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Archive for October, 2017

New meals, lots of spending and fun

October 23rd, 2017 at 03:26 pm

We're working really hard to eat through the CSA squash and root vegetables, not give it away or let it spoil like we do most years. Even though we only came in $4 under budget on the groceries this week, even that would have been amazing before we started being Team Eat-it-all.

The bonus is that I'm trying all sorts of new dishes, because I usually don't cook with all the squash we get! So Friday I made spaghetti squash casserole. We cooked the squash, scooped it out and mixed with vegetarian ground beef substitute, canned tomatoes, sauteed garlic/onion/bell pepper, and some herbs and spices. Baked it for a while, then added Italian cheese on top and baked some more. I served it with garlic bread.

The kids didn't like it but it was a big hit with AS, which was a huge surprise because she's the most skeptical of squash (of the adults at least). So I'd make this again next year when we get more spaghetti squash from the CSA!

Then last night I made spinach-stuffed acorn squash and turnip-potato mash, both new dishes. I served them with turkey-style tofu. The flavors of the acorn squash were rather plain; next time I'd spice that up a bit. But again, AS (who doesn't really like mashed potatoes) loved the mashed turnips and potatoes! She'd been REALLY skeptical when I told her I was making that, but then she ended up having seconds. AA, who loves mashed potatoes, didn't care for these. But I'm wondering if I just changed the ratio so it was more potato than turnip, if maybe I could please both AA and AS next time. Certainly worth trying! Anyway, the meal really could have used some gravy, but other than that it was very good.

This was a spendy but very fun weekend. I went out Friday to the Chuck Berry tribute show. I was disappointed at the low turnout (because it'd be great if this became a regular event) but the acts were great. The tickets were free but NT and I had several drinks, and we got a Lyft home afterward. Then Saturday NT and I took AA to her second-ever play, based on the Goosebumps TV show. She adored it! I'd already paid for the tickets but we had to rent a carshare because the show was in St. Paul, and I bought her a drink and snack after the play. Meanwhile, since we were going to St. Paul anyway, AS took SL to the Children's Museum, which is an awesome place but tickets and snacks added up.

That night AS and I met up with some friends for another music show. Not really our thing but we were glad we'd tried it. So tickets, drinks there, and she and I had one more drink at another bar. By then it was too late to get public transportation so we got a Lyft home.

So, some of this came out of shared spending and some out of our personal spending. All spending categories are now running a deficit, but it was worth it for such a fun weekend! Shared spending deficit is at about $2800, but AS is expecting several payments before the end of the month, so I'm feeling good about our chances of getting it under $2000, even with my sister coming to visit this weekend. We have a ton of things to do so I know we're going to end up doing takeout or restaurants for every meal. That's OK. It doesn't look like it right now, but the deficit is on its way down as soon as AS gets a few of the bigger checks she's expecting.

New meal and won another prize!

October 20th, 2017 at 07:36 pm

Last night I tried a new meal: tofu, bell pepper and napa cabbage stir fry over rice. I also added some carrots since we have so many. It was tasty but not very exciting--nothing to write home about. I can't see doing it again when we have many other Asian recipes we like much better. But I think that takes us to 54!

On Wednesday, I was going to a nightclub's site to buy tickets to a Friday show, and I saw they were offering a chance for 2 free tickets if you liked their Facebook page and shared the post to your news feed. I thought what the heck, I can always buy my tickets the following day if I don't win. But I did! It was about a $40 value (tickets are $15 each but fees are ridiculous). Which is good because my personal spending money has had a small but persistent deficit for most of the year, due to my increased interest in seeing live music.

Anyway, it's a Chuck Berry tribute night and I'm very excited. I love 50s rock-n-roll!

Our shared spending deficit is up a little, to about $2700, due to a date night and purchasing swim classes for the kids. But AS has lots of expected payments coming in, so I'm confident that will go back down soon.

She has decided to do work for my company again since they seem to have the payment glitch somewhat fixed, so I got to hire her to work on a project for me! Even though she's done lots of work for my company, this is the first time we'll work directly together. I'm happy because we communicate really well and it'll be much easier than working with an unknown freelancer. Plus the money's good. Smile

New meal and won the pedometer challenge!

October 18th, 2017 at 05:49 pm

A couple nights ago I tried what I believe is our 53rd new meal this year!

We had a red kuri squash from the CSA and I read you could eat the skin, so I used a Rachael Ray recipe and braised it without peeling (just seeded and cut into pieces) on the stovetop with a little garlic, oil, salt and pepper. Indeed, the skin was totally edible and a nice flavor. I also made a dirty rice with veggie broth, veggie ground beef, onion and garlic, oil and margarine. Really tasty! I served with some storebought vegan sausages.

I pushed really hard to get more steps last week and topped 100,000, which is probably a lifetime personal best for me, except maybe on a long hike with my dad in middle school. I didn't think it would be enough to be the weekly top stepper since someone had gotten 180K the first week, but it was! For the first time in the years my office has been doing it, I got the weekly prize, a $100 gift card. If I keep up at least 10K steps a day for the rest of the challenge I'll also get a $25 gift card for completing.

I should get the gift cards near the end of the month, which is perfect because we have a parents' night out in mid-November when the kids sleep over at daycare. This will go a long way toward defraying the cost of our date!

Deficit under $2500!

October 16th, 2017 at 05:48 pm

We had another good week of AS payments coming in and not too many unbudgeted expenses, so even with sending a third of her net payments to savings, we managed to get the deficit just under $2500. I redeemed $37 in CC rewards to push us over the edge. Smile

We spent just over a hundred dollars on snacks and drinks (above our regular grocery budget line item) for a party we had Saturday. That's extremely low for us. We had about 15 people so only spent about $7 per person! Several of the snacks I provided were using up CSA vegetables: the eggplant, kohlrabi, beets, watermelon radish, parsley and some of the carrots. I did a baba ganouj with the eggplant and just sliced and oven roasted the other veggies. I have plenty left over for lunch today and beyond.

The only biggish upcoming expenses I can foresee (that aren't budgeted for) are swim classes ($180 or so), wedding gift for my niece ($200), Halloween candy/decorations/costumes (maybe $50-$150?), and food/drink/entertainment for when my sister and AS's mom come to visit in October and maybe December. (AS's mom decided not to come around Thanksgiving, so that likely expense has been pushed back to around Christmastime. Yay!) I'm saying $300 for each visit, but I could see coming in under that depending on what we do and where we eat. So that all comes out to about $1100. AS has enough money coming in over the next month and a half that we may be able to lose the deficit by the end of November, or maybe even before! Especially if I can stay under budget on groceries most weeks and apply that surplus to it...

Of course that's caveated by the fact that we may have unforeseen hurdles coming up, which is partly how we got into this deficit situation in the first place...

Note to self on pension value

October 13th, 2017 at 04:33 am

We got an annual statement for one of NT's pensions (the SW one). It has gone up in value a little bit, to 26,544 pounds, or $33,180. So that'll be a little extra boost to our net worth calculations at the end of the month.

Team eat-it-all rides again

October 12th, 2017 at 02:53 am

Actually, we've been Team Eat-it-all since mid-summer. I know we'll need to stock the pantry before winter gets bad so we could safely be snowed in for a few days, but for now with mild weather, we're buying only what we need for that week of meals. And we've been trying to use all our CSA veggies. Actually, we've done the best ever this year; only wasted a couple bunches of herbs here and there, or a handful of lettuce, or some beet greens once.

But we have a challenging bunch of veggies sitting in the kitchen right now. Most of them are not our favorites. We have one more CSA box next week and then we can go back to choosing our own veggies (but of course our weekly shop will get more expensive too).

But first we have to use up (plus whatever we get next week):
cherry tomatoes
1 eggplant
1 small pie pumpkin
1 acorn squash
1 celeriac
1 butternut squash
1 buttercup squash
1 red kuri squash
2 watermelon radishes
3 large beets
parsley
maybe cilantro (it might have gone bad)
mustard greens
2 kohlrabi
1 Napa cabbage
3 lbs of carrots
about 10 white and 3 red onions
hot peppers and maybe some other oddballs

Boy, oh boy. I'm looking at that list and not crazy about any of it, except the cherry tomatoes, which we'll just use for snacking.

I do like one recipe I found a long time ago for celeriac-maple-bacon (I use veggie bacon) hash. So I'll probably do that as part of a breakfast-for-dinner meal. And I'm kind of excited about the kuri squash because apparently you can eat the skin like you do with delicata, so I'm hoping it's similarly lovely (delicata is basically the only winter squash I love).

Onions are easy; they'll keep for a few weeks and we just about use one with every meal anyway.

I like carrots as a side dish and one of the kids likes them as a snack.

The parsley we can use in pasta easy enough.

But the rest -- squash squash squash root veg root veg eggplant etc. -- I'm going to have to think about.

Another new recipe

October 12th, 2017 at 01:45 am

Even though I've completed my 50-new-meals challenge, I'm still trying new recipes occasionally, mainly because of the CSA sending me veggies that I have to figure out how to use.

Tonight I did gemelli (pasta) with a red pepper romesco sauce. I used an online recipe, kind of fudged around with it based on what I had in the house (carmen peppers instead of red bell peppers; slivered almonds instead of hazelnuts), and it turned out really good. I was going to mix broccoli, spinach and chard into it but NT thought that would be weird so I just did a simple side dish of those three veggies, chopped up and steamed/sauteed, with olive oil, salt and pepper. That went over really well; even the kids ate their entire portions of pasta and veggies.

I should note the recipe here because I changed it and wouldn't remember what I did next time.

2 red bell peppers, broiled/roasted and peeled
1/2 cup toasted almonds
1/4-1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1 cup fresh bread crumbs
1 small garlic clove
1/4 tsp cumin
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
1/2 tsp salt
2-3 tbsp olive oil
3+ tbsp water (more if needed)

Put all ingredients in food processor and process until smooth, and mix with 1 lb cooked pasta.

Back from WI; deficit under $3K

October 8th, 2017 at 08:10 pm

AS and I left for our road trip Thursday morning and got back Saturday evening. We had an amazing time! The cost was about $800; more like $900 if I count the tickets. $170 for the rental car, $70 for a hotel room, $40 for souvenir T-shirts from the band, $45 for gas, $150 for umbrellas and sneakers (we saw a great deal on athletic shoes, which we'd been planning to buy for a while anyway), $12 for parking, and the other $350 was food and drink -- including NT buying ice cream for the girls while we were gone, us getting takeout when we got home later than expected Saturday, buying brunch for a friend who paid for the second night's hotel room, and drinks for the band. We went to see them play in two different towns Thursday night and Friday night, and on Thursday they announced where they would be going after the show, so we went and met up with them there! It was very exciting; even though they're just local Minneapolis guys, I'm very starstruck by them.

I didn't really check my budget at all while we were gone, having made triple-sure that our checking account would not go in the red during that time. When we came back, AS had received two payments, netting about $1000 and $550. Plus, we managed to keep last week's groceries $50 under budget. So even with the $800 of expenses, and with sending a third of AS's net payments to savings, the shared spending deficit got below $3K for the first time since we went to Va. in August!

We have some more expenses coming up; a wedding gift for my niece who's getting married next Saturday (I'm not going so want to get her something really nice), food and drink for a party we're throwing (also next Saturday), Halloween candy and possibly some costume supplies for the grownups (depending on what we end up doing for Halloween), probably some eating out for two family visits (my sister in October and AS's mom in November), and some miscellaneous (Lyft rides for AS from her night class, possibly more swim lessons for the kids). But we also expect some more payments for AS, so I'm hoping the income outweighs the outgo and we can chip away at the remaining deficit vs. having it go up again. Looking at the expected amounts it certainly seems likely.

We do still need to get someone in to look at the leaky basement, but honestly if that ends up costing a lot, we'll just take it out of kitchen reno savings. I couldn't bear to add a large amount to our shared spending deficit.

Unforced errors, leaky basement and other random occurrences

October 4th, 2017 at 04:52 am

Well, I was feeling like things were pretty under control, and then a few things happened.

The first two are more embarrassing than anything, and what I call unforced errors, because they could easily have been avoided. I knew AS got paid pretty promptly by the one college the last couple years, so I went ahead and added it into my spreadsheet. I'd felt good about where our balance was so I set up AS's third-quarter IRA contribution, which I'd delayed for about a month.

The college deposit didn't come in Friday, or Saturday, but I didn't think about what Monday would look like. I had both the neighbors' rent check and AS's payment in my spreadsheet before the mortgage payment. But when I logged in Monday as I always do, I noticed right away that the mortgage payment hadn't hit but the balance wasn't high enough to cover it.

In panic mode, I had AS get the rent check and deposit it, but before she did I saw a $30 returned payment penalty for the mortgage. I called the mortgage company and they said they'd just retry when they got notice the payment didn't go through, and that they didn't charge a penalty fee on their end unless it didn't go through a second time.

Meanwhile, the rent check is still pending, but I'm hoping tomorrow it becomes part of the available balance.

We went to AS's pay stub to try and figure out why the payment was so late, and realized that she'd never switched the info to our credit union when we divested from USBank. Whoops!

So, it was just a comedy of errors, that luckily seems to have only cost us $30 and a bunch of stress (WHY did it have to be the payment on our house that bounced??). It wouldn't have happened if A) I'd decided to hold off on the IRA contribution until the college payment actually hit or B) if I'd had the spreadsheet items for the first of the month in a different order or C) AS had remembered to switch her bank info. But, lessons learned, onward and upward.

Then, we've had a ton of torrential rain here in MN, and a slightly leaky wall in the basement got a lot worse this time around. We mopped up the water but we can see it's coming through the wall in several places, running down between the plaster and the stone. So we're going to have to get someone out to assess the damage and suggest solutions. I'm thinking this is going to eat up some (hopefully not all!) of our hard-saved kitchen reno savings. But it's no good having a nice kitchen if our basement is waterlogged and our foundation is impacted, so we've got to figure out what's going on and what we need to do about it.

A lot of little other expenses are kind of stressing me out because of both of the above. But the college payment is getting straightened out and AS has invoiced or is expecting a few other payments, so I just have to be patient and things will be looking good again soon. But meanwhile I'm keeping an extra close eye on what's coming out of the account to make sure we aren't overdrawn again.

Then, the random stuff happening in my life:
- I gently nudged my boss one more time about my career, and she requested a meeting with HER boss! I'm nervous but excited to see if anything comes of it.
- One of our friends is going to spend the winter in a pipeline protest camp a couple hours away, so we're letting him forward his mail and store some of his stuff here. We may also handle his money while he's gone and possibly be on call to use it to bail him out if need be! (Hopefully not)
- AS was going to be on the radio again, but they mixed up the scheduling and it didn't work out. They felt so bad that they booked her for another discussion, so that'll happen next week.
- But first, we leave Thursday for Wisconsin and two nights of seeing my favorite band! I'm so excited! I've seen them several times this year but their shows always seem to go by so quickly, so it'll be amazing after the first show to know that I get an encore performance the next night.
- File under "huh?": AS and I usually find a couple pennies on our 3-mile morning walk to my job. But today I found like 10 dimes! There were at least 6 scattered around a bus stop, and then a half block away a couple more, and then two blocks further along, I found one more. So weird, but it's always fun to find money!

I think that's all. I've stayed under 130 lbs. for a couple weeks now. Oh, and my work's pedometer challenge started on Sunday, and it proceeded to rain for 2.5 days straight. Still managed to get a good amount of steps in though. Our Wisconsin trip looks like it might be rainy too, but I'm determined. The weekly top stepper each of the four weeks wins $100, so I want to snatch one of those prizes!