Inspiration from The Last Alchemist

I recently finished reading a book called The Last Alchemist by Erik Hamre. It’s a mystery thriller about a business student researching the life of a wildly successful man who disappeared. While the plot is incredibly well written, what inspired me was a set of “Principles of Wealth” that the author created to get the main character thinking about his own goals in life.

The principles given in the book are little more than stepping stones to get you in the correct mindset to be successful. In my mind, they have nothing to do with wealth, unless that’s what you believe makes a person successful.

Normally I can read a book in 1-2 days, especially the ones I’ve downloaded to my Kindle. Once I read the first principle, though, I found myself reading slow and rereading passages so that I could really let the ideas sink in.

While I was definitely interested in the story, I was more interested in using the principles to really think about where I am in life and where I want to go.

That being said, I’m starting something new. Using the ideas from The Last Alchemist as the starting point, I’ve come up with a set of principles of my own. These are more focused on family goals than monetary. I want to be successful, not wealthy (although I guess I wouldn’t turn that down if I got wealthy at the same time). I’m more focused on my life being full of joy and love and possibilities.

So, if you’re feeling like a slave to debt, and it seems like you can’t break through the walls holding you back from a successful home life, I encourage you to follow along. Take the time to really think about each principle and how it relates to you.

Since I want to spend a good amount of time with each principle, I’ll be posting them individually. For now, though, here’s the list of the main points.

  1. Faith
  2. Intent
  3. Decision
  4. Logistics
  5. Help
  6. Imagination
  7. Perception
  8. Tools
  9. Perseverance
  10. Investment

I’ll see you soon to discuss the first principle!

Do I Keep It?

We’ve all heard the phrase, “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.” For me, that’s something that’s been drilled into my brain since elementary school, at least. First, reduce your usage of environmentally unfriendly items, then try to reuse what you can, then recycle whatever’s left over.

But how do you know what you should reuse and what you should recycle?

This is the question that I think a lot of people get stuck on. It seems like just about everyone has at least one person in their life who has gotten in the habit of keeping way too much. They want to reuse everything that comes in their house so they’re not wasting it. In this frame of mind, just about everything is able to serve more than one purpose, which is great because it can stretch your dollar further. Unfortunately, there are plenty of examples of people who take this idea too far (think Hoarders).

My grandparents are definitely in this category. Being born shortly after the Great Depression ended, they were brought up to save as much as possible (because they simply could not afford to go out and buy more than was necessary). This need to keep things that might be useful has passed down to me, as well. My husband and I like to watch Hoarders and other similar shows to keep these urges at bay. Very effective.

If you notice these tendencies in yourself, cleaning up becomes much more of a chore than other people might think. You start out hoping to clear some space only to find yourself faced with multiple projects that you just don’t have time for right now. Before you set that item aside, ask yourself a few questions.

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What are you going to do with it?

If you get the urge to keep something for reuse later, take a few seconds to think about what you’re going to do with it. If you can’t think of a specific use for the item, you probably won’t ever use it.

I find the most difficulty getting rid of crafty items. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve found small pieces of yarn that I’ve felt the need to keep. It’s not long enough to knit anything, and I’ve got lots of extra yarn, but I still can’t help the urge to throw it in a bin for later. Really though, what the heck am I going to do with like 4 inches of yarn? Nothing. I’ve gotten good at going through these questions reasonably quickly.

How are you going to do it?

Be honest with yourself. If you look at something and you think to yourself, “I know what I can do with this,” then you need to stop and think about the logistics. Do you have the skills and tools needed to complete this project? If you have to purchase materials for the idea, how much will they cost? Is it even worth it?

If you want to keep a rinsed out salsa jar because it’s a convenient size, but you already have 5 jars set aside and you can’t figure out how to get the labels off, you probably should just recycle that jar because you’re not going to get to it.

When are you going to do it?

If a specific project comes to mind, go ahead and keep the item, but only if you think you’ll get around to it soon (like, within the next week or two, ideally). Believe me, having too many projects lying around the house is stressful. Don’t put that kind of stress on your life, especially when you’re already dealing with the stress of balancing work and home.

The photo for this blog happens to be my stack of photos, ticket stubs, and other small tokens of our adventures that I’d like to one day put into nice photo albums (by the way, I’d never suggest getting rid of photos or memorial items). Having that large of a stack sitting around and waiting for me to get to it is very frustrating for me. As it is, I know that stack will take at least an hour to organize and separate into years. Not to mention scanning everything in, laying out pages on Shutterfly or Blurb, and importing everything. With all that in mind, I’m still keeping that as one of my future projects because that’s something that’s important to me.

I’m not saying that it’s going to be easy to change your saving ways. It’s something I’ve been having issues with for practically my whole life (just ask my mom!). It is something worth working on, though. Clearing your home of clutter and projects clears out the mind, as well, and can help your family live a happier, more stress-free life.

Have you ever found something that you just can’t bring yourself to get rid of?

Recipe Substitutes – Beef Stroganoff

I was at it again! This week’s recipe comes from the book Slow Cooker Tonight! by Cooking Light; Beef Stroganoff. I love using my slow cookers (I have three in varying sizes), so I have several cookbooks dedicated to giving me fun recipes to try! The ingredients for this one are:

  • Top round steak
  • Chopped onion
  • Chopped fresh parsley
  • Dijon mustard
  • Salt
  • Dried dill
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Sliced mushrooms
  • Garlic cloves
  • All-purpose flour
  • Beef broth
  • Sour cream
  • Egg noodles

Based on my food preferences, I immediately eliminated the onions and mushrooms. I also wasn’t able to get any top round steak, but I had a chuck roast I’d cut up a few weeks ago in the fridge, so I threw that in there. I also cut the recipe basically in half. Normally I’ll make a large amount so we can have leftover options, but I wasn’t totally sure about this one, so I just made enough for two. My list of ingredients is below:

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  •  1/2 lb Chuck roast (cut into chunks)
  • 1 tbsp Mustard
  • 1/4 tsp Salt
  • 1/4 tsp Dill weed
  • 1/4 tsp Black pepper
  • 1/4 cup Flour
  • 1/2 cup Water
  • 1/4 cup Milk
  • 1 cup Macaroni noodles

As before, my steps were a little different since I was winging it. Here they are:

  1. Place chuck roast, mustard, and spices in a small slow cooker and stir well.
  2. Pour water into measuring cup, then add broth and whisk together until well blended. Pour over ingredients in slow cooker. Set to high for 1 hour, then reduce to low for 7-8 hours.
  3. When time is done, turn slow cooker off and remove the lid. Let stand for 10 minutes, then pour in milk.
  4. Serve over whatever type of noodles you have. I used macaroni.

Now, my only frame of reference on what beef stroganoff is supposed to taste like is the Hamburger Helper version. I have no idea if I should really be calling this recipe beef stroganoff anymore. What I ended up with was fairly bland (most likely due to replacing the beef broth with water), but not bad. It’s not one that I’ll pull out very often, but it was a nice little bit of variety in the week’s meals. The mustard and dill weed are flavors that we don’t often get in my main meal list.

Anyone out there know what beef stroganoff is supposed to taste like? How far off am I?

A Moratorium on Dishwashers

In my Efficient Housekeeping post, I mentioned that I hand wash all of our dishes despite the fact that we have a dishwasher. I’m sure this idea sounds a little bit crazy, but it may just work for you.

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Cleanliness

The most important reason that I started doing my dishes by hand was the fact that our dishes simply were not getting clean. I don’t know how many times I pulled the dishes out only to discover that they were still covered in specs of half washed food.

After trying various brands and amounts of dish soap and having little to no luck, we’ve decided that it’s probably the dishwasher. We’ve been renters for several years now, and have yet to live in an apartment with a dishwasher in good working order. Sure, since the building is owned by a landlord, we could ask that he replace it, but we prefer our privacy much more than having a usable dishwasher. I’d rather we not have strangers in our house fixing something that we can live without.

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Dish Protection

Another reason I stopped using the dishwasher is that it kept chipping the edges of my dishes. Not that we have an expensive set of dishes, but they were given to me by my grandmother when I was a teenager as part of my dowry (yes, I just used the word dowry. It makes me feel fancy).

After just a few washes through the dishwasher when we got our first apartment, almost all of my dishes were already chipped. I was really upset. I’d been planning to use those dishes for the rest of my life and they were already messed up. It ended up becoming a moot point when my hubster did some checking and discovered that our dishes may have contained small amounts of lead in the glaze (This is mostly an issue for plates made in the 1970s and earlier, although this article mentions some other places you might find them).

Once we discovered this, we went out and bought a cheap set of clearance dishes from Boscov’s. (We haven’t gotten rid of our old ones yet, because I don’t want to part with them. We haven’t actually gotten one of those home lead tests yet, so we don’t know for sure if the dishes are unsafe, but we didn’t want to run the risk.)

Anyway, back on topic. When you wash your dishes by hand, the only thing that can damage your plates is if you drop one of them. As frustrating as it is when you break a plate (especially after you’ve already washed it), I still think it’s better than having chunks taken out of all of them.

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Planning Time

As weird as it may sound, washing the dishes can be kind of relaxing. I completely hate starting them, but once I’ve started, I do find it an enjoyable chore. I always have some show on in the background (currently that show is Criminal Minds, which my husband hates, but he doesn’t complain about it when I wash the dishes), so it’s not totally mind numbing.

It’s also a time that I can take to think about how I want to plan out the rest of the week. I’m right there in my kitchen, so I can see my pantry and get a few ideas about what I can make and what I’ll need to put on the grocery list. When I’m done with the dishes, I’ve almost got my meal plan ready to go. That’s killing two birds with one stone! (Sorry, birds…)

**But wait! Doesn’t washing dishes by hand waste more water?**

This is a valid concern. When I first thought about giving up the dishwasher, I was really worried that we’d see a spike in our water bill. After doing some checking, it turns out that it’s actually possible to use less water when hand washing the dishes as long as you do it efficiently. I’m not sure if my method is completely efficient, but our water bill didn’t increase once I started hand washing, so it definitely isn’t all that bad.

What about you? Ever been so frustrated by an appliance that you stopped using it?

Efficient Housekeeping

Since it’s just the two of us, I’ve found that I tend to be a little more lax about keeping up with chores than I want to be when I have kids. Now that we’re truly in the mindset to have children, I want to begin living life the way we will when we do have them. Although I don’t intend to work once we have kids (right now I work full time), I’m trying to improve my homemaking with a busy schedule.

This means my main goal is efficiency. I have to get the most out of my time.

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Determine your priorities.

I know we all want a clean house that looks like it would fit on the cover of a magazine, but let’s face it; that’s unnecessary. Unless you’ve got the time to really clean up and have your family trained to constantly pick up after themselves, that ideal is just going to stress you out.

Before you get started with any cleaning, you need to prioritize and make a plan. What does your family need most to live happy, healthy lives?

In my book, that’s food on the table, clean clothes, and to live someplace that isn’t hazardous.

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Don’t worry about perfection.

Ideally, you’d be able to feed your family healthy, 100% nourishing meals. In the real world, when you’ve just finished a full day of work, it can be difficult to handle much more than a Hamburger Helper or crock pot meal. Anything you make at home is better than fast food, though, so don’t get too hung up on the specifics.

In our house, every Wednesday is pizza night. After trying multiple different recipes for homemade pizza, I decided that it was more efficient for my household if we just stick with buying regular Digiorno pizzas. It’s not as healthy, but it saves me time and it tastes better, so it’s worth it to me.

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Research things that will make life easier for you.

Are there chores that you find yourself dreading every week? Whether it’s laundry, or dishes, or cleaning the bathroom, it’s pretty normal for everyone to have one thing that they just don’t want to do.

For me, that thing is doing the dishes. We have a dishwasher in our apartment, but we don’t use it (I get into the reasoning behind that here). Instead, I wash all of our dishes by hand every week. After a few days, the pile gets big and scary. Every time I started my task, I felt overwhelmed by everything from there not being enough counter space to dry everything, to the plates being too heavy.

After a few months of struggling through the chore, I started looking up tips on how to deal with dishes in a small apartment. As dumb as it sounds, I needed to research the best way to wash dishes. Isn’t it crazy how difficult something becomes once you get used to a machine doing it automatically? Anyway, after going through those tips (I’ll post about those later, I promise!), I finally stopped feeling stressed when I did the dishes. In fact, once I get started, I almost enjoy doing it! You know, until you touch that random bit of food in the water. Blech!

The point is, if something seems to be a huge struggle for you, ask what other people are doing to get past the problem. Everyone has to deal with basic chores. Between the 300 million people in America alone, I’m sure you’ll be able to find someone with an idea that works for you.

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Stick with what works.

Once you’ve found a method that works for an extended period of time, stop looking!

For instance, I’ve tried a lot of different methods of paying my bills and I always end up writing everything down in a notebook. Being able to hold the physical list of what I need to do feels more real and urgent to me than receiving another notification on my phone. I still use Mint to track my spending and so that I can see all of my account balances on one page, but I know that the bill pay service is not something that will work for me.

But my methods shouldn’t be anything more than an alternate idea for you. Don’t pay any attention to what the latest trends on Pinterest or Instagram are. If you try it and you find that it doesn’t work for you, then it’s not efficient and it’s not worth your time.

What do you think? Do you have any tips for running an efficient household?

Recipe Substitutes – Slow Cooker Chicken and Cherries

Every other week I do my best to introduce a new recipe into our meal list. This keeps us from feeling like we’re eating the same thing day in and day out. My husband sometimes feels like a guinea pig, but I can attest that there have only been a few truly terrible outcomes from my new recipes.

Before getting into the recipe, I should first let you guys know how I cook. Basically, I tend to start with a recipe, realize I don’t have half of the ingredients, and then I just start throwing ingredients and herbs into the pot. Maybe not the best way to use a recipe, but I’d rather use what I’ve already got than go out and buy a bunch of ingredients that I’ll only use for one recipe.

The recipe in question is one from The French Slow Cooker by Michele Scicolone; Chicken with Figs. Because I don’t want to cut down on Michele’s profits, I won’t post the exact recipe. Instead, here’s the list of ingredients the book asks for:

  • Bone-in chicken things, skin removed
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • Medium shallots, sliced
  • Bay leaves
  • Fresh thyme sprigs
  • Dry white wine or chicken broth
  • Sherry vinegar
  • Honey
  • Dried Black Mission figs

I have a confession to make; I’m a picky eater. I also don’t have the kind of income that would allow me to have fresh ingredients on hand often. Looking at that list, I already knew that I was going to make quite a few substitutions. I was also interested in using up some cherry preserves that I’d had in my refrigerator for a while. I figured that they would be an alright substitution for the figs, since they’re both fruit (such a scientific method, I know).

Here is my list of ingredients:

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  • 3 Chicken breasts
  • Salt and coarse black pepper
  • Herbs de Provence
  • Marjoram
  • Bay leaves (dried)
  • 1/2 cup Water
  • 2 tbsp Vinegar
  • 2 tbsp Honey
  • 1/2 jar Cherry preserves

For the herbs, I didn’t really measure (because in my mind, measuring is a waste of time). I’ve discovered that when you’re adding herbs to a slow cooker, a little goes a long way. Don’t over season, or you won’t taste the chicken at all. Trust me, I’ve done it.

I didn’t follow all of the steps Michele specified, so I don’t mind posting the instruction information. Those steps are below:

  1. Sprinkle chicken all over with salt and pepper, place in slow cooker.
  2. Scatter herbs over the chicken.
  3. Mix liquid ingredients (except cherry preserves) together in separate bowl and pour over chicken.
  4. Cook on low for 5 hours (6 if you start out with frozen chicken breasts).
  5. Heat preserves in a small saucepan or pot. Stir in cooking juices from crock pot until liquid is reduced and saucy.
  6. Place chicken on plate and pour sauce over the chicken. Serve with French bread.

Despite the fact that this recipe is almost completely unrecognizable compared to the original, it turned out really well! I was a little bummed that I had to use more than just my slow cooker to make it, but it was worth it to include a flavor that is so different from what we normally eat.

Are there any substitutions that you often make? How important is measuring, really?

Chicken and Cherries – Serves 3-4, Cook time 5-6 hours, Active time 20 minutes

Surviving Rock Bottom

So, today’s post is not something I’m happy to write about. Unfortunately for us, my husband and I are going through a really difficult time right now. Within the last few days, we’ve discovered that one of my bank card numbers was stolen and the account was subsequently emptied within 24 hours. Then, we went to get our taxes done, and discovered that we owe an entire month’s worth of bills to the government.

It’s an incredibly frustrating situation. For the entire time that we’ve been together, we’ve lived paycheck to paycheck. We save what we can here and there, but it’s not something we can do consistently. I’m sure a lot of you who’ve graduated college in the past ten years or so have an idea of what it’s like. One time I found an article that said you’re supposed to only use 50% of your paycheck to pay bills and I laughed out loud. What an absurd number when you’ve got over $100,000 in student loan debt (I’m keeping that goal in mind once our loans are paid off, but for now it’s not something we can manage).

Anyway, after going through the ordeal we’ve just been through, I’ve come up with a few steps to surviving this incredibly stressful situation.

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1. Process your Emotions

Before you try to figure it out, give yourself enough time to fully process your emotions about the situation. If you need to cry, or vent, or be completely silent, do so. DO NOT try to make any decisions when you’re hysterical and stressed out. Let your mind run through the possible options while you’re doing something else. Remind yourself of what’s important. You can always earn more money. Even though this may feel like your life is falling apart, you can bounce back. Think about all of the things you still have.

*Remember, if you are going through this situation with a significant other, that they will have their own way of dealing with the situation, too. Don’t yell at them if they need to vent and you need silence. How you deal with stressful situations together is a very important part of a relationship, and your relationship should come first.

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2. Question the Debt

If you owe, is there any way you can fight or lower the amount owed? Can you request a payment plan?

If your employer didn’t take enough taxes out, try using this IRS Withholding Calculator to find out what they should take out. If it’s different from what you’re paying, then you should print out the final page and take it in to your employer and ask them to change the amount.

If your money had been stolen, call your bank immediately and ask what the necessary steps are to getting your money back. Also, change all of your passwords, especially if you use the same one for everything (which I was guilty of prior to this instance).

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3. Check your Money

Take a hard look at your financial situation. Is there any wiggle room? Do you have money saved up for something that can be put off? Can you fit a second job into your schedule to help get money together quickly? Are you willing to? Is there anything you’ve been considering selling in order to get a little more money? Now might be the time to do that. Most people who get their paychecks biweekly will normally have two months out of the year where they’ll get an extra paycheck. If you happen to be in the month that this occurs for you, do some checking to see if you can use that money.

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4. Swallow your Pride

Once you’ve exhausted all of your options that you can handle on your own, consider outside help. Not everyone has access to family members who would be able to spare any money, but it is a possibility for some. In a situation like this, don’t let your pride get in the way of protecting your family. If you can find someone to lend you some money, do so.

Have you ever had to deal with something like this? What other tips do you have for someone going through this situation? Let me know in the comments below!

Well, Hello There!

I’ve been thinking about starting a blog for a while now. As a wife and attempted homemaker, I have needed to look up a lot of tricks for making life easier. In the past, I’ve almost always been able to find whatever answers I need from blogs. Whether my issue was technological troubleshooting, difficult cleaning tips, or new recipe ideas, I’ve had great success getting the information I needed from one blog or another.

In light of all the help I’ve received, I want to give some of my own tips back, so I can help out some other people. The subjects I post about will probably be pretty wide spread, since I’ll mostly be posting about whatever issues I come across that week.

If there’s an issue you’re having and you think I’ll be able to help, let me know! I haven’t seen everything there is to see, but it sure seems like I’ve handled a lot of problems in my life, so I’d be happy to help with anything.