Saturday, January 14, 2012

No, the zombies didn't get me.

Life kind of gets in the way, as we all know. One of our dogs was hospitalized for a few days in mid October. He's okay now, but that was a great reason for having an emergency fund. We didn't, but luckily had a credit card with low interest and a high limit! 

We also had the storm from hell right before Halloween, which provided some AWESOME opportunities for testing our survival skills. Needless to say, we have some work to be done. We managed to feed our dog his special diet, despite not having power for a week. That was the only thing that mattered to me.

We were supposed to have a Halloween party, so when that didn't happen, we were stuck with lots of party food that was going to waste. Me? Waste food? No way! We got creative. Mini tacos and mashed potatoes on the grill? Yep.

Then there was the dog's food and medicines. Luckily there was snow, so we were able to pack coolers to keep things cold. Stores really didn't open up for a few days after the storm, so I was grateful for the snow and cold temperatures.

And then there was our anniversary. We were married on Halloween, so our exciting anniversary evening included watching a movie on the laptop in front of the fire. And then the battery died about 45 minutes in. Damn. (And yep, that is 28 Days Later.)

So, lessons learned?
  • Batteries are important.
  • Have at least a wood-burning fireplace, if you can't have a wood stove. It helped a bit when the blankets and hats and gloves weren't enough. 
  • Propane grills are awesome. You can cook on them and boil water. 
  • Keep your car fueled. You never know when the zombies will strike. People were waiting in line for hours trying to get gas at the few stations that were open. I had filled up before the storm for this reason. Plus, a full tank of gas makes your car that much heavier and better on the slippery roads.
  • Have cash on hand. No power = no credit card readers. 

Rule #32 of Zombieland: Enjoy the little things.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Tips and Tricks for the Zombie Apocalypse

I realized I haven't written enough about zombie safety. I'm sitting here watching horror movies as I'm cooking and cleaning, and thought I should take a break to help the public. These are just my rules based on observation, and feel free to add your own. We'll need to stick together when the time comes, so it's best to share our knowledge. Since I'm watching The Strangers (freaky as hell), the same rules apply to general horror movie scenarios.

  • Cardio. Yes, I stole it from Zombieland, in a way, but the principle is the same. You'll need to be able to run if the situation arises. You may not have a working vehicle. You might need to run to your vehicle. Either way, get in shape. The verdict is out as to whether or not zombies really can run, so it's better not to bank on them moping along in traditional zombie fashion.

  • Shoes. This is related to cardio. Ladies (and gents), you should always have sensible shoes. If not on your feet, then close at hand. If you're trying to run barefoot or on heels through the woods, you're zombie feed. It's that simple. Invest in a good pair of boots. Hiking boots work, and I also like tactical boots made by Bates or Hi-Tek.
  • Weapons. Guns are a must. Re-read your Zombie Survival Guide to get the lowdown on which are better for your particular situation, but you need 'em. Learn to improvise weapons as well. Think like MacGuyver. Long weapons are better to keep them at a distance - fire axe, spade, etc. But they must be sharp! 

  • Pockets. Make sure you have clothing with pockets available. Cargo pants, utility vests, and so on. You'll need to carry ammo on the run, along with other essentials. A backpack may fall off or weigh you down.
  • Cell Phones. Buy extra batteries and keep them charged. Granted, if the network falls, they'll do nothing for you, but in your psycho killer situation, the victim's battery is always dead or near dead.
  • Food. This is where stockpiling comes in handy. By using coupons and sales fliers to your advantage, you can easily build a good stockpile of canned goods, soups, health and beauty stuff. This is all valuable. If you've seen the Book of Eli, you'll know that wet naps = $$$! Include batteries in your stockpile. You may need them for radios and lanterns. 
I think that's a good start for now. Don't get overwhelmed. Stay alert, and be prepared!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Cheapskate Sunday

While the husband was doing some work in the garage, I thought I'd do some cooking and puttering around. First up was to make dog treats. Simple, cheap, easy.

I took one lonely sweet potato, and introduced it to Mr.Mandoline. This is the one I have; only cost about $10, but it is SO handy.
I sliced it up, put the slices on cookie sheets, and sprinkled on a tiny bit of garlic powder for flavor.

See that tinfoil on the left? Those are the pieces that came off of the burritos I made and froze. As we ate them, I'd put the foil back in the drawer, figuring I'd use it later. I actually did! 

Now, I cooked these on 250 degrees for probably an hour or so. I didn't want them crispy like chips, since the dogs like them chewy. I flipped them a couple of times, and eventually called it a day. They looked like this when I gave up on them. *EDITED TO ADD* You'll want to cook them for more like 3 hours. If you don't, they get a little funky after a couple of days. Sorry for the inconvenience.
I let them cool a bit, and then dropped them all in a tupperware-type container. I'll use them within a few days, since they soften up as time goes on. I think the pups are happy. Don't you?

On to project two. I love having wonderful smells in my house. With a husband and 2 dogs, you can imagine what it COULD smell like in here if I let it get out of control. That being said, I love air freshener plug in things and candles. But, those can get expensive and supposedly have stuff in them that causes cancer. Whatever. Everything will kill you. But I'm determined to enjoy my Welcome Home/Autumn Harvest/Eucalyptus Blah-Blah until the zombies come and everything smells like ass.

So one day when cruising Pinterest, I found this tutorial for making your own smelly things. I didn't take pictures, because I was destroying several of them before getting it right (aka letting the husband patiently remove the wick). There are pictures on the site, but you don't really need them. Take the wick thing out, empty the glass part and rinse it out. Pour in your choice of essential oil (I used eucalyptus), about 1/3 full, more if you want a longer lasting or more concentrated scent, and top it with water. Not too full or it will spill when you put the wick back in. And voila. Done. 

Verdict? I used only 1/3 oil and 2/3 water, but it ran out quickly and didn't really smell. The next time I used more like 1/2 oil and 1/2 water, and it smelled great for a few days. I still smell it when I walk by, but it's not as strong. The oil was a bit old, so maybe that's why it's weak. Anyway, it was cheaper than buying new ones, and less likely to kill me, supposedly. 

Rule #32 of Zombieland: Enjoy the little things.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

No more car payments!

As of Friday, my car is paid off! This is such a freeing feeling, but one I never hope to experience again. Car loans have been the bane of my existence for years. I remember the feeling of buying my first new car, and it was brand new. Ordered from the dealership and everything. But I also remember the $300+ payment. And then I decided a few years into it that I needed a small SUV, so I got my new baby. And a $365 monthly payment. Ugh.

However, I did get a good deal on my car. It was a "used" 2006, bought at the end of the model year. I saved at least $5-6k over a brand new one. It also had some add-ons that didn't come on the base model. See, I wasn't a total money moron!

But now, 5 years later, I am so happy to have it paid off. But looking back, if I had saved the money and paid cash, I could have saved myself close to $4k in interest.

Lessons learned and tips for the future:

  • Pay cash. If you can't afford the whole thing, come up with the most you can to avoid having to finance too much. 
  • Do your research. Fortunately (and unfortunately) car dealers have a LOT of flexibility on pricing. Never pay sticker price. I like Edmunds for car buying information. There are dozens of articles to help you decide how much to pay, and how to get the best deal. 
  • Do your research (again). You want a reliable vehicle that will last you several years and fits your lifestyle now and a few years down the road. If you know you want a whole herd of children in the next couple of years, don't buy a sporty coupe. It will work for 1 or 2 kids, but then you'll have to get rid of it for something bigger. Hopefully not a minivan. I have a particular hatred for the minivan, but that is a whole separate book. Check out Consumer Reports and Edmunds for reviews. 
  • Don't buy new. I know everyone wants a shiny new car, but it is SUCH a waste! You can get a year-old car for thousands less, and it may never have even been driven yet. 
  • Keep an open mind. Don't get your heart set on one particular car. If the salesman knows you want it, you'll never get a good deal. Don't let the bastards get you down!
Good luck, and drive safe. Remember Rule #4 of Zombieland. Wear Seat Belts.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Who Is Mara Dyer?

Watch the trailer and find out! 

Mara Dyer is the brainchild of my friend and favorite new writer, Michelle Hodkin. Her debut novel arrived on shelves today, and I ran out to buy it, even though I had the distinct pleasure of reading an ARC (Advanced Reader Copy) a couple of months ago. It's an exciting, exhilarating story of well, who am I kidding? I'm no book reviewer. Just read it. It's frigging awesome. There's mystery, intrigue, lust, snark, and everything else you could want. And yes, it's a "Young Adult" book. Who cares? A good book is a good book. It doesn't need to be Tolstoy for you to enjoy it. Besides, I've never read Tolstoy and don't really care to. I have a Master's Degree and I thought it was great. I give you permission to read it.

I don't buy many books, since they can get expensive, and there are so many alternatives (the library, thrift stores, PaperBackSwap, etc), but I HAD to have this one in my greedy little hands. First of all, it's a beautiful book. Second of all, it's going to be getting a LOT of love. I like to read books over and over, so I just have to have my own copy sometimes. I mean, look at it! It just screams, "hold me!"

If I still haven't managed to convince you, go to and read the first chapter for FREE. Yes, free. I promise you will be hooked. Do it. Do it now.

Sunday Freezer Cooking

Since I have no life, I decided to do some cooking on Sunday. First up was Breakfast Burritos. I used this recipe from Money Saving Mom (surprise, surprise), with just a little change. I halved the recipe and added mushrooms, but essentially stuck to the original, since I'm a nervous nelly when it comes to cooking. I don't have that Ina Garten-esque "throw in some of this and a pinch of that" mentality. I do yell "Bam!" occasionally though. Exhibit #1:

I warmed the tortillas in the microwave for a few seconds under a damp paper towel for easier assembly. I dumped the eggs on the tortilla, rolled it, wrapped it in half a big paper towel (I have the HUGE Costco paper towels), and then in foil. I placed them in the leftover tortilla bag and a gallon size plastic bag, sucked the air out, which was the most enjoyable part by far, and threw them in the freezer. Evidence exhibit 2:

So there. 10 burritos done. I could price it all out to the penny like other websites, but I won't. I know it was cheap. I used less than a whole pepper (<$.50), onion, 10 tortillas ($.99), 9 eggs ($1-something), some cheese ($1.50?), a little milk, and salt/pepper. So these are maybe $.50 a piece? Pretty damn cheap compared to my bacon egg and cheese bagels from Dunkin Donuts. And I won't be tempted to buy a pumpkin donut to go along with it. And a Coolatta.

Next up? Taco meat. I got a pound of hamburger that was set to expire that day for $1 off. I brought it home and dumped it in the pan with a can of pink beans, and more pepper and onion. I also added some water and DIY taco seasoning. I didn't have all of the ingredients, but eh, it tastes fine. Here's another picture.

Yep, that's the same pan. I don't own a lot of cookware. Once this was cooked sufficiently, I spooned it into a gallon size zip-top bag, labeled it, and placed it flat on the freezer shelf to save space. Lastly was meatballs made with another pound of discounted beef. I didn't save the exact recipe, but it involved hamburger, an egg, breadcrumbs, and salt/pepper. I am a lazy bum and don't like to brown them and bake them, so I (well, the husband), mixed the meat and put them in a mini muffin tin. Notice the me-sized and the he-sized balls.

Bake at 350 for 35 minutes or so, and voila. Drop those puppies on some pasta, and you have a meal. We were able to get 24 mini meatballs out of a pound of beef. Not bad. They lasted through dinner and a few lunches.

So there you go. Cheap, easy, and yummy. Enjoy.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Pets and budgeting

I love my dogs. I have two. Cute, aren't they?

I would love to have more someday. They provide endless hours of love and entertainment, with some exasperation every now and then. But I wouldn't trade them for the world. They can, however, be costly at times. Some things you can never plan for; like a serious illness or an accident, but you can lessen costs when it comes to your pets without sacrificing their health.

First and most important, ADOPT!! There are millions of dogs and cats in need of good homes right now. Unfortunately, there are millions of dogs and cats also being put to sleep every year because there aren't enough homes. You can make a difference buy adopting your new dog or cat from a shelter or rescue. My favorite resource when looking for a new pet is Petfinder.  This site lists animals all over the country in need of homes. You can sort by breed, size, age, and location. If you can't find what you are looking for near you, inquire at another rescue or shelter. Volunteer transports make it possible to help your new friend make it home to you. I've done them! (Mileage is tax-deductible if you are driving for a registered 501C(3) rescue!)
Two of my happy passengers!

How does adopting help you if you are on a budget, you might ask? Shelters often have locally set adoption rates, as low as $5, and up to around $50. Many states have pet population control programs where you will receive a voucher for a free spay/neuter when you adopt a pet through a city pound. Rescue adoption fees are usually higher, around $100-$400, but this typically includes the pet's spay or neuter surgery, and often their first round of shots. Compare this to $1000+ to buy a dog from a breeder, and you are really getting a good deal; most importantly you are saving a life!

When you get your new pet home, you'll want to start thinking about training. Obedience training can be a great bonding tool, and it will help your pet become happy and well-adjusted. You don't have to spend a fortune, either. Many local pet stores, such as Petco and Petsmart offer basic puppy training. If you adopt from a humane society, you may receive some training classes for free as part of your adoption fee. (Another reason to look into adoptions before buying!) Once you get the basics down, there are many websites out there with free tips and tricks for you to continue your training, or check out books at your local library.

Another area where you might be tempted to cut costs is with food. However, I must warn against buying the cheapest food you can find. You would never do that for your children, so why would you do that for your pets? A good quality food will save you money in the long run on vet bills, and improve your pet's overall health and well being. Also, a good quality food often requires less food per serving, which means it will take you longer to go through a bag. I highly recommend looking at foods with a 4 star rating or higher on Dog Food Analysis's review page. If you are still in need of a break, try a 3 star food. Costco sells their Kirkland brand at VERY reasonable prices. There is even a grain-free version, which is great for dogs with allergies or if you just want to feed a better quality food. My dogs rotate between the Chicken and Rice kibble and the grain free Salmon formula. 

We all know that accidents happen, and pets get sick. As humans, we (hopefully) have medical insurance, and your pet can too. I am no expert, and as there are several companies out there, I can only give recommendations based on what friends have experienced, or what other websites suggest. One to try is to compare plans and prices. It really depends on your budget and your pet. If you are not interested in buying pet insurance, at least consider setting up a line item in your budget specifically for your pets bills. Set it aside and hope you never have to use it. 

I know this can all seem overwhelming, but pets are such a wonderful part of life. Don't feel like you can never afford to invite a new member into your family. Think it through, try putting everything into your budget and see how it will fit before jumping into anything. But please consider adopting a pet. They really are worth it.