So it’s been a long while…

Hey, guys! No real purpose to this post than saying that I’m still around. The last few months have been really stressful for me. I totally understand why AmeriCorps sends little check up emails, because today is my 23rd birthday and I’m absolutely depressed. I thought when I was younger, I would have my shit together enough to be in my own apartment paying all of my own bills. How wrong was I, right? Now I’m at my mom’s (still) and paying her bills. 
Anyway, I’m off to Chicago on Friday. Hopefully the trip goes well. If it doesn’t, I’ll deal with it.

My Resolutions

Just a quick run down of what I’m going to attempt to do. 

1. Be more frugal. I’m implementing Brown-Bag Wednesdays. No, I won’t use an actual brown bag. I do have a nice lunchbox, dontcha know.

2. Start an emergency fund.

3. Live fearlessly. Anything that freaks me out but isn’t life threatening, like talking to someone over coffee or driving outside of Fayetteville, is something I’m going to do. 

So, yeah. Sorry for not being around lately! With the holidays and the cute brand-spanking new relative, I’ve been a busy bee! 
I’ll be talking to you soon!

Cheap Recipes: Haystack Cookies (AKA the Essential No-Bake Cookie Everyone Needs to Know)

Okay, y’all, this recipe is for the basic “haystack” cookie.  For those who might not know what it is, it’s essentially the “rice krispies treat” of the cookie world.  You can, like the RKT, really shape it into your own thing.  My sister and I really enjoy the typical chocolate and peanut butter cookie, so that’s what I’ll post instructions for.  I’ll also post a few suggestions for variations, for those of us who may be allergic to peanut butter (obviously you can use sunbutter or almond butter, but just in case you wanted something else…)

What you will need (for a batch of 24):

  • 2 cups of sugar
  • 1/2 cup of milk
  • 1/2 cup of butter (needs to be soft/semi-melted)
  • 1/2 cup of peanut butter (creamy, not crunchy)
  • 1/2 cup of UNSWEETENED cocoa powder (it looks like this –> )
  • 1 “dash” of salt (if you want an actual measurement, go with 1/8th of a teaspoon, which looks like this –> )
  • 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract (something everyone should have in their cupboards!!!)
  • 3 cups of rolled oats (NOT STEEL CUT. DO NOT DO THAT. PLEASE.)

Kitchen Utensils

  • 1 pot, a couple of cookie sheets, wax paper (optional), wooden spoon, regular spoon.See?  Easy.

 

Instructions:

In your pot, mix in your milk, sugar, butter, and cocoa powder.  Stir until it’s all a mixed and beatifully chocolate colored mess.  Bring it to boil and leave it there for ONE MINUTE.  Don’t over boil.  You don’t want to mess this part up, trust me.

After your ONE MINUTE of boiling, turn off the heat and place it on a different stove top.  This is where you have to use your RKT skills and work fast. Add in your peanut butter and stir.  Then add your oatmeal, and stir.  Finally, add in the vanilla and salt. Stir againg. Is there a method to which I put in first?  Absolutely not.  Just remember to put all of those things in.

Take your spoon and scoop out some of the mixture and drop it on the cookie sheet, which (optionally) will be covered by a sheet of wax paper.

Cool it in the fridge.  Boom.  You made no bake cookies.  I’m proud of you.

 

Other variations

Chocolate & butterscotch (use butterscotch chips instead of peanut butter).

Chocolate & walnuts (not cheap, but still yummy!)

White chocolate &  dried cranberry (also not cheap)

Chocolate & coconut

Remember, you can always use sunbutter if you’re making cookies for a crowd.  This is especially important to remember if you don’t know what people are allergic to.  Don’t be the douche that sends someone to the hospital because you put peanut butter in a delicious cookie.  Anaphalactic shock isn’t fun.

 

I know this isn’t super cheap, but trust me, it’s cheaper than Girl Scout cookies.  Speaking of, it’s that time.  So, you know, you’re welcome.  Don’t buy the GS cookies.  Make some delicious no-bakes instead.

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So, I Did Something Dumb

…and I got pulled over for it. 
I know what you’re thinking. Actually, I don’t, but go with me here! How the Hell did I get pulled over? Easy – I made an improper turn onto a very busy, and poorly constructed, street. Did I get a ticket? You bet your sweet ass I did. The real question is, what did I get a ticket for? The answer is the biggest bonehead move you’ve ever seen.

1. I had the wrong insurance in my car. I didn’t check the dates, so I mixed up my out-of-date and current insurance papers up. Oops.

2. I failed to renew my car’s registration…for three months. I forgot I had to do that. Now I have to pay the penalty.

Are these offenses a big deal? Depends on the situation. If I had gotten into a wreck, yes. But I didn’t. I am insured. I’ll (hopefully) get that part written off. The registration, I’ve been assured, is a common thing, so I’m not too concerned.

Why am I posting this, then? For self shaming? No. I’m posting this because, inevitably, some poor VISTA is going to get a ticket and owe money they might not have. So here I am, after my first ticket, trying to give advice. So, here I go!

1. If you think you might get a ticket…

Remember your manners. Being polite costs you nothing. These officers have a hard enough job already, so don’t make it worse. Who knows, if you’re polite, you might get a verbal instead of a ticket that you, I, and the federal government knows you can’t afford.

2. Say thank you. 

Even if it’s just to see their shocked faces. I told the officer who pulled me over that I was grateful that he did it, because I sincerely am. He’s doing the job I paid him for, and he’s watching out for my well-being by reminding me that these things need to be taken care of. Of course I appreciate that! He probably hasn’t heard that enough, sadly.

3. Show up.

If you have a court date (like I do) SHOW THE FUCK UP. Don’t forget. Don’t. I’ve seen what happens to people when they don’t take care of a ticket. 

4. If you have to pay fines…

Be resourceful. We’re VISTAs, we are resourceful by nature and necessity. Ask for a payment plan, some places will accommodate you. Ask around for odd jobs to make your payments. We both know that touching your saving account, which is now (thanks to our stipend) an emergency account (for now – not so come January!) isn’t an option. So, figure it out. You can do it. Skim off the fat in your lean budget. That coffee I get on Sundays? Gone. If you break the rules, you make the necessary sacrifices. Think of it like being grounded. Sucks, but you need to do it. 

 
Remember, prevention (as with most things) is key. Drive the speed limit, no one will fault you for being a few minutes late because of traffic. They may not be so forgiving if you’re 30 minutes late because you got pulled over for speeding.  In fact, while we’re on the subject, why don’t you just leave 10 minutes early to avoid rushing to begin with! My favorite band instructor always told us that in life if you’re 5 minutes early, you’re on time. If you’re on time, you’re late. If you’re late, you’re fired! Live that motto. Respect time. Remember to check your dates! They’re important! It’s easier to pay $25 for a registration renewal than it will be to pay for it alongside a ticket. And the math on insurance? I couldn’t exactly get the numbers, but I know that it is SIGNIFICANTLY cheaper to renew a policy than to go uninsured, especially if you, I don’t know, get into an accident! Be smart. Embrace your inner safe driver. It’s cheaper in the short and long run.

New Years Thoughts

Like the majority of people when greated with the nagging notion of the upcoming new year, I have directed my attention towards self improvement. I haven’t come up with a list of everything I would like to work on yet, but I can tell you that producing less waste is definitely a priority. I know I made a point last week about our (or my) wastefulness, but I’m going to reuse rate it again this week. It’s a problem. It’s throwing perfectly good money away. I’m not going to do it anymore. 

So, I encourage all 6 of my readers to take a moment and figure out how you can produce less waste. If all you think you can do is eat your leftovers instead of throwing them out, great. Do that. I’m combing through StumbleUpon, Pinterest, and searching through Google for ideas. I’ll report what I learn to you before the new year!🙂

Taking Notice

When someone accepts an offer to do something like AmeriCorps VISTA, they expect a life changing experience. We go into it thinking we’ll come out as better people, glowing with some sort of self righteous “I did something you wouldn’t dare” aura. I don’t think that’s realistic, but we all do. We all go into this program because we want to be better people. It’s a nice thought.
While I can’t speak to the person I might be in 9 months, I can tell you that I am in fact changing. Right now, the thing that I’m noticing most myself and my family is how wasteful we all are. Hell, I still have perfectly good Thanksgiving leftovers (stuffing, mostly) and I elected to make a grilled cheese today. And as bad as I am, my mother is 10 times worse. She doesn’t measure, ration, or save if she can help it. If the bar of soap is a little smaller than usual, she’ll through it out without a second thought. It really irritates me, to be frank. I’m making it a point to change this about myself. Where I was wasteful, I’m going to become frugal, because you honestly can’t afford not to be when you only get paid $409.56 every two weeks.

Cheap Eats

I don’t know about other VISTAs, but my chief concern with the lack of financial resources available to me is food.  I know I have an uncommon situation, since I live with my mother – but don’t think I don’t have my own hardships!  My mother and I are co-dependent and we share our resources.  So, she pays for some meals, I pay for others, and when it comes down to a pinch, I (since I have decent credit) pay for emergency things – like the tires I just put on a new credit card.  It’s scary, but it’s what we have to do to make due.

SO!  Here are some ideas for cheap, nutritious foods that I have found useful.  You might too, you never know.

  1. SOUPS – Soups are my FAVORITE way to stretch a dollar!  Just buy a few veggies, get a couple cans of broth – or hell, just use a little water, and cook it up/blend it up.  1 butternut squash with a red bell pepper & a couple of carrots (+ spices) in a little water makes for an EXCELLENT soup that lasts a good few meals.
  2. Baked Potatoes – Same thing with soup.  It’s…like a wardrobe basic.  Take a T-Shirt dress, right?  Throw on a cardigan, some boots, maybe a necklace – you’ve got a great outfit.  It’s similar with a baked potato.  Take the tater, throw on some of this and that (I like broccoli and shredded cheese, myself) and you have a meal.  The great thing about potatoes?  Super cheap, really filling, and extremely versatile.  Combine #s 1 and 2 and make a baked potato soup.  Bam.  Delicious.
  3. Eggs – Eggs are the most amazing things.  Cheap, versatile, and easy, they’re the cheapskates best friend! With a little broth and seasoning, you can get a great egg drop soup, or with a little milk and some veggies & cheese, you can make a personal frittata (or make the large one and feast on eggs for the next few days).  Who says we need to be on a rice and beans diet?
  4. Open Faced Toasts.  This is something I usually like to pair with a soup if I’m really hungry.  They also make for delicious breakfasts or small, working lunches.  Just take toast, throw on an egg (sunny-side up!), cheese, maybe a little romaine?  Yum.  If you’re feeling luxurious, add a little avocado.  The best part about open faced toast?  You can do anything with it.  My favorite as a kid was scrambled eggs with small pieces of bacon and a sprinkle of shredded cheese.
  5. Cottage Cheese.  This is a huge staple at my house.  There’s nothing really to do with it.  Throw in some berries or make it savory with some salt and pepper.  I use cottage cheese as a sort of dressing for salad here and there.  It’s good, I swear.

BONUS:

Grow your own veggies!  I’ve started my very own herb garden, and I’m planting more in the back yard starting early spring!  I’m starting with chives and green onions, and they’re doing great right now!  Give it a shot.🙂

Dirt Cheap Pumpkin Spice Loaf

Every Sunday I wake up around 9, go for a brisk walk, and then go to my favorite café just around the corner from my house.  They have this fantastic thing called the “Bottomless House Cup.”  I always get this three dollar and some odd cents cup of black coffee (I usually consume about 4 cups, so it works out) and, before I became a VISTA, I would also consume one of their delicious quick breads.  Well, while I still grab a book (or my laptop on occasion) and my BHC, I have forgone the $3.25 + tax slice of delicious banana/southern belle/chocolate quick bread.  Instead, I’ve opted to make my own loaf for about the same price.  It works amazingly as a hostess give, which is exactly why I baked it for the debate party I went to yesterday!  So, in my extreme benevolence, I’ve decided to share my recipe for Pumpkin Spice loaf – the super cheap version.  You’re welcome.

What You’ll Need:

1 box of Spice Cake Mix

3 Eggs

1/4 cup veggie oil

1 15oz can of pumpkin

Ground Cinnamon (optional)

Ground Ginger (optional)

Instructions:

Preheat your oven to 350F.  Grease a loaf pan with butter/margine.  You can use a mini loaf pan and make about two or three loaves (great for gifts!) or you can use one giant loaf pan (think actual bread sized) and come out with a great loaf for yourself.

Prepare the Spice Cake as stated on the box (i.e., mix the eggs and oil together, then mix in the cake mix)  I go a little less on the oil than the box states (1/4 cup) because the Pumpkin Puree usually keeps it moist.  But by all means, use the full 1/4 cup!🙂

Add in the pumpkin. Once thoroughly mixed, add in the ground spices to taste.

Pour the mix in the loaf pan(s), bake for about 45 minutes to an hour. Once you can push a toothpick into the middle of the loaf and it comes out clean, pull it out and let it cool for about 10-20 minutes.  Then, wrap it in wax paper!  Tape it like a present, then tie a bow around it and you’re done!

Now, all you need is a good book, a cup of coffee, and a place with just enough noise to be soothing.  If you’re doing this at home and need some ambiance, may I suggest going to Ambient-Mixer.com?  I usually use Cozy Ravenclaw Common Room, myself.🙂

Excited!

Y’all, I actually get to start a new part of my VAD* (VISTA Assignment Description for our non-VISTAs out there)!  This Wednesday, apart from actually getting to spend time in my other clinic, I will also be attending a Quality Improvement meeting!  The QI committee is also the same committee that runs the Patient Advisory Council (PAC) which I am supposed to analyze and diversify and make sure continues on before I leave next August.

I’ll let you know what happens on Wednesday!🙂

Micro Updates

Small updates on several parts of my life. Enjoy or don’t.

I am effective but not fulfilled. Is it worrisome that I don’t know what I’m doing but I’m apparently good at it? 
My mother wants me to date so I don’t become a spinster. I have been on three dates and have joined a local book club.  The Spinster’s Book Club, of course.
I have three options for after my year of service, and at least four suboptions for each. I will likely not do any of them and just live under a bridge for the rest of my life.
I saw Hay Fever. I adored the role of David Bliss, a father who wants nothing to do with the people in his house and “whyyy are you making such a racket?” 
Don’t buy dresses online. Their buttons won’t work properly.
I want to join the Peace Corps but am now afraid of my mother giving my dog away.