Tuesday, January 16, 2018

More Snow in the South January 2018

 A giant icicle on the side of our house.

Esme standing next to a snowman that I built.  She built a bird feeder 'tree' house - but we didn't get a good picture of it before the sun started to set.  I'll try today.  We got even more snow in the night!

 The dinos await the next day of playing in the snow.

 Pumpkin says she needs more fluff for this to be acceptable.

knitting a ribbed hat.. getting to the point where I'll start decreasing.  It won't be excellent, but it should stretch to actually fit.  I have a crochet hat I've been wearing for years now and it's starting to need repairs here and there  // note 104-108 stitches on 4 size 3 double pointed needles (dpn) in worsted weight yarn

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Snow in the South January 2018

 The sled does not work on this snow, Mom!

I didn't think she'd believe me how you actually cut a trail with the sled ... so I showed her.  Next time, she gets to do it herself.  Mark said he believed it was physically possible.. but he wasn't willing to go out there and didn't think she would put that much effort in, either.  For the next three days I get to stay in where its warm now, because she knows its possible.. and if she wants to sled badly enough she has had a prime lesson.

This one will work for a while.. until she messes it up somehow or *hopefully* it melts out.

 This is how high the snow was in the back of our truck - probably well over the eight inches they said the nearest city got.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

How I cooked in my college dorm with a sink, a microwave and a coffee pot

I went to college in the late nineties, and my dorm room did not have a refrigerator, or access to a hot plate or stove.  There was a school cafeteria, but it was halfway across campus, and this was a LARGE campus.  That was North Dakota, and half of the year you would be walking across that campus, often before dawn or after dark, in the freezing cold and snow.  There was a Taco Bell on campus, but it was only open from about 10 am to 2 pm... later a few days a week.  And that was it.  Otherwise you walked (again, for a mile at least) to the shared parking lots, work your vehicle out of the crowd, and go to town to eat something and hope to get a parking space again when you got back.

If the Taco Bell was open, I would grab several burritos on the way between meals, as it was actually in a straight line between my classes.  The entire four years - I only ventured to the cafeteria for two meals, a Thanksgiving event and with a friend once who was intent on eating there.  Both times, it was such a distance I couldn't see how anyone could make it there and back to their classes.  Maybe I just scheduled my classes too close together.

So I came up with a plan.  And for the most part, it worked.  
It was as good as a second Major...really.

My dorm room had a large cabinet, and a sink not far down the hall.  I had a coffee pot, which was allowed (hot plates were not), and there was a microwave in the basement kitchenette.  I got together a collection of thrift store dishes, a can opener, some dishwashing soap, and a selection of dry goods - and ate out of my cupboard for most of the year.  And it wasn't ALL just Ramen Noodles.

One of the important things I bought was a good stoneware cereal bowl that had some depth.  It was at a thrift store and I got lucky,  I guess, and ended up using that bowl for several years.  It said 'JAPAN stoneware' on the bottom and it was heavy and solid, unlike the thin Corel type bowls my mom had at home.  Another item I paid a bit of money for - seven dollars at a regular store - was a corning ware type bakeware dish that had a vented lid.  I used this one when I would actually cook MEAT - which was rare, and I won't go into it here, but I learned to cook arm steaks and chicken breasts in this dish and did so about once a week after I got a little better off.  I bought a wooden tray so I could drag things with me up and down the stairs without having to balance everything in my arms.  Up until I found the tray I dragged things downstairs in a bag sometimes or just in the crook of my arm.  Add in a few forks and spoons and some ceramic coffee mugs, and I was in business.

The dry goods were a mixture of easy and very hard.  Growing up in my type of family I had learned to drink powdered milk and not choke.. so that was an easy thing to throw into my cupboard. It doubled as a coffee creamer, too.  I also could stand instant oatmeal, dried mashed potato flakes and plain rice - all of which I learned to cook in the microwave (see below).  I kept boullion in a jar, a jar of vegetable oil and a small range of spices, raisins and canned soup and vegetables.

We had a Natural Foods type store in my hometown, which my mom insisted I drive back to (four hours!) nearly every weekend.  That was where I had first been introduced to two things that became staple ingredients, powdered eggs and dehydrated vegetables in a jar.  I stocked tortilla chips, and learned to make cornbread and blueberry muffin mix, the kind in those little square boxes, in the microwave using the powdered eggs.  The powdered eggs were five or six dollars for a small can, but it was only used a tablespoon at a time, so it was a worthwhile investment then.  Powdered eggs and milk are probably much more expensive now.. so they might not be as good of an investment now as they were then.

Dorm Room Meals

Instant oatmeal and Ramen noodles are easy.  Opening up cans of vegetables and fruits are easy. Ravioli and canned soup are easy but were actually expensive to go through day after day.  I experimented with canned tuna and fish fillets because they were on sale and I craved protein.  Mustard fish fillets are something I will never forget (please.. no).  Canned tuna was a win, though.  Thumbs up.

I was living on a tight food budget and things added up fast.  I could drive down to the grocery store or stop back on my way from work.   I learned to budget - I learned to add up my cart and put some things back, and that some things like branded cereals or bottled singles of anything are just paying too much money up front.  I understood what would 'keep' until used and what wouldn't - lucky to have learned that in my household growing up.  I splurged on a tomato or orange at times that would be eaten as soon as I got home.  Once in a while, I bought a box of Pop Tarts.

I found you can make oatmeal, mashed potatoes or ramen without even leaving your coffee pot - just run plain water through and its near boiling.  Mix the oatmeal or potatoes in a bowl with the hot water until it is the right consistency or cook the ramen in its own Noodle Cup.  If you can't afford the Noodle Cup version, break half of the Ramen into small bits in a large ceramic cup, boil the water and pour it over and put a ceramic flat plate on top of the cup until the steam cooks the noodles.. just like the Styrofoam cup does.  If it is unruly, put the cup in the microwave again and repeat with the newly heated water until the noodles are done.  (Again, hot pads.. even one, is a good idea to have)  Canned soup could be added to a can's worth of hot water and voila, soup.

But I needed more - and to stretch my budget more - so I came up with these microwave recipes that were a go to for years.  One, I would cook rice in the microwave and then mix that with a can of vegetable beef soup or beef stew.  That was enough to make an entire meal.

How to cook rice in the microwave:

Your microwave times will vary.  They're not lying.  Pay attention.  It is important to realize this isn't going to be something you start and walk away from at the beginning.  You are going to watch this while standing in front of it until you know your 'times' and repetitions.  I wasn't even using 'instant' rice - just plain bag rice that was cheap and easy to keep.

I would wash the rice and then put it in the bowl with water covering it but several inches from the top edge of the bowl.  I would add a little oil to it, and then turn on the microwave until the water begins to foam and want to boil over the edge.  Stop the microwave, stir with a spoon, and begin the process again.  If you are always watching it you won't run out of water and burn anything (experience) - you can add water and test until the rice is finished.  After two or three times going through this you know what the quantities of water are and also how much time is needed.  Drain the rice with a plate over the bowl as a strainer (use a hot pad, the heat comes through the plate) and then mix it with your stew or soup and you're ready to eat.

How to cook blueberry muffin mix in the microwave.

The powdered eggs were important on this one, and it helped if I could grab a real milk on my way back through from the coffee shop (also only open certain hours), but I could use the powdered milk as well.  I would use one bowl to mix the powdered eggs to the consistency first ,add the blueberry muffin mix powder, then use a coffee cup to mix the milk with water and pour it in, stirring it up, and then cook it in my stoneware cereal bowl in the microwave in bursts (as above) watching it and turning it over at some point when it began to be pancake like.  After it had 'congealed' to a decent consistency I would let it cool and eat it.  It was better than some things, and worse than a prepackaged item from the vending machine but not much worse.  And it was cheap - the box of muffin mix lasted about five mixes and didn't require digging around for coins or trekking down hallways of the class buildings after hours.

I would pack some of this stuff in my backpack and make it at the Art Studio during long nights, too - using water from their coffee pot.

Big note : Wash everything well when you're done.  You might want a Scotchbrite or a bottle brush thing and your dishwashing liquid, and hot water.  Even if your sink doesn't plug, you can still use hot water to wash the dish.  If everything is washed and put away, you don't have to scrape stuff or worry about getting sick when you go to cook again.  I knew this before I started - I hear some people have to learn it the hard way.  Also, close your containers and packages up tight and keep the cabinet clean to keep out bugs and other things.  Common sense, but again, some may not think it is important until they learn the hard way.

What did I Learn?

Learning to 'cook' and how to 'shop' are a whole different ballgame in the dorm.
I had learned to cook at home, with the cookbooks and the recipes and every utensil and knife available.  It was different working with limited materials.  The game changed some more and got easier when I got my own apartment.  I had already learned on the Scrape Every Penny level.

It was worth learning.  The whole experience was a different kind of education than the college offered in classes.  I had to think ahead as well as on my feet.  Some days I realized I had made mistakes and couldn't afford something or would have to ration something in half until Friday etc.

By the time I got my basement apartment I was still using these tricks - but now with a refrigerator at my disposal! (wow!)  I lived there on something like 400 dollars a month including rent and washing fees (coin-operated in the cold but sheltered hallway of your North Dakota apartment - joy!)   Some days I had to hang my washing up on the shower rod because I couldn't use t he dryer, was out of coins or out of order...  There was a spider that lived behind my medicine cabinet that scared the death out of me several times - I could never smack it because it retreated back into the hole in the wall.  (My husband reminds me now that the spider likely lived there before I did, so he had rights.)  But, I didn't have to go back to live with my parents in the summer when the dorm kicked everyone out.  That was a block from the school, and it had its own parking space.  That was amazing.

So, does it matter today?  For me, yes.  For my daughter?  Maybe.

My husband says kids don't even TRY to be frugal now in college - they just spend everything all at once and then cry to their parents or ..?  My parents were bad off, too - they could barely pay the bills.  I was out there on my own because I worked hard to stay out there....  and because I didn't want to end up living at my mom's house paying her bills and only getting a Community College degree out of my small town.  I felt I didn't have a lot of choices then - financially - and would have ended up in much more debt and with maxed credit cards if I didn't try to live on my exact expenses.  And there wouldn't be anybody to bail me out of that trouble. 

I got through that without terrible nutrition deficiencies.. I kept a part-time job and that paid more as time went on.  I did have one credit card that I had to settle later - because of having to juggle paying school book fees while fighting to reclaim my renter's deposit, not food budget.  My sister did not fare so well with credit.. or with learning to cook at all.  I think one was definitely related to the other.

I graduated in six years with a four year degree, eventually working full-time at my job at an art store, and managing to have my graduation art show.  I haven't done a lot with my art degree now.. but I lived on my own - got a good life education out of it, as well as the actual subjects I learned and have continued to study.  I am glad I don't have to practice this extreme of thrift cooking anymore - but when I make up three meals for work out of rice and soup and a can of something else... I think about that as a lifelong lesson.  And I know enough to be grateful for what I have, and the tools and appliances available to me.

Friday, January 12, 2018


Well, we had flu for several days, each.. in succession.  We're mostly better, although my stomach still doesn't want to eat just anything... it is very picky.  It snowed today, and it will likely keep me from getting to work for several days.  I worry about that -  but can't do much abut it.  It was so nice to have several days of warm and now so cold and dark again....  From the reports we got something like six or seven inches.

There were pretty birds in the cedar tree today - we couldn't' really decide what they were.  I finally concluded they were probably robins.  They looked like robins, with yellow bills and feet, but very fluffy and with darker black on their backs than brown - some sort of towhee was possible.. but they have black beaks and don't like to cling to and eat the berries from cedar trees as much as robins do.

Esme is holed up in her room staying warm and watching her tablet.  She played outside a few times but never quite got the sled to do what she wanted.

Saturday, January 06, 2018


Mark has been down for the past week - but we haven't thought of that as flu, more like a cold.  Esme threw up tonight after not being hungry nearly all day.. which is unlike her.  I gave her some of the honey tea I make in a small amount and we have bundled her up next to our bed on the bean bag chair.  Honey, green tea, orange juice and ginger powder and a tiny bit of spiced rum (less than a teaspoon to a cup and a half).  And I gave her a few tablespoons of that and a cup of water to sip on and will give her some more of the tea later...

She slept about six hours during the night.. more now, she's not burning up and she has been drinking.  She threw up until about 3 am... asked for some applesauce .  I've got to go check her in a few more minutes, having her sleeping beside our bed we were able to check on her all night, which was good.

I made myself a hot curry last night because the smell of what she had thrown up was demanding something spicy to counteract it... 

Thursday, January 04, 2018


They released my brother with anti-seizure medication... he is supposed to be home in Minnesota by now.  Esme started back to school, it has been ten degree days at most at the bus stop... 20 or so high for the day.  Mark is getting sick with something.. he's fighting it, but it has had him sweating a lot with a low fever.  Still trying to keep things up at work... the cold has caused so many burst pipes and other problems that we are running out of things, like usual this time of year.  Freckle dog was down for a few days.. she seems a bit better now.

I read 'The Light we Lost' before the new year started.  It was good, but a tearjerker.  I read 'The World Walker' book one, and it was good, funny and very flowing.  I read 'In a Dark Dark Wood' also before the new year.. slightly predictable, weird to the point of almost tanking it once.. but it resolved as expected.

Restarting with the Welsh lessons.. it's good to take a break and then see how much I truly remember.
Bresych... cabbages, those were hard to remember *heh*