Monthly Archives: January 2012

Pantry Philosophy

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Pre-divorce, I had the start of a small pantry that contained the basic sort of nonperishable stuff that we used to cook with regularly.  My ex was never really behind the initiative (as usual) or at best was politely neutral about it, but my initial goal was to try to help us wade through the summer months when neither of us made a paycheck.  We were both in academia, he as a grad student and I as a low paid faculty lecturer.  We actually did make use of the pantry in budget pinchy times, using it to craft meals when money wouldn’t be available for another few days.  Personally, I thought it was a success.

Post divorce, I noticed I had no pantry left, because I’d been putting what limited energy I had for sustainability projects into just surviving the hump of divorce emotions, refinancing the house, overcoming a cancer scare, worrying about my  job, blah blah blah.  Well, I’d like to move past survival and into thrival (lol), if that’s possible at this stage.  It’s still difficult for me, as so many things tend to cloud my mind and I’m building back healthy habits, clearing debt, and doing future planning all at the same time.  But I think a pantry is a good step for a number of reasons.

Budget Pinchy-ness:  See the aforementioned summer example.  For those of us living the life of the mind (whether we want to or not), there will always be pinchy budget situations.  Having the basics in your pantry can mean the difference in a nice meal or not. Not to mention helping to ease that horrid feeling that comes with not having enough money to finish out the pay period.

Good Money Stewardess:  If your goal is to minimize your food costs, then a pantry is the way to go.  After those things you regularly use to cook with are put back, then most folks who seriously do the pantry thing can basically live out of the pantry, only having to replenish it when certain stocks get low.  I’m going to get a small deep freezer for this purpose as well.  On occasion, I get great deals on meat, but cannot fully take advantage of it because of small freezer space.  One of the smallest deep freezers at a home improvement store fits more than I need to stockpile to be able to get through the summer and be prepared for emergencies.  Which leads me to…

Emergencies:  I find this category interesting for a couple of reasons.  First because it exposes human nature (the American version, anyway) and second, it changes the way we think about what goes into a pantry.  The human nature bit goes something like this:  snow falls for the first time, the weather is supposed to be bad for a day or two.  What happens? People fly to the grocery store and grab up every loaf of bread and jug of milk in sight.  Or suppose a real weather event does hit an area or the electricity grid goes out or something.  What do people do?  They stockpile Doritos…seriously.  I’m looking for the link I read earlier, but during some of the power outages in the Northeast last fall, people were dragging carts full of nothing but junk through the check outs.  Most people don’t make a plan at all, and then when extended disaster strikes, they’re in a real pickle.

Now, granted, if a tornado rips your house apart, a pantry won’t matter diddly squat.  But if things are locked down for intense snow, it will.  Better to have it, in any event.  But what goes in an emergency pantry exceeds the sorts of things we think about cooking all the time.  For example, an emergency pantry probably needs to include charcoal, matches, lighter fluid, bandaids and other simple medical supplies, batteries and flashlights,  access to your important documents (or pictures you’d hate to lose, etc.), things of that nature.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be blogging about putting a pantry back together for myself — for emergencies, for long term financial security and for pinchy purposes.  I’m going to talk about digging out the money to fund it, what is in my personal pantry, and all things related to pantry philosophy.  I’m a pantry noob, to be sure.  But that doesn’t mean I cannot learn and that you cannot learn from my mistakes!  😀

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Budget Buster: Not Using Your Leftovers

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I confess this is one of the most difficult things for me to do.  I hate leftovers.  I associate them with a) failed cooking b) poor planning and c) being poor.  All of these associations are wrong, stupid and cost money.

Groceries are (to my mind) the biggest variable expense in one’s budget.  It’s the first place we tend to look when we want to cut down on costs because we can control whether we’re going to buy ramen or steak.  We can’t always control whether the energy company is going to raise their rates through the roof.  So not wasting the food you do buy is critical.

The key to reusing leftovers, at least for me, is to be creative with them.  I have a terrible time taking leftovers to work, and I’m not usually in a position to use the microwave.  If I just lop off a slab of the leftover meat and reheat the vegetables for dinner, I have an immediate rejection instinct (and so does the boy). However, if I reuse those things in a different way, I don’t do so badly.

Consider the pork roast I made in the crockpot a few days ago.  It was a delicious bargain that I got at the Shop & Slave as part of the 5/$20 meat purchase.  It was crocked with fresh garlic and ginger and then served with broccoli and rolls.  There was quite a bit of it left over, and I dreaded having to eat it the same way a second time.  The thought actually went through my mind:  It only cost $4, maybe it would be better to just throw it away.  No, no, no!!  Bad baby!  Such a path does not lead to financial security!  I’m a firm believer that while there are big financial roads to ruin, like buying more house than you can afford or being hit with a medical emergency you cannot cover, the majority of us who are in debt and complaining about our finances have nickel and dimed ourselves into such a position. And throwing out the leftovers is a great example.

So instead, I hauled out a couple of small packs of stir fry fixings — rice, sauce, veggies — that I’d also found on sale, diced up the leftover pork, and threw it all in a skillet and served it with a side salad.  It was delicious!  Didn’t taste like leftovers, didn’t waste the food.  The whole meal cost maybe $6.  Whoo hoo!  So the key, then, is to be creative until it’s used up.  If I’d had more leftover pork, I think I would’ve tried to make a pasta dish with it or thrown in some cheese, beans and fixings and wrapped them all up in flatbread.  Keep changing up the taste, and you’ll never notice.

Since leftovers are a big challenge for me, I’ll be regularly mentioning how I deal with them.    And I would *LOVE* your suggestions as well.

Planning Budget Travel

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Unless I’m unexpectedly showered with money this year, a vacation is not going to be in the works this time.  India drained me more than I planned.  Now granted, getting divorced, refinancing the house and getting sick immediately after the trip did not help a bit.  LOL.  But there will be no vacationing again until the credit card is paid for, summer money is put up and that emergency fund is covered.  Accomplishing these three things means I will need to set aside basically my entire salary (gross) for one year.  Yeah, it’s gonna be a while.

Travel, though, is very important to me.  It’s something I’ve wanted since I was a little girl and traditional travel has never been within my budget.  Still, I value experiences over material things, and I seek to find a way to have these experiences even on my glamorous budget.  I may not be able to jet out of the country every year, but the memories of previous trips are motivators to try to spend and save more wisely.

So even though it is probably well over a year away, I’m planning my next budget glamorous trip, and I’ve “narrowed it down” to three places:  Iceland, Ireland or Central America.  Iceland and Ireland have experienced financial problems recently, making travel within the country far more affordable than ever before.  (Greece would be a good choice, too!)  Central America is just plain cheap all the time.  So for the next few months, I’ll spend time (i.e. procrastinate from doing more important things) seeing what the budget travel costs will really be and picking my adventure accordingly.

Budget travel means something different to everyone.  It’s all about the level of comfort you’re willing to pay for (or give up).  Costs will vary wildly if you’re the kind who likes to camp out versus the kind who must have hot water and fluffy mattresses wherever you go.  So determining the comfort level is critical to setting your own personal budget.  So is your level of trust for other people, as I’ll get to in a moment.  There are a variety of options available.  There are travel packages where everything is arranged for you, ways to go off the grid completely and do it yourself, and an interesting hybrid of both.  I’ve done all three.

It also depends on what you want out of the trip.  I like inspiration and a larger sense of purpose and humanity out of my trips.  Aesthetics is my hobby.  I’m willing to pay a bit extra to get those things.  I don’t find those same experiences in, say, a themepark.  Knowing what you want out of the trip is critical to not feeling like you’ve wasted your time and your money, and it aids the planning tremendously.  It also helps determine whether you need a tourist package or if you’re better off hiking and camping.  In any event, there are some known categories I’ll be using to help determine my savings target.

Fixed (to an extent) Costs:

Airfare:  This has always been the biggest expense of the trip, especially coming from the States.  Crossing any ocean is going to set you back, even more so if your starting point is nowhere near a coastline.  Planning when in the year to go and how you’re going to buy the ticket makes a big difference.  I try to go during the off season for that particular place, but that has its own set of pros and cons.  The pros are that it’s cheaper and less crowded.  Those two pros cannot be overstated!  The cons are that some attractions and businesses may not be open and you may be contending with weather issues that could spoil parts of your trip.  No one wants to go to a beach during the rainy season, right?  In my case, I ended up in India during monsoon season and Mexico during the heat of its summer.  I don’t have much of a choice in this, however, as I’m a teacher and the best I can possibly do for travel is either a week and a half at Christmas time or mid-May to very early August.  Hot places be much hotter then.  Rain happens.  I like hot and rain, so I don’t mind.  It’s the trade off I get for having that much possible time for traveling.  Plus, see aforementioned cheaper costs and fewer people!

How to get your ticket is also worth looking into.  Some people do very well by planning to go standby and taking advantage of a deeply reduced ticket price.  Others cash in points on credit cards, which I think is a great scheme if you can manage to pay off your credit card every month and take advantage of such points.  Based on my budgeting skills, I apparently am not one of those people.  I do have some points to cash in, but I don’t think they’ll end up being enough for a plane ticket.  So instead, I get the average cost of the ticket from several travel websites like expedia.com or kayak.com so I know what my base price is likely going to be.  I have not found that I can haggle with the airline directly for a better price, as I’ve seen some people suggest.  Perhaps I’m just not a great haggler.  If you are, it’s totally worth a shot!  I monitor the ticket price on those websites for a few weeks, and then I just go ahead and buy it from the cheapest one.  On my India trip, I waited three months longer than I should have to buy my ticket and it cost me about $600 more than I should have paid.

Currently, these sites list the average ticket price during the month of June to these three places as:  Ireland = $675, Iceland = $not found.  Seriously, Expedia claims no one is flying to Iceland for any reason in the next six months.  But CheapOAir says there are flights there that are about $700.   Central America offers a range of choices.  Let’s take Costa Rica, since it is very popular with tourists and so likely has a wider range of available flights.  Flying into Costa Rica would be $830, so it’s (surprisingly) the most expensive flight to take.  Belize is over $100 more expensive than that.  El Salvador, although a vastly poorer country, has airfare that is $400 more expensive than Costa Rica.    Guatemala is the only Central American country where airfare would be around $670.  So at this point, Central America would have to beat out Ireland and Iceland in housing and food costs to make it worth picking, or I’d have to start in Guatemala.

Passport/Visa fees:  Always fixed in price, always worth doing sooner rather than later.  Otherwise, you’re going to have to pay for an expedite fee.  This costs you time and stress.  Travel is supposed to be fun, not full of worries!  Iceland and Ireland do not require a Visa.  No Central American country currently requires US passport holders to get a Visa either.

Variable Costs:

Housing:  This is the biggest variable cost in my opinion.  It’s a chance to save money, but there is a thin line between saving money and being absolutely miserable.  Some people do the camping thing.  I confess I would have a hard time doing that throughout a country.  I’ve done it before, but I was catered to with hot coffee every morning, a hot supper every night and a solar shower for my French soap.  I know that being spoiled isn’t very budget, but camping is just difficult for me.  No need, on the other hand, to demand the several hundred dollar hotel room per night, either.  Here is where comfort and trust really begin to matter.  Decide what bare minimum of comfort you can stand and then pick accordingly.  My personal standard is a) safe and b) clean.  If it meets those standards, it’s sold!  Other budget choices I’m looking into are couch surfing and servia.org, which allows you to open your home to other strangers who love to travel and who’ve already been vetted.  I cannot begin to stress the difference staying with someone who lives in the country makes to your overall experience.  Their local knowledge makes *everything* much more enjoyable.  And apart from  you doing things to make yourself a great house guest as well as taking on the possibility of entertaining others at some time, your cost is free!  I can see the inherent worry in staying with someone else or having complete strangers come into your home, especially in this day and age.  But keep in mind, everyone has been prescreened and you can always say no.  I’ll be looking into budget and midrange accommodations as well, keeping in mind that I am not a kid anymore and have no desire to hang around older teenagers boozing and humping their way across the world.

Food:  Another area where you can save money depending on your tastes.  You can always try to fix food for yourself, which is a great idea if you’re going somewhere the cuisine will be very unfamiliar.  Ease into it.  Trust me on this…  It’s especially easy to get breakfast foods to keep with you as well as snacks.  Street food at stalls is both the dodgiest and some of the tastiest and cheapest food there is!  Watch how it is being prepared so you have a better idea of what you’re getting yourself into.  There are plenty of sites that offer average costs for food within each country.  I like the Lonely Planet series myself.  I’ll be looking into average costs for all three areas of the world as well as picking some “must trys” from each place!

Incidentals.  This will vary widely for people.  For example, I try to take Christmas present money with me.  Nothing pleases me more than giving international gifts for Christmas, and the people back home are thrilled as well.  So I figure this into my budget (though I don’t really consider it part of a “travel” budget so much as a Christmas present budget and I save that money separately).  I also enjoy things like museums, gardens and galleries, so I build these into my budget.  I also try to look for days when those things are free to the public, which shockingly to me, there are usually free days every month!  I also like to people watch, so there are definitely cafe-and-drink days built in as well.  Your mileage varies according to your tastes.  But it’s a mistake to think you won’t try to fit those in once you get there.  You will.  You’ll rationalize it by saying “I’m never going to get back here again, I have to go for it!”  And you’ll plunk that credit card down before you know it.  Excursions are what makes the trip special.  Plan for them.  That way you won’t be tempted to take sudden and expensive tours.  Each of these three areas offers its own sort of aesthetic entertainment and some of it is free (like scenery surveying) and some of it will add up fast (like Irish pub crawling).  I’ll make a plan for the area I end up going to, and then throwing at least $100 on top of that for random excursions that I cannot foresee from the guidebook!

Travel within the area.  This means everything from taking a taxi across town to airfare across the country.  I don’t like to overplan a trip, but it’s worth thinking through what you might be apt to do within the city you go to.  Figure what the average taxi ride is.  Calculate a trip every other day and see what it comes out to be.  Build this into your budget.  If you never need it, you’ll have more money to spend on souvenirs or food.  But if you do need it, it won’t come as a surprise.

I once read a piece of advice about packing for travel.  It was something along the lines of “Pack for the trip.  Then remove half the clothing and double the amount of cash.”  That has always turned out to be very close to the truth for me!  Given that my airfare costs went from about $1400 for the initial plane ticket to about $2600 once I had to cough up $1200 to get my sickened self home earlier than planned, my airfare costs damn near doubled.  That was the only real added expense in the planned trip, but boy did it hurt!  And wouldn’t I have loved to spend that $1200 in other ways.

I also don’t want to come back from the trip paying for it for the next year on a credit card.  So as a way to beat the boredom and winter blues over the next few days, I’ll start adding the costs up, figuring various itineraries and so forth…

“Our battered suitcases were piled on the sidewalk again; we had longer ways to go. But no matter, the road is life.” – Jack Kerouac


Cheap Eats: Homemade Pizza!

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When I was a little girl, we always looked forward to the few times Mom made homemade pizza.  It was a real treat and much heartier than picking it up from a pizza place.  When I was older, I asked for the recipe — and I was surprised at how simple and easy it was to make my own pizza.  The cost is less than a Little Caesar’s $5 special!  If you keep yeast in the house, a pizza in at home is a great way to use up a few spare veggies and partial bag of grated cheese as well.

Dough:  2 1/2 cups of flour, 1 tablespoon of sugar, 1 teaspoon of salt, 1 cup of very hot (but not boiling) water, 1 packet of yeast, bit of olive oil for spreading dough

Directions:  Put the packet of yeast into the cup of hot water and let it sit.  Meanwhile add the flour, sugar and salt together.  When the yeast is ready (usually about 10 minutes), pour the yeast water into the dry ingredients.  Mix thoroughly.

Oil your pizza pan (or stone) with a bit of olive oil and plop the dough onto the pan.  This part is very messy.  Push the dough out with your hands until it’s at the thickness you want it to be.  You might need to sprinkle flour on the dough periodically if it feels too sticky.  It’s ready when it has a bit of a sheen to it and it feels silky under your hands.

Now, sauce it up with a can of tomato sauce and add whatever toppings you had planned. Sprinkle mozzarella cheese over the whole thing, pop in oven and bake at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes.

Variations:  I dice up garlic and put it in the dough as well as other dried herbs.  You can also use various sorts of flour, it just makes a “chewier” pizza.  My personal favorite is either just plain cheese or cheese and finely diced mushrooms.  Yum!  I serve it with a side salad.

A Work Proposal

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So, the meeting with the Dean went partly as expected and partly full of surprises.

My coworker got the answers I expected he would get, which can be simply summed up as “No.”  It isn’t that his argument is invalid.  He just chooses to misunderstand his working conditions.  We’re all underpaid.  I knew that when he asked to be reassigned as a Teaching Assistant Professor (TAP), he’d be told that was a different money line and there weren’t any open spots.  I knew he’d be told many of the things I told him about already.  Our chair told him most of his concerns were departmental and would be handled in house.  I did NOT appreciate how he tried to drag me into his battles, knowing how I felt about them beforehand, by saying things like, “And I’m sure BG would agree…”.  No.  I do not agree.  Gah.

There was some recognition from the Dean coming my way, as she praised the work I did in the program that is getting ready to be shut down (lol).  She praised my innovation, my teamwork, and my ability to connect outside of my own department.  The writing has been on the wall for my little program basically since its inception, so while I’m sad for the students, the situation wasn’t unexpected.

What she *did* offer, was the opportunity to create a new course from the ground up.  They want to address the issue students have in the perception of their education (solely as a gateway to a vocation).  They want to create some sort of method to help humanities students conceptualize the value of their education to the rest of their lives beyond a career.  The best way I can describe it is to say they want to create a liberal arts perception — a brand, even — that students can be proud of, defend, and would help guide their choices beyond academia.

There isn’t even a shell of a course or a course number at this point.  Creativity reigns supreme; that is frightening and liberating at the same time.  She thinks she wants a pilot project in place by Spring.  She’s willing to do course remission to provide time for course design and research.  She’s offering a two year contract at basically the same pay I’m getting now, with possible handouts along the way for summer research time, development, etc.  She’s making it clear (albeit with a gentlewoman’s handshake) that she wants to make sure I stick around the college.  She’s asking for a two year commitment and is, with another gentlewoman’s handshake, providing assurance that I’ll have a home regardless of the outcome of this project.  It also helps that the project fits into the strategic plan of the university, meaning people actually give a chit about what becomes of it, unlike my current program.  Both the Dean and the Chair made it clear that they are looking for passion for the project (kinky) and nothing less.

The meeting lasted for two and a half hours (pant pant!) and I think I came away with more questions than answers.  The known positive factors are:  I can work for two more years and pay my mortgage, whee!  A job is a job, after all.  The other major choice right now would be to adjunct, since the program is going away.  Without the specialty course designation, there is no way the Dean could pitch my salary (such as it is) just for teaching composition sections.  There would be a riot, as well there should be, from everyone else who teaches for about half that pay.  It is a lovely thing to put on one’s vita.  This particular course development will have contacts in a variety of departments.  The last time I did this, I worked with several well placed and important people to the university, folks I would’ve never normally interacted with otherwise.  Knowing them helped me get things done in other areas of my job.  The connections would be great, to say the least.  Especially for a girly with a Master’s degree.  It’s an intellectual challenge, and my work is getting a bit repetitive.  I keep wanting to try new things.  I have seniors graduating this year, and while that feels fantastic, I’ve been feeling like it is time to move on for a few months now.  It is an opportunity that will likely lead to more opportunity.  Let me add, “I hope.”  But frankly, she gave this to me over many other people with better degrees.  She believes in my work, and that makes me want to do more of it.  She basically intimated that whatever I wanted to come up with, she would back.  I can play with a focus group initially, have teaching assistants if I want them, request students from certain backgrounds, etc.  If I want it and can justify it, she trusts me and will provide it.

Items of …”concern”?…is that the right word?  Or maybe it’s items of “not really sure how I feel about this” are:  I’m probably not getting a raise.  Sigh.  😦  I can make it on my salary, but it’s hard to do more than make it.  I have debt to clear, retirement to save for and occasionally enjoy the random sushi.  A few more sushi dollars would be appreciated.  I feel sometimes as though I am the known workhorse, and they’re just getting ready to saddle me up again.

This project would take a fair bit of work.  Maybe more than a fair bit. They have lots of lovely concepts, but not one solid plan.  That’s what they’re turning to me for.  I’ve tried to make sense out of committee nonsense before…it’s like a mud wrestling event, only there is no prize, no audience, and no hot water afterward.  This will definitely include its share of headaches.

She wants a bigger class size.  She’s explained that the 20 person class model is too expensive.  And while the utopian-educator in me is screaming bloody murder, the pragmatist in me recognizes that she’s absolutely right.  The first model is probably around the 90 person mark — although I can certainly ramp up from focus group, to 22 person course, to 90 person experiment.  My coworker is stuck on the bigger class size, and dug his heels in instantly (not good).  Best way to have handled it, as I tried to during the meeting, was to say, hey, let’s try it, if it doesn’t work, we can certainly try something else.  The university is restricted by classroom size, so there really aren’t too many ways we can hop from 20 people to the “next size up” without that next size being quite large.  Hey, at least it’s not 300 people.  And for the love of all things academe, when someone says 90 people are the ideal, do NOT, as my coworker did, imply that effective education cannot happen at that class size.  She will only look at you and quote the top ten professors who do “amazing work” at that class size and wonder if you’re a one trick pony.

Speaking of my coworker, he’s not taking this very well at all and that could — will — cause drama in the future.  If he decides not to do the project, I’m on my own.  Hell, at this stage, that might not be a bad thing.  He made it fairly clear that his interests were about himself during the meeting.  They’re looking for passionate leadership.  He showed passionate self-interest.  And I’m a tad bit torn, because he makes reasonable points — they just come off as very emo-prof when he presents them.  If we are that good, we do deserve better pay.  We are expected to lead a group of people who outrank us and make more money.  If he does take the project, he’ll probably be sullen about the pay and bitch to me constantly, as he does now.  He’s always telling me “We’re not paid enough to do that.”   And he’s right.  But it still has to get done somehow!

Things aren’t always fair.  I think we have to decide sometimes if things are fair enough.

I’m going to take this offer, ultimately.  In spite of no raise in pay.  I think it’s good work — hell, it’s work! — and I think I can do a great job.  I think the payoff will be in the future.  I know this Dean, and god help me, I trust her too.  I believe she’ll come across for me at the end of this contract and during the contract, if she can.  I believe that because she already came across for me by  handing me this opportunity.  While I’ve tried to include my coworker along the way (hell, my first act was to manage to *get* a coworker instead of taking more dough for myself), he’s clearly opting out.  I’m not sure what his vision of success here at this university really amounts to, but I don’t think he will find it any time soon — at least not as he’s chosen to define it over the last week.

What has materialized in the few days since that meeting is my coworker’s statement that he would prefer to negotiate his salary alone instead of as a team.  Which is fine with me, though I feel a bit of twinge, as I thought of us more as “team.”  Oh well.  I may get screwed over, but the Dean was clear that she did not want to pay one of us more than the other for the same work.  So, looks like I’m writing my pitch for compensation of my new job duties all by my little self.

Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more!

Or to be more selfish, maybe, given how my efforts at building a team with this guy have failed so completely over the past 3 years:  Every man for himself and the devil take the hindmost!

Money $aving Monday: Crockpots!

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I ❤ my crockpot.  It’s not very costly, especially if you look for one around Christmas time.  I think I’ve paid around $20 – 25 for mine.  The beauty of the crockpot is that you can throw your ingredients into it, set the timer, dash out the door and walk home to wonderful smells as it has done all the work for you while you’ve been out slaving over something else.

I especially enjoy roasts in this way or stews.  Throw a bit of broth or water in with it to help things stay moist.  Chickens go well in the crockpot also, but you have to watch out that you don’t dry the meat out completely.

The only problem I find with the crockpot is that it creates a lot of leftovers, and I’m terrible with reusing leftovers.  This is a budget hypocrisy I’m addressing this month as well.  But over all, how can you beat cheap, quick, and easy?

Dr. Checkup and a Budget Glamorous Treat

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So I’m off to see the doctor today to determine if I’m healing properly from my procedure back in December.  Recovery was a little rougher than I expected, so I’m not keen on getting prodded again, even if it is for observation purposes.  Gah.

I’m consoling myself by buying fresh flowers from a local florist afterward.

I love, love, love flowers.  Wild ones, supermarket ones, fancy-pants ones, I don’t care.  I love them all.  But indulging in them can get expensive (unless we’re talking about Aldi’s $4/6 rose bouquets and then THAT is totally doable!).  But a handful of interesting flowers really livens up the place.  I usually separate my bouquets into only a couple of stems per room so I can make the flowers go further.  It always brightens me up to see them when I walk through the house.  When I have fresh flowers in the house, I feel “rich” in so many ways.

In order to afford them, however, I turn again to the little $30 coupon book I bought to help out a nonprofit that spays and neuters cats.  The book has deep discounts on local restaurants and businesses, many of which are some of my favorite places!  There is a nice florist in the book that offers 50% off a cut flower bouquet (only up to a $10 value).  So I’m going to pop in after the dreaded doctor’s appointment and see what sort of cut arrangement I can pick up for about $20.  Since I have a bit of change to spare, I may look into what tasty lunch offerings are in the area at a deep discount as well!