My Favorite Blogs

I’m a huge fan of reading blogs. (And listening to podcasts, but that’s an entirely different post…) There are blogs out there on any and every subject, but my favorites tend to have a lot in common. In addition to the common themes that they share, many are also aspirational for me, or at least feature topics that I fantasize about (living on a farm, growing most of my own food, having a very organized home, etc.). I have very little in common with many of the authors, but I still love reading their every post!

One Hundred Dollars a Month

This blog covers many subjects that interest me: gardening, saving money, eating good food. (The name originated several years ago, when the author’s goal was to feed her family of four on a budget of – you guessed it – $100 per month.) I love the author’s light, but ever-so-slightly biting tone, and her practical, no-nonsense style. Oh, and her gardening posts and recipes have given me lots of ideas and inspiration in the few years that I’ve been reading them.

The Pioneer Woman

I love Ree’s Food Network show, The Pioneer Woman, and I really enjoyed her book, Black Heels to Tractor Wheels. She cooks amazing food, and has such a fun and positive approach to everything. She also takes absolutely stunning photographs of her land, and writes short, but informative posts about her life on an Oklahoma cattle ranch. And since living on a farm has long been one of my fantasies, I get to indulge this fantasy in bits when I read her blog.

The Prudent Homemaker

This is one of the blogs where I have almost nothing in common with the author. She’s a homeschooling mother of eight, lives in Las Vegas, and loves everything vintage. I find her frugality amazing, and her eye for beauty is simply stunning. Whether she’s photographing her garden, an arrangement of flowers, or her food, I’m always blown away by her pictures.

Life As Mom

I consider this to be a great, all-around “mom blog”. The author, Jessica, writes about cooking, parenting, homeschooling, and organizing. She has six children, all of whom she has homeschooled. While homeschooling is not something I am cut out for or interested in doing personally, it’s one of those topics that interests me tremendously. (Maybe I subconsciously aspire to homeschooling?)

Frugalwoods

The Frugalwoods couple recently lived out one of my fantasies: they left their office jobs and the big city (Boston), and bought a homestead in rural Vermont. They aim to grow and produce as much of their own food as possible. And while I generally agree with their ethos of saving money wherever possible, but spending it on things that bring joy, I could never live as frugally as they do – nor do I aspire to.

Joyfully Prudent

This is another favorite, all-around “mom blog”. The author is a mom of two – almost three – living in Texas. She writes about her busy life as a wife, mother, and small business owner, as well as cooking, decorating, and saving money. I really appreciate her openness about her challenges and frustrations with balancing everything in her life

Just a Girl and Her Blog

I generally steer clear of organizing blogs, because the hyper-organized look they promote feels very stiff and unnatural to me. Also, I tend to feel badly about my poorly organized home after I read them. (This is also why I avoid Pinterest.) I do occasionally feel this way when I read this blog, but it’s balanced out by the posts on topics like the author’s personal struggles, as well as her experience building her own blog and business.

Common Sense Homesteading

This blog about living self-sufficiently is another one that taps into my farming and living-off-the-land fantasies. And – just like homeschooling – I’m very interested in the “prepper” lifestyle, even though it’s not something I embrace or aspire to in my own life. I’ve also found some great gardening information here, since despite living in a different part of the country (Wisconsin), the author lives in the same hardiness zone (4/5) that I do.

What are some of your must-read blogs??

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My Summer 2017 Favorites

It’s still officially summer, but with school having started and temps mainly in the 60’s these days, it definitely feels like fall.

Between the long days, the beautiful colors, and the more relaxed pace of life, I absolutely adore summer. Each year is a little different, though, and these are the things I loved most this year:

Atypical Summer Weather

I’m pretty cold-intolerant, but I’m not a fan of extreme heat or humidity, either. Most years, we get plenty of days of hazy, hot, and humid weather. In fact, most of the months of July and August can be this way. This year, though, we had very little of it. In fact, I can think of only a handful of days when we had typical summer weather. The humidity has generally been low, and I don’t think we hit 90 degrees more than once or twice. This meant we barely used our air conditioning – great for the electric bill! – and being outside was quite pleasant.

A rare, summery day

Veggies and Flowers for the Picking

Gardening is one of the things I enjoy most in summer. Our growing season is pretty short here in upstate New York, so I try to squeeze as much out of it as I can. We have a perennial bed that requires little maintenance, so I focus my efforts on two beds where I plant annuals. I adore zinnias, and plant as many varieties of them as possible. This year I added a number of different kinds of cosmos, as well as other annuals. Perhaps my biggest gardening victory this year was that my sunflowers survived! Every year, I plant several packets of sunflower seeds, and never once have they come to fruition. (The chipmunks seem to be the culprit.) For whatever reason, they did not get to my sunflower seeds/seedlings this year, and I’ve had a plethora of Shock-O-Lat, Vanilla Ice, Moulin Rouge, and other sunflowers.

I also had success with my veggie garden this year. I use the straw bale gardening method for my veggies, and this year I planted 15 bales. I stuck to veggies I knew my family and I would eat, rather than branching out and trying new ones. We’ve been swimming in Sun Gold, Chocolate Cherry, and Tiger Stripes cherry tomatoes, for weeks! (I’m still waiting for my full-size tomatoes to ripen…) I also had a good number of  cucumbers, zucchini, and summer squash. My beets are making slow progress, and I plan to leave them in the ground for as long as possible.

I love stepping out into my yard and picking bowls of cherry tomatoes and armfuls of flowers to display inside my house. As fall becomes more and more imminent, I treasure these trips even more.

She Loved Camp (Mostly)

My daughter is an only child, so socialization over the summer can be challenging. As a result, she started attending summer camp several years ago. Over the last four or five summers, she’s attended five different summer camps. And every year, she’s complained or resisted at least somewhat. This is always a source of anxiety and frustration for me, because I know she benefits from attending camp.

This year, she attended two, two-week sessions of the local children’s theater camp. (She attended the same camp last year, but was placed in a younger age group, which was not the best fit for her.) She loved both sessions, and impressed me with her comfort with auditioning for parts each session. She made new friends, and clearly enjoyed herself during each of the shows. It was such a relief that she had such a positive experience this year, and she’s already informed us that she wants to attend the same camp next year.

My little pig is on the right

She was less excited about her week of Girl Scouts camp, though. There weren’t any major complaints or problems; it just didn’t suit her. She even did do the one overnight at the camp, without incident.

Our Fire Pit

My husband is a pretty handy guy. He’s patient, and takes the time to do a lot of research on his various projects. His DIY-ing saves us a good bit of money, but I don’t always get excited about his projects. However, this spring he built a fire pit in our backyard, and I have absolutely loved using it. We’ve got a couple of Adirondack chairs and log benches around it, and we’ve enjoyed many times around the fire, most including smores, or at least marshmallows. It’s warm and relaxing, and I look forward to many more fires this fall and in future years!

The fire pit my husband built for us

Good Fiction Reads

In recent years, I’ve focused much of my reading on nonfiction books – some of which I’ve enjoyed, and some have felt like more of a chore. One of my goals for 2017 is to read 24 books that I really want to read. (In the past, I’ve been guilty of reading books that I’ve felt like I should read, even if I wasn’t really excited about them.)

I’ve read several nonfiction books this year, but I’ve also read several fiction books this spring and summer. (You can see all of my 2017 reads here.) With the exception of one, I thoroughly enjoyed all of my fiction reads, and I look forward to reading more fiction in the future.

Probably my favorite fiction read of the year

What are some of your favorites from Summer, 2017?

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Friday Favorites

Hey, hey, it’s Friday! Cue the Judy Andrews, as I share some of my favorite things…

Summer Weather

I’m a little surprised that I’m saying this, but I’ve been enjoying the heat and humidity we’ve been having lately. Don’t get me wrong, my preferred summer weather is sunny, low humidity, and temps around 80. But we had such a cold and rainy spring and early summer, that it’s nice to be experiencing true summer weather, warts and all.

Simple and Free Fun

My daughter is currently in her second, two-week session of theater camp at a local school. (Not the free part.) Camp finishes at 3:00, and even though she’s had a full day of rehearsals, games, and friends, she’s always looking for something to do after I pick her up. Since it’s ridiculously easy to spend money during the summer, I’m grateful that some of her favorite things to do after camp are free. We spend 30 minutes to an hour on the school’s playground every day, then hit the library, sprinklers, or farmers’ market. As long as I get all of the books and DVDs she borrows back to the library on-time, all of these activities don’t cost me a dime. (Psst… I share more photos of these and other things on Facebook and Instagram.)

Fresh Veggies

We’ve only harvested two Sun Gold tomatoes from our own garden, so far, but the farmers’ market is bursting with fresh, summer veggies. My daughter and I picked up a pint of cherry tomatoes at last week’s market, and ate them like candy on the way to the car. Halfway there, we turned around and went back for a second pint! There is NOTHING like summer tomatoes, peppers, corn!!

Baby cucumber!

Good Fiction

I’ve typically read more nonfiction than fiction, but over the last few weeks I’ve read two fiction books that I enjoyed: Saints For All Occasions, and Every Little Lie. Have you ever loved a book so much that you were sad to finish it? That’s how I felt about Saints For All Occasions. And Every Little Lie was a real page-turner for me, but I was very disappointed with the ending. (You can see all of the books I’ve read in 2017 here.)

I LOVED this book!

Podcasts About Religion

I’m completely non-religious. (Sometimes I refer to myself as a recovering Catholic.) Religion simply doesn’t play any part in my life. I loosely associate myself with general Christian values, but that’s as far as it goes. But in spite of my complete lack of religious beliefs or affiliation, I find it interesting to hear about other people’s faith and beliefs. So I was very excited to listen to the Religion series of the podcast, The Smartest Person in the Room. I enjoyed all of the episodes, but my favorites  were Mormons vs. Evangelicals: Can Woman Bridge the Divide? (I know very little about Mormonism and had no idea there was a divide with evangelicals), Judaism as a Cultural Identity (I was particularly intrigued by the concept of religion without believing in God), and When God Goes Silent (Interesting to me, since I don’t really think I believe in a God). There are also episodes about Hinduism, Islam, and religious journalism.

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I Heart Beekman

I’m just going to say it: I adore the Beekman Boys. I remember seeing ads for their show, The Fabulous Beekman Boys, when my husband and I first moved to upstate New York, back in 2008. It looked cute, and I had a vague sense of their story, but that was about it.

Fast forward almost seven years, and I started noticing their pictures that my friends had liked on Facebook. I ended up liking their Facebook page myself, and started to fall in love with them and their world.

If you’re not familiar with them, Josh and Brent are the Beekman Boys. They used to live and work in NYC, but on a weekend trip upstate, they stumbled into the town of Sharon Springs, and found a beautiful, old farmhouse. They bought the farm, and eventually started a business selling cheese and soap made from the milk of the herd of goats living there. Today, Beekman 1802 is a lifestyle brand, focused on seasonal products ranging from skin care and cookbooks, to furniture and clothing. Their goods are produced seasonally, and in collaboration with local artisans and farmers. Here are some of my Beekman favorites:

  • Books. Josh is an accomplished writer, and his book, The Bucolic Plague, tells the story of how they found the Beekman Farm, and eventually decided to make it their home and business. I’ve also read his personal memoir, I Am Not Myself These Days, about his time spent working in advertising by day, and as a drag queen by night.

  • Reality Show. Early in their time in Sharon Springs, Josh and Brent had a reality show, chronicling their adventures as they transitioned from city life to country life. The Fabulous Beekman Boys is great viewing for those of us who fantasize about farming, but will never actually do it ourselves. I binge-watched both seasons as soon as I got my hands on them.
My most recent Beekman Beauty Box
  • Beauty Box. In my post about my favorite subscription services, I mentioned that I would love to receive the Beekman 1802 Beauty Box as a gift. Fortunately, my sister was reading, and she gave me a subscription for my birthday. (Thanks, again, Sis!) The Beauty Box contains several Beekman 1802 soaps and skin care products, beautifully packaged, is delivered quarterly.

  • Harvest Festival. Rounding out my “Beekman birthday”, my husband gave me tickets for our family to attend the 2017 Harvest Fest Beekman Farm Tour this coming September. We’ll get to tour the farm, meet the goats, and attend the Sharon Springs Harvest Fest. I love fall events, and I’m not sure I’ll be able to contain my excitement on our way to this one!

Are you a Beekman fan, too?

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Early Spring Favorites

It’s finally, officially spring! As is almost always the case, though, it doesn’t really feel like spring here in upstate New York for a few more weeks. We still have some snow on the ground, most days I still wear a winter coat, and there aren’t any leaves to be seen.

Hot cross buns. I’m not at all religious, but one Lenten tradition I happily participate in every year is the consumption of hot cross buns. A local bakery makes absolutely divine (pun intended) hot cross buns, and I practically eat my weight in them most years. I’ve been missing out the first couple of weeks of Lent this year because of my no added sugar month, but I’ll be in line at the bakery on the morning of April 1st!

Starting seeds. For the past few years, I’ve been growing all of my veggies, herbs, and flowers from seed. It’s economical, and there’s a lot more choice than if I buy already-started plants from a nursery. I buy nearly all of my seeds from Botanical Interests, where they’re all non-GMO, and many heirloom and organic varieties are available. I recently placed my order for this year, and some of my favorites are Peppermint Stick zinnias, Chocolate Cherry tomatoes, and Freckles Romaine lettuce.

Shoes and cotton clothing. I’ve been wearing wool and fleece since November, and I haven’t stepped outside without my boots and Smartwool socks, during the same time period. I love cozy clothes, but enough is enough, already. Stores have been displaying capri pants, ballet flats, and sundresses for months, and every time I pass them, it feels like they’re mocking me. I’m so ready to do the annual winter-spring clothing swap!

Something other than root veggies at the farmers’ market. We’re lucky to have several fanastic, year-round farmers’ markets in our area, but I confess that I don’t visit them very often during the winter. Yes, they carry an abundance of fresh, local produce, but I can only eat so many apples, carrots, and turnips. Soon aspargus, peas, and radishes will be showing their colorful, er, faces at the farmers’ markets, and I can’t wait!

Noisy nature. My seasonal affective disorder starts to kick in when the last cricket stops chirping in the fall. Winter’s silence is such a depressing contrast to the pervasive sounds of spring and summer. I love the singing birds, the chattering chipmunks, and of course those chirping crickets, but my absolute favorite sound of nature is the call of the spring peepers. (Not familiar with it? Here’s a sample.) When their chorus starts up again, I know we’ve turned the corner.

What are some of your early spring favorites?

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Five Things I Love About Saratoga Springs

I live in the Capital Region of New York, meaning the area surrounding the state capital, Albany. This is pretty much the heart of upstate New York. (Check out this post for my thoughts on the definition of “upstate New York”.) While it isn’t technically true, I tell everyone that I live in Saratoga Springs. In reality, I live in a town that borders the city of Saratoga Springs, and is a part of the Saratoga school district. Plenty of people have heard of Saratoga Springs, but no one – even locally – has heard of our town.

Our town has no real downtown or business district, but it’s a lovely place to live. We were drawn to it for the larger, more private lots, and because one can get a good bit more house for the money here. I consider myself a resident of the town we live in, but Saratoga Springs is the community with which I identify. I fell in love with Saratoga many years ago, and when my husband and I decided to move out of the New York City area, we quickly zeroed in on it as our new home.

Five Things I Love About Saratoga Springs

I am incredibly happy living here, and there are many things I love about Saratoga Springs. Here are the top five:

  • Broadway. When my husband and I decided to leave New York City, we wanted to find a place with a decent-sized, walkable downtown. I’m not talking about a couple of nice blocks, but a generous commercial district, with lots of different kinds of business. Saratoga’s main street is called Broadway, and it has many restaurants, shops, salons and spas, boutiques, and other businesses. It’s well maintained, and has lovely, seasonal decorations throughout the year.
  • Restaurants. While I’m not fan of cooking, I’m a big fan of eating! When my husband and I left New York City – a city chock-full of amazing restaurants of all kinds – we were looking for a place that had a similar variety of great eateries, but on a smaller scale. From my fancy favorite, 15 Church Street, to the tiny, takeout-only Falafel Den, to Druthers Brewhouse and Restaurant and many others, Saratoga is full of great dining options.
  • Library. I didn’t really appreciate Saratoga’s public library until my daughter was a baby, and I was looking for places to take her. Like most libraries, they have a fantastic selection of books, DVDs, and music that patrons can borrow. But in addition to this, they have a great playroom for toddlers and young kids, amazing classes and programs for all ages, community spaces, a used bookstore, a coffee shop, and much more. It’s truly a community gem.
  • Farmers’ Market(s). Prior to moving to Saratoga, my main experience with farmers’ markets was the Union Square market in New York City. Saratoga’s doesn’t match its scale, but it’s a pretty fantastic market. In fact, stopping by the farmers’ market on a Wednesday afternoon or a Saturday morning is a pretty standard summer activity for us. And a few years ago, a second, Sunday market came to town, and it rivals the original in terms of size and quality.
  • Proximity. I’ve lived in New York, Boston, and Oakland, and I don’t miss living in a big city at all. However, I enjoy visiting big cities and taking my daughter to experience them. Saratoga is well-situated, in that one can drive to New York, Boston, and Montreal in four hours. We’ve visited all three cities multiple times, and will continue to do so throughout the years.

What do you love most about Saratoga Springs, or your own hometown?

What’s Up Wednesday: January, 2017

What We’re Eating This Week

As I described in this week’s meal plan post, it’s a busier week for my family than usual. Therefore, we’re keeping it pretty simple this week, and eating an easy favorite (spicy peanut noodles), a crock pot soup, chili, and pizza.

What I’m Reminiscing About

The other day, my husband asked our daughter if she remembered the first – and last – birthday party we had for her at our house. It was her second birthday, and since she was born just a few days before Halloween, it was a costume party. She wore her jockey costume, and we invited lots of family and friends, bought WAY too much food, and spent what felt like a lifetime cleaning both before and after the party. Afterward, my husband said, “Never again!” We’ve had her birthday parties at other locations – the local YMCA, a farm, and a nail salon – since then!

Trick-or-treating in the jockey costume
What I’m Loving

The relatively mild winter weather we’ve been having. Sure we’ve had a handful of very cold days and a couple of snow and ice storms, but for most of January and looking ahead to next month, our high temperatures have been in the 30’s and 40’s. For January and February in upstate New York, that’s pretty darn great!

What We’ve Been Up To

I’m working more than usual this winter, since it’s the busiest time of year in my office, and we’re down a full-time staff member. My daughter has gymnastics on Saturday mornings, and Brownies meetings every other week. It’s cookie season, so we’re getting everyone their fix!

 What I’m Dreading

Ugh – my first colonoscopy is scheduled for April. I have a family history of colon cancer on both sides, so I need to start getting screened fairly early. While the procedure itself sounds pretty gross, what I’m really, really, really dreading is the prep. Enough said, right?

What I’m Working On

My current projects include making activity plans for February break, lining up summer vacation plans and summer camps, and getting everything together for our taxes.

What I’m Excited About

Ordering seeds for my garden! I’ve been a little distracted by other things lately, but soon I’ll be going through the catalogs, and placing my order for seeds! I’m going to focus my veggie gardening efforts on tomatoes, lettuce, herbs, and winter squash this year. For flowers, I adore zinnias! I like to plant as many varieties as possible, and fill my kitchen window sill with vases of them all summer. Botanical Interests is my favorite source for veggie and flower seeds.

What I’m Watching/Reading

We don’t have cable or any streaming service, so we’re always WAY behind  on the new shows. My husband recently started us watching The Americans, and I’m loving it!! (We’re still in season one.)

I just finished reading I Am Not Myself These Days, and I’m currently reading The House of the Dead. (You can see all of the books I’m reading, have read, and plan to read in 2017 here.) I’m always slowly working through my huge pile of magazines – The New Yorker, O, Money, Real Simple, and Kiplinger Personal Finance.

What I’m Listening To

Podcasts, of course! The usual suspects – Scavenger Life, Sorta Awesome, Happier With Gretchen Rubin, etc. – plus lots of the Commonwealth Club. The Commonwealth Club interviews so many interesting people, and I added several books to my list after the last few episodes I listened to.

What I’m Wearing

Business casual (slacks and sweaters, mainly) for work, plus jeans, fleece, and cozy sweaters. And I wear my insulated Bogs boots pretty much every time I step outside my house.

What I’m Doing This Weekend

It’s going to be another quiet weekend here. I have a couple of errands to run, and my husband and I are going out to dinner on Saturday.

What I’m Looking Forward to Next Month

Valentine’s Day fun, sunset after 5:00, and February break!

What’s up with you??

Beekman 1802

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I Heart Subscription Services

Where I grew up, there was no home delivery of the mail. Instead, we had to drive to the post office – just a couple of miles down the road, in my family’s case – and pick up our mail there. As a result, the mail has always been exciting to me, something special. Even today – when we don’t receive much more than catalogs, junk mail, and the very rare greeting card via snail mail – I’m still filled with anticipation as I walk up the driveway and open the mailbox. You just never know what could be in there!!

I think this is the driving force behind my love of subscription services. I’m not talking about magazines here – although I love those, too. I’m talking about the something-of-the-month clubs. These days, there’s every kind of “of-the-month” club: fruit, books, razors, lingerie, snacks, flowers, tea… pretty much anything you can think of. I’ve subscribed to a variety of them in the past and currently, and because I love receiving them so much, I also love giving them as gifts. As a bonus, you can order them online, and can send the recipient an email announcing your gift, almost immediately. (Are you hearing me, last-minute shoppers?? If it’s Christmas Eve, and you still need a present for Aunt Martha, consider sending her the gift of a subscription service.)

My Favorite Subscription Services

Birchbox. I’ve tried a bunch of makeup and skin care subscription services, and all have pluses and minuses. What I like about Birchbox is the low price – only $10 per month – and the fact that they send samples, rather than full-size products. This way, I can try a variety of different things, and I’m not stuck with a large amount of something I don’t like.

Stitch Fix. You may have read about my love-hate relationship with Stitch Fix, but overall, I’m a fan. Even though they don’t always “get” me, the styling fee is pretty low – $20 – and is applied to the purchase of any item you keep. Also, you can schedule Fixes monthly, bimonthly, or just order one whenever you feel like it.

Highlights Which Way USA. Just like her mom, my daughter loves word searches, mazes, and other games. She recently received a subscription to Highlights Magazine, and while on their website, I discovered their Which Way USA Book Club.  Every three weeks, she receives a set of books about two different states. The books are full of games and activities that teach geography and facts about the states. There’s also a map of each state included. We just received her first set, and she absolutely loves it.

Mighty Fix. I love to learn about new-to-me, green products, and the Mighty Fix from Mighty Nest is a fantastic way to do so. For $10 per month (shipping included), they send a green product for the home, whose value is at least $10. In addition, I can purchase any other products from them, and they will ship with my Mighty Fix for free! Also, you can designate the school of your choice to receive 15% of your Mighty Nest purchase as a donation. Talk about a win-win-win!

A Few Others I’d Like To Try (Hint, Hint, Dear…)

  • Beekman 1802 Beauty Box. Ever since I watched The Fabulous Beekman Boys and read The Bucolic Plague, I’ve been a huge fan of Josh and Brent, and their company, Beekman 1802. And since I’m a lover of soap and skin care products, I’d really like to try their quarterly Beauty Box.
  • Book of the Month Club. I buy very few books for myself these days, since we have a shortage of shelving in our house, and our local library is fantastic. Still, I would love to have a new book – chosen from five different options – sent to me every month.
  • Mask Maven. Regular facials are a bit too pricey for me to justify, but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that I need to take better care of my skin. Masks are a fun, relaxing, and inexpensive way to treat my skin. Mask Maven sends subscribers nine masks sourced from Korea and Taiwan, every month.

Which subscription services do you like best?

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Friday Favorites: Staying Warm

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I hate the cold. December through March, I just want to be inside, wearing layers, and drinking hot tea. One might reasonably wonder why, given this, I would choose to live in upstate New York. It’s something I ponder a bit every year, but I’ve lived without seasonal change in the past, and I greatly prefer living with the seasons, even winter. Over the years, I’ve developed some chilly temperature coping strategies that help me battle the cold, and stay warm throughout the winter. There are some of my favorites:

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The best boots I’ve ever worn
  • Bogs Winter Plaid boots. I bought my first pair of these boots last month, and I am in LOVE. They’re 100% water-proof, insulated, and guaranteed to keep my feet warm at temps as low as -40 degrees. I also love that they’re slip-on, rather than needing to be tied. They’re incredibly warm and cozy, and they’ll be great in the winter snow and slush.
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I never get cold with my down comforter
  • Down comforter. I bought my down comforter almost twenty years ago, and it’s still going strong. It’s so warm, I only use it during the coldest two or three months of the year. It’s machine washable, too, which is a huge plus to me. It was a long time ago, so I don’t remember exactly which one I bought, but I know I got it from The Company Store.
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Another layer for my legs
  • Smartwool socks. I’ve been wearing Smartwool socks for years, and I love how many different styles, patterns, and thicknesses they come in. Some are like down comforters for my feet, and others are a bit lighter. My favorites for winter’s deep freeze are these knees socks, which are basically an extra layer for my lower legs. (Bonus: Smartwool actually makes a wide variety of clothing, including girls’ leggings, which my daughter loves.)
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Toasty warm when the temperature drops
  • Flannel sheets. Before the down comforter comes out, I put my flannel sheets on my bed. They’re super soft, and they warm it up a bit, without the extreme warmth of the comforter. I have this LL Bean set.
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This keeps me warm at work.
  • Space heater. My office at work is in a small, old building.  It’s drafty and poorly insulated, and it’s freezing when I arrive in the morning in the winter. Thankfully, our department has several space heaters available for staff use, and I gladly put mine to use. It warms up quickly, and the heat level is adjustable. It’s also on wheels, which makes it easy to maneuver it around my small office, as needed.

How is winter where you live? What products help you manage the cold?

Frugal Real Food Meal Plans

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Friday Favorites: Saving Money Edition

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I’m a big fan of saving money. I pick up coins I find on the ground, I check store flyers for weekly specials, and I even return our empty soda cans to the grocery store. (I paid for that deposit, and I like to get it back!) There are countless ways to save money, and I try to use as many as possible, within the time constraints of my life. Here are some of my favorite, easy ways to save money:

Cardpool

I clued into the idea of buying discounted gift cards fairly recently, and I’m so glad I did. It’s like getting a discount on my purchase, right off the bat! I use Cardpool to purchase my discounted gift cards. Their website says you can get cards for up to 35% off the value, but I’ve generally saved in the range of 10-20%. Since I do a decent amount of shopping online, I always check Cardpool before I make a purchase, to see if I can snag a discounted gift card to use. (They sell both physical and electronic gift cards.) And I haven’t done this, but you can sell them your unwanted gift cards for cash, too.

Ebates

I’ve been using Ebates for over ten years!! If you’re not familiar with it, it’s a great tool for saving money when shopping online. Before I make a purchase, I check to see if the store is an Ebates partner. (I’ve encountered very few stores that aren’t partners. Amazon, Gap, Macy’s, Target, Ann Taylor, Gymboree, Best Buy, and many, many more are all there.) Then I simply click through the Ebates site to go to the store, and shop like I normally would. I earn 1%, 2%, 3%, 6%, and sometimes more in cash back on these purchases. In fact, since I started using Ebates in January, 2006, I’ve received $863.78 in cash back!! I haven’t tried it yet, but Ebates recently started offering cash back on in-store purchases at some stores, using credit cards that you link to their site.

Rewards Websites

In my view, sites like Swagbucks, InboxDollars, and MyPoints are fairly similar. They all award users points for engaging in a variety of relatively quick and easy tasks: answering daily poll questions, clicking through links in promotional emails, printing and using grocery coupons, taking surveys, watching videos, and more. Once you’ve accumulated enough points, you can cash them in for gifts cards. I don’t use any other them to their maximum potential, mainly because I don’t have the time. But I always click through the emails I receive from MyPoints, answer the Swagbucks daily poll question, and occasionally, if there’s a higher cash-back percentage for a given store than offered by Ebates, I click through the store’s shopping link on one of these sites. I know some people earn hundreds of dollars or more each year with these sites, but I tend to collect a few $10 Amazon gift cards from them each quarter.

Grocery Savings Apps

Inspired by the show, Extreme Couponing, I went through a phase of religiously clipping and using paper coupons when I went grocery shopping. I still clip and use the occasional paper coupon (and earn rewards points for doing so!) from MyPoints, but these days I mainly use three apps to get cash back on my grocery purchases: SavingStar, Ibotta, and Checkout51. All of them work with my favorite, regular stores – Price Chopper, Hannaford, Target, and CVS- and all of them use either my store loyalty card numbers to automatically credit me for my purchases, and/or simply require a quick submission of a photograph of my receipt. Over time, I’ve earned $262.52 in cash back from SavingStar, $38.50 from Checkout51, and $18.75 from Ibotta, all for items I regularly purchase. I’m talking milk, produce, and toilet paper, not just processed food! (If you want to try Ibotta for yourself, click here and use my referral code, rbkhnjf, when you sign up. You’ll receive a $10, just for signing up!)

Amazon Prime

While it may seem counter-intuitive that a service with a $99 annual fee actually saves me money, hear me out. Amazon sells pretty much everything known to man. My husband and I purchase a couple of things from them every month. Before we decided to spring for Prime, the item(s) we purchased didn’t always meet the ever-increasing minimum dollar amount for free shipping, and we would play Amazon’s game of adding something else to our cart to qualify. When the minimum amount for free shipping increased to $49, we decided it was time to sign up for Prime. Now, it’s much easier – and less costly! – for us to make smaller purchases from Amazon. Plus, we love that the free shipping takes only two days, and our daughter loves that she can listen to as many KidzBop songs as she wants for free through the Prime music benefit.

What are your favorite tools for saving money??

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