Family Living 4 Less

Saving Money Without the Sacrifice!

The Year of the Tiger!

Posted by flsquared on February 22, 2010

This weekend, we decided to attend the “Biggest Chinese New Year Parade” in Manhattan.

Armed with a 15% off coupon, I traveled down to the BabiesRUS store in Union Square to check out the umbrella strollers.  It was about time we got one, and we would definitely need it for the subway ride.  As with any “big box” retailer (but especially with BRU), I immediately started to get overwhelmed with the choices and quickly slunk out without buying anything.

I perused the Union Square Greenmarket (and bought a huge bag of $1/lb local apples) to calm myself.

Then I went home and checked out Craigslist.

Lucky for me, I found a great used Maclaren Volo for $40.  SCORE!  (Oh, and by chatting with the woman selling the stroller, I made a new friend in Brooklyn!)

Bright and early Sunday afternoon, (40 degree, sunny weather!) we met some friends to see the dragons dancing and floats passing by.  I am kicking myself as I forgot my camera, but it was amazing!  The kids enjoyed the people watching, scooping up confetti and throwing it at each other, (I’m not sure how much they actually saw of the parade), and just seeing Mama and Papa happy.  We even popped into a crowded Dim Sum restaurant and stuffed ourselves while they ate and played with chopsticks.  We ended the day by going over to Union Square and hanging out at the playground (and buying a few bottles of “3 buck chuck” wine at TJs).  The subway ride was uneventful and I was actually able to carry the little guy up and down the stairs myself with the new, lightweight stroller.

After we had gave the kids dinner and put them to bed, my husband turned to me and said “What a great day!”  I totally agree.

For me, the best part about the day was exploring a new part of the city and seeing everyone have a good time.  Amazingly, there was no (well…, okay, very little) crying, fear of crowds, or explosive diapers.  Days like these bring our family closer and open the door for new events and experiences to further strengthen that bond.

Oh, and bill for the day?  $2.25 for the subway and $25 for 4 at the Dim Sum (and believe you me, the kids eat as much as I do!).  Not bad!

Posted in activity, family, happiness, holiday, saving money, simple living | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Please Talk To Strangers

Posted by flsquared on February 14, 2010

It’s been a slow week on the blog front, but probably for the best reason possible.  Despite “Blizzard 2010″ causing us to being snowed in one day and braving ice-covered sidewalks the 2 days following, I can say that I had a fantastic week.

And all of this because I simply talk to strangers.

About a month or so ago, the Wall Street Journal published a fantastic article about trying to limit technology in your life.  I loved the anecdote about how a group of folks were waiting for the gym to open on Christmas Eve and, instead of talking to each other, they all whipped out their SmartPhones.  I see that everywhere and it makes me shudder.

While of course I have my days that I just want to zone out and avoid interacting with people, I often find myself striking up conversations with people on the subway, in line at the supermarket or post office, whatever.

One of my best friends in the city is a woman I chatted up in the police station in Madrid nearly 10 years ago.

Waiting for a friend this week, I talked with 2 ladies and learned about a few summer programs for kids in the city that I am looking forward to checking out.

I went gallery hopping with an artist friend this weekend in Soho that I met in a coffee shop.

This week a friend of mine and I spent 3 fantastic days with a woman and her daughter that we met walking in Central Park.  She said that she tried to ask 3 people for directions to a playground and we were the only ones that stopped to answer.  Turns out that she works in the same field as I did pre-baby as does her husband.  Her little girl is only 1 month younger than my son and they got along like old friends.  I have to say that I’m sure we made her week her in Manhattan, and if she ends up moving here this summer, we’ll have a new friend.

I urge you all to notice the people who are around you and, if you have the chance, talk to them. You may learn something new, or even make a new friend.

Posted in friends | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

There’s No Such Thing as a Cheap Lunch

Posted by flsquared on February 6, 2010

Today I made a big mistake.

On Saturdays, I have started swapping language lessons in the hopes of reviving my dormant French knowledge.  My instructor is awesome–a Parisian artist full of life and spirit and the patience of a saint!

After the lesson, I typically take advantage of the fact that I’m out of the house and go grocery shopping.  If you don’t live in Manhattan, you may not understand why I need to go shopping alone, but suffice it to say that Whole Foods and Trader Joes are “cheap” supermarkets, so much so that there are often crowds that would rival Black Friday sales at Walmart.

Today, we got together from 11am-1:30pm and I was starving as I left.  I hopped on the subway down to Union Square, but knew I would not make it through the hoards of Trader Joe’s groupies without a snack.  Right in front of TJ’s was a hot dog vendor.  Score!  Quick and cheap.  After all, I had to get back home to relieve hubby from babysitting duty.

(If my friend D. is reading this, I am sure to get a lecture.  Yes, I know, you have warned me time and time again about eating from the street carts!)

It was not a good sign when the guy cleaned out the mustard with a toothpick and then put the toothpick back in the box.  Ewww!

But the hot dog had already been paid for so I scarfed it down and ran inside to do my shopping.

As I waited in the 45 minute line to pay for the groceries, I grabbed a hot wing sample.  Spicy but good.

I was even counting my blessings as I got to the bus stop just as the 103 was pulling in.  Yoo hoo!

However, as the driver swerved through traffic and slammed on the brakes over and over again, my stomach began to turn.  I’m not really sure if it was the hot dog, the sole buffalo wing, or the 30 minute roller coaster bus ride, but I seriously didn’t know if I was going to make it home before I lost my lunch.

I actually got out of the bus 2 stops early and started walking.  I stumbled into the apartment and downed two hot chamomile teas with honey.  I laid down on the bed.  The room slowly stopped spinning and I was able to go out and play with the kids.

Sometimes I am so stupid.  I will spend double to buy hormone free milk or free range eggs, but I buy whatever crap they sell on the street corner.  Hopefully I’ve learned my lesson and the next time I need a quick snack I’ll either bring one with me or grab something at the fruit stand.

Posted in food, frugal, groceries, saving money | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

What Would You Do For a Free Coffee?

Posted by flsquared on February 1, 2010

You don’t need to do much, apparently.

I just got the news that this month there will be free coffee all over Manhattan–a godsend for a tired mama of 2!

Thanks SeamlessWeb!!!

Posted in budget, frugal | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Meat as a Side Dish Recipe: Slow-Cooked Moroccan Spiced Chicken with Apricots

Posted by flsquared on January 25, 2010

This is a super yummy recipe that my mom picked up while staying with my Aunt in her convent (Yes, my aunt is a nun).  It’s perfect on a cool day and freezes well.  Oh, and P.S., I know it says “spiced” but it’s not spice-y at all.

Enjoy!

Slow-Cooked Moroccan Spiced Chicken with Apricots

Ingredients:

  • 6 chicken breasts or 12 thighs (can sub less meat + more beans)
  • 2 or 3, 16oz cans (or equivalent) garbanzo beans
  • 2 tbs oil
  • 2 med onions, chopped
  • 6 cloves garlic, crushed and minced
  • 1 ½ tsp hot paprika (can sub sweet paprika and ¼ tsp cayenne pepper)
  • ½ tsp cardamom
  • 3 cups chicken broth
  • 1 cup dried apricots, cut in bite-sized pieces (can sub prunes or raisins)
  • 1 cinnamon stick (can sub ½ tsp cinnamon)
  • 1 tsp dried parsley
  • ¼ cup all-purpose flour
  • ¼ cup fresh minced cilantro (optional)
  • Juice of 1 lemon (~2 tbsp)
  • OPTIONAL:  1 can diced tomatoes, ¼ – ½ tsp ginger

Directions:

Dry the chicken with paper towels, season with salt and pepper.  In large pressure cooker pot, heat the oil over medium/high heat.  Brown the chicken about 10 min and remove from pot. (remove any chicken grease).

Add 2 tsp oil to empty pot over medium heat.  Add onions, paprika, cardamom, salt and ginger.  Cook until onions soften (about 5 min).  Stir in garlic and cook ~15 sec.  Stir in 2 ¼ cups broth, apricots, and cinnamon.  Scrape up browned bits of chicken.  Bring to a simmer.  Add chicken.

Cover and bring to pressure, lower heat and cook for ~20 min.  (If not using pressure cooker, cook 3 hours).

Turn off heat and wait until pressure goes away (about 15-20 min).

Add garbanzos (and tomatoes) and cover.  Bring to pressure, lower heat and cook about 5-10 min.  Turn off heat and wait until pressure goes away. (If not using pressure cooker, cook 1 hour).

Remove chicken and discard cinnamon stick.  In ½ cup cold chicken broth, add ¼ flour.  Whisk until smooth.  Add to liquid in pot and stir.  Cover and cook about 15-30 min more or until thick.  Stir in cilantro and lemon juice.

Add chicken back to pot and heat up.

Tastes even better the next day!

Posted in food, recipe | Tagged: , | 4 Comments »

Hurrah for the Upper East Side Good Samaritan!

Posted by flsquared on January 15, 2010

Today we spent the entire day outside.  We met up with a new friend and her son and cruised around Central Park and the Time Warner Center.  My older son fell asleep on the stroller ride home and we headed over to the ING Cafe to grab a coffee and a snack and let my little guy stretch his legs.  It was a great morning, but we had to head home for lunch.

Unfortunately, David, my youngest, did not agree.

He fussed and threw a huge tantrum in the stroller as I pushed them home.  Strangers looked at me, some shot me dirty looks (even after he fell asleep!) but I paid no mind.

When I got home, I understood.

This little 14 month old had managed to take off his shoes and socks and chuck all but one shoe over the side of the stroller through the wind protector plastic that was velcroed down.  The poor guy was barefoot in 38 degree weather.

(As an aside, I am convinced that if we could find an adult with a toddler’s energy and determination, they would rule the world.)

I put a blanket on him and headed back down 15 blocks to look for the missing shoe and socks.

Nothing.

Not a huge surprise, but there is always hope.

I came back home and hung out for an hour or so when my neighbor called wanting to go for a walk.  On the hunt one last time before sundown.

Would you believe that some sweet person had put the shoe up, with the socks wrapped in a little ball inside, so that the owner would find it?

Hurrah for that kind stranger!  You seriously made my day.

Posted in baby, kindness, toddler | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Watching TV Linked to Higher Risk of Death

Posted by flsquared on January 13, 2010

Tuesday’s WSJ reported that Watching TV Linked to Higher Risk of Death.  According to the Australian study, watching 2-4 hours of TV/day increased your risk of death by 13%, and watching more than 4 hours increased it by 46%.  Wow.  They also specified cardiovascular disease:  watching TV for 4+ hours increased this risk by 80%.

The interesting part of this study is the solution.  The researchers don’t say that you need to participate in “hard core” exercise (in fact, the participants in the study averaged 30-45 minutes of exercise/day).

Instead, their worry is that becoming a couch potato reduces “incidental moving around”.  This goes for other sedentary activity (oxymoron, anyone?) such as surfing the net (duh!), reading a book (hmmm…), or taking the train to work (!).  After an entire day of inactivity, your HDL levels can fall 20%.  Wow.

Honestly, articles such as this one just reaffirm to me our decision to move to Manhattan.  Sure, we’re tearing our hair out trying to keep our bills down and we go a bit stir-crazy in such a small space during the winter, but perhaps that’s the point.  It makes us get creative and get moving.  We simply can’t afford the luxury of a huge place with luxuries that would entice us to stay in all day.  Even take out gets expensive so we hoof it over to the grocery store and the make our meal.  And you know what?  All of that movement and activity seems to make us happier!

Speaking of, I am going to sign off, bundle up the kids, and take advantage of the two whole hours of sunny 34 degree weather this afternoon!

Posted in activity, happiness, simple living | Tagged: , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Wonderful New Music Class for the Kiddos!

Posted by flsquared on January 11, 2010

Just a short post today to tell you about a wonderful (free!) event that I attended with my sons at NYC’s Webster Library this afternoon.

Emily Ellison presented “Children’s Music from Around the World”, an hour long music-fest geared toward children ages 0-10 (although I think from age 2-6 were probably the best audience).  We arrived late, 30 minutes late to be exact, but were welcomed into the controlled chaos of her high-energy event.

Loved her!  Loved her!  Loved her!  She totally saved what was quickly becoming a loooooong afternoon, and the kids had a blast.

I’m just disappointed that her upcoming concerts will be subway distance away (and I am so not getting on public transit with a double stroller in sub-freezing temps during rush hour for anyone!).

I did get on her mailing list:  emilymusicforkids – at – verizon – dot – net, phone number (347) 589-3225.

Posted in activity, frugal, toddler | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

Budget Update: Success in 2009!

Posted by flsquared on January 10, 2010

Looks like the budget went well for the last 5 months of 2009:

August: saved 9.7%
September: saved 13.4% (!!!)
October: overspent 1%
November: saved 12.4%
December: saved 1%

An average of 7.1% savings!

I’m pretty pleased as it always takes a while to figure out a place and learn how to get the most for your money. :)

Our highest costs, bar none, are estimated taxes, rent (duh! we live in Manhattan!), and groceries. Since the first two won’t be changing any time soon, I am going to have to get a handle on the food….It’s just not as easy as it was in Pittsburgh!

The good news does not come without the bad, as we have had to pay a number of bills already in January (remaining hospital, down payment for Victor’s school, among other things) and I know we are going to be a bit over. But we’ll continue trying to do the best we can!

Posted in budget, frugal, saving money | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Goodbye to the Family and Hello to 2010!

Posted by flsquared on January 9, 2010

Just 10 minutes ago, I closed the door and said goodbye to my inlaws.  They arrive and leave like a hurricane, bringing and taking with them so much emotion, noise, and activity.  And since they live in Spain, we don’t get to see them often.  They will be missed and we’re already counting the days until our next visit this spring or summer.

*sigh*

But on to 2010!

For me, 2009 was a tough year, filled with a lot of hard work, little sleep, sick kids, 3 apartment/city changes, new jobs, etc. etc.  I took theHolmes-Rahe Stress Test and scored a 320 just for last year! where a score of 300 puts you at risk of illness.  If you take the test as read (24 months) I score nearly 500.  Ouch.

Lucky for us, 2010 brings with it a year of stability:  my husband has started his new job, my eldest son has been accepted to a NYC preschool (no small feat!) beginning next fall, and my youngest is moving out of the baby stage, and into the toddler stage which I adore!  We love our new apartment and neighborhood, and have started to make some new friends.

I love to make resolutions with the new year.  It helps me gather my thoughts and set the tone for the next 365 days.  A few days ago, I reviewed my resolutions for 2009:

Theme:  Finish projects that I have started!
(Resolutions in no particular order)

1.  Knit a blanket for each of the kids and finish ours
Status:  I “outsourced” David’s blanket to my MIL (complete) and am 80% finished with Victor’s.  Our’s remains unchanged at about 70%.

2.  Organize our digital photos
Status:  unchanged

3.  Understand ipod and download music
Status:  spent a number of hours to figure out mac-ware (I’m a PC-girl) and downloaded a number of CDs to my ipod.  more to go!

4.  Camera:  take a class/read a book to take better photos
Status:  unchanged

5.  Read a book in Spanish
Status:  unchanged

6.  Read “The Name of the Rose” (long story!)
Status:  unchanged

7.  Organize photos/memorabilia into scrapbooks or whatever
Status:  5% organized

8.  Organize Recipes
Status:  15% organized

9.  Organize professional / social contacts
Status:  unchanged

10.  Organize email
Status:  50% organized

11.  Clean up info on old laptop and save to CD
Status:  95% complete (saved to flashdrive–need to transfer to CD)

12.  Study French
Status:  swapped 1 class

13.  Blog 2x/week
Status:  more or less….

As you can see, my completion rate hasn’t been so great.  Quite frankly, I think I underestimated how much time and energy two little creatures take out of you.  Add in all of our other major life events and I’m surprised I get anything done at all.

So my 2010 resolutions?  2009, Take 2!  The only additions will be:

14.  Keep up with monthly budget

15. Get caught up on pile o’ magazines/newspapers

16.  Begin to take over some responsibilities from my husband (paying bills, medical invoices, etc) in the 2nd half of the year.

17. Take time to enjoy my family, friends, and just be by myself. Live in and experience the moment!

Perhaps my accountability to you will help me complete these projects over the next year. I’ll keep in touch and let you know how it’s going!

Posted in activity, challenge, family, happiness, simple living | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

 
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.