Archive for November, 2010

homemade gifts

A common suggestion in the realm of “how can I make Christmas more affordable?” is to give homemade gifts.

Inherently, I have no issues with this.  As a person who does a little bit of sewing, I have given a few gifts that have been homemade. I have received some amazing hand-made items.

However, as I mentioned in yesterday’s post, keep the recipient in mind.

I have been looking over many many lists of homemade gifts and/or gifts you can give inexpensively. I have to say that unless I had grandchildren and these gifts were from them, I would not appreciate most of them. Perhaps I am Scrooge-y, but sometimes it seems that the thought that counted was “one less gift to worry about” or “I saved a lot of money this year!”

Honestly, I’d rather receive nothing than be a chore or a burden. (It is OK not to give gifts to everyone you say hello to in December. You know this, right?)

That said, I’m sure there are some people who would love many of the things that I cringe at. It’s not all about me 😉 — know your audience.

I have seen jars with ingredients for chocolate chip cookies a few times. Here is a list of a whole slew of recipes in a jar — baked goods, drinks, soups, bath items. Lots of room to play with this frugal idea! (But most of these are not a good gift for someone trying to make changes to their eating habits. This time of year is hard enough without gifts that encourage poor eating choices.)

This list is a mish-mash of homemade and otherwise frugal gift ideas. 75 of them!

These items fall into the “not for Heather” category, but perhaps someone else in your life would love them. (However, if you click through #7, one of the suggestions is herb plants in a pot with recipes for each; I think that is a pretty nifty idea.)

What do you do for gift-giving this time of year? How many people do you shop for? Do you go for easy, cheap, both, or neither?


no poo update

I’m just passing on a link here… Mrs. Money — from whom I got the ‘no poo shampoo’ recipe — posted an update answering some questions. Since I’ve blogged about no poo, I thought I’d pass along the update as well.

it’s Cyber Monday!

I have many rambling thoughts about this time of year. I’ll see about being coherent 🙂

Black Friday was this past weekend, of course, and today is Cyber Monday (which, as an aside, is further evidence that the cube farmers are not getting a lot of work done in their cubes, or we’d have Cyber Friday on Black Friday, no?).

There are a ton of deals out there. I’ve gotten dozens of e-mails, and I’m not on dozens of lists.

Just because something is on sale doesn’t mean you have to buy it. Even if it’s a really good deal.

If there is something that is on your list that is on sale, go get it! But if it’s not, don’t bother.

You’re not saving money if you’re spending money that you didn’t plan to spend and/or don’t need to spend.

Let’s say there’s a TV that retails for $1,000 that is on sale for $700. It’s a sweet TV, and while you weren’t planning to buy a TV, that’s a really good deal. You are excited at the discount and go buy the TV. You saved $300! No, you lost $700. And if you paid for it in any way that involves payments, you’re paying more than $700 for it. (That is true, of course, whether something is on sale or not.)

The same rule applies for any sale. “Buy one, get one 50% off!” But if I only need one, I’m not going to buy two just because the second one is on sale. If I need none, I’m not going to buy one just because it’s on sale.

The only exception I can think of: if it’s an item you can resell and make a profit on, it might be worth buying even though you don’t want or need it. But remember that everyone has access to the same “great deals” that you do right now. And that it might not be worth the time and energy to unload it.

Look around your house. How much stuff do you have cluttering your house? Can you park a car in the garage or is there not room? Do you pay monthly for a storage unit to hold even more stuff? Did you buy a bigger house (bigger payments, bigger utility bills, etc.) just to have more room for stuff?

How much money did you spend on all of that stuff? Does it matter if it was on sale? If I’ve spent hundreds of dollars on things that I don’t love, need, or use, it doesn’t matter if they were sale dollars or not.

Do you really need more?

“But I need to buy gifts for [this long list of people].”

Let’s revisit the stuff that’s taking up space in your house that you don’t love, need, or use. How much of it was from someone else?

Be honest. How many gifts that you give are taking up space in someone else’s house?

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t exchange gifts. But in my opinion, gifts should be something that the recipient needs, loves, and/or will use. Unless someone is an avid candle-burner, a candle is not a good gift.

[Side story: when The Big Man and I were getting married, my mom and I had a conversation about wedding gifts. She asked why we didn’t register for bath towels. “Because we already have enough bath towels.” But towels always make a good gift, she argued. I disagree. If we already have more towels than we know what to do with, why would more towels be a good gift?]

Active gifts are often more heartfelt than stuff: tickets to a performance of some sort (sports, theatre, music, carnival, etc.); coupons for chores or favors (especially useful for those who are sick, those with small children, and those who are older); spending time together (make dinner, have drinks, go on a picnic, take a hike, just sit and talk).

What’s your take on Christmas consumerism, Black Friday/Cyber Monday, etc?

opinion Q for the readers

Hello, faithful readers! I have a quick opinion question for you.

The theme (and title) of the blog is “change is possible.” I have focused mainly on health, fitness, food — things in that general realm.

However, a lot of what I read is based in personal finance — getting out of debt, managing spending, etc.

Are you interested in this kind of stuff? It still completely falls within the theme, just not in the way that I have been using it most of the time.

I was thinking that I could include links to articles I’ve enjoyed and/or found useful in the Sunday links, or I could round them up for you separately, or I could continue to leave them out.

Chime in, please, and let me know your thoughts!

other people’s handiwork

Happy Sunday! The Big Man and I had a nice few days in southern California with most of his family. Fun people, good food 🙂 It made me happy that most of the 20 people who we had dinner with didn’t stuff themselves to discomfort. How did you do?

27 Things Your Training Partner Won’t Tell You from No Meat Athlete: This list made me laugh out loud. There are some funny tips, some useful tips, and some “I wish other people would heed this list” tips. Not only for people who train with a partner.

A modern thanksgiving from Seth’s Blog: Short and excellent. Read it.

Eight Tips for Dealing with Difficult Relatives over the Holidays from The Happiness Project: OK, these are a little late for this holiday, but they’re useful for future holidays … and some are useful for meetings at work or other places where you might have to socialize with people you wouldn’t choose to.

Meatless Meals (I Wish) My Mother Made-guest post

Today’s recipe — for vegan samosas — comes from Hans Dannik:

I adapted it from a recipe I found on  All of her recipes are vegetarian.  I’m not sure if they’re all vegan as well, but at least the samosa one is.  My adaptations were to peel and dice the potatoes first and then steam them instead of boiling.  I also used half as much potato as her recipe, as the Indian notion of a large potato is about half the size of a US one.

A gotcha: her recipe, and my cut-and-paste of most of it, neglects to add the salt listed in the ingredients.  Today I added it at the same time I added the amchur.  It helped.

Also, a shortcut: you can often find roti circles already made in many Asian supermarkets, or you can use tortillas instead of roti/own-dough.  A warning: chapati and puff paratha do not make adequate substitutes – your samosas will end up puffy instead of crisp, the dough is sticky and hard to handle, and this dough soaks up a lot of the oil you fry it in, making them a bit greasy.  They were still a big hit tonight, though. 🙂

I’ve adjusted the recipe for USA potato sizes, and have made the recipe easier and faster by substituting tortillas for self-made dough, and steaming the potatoes instead of boiling them. Makes 16 pieces.

Vegetable Samosas


  • 8 fajita-size flour tortillas
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 4 tablespoons lukewarm water


  • 3 large potatoes
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 4 chopped green chilies
  • 2 teaspoons coriander powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon garam masala
  • 2 teaspoons amchur (mango powder)
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 4 tablespoons oil
  • 1 cup green peas (frozen)



  1. Start heating water in a steamer for the potatoes.
  2. Peel and dice the potatoes into 1/2″ to 3/4″ chunks.
  3. Once the water is boiling, steam the potatoes for twenty minutes.
  4. Heat the oil in a frying pan on medium-high heat. Test the heat by adding one cumin seed to the oil; if it cracks right away, oil is ready.
  5. Add cumin seeds. As cumin seeds crack, add green chilies, coriander powder and stir for few seconds.
  6. Next add green peas, turn heat to medium and stir until tender.
  7. Add the potatoes, mix well, and stir-fry for about 4 minutes. Stir in garam masala and amchur. Add more salt or amchur according to taste.
  8. Let the filling cool to room temperature.

Making Samosa:

  1. Take 4 tablespoons of water and 2 tablespoons of all-purpose flour to make a paste and set aside.
  2. Cut tortillas in two, making two semicircles of each.
  3. Spread the paste lightly all along the edge of one semicircle. Pick this semicircle up with both hands and fold it into a cone shape. Pinch the side of this cone so that it is completely sealed.
  4. Fill the cone with 3 tablespoons of filling. Press this filling down with your fingers. Now close the top of this cone into a triangle shape, pinching the top edge so that it is completely sealed.
  5. Continue filling the rest of the samosas.
  6. Heat about 1-1/2 inch of the oil in a stir-frying pan or wok on medium heat. To check if oil is hot enough, place a small piece of dough in oil. Dough should sizzle and come to the surface slowly.
  7. Place the samosas in the frying pan a few at a time.
  8. After samosas are floating on top of the oil, turn them slowly. Fry the samosas until the samosas turn a light golden-brown color on all sides. If you use a high heat, the samosa crust will be too soft and not crispy.


  1. If the filled samosas sit for too long, they will dry out. To avoid this, cover with a damp cloth.


  1. Samosas can be prepared ahead of time and frozen for up to a month.
  2. Before freezing, fry them until the color of the samosas changes to a very light golden brown.
  3. After the samosas are at room temperature, put them in zip lock bags and freeze them.
  4. To use the frozen samosas, take out as many you need and fry them on medium heat.
  5. If you’d rather not deep-fry them, instead brush the samosas with oil and bake 15 minutes at 425 degrees F. Reduce heat to 375 degrees F. and bake for 10 minutes more. For maximum crispness, turn the samosas over when you turn the oven down.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving!

May your day today be full of gratitude, peace, charity, laughter, and not too much food 😉

Today (and most days), I am grateful for:

  • health: cancer-free, active, generally healthy eating habits, generally good sleeper, less mental anguish than in most of my life
  • family: my in-laws rock 🙂 and they are also generally healthy
  • friends 🙂
  • self-sufficiency: we’ve changed our spending habits enough that despite all that we’ve taken on and all that’s been thrown at us, we’re doing OK and aren’t feeling pinched
  • luck of the draw to have been born into a wealthy nation, into a family/region that lives easily (and often without realizing it)

What are you thankful for today (and perhaps more often…?)


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