Happy Fall!

Fall is one of my favorite times of year! I love the warm, spice filled recipes and Fall foliage. It brings me so much joy!

I decided to make this week about Fall because I saw an opportunity to bring out my Astronomy background on this blog. I get asked a lot why is there an official first day of Fall, Winter, Spring, Summer and why we have seasons. This past Thursday, September 22nd was the first day of Fall. This marks an astronomical event which is the leading role in why we experience seasons. What does that really mean though? How do we determine this day?

Astronomers call the first day of Fall the Autumnal Equinox. Both at the Autumnal Equinox and the Vernal Equinox solar energy is equally distributed between the northern and southern hemispheres of the Earth because of its location in Earth’s orbit around the Sun. Looking the picture below, you can see that due to the tilt of Earth in its orbit the Sun’s energy coverage between the northern and southern hemispheres changes throughout its orbit. This is why we have seasons!

equinox

(Photo credit: National Weather Service)

In June, the solar energy has a higher distribution over the northern hemisphere, while in December the distribution is higher in the southern hemisphere. Hence, the seasons are opposite between the northern and southern hemispheres. Also, something to note in the image above, in Summer time for that hemisphere the pole has 24hr daylight and the closer you are to the pole the longer your day is in Summer. Then in Winter, the pole has 24hr darkness and therefore the closer you are to the pole the shorter your day is.

The Solstices are when we begin to experience a reverse in how the length of daytime changes. The Summer Solstice marks the longest day of the year for the northern hemisphere and the Winter Solstice marks the shortest day of the year for the northern hemisphere. Now I also get questions about why the hottest days of the year do not coincide with the longest days of the year, this is because the land and oceans have not built up heat yet from these longer days to play their role in warmer temperatures. That is why peak temperatures do not match up with the longest days.

Hope you enjoyed my Astronomical post this week! Let me know if you have any questions and if you liked this post.

Traveling on a Budget – Austin, TX

Last weekend I enjoyed a magnificent trip to Austin, TX. I LOVE Austin! I feel like I can be my active, awkward self in Austin. There is so much delicious food, outdoorsy areas, and fun neighborhoods to explore. Also, I love the hot climate. Its a dream of mine to live there one day.

I stayed at an AirBnB the first night, but I was tagging along with my partner on a work trip so the rest of the accommodations were paid for by the conference. The AirBnB we stayed at in Hyde Park was so affordable and so Austin! Austin is known to be weird and this AirBnB had a lot of eclectic design pieces from the owner’s travels. I love AirBnBs  because you can get a real feel for what its like to live there, PLUS you do not have to eat out for every meal. Our AirBnB was a nice little studio that was perfect for a one night stay.

As soon as we dropped our things off at the AirBnB, I walked straight over the Mother’s Cafe to enjoy a delicious late lunch of Migas (sorry for the fuzzy picture below)! Lunch ended up being so filling that we just had some ice cream to end the day.

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I also stopped by Fresh Plus across the street to pick up some food for breakfast. I bought natural peanut butter, Ezekiel bread, mango, and yogurt (They were all cheaper than what I pay for the same product at home and on sale). I brought Chai Pear Zucchini muffins with me as well, but my partner prefers PB toast sandwiches for breakfast. Each morning I had some muffins with a little PB and a side of yogurt with mango mixed in, it was SO GOOD!

I really enjoyed walking around Hyde Park and checking out the local grocery stores (grocery shopping is really the only shopping I enjoy doing), which carried a lot of natural products at more reasonable prices than where I am from. Another, why do I not live here moment.

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After moving to the conference hotel, many of our meals were provided by the conference (FREE) and they had some vegetarian options. However, I chose not to eat all the conference food though because Austin has great food! I ventured out one day to pick up some of my favorite cupcakes from Capital City Bakery. I also saw they had a Sausage and Jalapeño roll I had to have! It was prefect! Then I paroosed South Congress for some unique items. I bought a pair of Saturn earrings from Parts and Labour. I love that store! It is a great place to buy items from local artists. Then I grabbed a taco from Torchy’s.

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My last day I walked through Zilker park to the Austin Nature & Science Center and enjoyed enchiladas from Chuy’s. Something to know about Austin, even though it is Texas it is a very veg-friendly city. You may have a hard time at a BBQ place or chicken shack, but plant-based eaters have many options there. There is even a vegan BBQ food truck! The vegan grocery store, Rabbit Food Grocery, created a lovely pocket sized map to check out the best 100% vegetarian and 100% vegan food stops in town.

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Besides taking advantage of the great food variety in Austin, one of my favorite things to do is enjoy all the nature right in the middle of the urban setting. Austin has the amazing Lady Bird Trail, Zilker Park, Congress Bridge Bats, and natural pools to savor. They also have many other free activities that could meet anyone’s interests! There is this amazing website that details the free things to do and they even have lists especially for families, types of activities of interest, and seasonal events. I mainly just love being active on vacation. Also, the hotel had 2 pools and a fitness center so I kept up with my normal workout routine on top of all the exploring I did.

With taking advantage of conference travel and all the free activities in Austin, we saved a lot of cash! I ate out only 35% of the time and took advantage of the pretty decent public transit. Since my partner’s travel was completely covered so this is the breakdown of what we spent in total:

Airfare (Southwest Airlines): $180.96

Accommodations (AirBnB): $112

Food (groceries + eating out): $88.52

Transit (Capital Metro): $21.50

Merchandise/Souvenirs: $17.32

Total: $420.30

Between 2 people over 4 days that is pretty darn good! Now, yes my partner had to work, but he still considered it a bit of a vacation since we had extended the trip by a day so he could enjoy more time out and about with me.

Where have you traveled recently? How did you save money on your travels?

 

The Other 5-20%

I have said that 80-95% of the time I eat food I made from home that I can properly digest and I knew I wanted to post about what I do the other 5-20% of the time. I really devote those meals to eating with friends and family. It can be nice to not think about all the ingredients in your food once in a while. Occasionally, I can still eat right for me while doing this, but when it comes to potlucks, food prepared by someone else and eating out that is highly unlikely.

I can make choices, such as skipping dessert, alcohol or anything that is likely sweetened to lessen the blow, but on occasions like Christmas I will just eat as I please and then focus on the strategies I mentioned in How I Recover from an IBS Flare Up for a while after. I do not believe that every meal you eat has to be the healthiest thing in the world. I work hard, eat right most of the time and exercise regularly so I deserve a treat every now and then. If I had a food allergy I would avoid that completely, I am not trying to be hospitalized. I am allergic to bananas, plantains, and hemp seeds.

Let me translate this and do the math for you to get a better picture of what I means. I eat ~5 times a day. I get hungry every 3 hrs or so since I eat smaller meals to keep my gut happy. This means that I have 2-7 meals per week that I do not make my food from scratch. What do I eat? Usually I will have processed snack foods like fries, the new Bollywood popcorn from TJs, Bhu/RX bars or a meal out. Last week:

  • Potluck dinner at Wednesday night Summer Bingo
  • Friday evening through Sunday afternoon lunch and dinner out with my partner and a friend while we were road tripping to Green Bay for college football.

 

How I Save $$$ on Groceries

I have mostly posted on my fitness and healthy lifestyle, but my budget is always on my mind. I have budgeted to spend no more than $40 a week on food while I am in town, this includes going out to eat. I have been pretty good about sticking to this. Here are some of the key principles I follow to keep within $40 a week:

  1. Plan out your meals. This is the most important task I do to save money. If I did not have a plan I would not know what to shop for and would likely end up buying more than I really need. I make a weekly meal plan and, as I have said in the What I Eat post, I typically just eat the same meals all week to save time and money. At the moment I do not have the time to cook something different each night of the week, not to mention it would cost too much to make a different dish for one every night of the week.
  2. I plan out meals based off what I already have in the pantry. If you already have some of the ingredients that means you have fewer things to purchase. Plus, I feel like this keeps things from being forgotten about and potentially going bad. Even a bag of dry chickpeas and canned tuna have expiration dates.
  3. I plan out meals based off what is on sale. I like to check my local advertisements each week to see what produce is in season and ingredients I might be able to include that are discounted that week. Especially, if I am going to buy meat or fish! Meat and fish are typically the most expensive ingredient in a recipe, so make sure you are getting it at the best price possible.
  4. I DO NOT buy unnecessary items for that week. Make a list of what you need for your meals and snacks, then stick to it! If you see something at the grocery store that you just have to try, make note of it for next time to include in your meal plan. I know this can be particularly true at Trader Joe’s with all the new items they have coming in seasonally. Remember, you have a list that fits within your budget. Adding one or more things could put you over budget and if you make a habit of this you will not be able to save as much money as you allocated. This hurts future you, do not do this to yourself.
  5. I hit up my local farmer’s market. Farmer’s markets have amazing deals on produce and more! Last weekend I got 12 medium sized peaches for $2.50, 6 cucumbers for $2.25 and a 5 lb zucchini for $1. I will be making loads of zucchini bread with it, as well as some delicious omelets!
  6. I do a price comparison when possible. If you have the time and you shop at more than one grocery store, you have the potential to save some money by comparing prices on items you regularly buy. You can also compare the prices for items on sale at multiple stores by comparing the ads each week. Now most people do not have the time to be driving all over town for one item here, 3 there and so on. So my strategy is to look for the grocery store I will save the most at according to the ads and go there. I usually try to go to only one place, but I know the prices at my local Trader Joe’s very well and pass by one everyday. So I may also stop at Trader Joe’s for the items that I just know are cheaper there.
  7. Consider buying in bulk. There are 2 ways to do this:
    1. I purchase items from the bulk bins at the grocery store that I am either just trying for the first time or I know I will not use enough of before it expires. This way I can purchase exactly what I need and be done with it.
    2. The items I consistently use (oats, quinoa, chickpeas, flax seed, nut butters, ezekiel bread, frozen peas, frozen corn, leafy greens, avocados, etc.) I like to buy in bulk at Costco once a month. The membership is $55 per year, but I have actually saved so much that next year I will likely take advantage of the executive membership to get 2% cash back on my purchases. I have done the math on this. However, know you can buy some things in bulk at places like Target, your local grocery store and GFS, but I was not seeing enough of what I was looking for at these locations. Now, it is essential to price compare with buying in bulk. There are items I have found to be cheaper per unit or ounce at my regular grocery store.

If you have any money saving tips on grocery shopping to add, please comment below! I am always looking to improve my thrifty ways 🙂