It has been 147 days since I began using the free language learning website Duolingo (see initial post here) and I am happy to report that I have finished the Spanish skill tree! Woohoo!
I rushed through the last dozen or so courses, so I will have to spend the next several weeks reviewing them and solidifying those skills. If I had to describe my fluency level, I would peg it at the same level as Frugal Boy’s 2 year old English proficiency. I can understand what he wants on a very simplistic level and sometimes he even strings together a simple sentence but it is no where near conversational level. That’s me with Spanish, a notch above grunting and pointing.
From here I have several options for learning. Firstly, I plan on reviewing and strengthening what I have already learned in Duolingo by redoing past lessons. Secondly, I could do the learn English as a Spanish speaker skill tree within Duolingo. I have heard that is quite the challenge doing it in reverse. Finally, there is another free language learning website/app that we can access through our library accounts called Mango. Chances are good that your local library also grants you access to it as well.
You may recall from last year (here) that our garage door was reaching the end of its life. The hardware including the rollers, track, springs, and pulleys were all worn out and starting to fail. That made this winter quite the chore because although our door would open reliably, it would not shut without a dozen or more attempts. Each time it started to come down it would seize and you’d have to open it all the way and try again. Disconnecting the door from the opener and closing by hand wasn’t much better. The door and springs were so far out of balance it was darn near hernia inducing.
The door had called it quits, and I finally came to terms with the fact that I would have to spend money on it. I hate the thought of spending money on a garage door that faces the backyard. I do not believe that it adds anything to the resale value of the house. By the time a perspective buyer made it back to the garage they will have already decided if they want to buy or not. With a sad wallet, I called out a company that specializes in repairing and replacing garage doors.
The gentleman that came out for an estimate started identifying all of the worn out hardware components and their respective replacement prices. By the time he had finished the total had reached five or six hundred dollars. Then he mentioned that a brand new door with hardware starts at $700. Hmmm, prolong the life of a busted door for another 10 years or completely replace it and get another 30 years? That one was a no brainer. Once we settled on replacing we talked about the different options. We have a detached garage so it was a pretty easy process. We ended up selecting an uninsulated 24 gauge traditional steel panel white door. The 24 gauge metal is slightly more expensive and durable than the company’s most basic door so we should get improved longevity from it but it was still on the cheapest end of the spectrum. The final install cost was $938.
We could have added a row of windows for another $200, but I didn’t feel that was a good investment for the above stated resale reasons. All in all I felt that we got a reasonable deal on the door. Buying a door ourselves at a big box store would cost about $650 for an equivalent door. I would estimate that it would take me an entire weekend to install which would put my labor rate at $18/hour. While not a terrible use of my time, I could think of several things that I would rather be doing than swearing at a garage door.
The company that we hired sent two guys, the owner and a helper, and they did the complete replacement in just over two hours. I asked them how many doors they do a week and they said 4-5, so they know their stuff!
The extent of my baking knowledge up until now has been to follow the instructions on the back of the ready mix boxes. Come along with Shae and myself as we embark on a six week baking challenge where we push our comfort zones and try baking recipes we have never done before!
Week 1 – Eclairs
photo credit: frostingandasmile.com
Eclairs are a filled pastry dessert topped with icing. I don’t think I had ever even eaten an eclair before trying to make one, but they couldn’t be that hard to make, right?
Armed with a photo tutorial from frostingandasmile.com we set to work making our custard filling the night before. We have been watching a lot of the Great British Bake Off show, a lighthearted amateur baking contest. One of the big advantages of working at home is that we have a lot more time. Anyway, back to the custard. It is all cooked and then needs to be chilled before it is injected into the pastries. Did I mention that it is delicious?
The next day we set about making our choux, pronounced shoo, pastry dough. This very wet dough is piped onto baking sheets and when it bakes the moisture in the dough turns into steam and puffs the dough out. This leaves the inside semi-hollow and that is where you put the custard filling. We used a $1 piping kit from dollar tree to pipe the dough out. You could use a ziploc bag with a corner cut off. I did the first batch with a small tip (too small of a tip in hindsight).
Shae opted for no-tip with her batch and they came out to be just the right size. Here they are after coming out of the oven.
The recipe calls for using parchment paper, but parchment paper is quite expensive. We have ordered reusable silicone baking mats for the future. Some of our eclairs were a little burned from leaving them in too long. Oops!
Once the baked pastry has cooled down you need to inject them full of custard. Using a decorating tip, stab one or both ends and squeeze filling into the choux until it starts oozing out. Our custard was quite thick so this was a good hand workout.
Here comes the fun part, the decorating! We started by making up the chocolate ganache. That is a fancy way of saying heated up cream poured over chocolate chips and then melting and mixing the whole thing up to make a slowly hardening glaze. Working quickly, we dunked the top of each eclair into the ganache to coat it. Eventually the ganache will cool completely and re-solidify.
The last step is to add some white chocolate drizzle. The drizzle is simply white chocolate chips melted and drizzled on. They re-solidify once they cool. This seemingly simple step took me three tries! Argh!! I kept burning the chocolate in the melting process. Eventually I got a batch that was melted enough to decorate with but wasn’t burnt.
Tada! Eclairs are best eaten fresh. Otherwise stick them in the refrigerator. Ours tasted pretty good but wouldn’t win any bake offs. I learned a lot about chocolate and how best to pipe choux pastry onto a baking sheet. We also got to spend some quality time together as a family. Yes, Frugal Boy did plenty of taste testing. 🙂
You have probably heard the saying “Pay Yourself First”. A few years ago, I saw a graphical representation of that saying that used water and buckets to represent the flow of money. In that analogy, income/money comes pouring down from the top and fills or leaks out of various buckets as it cascades down to the bottom. It is up to you to decide what buckets get filled up first and how much water is wasted (frivolous spending). Below is a rough representation of how money flows through our personal finances. You can see how we have put “paying ourselves first” as a top priority as those are the first buckets to be filled up.
If any water makes it to the bottom of the pipeline it can be used for FUN!!
Are you making the gold star buckets as big as possible? Have you reduced your red leaky buckets to the smallest they can be? Is your FUN!! at the end of the line, beginning, or somewhere in-between? Have you set up any reservoirs (emergency funds) for future droughts?
Growing up there weren’t any pets in my parents house. Well, that wasn’t exactly true, my brother had a fish for about a year when I was very little. Not growing up with a pet wasn’t a huge deprivation because there were plenty of neighbor pets, friend pets, and strays around town. I always figured that we didn’t have any pets because they were expensive. As it turns out, my mom is allergic, but the money aspect was likely the more prominent reason.
Pets are a lot like any other hobby, you can sink as much money into them as you want or can afford with very little or no return on investment. Many people consider their pets to be extensions of their families. Just this morning, I learned that a friends pet was having emergency surgery to the tune of $1500, a bargain considering the original price was $3000. I don’t know too much about pet insurance, but a quick search on the internet revealed that an average premium would pay back the cost of this procedure and break even if the pet used it within five years. Considering many small mammal pets live longer than five years it would seem that insurance would be prudent.
My siblings and I are divided right down the middle on pet ownership. Two of my siblings own dogs, two have no pets, and I am right in the middle with fish and invertebrates. I feel as if I have spent a lot on our fish but today was a bit of an eye opener for me. Even my splurges on this fish gadget or that fish accessory pale in comparison to an emergency vet bill.
Part of the reason why I love fish as a pet is the low upkeep and responsibility involved. I feed them once a day, do a 20% water change once a week, and enjoy them the rest of the time. Vacations are easy to do without having to worry about a kennel and vet bills are not even on my radar. One of my fish has been swimming around with one eye for months for goodness sakes!
Hobbies aren’t suppose to make financial sense. If pets make you happy then enjoy pets. If pets aren’t your thing then don’t get them. Just make sure that you consider what that adorable pet will cost and whether or not you will be willing and able to shell out that money BEFORE you bring Mr. Flibble home.
With that said, I am really enjoying the plant growth that I am getting in my aquarium ever since I added pressurized CO2 (see, I told you hobbies can be as expensive as you wanted).
1 month of growth
Do you have pets? Do you have pet insurance? How much is the pet insurance and have you ever used it? Have you ever wished you had pet insurance? Leave a comment with your answers.