What shall I do?

I know I want to run a 5k and half marathon. Okay, so I want to run, but I will end up power walking instead. Maybe try out some new ethnic cuisines. Travel to some new spots. Try some new classes. Support a new charity. Some may be exciting adventures, some may be boring. I welcome your suggestions for something new to try.

Monday, May 30, 2011

#11 Extreme Couponing...

If you haven't seen the new show on TV, Extreme Couponing, it is about people who buy thousands of dollars worth of products for almost nothing using coupons.  The cash register total will be $1200 and after they deduct all the coupons it ends up something like $8.  These are people who get stores to bend the rules and they will buy 80 of an item if they have that many coupons.  Some they put away in their stockpile, some they give away to friends and some to charity.  It's pretty impressive, but also a little bit insane.

I know I could never go to that level, nor would I want to.  However, I challenged myself to a lower form of extreme couponing.  I have used coupons before so nothing new there, but I really have never mapped out the sales to get the best deal on the products.  This required a whole new strategy far different than the occasional clipping and rarely using method of the past.  The first step was signing up for a few "deals" sights (the Krazy Coupon Lady is a good one) and a few coupon internet sites.  The next was clipping coupons from the Sunday papers.  The third was doing a bit of research.  Then it was time to plan my first shopping trip.  Target seemed an excellent choice as it had a flier with Target coupons that could be combined with manufacturers coupons.

I won't lie, the prep work is a bitch.  It took me hours and hours to look at the ads, compare the coupons, match the Target and mfg. coupons up and then make a spreadsheet with the quantity and sizes required to meet the coupon requirements. And that was just for one store.  Plus it took me three times as long to shop to make sure I was getting the right stuff.  But some of the rewards were fun.  I got 8 boxes of Puffs tissues combined with a large bottle of Tide Liquid Stain Release on a promotion for a $5 Target gift card.  It worked out like this...Puffs 8 pack on sale for $8.99 less coupon for $1.50 off and $2.50 Target gift card value for $4.99 which makes it about 62 cents per box.  Add in a coupon where I got a 3 pack of Puffs to go for free for buying the 8 pack.  The Tide was on sale for $10.99 with a $3 coupon and the gift card split of $2.50 to bring it down to $5.49.

Another good deal was on Iams dog food.  The 40 pound bag was on sale for $33.33.  I had a $1 off coupon.  By adding in an 8 pound bag for $12.75 I got another Target $5 gift card.  I have a rebate for the 8 pound bag so will get the full $12.75 sent to me by check.  That makes the 40 pound bag a total cost of $27.33, which is an excellent price.  I also met with some success on tanning products.  Banana Boat sunscreen was on sale for $6.49 with a $1 off coupon.  Hawaiian Tropic after sun lotion was also on sale for $6.99 with another $1 off coupon.  It also had a bonus of a small sized tanning lotion bundled with it for free.  Buying the two products also netted another $5 Target gift card.

My total was $169.24 and my coupon savings was $58.24.  I walked away with $15 in Target gift cards.  If I had used my Target charge card I would have saved an additional $8.45.  I got a free bag of dog food, a free suntan lotion, a free pack of puffs to go and a free bottle of pantene shampoo.  If you add in the price of the the savings and the free stuff I spent about $70.  So nothing earth shattering savings wise, but it was all products I will use now or in the future at a pretty good discount.  I was not drawn into the trap of buying something I will never use just because it is a good deal.  The downside is if you are paid for your time, then the savings isn't as great.  If you consider it a hobby though, you are getting paid to play.  I shall continue this throughout the summer and see if I can get more efficient and better at finding the deals, especially the free stuff.  Stay tuned to see how much I spend to save a few bucks...

Sunday, May 29, 2011

#10 In a pickle...

Curing olives did not turn out so well so I decided to try another food preserving method and this one met with much more success.  As I mentioned in my last post, I have canned plenty of fruits and veggies in the past, however I have never made pickles. Growing cucumbers isn't my thing so there was no bounty to play with.  And pickles are pretty darn cheap, especially when you buy the giant jars at Costco for less than $4.  But there in the produce section of Harmon's was the cutest little bags of pickling cucumbers on sale for $3 a bag.  The lightbulb went off and I decided to try making pickles.

I'm not big on following recipes exactly so I improvised a bit.  You can buy dill pickling spices or make your own.  I bought a premixed package that you mix with water and vinegar and heat to boiling.  In the jars I put the cucumber cut into spears, some fresh dill sprigs from my garden and some onion slices.  I poured the pickling mix over them, screwed on the lids and set them in the fridge.  After several weeks a taste test has revealed they are crunchy and have a delicious dill flavor.  Jar one is almost gone.

I doubt I will regularly make my own pickles unless cucumbers are cheap, but they were better than most store bought pickles I have purchased.  And they were easy enough that I will try some bread & butter pickles, my favorite, in the near future as well.  Plus if I have a few on hand in my fridge they will make handy thank you gifts as needed.  I'll just add a note that says thanks for helping me out of a pickle...

Monday, May 23, 2011

#9 Curing Olives

When it comes to preserving foods, I have been known to can a time or two in my life, but mostly the usual stuff like fruits, vegetables and salsa.  My mother-in-law showed me how to can meats once and I do have to say they were delicious, but I always was too afraid to try them myself in case I did something wrong and poisoned a loved one.  I also used to dehydrate quite a bit, but it has been awhile since I have tried preserving anything new.

While visiting my Mom's ranch last month I noticed one of her olive trees was still bearing fruit.  That gave me the idea for #9, learn how to cure olives.  She has quite a few mission olive trees around her house, but the one bearing fruit took a tall ladder and some help from Trev who was visiting for Mother's Day to harvest.  We were not skilled, nor terribly well prepared and half the fruit ended up on the ground which caused a bit of bruising.  I packed it up in my carryon and the TSA was none too gentle either so it wasn't the best fruit by the time it arrived home, but it was about the journey to try something new, not trying to make the best olives ever.  I can hit the olive bar at the local market for that.

Olive fruit is hard and bitter.  It needs to cure to take some of the bitterness out and soften the olive.  To cure olives you can soak it in water, a salt brine or just cover with salt.  Mission olives were recommended with the salt brine.  I took my somewhat bruised and mostly under ripe olives and made the recommended brine to soak in.  You give the olives a slight whack to crack them enough to allow the curing process to reach through the skin.  It was a fine line between cracking the skin and cracking the whole olive open.  Then I tossed them into the brine and set them aside.

Olives are buoyant little suckers.  I would check them and the side in the brine was curing, but the top side not so much.  I put an aluminum foil top over them to make them stay under the brine and while better, they still were coming out uneven.  So I decided to switch to the all salt method.  It was far easier than the brine method, although not recommended for this olive type.

After a few weeks I can now say I have cured olives.  I can not say I cured olives well or even cured truly edible olives.  OK, they were edible, but only in an I am really starving and too lazy to fix anything kind of a way.  I'm not sure a food bank would even hand them out to the hungry.  The curing brought out every little bruise they suffered in the harvesting and traveling from California to Utah through the intense security we have endured since Bin Laden was killed.  Haven't flown since then?  Consider yourself lucky.  It took me 15 minutes just to get my shoes back on my feet.  But I digress...back to the olives.  They were soft enough to eat while still firm and actually had a pretty decent flavor, but cosmetically were the ugly stepsisters combined.

So I have learned how to cure olives and how not to complain about the high price of olives at the olive bar.  They are worth EVERY penny!

Friday, May 13, 2011

#8 Emcee the Mouse Expo

Those who know me know that I am rarely short on words.  But want me to shut up?  Just stick a microphone in my hand and put me in a room full of people.  Since 1994 I have put on a Wee Forest Folk collectors convention called Mouse Expo.  Back in the early days Tim did the emceeing.  When he stopped attending, Mark Blakely took over the job.  I've never been fond of public speaking, but could do so in a pinch.  But I remember the day I hated it.  I was giving a talk on displaying your Wee Forest Folk and a woman in the front row started nodding off.  OMG...I was boring!   I rarely used the microphone after that and never have emceed the event myself.  But this year we had a slight hitch.  My emcee could not make the event at the last minute.  So the Headcheestress of the Academy of Alchemy took the stand and the microphone.  I did pawn off some duties, but I took control of my fears and did a good portion of running the event from the front of the house for a change.  I do enjoy sharing my wit and thankfully most got it and laughed.  I think no laughs at a joke is even worse than having someone nod off while you speak.  And I did look pretty damn good in that witches outfit.  Too bad Halloween isn't year round.