Friday, October 31, 2008

Pumkin's Costume Revealed!

Pumpkin finally got her day in the sun -- And what a sunny day it was! Shee really got lucky for a first Halloween. We hit the library, the park, and a few family-friendly blocks (West 69th, West 78th) to let Pumpkin get her treat on. As promised, here are some pics of the finished costume. JC even put together a hat last night to make sure Pumkpin stayed warm!

We can't wait until next year -- wherever we end up next October, we'll make every effort to revisit the UWS. I was reminded today how much it really feels like home.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

I Made Pumpkin's Halloween Costume *blush*

It wasn't really about the money. I would like to think the time I put into it is worth more than the $10 we would have spent on a costume during a sale or craigslist find. There was just something in me that wanted to try it. To see if I could.

The other part was knowing that I had this great orange fabric from a previous project. We made a cat sack that the cats couldn't have cared less about and that I was never brave enough to put straps on and use as a bag. Orange satin and faux fur are fantastic together!

We have a sewing machine (several years ago I was incensed that I had to pay $12 for a pair of pants to be poorly hemmed and bought a reasonably priced machine on amazon) and basic notion so it wasn't a matter or not having the resources. I had an idea in my head about how to make the body. Columbia gave me a little bit of free time last weekend and I just did it. It's far from perfect but it's made. Pumpkin has a costume for Halloween and we get the satisfaction of knowing that it came from my loving hands. That's a pretty sweet treat.

Here are the steps as they unfolded:

Planning out the body - getting the ideas in my head into a form that might allow me to construct it for her dimensions.

Trying the body
of the pumpkin on Pumpkin with the pants. Don't you love the fabric?!? The pants are from a pair of pjs my mom bought her.

Trying on the collar.
Making this little piece took much longer than the body of the pumpkin! I didn't have any green material, but I did have a green shirt of my grandfathers. When I was little I use to like to sit on his lap and play with the collar of the green shirts he always wore. When he passed my grandmother gave me 2 of them. I thought it would be extra meaningful to use one to make the collar. My only regret is how much material I wasted trying to get the collar to work.

The final shot - that one you'll have to wait for. You know, the one where she's in all of the pieces and ready for some Halloween fun. I have never been quite this excited for Halloween. =)

We did end up spending just over a dollar on a pair of Halloween socks from Toys R Us. They were on sale and we had a gift card. Plus, Pumpkin would need something to keep her feet warm.

We'll hopefully post that final shot tomorrow. Our Halloween treat for you. It's much better for you than candy anyway. ;)

Despite what the post might say, it was actually written by JC. Columbia is probably very capable of making a costume but did not attempt it... this year.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Great Pumpkin and our little pumpkin

Yahoo! "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown" is on tv tonight at 8:00 on ABC. I was just thinking that this dreary, rainy day was proving too wicked for my Halloween preference. This classic cartoon was just what the day called for... of course, I could always just watch it on YouTube.

Here's the first third to tantalize you!

Halloween Updates on our little Pumpkin:
Update #1: Costume chosen, and in the process of being made. Yep, made. There's a good post about this coming up... as soon as the costume itself is finished.
Update #2: Still no pumpkin for Pumpkin. We may have to forgo cheaping out, umm... I mean, being frugal, if she's going to have a pumpkin for her first Halloween.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Attention Television Freeloaders!

Yes, you, the one avoiding the $100+ monthly snare of cable! Yes, you, the one who has heard something about the TV signal fading to black in February but isn't too sure how it will effect you. Yes, you who now watches all of your favorite shows on Hulu, CBS Video, NBC Video, Fox Video, WB Video... ummm, need me to go on? Anyway, if you're still plugged into an antenna or some rogue co-axial cable that dangles by your bedroom window, tomorrow you'll get the chance to see how bitterly lonely the month of Feburary might be.

The traditional analog cable signal will not be broadcasted after February 19th 2009. But tomorrow, October 28th 2008, you'll get a test run of what that will be like. From 5:58pm until 6:01pm, the analog signal will go black in New York City. If you have a new-ish TV, you're probably not in for much of a show. But if your TV set is even a few years old, it's worth testing it out.

Looking on the bright side, if you decide it's time to update the set, Black Friday is just around the corner.

Photo used under creative commons license from Flickr user mariantonia.

A Free Pumpkin - The Search Continues

For those who attempted to brave the rain for Saturday's Halloween Fest in Central Park, I hope that you made it out with a free pumpkin. We, on the other hand, waited for the rain to break a little, and arrived just in time to see street cleaners sucking up the last bits of straw from the "pumpkin patch." The early bird certainly got the worm. To add insult to injury, beautiful and fun jack-o-lanterns brilliantly lit up the walkways around the Mall, with volunteers scurrying to keep the flames alive.

It was a fun event, but alas, no free pumpkin for Columbia & Co.

Pumpkins have been given away for free at nearly every Halloween-themed event this year... Heck, it almost seems disrespectful to our fair city to pay for one. We, however, still don't have a pumpkin, and we can't find another event to score one of those hallowed gourds (or should it be hollowed?). If you know of any last-chance events, please tell us in the comments.

On the plus side, JC began work on a costume for Pumpkin. We'll post pictures on Halloween, but even in its early stages, she looks adorable in it!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

The Divine Halloween Extravaganza

Creepy organ music, a smoke-filled room, incense filling your nostrils, ghostly shapes floating above as horrific creatures creep and crawl around you. Yep, it's nearly time for the Procession of the Ghouls at St. John the Divine! Attending the Halloween Extravaganza had been a Halloween tradition for Columbia and I, as did getting our pictures taken with the ghouls afterwards. When Pumpkin is old enough (and able to sit through the silent movie that begins the event...) we'll find a way to include it again. While not free, it is worth every cent of the $15 for admission. It's always the Friday leading up to Halloween, which is Halloween this year! Tickets are still available for both the 7pm and 10pm show, but won't be for long. So click on over to their site to get yours.

**Break out your phantom mask! The silent movie that starts the extravaganza is going to be "The Phantom of the Opera" this year. A bit long, but sooooooo good.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Last Day for Free Admission to Cooper-Hewitt

Target is sponsoring design week at the Cooper Hewitt this week, and tomorrow (Saturday) is the last day for free admission. The Cooper-Hewitt is a really fun museum to go to, and you don't have to get out your snobby glasses to enjoy it. Yeah, you know the ones I mean.

The Cooper Hewitt is a design museum, and they present shows that feature great design. I always enjoy the shows that look deeper into the industrial design of our culture -- think of a room with things designed more intuitively, beautifully and ergonomically than the ipod. Well, let's not get out of hand, but you get the idea.

There's currently an exhibit on the connection between Children's Wallpapers and Books, and another on Curators Select: Recent Acquisitions (2003–2008). The recent acquisitions features pieces "from all four of the museum's collecting departments: Product Design and Decorative Arts; Drawings, Prints and Graphic Design; Textiles; and Wallcoverings."

Admission is normally $15, so take a friend or that cutie you're trying to impress and enjoy good design for the price of two subway tokens. :)

Posted picture used under creative commons license from Flickr user Bwillen.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

As if you needed a reason to eat cupcakes...

Eat your Cupcakes for a Cause! Until Sunday, October 26th, you can buy cupcakes at a participating bakery and part of the proceeds will go to CancerCare for Kids. If you'd like to choose a more healthful way to help out, you can send an e-cupcake to a friend and $1 gets donated to CancerCare for Kids. I sent one to Columbia with a pumpkin I drew on it... or at least it looked something like a pumpkin.

Find a bakery near you or look below for NYC bakeries.

Amy's Bread
672 Ninth Avenue
New York NY 10036

Amy's Bread
75 Ninth Avenue, Chelsea Market
New York NY 10011

Amy's Bread
250 Bleeker Street
New York NY 10014

359 Van Brunt Street
Brooklyn NY 11231

Buttercup Bake Shop
141 West 72nd Street
New York NY 10023

Upper East Side
1371 Third Avenue
New York NY 10075

Upper West Side
321 ½ Amsterdam Avenue
New York NY 10023

Wall Street
87 Beaver Street
New York NY 10005

Bryant Park
43 West 42nd Street
New York NY 10036

The Village
37 East 8th Street
New York NY 10003

Downtown Atlantic Bakery
364 Atlantic Avenue
Brooklyn NY 11217

Dylan's Candy Bar
New York City
1011 Third Avenue
New York NY 10021

Ivy Bakery
278 87th Street
Brooklyn NY 11209
Kumquat Cupcakery
190 S. 8th Street
Brooklyn NY 11211

LaGuli Pastry Shop
29-15 Ditmars Blvd
Astoria NY 11105

Little Cupcake Bakeshop
9102 3rd Avenue
Brooklyn NY 11209

PO Box 3164
New York NY 10063

Make My Cake Bakery
121A St. Nicholas Avenue
New York NY 10026
Oxford Bake Shop
104-01 Liberty Avenue
Ozone Park NY 11417

Petite Treat
26 Farrell Court
Staten Island NY 10306

Sweet Revenge
62 Carmine Street
New York NY 10014

Tribeca Treats
94 Reade Street
New York NY 10013
Whole Foods
95 East Houston St.
New York NY 10002

Whole Foods
250 Seventh Avenue
New York NY 10001

Whole Foods
Columbus Circle
10 Columbus Circle, Suite SC101
New York NY 10019

Whole Foods
270 Greenwich Street
New York NY 10016

Whole Foods
Union Square
4 Union Square South
New York NY 10003

William Greenberg Jr. Desserts
1100 Madison Avenue
New York NY 10028

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

When life gives you apples, make cake

Coming back from the Berkshires, we had two large bags of apples to contend with.  We made applesauce a-plenty for Pumpkin, ate apples plain, gave some away and... made applesauce two more times. :) But at some point, you need to throw in a little sugar and flour and see what happens. Columbia's mom hooked us up with this very tasty apple cake recipe from her archives, promising it was easy. Not only is it easy, but tasty as well!  So far, everyone has loved it. Umm... from both of the ones I made.  Yeah, it went quick.

Mom's apple cake
2 cup finely diced peeled apples
3/4 cup white sugar
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 egg
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (optional)
1 tsp vanilla

1. Put apples into a large bowl, then add sugar and let stand for about 15 minutes.
2. Put in oil and egg, stirring so that the apples, sugar, oil and egg mix together.
3. Pour the flour, cinnamon, baking soda and salt into the apple mixture and stir well.
4. Stir in the vanilla and walnuts.
5. Pour into well-greased and floured 8-inch square pan (or round pan, if that's what you have)
6. Bake in preheated 350° oven for 45-50 minutes or until cake tester comes out clean.
(This is my favorite part; you have time to clean the dishes, tidy the house, check your email, read blogs...)
7. Cool for 10 minutes, then turn onto cake rack to finish cooling

To fancy it up, dust the top with powered sugar before serving.

So easy, so yummy and not too much to clean up.  This is my kind of recipe!

Photo taken by Columbia at Hilltop Orchards, Columbus Day weekend '08

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

If this is lunch, is there room for dinner?

You may have seen an ad like the one pictured here. There are 5 ads running on 1000 subway cars right now, and they make you stop and think. Of course, I say this as I gobble down some of JC's homemade apple cake... FOCUS, COLUMBIA!
View all 5 calorie education ads.

I've been watching my portion size increase ever so slightly recently, and am having trouble finding time and desire to walk for exercise. I'll hope the mental image of these ads watches over my craving like a guardian angel... like a guardian angel food cake.... ohhh, fluffy goodness -- what? Right... the ads.

The bottom left of the ads say "read 'em before you eat 'em," which refers to the new rules on calorie-posting. From the October 6th press release:

Under the New York City Health Code, chain restaurants are now required to post calorie counts for food items on menus and menu boards. The rule took effect this summer.
One poster shows an apple raisin muffin that looks harmless but carries a stout 470 calories – nearly a quarter of an adult’s daily allowance. “If you’re eating it as a snack,” said Cathy Nonas, director of the Health Department’s Physical Activity and Nutrition program, “you may want to split it with a friend.”

You've probably seen calorie counts showing up where you least want expect them. I've seen them in Starbucks and Dunkin' Donuts, and I guess they'll be showing up everywhere. I did avoid some sweet temptation at Starbucks noticing it was among the worst calorie offenders and went with something slightly less sinful. I don't think that 2,000 (calories) was a number I could make sense of, so this was helpful information for me. Hope it helps anyone else fighting the war at home.

Hmm... no more apple cake left?

Find out more about this program and other NYC health iniatives at the site.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Goodbye, Burritoville

Returning home late last night, we decided to have ourselves a quick order-in dinner. I was in the mood for a burritoville burrito (the vegetarian sloppy joe, or the mega soy, to be precise) so I dialed up menupages and my jaw hit the ground: all burritoville locations are now closed. I'm not sure when it happened, but it looks like they started closing in August. I literally sat there, getting more hungry, dumbfounded and unsure what to do next. I never even got to say goodbye.

Why, Buritoville? Why did you decide to go? Your reasonably priced burritos and free chips and salsa will not go silently into the night. Of course, they never did before, but that's another story. You were a hearty meal when I needed you most.

I'll miss you old friend...

Sunday, October 19, 2008

CityScoops: Does your mail have cupcakes?

Oh please say you didn't throw this magazine out! I have absolutely no idea how this magazine comes into our house, but I usually thumb through its 11 pages and see what's going in. It has a couple of feature articles and some few mini reviews, what's hot, etc. Sometimes it goes right into the recycling bag, but JC decided to check out this issue. I see her going through some coupons (like the ones that come in the blue val-pak envelopes) and her eyes got moist and she said with a smile, "Columbia... you're never going to believe this..." Preparing myself for disbelief, I sat down and drew a deep breath. She holds up something more mighty than a wonka golden ticket -- a coupon for a free cupcake at the (recently mentioned) Buttercup Bake Shop on West 72nd street! If this magazine is in your house, tear off that plastic protective sheath, run (don't walk) to west 72 and thank me later.

Columbia recommends the Lemon or Chocolate Chocolate.
JC seconds the lemon recommendation and also suggests chocolate with vanilla icing.

Link: Buttercup Bake Shop
Link: City Scoops

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Bein' a dad isn't so bad (except that you gotta feed em')

Friday morning I saw a subway ad for "New York City Dads." It's a city program designed for (surprise surprise) dads in New York City. I figured, "hey that's me!" so I checked it out. The site communicates a message that's more and more prominent lately (or perhaps I just pick up on it more now): Reminding men that they need to be daddies and not just babydaddies.

I'd like to think that I am there for Pumpkin as much as I can be, but I could always be doing more. The site has a lot of great suggestions, including 100 free or cheap things to do with your child in NYC, separated by age group. "The Ultimate Playground Tour" certainly piques my interest; a toddler version of the pub-crawl, trying to monkey around on 21 central park playgrounds in one day. Oh I am so there... with Pumpkin, of course. Obviously.

If you're a NYC dad or know one who is, please share the NYC Dads site with them. And here are a few PSAs from The second one is pretty much my goal when I come home each day. :)

NYC Dads:

(Title from the Loudin Wainwright song, "Bein' a Dad". Thanks, Curtis!)

Friday, October 17, 2008

Get a Free Pumpkin (and other great free activities on Saturday)

I'm beginning to think you should never have to buy a Halloween pumpkin in New York City!  The other day I posted about Central Park's Halloween Celebrations where you can get a pumpkin at the Pumpkin Festival (next Saturday, the 25th).  Now I find they're giving away pumpkins at the Madison Square Park's Fall Kids Fest 2008 sponsored by Time Out New York Kids.  It's tomorrow (Saturday, October 18th) from 10:30 - 1:30 and there are tons of great activities planned, including clowns from the Big Apple Circus (um, and free pumpkins).

If you missed touring The Little Red Light House during Open House New York you have a second chance.  The Park Rangers are leading a tour tomorrow (Saturday, October 18th) from 1-4.  You can find out more details here.

I wish we were going to be here for the Pet Parade!  Our little Pumpkin would squeal with delight at all of the pets in their costumes.  It's at Hudson River Park's Pier 84 at 44th St tomorrow (Saturday, October 18th) from 1-4.  There's nothing like pets in clothes to bring a smile to your face and make you forget the chill in the air!

Posted picture used under creative commons license from Flickr user Brit.

Renting vs. Owning (part 2 of 2)

In Renting vs. Owning part 1, I referenced a Wise Bread article that reminded us that buying real estate is not (by default) the solid investment your mom and dad may have told you it was. However, done correctly, it can be a great vehicle for creating equity. In the state of our economy and the current housing debacle we're in, those of us who would like to own could be hearing opporunity knock in the next year.

CNN Money recently ran an interesting article titled "Manhattan real estate prices headed downward". It says that the average price of an apartment in Manhattan has not dropped (yet) but the number of buyers is certainly thinning out. For the past several years, JC and I have watched real estate sites for a 2-bedroom apartment (within a certain price range) in the upper west or upper east side. A year ago it was a laughable idea that anything might come up, though now that same search is yielding results. Since we're bringing in so much less income than a year ago, that price range is even more outlandish for us, but it's still encouraging and helps keep the dream alive. Manhattan real estate has historically been a safe investment, and this was the first I'd ever heard of prices dropping here.

One thought that keeps coming back to me in the past few months is, "has Manhattan seen it's heyday?" Giuliani did a lot to clean up the town. When I came here in 1995, it was already starting to change for the better. I vaguely remember "old times square" and its strips of closed theaters whose marqees told a story as you walked across 42nd street. Now, it's a Disney wonderland and filled with tourists willing to drop massive amounts of cash at Toys R Us, pop-music derived musicals and high-priced chain restaurants. My neighborhood has forced out a lot of smaller shops with gourmet chocolate shops, luxury apartment buildings, and banks at every corner. If the economy should slow down any more, there will be no one to shop at this red-carpet mall that NY is turning into. With a failing economy, crime will also resurface. I don't think we're in for an immediate return to 1970's NYC, but I also don't know how we'll fare in the wake of financial turmoil now that we've gotten rid of the little shops that are able to survive in tough times.

Even with Manhattan's financial future in limbo, we would like our next move to be to a home that we own rather than rent. Since our current financial situation is still new to us, our ability (or inability) to stay in the black will influence our chances of affording a home. Of course, if the market should turn suddenly upwards, our ability to afford staying in our safe nabe could be a moot point anyway.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Renting vs. Owning (part 1 of 2)

As renters, we've heard our share of "you're throwing away your money each year!" or "You pay how much? That's our mortgage!" We've been watching sales listings for years, but it hasn't been in the cards. It's easy to think that owning our own place would give us a magical sense of financial stability.

Wise bread posted an article listing 6 myths about real estate. If you've heard that sage advice, "you can't go wrong with real estate," this article lists six reasons you can indeed go wrong, such as point one:

Bricks & Mortar are as Solid as it Gets
While technically this is true (a hammer will prove this fact, albeit leaving a bit of a mess in your living room), real estate is not to be considered a solid investment that is impervious to market fluctuations. You can lose money investing in property – a lot of it.

When buying isn't in our cards, it's good to hear a friend tell us "don't worry, renters... we still love you."

Around these parts, it's common to hear that "you can't go wrong with real estate in Manhattan." Come back tomorrow for some news on that point in part 2 of this post.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Halloween in Central Park, a spooky good time

Central Park is offering fantastic Halloween events starting... well, yesterday.  Here's the line-up:

Thursday, October 23rd,  12-3pm at the Chess and Checkers House
Seasonal arts and crafts led by the Chess & Checkers House staff 

Saturday, October 25th, 3-8pm at Bethesda Fountain, the Bandshell, Cherry Hill AND the 72nd Street Travers (hay ride anyone?)
When Columbia and I went several years ago, sans children, it was definitely organized with kiddies in mind.  Now it has been revamped, and made later in the day, to include activities geared towards adults.  Events include a pumpkin patch (yep, with free pumpkins), haunted house and the popular Jack O'Lantern Tower.  If you still think you need to have kids to attend, why not volunteer instead?

Saturday, October 25th, 4-8pm at Belvedere Castle
Belevedere Castle as a haunted house!?!  This we have to see!  Then we'll stay for the showing of Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas.  

Saturday, October 25th, 7pm starting at the Charles A. Dana Discovery Center
The north woods at night?  Only with park Rangers leading the way and s'mores waiting for me at the end.  

Sunday, October 26th, 4-7pm at the Charles A. Dana Discovery Center
Come sail away, come sail away, come sail away your pumpkin with me... and hundreds others.  There will also be storytelling, crafts, music and treats.  

All events are free!  Now if the Central Park Conservancy could just help me figure out Pumpkin's costume...

Monday, October 13, 2008

Refueling your wallet at the Pump (Cash vs Credit)

Driving back to New York yesterday, I kept bemoaning not having filled up the tank near where we were staying -- I saw it as low as $3.21 for the basic stuff. As we drove south, it crept higher ("Let's not stop at this one, we'll see one cheaper") until we crossed into Connecticut and it rocketed to the $3.50 range. So as I'm doing the responsible thing of driving on fumes, I see a Hess station in the distance with a sign for $3.17. Since this was lower than anywhere we'd seen, I expected to see it closed and boarded up. But sure enough there were people at it, so I pulled in. What gives? Aha -- a discounted price for paying with cash.

By giving us a reduced rate to pay in cash, the gas station avoided paying fees to the credit card companies, averaging 2.5% depending on the card (USA Today article covering the same topic). So if you spend $100 and pay by credit, the company sends $2.50 to MasterCard for the privilege. Perhaps people spend more freely with credit cards, and thus the fee is insignificant to business owners?

While I'd usually go with my trusty Amazon card, I opted for paper over plastic this time and saved. With my credit card, I get 1% back (in Amazon dollars). By paying cash here, I saved 2.45% vs. the credit price. This made using cash a good decision for me. But what about if credit rewards were a non-issue?

The gas station pays an average of 2.5% in fees for customers paying with credit. For customers paying with cash, the gas station parts with 2.45% of the price as a cash incentive. Either way the gas station is only receiving about $3.17 per gallon. So you think a gas business owner would rather pay 2.5% of their sales to Mastercard, or earn brownie points with the locals by offering them the same goods at a discounted price? Eliminating the credit card is a win-win for both business and customers, and makes me wonder if we are approaching a shift in how we as a culture spend our money.

Rough economic times call for giving up creature comforts first. If that means carrying a little cash around now in order to have more in the bank later, I can certainly live with a little bulge in my wallet.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Planning a Sundate

Columbia and I use to plan surprise outings for each other, calling them a Sundate or Saturdate depending on the day. These were not typically something elaborate, but a stroll to a place of significance for the 2 of us, an undiscovered (by us) local haunt or a free event going on in our neighborhood. It was a plan to show our affection for the other, making a ho-hum weekend fun and exciting with the uncertainty of the surprise ahead.

We still try to plan these on occasion, it just takes a bit more thought with Pumpkin. One of my favorite resources now is the blog Manhattan Street Project. The subtitle is "I walk the streets. All of them." Isn't that awesome?!? Mary Sargent, the genius behind the site, posts at least one picture from each walk and has labeled them beautifully so that you can search posts by street number/name and neighborhood. Because of the Manhattan Street Project, Columbia and I have found some great sites in a walkable distance like Joan of Arc Island.

Now if only I had been so clever as to think of that idea first. Then again, I'm not sure I'm up to walking every street in Manhattan. I'll keep relying on Mary to take me there in photographs, and help me plan our next Sundate.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Oh yeah, and if all your friends were using coupons, would you too?

Every few Sundays, depending on my mood and the amount of stockpiled meat in the house, I'll stop by the newsstand and browse the cheapest Sunday paper. If I see that shiny paper insert, I lay down my $1 and throw my arm up, waving that newspaper, and yell out, "that's right world! I am buying toilet paper this week, and I'm going to save 60¢ on any two rolls of charmin!" I usually don't visit the same newsstand twice, for obvious reasons.

JC is really good about finding coupons online too. Various blogs in our "stretching a buck" blogroll (in the column on the right) post links to the finest deals and coupons. also has coupons you can print at home. Check with your grocery store though, as some don't trust this whole "internet" thingamahoo.

CNN posted an article today that says coupon use is increasing as our economy continues to tank. The reason isn't hard. Let's say you buy a sunday paper for $1. If you get two mediocre coupons out of it that each save you 60¢, then you've already made a 20¢ profit. If you're looking to save some money, buying the things you were already going to buy for less isn't rocket science. Combine that with a sale (typically a couple of weeks after the coupons are out, but before they expire) and you're looking at rockbottom pricing.

Of course, if you need designer checks or patriotic commemorative plates, I can't think of a better resource than those very same SmartSource inserts. Look, it's win-win no matter how you cut it.

...Or clip it.

Link: Economic shock gives rise to coupon cutting [via CNN]

Friday, October 10, 2008

Kayak and See the Waterfalls... just not at the same time

This is the last weekend for 2 FREE water activities: kayaking on the Hudson River and the Waterfalls Exhibit.

NYC Waterfalls: The exhibit ends on Monday, October 13th. The hours have been greatly reduced due to the salt water spraying on the nearby trees (yes, I'm telling the truth). The falls are now only flowing from 12:30pm - 9pm (and maybe only 5:30pm-9pm on Monday). There are several prime viewing locations, including the free ferry to Governor's Island.

Kayaking on the Hudson - Columbia and I have longed to take advantage of this free opportunity... and have missed it again this year. This is the last weekend to take advantage: so if the weather is nice (you can call ahead at 646-613-0740), head to 72nd and Hudson River between 10am and 5pm for some kayaking fun. I'm sure you'll smell better than Kramer when it's through!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

To Get Away or Stay: Celebrating Our Anniversary

Stella tries to be a stowaway in our honeymoon luggage.
October 6, 2005.

Columbia and I were married 3 years ago today. It was a wonderful day. To celebrate, each year we have gone to the Berkshires for the long Columbus Day weekend. We were not sure if we should go this year; we are trying to live on one income and vacationing is not so frugal. We thought there might be a way to pull it off. So we put our cheapskate hats on and came up with some ways to go away for our anniversary for only a little dough. Here's how we're doing it:
  1. Renting a car from a cheaper location, even though it's not so convenient
    Columbia was debating where to rent a car in August when we visited my family in PA. The Enterprise in Yonkers is much cheaper than the rental car spots around here (and they except discount codes). While it's not the most convenient location (especially with an infant), we will save a lot of money by renting there. Columbia has off today for Yom Kippur (what a nice anniversary gift, no?) so we can get the car today. Pumpkin and I will pick up Columbia when he gets out of work tomorrow. While we're paying for an extra day to do this, the cost we are saving is significant. Plus, Columbia can pack up the trunk tonight so Pumpkin and I don't have to do it tomorrow. Sweet!

  2. Staying 2 nights instead of 3
    We are not going away for the entire weekend. If we come back on Sunday evening we can return the car on Monday without rushing. It will still be a nice weekend and Columbia can have a day without driving a long distance before returning to work. We will save one night's accommodations plus meals for an entire day. It's a good way to save money and not need a vacation to rest after our vacation away.

  3. Looking for free activities
    We could go to the petting zoo that charges $6 per adult or the one that is free! Pumpkin, in her 7 month old way, will not care if the $6 petting zoo would have been better. There are also tons of spots to go hiking and see the fall foliage. Free and good exercise!

  4. Bringing some of our own meals
    Breakfast is included at the hotel and we are packing snacks and PBJs for the drive. We'll also bring water and some champagne to celebrate in our room... after our little girl goes to sleep. Food can be expensive, so the more we bring the less it will cost us in the end.

  5. Utilizing the car and the location
    Living in NYC we find schlepping to be part of the package. We'll take advantage of having the car and get some item we wouldn't be able to carry easily, like kitty litter. It's bound to be cheaper at a discount chain than a local pet store. We'll also go to the fruit stands and markets to stock up on fresh produce.

  6. Staying at a hotel, not a B&B
    We are not staying at the cheapest hotel possible. We thought about it, but we kept coming back to The Simple Dollar's post about saving money with a baby. There are some things not worth skimping on for the safety and welfare of your child. We thought a hotel fell into this category. We wanted a clean, safe place for Pumpkin. I didn't want to have to worry about bugs, or moldy tubs, or... . We found a moderately priced hotel that had excellent ratings and was very family friendly. There's even an indoor pool - it will be Pumpkin's first pool experience. The price is still cheaper than what we've paid the past 2 years to stay in a quaint Bed & Breakfast. And the hotel has a DIY waffle iron for breakfast!
While the anniversary weekend may not be as romantic as those in the past, it will still be a weekend away together. Knowing that we've found ways to make it more affordable will help us enjoy it more. Best of all, we will be together - all three of us - and that's worth celebrating!

Don't worry, we won't forget you! We've got several great posts scheduled for this weekend.

Warbler Photos

JC's first encounter with the Black-Throated Blue Warbler on Tuesday, shots taken via camera phone... unfortunately, there was no surprise in what you'd expect from a 2+ year old camera phone!

Yesterday morning, JC got another chance! She grabbed the camera and Pumpkin and darted outside to grab these shots. Success!

As I was coming home yesterday, JC told me to "see if our friend was still outside." I really expected to find a half-dressed homeless man. But instead I saw this gorgeous warbler! I grabbed the "big camera" out of hibernation and snapped off a few.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

An Unusual Visitor

This is NOT outside our apt, you'll understand my difficulties with photography below...

Columbia and I used to be big time bird watchers. We even almost made it in with the Central Park Birders... almost. There was the day that Marie Winn remembered who we were, but that was also the day Columbia proposed. Thus ending our free time and bird watching. Mostly.

Yesterday, as Pumpkin and I were returning from running errands, a bird caught my attention. It wasn't 'just a sparrow' frolicking in the plants outside our building, but an unusual bird I hadn't seen before. It reminded me of a catbird, but was much too small. I tried to take a picture with my phone (note: people on one income do not have phones with cameras good enough to take a picture of a tiny bird hopping around a shady area) but realized I was going to have to rely on my eyes. Thin black beak, dark hood, white belly, white bar on it's wing. I thought it might be migrating and stopping over for a break near Central Park, as many birds do.

After Pumpkin was in bed for the night, I did a little research. I first looked at the Birds of New York Field Guide, as it's such an easy book to use. However, this doesn't account for many of the birds that migrate through. Next up Peterson's Guide. It's much more difficult to use but I began to narrow it down. Definitely a warbler... Hmmmm... Then I remembered the bird list. There's a list compiled every day of the birds seen in Central Park - people really do take birding seriously here. I located the list, looked at the warblers, cross references with Peterson, considered the possibility of color variation with the shaded plant area outside our apartment, and FOUND IT!

A black-throated blue warbler!

It occurred to me that this is what our cat was going bonkers for at the window earlier in the day. I'm glad it wasn't a 4 legged creature as it'd feared...

Posted picture used under creative commons license from Flickr user scubapup.

Educator's Week at Barnes & Noble

This Saturday begins Educator's Appreciation Week at Barnes & Noble, where pre-k to grade 12 educators (including homeschoolers) get 25% off their book purchases and 10% off of CDs and DVDs.  This includes items for personal use (educators can regularly save 20% on items for their classrooms at B&N).  Just bring id.

Oh, Columbia... I think Pumpkin could use another book. =)

Leaving a tourism short list for visiting friends and family

My sister and her family are coming to spend the weekend at our apt for Columbus Day. We won't be here (more about that tomorrow) so we wanted to leave them a few neighborhood spots to visit. Here's what's making the list:

  • Bagel Talk bagel shop
    It's not H&H, but it's not H&H's prices either. While a bit divey, the bagels are great (the ones that Zabar's buys even) and they have a huge selection of cream cheeses, including tofu.

  • American Museum of Natural History
    Yes, it's a huge tourist destination, but there's a reason for that. It's AWESOME! It's also close by. As a "suggested donation" entry, it's the perfect spot to stroll around and pass some time on the cheap. I've also found that if you're not careful, you might just learn something. Consider yourself warned.

  • Buttercup Bake Shop
    The cupcakes are delicious and reasonably sized at this West 72nd street cupcakery. We used to frequent Crumbs on Amsterdam, but you could choke a horse with their oversized $4 cupcakes. The cupcakes at Buttercup are about half the size, with a price that matches. Buttercup was a refreshing change, and they offer a 20% discount for teachers (which will come as a nice surprise to my bro-in-law).

  • Riverside Park, during sunset
    It's such a beautiful stroll when the weather is nice. It's probably getting too cold now. As a reformed Long Island boy, my heart will always have a soft spot for beaches and waterways and after summer the park's groupies make their exodus.

  • The playground at 77th and Amsterdam
    We've been itching to take Pumpkin here since before we were even expecting her! My 9 year old niece and 3 year old nephew are going to have such a good time!

  • Arties
    Arties pseudo-authentic Jewish deli, that has some eclectic foods, great soups and enormous onion rings. It's is a fun place to go and has a little something for everyone. Plus, it's fun to sit in their solarium and watch the passers-by.

  • Central Park
    Pack a picnic and find a patch of grass. Head over to the CP zoo, or just find yourself lost in this 843 acre oasis.

  • IMAX Movies
    Who doesn't want to see a movie on a 7-story tall screen? If the weather punks out, it might be just the thing to do. Head down to 67th and Broadway on a Friday morning or weekend morning and see that first-run IMAX movie at a discount.

  • Jeckyl and Hyde Club / Mars 2112 / Other theme restaurants
    While these aren't everyone's favorites (I think it's something New Yorkers or adults are too cool for) I would have killed to eat here as a kid! The closest I had to a theme restaurant as a child was Chuck E Cheese, a restaurant who's theme is "Mice"... Ummm, yeah, well we have some of rodent themed eateries too, I guess...

As I make this list, I realize there are so many more places to share and love in this great neighborhood and city! I'd love to hear what's on your short list for when company visits.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Bravo Supermarket? Bravo, Indeed!

On my way home from work last week, I realized that there was yet ANOTHER chain grocery store on my commute: Bravo Supermarkets. I picked up an ad to check out with JC at home. Now, one might recall an equally promising discovery of Western Beef, a trip which ended in great sadness. Would Bravo be just another heartbreak to my tight-wadded longings? Could I recover from being as just another notch in Bravo's checkout belt? I couldn't resist. I put on my best game face and hit those sales like an 18-wheeler.

The ad lured us with the following stock-upables:

  • 5lb bag of flour for $1.79.
    The same sized bag for JC's delicious homemade bread costs $3.29 at Fairway.
  • 1 dozen Jumbo brown eggs? $1.50
    Fairway's jumbo white eggs rang up at $2.19 a week or so ago. Yikes.
  • Boneless Chicken cutlets? $1.99/lb
    Geez, I haven't bought chicken cutlets at Fairway in a looong time. I think they were $3.69/lb last time I checked. Probably past the $4 mark by now...
Fairway has been my go-to supermarket for the past 8 years. I love it. If something is to be found there, chances are it's good. It's an experience (to say the least). I enjoy knowing where most everything is hidden in this bizarrely laid out, ever-changing labyrinth*. But the fact remains -- Fairway is too expensive for just about everything, and rarely has published sales.
*Interesting sidenote: Have you ever tried to find regular black peppercorns at Fairway? They do sell them, but they aren't in either place you'd expect.

Wouldn't you know it, Bravo came through with everything I came for except some Baggies that were on sale. The store was clean, the meat looked good, and it wasn't overly crowded. It's near the train I take home, so I'd call this a win! Bravo for Bravo! If I needed more convincing, they won me over again at the checkout when they printed out my receipt using both sides of the paper! By using only half as much paper to print receipts, I'd have to tip my hat to their clever act of eco-responsibility.

I shopped at the Bravo in 90-30 Roosevelt Avenue in Jackson Heights, NY (Between 90th & 91st St.)

As we speak, about 8 pounds of chicken are taking a cryo-nap until we choose to reanimate them. With the chicken alone, that's over $13 saved by not shopping at Fairway (given my rather conservative estimate of $3.69/lb.)

By reading this blog, one might think all we do is shop for food. I'd like to say that's inaccurate, but I'm actually writing this from the freezer section. Please don't stare. It's actually quite cold over here, and I'm regretting having worn such a light shirt today.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Recycle? Reduce!

While making dinner, I bumped my leg on the recyclables bag that hangs from a cabinet knob. It was overflowing. Again. I didn't feel any satisfaction this time in our 'green' efforts and didn't get the 'green glow.' While we are recycling, there is still quite a bit of waste. I began wondering if there was a way to reduce the amount of waste we have, recyclable or otherwise. One way might be to utilize more fresh fruits and vegetables in our cooking. That is not always the cheapest option, especially for a family now living on one income. When planning meals for next week I want to think more about the produce on sale and how we might center the meals around those items. Surely there are ways to be environmentally minded and frugal. If so, we'll find them!

Posted picture used under creative commons license from Flickr user caseyswest.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Happy Blog-iversary Free From Broke!

Today is Free From Broke's one year Blog-iversary! We love 'Broke, and it's not just because
  • he lives in NYC!
  • his wife is a teacher
  • ... for the New York City public schools
  • ... and is taking the year off to be home with the kids
  • when you subscribe to his blog you get a secret message (How cool is that?!?)

But also because Free From Broke provides awesome financial insight and advice.

To celebrate 'Broke is having a contest and giving away amazon gift cards. See how you might get some of that action.

Posted picture used under the creative commons license from Flickr user emma. c.

Western Beef... I wanted to love you.

Last time I rented a car, I had to put that go-stuff in it (gasoline? I'm not very auto-minded), and found myself searching West End Avenue for one of those gasoline stores. Wouldn't you know it, I found a Western Beef! Had I found a local, fully functional discount grocery store? (Note: They do not sell the gasoline. Don't even ask. Trust me.)

View Larger Map

I told JC, and we searched the ads, and wouldn't you know it, they have some stellar deals. Ground turkey for $1.39/lb, 99¢ for 2/lb bag of onions, $3.99/48oz of canola oil, Silk milk for $3/half gallon... We headed out.

When we got there, the sale stars faded from my eyes. No ground turkey... onions with fruit flies... misleading sale items... A sliver lining to this cloud was that the butcher was very nice and ground us up some turkey on the spot. Our walk of shame home had only a few things from our list.

Despite a somewhat disappointing first experience, I think we'd try Western Beef again. It was kinda a schlep and not nearly as amazing an experience as I was hoping for. But if the deals were sweet enough, we'd consider the hike again.

Western beef has 21 locations in the greater NYC area. We went to the one at West 62nd and West End Avenue.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Fly like an Eagle... or watch eagles fly for free, anyway

This Sunday, October 5th, is the annual Falconry Extravaganza in Central Park's East Meadow. While we've never been, we hear it's an amazing exhibit of birds of prey. You can see them soar and swoop up close and personal. We'll just have to hope Pumpkin doesn't think it's the petting zoo...

You can find more information here. Oh, and it's free!

Red tailed hawk photo by Columbia.

Small steps to a smaller you

I saw this ad on Amsterdam and 67th last week and thought I'd take a shot of it. I had only seen it once (June, LES) and thought it was very clever and memorable. The text along his "profiles" reads (from outermost to innermost):

- - - Started getting off bus a few stops early and walking to work - - -
- - - Gradually worked up to walking 30 minutes a day 5X a week - - -
- - - Has co-workers wondering who the new guy is - - -

I seemed to match JC pound-for-pound during her pregnancy weight gain. When March rolled around, she suddenly lost a lot of that weight, and I still looked to be with child. I ballooned up the heaviest I'd ever been and thought -- enough is enough. Time to do something.

The change for me really took:
  1. A desire to be more healthy
    It takes a lot of honesty to understand why your dress shirts don't fit so well anymore. I knew I was balooning up, and my life needed change. I started to internalize that change is possible, and that I have the ability (responsibility?) to make it happen.

  2. Cooking at home more often
    It helps to know what's in our food. I think the last time we ordered chinese, there was more oil in the bottom of the tray than I could comprehend. I have to believe that even with the olive oil that we use, there's no way it's near the amounts of fat, butter, oil and god knows what that take-out restaurants use to make the food taste "better".

  3. Eating smaller portions
    This is certainly related to cooking at home, as restaurant portions are usually closer to two meals. I realized recently that I would have made a fine guppy, had that been my lot in life. Eating until it's all gone is a talent of mine. By cooking at home, I'm better about putting smaller portions in front of me, then packing the rest as lunch. This gets the rest of the food out-of-sight, and thus, out-of-mind. There's a great psychological difference in snacking from the food that's resting on the stove versus savagely violating tomorrow's lunch container early.

  4. Snacking less
    This was a hard one for us, and being frugal was the best solution. Post dinner runs to Duane Reade for those decadent Entermann's dark chocolate and pecan Cookies... what was I talking about? Be right back -- NO! Focus! ...right, cookies... Well, it's easier to pass on them when you see it as an unneccesary expense. It took a little while to kill that habit, but we're pretty good now about avoiding snacks. We do have fiber one bars if the crave strikes, which are a much healthier alternative to a package of cookies. I mean a few cookies. Did I say a package?

  5. Looking for opportunities to walk
    This was a little easier for me to incorporate. Two days a week I work 20 blocks away from home, so I've walked home a few times, and I'd like to increase the regularity of that. We'd find ourselves going to the library 12 blocks away, or the supermarket 10 blocks away as having multiple benefits. My fear is that with Winter around the corner, this part of the plan could be seriously impacted. Here's hoping for a dry winter.
We've lost a considerable amount of weight in the past month or two, without so much as a gym visit. I know it could bounce back, but I have confidence that the changes we've made are healthy choices, not the results of extreme measures. I also have a guilty meal now and again to remind my body that I'm not in starvation mode. I haven't been overly cranky or tired, and I feel better. Plus, now I'm able to wear clothes on the "too-small" side of my closet. You know, the ones that were too small when I bought them, because I was going to lose weight very soon? Also known as "last year's pants".

Friday, October 3, 2008

Reminder: Open House New York is THIS Weekend

If you haven't made any Open House New York plans yet, there are still plenty of sites not fully booked.  Better, there are many sites, like Castle Clinton, for which  you don't even need reservations.  They keep updating the listings so you can see the new additions as well.  Sadly, Schermerhorn Row has decided to not show the interior apartments so there's no need to sign a liability release.  Sorry, Columbia.  Maybe next year.

You can check out Columbia's original post on Open House New York here.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Will that be cash or credit?

Columbia and I have been long time proponents of using credit cards. I know this is not a popular stance in the frugal folk society, but here are some reasons why it has been a positive experience for us:

- We NEVER carry over a balance. Ever. The bill gets paid in full every month.
- We have no debt. We also have no equity. As we don't own anything, showing responsible credit card use is helpful in getting a home loan. This will be handy someday in the future. Someday...
- Cash burns a hole in my pocket. If I have it I tend to want to spend it because there's no trace of my sins. The credit card has a statement that will reveal my $4.32 Starbucks purchase. I'm much less likely to splurge if the evidence is going to be around.
- As the credit card has a statement, by using it for all of our purchases we can see exactly where our money went each month. This can be done with cash by using receipts. Collecting all of the receipts has been a problem in the past and saving them all leads to clutter.
- We get money back. It's only 1% but it's something. Occasionally there are special deals we unknowingly hit and it is a bit more. We have an amazon card and we get reward credit towards As this is our online store of choice (not that we purchase often), we use the credit to buy gifts for family or items we might need. Buying a baby gate for Pumpkin gets much easier when you're not laying out the moolah for it.

Credit is not the method for everyone. It may not even be the method for us soon. As we evaluate our life on one income we may have a much harder time having our income be greater than our spending. If this is the case then we might have to go to the highly regarded envelope system. Simple Mom posted a great explanation on how she has made it work for her. As much as I hate the idea of resorting to that (it does seem like a lot of work), if it makes living on one income possible then we may switch. Until then, Charge It!

Posted picture used under creative commons license from Flikr user paalia.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Sometimes Cheaper is Better!

Check out today's Cocktail Fact from Ideal Bite:

We do have a Trader Joe's in Manhattan AND is has a wine store. We've not been there since the wine store has opened but we've heard 'Two Buck Chuck' is more than $2 there. We might have to make a trip to Union Square to confirm... and sample.

Pitching the Menus

Google ads, don't you listen to our woe?? I went on this morning and saw an ad on A Home in the City for "Menutopia" -- serving menus to all places in the city. Why would you tempt us and our cost-minded readers with ads of encouraging the delivery boy to beat you??

Okay the truth is, sometimes you have to order in. I thought that JC's idea to get rid of the take-out menus was perhaps a little bold, but we should do as we say and we pitched the whole lot. A friend saw them in our recycling bag and looked at me like I'd lost my mind. He paused for about a second, and then said, "ehh, there's still menupages."

Even if you have no intention to stop ordering in, you can get rid of the clutter (binder / folder / pile / etc ) and go digital. Now if I can just stop them from sliding those tempting menus under our door we'll be all set.