Friday, March 1, 2024

Frugal Hits & Misses: February Report

     January and February are 'filled-up' months for us, both with happiness and... well, sadness. We lost The Mama in late January, our Charley in early February -- as well as my Dad  in late February, several years ago. I am so glad none of these three are in pain anymore -- but I still miss them, all three. That, the weather and the holidays ending are probably why I fought with feeling blue. Dealing with the "black dog," Churchill called it. 

     We also have several birthdays in February, including a dear friend, a sister-in-law, a niece...and the Brick. That means stuffing all sorts of emotions and plans into an already-short and icy month. Plenty of work, plus several social obligations, also kept us busy. 

    We did our usual two trips into Denver -- one included a doctor's appointment for my knee. (Finally.) But we did not take a trip this year, like we usually do...instead, we're trying hard to pay off a house loan...and doing quite well, so far. That's given me even more incentive to watch our expenses carefully. 

I wish.


(as usual, some of these are from late January)

*Half off Valentines candy. The Brick gave me a wonderful card, and a handful of interesting snacks. Sent off a huge batch of Valentines and birthday cards. (February is a busy month for us.) 

*Ate our Valentine's lunch at Calvillo's Mexican buffet in Alamosa...not cheap, but not bad, either. Other than a bowl of cereal in the morning, it served as food for the day. 

*Found money: two pennies in the hallway at the doctor's office... thanks to the Brick. A twenty-dollar-bill fell out of the dryer. (I teased the Brick we were 'laundering money.')

*Chilies from Hatch, NM -- the best in the world -- brought back by Daughter #2 and Son #1.  (Thanks, Dears.)

*Dinner at a friend's house -- I brought iced tea and lemonade (her request), plus a box of cookies. People here in the San Luis Valley have an interesting custom. Visit them at their house...and they will try to give you something when you leave. I found this out when we left Friend's house, when my bag contained not only leftover drinks and cookies -- but a meatloaf/biscuit snack and a jar of chokecherry syrup. Another friend insisted on sending home a container of pea soup, his specialty.

*Teaching piano again.  One student -- her mom swapped lessons for baked goods, including a hunting-themed birthday cake for the Brick.  Okay with me!

     I printed off free piano music for her first lessons, then ordered some books (buy 3, get 1 free - free shipping) from Ebay. 

*Didn't buy flowers for myself most of the month. I have been lusting for anything with color right now. All of a sudden, King Soopers had a $2 special on alstroemeria! (I got two bunches.) Feeling much better. 

*Kept Son #1 and Daughter #2's car (salvage) for them, while they get ready to work on it.

*Thrift shop buys, Castle Rock:  $5 rattan hamper; Uncle Wiggily and Scrabble board games ($3 and $4); two prints and a Central City Opera poster, all nicely framed, for $22; drinking glasses, $1 each; an indoor/outdoor rug by the front door for $18 (we've been needing this for months), plus two new pillows for the couch ($6 and $7). Added a 20% off 'senior discount.' Valentine cards (25 cents each) -- and everything had an additional 10% taken off. I also scavenged two big containers of Lincoln Logs from the free box. I found several books at the Alamosa thrift shop -- $2/$3 each, plus a 25% discount. One of the books was on frugal living -- I find it very amusing to buy 'how to live cheaply' books for cheap!

*Cleared away the snow from a Big Storm...we managed to clear the driveway, using shovels and the truck's weight to pack down the snow. (We need a snowplow.)

*Dollar Tree buys: several kitchen tools, some Easter and piano student presents -- all for $1.25 each. Plus TWENTY FOUR dishcloths for only 5 bucks!

*Heirloom variety seed packets -- 32 of them for $24.99, thanks to Amazon. Enough for us to use, and share with Daughter #1. More seeds ordered (lettuce), plus Jerusalem artichokes for planting. It will be interesting to see how these do.

*Two beautiful clocks -- one for the Brick's birthday.  These are made by a local artisan -- so I helped out someone else in the area, too.

*Amazon savings: they marked several series (DVDs) down, and offered more discounts for multiple copies. I got Hawkeye, The Persuaders (ever see this series? Great reviews) and the Emma Peel version of The Avengers. We're starting to watch Crusoe, another series that got little notice -- but isn't too bad. The Snoop Sisters, too. (Helen Hayes and Mildred Natwick are amazing.)

*Tickets for Southern Rocky Mountain Agricultural Conference -- in return for articles written. Free supper and a coffee/pastry break were included. We brought home free Cokes, a booklet on noxious weeds in Colorado and several handouts. 

*Teaching/appraising gig -- and more appraisals done. Two large reports finished, and more smaller ones -- that always feels wonderful!

*Google group checks came through -- big bucks: $7.70 for each of us. But would you pick this money up off the ground? (We would, too.)

*Sang/played at church -- and the Brick led music once. 

*Free birthday burger for the Brick from Red Robin. Leftovers made for a quick (and nice) breakfast a few mornings later. 

*Birthday dinner for the Brick at Rodizio Grill.  Fortunately, they had a $10 off President's Day special, plus free meals for kids. And the Brick had a gratis coupon for his meal. Which is nice, because that place is delicious -- but expensive. (Daughter #1 and her partner paid for it -- which was really kind of them.)

*Grocery bargains: green peppers and cukes (69 and 79 cents each), whole chickens ($1.24/lb), Walmart.  Whole bean coffee (less than $7 for 28 ounces), Amazon Warehouse Deals. Free can of black beans plus a bag of mini-carrots, mushrooms for $2.40/lb (Safeway). Frozen pizza, 4 for $9.95 -- plus a large heavyduty front door mat for the same price (Sam's Club). Free granola bars and generic Pop-Tarts; mandarins for 99 cents/lb (and still good, surprisingly, this late in the season); sirloin steak for $3.97/lb; hot dogs for 99 cents/pkg; several 99-cent bags of peppers, cukes and squash (3-4 in each bag); and the real stunner: box after box of Dolly Parton's banana cake mix for 30 cents each, (King Soopers.)  A cake-baking friend is going to love the mixes.

*Worked one chicken until it clucked!  We had roast chicken for one meal, and devilled chicken from the parts leftover. Made homemade chicken broth from the chicken carcasses-- and stashed packages of meat in the freezer for later. Another chicken run included two meals of chicken, plus chicken-and-rice...which did a rerun as fried rice, with some veggies added.

*Made extra payments on the house loan. Feels wonderful.

* Bought more DEF, critical for use in the truck, at $2 less than its marked price. (We got four.) If you drive a truck, you know that DEF supposedly helps you pull things (like trailers) better. But even when you're not towing, you have to add it regularly. If you don't, the system automatically restricts you to 10 mph... until you do. Frustrating.

*Two #10 cans of tomatoes finally used up -- they made multiple servings of Mavis' wonderful tomato bisque, which fed us and several dinner guests. Some liked the soup so much, they asked to take extra home! (It IS that good.)  I've been using up other cans and boxes, as well, which makes for extra closet space. Ruby is more than happy to take care of leftover crackers, cookies, etc. 

And carrots, Mom...


*Had to throw away some beef broth I'd made, along with beef bits -- I put off using it until it was too late. I cannot seem to make beef broth -- but my chicken broth is terrific. (She says modestly.)

    I also had to discard some turkey lunchmeat found in the fifth-wheel freezer. We found out it tasted moldy the hard way -- YUCK. (Ruby enjoyed it, though.) Some gunky fish went bye-bye, too.

*The saga of the Amazon Warehouse Ferrero Rocher chocolates  -- I ordered a 'pack' that was supposed to be four boxes -- and got one, instead. A text exchange with Amazon refunded the money...but it was a lot of work in exchange for a 'bargain' price. (We did get to keep the chocolates.)

*Returned library books to Alamosa -- and didn't check any out. It is just too difficult to get there easily right now, due to limited hours. (At least for our schedule.) For a girl who loves her books, this is hard to reckon with -- but necessary.

*Paid the first half of property tax -- OUCH. We lost the 'homestead exemption' (have to stay here 10 years or more), and didn't qualify for the seniors discount either (same reason). This is the first time since 2019 that we've had to pay property tax -- so it's a bit strange. But that's what happens when you own property...and technically we own two lots, instead of just one. Which means more taxes.

    Yet there are blessings here: No more having to turn the water off/on every night, so the pipes don't freeze. Warmer rooms...and WAY more room. ('Stor-age, stor-age...') And no having to empty the holding tank every other week! 

    Fortunately, only half of the property tax was due. Also fortunately, it wasn't nearly as high as the huge jump our Castle Rock friends were hit with. 

*Messed up a King Soopers customer service complaint. I thought they'd charged me for a free item; the clerk cheerfully refunded the money. Then I got home, and with a red face, realized they hadn't. (Although they dinged me on egg prices, which also got fixed.) The finale: I wrote an apology letter to the King Soopers manager, and enclosed a check.

*The truck needs repairs. On our last trip to Denver, the truck started shaking all over -- the Brick calls it a "death wobble." It only lasted 20 seconds or so, but was terrifying. Fortunately, it's still usable -- for now. And the Brick can fix it. But we're talking at least $800 or more before the smoke clears. Double ouch.

*We need to finish clearing out the fifth-wheel. Poor weather and cold has given us plenty of excuses not to finish this job -- but we need to.

Last month's report is here, and the 2023 February report is here. I'm including the 2022 Feb. report as well, but it's a little vague. The Mama had died just a few weeks before, and life was a bit foggy at that point. But here it is. 

    Snowy February, are you sorry to see yourself go? We're not! 

Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Monday, February 26, 2024

The Best Soup In the World

    Mavis Butterfield, over at her blog, One Hundred Dollars A Month, offered a tomato soup recipe she said was a dead ringer for Panera's tomato bisque. I'm not sure about that. I do know that every time I've served it, even people who say they hate tomato soup practically lick the bowl.

It's that good. 

I'm going to give you Mavis' original version (which I followed faithfully the first time around) -- and mine. Both result in incredibly rich, tomato-y goodness.

Mavis's Copycat Panera Tomato Bisque

2 tablespoons olive oil
5 garlic cloves, minced
1 large white or yellow onion, diced
2 {28 oz} cans of peeled tomatoes, undrained
1 cup chicken stock
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon of dried basil or 6 large fresh basil leaves, chopped
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano


1/4 cup half and half 

Parmesan cheese to sprinkle on top; Salt and pepper to taste

        Mavis' soup -- from One Hundred Dollars A Month

My riff on Mavis's recipe:

2 tablespoons olive oil, plus a tablespoon of butter

1 1/2 tablespoons dried garlic

1 large onion, diced

1 #10 can tomatoes (diced or whatever -- cheaper than buying 28 oz. cans)

3 chicken bouillon cubes  (plus a cup or so of hot water)

2 tablespoons sugar

1 teaspoon dried basil

1 teaspoon dried oregano


1/2 cup whole milk

Parmesan cheese, plus salt and pepper to taste

* * * * * * *

Directions for both:  sizzle onion and garlic in the olive oil/butter for a few minutes...then dump everything but the last two line items in a big pot. Let cook slowly for about an hour, thinning if needed with a little water. Buzz the hot soup in a blender -- a handheld blender works even better. Stir in the half-and-half or milk, then add salt and pepper. Serve the soup with Parmesan cheese to sprinkle on top. (It's good cold, too.)

* * *( * * * *

The Brick, who like myself, grew up on Campbell's tomato soup (and didn't like it), LOVES this soup. I have to admit: it's pretty darn wonderful. It keeps in the fridge about a week, but freezes well. 

Makes enough for at 4-6 people, plus leftovers. 

Serve with a grilled cheese sandwich, Mavis' terrific Dutch Oven Bread or her Easy Naan Bread. Or go for the traditional accompaniment: saltine crackers.

Chicken noodle soup's good, too!

Monday Stuff On the Way to Other Stuff: Clearing Out, Finishing Up

    After a fun couple of birthday days for the Brick, it was back to work. The Brick also spent a few afternoons ferrying around a friend who had a hip replacement -- and researching a future repair on the truck. I put stuff away and worked on reports. Exciting, huh...but all were necessary. 

    More of same this week, too.

The snow is gradually melting, with sunny days...but a bitter wind and occasional snowflakes keep the outdoors chilly. It IS trudging toward spring, isn't it? 


Weird history facts -- that are true!

The wreck of the ship Nemesis found -- lost for 120 years near Australia.

A two-year wait for this hotel room in Austria -- but it looks like it's well worth it, at $85/night. (Breakfast is included, too, but you'll have to share a bathroom with others.)

Free piano music for all levels! The only 'free' site that didn't give me the runaround, or try to sign me up for a 'free' trial.

Insiders reveal some interesting corporate secrets.

Favorite childhood meals remembered. Quorans look back with nostalgia.

This veteran faked a need for a wheelchair for years -- and collected hundreds of thousands in benefits. He even wheeled out of a meeting, rolled up to his vehicle, got out -- and put the wheelchair in the back before driving off!

Here's a weird one -- someone donated a 14-carat Lego mask to a thrift shop! (Bids for it are up to $11,000-plus, according to the article.)

Turning the tables on the scammers... including revealing their faces. 

Edward Avedisian's $50-million-plus donation to BU...on a modest musician's salary. 

The story of the schooner Jenny -- her crew was still on board. Frozen solid.

The sad story of Henry Worsley's 2015 Antarctic expedition. 

Wonderful go-to recipes for dinner parties.  Yay, Quora!

Don Henley is suing to get his 'Hotel California' written lyrics back -- after they were 'borrowed' by a writer decades ago.

'Genius' decisions by people.  (Yup, foolish ones.)

A rather unnerving look at President Biden's schedule and habits,  through the eyes of his aides.

A man dies from a gila monster bite! This hasn't happened in decades. 

Photos from Robert Peary's 1909 expedition -- crystal-clear!

"What's the most condescending advice you've ever received from someone who assumed you weren't ----- ?"  Quora answers can be VERY interesting!

A new use for fabric softener sheets -- faux granite countertops!

And while you're pondering that... a household mix that will keep your shower grout sparkling clean.

Taking care of your family should have first priority -- even if it means taking a 'lesser' job for a while. And I agree!  (From Financial Samurai)

Have a great week. 

Frugal Hits & Misses: February Report

      January and February are 'filled-up' months for us, both with happiness and... well, sadness. We lost The Mama in late January...