"Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more. It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Pantry Cooking, Redux

I made Raven's Food Fatigue Pantry Pasta again tonight with two substitutions. The first, broad egg noodles, didn't change the dish much. The second one, however, really brought out all the flavours and tied the shrimps/veggies to the pasta. All I did was add about a tablespoon of sour cream to the shrimps and veggies before removing them from the pan. I'm sure regular cream would work, too, but I like the taste of the sour cream. It works well with the garlic and lemon and really coats the whole meal.

I normally watch my calories a bit more, but I washed all my floors on my hands and knees today, so I figure that a tablespoon of sour cream won't add very many calories to my day. :-)


I used to hate housecleaning. I was so disorganized and encumbered by stuff that cleaning was a daunting task involving moving piles of stuff to another room, cleaning, moving the piles of stuff again back to the room I just cleaned, cleaning another room, etc. It could take me a whole day to do just one small room... and at the end it looked no cleaner since it was just as cluttered.

My slovenly ways haven't ended. I still face housecleaning sometimes with piles of stuff not where they belong. But the piles are smaller (much smaller) and they have a home. Yesterday, I couldn't look at the living/entry room any more and resigned myself to spending a couple of hours cleaning it up. A half hour later, I was sitting at my computer looking around at a spotless room! It took about 10 minutes to put stuff away (easy when stuff has a home!) and make a couple of trips upstairs. Then I spent about 10 minutes vacuuming (including moving furniture) and another 10 minutes washing the floor. When I was done, the room looked great AND I didn't have a pile in another room to move before I could clean that room.

This morning, the kitchen has taken about the same amount of time. I love cleaning the kitchen now that my dishwasher cleans the dishes while I do the rest. :-)

After, it's off to the upstairs to spot clean the bathroom and then vacuum and wash the floors, about forty-five minutes worth of work. It's amazing to not have to spend whole days cleaning my house now.

I tried the 'do a bit every day so you don't have to clean on the weekend' method, but I don't like it since the whole house never looks good at one time.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Pantry Cooking

I've been suffering from food fatigue lately. I've just been bored with everything I normally make and been going out to restaurants a lot. But even there, I have not been satisfied. I came to the conclusion that I needed to come up with new recipes or, at the very least, integrate new ingredients into my daily cooking. So, I decided to start with shrimp.

My first few times making shrimp were a disappointment. Tonight, I decided that I needed to use up the rest of the shrimp instead of going out for dinner again (at least, I'm still on budget for the month!). But my pantry seemed bare and I wasn't sure I could come up with something yummy.

Still, I pulled a few things out of the pantry, fridge, and freezer and a half hour later, I had the first home cooked meal in recent memory that made me go WOW!!!!

Here's a picture of the final result:

Raven's Food Fatigue Pantry Pasta With Shrimp (catchy name, no?)

Ingredients (for one person):

13 shrimp (peeled and deveined)
1 small splash olive oil
2 tbspish butter (real butter, not margarine!!!)
1 clove garlic, minced
1 big splash lemon juice
1 cuppish frozen veggies
2 portions pasta (preferably Barilla)
1 dash salt
1 dash pepper

(c'est tout!)

Cook the pasta according to the directions on the package. With about six minutes left before its done, start working on the shrimp:

-Melt butter, then stir in the minced garlic
-Nuke the frozen veggies with a bit of water for about two minutes
-While the veggies are cooking, heat up the olive oil and start the shrimp in it by cooking each side until they turn pink
-Add the garlic butter to the shrimp and stir to coat
-Stir in a generous splash of lemon juice
-Cook the shrimp until pink all the way through by occasionally flipping them
-Drain the veggies
-Remove the shrimp and stir in the veggies to coat them with the butter, cook about one minute
-Turn off the heat and add the shrimp to the veggies to heat through
-Drain the pasta, arrange on plate and sprinkle with salt and pepper
-Top with the shrimp and veggies

Tuesday, December 18, 2007


I very slowly came to a realisation in the past two weeks: the way I've been tracking my spending is not working. By tracking how much tax I was spending, I wasn't painting a full portrait of my spending in each category. In some, it wasn't a huge deal, in others, like gas, it was. So, I've cut that out and am now counting my tax in with whatever purchase I paid it on.

Here's the ouch factor. Being the insane person that I am, I went back all the way to the beginning and fixed all my transactions in Buddi to correctly adjust the amounts. It took me more than an hour, but I'm glad I did it.

At least now it'll take me less time to enter each pay cheque.

I'm almost three months into tracking my expenses. Go, Raven, go!

Monday, December 17, 2007

More fun with yarn

My favourite winter outfit involves tights, a cord skirt, a long-sleeved or three-quarter sleeved tee-shirt, and a cardigan. Therefore, I cannot have too many cardigans.

I found a cardigan at Reitmans in a lovely blue, but I wasn't that crazy about the style. The cardigan was most certainly not worth 50$ to me, or even half that. 10$, that's what I felt I would be willing to pay. I liked the length of it and how it looked with a long top layered under it. I checked for my size and they had only one left, marked at 20$. I examined it carefully and was thrilled to find a ton of problems with it, including a half dozen pulls. This was the worst defect:

I was thrilled because I knew I could fix it!

The manager said that she couldn't just give me the cardigan and that she'd sell it to me for 4 dollars, taxes included. Perfect!

So, I took it home, pulled out my knitting kit, tucked in all the pulls, and repaired the run:

It took less than 10 minutes to effect all the repairs.

The bit that still looks like its a run is just the stitch, stretched. I'll be able to reduce the effect when I reblock the sweater.

There is no way I could have knit that sweater for 4$!

I repaired two other cardigans of mine this morning and yesterday... I got through my darning pile! I'm completely up to date and I feel like I have a new wardrobe! LOL

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Table results

Forgot to post my pics of my newly revived kitchen table!

It doesn't look quite that good in real life as the stains are still very much present, but it is a vast improvement. I am quite pleased.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

A realisation

At the last minute, I decided to sign up for another course, starting in January. I'd planned to skip a semester, but finally conceded that delaying the completion of my programme wouldn't be a good idea no matter how tired I am. So, I signed up and, since I was at the last minute, I had to pay immediately, by credit card. I'd already reallocated tuition money on other things this fall and didn't immediately have the cash to pay off my card. Rather than carry 600$ over on my card at 18.5% (plenty of motivation to always pay off my card in full!), I was able to 'refinance' myself by transferring the balance to my line of credit at 8.25% percent. This balance will be paid off by the end of January at the latest.

When I did this transfer, I realised that I'm no longer 'poor' because I have options open to me that I could never have dreamt of just a few months ago. Another solution would have been to cash in some investments to pay off the card, but those investments are making more money than I'll end up paying in interest. Instead of being stuck again in credit cards at 18.5%, student loans at 11.5%, or personal loans at 9.5%, the latter of which would have meant requesting new credit, I could use existing credit. Most importantly, I'm choosing to carry some credit for a few weeks.

This isn't true financial freedom, not yet, but compared to where I was this time last year, it feels pretty good.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

The library

I was going to post some pics of what I did today in the library, but without a 'before' set of pics, I decided there was no point. Other than the basement, the library has been my sore point in this house. It's been my 'catchall' room and I was growing weary of it. I consider that it contained the 'flotsam and jetsam' of my life; all the little bits and pieces that don't fit neatly into any other rooms. So, over the course of the past eight months, I've been, without even realising it, steadily dealing with the issue.

The first step was to take out of it anything that didn't belong there. It was amazing to see how spread out my junk was--I found kitchen bits and bobs, tools, clothes, cleaning supplies, car supplies.... It was just wow.

One of the next things I did was recycle or shred a ton of paper; something that happened slowly over the course of these eight months. I went from having the equivalent of six full file drawers of paper to one and a half. I look at that as being four fewer boxes to move next time.

Another thing I did was edit the furniture. I had an old PC AND an old Mac and a desk in there and it became evident in the past few weeks that I would never have use for any of these times. I put ads on eBay and Craigslist and cleared all of it, also ridding myself of a big box of miscellaneous PC junk.

Finally, I got rid of about a third to half of my books!!! That was one of the most freeing things I have ever done.

There wasn't much to purge after that, but I still had a lot of work to do. It was time to consolidate what was left, which was especially my sewing, knitting, and cross-stitch supplies. This is the step I took today. Each activity is now properly containerized... and I have no excuse not to get through my darning pile tomorrow. Shucks!

Well, all that's left now that needs serious work is the basement and I do not look forward to a much needed afternoon there. But at least the visible parts of my house look pretty good and definitely better than any home I've ever had before.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Finally ready for winter!

Well, the winter coat, boot, and accessories saga is over! My budget was 750$ and needed to cover a good coat, good boots, and accessories.

It started with my gloves. They are chocolate brown kid leather with a discreet orange stitch going across the length of the hand. The orange perfectly matches my orange pashmina scarf that I wanted to wear this winter. The gloves were 25% off.

Then came the coat. I won't go into all the details because it's quite a sordid tale, but finding a coat was a disaster and I finally wound up at Danier Leather. I'd been looking for camel-coloured wool and wound up at a leather store. That's how sordid the tale is. At any rate, I purchased a chocolate brown leather coat good for three seasons, including fairly cold winter days, deciding that my current coat will do for the really cold and/or snowy days. This amazing and gorgeous coat (which I'd shopped for online so I'd be prepared since sales work on a commission basis), and for which I've gotten a ton of compliments, fits perfectly in the shoulders but is a bit loose at the tummy (a necessary evil), but has a cut that the leather tailor says can be taken in for when I slim down again. The coat was 50% off.

Finally, the boots. I went out this evening feeling a bit more desperate than I would have liked. My current boots were starting to leak and... my colleagues and I discovered that the bad smell in the office that we've been tracking for weeks was... my boots. *dies* So, I did a few 'cheap' stores today since December is not a time to spend a couple hundred on boots and I had expected my old boots to get me through to January. I wanted brown or tan boots, mid-calf length, without heels, and in a 'shiny' material (ie. no 'suede') with a Thinsulate or similar lining. I found nothing. Then I stepped into a new-to-me store and found kid leather chocolate brown boots without heels, full-calf length, Thinsulate-like lining, and 50% off (bringing them to the price I was ready to pay for 'cheap' boots). I figured that there would be no way these boots would fit since I have quite the well developed calf. You can probably see where this is going. They were the most perfect boots I could have ever hoped to find and they FIT.

Total cost for my gorgeous chocolate brown leather outfit (not counting the pashmina scarf that was bought last year), including taxes: 425$

Tracking My Spending Update

I've now been tracking my spending for just over two months. I honestly cannot imagine not doing this anymore. It's amazing!

I tried to set up a 'budget' before completing the three month exercise, and now I'm seeing how absolutely pointless that would have been. At least, now I have a real portrait of how I spend.

My biggest potential tweak is food.


Groceries: 201.28 (this was my 'build up a pantry' month)
Restaurant: 82.93
Total: 284.21


Groceries: 121.18
Restaurant: 114.49
Total: 235.67

November's totals do not include restaurant and food purchases in Halifax which were part of the trip budget.

I've noticed that I now go to the grocery store once every two weeks, but that in the days before going grocery shopping, I tend to do a bit more restauranting.

I'm laughing at an earlier post I made where I said that I wanted to go down to a 100$ per month food budget. Right now, that's completely unrealistic. I think I'll aim for 250$ for December, which will need to include at least two restaurant meals.

Personally, I don't care if I hit my budget with groceries or restauranting. I tend to eat a lot at the foodcourt at work and always get something healthy that I couldn't have made at home for that price. This is especially common in the winter when I hit the salad bar where they have better produce than I can find in grocery stores. I know that for a family, restauranting cannot possibly make financial sense over pantry-cooking, but when you're single, it can. My dad made the same analysis. So, I'm not going to obsess over how much I go to the restaurant. Instead, I'll pull out 250$ for this month and see how much month is left before I'm forced to eat the chickpeas at the back of the pantry. :-)

Thursday, December 6, 2007

thinking outside the box

I received these two beautiful glasses from a colleague yesterday. Thing is, I currently have more drinking glasses than I truly need and I'm not sure I'd want to use these for drinking. They're fat and slick and I have short stubby fingers, so I'd be worried about them slipping.

That said, I think it's silly to relegate things to the back of a cupboard for years. Their pleasing shape immediately made me consider using them as a vase. Then I thought about all my little seashells and bits of sea glass I've got scattered throughout the house in no proper display container.

Not sure about leaving the basket there, but I think the seashell glasses look mighty purty.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Huh huh

My financial adviser suggested that I try to have the interest rate lowered on my line of credit. So, I finally called the bank this afternoon to ask. I was told that my rate was automatically lowered by .25% per cent last week and that they couldn't go any lower unless I doubled my limit. I refused. When it's time to buy a house (hopefully in the next 18-24 mos), I'll ask my financial adviser if I'm better off having 7.5 or 12.5K of 'available credit' (combining LoC and credit card) when I start mortgage shopping.

Right now, my line of credit serves as my emergency fund because I'm making really good interest on my 'real' money and the only real emergency that could happen right now is my car going kablooey and even that isn't really an emergency since I don't really need my car. So, I really don't need much of an emergency fund, or have much need for one. Its only real purpose right now is for any credit card spillover; if I need an extra week or two to fully pay off my credit card in a given month because the pays don't line up, I take the excess from the line of credit (which has 10% less interest than the card). I pay on average 55 cents in interest when I do this; which I can more than live with even if it seems like bizarre financial planning. That 55 cents usually guarantees me a 25$ Amazon gift certificate which I use on stuff I'd be buying anyway, so I figure that I'm ahead.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Luxury can be frugal!

I did my grocery shopping this morning and decided to go to Loblaws. On my list were shower gel, lotion, and a lined wicker basket (Loblaws is a bit of a general store and carries home products for prices comparable to Wal-mart or Zellers). The gel and lotion had to be in my scent, lavender.

I found this:

The basket alone is worth 20$ full price and there is at least 30$ worth of products in there. I know because I only buy lavender body products and there isn't much of it out there so I'm very cognizant of the pricing of the items and brands that exist. I also have a use for everything in there (the sisal 'sponge' is a real bonus).

I got the whole thing for 25$. One day sale. Bwa ha ha!

'Fettucini Alfredo'

I love Parmesan cheese, especially in a creamy sauce. But I don't like the fat content in those sauces. Parmesan is one of the lower-fat cheeses, so why ruin it with tons of cream and butter?

The recipe for one-pot mac&cheese located on a wrapper of cheddar cheese helped me 'relearn' a cooking technique I haven't used in about seven years. I gave it up because cleanup was difficult after. Now that I have a dishwasher, that excuse is no longer valid!

The technique is: cooking your pasta in milk

The recipe called for 1 cup of low-fat milk and 1 cup of water. I use 1 and 3/4 cups water and two heaping tablespoons of non-fat milk powder. Bring to a boil over medium heat, add about a cup of pasta, and cook until the pasta is done the way you like it (about 11 minutes). Remove from the burner and stir in the grated cheese.

Voila! Low fat 'Alfredo'! Can you believe that the yummy plate shown above has only less than 5 grams of fat compared to 15 grams or more for a traditionally prepared Alfredo?! Sure, it's still a calorific plate, but it's a treat.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Operation: Table

I've been wanting to refinish my kitchen table for, oh, five years now. *sheepish grin*

A friend/former boss gave me the table and while I've probably spent more refinishing materials (about 50$) than the table's worth, I can't see any point to buying a new table because this one's just perfect for the space.

At any rate, I woke up this morning and decided that today was going to be the day! I was just itching to work with my hands after a long fall spent glued to a computer. Tonight, I am exhausted and incredibly sore, showing just how much further I need to go to be fully recovered. But I'm half-way there (I hope)--the table and chairs are stripped!

I had the stripper at home, so I just had to dash over to the home store to get the rest of the supplies this morning and then I was able to start a little past ten. I worked until about 6, including two stops for food and one excursion back to the home store to get more stripper. This job required a lot more stripper than I would have expected!

This is what the table top looked like at the beginning:

The issue there is, of course, the big black water marks. I decided to focus on the table top first and see how close I could get to restoring it before I bothered to strip the rest.

After stripping:

Better, but barely.

After applying bleach (table's wet):

A further improvement.

After sanding:

Okay, not fantastic, but not bad. I planned to sit the chairs on the table to strip them, so I didn't go any further with the table top, knowing it would get a pounding.

Even though I'd bought stripping gloves, they were almost useless by the end. I thought my left hand was cold, then I couldn't feel anything, so I pulled it out of the glove to find my fingers red and raw. OUCH!!! They're fine now, no pain, so no major damage was done, but still!!! I learned that stripping of the furniture kind should only be done in full body armour!!! I had my sleeves rolled up for a spell and I kept on getting little flecks on my arms. OUCH!!! The worst was the glob that hit me in the corner of the mouth. That left a mark that I hope will be gone by Monday. :-S

Tomorrow will be sanding to smooth out any rough spots, then I will use the time left to begin rubbing oil into the wood. The final step after that will be a second coat of oil buffed in with 0000 steel wool. Based on how much time it took me to strip the table and chairs today, I'm not expecting to be done tomorrow, but that's okay. At least, I'm done with the messy and painful part!

I've missed this so much, the working with my hands thing. You just know your day was seized when there's a knot between your scapula and your arms are spotted with little acid burns and you've got a bruise on your elbow and a scratch on your wrist and you're trembling with fatigue. These are truly the best days of a life.