Thankfulness and the November 2012 Total Money Makeover Update

Many people have been posting something they’re thankful for each day of November on Facebook. I’ve decided to do the same on a weekly basis, but here in the (relative) quietness of my blog. Here are my first seven, in no particular order.

  1. I’m thankful for my husband Dexter. He is my best friend, and he knows when it’s time to bake a batch of brownies and brew a pot of tea. He’s so creative and has so many big dreams. I’m so proud that he’s started a business called Iron Swallow, which offers ready-made and custom comic book wallets, greeting card, and journals.
  2. I’m thankful for the health insurance and sick leave my job provides. I used both today and was reminded that I received amazing services, information, and medication with incredible flexibility and affordability that many people don’t have.
  3. I’m thankful to have a job I love. Real talk: sometimes I get really tired of my job. However, my students–with a smile, a question, or an enthusiastic “Miss Kelsey!”–always remind me that I love what I do.
  4. I’m thankful for parents who taught me about Jesus, always made sure I knew that I was loved, warned me to NOT EVER mess around with credit card debt, and have been a great example of what it looks like for two imperfect people work together to make a marriage survive and thrive.
  5. I’m thankful that we got through our fire safely, and that a year later we are back home with our puppies and a mostly unpacked house.
  6. I’m thankful for our roommate. She has introduced us to some amazing Honduran foods, she made my birthday celebration extra special, and she’s just a good friend.
  7. I’m thankful that for the first time since our fire, we are able to make extra payments on our debt each month! Since September, we paid off 1.3% of our debt and we have 63.6% to go!

What are you thankful for this month?

Total Money Makeover Update: June 2012

Life has been a tad chaotic since I last posted about our Total Money Makeover progress.

After our fire, we lived in a Comfort Inn for 6 weeks. We ate out every night–which is not in our normal budget–and were begrudgingly given an advance of $500 (after we’d spent about $1000) by an insurance lady who said they didn’t usually give advances for food. (Which begs the question, What must one need in order to get an advance?)

Then, we moved to a condo and were given a rather random and unhelpful assortment of our stuff to live with. Salad spinner – yes. Bed sheets – no. We also were blessed with the companionship of a family of adorable, but filthy and disgusting brown mice who were much too smart to crawl into our humane mousetrap, even when it was full of cheese and peanut butter. About a week before we moved out, our property manager finally returned our call about taking care of the mice, but we decided to live with the mice and let maintenance deal with mouse-killing after we were gone.

About a week and a half after we moved back into our newly remodeled home, I took one of my students to the hospital and spent most of my evenings for the next three weeks with her. When she was discharged, she moved in with us and became our unofficial foster daughter for a few weeks. Then, she decided to get married.

During all of this, Dexter spent about two months out of work, though God blessed him with a few fantastic freelance jobs. He now has a nice, predictable job at a bank and I get to see him dressed up, tie and all, every morning. We also took an amazing class called Perspectives which added plenty of homework to our schedule. Dexter, always creative and always entrepreneurial, started a handmade product business which I’ll tell you more about soon.

How has all of this life affected our financial situation?

For the last eight months, we haven’t budgeted well at all. We started using a credit card and paying it off every month, but then using it again because paying it off used up our cash flow. After depleting our emergency fund, our car stopped working, so we opened a new, interest-free credit card for that bill.

For me, this summer is about getting back on track financially. We’re paying off the credit cards, getting back on the cash envelope system, and trying to live simply.

I remembered getting to the 75% mark in our debt repayment process, but I didn’t remember how close we came to 70% last time I calculated our debt. I was happily surprised that after months of paying only minimums, we had still made visible progress. Over the past seven months, we paid off 2.8% of our debt and have 67.9% to go.

We haven’t received the check for what we lost from the insurance company. This is mostly our fault, because we haven’t finished our paperwork. I like to blame this on the people who cleaned our house, because we keep unpacking damaged items mixed in with undamaged items, and having to record them in our paperwork. We have a few pieces of furniture to get repair estimates for, and then we should be done. Once the check comes in, things will look a lot more cheery in the financial department. With the check, we’ll do things like:

  • Save money
  • Replace our bed (We are currently floor-camping, and have been since February 6. It’s surprisingly comfortable, but we’re thankful for the new carpet underneath the sleeping bag.)
  • Replace our couch, window treatments, and set money aside for things we discover we need in the future
  • Fix our air conditioner
  • Look into refinancing our house
  • Finish paying off Debt #3

In my imagination, we’ll take the rest of our thousands of dollars and go on a vacation and buy a new car, but it’s unlikely we’ll be able to do all the things on the list above. A girl can dream.

Total Money Makeover Update: September 2011

Hello, internet. It’s been several weeks since I’ve blogged. School started, we got a second renter, Dexter and I have been talking and praying about future dreams, and I just plain didn’t want to.

This blog and I have become frenemies. I love the chance to write, to interact with the nice people online, and to urge myself to be creative. However, I think I’ve been taking it all too seriously in light of my other priorities. I also struggle with what to write about–freedom is a blessing and a curse for the no-niche blogger.

I did, however, commit myself to updating the blog monthly with our debt repayment. I knew what to write about. I didn’t feel like I was contriving something to write just so I could talk to you. I thought some math symbols would break the ice or anesthetize the awkwardness. Whether or not it’s working, here I am.

close up picture of keys on a calculator

In August, we paid o.5% of our debt and we have 71.5% remaining.

It’s far enough into September that I know what our extra loan payment situation looks like. Last month, I naively wished that for my birthday in October, I could pay off Debt #3 or at least get down into the 60%s rather than the 70%s. Then, we paid for six months of auto insurance, a year of life insurance, three new tires, and new front breaks and rotors. So, not only do we not have any extra payments, we’re dipping into our baby emergency fund.

I was really frustrated when I prepped the budget for this month. I really want to be out of debt. I’m tired of the bondage and having an eerie voice whisper in my ear in the checkout lane.

You shouldn’t be buying this. Underpants without holes aren’t a need, they’re a want. Who cares about animal welfare; you need money.

While I successfully smother these voices long enough to buy what is good and practical to buy, the feeling they leave is uncomfortable.

What’s wrong with you? Why did you let yourself get into so much debt in the first place? Was a college education really worth it? Why is it taking you so long to pay off? You must not be smart enough to take care of your finances. Other people are done paying off their debt after 18 months. You’re not even 30% of the way there.

My inner-monologue is not always very friendly.

I had to remind myself that we made the choice to make less money at the beginning of summer. I didn’t tell you why, but I’ll tell you now.

My extremely talented (and handsome) husband cut down his paid hours at the coffee shop and was accepted as an intern at an innovative, well-respected web development company, Cramer Dev.

It was a gutsy move on Dexter’s part. He took the cut at work without knowing he’d get the internship. He worked really hard crafting a layered print resume that combined an 80s color scheme with professional quality. (Yeah, he’s that good.)

Since June, I went from understanding 99% of what he told me about his coffee shop job to giggling in the middle of his how-was-your-day report because he sounded like the trumpet-voiced teacher from Charlie Brown to me. I listened really hard, though, and figured out what the words meant.

He has learned so much in the past three months, and he has been so happy learning it. When he used to get on facebook or Tumblr to kill time, now I catch him writing CSS on the sly. My new question for him, whenever I see what he’s created, is, “So, did you make that by just typing some words?”

So, when I remind myself that, aside from slowing down our debt, this summer has allowed Dexter to pursue a passion and develop skills for his vocation (which may end up helping us to pay off our debt faster down the road!), the sacrifice of staying in debt just a little longer is a no brainer.

Market Monday & 200th Post Giveaway Winner

heirloom tomatoes at the farmers market

I wanted to buy everything at the farmers’ market this week. We’re actually getting both sun and rain here in Iowa (finally!), which means that the more colorful vegetables of summer are finally ready to harvest.

I went to our CSA stand first thing on Saturday morning to get eggs. We’ve become pasture-raised egg snobs around here. First, we love buying the eggs directly from the man who raises the chickens so we know that they really are pasture-raised–we’re not just relying on a sticker on an egg carton at the store. Second, the yolks are brighter, the whites cook up more tender, and we pretty much devour the carton of eggs within a few days of purchase.

From our CSA, we also bought four tomatoes, three cucumbers, three eggplant, a pile of tomatoes, a red onion, a head of garlic, and fennel.

I bought another bottle of Lemon Basil Balsamic Vinegar from Pickle Creek Herbal. We’ve been following the simple (1:2 vinegar to oil ratio with a drizzle of honey) recipe for salad dressing Jocelyn gave us when I first met her and have exhausted our first bottle. She also recommended using it on caprese salad, which I think will be a good use for those four tomatoes. (Or three tomatoes. See how the top one looks a little funky? It looks really funky now.)

I also stopped at a stand to by goat cheese for a muffin recipe I wanted to try for Sunday morning breakfast. I’ll share that recipe with you soon so you can see if you want to start waking up to goat cheese.

We bought the cherry tomatoes and yellow squash from an organic stand that was very friendly and helpful to Dexter one morning as he was getting his stand set up. Dexter loves these cherry tomatoes and will enjoy having them in his lunch in place of the carrots I usually send.

For the sake of full disclosure, I should tell you that we also bought apple cider doughnuts and a savory tomato auf lauf at the farmers’ market. They were devoured much to quickly and ravenously to make it onto the camera.

Some of the cucumbers will probably make it into a salad, but we’ve been using them to add some pizzazz to our drinking water. I fill the pitcher in our fridge with water and add five slices of cucumber and half a lemon, sliced thinly or cut into wedges. (Wedges make it easier to squeeze the juice directly into the water, but I’ve found that slices flavor the water well enough if left to sit.) I usually refill the pitcher without replacing the cucumber and lemon slices once or twice so we can extract all the flavorful goodness from them before tossing them in the garbage disposal. Dexter doesn’t like plain water, but he was enamored with this water when I made it once last month and has been drinking it almost as enthusiastically as he drinks coffee.

I’m not a huge fan of eggplant, but I really want to like it. I plan to bake it (like in the first half of this recipe) and then serve the crispy slices on top of spaghetti. It’ll be my adapted version of eggplant parmesan. (My beef with real eggplant–or chicken–parmesan is that everything gets soggy, and I don’t want to go to the trouble of making something delicious and crispy if I’m just going to dump sauce all over it. Does anyone else feel this way? Am I the only one who has soggy-parm issues?)

The large pile of yellow squash will go into Sunny Summer Squash Soup, which I found on Once A Month Mom’s August Vegetarian Menu. The onion, some garlic, and two of the potatoes will go in the soup, and the rest were eaten, grilled in slices, with Monday night’s dinner.

What I’m left with, however, is a bulb of fennel. I didn’t have any plans for it. It was sort of an impulse purchase. (You know you’re kind of a kitchen dork when fennel is your impulse buy.) Any suggestions for my fennel?

Finally, before I hit the sack on this barely-got-it-posted-on-Market-Monday, I want to announce that Sarah is the winner of the Eating Animals giveaway. Your book will be in the mail as soon as I confirm your address.

Wearing Red Lipstick on my (pre-)Anniversary Date

I am usually a fairly modest make-up wearer. I try to match everything from foundation to lip gloss to my natural colors, and wear it only to make all the colors look even. (I’ve come to the conclusion that my face is like a Monet. There are lots of splotches of perfectly normal colors, with a few abnormal splotches thrown in. It looks fine, make-up-less, from far away, but up close it gets a little…busy.)

Last week, however, I decided to go crazy and I bought a tube of red lipstick. (Revlon’s Certainly Red, to be precise, with red lip liner. Revlon doesn’t test on animals.)

I don’t know exactly where the idea originated–whether from Dexter or from me. Dexter has some hipster tendencies, and his taste in women–rather, in woman–is a little bit hipster, too.

I think he would much rather I sport the style below than long blond hair and contacts.

Dexter is one of the main reasons I’ve had short hair and glasses for the past several years (because if you don’t know what you want, you might as well get the haircut that one person in the relationship will love).

Dexter claims that he would have really liked the new Emma Watson short haircut on me.

It’s not that I don’t trust him that he would like it. (Okay, I a-little-bit didn’t believe it.) I was just pretty sure I’d feel like a boy unless I was wearing a dress, heels, make-up, and earrings. And I don’t have time time, money, or sense of style to make that work.

Plus, I think I might be coming into a hipster style of my own.

Plain, loosely gathered, feminine hair feels a little bit more me. The only thing I wouldn’t naturally have worn in this picture is the red lipstick.

So, I went ahead and tried it. I still expect people to laugh when they see me in my clown make-up.

I’ve worn it three times now. Once the first day I got it, to see how it looked.

I wore it again to the farmers’ market on Saturday, when Dexter didn’t recognize me as I was walking toward him. (I was wearing a new dress, sunglasses, and red lipstick, and I had my hair up. So I can’t exactly blame him. He even looked away from me because he didn’t want to start checking out cute girls at the farmers’ market. ::blush::)

I wore it again last night when we went out to eat at Atlas.

We sat out on the patio for the first time ever–it was gorgeous, just the right temperature, and we were in the shade.

One of their specials was a rhubarb spritzer. And since you know how I love rhubarb, I had to get it. It was pretty delicious and contained a house-made rhubarb syrup.

I got the Greek Goddess salad. Usually I get the Greek Goddess burrito, but I decided to spice things up. It was a good decision. The croutons definitely made up for the lack of tortilla.

Dexter got a buffalo chicken wrap. I had a bite. It was a little heavy (for me), with mashed potatoes and fried chicken, but it tasted delicious. (Their meat is antibiotic and hormone free, but they don’t provide any other information about its source. So it’s on the no-meat-if-i-stop-being-veg list for me.)

The reason we went to Atlas last night was because every year, they email you two coupons–a free entree for your birthday and free chocolate cake and champagne for your anniversary. Although our anniversary isn’t for a few more weeks, we decided to use the coupon early since we have other day-of anniversary plans.

Atlas is the home of the “chocolate paradise” I mentioned on Tuesday (see balsamic ice cream).

When it’s gone, it looks like this:

We rounded out the evening by talking about some of our favorite memories from the last five years.

Would you ever sport red lipstick in public?

Check out Alicia’s Homemaking for more Try New Adventures Thursday. And stop by The Diaper Diaries for more Things I Love Thursday.

*Click the top three pictures for sources. All others by Dexter and me.*

Top Ten Ice Cream Recipes

Dexter and I are alike in a lot of ways.

We love dogs.

We love to read.

We love pizza and ice cream.

(I know. Can you believe people with such uncommon interests found each other in this great big world?)

One thing we do not agree on is what kind of ice cream makes a good dessert.

Dexter likes vanilla. I found out a long time ago that it drives him crazy when you call vanilla-flavored things “plain.” (More recently, I found out that we are done with that joke at this house. So you won’t find any disrespect of vanilla’s identity ’round these parts.)

I, on the other hand, think of ice cream the same way I think of pie crust. Yeah, I like it, but I’m not going to waste my calories eating it if it’s not holding something else delicious. I’ll turn down a bowl of chocolate ice cream without flinching, but top it with toffee or peanut butter cups and I’m a goner.

One thing that complicates our love of ice cream is the source of the milk it is made with. Although I’ve made the switch to dairy from humanely-raised cows for all the dairy products we consume in our home, we haven’t yet given up going out for ice cream. But I want to.

Instead of going cold-turkey, I’m going to try the “switching addictions” technique. I need to stock my freezer with ice cream so good that we won’t want to go out. I also need to ensure that there’s enough variety available that we can both have flavors we enjoy.

Alden’s Organic Ice Creams are locally available to me. Their product is delicious, but their website does not delve specifically into how their cows are treated. In my eyes, the more detail, the better. (I’ve contacted them for more info to see if I should continue to consider it an option.) Also, a good sale for this ice cream is $4.50 for 1.5 quarts, which is about $.50 more expensive than the regular price of other high quality ice creams.

So this summer, I’m hoping to try to kick my ice cream shop habit with some of the delicious sounding recipes below. I’ll let you know how they turn out and try to come up with a cost analysis to see if it’s worth making my own.

Fresh Bing Cherry Ice Cream – Dexter requested this flavor after we picked up a bag of cherries from the co-op. They’re on sale for even cheaper this week, so I’m planning to make this as soon as I can! (Thanks to Karen from The Hazel Bloom for use of the photo.)

Vanilla Ice Cream – When you eat vanilla ice cream, you don’t have anything to cover up the flavor if you use a crummy recipe or sub-par ingredients. That’s why I went to Ina. It’s my theory that she tells Jeffrey about all the men she hangs out with throughout the week as he eats this ice cream, so he either doesn’t notice or doesn’t care.

Double Chocolate Peanut Butter Ice Cream – My mouth is watering. I will make this. I will eat it right away. And I don’t predict feeling any remorse. (Thanks to Joy from Joy the Baker for use of the photo.)

S’more Ice Cream – I love s’mores when I’m sitting around a fire, and I’m pretty sure I’d love them just as much in a bowl with ice cream! To make this totally cruelty-free, I’d use homemade marshmallows and slavery-free chocolate. (Thanks to Megan from Megan’s Cookin’ for use of the photo.)

Brown Sugar-Balsamic Swirl Ice Cream – One of my favorite restaurants ever serves an amazing, liquid-centered chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream, whipped cream, strawberries, and some sort of honey-orange-berry concoction on the side. In college, my roommate and I referred to it as chocolate paradise. One day, they were out of vanilla and asked if they could substitute balsamic ice cream. I am so glad they did, because it was delicious, and I’ve been wanting to recreate it ever since.

Burned Peach Ice Cream – I discovered last week that I do not like grilled bananas. They seem to lose their flavor, get dry, and develop an extra layer of skin. I do, however, like grilled peaches, and can’t think of a better way to eat them than in vanilla ice cream.

Pumpkin Ice Cream – I love pumpkin, so I won’t wait for the holidays to try this one. You can use canned or homemade puree.

Chocolate-Hazelnut Gelato – If I didn’t need the money so badly during college, I would have accepted the chocolate-hazelnut gelato from Capanna as pay. As a former gelato maker, I can tell you that this recipe will not make real gelato. It will make really good ice cream, though, if you live to far away from Europe or Capanna to get the real thing.

Bacon Ice Cream with a hint of Maple – If this isn’t incentive to start eating meat, I don’t know what is.

Fresh Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream – This will be the perfect way to use the mint that has been flourishing (yes, flourishing!) on my front porch.

What is your favorite flavor ice cream?

Visit OhAmanda for more Top Ten Tuesday!

Total Money Makeover Update: June 2011

Goals are a blessing and a curse.

They say that statistically there is correlation between writing down goals and achieving success. I don’t know who they are or what sort of study they did, but there is obviously some wisdom to formalizing plans for what you’d like to accomplish. Dexter and I planned to pay off our debt pretty quickly after college. However, until we set our goal to have them paid off by March of 2014, we paid our minimums each month and made no progress. Since setting the goal 16 months ago, we’ve paid off a quarter of our non-mortgage debt.

The curse manifests when you’re not making the progress you think you should be. To be out of debt by March of 2014, Dexter and I would have to pay off 2.4% of our debt each month. That has not been happening. I really like to look good in front of other people, and reporting that we’ve paid off less than 1% of our debt month after month doesn’t qualify as “looking good” in my book.

Speaking of what we’ve paid this month, since May 15, we’ve paid off 0.7% of our debt and we have 74.3% remaining.

Photo Credit: foxumon

Last week, I couldn’t fall asleep one night, so I got up and did what any normal person would do: I averaged interest rates, used debt snowball calculators, and created Excel worksheets. The information I found told me that on a fairly (but not incredibly) strict budget, getting out of debt should take about seven years. Not from when we started, but from now. I’m pretty good at math, so I realized that seven years is more than the three that we had been hoping for.

Needless to say, I was upset. It was a busy week, so I didn’t have time to sit down and talk to Dexter about what I’d learned. On Wednesday night, I was working on our summer budget, hoping (while doubting) that we’d be able to pay off Debt #3 this summer. I had been hoping and planning to do this for so long, that even though I knew we probably wouldn’t have enough, I almost wrote the check and took it to the bank, thinking that if I just did it I could escape the consequences. (This is the kind of risk that people like me who have never experimented with drugs and other risky behaviors do for a rush–we think about paying off debt irresponsibly fast.)

Thankfully my logic defeated my impulse, because we only had enough to pay off a quarter of what remains on the loan. If I had paid it, we would have been living off emergency savings, car replacement savings, Chrismas savings, and spare change from the top of the dryer all during August.

All this begs the question: Why did we think we could pay off the loan by March 2014 in the first place? Easy. We thought we’d make more money, spend less money, and let God help (but just a little bit).

Why are we making less money? Although it sounds terrible, we actually made a decision last month to start bringing in less money for a short period of time with the hope of increasing our income even more in the future. I’ll share more about that decision next week.

Why are we spending more money? That’s a harder question. We’re doing good things with our money, like giving to Compassion and Campus Crusade, buying local food, and using dairy from happy cows. We’re also doing a bad job keeping up with our cash system, which means more “I’m sure we have enough” purchases on the debit card. We’re eating out more. We’re getting comfortable, knowing that we make enough to pay the bills each month.

Why are we “letting” God help? We purposely chose a goal date to be debt free that was a bit of a challenge. We wanted God to be glorified through our journey to debt freedom, and that wasn’t going to happen if we approached the goal as if we could do it all ourselves.

What are we going to do about it?

The problem I see with the answers I’ve given above are with how comfortable we are parting with money. For the past several months, I haven’t been mad about our debt. I remember looking at a tax form for one of our student loans last year. I realized that we had spent one entire month of my income on interest for that one loan. That made me sick, but it also renewed my sense of urgency about getting out of debt.

Looking at our summer budget this week and realizing that we couldn’t pay of Debt #3 made me mad. When I analyzed our summer budget, I thought, “Who needs clothes when you have debt?!” and “Restaurants are for rich people!” I did, obviously, leave some room in the budget for those things, but I have a renewed desire to spend as little as possible in those areas. Hopefully this new drive will help us stick to the budget and really analyze what is a need and what is a want.

 

Market Monday

On Saturday, Dexter worked the farmers’ market with our roommate Luke. I showed up halfway through and dutifully delivered the apple cider doughnuts. And let me tell you, delivering doughnuts to hot coffee stand on a drizzly Saturday morning is no punishment.

In two strolls around the market, we picked up everything we needed: a pound of rhubarb, a bag of spinach, a carton of eggs, and a stewing chicken, all from Salt Fork Farms.

We had resigned ourselves to not joining a CSA this summer. The couple we had split our CSA share with in the past decided not to join, and our old CSA had concocted a really inconvenient delivery plan. I also felt bad for wasting much of what we took home in our share each week. We were elated when we ran across Salt Fork Farms, which specializes in pasture-raised poultry and eggs as well as fresh produce. Since I am on the fence about continuing to be vegetarian, I was excited to see a local option that seems to raise chickens in the best possible way. We also loved the punch card based format of the CSA. Instead of getting a like-it-or-not box of veggies each week, we got punch cards that act like cash at the Salt Fork Farms farmers’ market stand. Each week at the farmers’ market, we buy whatever we want from our CSA and get a 10% discount off the market price. It’s the perfect arrangement for us because we can stock up on the things we love, and if we miss a week, we’re not giving up the food we paid for.

After perusing to my heart’s content, I camped out with Dexter at the coffee stand. I was intrigued by the stand next to ours which sold tiny herb plants, homemade soaps and lip balms, and herb-infused vinegar and olive oil. I had my eye on a bottle of balsamic vinegar for my new homemade salad dressing habit. The girl running the stand, Jocelyn, was so sweet and helpful. She coached me through choosing a basil plant for Dexter’s desk that would hopefully produce lots of usable leaves despite my black thumb. She also recommended a salad dressing recipe for my new vinegar: one part vinegar, two parts olive oil, a little bit of honey. It’s simple, but it was a hit with all three boys at the dinner table last night!

I got to chat with Jocelyn during the slow moments of the market, although her stand attracted crowds! She told me that she grows all the herbs and makes all the products herself. You can check out her company’s website, www.picklecreekherbal.com. I got to watch her stand for a few minutes and “play vendor” while she was gone. I talked up her product and even sold three items. I thought this shy girl did pretty well! (Like seriously, I talked to strangers in real life. On purpose.)

We haven’t potted the basil for Dexter’s desk yet, but I’ve been keeping a watchful eye on it.

My plans for this week’s market finds:

  • Rhubarb – I think rhubarb is turning into a bit of an obsession. Last week it was rhubarb crisp. This week it is rhubarb muffins and rhubarb upside down cake. Stay tuned tomorrow for a top ten list of delicious (or at least interesting) sounding list of rhubarb recipes.
  • Spinach – We may use this to supplement some store bought mixed greens for lettuce salad. However, it will more likely make its way into a few green smoothies. Dana has some great green smoothie recipes here.
  • Stewing hen – This will sit in my freezer until I have the guts to cook it. I plan to cook it with veggies to make broth and to cook the meat for use in other things. (Stewing hens–which are originally used for laying–are best eaten in something since the meat is a little tougher.) Then I’ll use the bones and more veggies for another batch of stock.
  • Eggs from pastured hens – Oh heavens. These are delicious. I’ve had them poached and fried. Dexter has had them scrambled. We’ve eaten them with toast or with veggie hash. They’re full of flavor, healthier than standard eggs, and I don’t have to block out what I know about chicken farming while I eat them!

To share what you found at the market, in your CSA box, or in the seasonal section of the grocery store:

  • Tell us what you found in the comments.
  • OR write a post (link back to me!) and post your link in the comments.
  • Feel free to snatch my button with the following code: <a title=”marketmonday by kjacobs729, on Flickr” href=”http://mrsdexter.wordpress.com/category/market-monday/”><img src=”http://farm6.static.flickr.com/5308/5748976749_a03567b98d_m.jpg” alt=”marketmonday” width=”150″ height=”150″ /></a>

Total Money Makeover Update: May 2011 – Hitting a Milestone

Remember how I keep saying that we’re going to get back on the cash envelope system wagon? This month, I really meant to. But Dexter got called into work the morning I was going to go to the bank, so I didn’t have a car, and then a trip to the bank never happened. It was another one of those haphazard-spending-amazed-we-came-out-okay months. But this month, I’m going to make it happen. 

We bought a computer this month, which should contribute to my blogging more regularly. We have only had one easy-to-use computer for about a year, so now I can blog and Dexter can write his web novel* simultaneously. Although the new computer has brought about tremendous happiness and convenience, it definitely hurt to shell out that much money once I figured out what percent of our loans it would have paid off. I try not to think about it.

I am happy to report that we have finally reached our long-awaited milestone. This month, we paid off 0.82% of our loans, and we have 74.98% to go! I had to switch to two digits after the decimal otherwise my rounding would have pushed it up to 75%, and I really want to remind myself that we are under 75%!

I’m unsure of how to predict and plan our progress for the next few months. We need to refill the (new car) savings we used to buy our computer. We’d also like to buy a new bed frame and do a few projects around the house. Obviously, we’ll attempt to accomplish those things spending as little money as possible, but it will take at least a little cash. We’re at a point where we know it’s still going to take a few years to pay down our debt, so we have to decide whether we’re going to hold out on buying conveniences (like a bed sturdy enough to withstand our four-legged, 65-pound baby jumping on and off multiple times a day) until we’re debt free, or if we’re going to slow down our repayment a bit so we can enjoy them now.

The bed I really want...only $350.99 from overstock.com!

What would you do? Buy a bed and fix up the house or wait until 2014 and end up debt free a month or two earlier?

*Warning: The comic is rated PG for violence, but if you click away from Dexter’s web novel you’ll find web comics that are rated R for language, drug references, and zombie violence. I also rate Dexter’s novel A for awesome.

Authentic British Scones

In the summer of 2007, my grandparents took their three daughters, three sons-in-law, three grandchildren, and one grandson-in-law on a trip to the United Kingdom to celebrate their 50th anniversary. It was an amazing experience–one that we would not have had without their generosity–and it’s fun to have eleven other people to reminisce with about our favorite sites and experiences.

On our first excursion into London, jet-lagged and trying not to start out the trip on a cranky note, the twelve of us descended on The Queen’s Head pub. I think I had a jacket potato (known, on this side of the pond, as a baked potato).

One of the first evenings of the trip, we ate at a fancy restaurant called Chez…Something (that’s how I know it was fancy), where I had some amazing creme brulee. Afterward, we went on a boat tour of the Thames. Throughout the trip, we took over 700 pictures, which would have cost triple the price of our then-new digital camera in film and processing. I think we took at least 100 on this boat trip. Later, I tried to label all the pictures with the names of what we saw, but we saw so much it all blurred together. I remembered the names of these two places, however.

Dexter had his first encounter with fish ‘n’ chips and warm Coke. I’m not sure, but he may count this as the greatest culinary experience of his life.

Harry Potter fans might recognize this scene, which in real life is known as Alnwick Castle. Nearby, it has beautiful gardens, including one garden of entirely poisonous plants.

My family isn’t known for being particularly adventurous, but we broke away from the tour for a day to explore the English countryside. We hopped on a train in York and headed to Thirsk. A helpful employee at the train station looked at my dad and said, “Why on earth would you want to go there?” We had a very specific reason–to visit the home and practice of the late Alf Wight, better known as beloved author James Herriot. When I was in high school and college, my parents really enjoyed All Creatures Great and Small dvds, read the books, and listened to the audiobooks as they drove me back and forth from college every other weekend. We got off the train at Thirsk with “find the museum” as a plan. It was pouring rain. If we had an umbrella, we just had one, so it didn’t make a huge difference. We ran to the closest building, a pub which had just opened. The friendly owner called us a cab, and we sat and sipped our warm, iceless Cokes. Our cabbie was friendly, and although we were completely clueless Americans, he charged us a very fair price for the ride. It was cool to see a place that we had only imagined. We decided to walk back to the train station, but bought umbrellas at Tesco for 2 pounds for the walk. Our train stopped for a good 45 minutes on the tracks on the way back to York because the train ahead of us had caught on fire.

Dexter reenacts the ever-entertaining, repeating story of when Herriot has to stick his arm up a cow’s you-know-what for some veterinary reason or another.

Dexter and I in James Herriot’s car.

I am almost certain this red door belonged to someone famous who is now dead. I’m thinking an author.We saw Edinburgh castle, which was one of the many delightful things we saw in Edinburgh, my favorite city in the UK. Later, we saw Anne Hathaway’s cottage (Shakespeare’s wife, not the actress) and explored Stratford-upon-Avon. I bought a mug there with Shakespeare quotes all over it. I thought it was silly at the time, but I use it all the time and remember the trip.When we were first married, people often said to us, “You can’t be married. You’re only 12!” I wanted to let these people know how offensive that was to a 21-year-old, but didn’t think it would help. I often wondered how many of them actually knew a 12-year-old. On this trip, as we were checking out of a hotel, the woman at the counter said to Dexter, “You can’t be married. You’re only 18!” We were flattered and decided we like British people a lot. However, in this picture at Stonehenge, I can see why people thought we looked so young.

We also saw the Roman Baths in Bath, where heroines went to socialize in Jane Austen’s novels. Later, we visited Winchester Cathedral  where Austen is  buried. I was looking and looking for her gravestone, but as I walked up to a plaque on the wall about her, I realized I was standing on it.

But, back to Edinburgh. Dexter and I split from our tour group and explored the city with my brother and sister. It was a such a fun day! What sealed the deal was the amazing tea (not just the drink, but the afternoon meal) that we had at the Scotland Institute of Art. They were having a buy one, get one free deal, so we decided to try it out. It was beautiful–and comes in a close second to the performance of Mary Poppins at Prince Edward Theatre in Soho where Burt actually danced on the ceiling for my favorite moment of the trip.

Thanks to the delectable afternoon teas I experienced in the UK, I came back to the states a scone snob. Don’t get me wrong–I still like those big, fruity cookies at coffee shops, but I snicker at calling them scones. Real scones are actually a lot like biscuits, just a little drier. Which makes them the perfect accompaniment to a quality cup of tea. (Or coffee, which British people seem to drink as much or more than they drink tea.)

I knew I couldn’t wait for another trip across the pond to eat real scones again, so I searched high and low for a trustworthy recipe. Lo and behold, Alton Brown came to the rescue. When you make these–and you really, really should–I recommend splurging for some clotted cream and Smuckers low-sugar strawberry jam, which are pictured below. You won’t regret it.

Me, in James Herriot’s kitchen with some fake scones.

(Dried Cherry) Authentic British Scones

slightly adapted from Alton Brown’s I’m Just Here For More Food

Ingredients

  • 2 cups (270 g/9.5 oz) all-purpose flour (feel free to substitute a little whole wheat flour)
  • 2 tsp. (7 g/.25 oz) baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp. (5 g/.25 oz) salt
  • 1/3 cup (64 g/2.25 oz) Sugar
  • 6 tbsp. (85 g/3 oz) unsalted butter, frozen
  • 3/4 cup (177 g/6.25 oz) heavy cream, chilled
  • 2 (100 g/3.5 oz) eggs, beaten
  • 1/3 cup (85 g/3 oz) dried cherries, coarsely chopped (optional)

Directions

  • Preheat the oven to 375*F.
  • Whisk cream and eggs together.
  • Pulse flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar in the food processor 3 or 4 times. (If your food processor is broken like mine, you can sift it. I use one of these. You can also whisk it around probably still end up with scones.) Transfer the dry goods into a large bowl.
  • Chop your frozen butter into cubes. Add cubes to dry ingredients and rub until about half the butter disappears and the rest is in pea-sized pieces. (Alton Brown suggests rubbing in the butter as you would rub a puppy’s ears. You can also use a pastry blender or a food processor, like I did, but the won’t be quite as flaky and delicious. *Also–see the picture of the unbaked scone above? You don’t want your butter chunks to be that big. Or they will melt and make a pool of butter on your baking sheet. Smaller pieces = the butter stays in the scone.)
  • Make a well in the dry ingredient/butter mixtures. Pour the wet ingredients into the well and mix using a rubber spatula or wooden spoon. Stir in dried cherries if using.
  • Knead the dough on floured parchment or wax paper. I prefer using a silpat.
  • Roll into a 1-inch-thick round or rectangle. Cut into 8 triangles. You could also use biscuit or cookie cutters to make these into circles like most of the scones I saw in the UK.
  • Place wedges or circles on an ungreased baking sheet about 1 inch apart. Sometimes, I use my baking stone.
  • Bake scones for 23-25 minutes or until golden brown. Place on a rack to cool.
  • Serve at room temperature with clotted cream and jam.

Look at the rest of my At-Home Coffee Shop Series!

I’m linking up today for the first time at Finer Things Friday!