Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Use It or Lose It

One of the big things I'm trying to work on this year is to make sure that we are making the best use possible of everything we own. That means taking good care of items (regular maintenance, repairing when needed) and also using them to their full advantage. If something is not being used, it's time to figure out if it can be transformed into something else more useful, pass it along to someone else who *can* use it, recycle it, or (worst case scenario) throw it out!

Last week as I was cleaning the boys' room, I found an afghan gathering dust in an end-table cubby hole. This used to be used daily, but had developed some large holes a couple of years ago that I hadn't taken the time to repair, and it's been laying around accumulating dust ever since. I tossed it in the wash a few days ago, and this afternoon, I hunted down some matching yarn in my stash and spent about half an hour repairing the holes. It is now restored to its former glory, and hubby and I curled up on the couch underneath it this evening. Once I'm finished, I always wonder why on Earth it takes me so long to get around to these sorts of jobs!

I also have a couple of bags of old sheets, blankets and towels that have been sitting around for a few months. I'm finally going to donate them to a local animal shelter. I have enough rags to last me for years, so I'm happy that these items which are of no use to me can help out critters in need.

Finding a new way to use things we already have is always fun, and this afternoon I created a cozy little reading corner for the boys by gathering up items from a few different locations around the house: On a lower bunkbed (which is not used for sleeping on), I took a bunch of pillows and piled them all in a corner to make a snug little "nest". I then gathered a bunch of the boys' favourite books and placed them in baskets on the bed. I tucked a couple of warm blankets on the other end of the bed, and Voila! a special place to spend some quiet time in comfort.

A side bonus of all this effort is that I have succeeded in removing several items from my attic bedroom, which is next on the list for some TLC!

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Abundance and Frugal Living

Back in my very first post on this blog, one of the things I mentioned as a daily frugal activity was to express thanks for everything that I have in my life right now. I wanted to explore this in a bit more depth, because I think a lot of people have the perception that frugal people are, well, miserly and miserable!! In my case, this is nowhere close to the truth. I feel a bit sad when I surf around the blogosphere and see many people expressing how frustrating and difficult it is to be frugal - it doesn't have to be that way!!

I'm not trying to say that being frugal isn't without its challenges. Yes, it *can* be difficult to go "against the grain" in our consumer culture. This is why I think an "abundance attitude" is an essential part of a successful, satisfying, and joyful frugal life. Whether you are frugal by choice or by circumstance, it's not going to help you reach your goals if you are constantly looking around at all the things you can't afford and feeling frustrated because other people around you have those things. Imagine how much better you will feel if instead of focusing on what you *don't* have (or "can't afford"), you look around you and notice all the fantastic things you do have in your life. These things definitely don't have to be in the material realm, either! How often do we really contemplate at a deep level how lucky we are if we are fortunate enough to have a loving spouse and healthy kids, a warm, dry place to sleep, and food in our bellies? It can be easy to take for granted all these blessings that we have in our life every day. It's also perfectly okay to be thankful for the material things that *are* important to you - I would definitely miss my computer, my bike, my favourite CDs and books, and all my knitting related paraphernalia if they suddenly disappeared. Everyone's list of things they are thankful for is going to be different and specific to that person, but you get the idea. The next time you find yourself focusing on the "lack" of something in your life, try making a list of the gifts in your life. You might even want to make it a habit to write down a few every day. Some days it will be incredibly easy, and some days it may be pretty darn challenging, but I've always found it to be a worthwhile exercise. A nice frugal side effect is that the more you are aware of the abundance around you, two things happen: 1) You start realizing that there are a lot of things you don't really need or want to buy after all - you save money, plus the time you would have spent shopping, maintaining, reorganizing, decluttering, and disposing of all those unwanted items, 2) As if by magic, the things that are true, deep desires seem to start materializing effortlessly in your life - giving you even more to be thankful for, and creating a wonderful, positive cycle of abundance. What more could a frugalista wish for??

Friday, January 19, 2007

RECIPE: Cauliflower-Cheese Soup

This soup is perfect, if, like me, you have a lot of cauliflower in your freezer because you were getting1-2 heads every week from your CSA back in September and October. And if you also happen to have a lot of turkey or chicken broth left over from the Christmas turkey (or last week's roasted chicken). If you *don't* happen to have half a freezer of frozen cauliflower, you could easily substitute potates or chopped broccoli and it will still be delicious.

[Note: I am not particularly fond of cauliflower, and I still love this soup!]

Cauliflower-Cheese Soup

1 head cauliflower, cut into small pieces
3 cups chicken, turkey, or vegetable broth
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup flour
2 cups milk
1 tbsp Braggs or Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp mustard powder
1 tsp pepper
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups cheddar cheese, grated

In large saucepan, simmer cauliflower in broth until softened. While cauliflower is cooking, saute onions and garlic in butter until soft. Add flour and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Add flour mixture to cauliflower and broth, and stir until mixture begins to thicken. Add milk, Braggs, mustard, pepper and salt. Cook, stirring frequently, until thickened. Reduce heat and add cheese; stir until cheese is completely melted. Serves 4-6.

Serve with toast or cornbread and a side salad.

Friday, January 12, 2007

RECIPE: Sausage and Lentil Stew

On Monday evening we had a particularly delightful frugal feast which I thought would be perfect to share with you: Sausage and Lentil Stew, cornbread, tossed salad, and chocolate mousse.

Sausage and Lentil Stew
This is a great way to stretch 2 sausages to feed four people (there's still plenty of protein in the dish due to the lentils).

1-2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 stalks of celery, diced
1 large or 2 small carrots, chopped
1 cup red lentils
2 cups chicken broth
1 cup water
1 cup crushed tomatoes
2 Oktoberfest style sausages, cooked and chopped (I use a Bavarian-style turkey sausage)
1 tbsp Braggs or Worcestershire sauce
1 tbsp dried parsley

In a large saucepan, saute onions and garlic in oil until tender. Add celery and carrots and cook until they start to soften. Add lentils and broth. Cook for 10 minutes (until lentils are nearly soft) then add tomatoes, sausage, Braggs and parsley. Simmer over medium heat until carrots are tender, adding water if needed to keep stew from drying out. Serves 4.

Chocolate mousse is not exactly your typical choice for a frugal dessert, but I had bought a 500 mL (16 oz) carton of whipping cream on sale just before Christmas and had only used up half of it. I used a very simple (but delicious) recipe from's Southern Food guide: Chocolate Mousse in a Minute . My kids thought it was quite possibly the best thing they'd ever tasted!

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

Fabulous Freecycle "Finds"

I love our local Freecycle group! I have met some people online who have had not-so-great freecycling experiences, but our group here in Hamilton works very well. We have given away many items that we no longer needed (in particular, lots of clothes and toys my kids had outgrown). Last year, we were fortunate enough to receive a washing machine through freecycle when ours bit the dust.

This year, we've already gotten some great stuff even though 2007 has only been around for just over a week! My hubby got 3 new dress shirts in fantastic condition (he'd been mentioning he needed new shirts just a few days before these ones were posted to our group!) Yesterday, I received a new faucet aerator and low flow showerhead (both of which were on my Home Depot shopping list as part of my goal to reduce water usage this year) and some Depeche Mode CD's (recent urge to listen to some of the music I was really "into" back in my high school days..) Even better, the woman who offered me the aerator, showerhead, and CDs posted a request for some fitness items I was just getting ready to post to freecycle, so I passed them on to her.

Quite the haul for the first week of the new year! I'm particularly pleased about the aerator and showerhead - I got them for free, and they're going to save me money in the future by reducing my water usage. Can't get much more frugal than that!

Friday, January 5, 2007

RECIPE: Speedy Skillet Supper

This dish is one of my standbys for nights when I don't have the time or inclination to cook (like tonight, for instance!)

Speedy Skillet Supper (a.k.a. frugalista's hamburger helper)

1 tbsp olive or canola oil
1 onion, chopped
1-2 cloves of garlic, minced
3/4 lb ground meat (I use turkey but pretty much anything would work-black beans is a good vegetarian option)
1 cup small pasta (macaroni or ditalini)
1 cup water
1 cup milk
1 cup salsa
1 1/2 cups frozen vegetables
generous 1 cup grated cheese (I use cheddar)

In large frying pan, saute onion and garlic in oil until tender. Add ground meat and cook until no trace of pink remains. Add pasta, water, milk, salsa and frozen vegetables. Simmer over medium heat until pasta is tender (you may need to add a bit more water if the mixture dries out too much before the pasta's cooked). Add cheese and stir until well mixed in and cheese is completely melted.

You can do lots of variations on this basic theme; for example, using diced tomatoes in place of salsa and mozzarella cheese, with some basil and oregano tossed in, would give it a very Italian flavour. You can also use a can of drained vegetables instead of the frozen ones. You can also use water in place of the milk if needed, however the milk adds both flavour and nutrition.
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