Planning Packed Meals… on the cheap.

(Please accept my apology ahead of time for the wonky alignment of photos and text. I have spent way too much time trying to get them to line up, and so I’m giving up. Hopefully everything makes sense anyway.)

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I’m one of those people who doesn’t function well when I don’t know where my next meal is coming from. Ask my friends. They all have funny stories about me asking what the plan is for the next meal or two, and what we’re going to take with us.

I’m also a planner. If I don’t have a plan, a strategy for a day or a span of time, I feel a bit lost. If I don’t know that I’m going to need money for something and find myself without any, that’s a problem. Or, if I don’t prepare myself to be spontaneous during a certain period of time, and I’m expecting something non-spontaneous, it takes me a while to adjust my outlook.water bottle

Needless to say, I like to be prepared for meals, whenever possible. At home, that means I keep my favourite ingredients stocked at all times. But when I’m going to be out for a day, it gets a bit more complicated. Most people buy food, but eating out, especially on my university campus, is a great way to spend rather than save.

Now that I’m in my third year of university, I have got lunch-planning pretty much down to a science.That’s a really good thing, because I also have to save my money more than ever.

So. My strategies.

1. I always carry a bottle of water. Most public places have water fountains, and it’s much more environmentally-friendly and wallet-friendly to use a re-usable water bottle than to buy bottles of water. Mine is a well-used flexible plastic Vapur bottle that I purchased at The Warwick Lodge Shoppe in Bayfield, but they’re available at many stores now. It’s lightweight and compact.

almonds

2. I always carry healthy snacks. This term, it’s mostly just a small container of my trusty raw almonds, but I have also carried containers of dried fruit such as bananas and apricots. I usually have a granola bar or two on me as well, and perhaps a bit of candy for when I get a craving for something sweet.

Insider’s tip: The best raw almonds that I have found for the best price are the Kirkland brand from Costco. I’m lucky to have a boyfriend with a membership. 🙂

granola bars3. Buying in bulk is great for saving money and time and mental energy. I got this gigantor box of granola bars at Costco. –>

tuna4. There are a couple of different approaches for packing meals. I use a combination of leftovers and things that I can eat on my favourite crackers. Cheese, slices of tomato, and individual cans of flavoured tuna are a few of them.

5. This is a no-brainer, but I like to make big batches of foods that will freeze and re-heat well, such as this huge batch of broccoli soup I made yesterday. I’ll put it into smaller, microwaveable containers to take with me for lunches this week.

container of soup

egg container6. Another great quick, easy, and healthy snack-ish meal component is boiled eggs. They are good for one week in the fridge. Here are some instructions for how to get perfectly boiled eggs. I put my boiled eggs in this handy-dandy container that I got at a Mountain Equipment Co-op store –>

7. For those times when I am just too busy to get all domestic and make things ahead of time, I keep a few packages of a perhaps not-so-healthy but filling meal that I can prepare the night before, such as these pasta dinners by Knorr.

knorr sidekicks

8. For dessert, a batch of cupcakes baked-ahead is a great idea. Or some pudding or yogurt in a container. Don’t forget the spoon!

I often have muffins in the freezer, or other breakfast-y concoctions that I can merely thaw and eat, or sometimes reheat and eat.

container of cupcakes

9. Sometimes I get on a salad kick where I will only take salads to school for lunch. For those times, having a container like this one relieves a lot of the annoyance of taking salad. If you add the dressing ahead of time, the lettuce wilts. So you have to take an extra container of dressing, which takes up extra space. Then you have to fit some unwieldy container of salad into your lunch bag to keep the veggies fresh… etc. etc.

salad container 1

This container was about $10 from Winner’s, but is made by a company called Fit & Fresh.

It’s great because it has all of the parts you need for a great salad container!

It comes with an ice pack that fits either into the lid or into the inside lower level, in the same space as the salad itself.salad container 4

salad container 3

There is a special container for dressing, where it will stay (most of the time) until you turn the container around in its spot (open it) and release it directly into the salad. Genius!

And there you have it!

It’s worth spending money on containers and gadgets that are going to make your planning and saving easier!

10. Finally, for those that are like me and love their coffee (or tea), and want to save pennies and trees, get a travel mug. Make your hot morning beverage at home. Splurge on a coffee maker with a timer. Or set everything up beforehand so all you have to do is turn the machine on in the morning.

I sometimes take a travel mug with coffee in the morning, and a thermos with loose tea for later in the day, that I just have to add hot water to.

travel mugAgain, spending $10-$15 on decent-quality gadgets and containers will save you money and time, and you will be able to commit to better-quality coffees and teas as well.

My personal favourite place to buy travel mugs is Starbuck’s. Their mugs are as close as I have ever found to being leak-proof, and I have no qualms about dropping a full one in my schoolbag (upright, of course) to take out to the car or across campus. Plus, they’re usually cool-looking. Bonus!

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Which is Worse, Tyrants or Tycoons?

Yesterday, I read a couple of articles about the Occupy Wall Street movement (#occupywallstreet) that is underway in the Western world. One article, titled “This is what democracy looks like” was for the Globe and Mail, co-written by an assistant professor of my program (Media, Information, and Technoculture at the University of Western Ontario), Amanda Grzyb:

"This is What Democracy Looks Like..."

The other was for the New York Times, written by opinion columnist Mark Bittman:

"Finally Making Sense on Wall Street"
Both authors are sympathetic to the cause, and Bittman even says the movement is “being embraced by the Democratic leadership.” This movement is clearly different: it is resonating with hundreds of thousands of people world-wide.

Occupy Wall Street began 26 days ago with a call to action from a culture-jamming group known as Adbusters. People responded to their call for a horizontally-structured (as opposed to vertically-structured and therefore bureaucratic in nature) movement demanding change. Participants then began to camp on Wall Street (and the streets of other cities’ financial districts, including Toronto’s Bay Street starting this Saturday), and present themselves as the “99 percent” that struggles while the remaining 1 percent enjoys the majority of the wealth of the west.

Their inspiration? The Arab Spring, a massive ongoing series of uprisings that have caused civil wars and unrest in several Middle Eastern and North African countries, not to mention the deaths of thousands upon thousands of oppressed citizens who have had enough of autocracy and persecution.

Adbusters: Occupy Wall Street

Ironic, isn’t it, that thousands die to obtain democracy while our friends and neighbours suffer because of democratic deceitfulness and capitalist crookedness?

As Bittman says, the desire to protest the status quo isn’t new: perhaps one of the reasons this movement resonates so deeply for so many people is that almost every generation has faced some injustice that required standing up and standing out. Think the Vietnam War, or even the French Revolution.

Our generation has it the worst of any other yet, though, according to Bittman. If this movement does not result in substantial change, will our children get hit even worse? Is it even possible to bring about the change that we so desperately need?

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I wonder which is worse, tyrants or tycoons?

Hey Bad Tipper: You’re Breakin’ my Heart! You’re Shakin’ my Confidence, Baby!

Five years of experience might not make me an expert, but it does make me experienced.

Those five years have taught me that I’m a better server than some, and, provided my attitude doesn’t get in the way, often deserving of a good tip. Those same five years have opened my eyes to a glaring fact that surprises me less these days, but continues to rile me: people are CLUELESS!

Okay, so maybe not in general, but in tipping, I guarantee you that the majority of people I serve have no idea what they should be doing. They have no idea that their ten-percent-before-taxes is breaking my heart, one table at a time. They have no idea that my Waitress Face is hiding my profound disappointment. We laughed, we cried, it was better than cats… until they got up to the counter and slapped me in the face with their loonie. WHAAA–?!

Clueless. That’s all. They’re not having a bad time. They enjoyed their food. They dug the music. They wanted my silver spoon handle ring. They encouraged me in my future career. They offered to send my children to school… And then they broke my heart.

I have thought a lot about what might be done to illuminate the unwritten rules of the service industries of the world. I really am no closer to a solution, other than to do what I do best and rant about it on my blog (I’ve also thought about writing something more substantial. An essay? A compilation? A booklet on how to be a good customer? … Thoughts welcomed).

So. For those NOT in the know, here are the basics:

  • An average (think: minimum) tip these days in Canada is 15%. Yup. FIFTEEN, not ten.
  • In recognition of good service (defined below), tip 20% or thereabouts.
  • MOST IMPORTANT: 10% is an insult. A letdown. A farce.

Fun fact: did you know that the minimum wage for servers is less than for everyone else because it is assumed that tips will provide the rest?

Yes, someone decided to give YOU the power to pay part of my wages! Why you gotta let me down?! Can you believe there are actually people out there who think: “I worked hard for my money: why should I give any to you?” Hi. This is me, working hard for my money. Which used to be your money. If you didn’t want to pay for the whole restaurant experience, why did you leave your own kitchen?

Okay. Good service. The twenty-percent qualifying round. These are things a good server does (watch for them!):

  • Greet you in a friendly manner
  • Get to you as soon as they can (sometimes that means they’ll get to you to tell you they’ll get to you as soon as they can)
  • Keep you in the loop (specials, soups, what the kitchen is out of, any delays, where the bathroom is, etc.)
  • Explain the menu, if it’s not self-explanatory
  • Ensure your drinks and food arrive in a timely manner, or, if there’s nothing that can be done, keep you in the loop about it and give you updates about what’s happening
  • Double-check to make sure that you got what you ordered and that everything is as it should be, you have the condiments, utensils, drinks, napkins, etc. that you need.
  • Check on you after you start eating to ask if everything is okay, or if there’s anything you need
  • Keep your water glass more full than empty
  • Notice when your drink is low and ask if you would like another
  • Clear your plates in a timely manner (the best servers often wait until everyone is done: it’s more polite that way)
  • Offer you apres-dinner items (drinks, dessert, etc.)
  • Make sure you are good and done before speaking of/presenting the bill
  • Process your bill in a timely, professional manner
  • Try to avoid mentioning anything about a tip. That’s just tacky!

My Condensed Idiot’s Guide to Being a Good Customer will have to wait for now. I have papers to write. Meanwhile, don’t forget: you are part of your restaurant experience. If you are being annoying, chances are your server will be less inclined to give you good service. Are you doing it just so that you’ll have an excuse to give him or her a lower tip? Hmmm.

You know that adage, “If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy”? Think of your server as Mama, and life gets better for everyone.

 

If I Had a Million Dollars…

…I’d buy your lo-o-ove!

Not really.

Off the top of my head, I think I might:

  • Pay for my entire education
  • Put my sister through school to be a Registered Massage Therapist
  • Go back to visit Hawaii and Mexico and Norway, etc., and maybe take my family to one of those places
  • Travel to the UK and Australia and New Zealand and Italy and France and Greece (you get the picture)
  • Buy some stocks
  • The wise thing to do would be to put it in the bank first and start letting it earn interest, and then pay for all of the above things out of the interest, but the wise thing wasn’t the first thing that came to my mind.
  • Buy a house, fix it up, and perhaps rent part of it out to pay the mortgage payments
  • Is there any left?
  • If so, I’d start an authentic Mexican-food restaurant somewhere along Lake Huron and maybe bring in one of my Mexican friends to guarantee that it’s authentic! And, of course, to stay and make tortillas.
  • Not gonna lie, I’d buy some brown leather “riding” boots
  • And I wouldn’t wait for my BlackBerry contract to expire before getting the biggest and prettiest iPhone there is
  • I’d hire someone to review and delete all the spam comments that are in the “comments waiting to be moderated” section of this website. Blech.
  • Is there still some left?
  • I’d buy one of those sweet mesh ergonomic office chairs that you could just live in, or at least they look like you could!
  • I’d buy a newer Toyota 4Runner, one without cracks in the dashboard or worn spots in the paint or dents in the bumper from where my little brother backed into a post. The only flaw I’d accept would be coffee pre-staining under the cupholder, because heaven knows I’m only going to add to them!
  • Oh yeah, and buy a lifetime subscription to SIRIUS satellite radio so that I can listen to the CBC wherever, whenever, forever!

To Gym or Not to Gym

I made a resolution to work out this year, in a manner of speaking. I told my doctor that doing cardio was a goal of mine, and I really hate lying to people in authority. It’s just rarely a good idea. One can get away with telling fibs to servers and cashiers and nosy aunts, but when one’s health is in question, honesty is definitely the best policy.

When a friend gave me a two-week membership to the local YMCA, I thought, “Aha! My break has come! In I go”. So I did. For two weeks.

And I loved it. I learned how to use all the machines, talked about going to work out with my friends, dreamed of attending morning classes, took my brother ones, looked for the combination lock from my high school locker to put on my gym locker, bought non-cheap new running shoes, etc.

Then I encountered a wall I haven’t been able to breach: $44 + GST/month, plus the $80 activation fee. GULP.

Sure, when you think of it in terms of your long-term health, or how it costs $10/visit if you’re not a member, or how you have absolutely no motivation to do anything physical by yourself and have no TV with which to employ Wii Fit, that amount of money makes sense.

But then the scale flips and you remember your rent, cell phone bill, home phone bill, hydro, gas, insurance, groceries, investments, and other financial responsibilities, and suddenly it’s a big deal again. Yikes.

Yet, if you’re willing to humble yourself

On Being Single, Living Alone, and Having Hardly any Single Friends

1. Your back gets patchily tanned and/or burned.

2. There is a distinct lack of motivation to wash the dishes.

3. Nudity can happen frequently at home.

4. Solitude aplenty. Solitude in abundance. Solitude to the extreme!

5. 10 AM seems bright and early.

6. Going alone to the beach is unavoidable.

7. Clothes, magazines, shopping bags, wine bottles, bags of chips, iPod cables, newspapers, mail, and water bottles on the floor in every room is just normal.

8. No one reminds you when you’re road-raging about that tailgater that you just committed the same offense on the way home yesterday.

9. You can drink water, wine, OJ, and coffee every day for a month without running out of clean glasses (at least, I can).

10. Never mind the old adage that you should take off one piece of jewellery before you leave the house; in my case, I have some I can’t put on before I meet up with other people.

11. The things you have in common with your girlfriends (now married with children) grow less and less. And less (something just happened as I wrote this that really drove the point home).

12. Stigmas about Old Maidendom get closer to home, whether in your eyes or others’.

13. Wanting to go out means you either a) scrape together the nerve to go by yourself (not likely); b) wait until that one single friend you have is available on a Saturday night; or c) play the anti-social card. Again.

14. Items of clothing with buttons up the back are, sadly, not for you.

15. You’re the first person people think of when someone asks them for a pet-sitter or house-sitter.

16. Without a man, you really have no idea how to care for your car and just hope nothing happens.

17. No one helps you dig your way out of your driveway in winter.

18. You can only have Housewarming parties so many times. Besides that, what can a single girl register for to get stuff like engaged and expecting girls do?

19. Fashion means more to you.

20. The baby behaviour, baby stuff, baby growth, baby names, and baby care references get old when you’re the only one without a baby.

21. Master of the fake smile you are.

22. You fear the cat-lady reference yet admit to being a candle-lady.

23. Eating in is a novelty.

24. Cooking for one isn’t. You begin to long for NYC, where everything can be delivered. Or, perhaps, to hire someone just to have someone else to cook for.

25. Plant-and-candle lady?

26. Things stay where you put them. Ordinarily.

27. You flip-flop between wanting to nest and wishing you’d never stopped to roost.

28. No one cares what time you come in at, and no one cares what time you come in at.

29. Only you face the consequences for too much shopping.

30. There’s no one to blame for anything else, either.

A Day in My Life, June 2008

I had a sudden desire today to chronicle and compare the different stages of my life, as I look back and notice that my life in June 2008 is remarkable different from that of June 2007, June 2006, June 2005, and so on.

I invite you to be a witness on this journey.

June 2008 finds me 27 years old, living in a two-bedroom second-floor apartment in the only apartment building in a tiny town in East Huron County called Brucefield. This town is known for it’s flashing light, yellow if you’re driving between Clinton and Exeter on Highway 4, or red if you’re coming from either Seaforth or Bayfield. There is one elementary school, one church, one drive-in restaurant, two mechanic shops, one Asian/Home Decor/B&B/Lunch Room location, and one fire station.

My apartment overlooks a cornfield, the view of which is mostly obstructed by a lovely birch tree. Said tree helps me feel more confident walking around in my apartment in less-than-decent clothing on summer nights. After all, who would be driving by slowly enough whose gaze could penetrate the birch branches in the split second I happen to be passing through my dining room, several feet from my beautiful picture window?

I enjoy living alone, though sometimes I do wish someone was there to care whether I came in or not, or to wonder where I was, or to motivate me to do dishes, finally! My neighbours are understanding and quiet, the area is safe, and I actually have a place to call home. MY home. I’ve immensely enjoyed painting and decorating my apartment, putting all of my good taste to good use in a place where I’m the boss, now and forever.

Another addition to my life is that of Trixie the Toyota, a pretty, dark-green 1997 4Runner who goes with me everywhere I go. She hauls the accoutrements of my life and hobbies without complaint. She has survived being rolled over in the ditch after skidding out on an icy country road, being hit-and-run by some unknown person, a not-so-successful attempt at backing up a trailer, and carrying some of my more treasured furniture.

Not so enjoyable are the bills that go with being established and mobile, namely cell phone, rent, insurance, hydro, phone/internet, groceries, gas, repairs, etc. I can’t say as I ever yearned for that part of nesting, but I take it in stride, usually. I’ll be much happier when I can finally get my tax returns done (for the past 2 years), pay off my credit card, and have money set aside for winter tires.

I have spent more than a year at the same job, as a server at The Brew’n Arms English pub and restaurant in Bayfield, Ontario. Earlier this year, I graduated to keyholder and Dining Room Manager, as well as Kitchen Painter and Orchid-Caretaker extraordinaire. My bosses are wonderful people who have become friends and family, as well as the most understanding and flexible supervisors anyone could ask for. They make me want to stay and do my best for them, for their business, for their town.

Last year at this time, I was also working as a drywaller, and, shocker! I don’t miss it a tiny bit. I do enjoy my refined house-painting skills, which I have recently put to good use in a “cottage” in Bayfield, and hope to expand as a second job. If you hear of someone looking to hire a house painter, give them my number!

I’m not attending church because I couldn’t handle the one I had called “home” for years. I’m generally fed up with the institution that is what church has become, with all its expectations and traditions and legalism. I would enjoy a faith-based community of believers that is honest and open, a group that can laugh and be reverent in an informal way. I really could expand this paragraph to a whole essay, but suffice it to say that I have not encountered such a community, but I still seek to hold onto my beliefs. I am discovering more of what life is like on “the other side” (outside the Christian bubble), and it’s very educational, despite occasionally dangerous.

If it were possible to live on coffee, I’d do it.

I’ve joined the wonderful realm of BlackBerry, as I once dreamed of doing. And I’m paying for it, too.

Writing is still my best communication method.

I rarely see earlier than 10 AM, or close my eyes earlier than 1 or 2 AM. I’d like to change that.

The music in my life has developed over the past year as well. I am the youngest voice of the all-female cover band, Cactus Jam, and I love it, despite playing mostly Legions. I was also privileged enough to be part of Noted!, a project sponsored by the United Way in my county, which is helping to boost the music careers of the 17 women chosen to participate. We got to record 14 tracks in a professional studio, and a great-sounding CD is the result. This past winter I also ventured out to sing a few times at Open Mic nights at a local pub, and have been the featured soloist at two church events.

This year finds me recently motherless, a drastic blight on anyone’s life, and definitely on mine. It has changed so many things and finally propelled me into nesting in the first place. It also made my brother and I guardians of our youngest brother and launched me further into the land of disabled children in Ontario. I now have a lawyer, communicate regularly with several case workers, get all kinds of official mail, and have to return junk mail still addressed to Mom.

June 2008 also finds me blonde, and with an even greater fashion sense. I love that about growing older! I predict I’ll still be stylish in my 80s. If I’m not, remind me of now.

I’ve discovered I love flowers and plants, doing the Toronto Saturday Star crossword, Pinot Grigio and Shiraz, premium beer, CBC Radio, brie on melba rounds with semi-dried tomatoes in duck confit, Dollarama’s plain candles, serving dessert, mom’s old couch and armchair (with my apartment’s decor built around them), C&E used furniture in Goderich, Americanos from The Bean, and living in Huron County!!! (Sorry, but that deserved more than three exclamation points)
Being Sarah Elizabeth takes different shapes all the time, and I’m enjoying the process. Here’s to another year!

The Joy of Tipping

This rant has been a long time coming, so my apologies to those who I’ve mentioned it to who have come here to find me procrastinating. As usual.

Diners of the world, hear ye, hear ye! Servers of the world, unite!

Together we approach the possibly controversial topic of tipping. Having been a full-time server for almost a year now, you’d think I’d have ranted about this long before now, but it’s only recently that I’ve noticed just how stingy some people are.

Fact: Servers don’t even make minimum wage.

Fact: Servers put up with a lot of picky, ignorant, cheap, snotty, and “special” people, and good servers like me keep smiling anyway. Usually.

Fact: A twenty percent tip is considered good; a fifteen percent tip is considered acceptable; a ten percent tip is considered bare minimum albeit ignorant because that was considered good about 10 years ago and hello, have you SEEN gas prices lately?!; and less than that is just plain mean and backwards.

Fact: In a place that has candles on the tables, jazz playing during dinner, $9 glasses of wine, and delicious, if simple, food, a ten percent tip is a slap in the face.

Wikipedia has this to say:

Though by definition a tip is never legally required, and its amount is at the discretion of the person being served, in some circumstances failing to give an adequate tip when one is expected would be considered very miserly, a violation of etiquette, or unethical.

And:

In countries where tipping is the rule (for example United States), complicated social rules and etiquette have developed over the exact percentage to tip, and what should and should not be included in this calculation. In other cultures where tipping exists it is more flexible and no specific assumptions of the tip amount exist. In the United States, it is acceptable to tip anywhere from 15% to 20% if the service is good to superior, and less or even zero for mediocre service. In Canada, a 15% tip is customary for good service.[8]

Some establishments pool tips and divide them to include employees who lack customer contact. At some restaurants, agreements among the staff require the servers to tip out members of the support staff (kitchen, bartender, and busser) at the end of their shift;[9]; this means that servers pay a certain fixed percentage of their sales (most often a portion less than 15 percent of total sales) to the other staff. Thus when a patron leaves a small tip, it results in the server having to receive less from the tipping pool than other staff.[10]

Lately, I’ve had so many people tip me less than ten percent, it’s sickening. If you’re one of those people, give yourself and your wallet a shake! Do I have to launch into my Principles of Generosity lecture? Also, if I’m truly that shoddy of a server, do you think they would’ve appointed me Dining Room Manager? So. Since your bad tipping habits don’t reflect on my skill, it must be an indication of either ignorance or stinginess on your part. (If you’re a good tipper, please disregard these comments 🙂 )

I’d like to continue this rant, but I think I’ve actually covered all the ground I want to. I’ll leave you with this thought:

Wouldn’t you rather err on the side of generosity?

Didn’t Happen

Sasha the Sunfire and I, that is. We didn’t happen. We came pretty close to a hopeful partnership of several years, but the bank apparently didn’t want it to happen (they wouldn’t lend me the full amount), and the owner of the car dealership actually advised me against taking his offered loan which would make up the difference, stating what was becoming evident: I couldn’t afford two car payments per month!

So, I let Sasha go, hopefully to another loving owner. And the search, which is no longer desperate, continues. Some are mistakenly thinking that I am only in the market for a Sunfire. Not so, folks. I just want an affordable, reliable, non-gas-guzzling car that I won’t be embarrassed to be seen in! I’d like it to have functioning AC and heat, a radio and a CD player. Absolutely not too much to ask, wouldn’t you agree?

Perhaps someday soon, I’ll ditch The Beast (sorry, Mom) for a car all my own. Exciting and scary all at the same time!

About to Be…

… the owner of a gold 2000 Pontiac Sunfire, whom I’ve dubbed Sasha.

As soon as we can figure out financing and all that jazz.

Finding the car was the easy part. Financing it is a whole other story. According to my bank, the car is only worth $3600, so that’s all they can lend me. I owe about $5500 after making a down payment of $1000. Nowhere will you find a decent 2000 car with just over 100 000 kilometres for less than $5500 plus tax and fees and safetying and all that jazz! The bank is dreaming.

So. I’m looking into other methods. Welcome, me, to GrownUpVille… not sure how happy I am to be here, but having wheels will make it all worthwhile… I’m pretty sure.