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Archive for December, 2006

counting down

December 22nd, 2006 at 10:34 am

I leave for my parents' house tomorrow evening. I can't wait! I'm so glad this busy week is almost over.

I've been working overtime this week, trying to get everything wrapped, organized and packed, meeting up with people, cleaning the house, etc - just like everyone else, I'm sure.

Last night I saw the movie, "Pursuit of Happyness", with my friend from Boston. The movie was great...a little slow, but with purpose. It definitely gave me something to think about. It was good to catch up with him, too. A year had passed since I had last seen him, but it felt like a day. I guess that's what's called comfortable...? He may be working here next summer, which would be great.

I can't complain about the cost of the movie - $6.50 each - but a large popcorn and two drinks was $15.75. Ouch! I so rarely go to movies, though, that it won't break the bank.

Tonight SO and I are having dinner with friends/family members (Indian food, I hope!). We got socked with a bizarre mix of rain, ice pellets, and enormous snowflakes yesterday, so I hope the roads are decent this evening. Just a quick plug for Yaktrax - I pulled mine out yesterday in anticipation of the ice storm, and they ROCK. They easily strapped onto the bottoms of my shoes, and I didn't slip at all. What a great invention!

Seriously, is it really December 22? Wasn't it just October?? Where has this year gone?

I'm retreating to the land of dial-up internet for a week, so enjoy the holidays!! Take time to concentrate on the best things in life (the free stuff!). Smile

recognition

December 19th, 2006 at 12:18 pm

What a nice day!

Someone on another team complimented my team, so we all got little balloons on our desks. Nice. I had my annual review this morning...not sparkling, but my boss assured me that I am doing a good job, and told me to keep on doing what I'm doing. No news on a raise yet, but we'll all be finding out soon. I realized that any raise I receive will go straight to inflated medical costs - insurance went up a ton this year.

I'm the new employee trainer again today...not my favorite thing in the world, but I just have to remind myself that next week I won't be at work!

Bittersweet moment last night...I know my massage friend is happy to return to her home country, where she is a doctor, but she's sad about leaving too. She invited us to visit someday. I'd like that.

Trying hard to concentrate on my big savings goal - Mexico 2007. So far, I've got $360 in the account.

We have only spent about $150 on groceries this month, and that will be all we'll spend. That's some sort of record, especially for December! We picked up four very cheap artichokes at Trader Joes, steamed them, and had them for dinner the other night. They were sooooo good. I love artichokes...they will always remind me of Chile. I ate them constantly there. I wish they were cheaper here!

I'm reading the Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri (it's a bunch of short stories). She crafts a great story, and is quite skilled, but every single one so far has been depressing! I hope at least one ends well.

We don't have a flake of snow on the ground, but they say a storm is on its way. I heard people on the bus complaining about the lack of snow. I couldn't be more pleased with 45 degrees!

stockings will be stuffed!

December 18th, 2006 at 10:54 am

I went a little overboard on stocking stuffers.

Organic chocolate, raspberry chocolate, peach buds, ginger candy, rice candy (no idea what that's like, but that's part of the fun), Swiss Army knife-shaped chocolate, chocolate from England and Switzerland, maple candy from Vermont, rose candy from somewhere, mini-hot sauce, mini-saffron tubes, mini-summer sausage - the list goes on and on. I stopped by World Market, and their international food section is such fun.

SO started feeling lots better on Friday (thanks, mjrube94!).

We baked and baked and baked this weekend - spiced biscotti, orange almond biscotti, chocolate almond biscotti, honey lavender biscotti, snickers fudge, raspberry truffles, orange truffles, and chocolate covered pretzels. SO dipped some of the biscotti in melted chocolate as well. Most of it is packaged up and ready to go out. What happened to "I'll start this earlier next year"? I'll say it again - I'll start this baking thing earlier next year.

In addition, we finally tossed lights at the tree and bought a few ornaments. The living room is so cozy.

Work is so incredibly slow...I could be so much more productive at home, wrapping gifts and packing.

Tonight our massage friend is coming over for the last time. She is moving back to her home country. We will miss her, and our monthly massages!! Frown

Thursday I'm getting together with a friend; Friday we're having dinner with relatives; Saturday we've got to give the frog prince to the birthday girl; and then I'm off to my parents' house for a week! Yowza!

Easier Snickers Fudge Recipe

December 18th, 2006 at 06:45 am

I finished the annual Snickers Fudge yesterday, and used much easier methods. It turned out better than it ever has. It's still time-consuming, but the microwave and non-stick foil makes it much easier!


EASIER SNICKERS FUDGE

Bottom Layer
1/2 cup milk chocolate chips
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1/4 cup butterscotch chips
1/4 cup peanut butter chips

Filling
1/4 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup evaporated milk
7 oz jar marshmallow cream
1/4 cup peanut butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups chopped salted peanuts

Caramel Layer
14 oz package caramels
1/4 cup whipping cream

Top Layer
1/2 cup milk chocolate chips
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1/4 cup butterscotch chips
1/4 cup peanut butter chips

Directions
Cover the bottom and sides of a 13x9x2 pan with non-stick aluminum foil. Fold excess aluminum foil over the sides of the pan, so you can easily pull out the fudge later.

Bottom Layer: Combine the ingredients in a microwavable measuring cup; microwave in one-minute increments, stirring between each minute, until smooth. Spread onto the bottom of the prepared pan. Refrigerate until set.

Filling: Melt butter in a heavy saucepan over medium-high heat. Add sugar and milk. Bring to a boil; boil and stir for 5 minutes. Remove from heat; quickly stir in the marshmallow cream, peanut butter, and vanilla. Add peanuts. Spread over bottom layer (work fast!). Refrigerate until set.

Caramel Layer: Combine caramels and cream in a microwavable container; microwave in one-minute increments, stirring between each minute, until smooth. Spread over the filling. Refrigerate until set.

Top Layer: Combine the ingredients in a microwavable measuring cup; microwave in one-minute increments, stirring between each minute, until smooth. Pour over the caramel layer. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

Grip the excess aluminum foil and pull fudge out of pan. Gently flip the fudge onto a cutting board, and slowly pull off the aluminum foil (if you've used non-stick foil, this should be easy). Using a large knife, cut the fudge into one-inch squares. Wrap fudge in plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator.

stuck to the list, but...

December 15th, 2006 at 09:03 am

My Target run the other night went pretty well. I stuck to the list and spent my budgeted amount of $60 (only a few cents over!). However, I couldn't find a few things:

- parchment paper
- cellophane bags (to put fudge into)
- a cat toobrush and toothpaste

My furry little girl has tarter on her teeth, so we need to start scrubbing. Wink We'll see how well that goes over. I'll just look at a pet store for that.

Parchment paper and cellophane bags have me mystified, though. I know we bought those cellophane bags at Target last winter. Where else should I look? Would the dollar store have them? Walmart?

Last night was biscotti night. I made a spiced biscotti, and it turned out so well! The first attempt yielded fabulous results. I need to pick up a few more ingredients (where did my bottle of honey wander off to??) and I'll finish my holiday baking this weekend.

SO has had the flu this week, so we haven't collectively accomplished much. The tree is still untrimmed (still beautiful, though!). I'm fighting off the illness with lots of tea, Halls Defense drops, multi-vitamins, and Airborne. Maybe it's just the placebo effect, but I love that Airborne stuff.

So glad it's Friday!!

car thoughts

December 13th, 2006 at 09:18 am

Yesterday I talked to a friend about how much I've spent on car repairs this year - $1368. Now, that's only about $114 a month (much cheaper than a car payment), but it doesn't get driven much these days, since I normally take the bus to work. I think as it sits idly in the driveway, it concocts new clunking sounds, lights to burn out, and parts to throw to the ground. As I drove to work this morning, I contemplated my future with this car.

Since I don't drive much right now, I don't really need a new car. I am pretty tired of throwing money at it, though. The engine had a brand new whine this morning when I started it up.

I expect to pay off my smaller college loan next summer. If I could find a car payment that tops out at $200 a month, I think I could swing it. The only problem is that the cars I like are twice that much. Wink Something to think about. I'm glad I have the luxury of time and alternative commuting methods.

Last night I avoided Target...tonight, I will not be so lucky. The key is to walk in with my list and not deviate from it. I need cellophane bags for fudge and mini muffin cups for truffles. I'm nearly done with my crocheting projects! Whoohoo!

I'm hoping to get a raise soon. Overtime work this fall has not panned out like I thought it would. I need to canvass the house and throw some things up for sale if I'm going to have enough cash for a vacation. I think I'll try amazon.com for books and such.

Free breakfast and lunch at work today, with vegetarian options this time! Yeah!

2 Year Blogoversary!

December 12th, 2006 at 06:50 am



Two years! I can hardly believe it. I joined Saving Advice in November 2004, and started this blog just a couple of weeks later. Back then they were called "journals" and were integrated into the forum website. Though we switched over to this great blog format, I kept the original name (journal), because it feels more personal and intimate. I write about all kinds of things happening in my life, and most of the time, they affect my finances one way or the other.

I've learned so much from this community of warm, wonderful, respectful savers. It's truly a blessing to have a place where everyone has a common goal - saving more. In a big bad world where keeping up with the Jones is the norm, it's refreshing to step into this little "safe" zone and talk about washing plastic baggies! and saving on toilet paper! and clipping coupons!

Thank you, Jeffrey and Nate, for creating this welcoming environment. Thank you, dear reader, for reading my posts and responding with thoughtful, insightful advice. I've learned far more from everyone here than I ever thought possible, way back when I started this blog!

Happy Tuesday!

you CAN pack lunch

December 11th, 2006 at 02:28 pm

I have a friend who complains bitterly about the quality of food served in our cafeteria (aren't we lucky to have one?) and not having any money. I finally told him that there's an easy remedy to both problems - pack lunch. But - it's too much work! I don't have time! I don't know how!

Look, it may be hard at first, but it packing lunch can become second nature, just like anything else. I've packed lunch nearly every day I've worked in the past five years. It normally takes me about 5 minutes to pack my lunch in the morning.

~ Eat breakfast before you walk out of the house. I spend 5 minutes cooking and eating my bowl of oatmeal every morning, and it keeps me going until my 10:30 snack.

~ Always have lots of snacks on hand, stuff you can quickly grab-and-go: apples, bananas, grapes, pears, oranges, yogurt, granola bars, mini V-8 cans, string cheese, chocolate, pretzel rods, raisin boxes, crackers, etc.

~ If you cook dinner (and you should be, if you're trying to save money and your waistline), make things that create leftovers. After dinner, pop what you've made into individual microwavable containers, and slide them into the fridge (or freezer). In the morning, grab one of these containers, a few of your snack options, and viola! Food for the day.

~ If you eat dinner out, and you can't eat it all, box up the rest for lunch the next day.

~ Keep non-perishable goods in your desk drawer. I've got a jar of peanut butter, a variety of tea bags, and some ketchup/salt/pepper packets. Sometimes a simple tablespoon of peanut butter keeps me going until lunch. If you just can't eat breakfast at home, bring a box of shredded wheat to work and tuck it into your desk drawer. I'd keep a bag of chocolate there too, if I could keep my hand out of it.

~ Make lunch the night before. If you're having burritos for dinner, fold up an extra one and wrap it in plastic wrap or foil. Toss it in your lunch bag with a snack or two and a beverage, and place the whole thing in the fridge so you won't miss it the next day.

~ Buy frozen meals on sale and with a coupon. Stock your freezer for the inevitable no-food-in-the-fridge mornings. Just be careful not to rely too heavily on them!

Any other lunchtime tips and tricks? I know I've saved tons of money over the years by packing my own lunch.

just fine!

December 11th, 2006 at 07:13 am

I'm happy to say that Friday ended uneventfully! I have no idea what that feeling was about. I spent two hours on the phone with my mom, though, and it was good to catch up. Smile

I spent most of Saturday's holiday party talking to my nieces. Sometimes six-year-olds are the best conversationalists. A sister-in-law announced that she is pregnant again. I'm happy for them, but too bad they don't have health insurance.

My colorist repaired my hideous haircut and pumped up my highlights. I feel loads lighter. I think I'm done coloring my hair for a while...I decided this morning that I should enjoy my natural hair color before any gray hairs start peeping through. Wink

We found the perfect Christmas tree at a perfect price! We stumbled upon a local Lions Club selling 7' trees for $34. Can't beat a deal like that. We'll trim the tree tonight, though I don't think it needs it! I'm happy with a beautiful tree decked out in nothing but white lights. I love sitting on the couch and basking in their warm, pine-scented glow. Two weeks until Christmas!

weird feeling

December 8th, 2006 at 09:56 am

I've got a weird feeling about today. It's been following me around since last night. I can't pinpoint it...it's not anyone's birthday, I have nothing going on tonight, there aren't any work meetings I'm missing, my bills are paid, my cats are healthy, my SO is just fine... What on earth could it be? I'd better call my parents tonight. I hate that lurking feeling of uneasiness.

I'm halfway done with one niece's scarf. I think I'll finish it tonight. My aunts' annual holiday package for me arrived yesterday, which means I need to get my butt in gear and get theirs mailed out!! I can't believe it is December 8th already.

My soon-to-be two year old niece is getting this frog prince for her birthday:



The mouth zips and unzips to reveal a sewn-on fly. Wink

and the problem with gift cards is...

December 7th, 2006 at 07:38 am

...that you inevitably end up spending more than you have left on the gift card. Last night we stepped into Ikea with our $13 gift card, and walked out with $100 in stuff. It was all good, useful stuff, and we found lots of gifts (and a set of beautiful blue-gray dishes, six place settings for $18!), but not exactly within in the budget. Then, the Gap. I found a gorgeous men's zip-up sweater hoodie for me, perfect, and bought it. I used up my gift card and spent an additional $47! Yowza! I did a little better in Sephora - used up my $52 gift card and only spent an extra $8. Yes, I'm one of those people who has ridiculously expensive lipstick on my wishlist. I'd never buy it myself, but that's what a wishlist is for - wishing. I certainly don't expect it to be sitting under the tree. I'd be just as happy with something much cheaper.

All in all, we were very productive yesterday, and the shopping atmosphere was perfect. Virtually no one was at the Mall of America. There's no way I'd step foot in that mall on a December weekend, but Wednesday night was great. Smile

I've got a holiday party to attend this weekend...a very religious holiday party (i.e. having the children dress up and reenact the birth of Christ). I'm going to need to build up my patience reserves between now and then.

My take on the holiday season is this - I'm not religious, but if you want to be, go ahead (just don't force it on me). Personally, I take this time to sit back, take stock of all that I have and am thankful for, and show my love and appreciation for my family and friends. I love buying and making gifts for people. I love the spirit of giving and cherishing those you care about. I like making others happy. That's what the holiday season means to me...and I feel good about that.

is this the chocolate talking?

December 6th, 2006 at 02:37 pm

I'm pretty happy today. Yes, perhaps it is because of the square of 70% dark chocolate I just ate...but I'm pretty jovial. Most of my holiday shopping is done, and though I'm having trouble with a couple of homemade gifts, I'm not going to sweat it. I have a lot of baking to do, but that is one of the enjoyable parts of the holidays. My trainee is smart and catching on fast. I'm going "shopping" tonight with my sweetheart, gift cards at the ready. All in all, life is good. Smile

I'm reading the "How to Ruin Your Life" series by Ben Stein. It includes "How to Ruin Your Love Life" and "How to Ruin Your Financial Life", in addition to the first. Really funny stuff. I just finished a fabulous (but long and somewhat intense) novel set in medieval times, so this is nice and light.

I am envious of DivaJen's ability to meet so many of her 2006 goals. I met only four of my own. I'm not sure how to change this budget and goals slump I'm in. I've got to ruminate on that a while...

gift cards

December 5th, 2006 at 07:32 am

I just went through my stash of gift cards. I've got to use a few up this month before they start deducting $2 a month from the balance. Coffee? Makeup? A sweater, perhaps? Twist my arm.

I like gift cards, because they give me the power of choice. I just have to remember that they are in my wallet. I've taken up labeling them with small post-it notes so I remember how much is left on each card. We have used up almost all of our grocery gift cards - those really are the best. Having paid for them in advance and then using them at the checkout makes me feel as though I'm saving money (even though I'm not). The credit card company should be mailing our cash back check soon, and it's going straight into the vacation fund!

I finally got a bit of overtime last night. There hasn't been much extra work, but now that the holidays are fast approaching, hopefully that will change. I could use the overtime.

Training the new person is going well. She's rather bored right now, but that won't last long.

Winter finally hit us here. The morning windchill has dipped below zero for several days. I'm back to asking myself how many more winters I want to go through...might this be my last?

as promised...

December 3rd, 2006 at 02:53 pm

13 ugly pots, and a little goose face.
More on my flickr page - click on the photos to the right.