not the day, each other), and we thought we’d share a few of those with you:
  •  Do you really need flowers?  Nurseries tend to hike up their prices right before the big day, knowing that plenty of poor schmucks will have few options but to pay their exorbitant prices.  Living in the Northwest, you can’t exactly go raid someone’s garden for some nice flowers this time of year (although I am hearing reports of early daffodils…).  If you can’t afford to spend a bundle on the holiday, I’m sorry, but you’re going to have to forgo flowers. 
  • What about jewelry?  Okay, I’m just not even going to go there.  Forget the jewelry.  Let’s be realistic, please.
  • Cards are nice, but spending $5 on a piece of paper with a sweet little sentiment on it seems an easy way out, but really, you could do plenty more with that five bucks. 

So what should we do? 
  •  Fix a nice meal for your sweetie.  It doesn’t have to be fancy or involve tenderloin.  Try out our chicken and potatoes recipe for a meal that looks pretty and tastes great but doesn’t cost a fortune.  Light candles, use the “nice” dishes, tablecloth and napkins.
  • Plan an inexpensive date night.  If you have kids, put in a movie and pop some popcorn after they go to bed.  Let that old “Valentine’s Day Magic” do its thing.
  • Pick a day after Valentine’s Day.  All the prices will have gone back down and you stand a chance of getting a good deal if you are able to splurge a little on a night out.
  • Take some time during the day (if you are both lucky enough to have it off) and just go for a walk in a nice location, if the weather permits. 
  • Set a small budget for each of you (maybe $5) and get each other a surprise.  Cards are off-limits!  Be creative.
What inexpensive ways do you find to spoil your sweetie during February?

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Pounding Poultry

photo courtesy of http://www.goodhousekeeping.com/

Pounding out a chicken breast can be a bit therapeutic.  The trick is controlling and redirecting any aggression you feel and knowing when to stop pounding so you don’t end up with a piece of chicken that looks like it was ravaged by dogs.
  1. Trim any excess fat off the breast.
  2. From here, there are two ways you can enclose your chicken before giving it the smack down…     
    1. Use a long sheet of thick plastic wrap lightly sprayed with canola spray.
    2. Use a gallon-size zipper bag, and lightly spray the inside with canola spray.
  3. Place the chicken in your preferred containment method, and either zip the bag mostly shut or fold the plastic wrap over the chicken.  Don’t zip the bag all the way shut, or you may explode it.  The object here is to give the chicken room to spread out while preventing “splatter.” 
  4. Your meat mallet has two sides, one with the points and one that is flat.  You will want to use the flat side since we are just trying to flatten and not tenderize the chicken.
  5. Start from the underside of the breast.  Pound the chicken using fairly strong hits, but let them glance off toward the outside of the breast.  Start toward the middle, and work your way out and around the meat. Do not pound in one place too long or too often, or you will “break through” and cause a hole.  
  Depending on the size of the breast and the desired thickness you want, it can take a while to get there but with some practice it is a piece of cake.

And now back to your regularly scheduled programming....

And it's not even a train.
Photo by Sura Nualpradid

I've been stuck in meltdown mode since the car problem occurred, and it's definitely time to yank myself out of my deep, blue funk. The last couple days I found myself stuffing my face and slacking on workouts, so it's time to put a halt to that.

Plus I finally got some great news!  Back in November or so, I applied for a position with a company that makes study guide materials for professional examinations.  It so happens that one of the tests they provide materials for is the pharmacy technician certification exam.  As someone who took that test and was a curve-setter for that session of testing (sorry guys!) and then proceeded to work in the field for the next 10 years, an evil little grin crossed my face.  I had to be a shoo-in for this.

I applied.  They responded quickly and sent me a sample to edit.  I dug in and realized that they had actually sent me a sample of a paramedic examination.  I went through and fixed all the grammatical errors, looked up as much information as I could to fact-check, then got my very own personal paramedic on the line (that would be my sister) to double check my medical info.  This trick has always worked well for me in the past.  I may not know all the answers, but I sure as heck know where to find them and who to ask.  If that makes me look brilliant, so be it!

I didn't hear back for ages, so I figured I must have botched something after all.  Oh well.  What can you do, right?  And then, a couple days ago, an email turned up -- "Sorry we didn't get back to you, we were doing a little restructuring, so on and so forth.... are you still interested?"  Hell, yeah, I'm still interested.  Sent back an email with that message (expressed a bit more professionally, of course).

Yesterday, I was officially offered the contract.  Attached were the details, a contract (nothing scary, just "don't steal our company secrets or set up a competing company while you are working for us" -- seems reasonable), and a W-9.  Signatures applied, forms sent.  According to the email, once that part is received on their end, I'll receive my full instructions and procedures and assignments.  I will be creating flash cards, and I get paid by the card.  From what they've described so far, I'm guessing I will be able to make about $30 an hour working on these.  Possibly more.

There's still some questions -- I don't know how long the contract or the project will last.  I think about all the possible information that could go on pharmacy tech flash cards and my head spins with dollar signs.  But in the short term, it will be a much needed influx of cash, a technical writing credit on my resume, and a chance to use a lot of info stored in my noggin that's currently going to waste (not counting phone calls from my mother-in-law).

It's nice to see some light at the end of the tunnel.