Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Tightwad Tuesday: The Healthy Wallet and the Healthy Heart

Alternately titled: How budgeting is like dieting

(except I despise the word "dieting" because it implies a short term fix to reach a long term goal. Not do-able in my book, which is why I prefer the words "healthy lifestyle". Long term. ok, moving on.)

In light of a post earlier on this week, I thought I'd jot down a few things I've realized lately. Over the past, oh, two months (a little less) as I've been taking a good long look at the nutritional lifestyle here at the Hnosko's household. I've noticed that many of the principles of healthy eating I'm trying to re-integrate also apply (quite directly) to healthy spending. Or, to rephrase that, the principles of healthy, long-term weight management, may be more similar to the principles of healthy, long-term financial stewardship than I ever knew.

If you're reading this then you probably already know that I'm not writing any of this down to make anyone believe "I've arrived", or that I in any way "have it all figured out" when it comes to saving/spending/etc. Keeping track of these "ah-ha" moments in writing though, helps me better identify ways in which I can improve - so, that said, here's what I've come to find...
  • Everything in Moderation.
I've found that if I go about weight loss in a stringent, many-things-are-off-limits kind of way, I fail. Why? Because it is human nature (or, my nature anyway) to want what I cannot have. Aside from that, once the weight loss transformation is complete, staying away from those no-no's completely will be all-but impossible - I'll have to re-integrate them somehow and there's a good chance I won't do so with moderation. Similarly, if we go about budgeting in such a way that whole categories of spending are "off limits", we won't last. Deprivation will always win.

There are two ways we've tackled this in our family. First, we re-defined "deprived". Five years ago I would have told you that never being able to go out to eat was depriving because hey, we work hard, we've earned a simple $7 burger and fries. Today, with our goals what they are, that same $7 burger and fries are a luxury, and no longer something I feel "deprived of". By re-defining the things we feel like we've "earned", we have less of a desire to spend on things we don't need, and more of a desire to work toward the long-term goals whose way is paved by healthy financial decisions

Second, we started giving ourselves *gasp* spending money. It may sound counter productive, but giving ourselves each $20 a week to do with what we choose was liberating. Coffee with a friend? yes. Frozen yogurt downtown? Sure. But when it's gone, it's gone. Like Dave Ramsay, we call it our "blow money".

What I've learned: don't define my value by what I do and purchase/spend money on. Give myself wiggle room, and respect its given boundaries of moderation.

  • When I cheat, I'm not cheating the budget/diet, I'm cheating myself
Because I chose to lose weight with the new Weight-Watchers program, I was given a "daily points allowance". In addition to that, I was also given a "weekly allowance" to do with what I chose. Those points were mine to use or lose. There were enough of extra points to have a slice of cheesecake one night a week, or enough to eat a slightly larger portion a few dinners out of the week. Although I was rarely low on points, there were days when I would peek in my refrigerator and pick something up between thumb and forefinger and slip it into my mouth. Without "paying" the points for it. Without writing it down. It was cheating. Why cheating feels so good I'll never know, because when it comes down to it YOU'RE CHEATING YOURSELF, not the dumb diet.

Same goes with our budget. When we overspend to get something we want but haven't planned for, we aren't cheating our budget, we're cheating ourselves out of the goals we previously set. When I stand in target (a place I only go when I have a coupon in hand, or a prescription to pick up, because I know it's a dangerous place for me) and rummage through the dollar isle for "deals" I've got no blow money left for, I'm not cheating the system, I'm cheating myself.

What I've learned: Plan my meals/budget realistically, and then be honest, and stick to them.

  • Tomorrow is a new day: Today's/yesterday's slips-ups are NO EXCUSE for giving up or otherwise putting things off.
Everyone goofs up. Everyone has weak moments. In healthy living those moments look like the reception at aunt myrtle's wedding where you had three pieces of triple chocolate cake. That one weak moment starts a chain of poor choices that catepault you towards a bucketload of negative self-talk, which ultimately causes you to think this whole "healthy lifestyle thing" pointless, and impossible goal to achieve.

In healthy spending the same is true: past financial goof-ups shouldn't be the cause for refusing to try today. Sure, mistakes made in the past may have carved a HUGE hole, and that hole may be very difficult to get out of, but it makes no sense to allow that hole to keep you from trying. We've all got to start somewhere, and today is as good a time as any.

What I've learned: The moment when a mistake is made (be it diet or budget related) is the very moment for reflection and re-grouping - not for throwing in the towel

  • Discipline, Obedience, Wisdom and Prudence aren't just for biblical scholars anymore
If reading through the first few chapters of Proverbs has taught me anything at all, it's that discipline, obedience, and prudence are the keys to wisdom. King Solomon, the biblically acclaimed "wisest man who ever lived", makes that very clear. Laziness, short-cuts, and excuses will rarely harbor value, and rarely yield positive long term results.

This goes for healthy living, as well as healthy spending. Crash diets rarely work long term because they focus only on immediate change, not long term transformation. Similarly, strict but short-term financial plans don't have a good track record for long term success. I would surmise that the reason for this is the lack of time and effort spent treating these as lifestyle changes. I'm no expert on ANY of this, but it seems to me the changes (be they budget or diet oriented) which can conceivably be maintained over a lifetime, are the changes that yield maintainable results.

What I've learned: I live in a world where being disciplined is only valued and rewarded in the short term. But in order to reach my goals, and be an example to my children, I have to swim upstream; I have to maintain a lifestyle of discipline, of moderation; a lifestyle that seeks and follows long-term wisdom instead of short-term fun and folly.

So, that's what's been rolling between my ears over the past two weeks. I guess my real question in all of this is why does being disciplined have to be so difficult? I mean, if you're a believer like I am then you no-doubt know that a disciplined life is what we're called to, but why does it have to be so counter-culture. Any thoughts?

Friday, February 18, 2011

Getting Personal

I haven't said much about this because, well, because I find that I quickly lose my focus if I go telling everyone where it is...

Also, because I am human (and therefore quite dislike airing my own failures) part of me didn't want anyone to know for fear that if I were to "fail", I'd have to out myself publicly.

But today, on a beautiful "spring" like Nebraska afternoon, after 6 weeks of steady resolution and determination, after a relatively peacefully submission to the reality that one cannot reach ones goal without some hard work, I feel like speaking up.

Don't hold your breath, this isn't going to be a *WOW* moment, folks.

Finally, what went up for 9 months of pregnancy, has now come down after 20 months of mothering, and 6 weeks of Weight Watchers*. Adios 8 pounds, adios. You were a fair weather friend, but how I longed to see you go.

To almost everyone I know, 8 pounds is hardly an accomplishment, but for me it represents a lot. You'd have to have known me WAY-back-when (Christina, you reading this?) to understand this fully, but by choosing healthy avenues by which to bring myself to better health, (instead of choosing the self-ruining short cuts I've taken in my distant past) I've proven my own success prior to losing a single ounce. I have shown myself what determination, and discipline can do.

8 pounds is 5% of my body. 8 pounds was my goal, but I did not choose it. Weight Watchers chose it for me. My goal includes 2 more pounds. So, forward we march. Forward towards better health. Forward toward eating habits I can maintain for a lifetime, portion sizes that are realistic, ideals focused on health and not body image.

Would you care to join me?

*In case you are even partially familiar with Weight Watchers (as I was prior to my re-joining) you should know that it has changed, A LOT since Jan 2011. Points calculations have changed, daily points alotments have changed - everything. If you want to know more, I'd be happy to share, but suffice it to say (I know, I say that too much) the plan is now a lot more balanced, including in its calculations protein, carbohydrates, fiber, and fat. While I won't go out on a limb and say I haven't been hungry, and every thing has been a bowl full of cherries over the past 6 weeks, I WILL say that I've experienced more balance, I've treated my body with respect, and I've nourished my entire family on the things that I've eaten while losing weight. Thus ends my Weight Watchers Promo.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Spring is in the air...

Monday, February 14, 2011

The best laid plans of mice and moms (and you know how the rest goes)

You may remember this post, where I wrote out my method for yogurtmaking. Well, suffice it to say, I'm still learning. That isn't to infer that I've had a bunch of "failed", trashed batches - I've actully had relatively few of those - but the consistency of some of them has been lacking something. Namly: Thickness.

Recently, and I only figured out why over this past weekend, my yogurt has been runnier than I've liked. Now, I could just skip adding gelatin, and instead run it through cheesecloth, but then I end up with a much lower yield of yogurt, so I've been trying (and trying and trying, to the extend that yogurt making is no longer a money-saving project, but rather a hobby that I'm DETERMINED to make worth the money I've put into it) to get it as thick as I like it without sacrificing yield.

Well, I finally got it. I ended up changing just a couple things. First, I decided to add my sugar (about 2/3C now) after my milk cooled back down to 115 degrees. Second, I sprinkled my gelatin (now 1.5 packets instead of just 1) over the (cold, organic) yogurt starter and let it "set up" for 3-5 minutes before dissolving it in the warm milk. Ok, so, all these things (and a few other little details) worked together and I ended up with BEAUTIFUL yogurt. I took it out of the crockpot, divided it into my little 8oz cups, and the next morning I could set them on their sides and they would hold their shape - without any yucky gelatin mouthfeel whatsoever.


I can't get over how perfect it turned out. Needless to say, I was thrilled. Not so much thrilled about having great yogurt, but more thrilled just to have conquered my problem. To have figured it out. But alas, the penny pincher in me was also happy to have a half gallon of thick, creamy, whole milk yogurt for my son and husband to enjoy.

Wow. was it thick or what? (if you're one of the few reading this who actually make yogurt, and you want the detailed breakdown, lemme know)

And so you may be wondering why I am referring to said "perfect batch" in the past tense. Well, that evening as I was cleaning up my yogurt-making dishes, I came upon my trusty candy thermometer. Although I had rinsed it off, it still appeared to have milk on it. Wait, no, that milk was INSIDE it.

No. Way.

My candy thermometer was broken. The simple fact that it had milk inside it told me that it had indeed broken whilste inside my milk-filled crockpot - I likely bumped it on the inside of the pot when I was checking it's temperature. So, somewhere inside my ten perfect containers of perfect yogurt were whoknowshomany teeny tiny shards of thermometer glass.

Carnage though it was, all of that beautiful yogurt - along with Saturday morning's time and effort - went down the drain. Literally.

I'll be honest and tell you that I had to dump it quickly. It was like ripping off a bandaid.

And you can laugh if you like (because I do realize the ridiculousness of mourning a half gallon of milk, 4oz of starter, 2/3C sugar, and 1.5 packets of galatin) but hopefully you won't have another chance to, because yesterday, I ordered one of these.

And so, hopefully, this will be my very last post about yogurt making. Unless of course I get all crazy and making flavored items - then you may just hear about it.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Proverbs 1

I've been reading through the book of Proberbs recently and I keep coming back to chapter one. It is amazing to me (divine, maybe) how much chapter one relates to my very desire desire - the ways I wish to conduct my life, the character I wish to impart to my kids.
My legacy.

Proverbs, written by the "wisest man who ever lived" reads like this:

"The proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel:

2 for attaining wisdom and discipline;
for understanding words of insight;
3 for acquiring a disciplined and prudent life,
doing what is right and just and fair;
4 for giving prudence to the simple,
knowledge and discretion to the young

5 let the wise listen and add to their learning,
and let the discerning get guidance

I bolded and italicized the phrases that JUMPED off the page at me.

THIS is what I am seeking: Wisdom & Prudence

Seeing the right path laid out in front of me, making wise decisions when there are multiple options. Weighing possibilities and, without haste, making wise, prudent choices.

I can see (although only a little) why Solomon asked the Great High God for wisdom, when he could have had anything in the world: He wanted to make good choices, and he knew that those choices would affect his livelihood as much as any of ours do. Small choices, big choices, they may matter to varying degrees, but they all do matter.

When I think about Wisdom and Prudence I think of the things I want them for: Spending is a good example. I want to prudently use the resources we've been entrusted with. Time is another example: I want to slay selfish time-wasting in honor of prudently allocating time to the things I've been called to. I say this because I'm an avid time-waster - which leads me to discipline...

THIS is what I must have and pass on to my kids: Discipline.

Maybe this is all-so evident recently because I've been making changes in my life that require discipline. They require prudence. Staying on track with a budget for example, by its very nature, requires discipline. Maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle requires discipline. Using time wisely requires discipline

And it ISN'T EASY. We all know that. It may sound redundant, but I think it requires discipline to be disciplined! My fleshly desires do NOT win when I'm disciplined. Oftentimes, they lose. Out right.

I do not have all my thoughts sorted out (I'm sure that's painfully evident in my hap-hazard writing) but one thing is certain: God expects us to seek prudence, and to have discipline in our lives. And that, friends, is a character trait I want my son to see in my life, and one that I want to see in his.

Thus ends my Proverbs 1 "Ah-HA!" moment.

Monday, February 7, 2011


Come, They Told me...

Pa Rum pa pum pum...

...On my drum.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

A few pictures

Here's a little bit of what we've been up to lately:

Bedtime stories with daddy (a nightly event) in the rocking chair - banana in hand, cup at the ready, and "puppy" within arms reach.

Sick day/snow day (also, with banana in hand. I live with two monkeys). Recently, this monkey learned how to say "cheese" for the camera, and added to that a VERY cheesy grin.

Bouncing and playing at Solid Rock Gymnastics toddler time. Awesome place. He's in the yellow shirt.

Again, at solid rock, about to jump into one of their three foam pits. Can't get out on his own yet so I *get* to jump in and assist. You may not be able to see it far off in the distance, but there is a zip line at the corner of this pit. Totally awesome.

Enjoying "toddler team-up" at the childrens' museum, pouring multi-colored rice into different containers (and, later, throwing it all over the room). Also enjoyed that day were tempera paints with brushes and stamps, markers, and LOTS of soap and water.

Had to get some of these up before I forgot all about them. Enjoy!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Tightwad Tuesday: Chicken Run

Or a run, on chicken.

In our home, we usually have one. A run on chicken that is. As one of the leanest meats, we eat a lot of it. Well, I guess "a lot" is up to interpretation (I'll get to that), but we probably eat it 2-3x weekly.

In our college years my husband and I purchased, almost exclusively, frozen, boneless, skinless, chicken breast. Why? Because it was the cheapest meat out there of course. WAY cheaper than ground beef. Cheaper even than the available ground turkey. And although we didn't (and still don't) have meat every night, we FLEW through chicken. Because chicken is the NUMBER ONE meat sold in America (by pounds), I thought I'd share what we've learned about buying chicken since then our college years, and what we've done that's dramatically impacted our grocery bill, and out eating habits.

It may have been just about a year ago now that I discovered Louis Rich Ground Turkey. It comes on little one-pound tubes. Twice (or maybe three times?) per year it goes on sale (at russ's usually) for $0.79/lb. I like two things about this turkey: first, is already divided into one pound servings. It is WAY TOO EASY to use more ground meat than a recipe calls for because ground meat almost never comes in a quantity this small. Even so, the acceptable portion size for meat is about 4oz raw. Or, 1/4 of this neat little tube. I'm sure you could already deduce that when these go on sale I buy cases of them. Literally. At least two. The second thing I like about this turkey is that it isn't the leanest of cuts. Although it compares nutritionally to 93% lean ground beef, it isn't as lean as "ground turkey breast", making it perfect for burger and taco applications where a little fat is desirable.

So, first thing we learned about poultry: ground turkey is cheaper than chicken breast. The second came about more recently. After doing a bit of researching (and fine print reading) I learned that frozen chicken breast is "preserved in up to 15% solution to maintain quality". Just what exactly does that mean? It means they glaze the chicken in a salt/water brine to make it taste more tender, and to keep it from getting freezer burn. Genious - except remember, the consumer pays for that salt water.

So, the 2.5lb bag of frozen chicken I used to purchased for $6.48 (on sale) was really just shy of 2.2lbs of chicken - and I paid roughly 2.94/lb for it. It was convenient, and it didn't *look* expensive at what I thought was around $2.50/lb. So after figuring all this out I started pricing fresh, raw chicken breast (which, I assumed, would be more expensive). Turns out, it goes on sale semi-regularly for 1.77/lb. And all of that, friends, is chicken. But the problem I ran into is that this fresh raw chicken is not NEARLY as juicy and delicious as the frozen stuff. Why? That salt-water brine.

So, after purchasing (...counts for a moment) 12 pounds of chicken breast this past week, here is what I did to increase 1) its quantity, and 2) it's quality.

1) A moment ago I made the comment that a standard acceptable portion of meat is around 4oz. As Americans we tend to look at a chicken breast and assume that it, in itself, is a serving. But you see, over the past 20 years, commodity chicken farmers have *learned* how to plump up their chickens* After weighing out each of the hmm... Twelve single breast halves I purchased, I can assure you that each one of them contained 3-4 reasonable servings of meat. So, the first thing I did was to cut them all into appropriate sizes using my kitchen scale. They averaged 4 oz. Quantity: check.
*It goes without saying, here, that organic, "pastured" chicken would be HIGHLY superior in both taste and health-attributes to commodity purchased chicken breast. If you have access and the means to support sustainable meat practices, (i.e. a meat co-op, or CSA program) PLEASE DO SO. Otherwise, keep a keen eye on portion size and remember: whatever went into that meat, is also going into you.

2) In order to increase the quality of my chicken, I did what the Tyson folks do: I brined it. Gasp! Yes, I soaked it overnight in a salt/sugar/citrus/herb solution and you WOULD NOT BELIEVE how juicy, moist, and tasty it is. Here's my recipe
  • Fill your soup pot half full of water.
  • Add to that a half cup salt, and a half cup brown sugar. stir it until it disolves.
  • Add to that one large orange, cut up into 8 or so pieces, and one large lemon, cut the same.
  • Stir in some thyme, and some rosemarry.
  • Add all your raw chicken pieces. Top off with water to cover.
  • Refrigerate overnight (12-16 hours, give or take)
After all my chicken brined, I separated it out into one-quart freezer bags, each containing four adult portions. I found I had enough for roughly 35 single servings, plus about 4 servings of stir-fry chunks (trim pieces). In our home, that equates to 16-18 full meals. Was it worth the 45 minutes it took me to get all that prep done/mess cleaned up? When you consider my approximate $14.04 in savings over buying frozen whole breasts (which would need to be thawed/de-ice-glazed/cut into appropriate sizes anyhow), I'd say $17.55 an hour is a wage worth working for. But, you be the judge.


Now it shouldn't go without noting that, no matter WHAT you're talking about grocery wise, there is always a cheaper option. The cheaper option in this case is to forget the chicken breast, and buy a cheaper cut. Or, forgo the cut chicken, and opt for a whole bird (roughly $99/lb on sale, but those pounds include skin and bones, and other parts you'll throw away). And beans are another inexpensive option.

This may seem tedious, and maybe it's not for you. I understand - some of us wierdos just have a proclivity for making something very small seem like a very big deal. Forgive me if it looks as though I'm trying to split hairs. In our household though, we're making a (very conscious) effort to stay on track financially, and here, meat is a part of that plan.

Do you have any ways you save on the meat isle? Has do-it-yourself prep proven to save you money in other ways? Does anyone have any big theories when it comes to meat purchasing? I've found that it isn't until I try to do something at home (instead of buying something pre-done) that I realize it isn't as hard as I made it out to be - and that it isn't worth the cost. But some things ARE worth that cost. Any examples?

NOT ME Monday

Let me begin this post by saying that I certainly did NOT forget to post a not-me post yesterday. I always remember everything. During Levi's nap, I always make the very best use of my time, and instead of using the computer for fruitless tasks like blogging and facebooking, I was probably building scale models of the empire state building for my son to admire, and learn from, later. Forget? not me. And even if I did, it wouldn't take This friend, and This friend, to remind me via their oh-so-hilarious not-me-Monday posts.

The past few days have been Full - nay - overflowing with things I did NOT do. Better yet, things I did NOT discover. For example, it was NOT ME who discovered my 20 month old in our living room this morning wielding a RED permanent marker. No, I know from the (horrific) mistakes of others that it is important to keep those WAY out of reach. And it is because I have a great grasp of this principal that I did NOT also find my son in our kitchen with a step-stoop pushed up to the counter, and a steak knife in his tiny, malicious hand. Nope, not me. I'm a highly cautions parent with a penchant for safety.

We are always healthy in this house. So, it should come as no surprise to you that we are NOT sick this week. My son does NOT have a stomach virus, and even if he did, it would not be NEARLY reason enough for the FIVE loads of laundry I've done over the past day and a half. I have NOT cloroxed everything from the highchair, to the floors, to the WALLS because of "misplaced" liqui-poo, nor have I entered my son's room (what was it honey, 2:45am?) to find him sleeping in said mess. Having said that, I should also make you aware that we ONLY have baths in this house before bedtime. I did NOT plop a messy-head-to-toe boy in the tub after a lunchtime poo-splosion.

And you should know, that because I am ecologically inclined, and also financially frugal, I have NOT used a single disposable diaper throughout the entirety of this event. And not, like, 20 of them either. No sir, we only use cloth in this family. No. matter. what.

And finally, it was NOT ME, (the owner of an all-wheel-drive Subaru, with studded tires) who made it half way to my down-town destination today, and turned around because the snow-on-top-of-ice was just too much for me. Why would I do a crazy thing like that? I lived in Pullman WA after all, a town which above all else is known for three things: Hills, Snow, and Wheat. I pride myself in being able to drive in ANY conditions, and I enjoy the challenge. As such, I would not have settled for a trip to Hy-vee as our only outing of the day. Even if I did, I would not have stopped there for the sole purpose of picking up eight half-gallons of whole milk, each on sale (with coupon) for $0.48. I'm a down-to-earth woman who understands that $0.48 milk is no reason to take your sick toddler out in the negative 21 degree wind chill.

Alright. Whew. Cathartic.
Anyone else?

By the way, in case you, too, think this not-me-ing thing is fun, you should check out this blog, by the woman who started all the not-me-ing in the first place. Great blog.