Frugal Living

Frugal Friday

I never got around to posting a Frugal Friday roundup last week. Here it goes:

  1. We are seriously going through the food stockpile. In the month of February we spent less than $300 on groceries. Will be very interesting to see how low we can go in March. We have a lot of food from the last year of “hoarding” in event of an emergency.
  2. Saved $100 at the vet this week, using the $100 credit on out account for using their app.
  3. Checked out the library book sale room and found 4 DVDs for $1 each. One of them was a blockbuster movie, still in the packaging.
  4. Members of my family are starting to qualify for the covid vaccine. My daughter got her shot today. I am scheduled for Sunday. Is this frugal? Not really. But, life is slowly going to return to normal and I thought deserved a shout out.
  5. Food waste for this week was one orange and about 1/4 cup butternut squash. I am getting so much better with using everything and not letting anything go to waste.

What did you do this week to save some money?

Books

Book Review – The Invisible Bridge

I have read The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer three times. When asked which book I would take to a desert island, this is the one. My copy is well worn and has been passed around to countless people. When asked by patrons at the library which book I would recommend, this is the one.

In my opinion, The Invisible Bridge is the true gold standard of World War 2 fiction. It tells the story of Andras Levi and his wife Klara. It spans decades, countries, continents, fascism and communism. It is truly shocking to consider how much trauma Europe has gone through in just the past 80 years when you read a book like this one. One that truly touches on the historical impact of Hitler and Stalin. The story is rich, the characters have layers that you rarely see in a book and the descriptions make you feel like you are there. The story is truly heartbreaking, but ends with hope and a bit of a happy ending. I don’t want to give too much away, because I want everyone to read the book.

Julie Orringer did a masterful job of researching her topic and interviewing her subjects. Over the years I have read interviews with her. This story is very loosely based on her grandparents experiences in the war. However, she has stated that far more of it is fiction, not fact and that many of the characters in the book are a blending of people her family knew.

Books

Book Review – Send For Me

Send for Me by Lauren Fox is another WW2 novel about a Jewish family living in Germany. This genre certainly seems to publish in ebbs and flows and 2021 appears to be a flow year. We are barely into the new year and I am seeing a lot of new WW2 novels hitting the library floor with a late 2020 or 2021 publish date. I chose this one for two reasons. One, Jenna Bush recommended it and I find that she always has a great recommendations. Two, the author is a local writer and I try to support our local writers when I can.

I really liked this book. It tells the story of a family who emigrated to Milwaukee, WI from Germany before the start of WW2. This book is inspired by letters the author found in her grandmother’s basement. The story is heartbreaking, but worth the read. It can be a bit hard to follow at times because of the way the timeline goes back and forth. But, once you grasp her style of writing, it is easier to follow. I live in suburban Milwaukee, so it was interesting to hear about the neighborhoods I am familiar with in the book. In fact the neighborhood where her family landed is the college neighborhood that my alma mater is in and where my children have gone to college. It’s always fun to picture the areas you know well when described in a novel.

I however, did not read it. I listened to it on audible. I DO NOT recommend that. The woman who read the book has, without a doubt, the single most annoying way of speaking I have ever heard. I am not alone in this, the reviews of the recording are scathing. I should have paid attention. This is not a reflection, at all, on the quality of the writing or the story told. Next time I will. Read the book don’t listen to it.

Books

Book Review – The Book of Lost Names

There is an endless supply of books out there about WW2. I have read a lot of them, like so many of us. I took a break for awhile because my heart just couldn’t take it anymore. I also found that I didn’t like all of them and then felt guilty for giving them a negative rating because of the quality of the writing. There is one particular book that stands out from a couple years ago that everyone raved about and I thought the writing was terrible and that the conditions portrayed in the book were not accurate. I won’t say which one it is because I don’t want to appear heartless. I started reading this genre again late last year, as I work in a library and they are in constant circulation. This one passed through my hands countless times, so I thought it was time to give it my attention.

The Book of Lost Names is another book in a genre of WW2 fiction that you know will not have a happy ending, but tells an important story. Eva is a librarian in Florida who comes across a photograph in the New York Times of a book she is very familiar with from 65 years earlier, The Book of Lost Names. This book has a code in it that only she and one other person can decipher. Researchers have been unable to decode it, so Eva believes it is time to return to Europe and help reveal the mystery of The Book.

The Book of Lost names tells two stories. Her current life and adventure to Germany does not take up a lot of the storytelling, to say it is brief would be an understatement. The majority of the story is about the past. How Ava and her mother find themselves away from their home in Paris, in hiding. It is there, that Eva finds herself in the underground, helping forge documents for the Resistance. It’s a fascinating story and one that I imagine actually happened all over Europe. The ending is a little sappy, but very satisfying. Given the losses that Eva endured, a happy ending is well deserved.

I give the book more like 4.5 stars, not 4. I compare a lot of WW2 fiction to The Invisible Bridge, which for me is the gold standard for that genre. But, Kristin Harmel came close in this one with storytelling and writing. The difference was about 500 pages of meticulous research.

Frugal Living

Frugal Friday

What a snowy and cold week it was. Nothing like crappy weather to keep you at home, refraining from spending money. This was a good week for us. I sure love to see us save the dollars.

  1. For $36 and two hours, my husband fixed our dryer. The belt broke and instead of having a repairman, it was determined DIY would be okay. While the dryer was taken apart, we cleaned out all the lint. Truth be told, I am a little surprised we never had a fire. That dryer had a lot of lint.
  2. I used the beeswax from our beehives to make candles. I really like making candles. In fact, I am going to be teaching a candle making class at the library I work at in April.
  3. For some reason Kohl’s sent me $20 in Kohl’s cash via email along with a 30% off code. So, I used it to buy pajamas. I only paid for the tax.
  4. We spent Valentine’s Day at home. Not unexpected given that restaurant dining is not advised. But, I made a wonderful, restaurant quality meal. On the menu was tenderloin, twice baked potatoes with cheese, kale salad and homemade heart shaped sugar cookies.
  5. Spent lots of time putting puzzles together and watching movies from the library to keep busy. We have a puzzle swap at work now, such a fun way to get new puzzles without spending money.

What did you do this Valentine’s week to save money?

Frugal Living

Things My Family Does to Save Money

My family and I have a list of things we do in order to save money. In the last year (can you believe it has been a year?) we have gotten even better at saving and living frugally. I also think that living a frugal life leads to a more satisfying life. To slow down and appreciate what you have rather than what you don’t is satisfying. We are certainly not perfect. I have been known to go down the Amazon rabbit hole and purchase things I don’t need. But just like weight loss and exercise, you can try again. Here is just a few of the things we do:

  1. My husband makes a big batch of something every couple of weeks and freezes it in individual containers for his lunch. Chili is his favorite. But he we will mix it up with options like chicken curry. We buy the meat in bulk and most of the time, he uses vegetable we have on hand. Most of the time, he freezes two weeks worth of meals in sour cream and cottage cheese containers we have saved for that purpose.
  2. Don’t waste food. Turn old vegetables into broth, milk into yogurt or fruit into ice cream topping.
  3. I am in two book clubs, both via zoom for now. I get all of my books from the library or audible. To be in a book club is free. Twice a month I spend time with friends, laughing and discussing books. We meet without fail, on a specific date. You don’t have to spend a lot of money in a restaurant or bar to socialize with friends.
  4. Audit your insurance premiums on a regular basis. Every other year I contact our insurance agent to make sure our premiums are correct. Every single time, he has found that our cost to rebuild our home is too high for the area we live in. We have received several refund checks over $150 over the years. I also take my kids on and off our auto insurance based on if they are at school. I am not going to pay for auto insurance that is not being used.
  5. Do you have cable and every streaming service out there? We cut our cable. We utilize the streaming services, a lot of them actually. But, we stay home a lot and enjoy movie night at home, with home cooked meals, in our pajamas.
  6. I roll errands into one day. The environmentalist in me is more the reason for this choice. But, it saves us a lot of money. It is not uncommon for us to go several weeks without have to fill our gas tanks. I have Thursdays off of work, so on that day I do the grocery shopping and any other errands that need to be done.
  7. Look into the rewards programs at local businesses. Our vet has such a program. Reward points are given with each dollar spent and when we reach a certain point, a $100 credit is placed on our account. It’s an easy way to make money off of money you already have to spend.
  8. Enjoy the simple things, like doing a puzzle or playing a board game at home. I am always exchanging puzzles with people.
  9. Turn your thermostat down. Ours is set at 68 during the day and 60 at night. I will admit to adjusting that the last couple weeks as the midwest is in a serious deep freeze. I do not want to wake up to frozen pipes because saving a few dollars was more important. Sometimes you have to spend a little extra to avoid spending a lot.
  10. Cancel subscriptions your don’t use.
  11. Plant a garden in the summer and preserve it for the winter. Take advantage of local fruits and vegetable you aren’t growing yourself when in season and preserve. We are still eating canned tomatoes, red peppers, salsa, pasta sauce, jams, pie fillings, apple sauce and countless other summer treasures. So far, I know that I did not make enough pasta sauce, canned tomatoes and jams. We have A LOT of relish though.
  12. Make your own cleaning products with baking soda, vinegar, hydrogen peroxide and vodka. The internet has an endless supply of recipes to make these things at home.
  13. Automate savings. We have a certain amount of money taken out of our checking account and invested into a mutual fund every two weeks. We have learned to live without that money. We also have been having money invested into 529 plans for our kids since 1999. Our oldest graduated in December. When we paid his final tuition payment in September, we just took that amount and started to apply to the account of our middle child. Once she graduates, number three will get the full amount invested every month.
  14. In the summer use the sun and wind to dry your laundry. It is completely free.
  15. Take up a hobby that also provides home goods. I have been making my own candles and taught myself how to make soap recently.
  16. Utilize Goodwill. I will admit that I don’t do this. But my husband and daughters do and they save a lot of money on clothing. Personally, I do not have the patience to go through everything. I wish I did.

I know I have missed a lot of ideas. Please send me anything I have missed, I love hearing what other people do.

Books

Book Review – Nothing to See Here

Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson is a book that I picked up and put back several times. The description did not intrigue me at all. But, I finally decided that it was time to give it a chance. The reviews warranted a chance. I am so glad that I did.

Lilly is asked to take care of the step children of her former best friend. Bessie and Roland spontaneously combust. That’s right, they catch on fire. Being an unapologetic realist who will not read fantasy. Who also stayed away from cartoons with talking animals as a child, because animals don’t talk, this was not for me. As crazy as it sounds, the combustion is not the main focus of the story.

It turns out that this is a story about second chances, children who find love in unexpected places and forgiveness. 

Recipes

Vegetarian Lasagna

Last night I made a vegetarian lasagna. I used frozen zucchini from the summer garden, tomato sauce canned over the summer from the garden and herbs from my indoor herb garden. I used cottage cheese, instead of ricotta. I have cottage cheese that I need to use up. I remembered that the lasagna of my childhood had cottage cheese and a google lookup proved that was the standard of the 70’s and 80’s. It turned out really good and my daughter told me she didn’t notice the difference.

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 cups zucchini
  • 10 oz frozen spinach
  • 24 ounce jar pasta sauce
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt

For the filling:

  • 1 1/2 cups full fat small curd cottage cheese
  • 1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
  • 2 cups mozzarella cheese
  • 1 tablespoon fresh basil
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper

For the lasagna:

  • 9 no boil lasagna noodles
  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 8 x 8 inch baking dish with cooking spray. Mine is 8 x 8 because of my use of the countertop oven.

For the sauce and noodles:

  1. Defrost frozen vegetables and dry off excess water with paper towel

For the filling:

  1. In a medium bowl, stir together the cottage cheese, 2 cups mozzarella, Parmesan cheese, basil, salt and pepper. Set aside.

To layer:

  1. Spread a thin layer of tomato sauce on the bottom of the pan. Top with 3 noodles laid lengthwise in the pan. Spread half the cheese on top and the spinach followed by 3 more noodles. Spread half the cheese on top and the zucchini followed by 3 more noodles. Spread the remaining sauce over the noodles. Put foil on pan, bake for 35 minutes. At 35 minutes, add the remaining mozzarella and bake until bubbly.

Books

Book Review – A Promised Land

When you start A Promised Land, you are making a commitment. At nearly 700 pages, once you start, you will need to keep going in order to not lose your momentum. Did I mention this book only covers Obama’s life up to the end of his first term in the White House? Part two will be coming in the next few years.

Now that I have covered the monumental challenge of getting through the book, I give it 5 stars without hesitation. While full of facts, Obama has a way of writing that keeps the reader engaged. A lot of the things that were talked about in the book were also mentioned in Michelle Obama’s book Becoming. That made it a bit easier to get through all of it because I already knew what was coming, so to speak.

It is no secret that his presidency was at odds with the Republican leadership in the House and Senate. But, I had no idea how much resistance he actually encountered. It’s remarkable that anything got done and no surprise that executive actions needed to be taken in order to get much of his agenda done. It will be interesting to read the next book and to see how bad things really were.

Full disclosure, I am an Obama fan. I think that he has a genuine kindness in him that is rare in politicians, of either political party. He is a great public speaker and speaks from the heart. So, it would be fair to say that my review might be biased.

Recipes

Valentine’s Day Cookie Recipe

Yesterday I made Valentine’s Day sugar cookies to celebrate the holiday of love, and really cute colors and hearts. They turned out delicious and the perfect treat.

Cookie Recipe

2.5cups all-purpose flour, 1/2 cup whole wheat flour

3/4 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup unsalted butter, softened

1 cup sugar

1 egg, beaten

1 tablespoon vanilla almond milk

flour, for rolling out dough

Directions

  1. Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt. Place butter and sugar in large bowl of electric stand mixer and beat. Add egg and milk and beat to combine. Put mixer on low speed, gradually add flour, and beat. wrap in waxed paper, and refrigerate for 2 hours.
  2. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F or in my case 325 degrees F because I use a countertop oven
  3. Sprinkle surface where you will roll out dough with flour. Remove the wrapped pack of dough from refrigerator and sprinkle rolling pin with flour, and roll out dough. Cut into desired shape, place at least 1-inch apart on baking sheet with parchment, and bake for 7 to 9 minutes or until cookies are just beginning to turn brown around the edges. Let sit on baking sheet for 2 minutes after removal from oven and then move to complete cooling on wire rack.

Frosting

2 tbsp butter softened

2.5 cups powdered sugar

2 tbsp vanilla almond milk

1 tsp vanilla extract

food coloring or sprinkles

Put all ingredients in a mixer. Add milk until it’s the consistency you want.

Spread on cookies and decorate with sprinkles

Happy Valentines Day