Monday, April 27, 2009

Getting There: Part One

So life has been busy busy busy. I have more things to do than I have time to do them in. It's hard to describe a day in the life of a special education teacher - though my brother and fellow blogger can surely identify as he is a retired special education teacher.

I arrive at school at 6:40am and if I am lucky I get to see a beautiful sunrise. However, I spent most mornings over the last few months scraping my windshield clear of snow and ice and driving through yet another snow storm. Once in my classroom I turn on the faucets so they can flush themselves of their high lead content. Then I put my coat and purse away, put my lunch in the fridge and make a cup of tea.
Now I get down to business. I check over my lesson plans and set up any materials I might need throughout the day. I check and answer my email. I create new visual schedules daily for my 3 students with autism. I think carefully through their days to make sure they are as structured and surprize-free as possible. I mark, file or toss large piles of paper so that I can have an unobstructed view of the classroom from my desk, and then spend time thinking and researching about future lesson plan ideas. This month I am ordering 50 caterpillers plus food & cage so that after 3 weeks my students can release butterflies from our garden.

And then my day really begins. Five educational assistants arrive, then my 14 students begin to arrive, some by specially-equipped van, some by bus. I stand out in the hallway so I can greet them as they walk to our classroom. Those who can reply do, the rest smile and pat me on my head. Once the chaos of getting lockers opened, backpacks and coats put away, agendas and notes read, students' questions answered, oh Canada sang, prayers said and announcements read we begin our lessons.

While working with my students I answer phonecalls from parents, agencies and other staff, keep my eye on the ones that might wander out into the hall (students not staff!), give medication to the ones who need it, feed the ones who haven't eaten, comfort the ones who are crying, discipline those who are being rude, hug all of them for being so loveable, and answer the interminable questions from those with tourette's syndrome and autism. The same questions dozens of times each day until their anxiety is satisfied. And it never is.

It is a good thing that I am blessed with ADD because I have to multitask like the dickens. However, it is exhausting being so "present" and "on" for so many hours each day. Sometimes when the school day is finished I just don't want to speak to or see another person so that I can "fill my well" for the next day's adventure.

Part Two will describe how I "fill my well".

Thursday, April 23, 2009

My Relationship with Money

Money is much like cake: you want to have it but spend it too. At least I do. And a couple of billion other people. Personally, I think it harkens back to my "Little House on the Prairie" phase which lasted a really lo.....well it never really ended.

If Ma and Pa didn't manage to put aside enough pennies, nickels and dimes during the harvest season and their seeds for next year's crops were eaten up by rabid squirrels who clawed their evil way into their seed stores through 18 feet of snow then they were faced with few choices:

1) swallow their pride (which was the only thing Pa had in abundance) and try to borrow from nasty Nellie's parents who owned the only General Store within 1,000 miles and if Laura had happened to miff Nellie's feelings then they were screwed

2) depend on their far and few between neighbours to dole them out a few turnips from their own meagre supplies

3) eat their children

4) let their children eat them

Is it any wonder I felt like the wolves were always at my door? While rereading those books with annual regularity the wolf was figuratively and constantly at my door. I've learned many ways of hiding money from myself over the years and I feel that as a single parent I've managed quite well on my own little salary. There was that one time when I was a starving student that I had to pay for my groceries with my Visa card, not my proudest moment but a necessity. One does have to eat doesn't one? And I've never liked turnips very much!

I've gotten into the habit over the years of spending money freely twice a year. At Christmas and during the summer months when I'm off on holidays. I hoard as much as I can inbetween times in order to be able to splurge just twice.

And really that practice satisfies my need to both save and spend.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Sweet Potato Casserole

Last summer I discovered sweet potato fries and fell in love. (Can you have a relationship with a vegetable? Yes, I think so...) I fell in love with S. P. because he was sweet, rich and delectable. He smelled sooooooo good and made my old potato pale in comparison. It was love at first bite!

I first met him at a take-out window - I didn't really know what to do with him so just lightly salted him. That was ok but then I encountered him again at Harry's, on Main St. in Bayfield, and he came with a dip made from mayo and maple syrup. Well, I thought I had died and gone to heaven - a perfect match. From that moment on I was devoted to S.P. He is so wonderful I just had to share him with you.

Let me assure you he's the real deal - I googled S.P. and he's really as humble and honest as I thought he was. As an added bonus he's chock full of vitamins, especially A & C and other anti-oxidants and one good-sized S.P. only has about 95 calories. And rarely have I had to spend more than a dollar or two on him!

**In honour of Meatless Monday I've included an S.P. casserole recipe from their website. I'll give it a try and see if I rave about it as much as last weeks 3 bean chili. At only 116 calories per serving I'm raving already! (Did I say he was cheap?)

Serves 6
• 4 medium sweet potatoes
• Vegetable oil spray
• 1 T. butter or Smart Balance
• 1/4 cup orange juice
• 2 T. chopped walnuts
• 1/4 t. nutmeg
Cook whole sweet potatoes in
boiling water 25 to 30 minutes
or until tender. Meanwhile,
preheat oven to 375ยบ F.
Lightly spray a 1-quart ca s s e ro l e
dish with vegetable oil spray.
Remove potatoes from heat and
add cold water until potatoes are
cooled slightly. Peel and mash.
Add remaining ingredients and
mix thoro u g h l y.
Place in ca s s e role dish and bake
u n c o v e red 25 minutes. Serve hot.
Calories: 116
Carbohydrates: 20g
Total Fat: 4g
Saturated Fat: 1g

Relationships: Part One

Today's question: can you have a relationship with someone you've never met? Or am I just a wee bit wacky in thinking that because I identify with the lyrics and intentions behind many a Neil (forever) Young's song I feel as if I know him? Don't answer that!

From "Beautiful Blue Bird" to "Old Man" to "When God Made Me" to "After the Garden" his words and melodies speak to that part of me that is just a small town Canadian girl riding her bike out into the country to find a little forest where she can climb a tree, eat her brown bag lunch and read her favourite book. As complicated and simple (and wacky) as that!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Time to Rethink Goals

I've been a little too busy lately so am lagging behind in my daily posts. Nothing wrong with that, we all need to take a breather now and then. Last Wed. I went to the Neil Young concert, then on Thurs. night I fell asleep rather early -just can't do the late nights anymore :(... Then I got myself organized so that I could head to Bayfield right after work on Friday. What a brilliant day - over 20 celcius. That was my best decision over the past week or two.

I've been fretting over my balance sheet, finding that my debt reduction/growing savings plan may be a bit too ambitious and impractical. If I just stayed home and did nothing for the next 5 years I could meet my goals, but I can't really wait 5 years for my life to begin. That would imply I'm not "living" in the meantime and, well, I am! But I also want to have a comfortable retirement living that allows me to relocate, travel and not feel pinched by financial insecurities.

So it was helpful to have 24 hours away from home to reflect. The above photos show the beginning and the end of the sun setting over Lake Huron - I was joined on the hilltop overlooking the lake by an older couple and their 2 grandkids and together we basked in the colourfully glowing sky. I listened to granddad explaining the movement of the earth and the sun to his grandkids, and that once the sun had sunk below the horizon people further west would be enjoying the sunset, and other people all the way around the world would watch the setting sun until we saw it come up tomorrow morning in the east. It was a very calm and peaceful moment and I felt myself connected to these 4 new acquaintances in an almost spiritual way. It helped me realize that my focus shouldn't be so much on money, but on more important, family, friendship, my love of nature, health and joyful pursuits.

So I am going to try to refocus my energies and try to be a little bit less obsessed with dollars and cents. After all, the best things in life are free!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Neil Young - There are No Words

One Benefit of Going to Work at 6:30am

The first two photos are taken from the second floor staffroom at my school.

The second two are from the parking lot.

I'm sure there's another benefit but right now I can't think of it.

I'm running on empty after hooting and hollering and clapping and whistling and singing and dancing at the Neil Young concert last night.

Yawwwwwwn, but so so worth it!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Three Bean Meatless Chili is Sooooo Good!

Mmmmm, I just finished a yummy bowl of that Three Bean Chili I linked to yesterday at the Meatless Monday website. I guess that makes this Meatless Tuesday not Meatless Monday but who cares? Not me.

Man I'm a good cook. Either that or this is just an extra-good recipe. But I think it's me.

Course, I didn't know what "northern beans" were, and didn't see any at the grocery store so I substituted black beans. And I didn't see any "small red beans" either so I used brown beans. (Actually, truth be told I didn't have the recipe with me when I was grocery shopping after school today so I sorta winged it.)

I didn't have any tomato sauce either so used a half jar of leftover roasted red pepper spaghetti sauce along with the can of diced tomatoes. And I doubled the amount of chili powder (could still use a smidgen more I think). Then of course I had to add some frozen corn as my daughter likes corn in her chili and really, who doesn't?

So I guess I didn't really follow the recipe at all except that there are three kinds of beans in my chili.....oh and I did grate some cheddar on top of my bowl before shovelling it into my pie hole.

Oh well, maybe next time.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Meatless Monday - Chili Anyone?

A week ago Tami, from the Meatless Monday website said "skipping meat one day a week reduces your saturated fat intake by 15%, which is an easy way to decrease your risk of illness." I know she's right because my daily newspaper once again ran an article about the recent study released by the U.S. National Cancer Institute. (Not much news on Easter Monday, I guess)

However, the point is worth repeating - the more red meat you eat the highter the risk of heart disease, strokes and cancer, particularly colon cancer. I won't get into the yucky details about your colon, just trust me on this one.

Today is Chili Monday over on the Meatless Monday website and here's a link for a meatless chili recipe that I'm going to try!

Here's a short blurb from the Meatless Monday website:
Meatless Monday is a national public health campaign to help Americans prevent heart disease, stroke and cancer. The goal of the campaign is to reduce the consumption of saturated fat in America by at least 15% by 2010 – by encouraging people to be moderate in their eating and meal planning. Meatless Monday is a non-profit organization working in association with Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Twenty-eight other public health schools across the country also support the campaign. The campaign provides tools and resources to help Americans cut the saturated fat once a week. Beyond Monday, Meatless Monday helps Americans make other healthy lifestyle choices, too.

To find out more about Meatless Monday, check out our website every week:

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Spring has come to Bayfield, Ontario sorta

I went to the trailer yesterday with the goal of raking up the lawn and flower beds. But first I took a drive through the village of Bayfield to see if the coffee shop had reopened and it had! Yay - the first sign that spring has come to Bayfield!

Oooooohhh, but there was another sign...all of the merchants were having sidewalk sales! I imagined myself strolling down the sunny, historical Main St. browsing here, buying there... heaven!

But I got a grip on myself and said sternly "plenty of time for that...stick to your isn't on it!"

"But, but, but..(I argue with myself frequently) everything is likely on sale, they're trying to unload last year's unsold stuff, it'll be cheap...."

"And do you need more stuff?" I sternly asked myself?

Fortunately (not knowing yet that I only had $1.00 in my chequing account until my next payday) I listened to my sterner self and continued on to my trailer. I already had a coffee with me that I had purchased with my Tim Horton's gift card (luckily) and I had brought a bag lunch with me. (Foresight or what!)

Once I had revived myself by having my lunch in a spot of sunlight on my front porch, I got down to the business at hand: first I picked up the sticks that had fallen off my silver maple tree - good for kindling for all those summer campfires, then took the pruning shears to my numerable bushes and grasses, then raked up 4 garbage bags full of "lawn & garden waste" noticing all the sweet little buds emerging around my property.

In the shade across from my trailer there were still a few patches of snow but that didn't stop me from getting my bike out (tires still full of air - bonus!) and taking a rather chilly spin around the trailer park.

So much more fun than pedalling the recumbant bike in my bedroom all winter.

So spring has come to Bayfield, the trailer is ready, what more could I ask for? Summer holidays perhaps?

Weekly Budget: Balanced or Blown?

Somewhere I have gone horribly wrong!

As far as the weekly budget I am OK: $125 on groceries and $30 on gas, well below the $300 weekly I allot myself for food, gas and misc. expenses.

But yesterday when I was going through my budget for April I found that I am short, really short on funds for the rest of April! Where did I go wrong? I'm not quite sure but will be crunching the numbers very soon. I thought I had around $500 until my next pay on April 15th but I have only $1.00 left.....$1.00!!!!!

One mistake I've found already - there are 5 weeks this month for some of my weekly payments, not the usual 4. So that accounts for about half of my shortage.

Another factor is that I had to fork over some cash for school-related expenses that I will be reimbursed for - so my goal for next week is to deliver my receipts to the appropriate reimbursers so that I can improve my cash flow for the rest of April - still more than 2 weeks left to this month. Yikes.

At least now I feel a little better knowing where I've gone astray, most of it anyway. It's going to be very tight for the rest of the month - no more bras, no more spring tops - I'll just stay the heck away from stores altogether.

This may be the month that I have to use the $80 worth of free groceries I have coming to me from the Real Canadian Superstore and maybe the $20 gift certificate for A&P that I got in exchange for some of my airmiles.

The last resort will be to take some $$ out of my savings account but I REALLY hate doing that - I'm such a miser!

This should be fun! Stay tuned...

Friday, April 10, 2009

A Lot of Firsts this Month (and today)!

The first columbines of spring.

The first chives - I'm going to try some tonight

with some new baby potatoes. I'm salivating!

The first sedum (Showy Stonecrop) of the season.

All this fresh green new growth in addition to my first outdoor beer on my newly cleaned up patio. My cup overfloweth!

Speaking of green....I have some financial firsts happening this month. For the first time since its inception my line of credit has fallen below $30 large. What a difference to see $29534 instead of $30000. And my savings will break through the $50000 mark this month for the first time in my life - verrrrrrry motivating I must say. And.... my retirement countdown will dip below 1900 days in a week - yippee!

Ohhhhmmmmm - I will not spend, I will not spend, I will not spend.....

The Weekly Dump: The Irony of it All!

There's lotsa stuff hitting the curb today! As my mother would have said "what a grand day"! First off it's Good Friday and a day off work never hurt anybody. It was also 13c outside and compared to the snow earlier in the week positively balmy. So I headed out back to clean up the patio and carted two bags of leaves, twigs and other sundry debris to the dumpster. Then I proceeded to have my first beer of the season on my cleaned up patio. What a treat! (Never mind that it was last summer's leftover beer - it was cold and wet!)

Also heading out the door this week are two more bags of books and a bag of my daughter's clothing. She's done her first year of university except for exams and spent yesterday cleaning out her room. It's amazing what you can accomplish when you are procrastinating - she would otherwise have been studying.

The irony factor is this: whilst I keep reducing the amount of stuff in my home by recycling and throwing out what can't be recycled my brother over at It Strikes Me Funny regularly goes dump diving with his buddy Don and brings things HOME from the dump! He claims that he inherited this dump diving gene from our father who never could pass by any usable item he found along the side of the road. Slight difference however: our father made a small fortune from the beer bottles he picked up along the sides of back roads around Norwich OR tried to pawn the stuff off on his unsuspecting children with the oft heard phrase: "$75.00 bucks takes it home!"

My brother is trying to make his fortune (or at least money enough for a tank of gas for his motorcycle) by turning scrap lumber into birdhouses and has some other projects in the works once he gets the new lathe he's ordered. Good luck big bro!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Money Saving Tip of the Week - Meatless Meals

I'm a big fan of eating meatless meals. My daughter and I haven't had a hamburger for over two years since watching the movie "Fast Food Nation". That was a personal choice motivated by the mistreatment of animals shown in the movie, the horrible pollution of land and water caused by factory farms as well as not wanting to take the chance of being served a helping of sh-t mixed with the hamburger.

Since then I've been hearing much more about the benefits of eating less meat. On March 29th headlines were made when the results of a ten year study by National Cancer Institute researcher Rashmi Sinha were released proclaiming a shorter lifespan for men and women who eat red meat and processed meat.

Also, it was shown that those people who ate the most white meat (turkey, chicken and fish) were about 8% less likely less likely to die than those who ate the least white meat. So not only is red meat BAD for you but white meat is GOOD for you!

Living a loooooong life after I retire is a crucial part of my Five Year Plan - I want to suck that teacher's pension plan dry! Hee hee. I don't eat much meat but when I do it's only chicken, turkey or fish. So far this week I've had chicken 3 times: homemade chicken caesar salad, lemon chicken and rice and leftover chicken pieces in my homemade soup. I have supplemented my diet with kidney beans, yogurt and cheese (as in my Hot n' Ready cheese pizza tonight to celebrate the long weekend - hey I'm not perfect)!

Tami, a reader who works over at wrote the following in a recent comment:

"Meatless meals can cut a lot of time off of cooking and prep, plus cutting back on meat is one of the simplest things you can do to improve your health. Did you know that meat consumption has been linked to heart disease, stroke, diabetes and certain types of cancer?"

Well yes, yes I did, and I'll be over to your website for more meatless menu ideas. Meatless meals are indeed faster to prepare (Black Bean Burritos, for example).

And last but not least meatless meals are CHEAPER to prepare. Since I've been eating at least 4 meatless suppers per week my grocery bill has been substantially reduced. So if I'm counting correctly that's a WIN WIN WIN WIN situation! Hey, I'm down with that! (or up?)

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

How You Know You're Ready to Retire

Don't get me wrong - I love my students. They are the reason I get up at 5:45am every morning, but I'm starting to see the signs....

1. Just when you got used to your right eye twitching your left eye starts to twitch too.

2. You are spending more on Tums and Tylenol than you are on food.

3. The glass of red wine at supper is being served up at 2:30pm.

4. You have to use the elevator to get to the second floor.

5. You can't read the blackboard from your desk.

6. My students are teaching me about computers.

7. You forget your name when you answer the phone.

8. You start spelling all the naughty words to your friends.

9. The yellow stains on your fingers (chalk, not nicotine) have become permanent.

10. You spend your lunch hour taking a nap.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Meatless Monday - Easy Black Bean Burritos

In order for me to cook I need recipes that have the following qualities or forget it: convenience, the minimum number of ingredients and the least time needed for preparation. Easy Black Bean Burritos fits the bill for all of my requirements and is also meatless to boot! These are great for a quick supper or take them with you for lunch.
1 15-oz. can vegetarian refried black beans
4 flour tortillas
2 cups romaine lettuce, shredded
2 tomatoes, sliced
2 green onions, sliced
1/2 avocado, sliced
1/2 cup salsa
(and if your cholesterol is low spring for some shredded cheddar!)
1. Heat the black beans on the stove or in a microwave. Warm tortillas, one at a time, in a large dry skillet, flipping to warm both sides until soft.
2. Spread warm tortilla with approx. 1/2 cup of bean mixture.
3. Top with lettuce, tomatoes, onions, avocado, and salsa (& cheese...or sour cream if you're livin' on the edge!)
4. Roll tortilla around filling and enjoy.
Since there is no meat to cook this meal takes about 15 minutes to make.
For more recipes like this check out MEATOUT!

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Weekly Budget: Balanced or Blown on Bras?

Photo: La Senza
And I was doing so well! By Friday night I had spent only $77.57 on groceries and $16.73 on gas, way way below my $300 weekly limit. Why? Because I claimed I had been so busy I had no time to shop. True as far as it goes.

I had been complaining for some time to my daughter about the state of my bras - I was so desperate that I had latched on to one of her discards. Not that I don't have bras - I have plenty of bras but they either don't fit well or the elasticity is beyond its prime or they are the wrong style.

You see, I was blessed with my mother's somewhat sloping and narrow shoulders. With the normal style of bra the straps slide down my shoulders like melting butter on corn on the cob. To prevent that I either make the straps so tight they gouge into my shoulder fat or I wear the style of bra that has a T-strap at the back.

So yesterday I decided to bite the bullet and go to La Senza at Masonville Mall. (My daughter made me promise that I wouldn't buy any more bras at WalMart or Zellers). The last time I had been there they didn't have any T-strap bras so my mood was pessimistic. However, to my surprise I hit the jackpot and found several bras that suited my needs. The fitting room experience is not usually one I am fond of but yesterday it was ok, not quite fun, but ok. I wouldn't say my cleavage is beyond belief but it is at least tucked up into better fitting cups. I ended up buying 6 bras for a total of $173.39 which makes me kinda queasy but I shouldn't have to bra shop again for at least a year.

I wish I could say that was the end of it but Suzy Shier was just across the way as I left La Senza so I thought I'd just pop in and see what their spring line looked like this year, and ya know, it looked pretty good so I ended up spending another $51.87 on 3 tops for work. (Would have been more but I have a 10% discount card and a $5 coupon)

Within 24 hours I'd gone from being vastly under budget to being over budget by $19.47.
173.30 + 51.87 + 77.57 + 16.73 = 319.47

This week I'll try to make up the $20 overage by not going over $280 in total. I think I can do it if I stay REALLY busy!

Friday, April 3, 2009

The Weekly Dump: The Piano is Gone!

I feel like I've lost about 400 pounds! 400 pounds of iron and wood.

The last time I moved the monstrosity I call a piano to look for our missing hamster my back hurt for about 2 weeks. Never again I groaned to myself. I've got to get rid of this thing before I do myself a permanent injury.

Originally a relic of the school system our old Heintzman was very sturdily built and although on casters it was near impossible to move around on my carpeted floors. My daughter hadn't played it since her lessons gratefully ended 5 years ago and I only used it as a shelf for my Christmas village once a year. It was time to unload it...but how?

I hoped that if I offered it for free on Kijiji someone might be persuaded to come and move it but I wasn't prepared for the multiple replies. And I had even owned up to its one wonky key!

So on Wednesday I sadly waved goodbye to Heinie, feeling like it was the end of an era. Then I spent the next 2 hours reconfiguring the living room furniture, happy for the extra space.

What WILL I get rid of next? Perhaps the Christmas village!

PS - the hamster turned up in the pots and pans drawer under the stove. Alive and well.

For more widgets please visit

Money Saving Tip of the Week - Keep Busy!

Any money-saving tips that I offer on this blog are strictly ones that I use myself, discovered mostly by trial and error (emphasis on "error"). I'm not some money guru or environmental purist who grinds her own wheat that she grows in a window ledge flower pot. I'm not going to tell you to clip coupons or make trips to several grocery stores to take advantage of weekly specials when I don't do it myself. No, when I make suggestions they come with a guarantee (I'd say money-back guarantee but that wouldn't be very frugal of me!) to save you a few shekels.

Take this week's tip for example. This tip is a day late, I usually post them on Thursdays, but that in itself is part of the tip!

This week has been an especially busy one, busier than the usual busy life I lead as a special education teacher and single mother of an 18 year old university student. With report card time looming over me like a black cloud I spent the week crazily preparing for a media event taking place in my classroom today. Every spare moment I had went into planning for the event, cleaning the classroom, decorating and so on.

The media event was a great success and I felt even happier when I realized that I was so busy this week that the only money I spent was on a few groceries, gas for the car and a fast-food meal yesterday as I raced around town.

So if you want to cut back on spending keep yourself as busy as a one-armed wallpaper hanger. Not only will you not have time to shop you won't even miss it and when you look at your bank account you will get a pleasant surprise!

Now for those report cards....