Friday, April 30, 2010

Upsides to the Down Economy/ Shop Like a Swede

Went to one of my favorite (bargain) stores this week on a twice-yearly pilgramage with my daughter A.J. Ikea! I first heard about the arrival of the "Swedish" store at a kid's party where some of the mothers were raving about the affordability and quality of the furniture. "Lasts longer than the stuff I bought at Pottery Barn," said one of the mothers who had lived near an Ikea in another state. Getting there is a project, since it's about 45 minutes away from Miami. It helps to know what you want before you go, so you can make the best use of your time. You can pre-shop online, or look through a catalogue and mark items you're interested in. I was going to get stuff for my 12 year old step daughter's birthday, to replace a broken bathroom tumbler and for the meatballs. Ikea makes it easy for you to be organized in your shopping, with a map of the store, shopping list, pencil, and paper measuring tape provided when you walk in. We walked past cute, multi-colored Parsons tables on sale for $7.99! The tutoring company I worked for had these for the kids and they were sturdy and durable- perfect for kids and play rooms. Free samples of Ikea's famous Swedish meatballs were handed out, along with a coupon for a free drink at the cafe at the entrance. Score! Ikea is known for its cheap furniture, but they also have great deals on paper goods (50 large napkins for $1.99) and I love their glassware and vases. If you're looking to get organized, this is a great place to find stuff and much cheaper than the Container Store. Just make sure you have all the necessary pieces for your items in the box before you leave. We shopped around, got a headache, and took a break for lunch. The store can definitely be overwhelming, even if you've been before. At the cafe, you can get 15 Swedish meatballs in sauce, with lingon berry jelly and mashed potatoes for $4.99. Yummy! After getting a second wind, we finished our shopping. They had a deal going on the Swedish Meatballs. I got a bag of frozen meatballs, a bag of gratin potatoes and two packets of sauce all for $10.00. I also got the Ligon jelly for $1.99 to go with the meatballs. Although I didn't feel I got that much, I managed to spend 84 bucks. So here's another Ikea tip: scan your basket before you leave to decide what you really want/need. Even the little stuff adds up. I was rushed to leave and didn't do this and literally exhausted when we arrived at our car. My daughter, who claimed to have quit smoking, smoked two cigarettes on the way home and we ended up getting lost. Some more Ikea tips: wear comfortable shoes, go mid-week or in the evening (avoid Saturdays like the plague), bring a large car or truck if you're going to buy big items. Oh! And one more thing- bring your energy. You're going to need it.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Upsides to the Down Economy/ Plan an Adventure

Just read on AOL news about a woman who decided to have a new adventure each week and then blogged about it. This is a great idea. The adventures don't have to be huge or expensive, just something you've never done before- something to get you out of your comfort zone. In keeping with that theme, last week, I danced on table at Opa (Greek restaurant), spent a couple nights at a plantation in South Carolina's low country, and took an Amtrak train from Charleston to Miami. Three adventures in one week! I am scheduled to run a 5K race I've never done before (Mercedes Corporate Run) in downtown Miami this week. So what's in your wallet? Plan an adventure today. Not only does it get your heart thumping, it gives you something to look forward to, and helps you grow as a person (especially if it's challenging or facing a fear). What are you most afraid of? How would you feel if you faced that fear and conquered it?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Upsides to the Down Economy/ There is such a thing as a Free Lunch

I love my AMC Movie Watcher Card! On a rainy Sunday, went to go see Date Night with my hubby. Because of my reward points, got a free large popcorn and large drink, perfect for the two of us to share on our "Date Night". A cute movie and the popcorn tasted all the better, because it was free! My other option was a free movie, but thought I would seize the day and eat the popcorn. A bird in hand, is worth two in the bush and didn't want to #1 lose my ticket or #2 forget about it.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Upsides to the Down Economy/ Make your Leftovers Work for You

If you have one of those take-out containers of white rice leftover in your fridge, you have the makings for an easy rice pudding. So yummy and not that fattening. I got a recipe off the Internet and modified it a bit.

Chinese Leftover Rice Pudding

2 cups leftover cooked rice
3 cups skim milk
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup raisins (optional, but I love raisins)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg (if you like nutmeg)
cinnamon stick (or 1/2 teaspoon powdered)

Combine rice (break up any clumps with your fingers), milk, sugar and cinnamon stick (if using) in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer and stir in vanilla and raisins. Cook until almost all the milk is absorbed (about 1/2 an hour). Stir in nutmeg, if using. Pour into bowl and sprinkle cinnamon on top. Serve warm or chilled. Makes 6 servings.

Another use for leftover white rice is stir fried rice. I won't go into that recipe, but if you have eggs, green onions and some soy sauce, you're pretty much set. You can also add: leftover veggies (like peas and carrots), bean sprouts and leftover meat (pork, ham, chicken) to make an easy one-dish breakfast, lunch or dinner. So don't let your leftovers go to waste! Turn them into something delicious and new!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Upsides to the Down Economy/ Miracles on a Budget

This is what I love about having a garden- little miracles happen on a daily basis. One day when you visit your garden, you see little green sprouts, where yesterday there was only dirt. Or a flower blooms, that was only promising to the day before. A pea pod emerges from it's shoot, a broccoli flower sprouts out of its center. And all you have to do, after you plant everything, is water it, (which hasn't been a problem lately because it's been raining like crazy.) Oh! And you have to watch out for bugs and caterpillars. One day last year, I went out to find my garden COVERED in grasshoppers, like something out of the bible. I ran to the hardware store... but wait, that's a story for another blog. Today, I am just relishing in my beautiful, grasshopper-free garden. Miracles on a budget.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Upsides to the Down Economy/ Happiness is a new Dishwasher

I bought a new dishwasher at Home Depot this morning and due to the appliance rebates (funded with federal stimulus money) and the 10% off on Energy Star appliances Home Depot offered, I saved 30%! I may even get $75 back, if Home Depot recycles the old dishwasher when they haul it away (don't know about that yet). The dishwasher in our house has been pathetic since we moved in 5 years ago. We had to wash everything off before actually putting it in the dishwasher- a waste of water and energy and an ongoing fight between my husband and I. I'm not the best at scraping food off and, when he loads the dishwasher the dishes are already clean. Anyway, a couple months ago the heating coil broke, so the dishes didn't get dry. Dishes with water clinging to them seems like a recipe for dysentery; we are all lucky to still be alive. At any rate, it was time for a new dishwasher and, with the appliance rebate incentive, it seemed like the perfect time to purchase. I got an LG model that was recommended online. It is large, quiet, with stainless steel on the outside and inside and I can't wait for that baby to be delivered. Someone who reviewed it mentioned the zen-like sound the dishwasher makes when operating. Maybe I'll light some incense and meditate while my dishes are washing. OMMMMM......................

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Upsides to the Down Economy/ Compost Happens

My compost heap is an essential part of my garden. Although I have tried composting for a long time (not always successfully) I finally got a compost bin for Mother's Day. (Yes, I realize that's kind of pathetic but I wanted it!) With my compost bin came a compost starter, ingredients for speeding up the composting process that you sprinked on it. You can also make a bin with cement blocks or chicken wire, if you're so inclined. What to put in the compost? Coffee grinds, tea bags, paper towels, shredded newspaper, vegetable peelings, grass, fruit or vegetables that have gone bad, egg shells, ashes from the grill, leaves. Even lint from the drier, hair from a brush and fingernail clippings (I know, gross!) can be used, because it all breaks down eventually. Don't use: meat or dairy products, fat, diseased plants or weeds or poop of any kind. There is a ratio of stuff you're supposed to use and a way to layer it all (green stuff, dry stuff, dirt, kitchen waste) but I finally just gave up and now throw things in there willy nilly, and it still works. I had a rat in the compost heap and found out that was because it was too dry. Compost needs air and water to break down, so I try to make sure it's wet enough now and use a pitch fork kind of thing to stir it up. If it stinks, that means the pile is packed too tightly or the wrong materials have been used. Bugs and earthworms in your compost, is a sign it's working right. When I open the bottom, there is usually rich, loamy compost. If something hasn't broken down (like corn cobs or nut shells) I just put them back on top, to go through another round. It's a great feeling to know you're using what would just end up in the garbage (and then rotting in a landfill) to make compost. It's made a huge difference in how well my garden grows. Mary Mary, Quite Contrary, make some compost and your garden will grow just fine, like mine!

Photos are of:

A typical day's kitchen waste (strawberry hulls, coffee grinds, tea bags, paper towels),

my compost bin,

inside my compost bin and

what the compost looks like when it comes out the bottom.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Upsides to the Down Economy/Plant a Garden

This was actually the first idea I had when I started this blog in September and I am only now getting around to it. Plant a garden! Everyone's doing it, even the White House. I have almost always had some kind of garden no matter where I lived, from a big one in my house in Mangowood, to an herb garden in Tallahassee, to the vegetable and herb garden I have now. The first time I started a garden was when my oldest son ran away from home. He was 15 at the time, and I felt completely at a loss, but planting tiny seeds in soil that would eventually spring up, gave me some sense of control and hope for the future. Over the years, I learned what worked well (cherry tomatoes and herbs) and what failed miserably (corn and watermelon) and consider my gardens an experiment of sorts, full of learning experiences. Nowadays, I pick herbs I will use on a regular basis (parsley, basil, cilantro) and vegetables I like (green peppers, eggplant and arugula). It is such a good feeling to go out to my garden, snip some chives as a seasoning, pick some tomatoes for my salad and walk back into my kitchen for dinner. Not only is it more convenient, but I know it's healthy and pesticide free. My son, now 30, is doing fine but I still find gardening wonderful therapy for whatever ails me.

"You are closer to God in a Garden, than anywhere else on Earth."

Amen sister!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Upsides to the Down Economy/ Grow Your Own Pineapple

They say southerners use all the parts of the pig except the "oink!", so imagine my dismay when my husband informed me he'd cut all the meat off the ham bone and given the bone to the dog as a "treat". My visions of homemade split pea soup (my favorite), evaporated in an instant and I wanted to kill aforementioned husband. The ham was leftover from Easter, so we are eating ham a million different ways this week. I also got a lovely pineapple from Cotsco and, as is my way, I am using all parts of it. First, I cut the top off, and saved it for re-planting. Then I cut the skin off, to be slow-dried in the oven and used on the grill, to impart extra flavor to cooking meat. After you cut off the top of the pineapple, you let it dry out for at least seven days (in a dry place out of full sun) and then plant it. The instructions I read in the paper said to plant it in a container (to prevent disease), but I talked to someone from the rare fruit group at the Coral Gables Farmer's market and he said if you plant it in the ground, you should have a fruit within 8 months, vs. the year and a half I had been waiting. If you can, plant the dried out top in sandy soil, if not add a little sand to your soil and bury the bottom few leaves. In two weeks it should develop roots. It needs barely moist soil, so water once a week and mist the leaves. Fertilize four times a year and make sure it gets plenty of sun. I am still waiting for mine to sprout fruit, but something has formed in the middle (a flower), so I am excited.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Upsides to the Down Economy/ June Cleaver Must Die

Spring has sprung and that means it's time for Spring Cleaning! First things first. What about your clothes closet? They say (whoever "they" is) if you haven't worn an item in a year, you should get rid of it. There are different ways of getting rid of it. You could #1 pass it along to someone who can use it.#2 Sell it at a garage sale or, for designer-type, list it on e-bay.
#3 Consignment shops, where you get half of what it sells for, is another option. My last resort is
#4 Goodwill, where I take items I can't give away or sell. Goodwill has even gotten picky these days, only accepting items that are not stained or torn. While you are going through your closet, getting rid of that pink chiffon ballerina dress you bought for your sister's anniversary party but never wore (me), think about the three R's. Repair, Recycle and Renew. Access your wardrobe and find items (like shoes and belts) that need to be repaired. Drag them out and take them to the repair shop. Sweaters for winter can even be re weaved, but if they are in good condition, it may be time to wash them in Woolite and store them away until next winter. As far as recycling items, look through older items and see if any of them are back in fashion. ( I knew I shouldn't have gotten rid of my shoulder padded jackets!) Studs are in (aren't they always?)
so if you have a bedazzler, you can bedazzle your belts or jeans. The boho look is also in, which I think means you can throw a bunch of mis-matched stuff together and say you're boho chic. The third R is for renew, which means buying a few, cute trendy items to make your old stuff look new again. H & M or Forever 21 are inexpensive stores to get "in" items, like a chunky necklace, wide belt or printed skirt or top. You can use the money you made from E-bay or the consignment shop to buy these items. So put on some tunes to cheer you up (Beach Boys)
and tackle those closets today! By the way, the photo is of a dress I knicknamed my June Cleaver Dress. Finally had to get rid of it. There was no bedazzling that baby!