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Archive for October, 2009

Last Minute Halloween Costume: Mini-Farmers!

Posted by flsquared on October 30, 2009

Today, on the way back from Central Park we passed Ricky’s.  Apparently, it is the one-stop shop for Halloween costumes.  At 50% off today, there was literally a line a block long to enter (at 2pm, no less!).

To be honest, I hadn’t thought much about it until last week.  I can’t say that I’m a huge Halloween fan.  My husband is from Spain and has never celebrated it.  He’s not into dressing up at all and, as such, I have not been to a Halloween party in, oh, 10 years.  My first son was born in 2007 and spent most of September and October in and out of the hospital due to jaundice, so we didn’t do much more than take him for a short walk on Halloween.  My second son was born last year on October 28 and I think we left the hospital Halloween morning.

This year, we have 4 Halloween parties for the boys!  We definitely needed costumes.

On to the thrift shops I went.

No luck.

No luck?  Wow.  New York (Upper East Side, anyway) is tough!

I went into their closets.  And I started thinking….Every time I put the boys in cute little overalls, my husband calls them “farmers”.  I pulled out blue jean overalls, a flannel shirt, and a couple of red bandanas I had for whatever reason.  I actually had everything for both of them except overalls for the eldest.

Back to Gymboree (I finally got to buy something for us at that sale!).  The sales girl found some PERFECT overalls marked down to $7.99.  20% off coupon added and that was the price tag for their costume.  Hurrah!

Here’s one farmer:

aaafb 013and the little guy:

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More Simple Pleasures: Running in the Park

Posted by flsquared on October 29, 2009

After writing the previous post, I continued thinking about simple and fun activities that I used to do as a kid.

My mind wandered, and I remembered this scene from Friends with Phoebe running in the park.

Enjoy!

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10 Simple Pleasures for Fall Weather

Posted by flsquared on October 27, 2009

Oftentimes I find myself tuned in to a schedule or things that I (we) should be doing instead of just doing.  This morning I took a moment to sit back and watch my children play.  I don’t do this enough.

I was lucky as it was in this very moment that my sons started doing something so beautiful.  My 2 year old was twirling (or dancing, as he likes to call it) and my 1 year old was cheering him on, clapping and smiling.

I was witnessing pure joy.

As I watched them, I started to think about how our lives get so complicated and how this joy becomes more and more clouded over time.  Martha Beck, in her book Finding Your Own North Star, speaks to the conflict between our “Essential Self” (my pure-loving children) and our “Social Self” (my well-behaved children).  Her book asks some fantastically deep questions (I would often ponder these for days before being able to answer) that lead to the re-discovery of your inner-child…ahem, “Essential Self”.

But this blog post isn’t about my self analysis.

This morning, my children inspired me to think about some of my simple pleasures during the fall season.  Here goes:

1.  Waking up to the cool, crisp air while waiting for coffee to brew.
2.  Taking a walk in the park and watching the colored leaves fall from the trees.  I just love the autumn colors!
3.  Unpacking my sweaters and light jackets (I love love love sweater weather!) and putting them into our dresser.
4.  Sitting in a coffee shop, or on my sofa, and knitting.
5.  One pot meals and soups and stews!  mmmmmmm….
6.  Sitting on the terrace, drinking a hot tea or citron presse, and reading.
7.  Cuddling up with my husband under a blanket to watch a movie.
8.  When the coffee shops start the fireplace going (I wonder if they do that here?).
9.  Slowing down and spending more time at home with family and friends.
10.  Bundling under the covers for just 5 more minutes of sleep!

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Meat as a Side Dish Recipe #5: Almost-Vegan Butternut Squash Soup

Posted by flsquared on October 26, 2009

First of all, let me explain the “Almost-Vegan” in the title.  I think that, as a life choice, being Vegan is terrific.  I will never choose to be one as I love my meat and dairy.  I also find cooking for Vegans a bit stressful (please don’t flame! I love you guys!) as I tend to improvise during my cooking and I freak out thinking that I will throw in the wrong ingredient and de-veganize the dish.

With this soup, for example, I did throw in (without thinking) about a cup of chicken broth.  So it’s obviously not vegan or even vegetarian anymore.  Normally, I would also finish it off with a dollop of plain yogurt on top.

Anyway, the soup turned out delish–so yummy and sweet that it could almost be a dessert.  Okay, not quite, but it was awesome!

The recipe was adapted from The Angelica Home Kitchen (it is called “Squash Potage”)

Ingredients:
* 2 tbsp olive oil (I used extra virgin)
* 1 large onion, coursely chopped
* 1 tsp sea salt
* 1 tbsp fresh ginger, minced
* 2 tsp cinnamon (the recipe asks for a stick)
* I added in a tsp of nutmeg (the recipe also asks for fresh sage, but I didn’t have any on hand so I skipped it)
* 3 cloves garlic, chopped
* 2 apples, chopped (the recipe asks for apple cider but I have a bunch of apples on hand)
* juice of 1/2 lemon
* large, already roasted butternut squash, probably about 4 or 5 lbs (recipe asks for a raw winter squash, chopped, but I already roasted mine)
* 2 or 3 chopped carrots
* 4 cups water or veggie stock (I used the chicken stock–oops!)

Directions:

Warm the oil over medium heat, add the onions and stir for about 10 min.  Add ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, and garlic for about 5 min.  Stir in apples, lemon juice, and carrots and the water/stock.  Bring to a boil.  At this point, I popped on the lid of the pressure cooker and let go until she hit full steam.  Then I turned off the heat and let it sit for about 10 min. (If you don’t have a pressure cooker, I would cook about 40 min – 1 hour.  You would also want to add your raw squash at this point).

After the pressure was released, I threw in the cooked squash, cooked it for about 5 min, and pureed it using a handheld mixer.

Soup-er easy (ha-ha, sorry).  Enjoy!

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Never Give Up: Recovering our Security Deposit

Posted by flsquared on October 26, 2009

As you know, this summer presented a number of life changes for us, primarily my husband’s graduation from MBA school and our family’s move to NYC.  We had never moved with a baby before, and now we had 2 boys under 2 years old…. and only 2 weeks to pack and “get out of Dodge.”  We threw our stuff into boxes, loaded up the UHaul the best we could (with help from a couple of friends who were still in the city), and left with 2 sleeping babies at 4am.  After getting stuck in traffic and lost a number of times, we finally arrived at the new apartment–5 hours late!  We were so late that the moving men had left!  We were able to bribe one to come back and help unload, we returned out car and UHaul with minimal penalty fees, and we were in our new home!

Hurrah!  The worst was over, or so we thought.

Pittsburgh is renown (probably not unlike any “college town”) for dishonest management companies who refuse to fix the heat and return security deposits.  After all, tenants rarely stay longer than a year or two and then leave town.  Many are undergrads who party hard and don’t take care of the apartment.  We felt lucky to have a nice, private landlord who was somewhat responsive to our needs but who was, more importantly, a “nice guy”.

Or so we thought.

Shortly after giving notice we realized something was up.  He did not stop by the apartment (which he normally did a few times per month) and he did not return emails or phone calls.  We were unable to schedule a walk-through with him, but didn’t think much about it as we had such a nice relationship with him.  He had, after all, just written a shining recommendation for us to use in our NYC apartment hunt.

After a few weeks, and a few more unanswered emails (and no sign of our deposit), we began to worry.  The State of Pennsylvania gives the landlord 30 days to send a letter returning the tenant’s deposit and/or a letter stating why the deposit would not be returned.  30 days came and went.  Then 45.  No check, no letter.

With my husband working 12 hour days in his new job, my taking care of the babies all day, and no family in the area to help pick up the slack, the last thing we wanted to do was battle this out.  Logistically, going back to Pittsburgh to fight this in Small Claims Court would be a nightmare.  And depending on the transportation costs, when we counted my husband’s vacation days, we may only break even.  But the feeling of being “duped” and powerless did not sit well with us.

So we wrote a certified letter demanding the deposit back.

1 month passes.  No answer.  (big surprise).

What to do?  Did we really want to take him to court?  We learned that we had 3 years to do so and felt a bit better.  We gathered all of the evidence (phone calls, emails, letter of rec, check stubs, etc.) and put it in a folder.  We also talked to a friend who knew a lawyer who may be able to help us.  She said that for $25 she would write a letter.  We decided that it was worth another try.

1 week passes.  Surprise!  We get a certified letter in the mail.  Our landlord had not been kidnapped by aliens after all.  Unfortunately, I am out with the boys and not home to receive it.

The next afternoon, I walk down to the post office, sick to my stomach and just wanting this whole situation to be over.  Would it be a threatening letter?  Would it be the check?  Would it be a form letter from his lawyer saying “bring it on”?

There was no line and I walked right up to the window.  After waiting about 20 minutes for them to find the letter, we walk outside.  It is thin (bad for college applications, but good in this situation!) and I open it.  A check!  For 75% of the amount that he owes us.  I guess he wants to negotiate, but we’ll take it!

Honestly, this was a fight that we really did not have the time or energy to have.  We pushed ourselves and got it done.  It felt good to know that he could not take advantage of us and our situation, and perhaps he would think twice about doing so to another tenant.

And part of that $700 will go towards a nice bottle of champagne to celebrate!

I would love to hear from you–have you fought a “battle” (financial or otherwise) that you felt good about?  Did you “win”?  How did you celebrate?

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Mama’s Challenge: Can I buy a baby gift without purchasing anything else?

Posted by flsquared on October 22, 2009

Gymboree is having a 60% off sale on baby and kiddie clothes.  And I have a 20% coupon that a friend gave me to further discount the sale!

Awesome, right?

Except we don’t really need anything right now.  Well, that’s not exactly true–I could stock up on next fall’s clothing for my oldest.  However, my in laws will be in town in just 2 months and have already mentioned that they would like to buy the boys some clothes.

So we don’t need anything.

Except my Super just had a baby boy last weekend and we need to buy them a small gift.  Since they already have everything from their oldest (except in pink!), I thought I would get them a little outfit.

I entered Gymboree, kids in tow, impressed that they were actually content to hang out in the stroller while I shopped.  I found the PERFECT little outfit for the new baby, as well as a few things for my boys.  Luckily, I forgot my wallet, so I put ONLY the gift on reserve to come back later and pick it up.

The next day I stroll by and am welcomed by a huge line.  However, this is the only time that I can pick up the clothes so I stick it out…  And I start checking out little outfits here and there while in line.  Oh, the agony!!!!  Seriously, what is it about baby and toddler clothes that makes you want to buy everything even when you have more than you need?  I even check out the girls’ outfits and fawn over them!!!  (I sometimes wonder if they spray hormones in the air to make you baby-crazy).

I am happy to report that I only purchased the gift and nothing else.  Not even socks.  Not even shoes for next season (my weakness).

Do you have any tricks to avoid purchasing extra items when you are buying a gift?  I would love to hear them (as I think I got lucky this time!!!)

Posted in baby, budget, frugal, saving money, shopping, simple living | Tagged: , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Rewards for Decluttering

Posted by flsquared on October 21, 2009

Last weekend a girlfriend of mine gave me a call to see if I wanted to take a walk with her down to Housing Works, an upscale thrift store in Manhattan dedicated to helping AIDS and Homelessness.

(As an aside, I LOVE that place!  They support a great cause, their quality is great, you don’t have to be in NYC to shop there (they have a great online store), and they have awesome auctions (we won a hardwood table that seats six, made in Spain, and looks exactly like one hubby’s grandfather had when he was growing up.  price tag?  $350 including delivery!).  Definitely worth checking out!)

I ended up scoring a number of candles that she was going to lug over there and some blank CDs that we were actually going to purchase that afternoon.  Hurrah!

Better yet, she inspired me to take another look around the apartment for anything that we don’t need.  We purged a great deal when we moved to Pittsburgh 3 years ago, then again moving here this summer, but I am a pack-rat by nature and can always do better.  I gathered 2 huge bags and schlepped them over to the shop before I changed my mind.

And my reward?  Clothing was 1/2 off that day and I scored some J Crew cords for $5 and a beautiful wrap sweater for $2.50.  Not bad as I have finally lost all of that pregnancy weight and have been sporting some very worn and very baggy trousers.

Here’s my challenge to you:  before the craziness of the holidays sets in, take a second look around your home and find just one bag of items to donate to a charity (or a friend!).  I guarantee you will find that you are rewarded!

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