Thursday, September 5, 2013

Unglamorous and boring tips to save money

When I started reading personal finance blogs and resources, I'd see all of these snazzy articles and how-to's that put stars in everyone's eyes.  How to make your own convenience foods! How to copy this great brand for pennies! How do save lots of money with no effort! How to reuse every single thing by learning these complicated craft skills!

The thing is, those things took a lot of work, and still played into a lot of what gets us into trouble.  Instead of copying the trendy brands, it would serve us better in the long run to reject the manufactured need for specific brands and the latest, hottest thing.  Instead of copying a certain convenience food, it would serve us better to learn some recipes that are easier to make and, let's face it, healthier for us (also, sometimes making our own convenience foods costs more in money and time in the long run).  And while I'm all for learning to do new things, make crafts, and stretch the useful life of what you have, I'm also for starting with simple steps.  Otherwise, people get overwhelmed.

So here are some dull and boring tips that will save you some money.  It will not save you millions.  But it will save you money.  As a plus, it won't overwhelm you.

Use what you have on-hand to make your meals.  Unless you're down to a jar of pimentos and flour, you can probably put something together.  Sites like All Recipes are useful here; you can search according to ingredients and come up with dinner or lunch.

Wash your clothes in cold water.  I get it--sometimes you have to wash things in hot water.  If I get raw chicken juice on my apron, I'm going to sterilize that puppy.  However, in most instances, it is just fine to wash your clothes in cold water.  It will save you on your energy bill, and it will keep your clothes from shrinking and wearing.

Line dry your clothes.  Boring, I know.  But not only will it save you in energy costs, it will also prolong the life of your clothes--you won't lose fabric to the lint trap, and it won't pill or shrink or wear.

If you're cooking or doing something messy, either wear an apron or a smock or wear something you don't mind getting stained.  

Have a set amount of your paycheck deposited into a savings account each pay period.  Do I need to explain this?

If your employer offers a 401(k), participate in it, and if they offer a match, put in at least the amount needed to get the match.  You're leaving money on the table, otherwise.

Pay your bills on time. You'll likely incur extra charges and a hit to your credit score otherwise.

Make sure you know how much is in your bank account--this includes not just what the bank says the balance is, but any outstanding checks you've written or online payments you've made that have not yet cleared. Bounced checks cost money.  They are also embarrassing.

Keep your place as uncluttered as possible.  Now, I know this can be a challenge (do I ever, as I should be crowned the queen of clutter) but it can help a lot.  If there isn't a lot of stuff to dig through, you won't lose things like checks and bills and important papers.  In fact, if you keep them in one place, you'll know where to find them and won't have a past-due bill (and extra charges), bounced checks, or other aggravations that can affect your financial well-being.

Don't take in a lot of stuff.  I'm not talking about being a minimalist, I'm talking about exercising common sense.  Just because it's free doesn't mean you should take it.  If you don't need something, don't make room for it.  If you need to know why, read the paragraph above.

Take care of what you have.  Change the oil in your car when it's needed, keep it clean, and either do yourself or have a mechanic perform the routine maintenance.   Make sure any small or large problems around your home are addressed and fixed.  Make clothing repairs yourself or pay someone to do them--it's still cheaper to have a button replaced or a ragged hem fixed than to buy an entirely new pair of pants or new shirt.  Taking care of things right away and maintaining what you own will prevent larger problems down the road.

Use cash. I know, I know.  You can get cash back or points if you use your credit card! You can pay one bill at the end of the month! You pay your credit card bill in full! The thing is, people tend to spend more when they use plastic as opposed to cold, hard cash. So keep it simple and use cash if it's feasible.

Boring, yes.  But simple.  Not overwhelming. Eminently doable.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Sewing misadventures

I'm working on an apron from my sewing class.  I have to get the ruffle attached and spaced properly, and then I can sew it.  The problem is, it all looks even when I start but then I end up with lots of ruffle in some places and none in the other.

I got another apron sewing pattern to try on my own.  This one looks relatively simple.  I figure for confidence's sake, it may be good for me.

There are a bunch of thing I'd like to make.  But I have to get this done.

Other than the sewing frustration, I read.  I had a weird moment where I realized the book--written by an author I love--was falling flat for me.

How was your weekend?

Friday, August 30, 2013

Friday blogaround

"My girlfriend is a total fox" now has new meaning.

Holly's husband Greg tried his hand at a sales job and realized it wasn't for him. I'm glad he's out of it, and I hope he finds something that makes him happy!

Nicoleandmaggie answer your Google questions.  And lolz were had by all.

Food Stamps Cooking Club has a great recipe to use up your summer garden produce.

Frugal in Derbyshire made chutney, and it looks delicious!

Frugal Upstate deals with late tomato blight.  She's very creative, though, so I'm sure she's going to have some delicious concoctions whipped up from what she was able to salvage.

Speaking of gardens, has everyone in the East Coast noticed how bad the weeds were this year? Well, don't beat yourselves up.  It's been an exceptionally bad year for weeds.  Here's why, and what you can do to prevent them from being so bad next year. STUPID WEEDS!

Have a great weekend, everybody!


Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Garden update

Well, I don't have much to report. My friend and I planted tomatoes, peppers (sweet and hot), basil, beets, chard, butternut squash, melons, cucumbers, garlic, shallots, nasturtiums, and crookneck squash.  We also had perennials: walking onions, rhubarb, thyme, mint, lemon verbena, and rosemary (not typically a perennial up here in New England, but it survived the winter and is now huge).

I mulched and mulched but still had weeds.  I really may just go with the black mulch cover next year.

The results:

Most of the basil isn't doing well.  There are three plants that are thriving; the rest are small and have a lot of yellowing or brown leaves.  I think all of the cool weather and rain at the beginning of the season did not serve it well.

The peppers are actually turning red quickly, as opposed to last year, when they didn't turn red until late September-early October.  So that is pretty surprising.

The rhubarb is prolific as usual!

The crookneck squash has produced two or three squash.

We got beets, replanted them, and three survived. Hmmm.

The chard is going gangbusters.

The garlic did well and we have happily used it all.  The shallots seemed to be doing well, but there were only two when I went to harvest them.  The walking onions are taking on a life of their own.

The perennial herbs are doing well. 

The butternut squash vines are everywhere, but I only see three or four gourds.

The cucumber died.

One melon plant survived, and it even started producing a melon, but something got in and took a bite out of it. STUPID ANIMALS.

The tomatoes--well, we had a couple of red cherry tomatoes.  The rest of the tomatoes--cherry, slicing, and roma--are green.  I may end up making a lot of pickled tomatoes again.  I've seen them turning red in other plots where I have a plot, and around town, but I've also seen other gardens with the same issue as my plot's.


Monday, August 26, 2013

The argument I had with myself at a yard sale

It's been a while since I've checked in, so I figured I'd give you an example of what I've been up to and how little you've been missing.

WHAT ARE YOU DOING? PUT THAT DOWN. YOU DO NOT NEED THAT.

What? What? I was just looking at it!

PUT THAT DOWN. YOU DO NOT NEED A VASE.

It's only fifty cents!

I DO NOT CARE. PUT IT DOWN.

It's fifty cents!

SHUT UP AND PUT IT DOWN.

You shut up and--and--oh, just shut up.

THE CAT WILL ONLY TRY TO RUB UP AGAINST IT WHEN YOU'VE PUT FLOWERS IN IT AND KNOCK IT OVER, SPILLING WATER EVERYWHERE. MOVE ALONG.

I pick up a purse.

YOU SEE THAT THING HANGING OFF YOUR SHOULDER? IT'S A PURSE. YOU DON'T NEED ANOTHER PURSE.

It's a buck.

IT'S EXTRANEOUS.

Thank you for the ten-dollar word, cupcake, but it's cute and it's a buck and I will need a purse sooner rather than later.  I'd rather bank a cute $1 purse from a yard sale than spend heaven knows how much more for a new one at a chain store.

I look at muffin tins.

YES, BECAUSE YOU NEED MORE MUFFIN TINS ON TOP OF THE FOUR YOU ALREADY HAVE.

I look at teacups.

YOU HAVE A BUNCH OF NANA'S TEACUPS, AND THE TEACUP AND SAUCER YOUR FRIENDS GAVE YOU IN COLLEGE FOR YOUR BIRTHDAY. MOVE ALONG.

Oh! CD's! Of bands and performers I like!

OH WHY DON'T YOU JUST TATTOO "I'M A MIDDLE AGED WOMAN WHO DOESN'T LISTEN TO ANY NEW MUSIC"? THIS IS HIS SECOND ALBUM.

Shut up.


THESE ARE ALL BANDS FROM THE NINETIES.

I pick up a Lenny Kravitz CD.

YOU DO NOT NEED ANOTHER CD.

I need this Lenny Kravitz CD.

REALLY? WILL YOU DIE WITHOUT LENNY KRAVITZ IN YOUR LIFE?

Now that is a stupid question.  Yes. Yes I will, you eejit.

OK YOU HAVE A POINT THERE, BUT DO YOU NEED THE REST OF THOSE CD'S? SERIOUSLY, MORE NINETIES MUSIC?  THE WHOLE GRUNGE THING DOESN'T AGE WELL.

Oh, shut up.

I go to buy my few things.

YOU KNOW WHAT YOU COULD HAVE PUT THAT $3 TOWARDS?

"Oh shut up!"

I look at the startled face of woman who's taking my money. "Ha! Not you! Just my. . .my conscience."

Monday, August 12, 2013

Another one bites the dust. . .the house search continues

Maybe it was a bad idea for me to sell the condo and move. Ugh.

So. I found a house. Now, before I go on, I will fully admit that my price range is challenging.  I also am realistic about what I will get for that price range. I just think that you should maintain your property if you expect to get market rate for a small, simple house. I don't expect granite counters and hot tubs and mahogany floors, okay? I don't even expect a garage.  But I want the siding to be in good shape, as it protects the house.  I want the foundation to be in good shape.  The roof should be in good condition. If there is a deck, or steps going into the home, they have to be secure and safe.  The home should be structurally sound. If it needs work--if the roof needs replacing or the siding is kaput--you need to price the house accordingly (and realize that people like me will be nervous about potential water damage).

So. I found a house! Yay, right? YAY.  The house was very simple--slab foundation, tiny kitchen, no storage to speak of. However, it was in my price range, had a decent yard, and the owners had done extensive work on it and pulled the proper permits (I check these things).  The roof was new (except on the addition that had been put on years ago, that roof would need to be replaced in about five years). The siding was new (or most of it was); the siding that wasn't new was in decent shape. The windows were new or newer--they were in good shape. They had redone the inside, which certainly increased buyer interest.  New floors--tile, laminate, and hardwood.  The kitchen, while tiny, was all new.  The bathrooms looked to be in good shape.  It's just me and the cat! I could make it work!

I hemmed and hawed.  It was next to the power lines, and some people get freaked out by that (I was worried about resale issues).  The thing is, I'm not worried about it--my next door neighbor would be on the quiet side.  (A conversation with the next door neighbors confirmed this--they didn't even get people on dirt bikes or ATVs since the utility company put up gates and locks.) Slabs don't sell well in New England; we are a people who love our basements.  However, I have moved to the Cape, and we are a people here who tend to take on water in our basements, depending on where the house is located.  Also, the slab made the house well within my price range.  I mean, look, I don't need a basement, and other people in the US (and a few areas in Massachusetts) live in slab homes quite happily.

I took a carpenter friend to see the house for a second look.  I had learned my lesson from last time.  If there was a huge issue, it would jump out at him (though I fully expected the inspector to find things, I figured my friend would catch anything that could be a deal breaker).  He hated the location but couldn't find a thing wrong with the house.  I met the neighbors, they were really nice, I thought, this could be a go.

So, after hemming and hawing and chewing my nails down to nubs, I made an offer.  The seller and I danced and danced and finally came to an agreement.  I was so excited! I was positive the inspection would go swimmingly.  Oh, the inspector would find a few things--no house is perfect--but I would finally get a house and own something again. I'd meet my neighbors and build garden beds and plant flowers and have a party and get creative with storage (and blog about it here)! It would be awesome.

Well. One thing the home inspector advises people to do, and my lawyer advises me to do is to also hire a pest inspector.  Do you see where this is going?

Cape Cod has one of the highest incidents of termite infestations in the country. Guess what the pest inspector found?

And it wasn't a case of "oh, they just found their way in but haven't done much damage yet, so the baits will work a treat."  It was "these critters have been in the crawl space under the stairs (or under the foundation there) since the house was built, have eaten the support beams, oh look they've chewed the bottom of the closet flooring, oh, they may be in the stairs. . .and by the way, it's really difficult to get them out of slabs." Apparently, if you can't drill into the floor to poison them (which you can't in a slab, as the pipes are in it), you need to use the bait traps.  Those take years to work effectively.  This house had over 30 years of termite damage. The baits would have been fine if it was a year's infestation. 30 plus years? Not so much.

The home inspector would not have seen that, and couldn't legally say anything even if he did (besides, "This could be termite damage, I advise you to follow up with a pest inspection.")  My friend didn't see it.  I didn't see it.  I thought I knew what the mud tubes looked like.  I was wrong.  Also, it looked like someone had scraped off the old (gulp) tubes--or they fell off.  The exterminator knew what he was looking for.  The critters ate one of the support beams almost hollow. The support beams. And the three creaky stairs. . .I hate to think what that could have meant!

So. I walked away. And cried bitter, bitter tears.

My real estate agent thinks my price range means it will be a challenge to find the perfect house.  However, I am not looking for perfect. I am looking for safe and well-maintained. I think I made a lot of compromises this time. A small place with no storage and a tiny kitchen on a slab next to the power lines in a decidedly unfashionable part of town (which, let's face it, is where all of the homes in my price range are). I am hardly asking for the moon, here.  And from what I gather from other people, $500,000 homes can have termites, and many of the more expensive homes have issues.  I am really tired of the idea that not being able to afford something extremely high end means you deserve a plate of dog poop.

I don't know if the seller knew about the termites. They got it for a song a couple of years ago, and their kids--all contractors--redid the house. Even with our haggling, they stood to make decent money. But if my home inspector didn't catch that and my friend didn't catch that then I doubt they would have caught that (and their protest that the town didn't tell them when they closed the permits made me roll my eyes.  The town officials are not pest inspectors or exterminators. They are there to check the specific work the permit was for).

The moral of the story? If you are going to buy a place, get a pest inspection.  Any pest control company/exterminator should offer the service. Make sure you do not have wood boring pests.  You do not want to pay $100,000 or $200,000 or $500,000 for termite pet food.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

I have been AWOL, I cop to it

I have had good reason, though, as work has been crazy busy and I've been very preoccupied with my house search.  There is some good news on that front--I may have found a house.  The inspection is on Friday, but I don't want to assume it's a done deal yet.  I put an offer on a house a couple of months ago and then the inspection showed it needed $15,000 worth of work right off that bat (the siding was compromised and old and the deck was unsafe).  This house doesn't have much storage and it's not near anything glamorous (in fact, near utility lines, but that doesn't bother me) but it's been extensively renovated--and the owners got all of the permits to do it.  New roof, new siding, new windows, new floors, new (small) kitchen, and new bathrooms.  All professionally done by the looks of it.  If there's one thing I hate, it's a bad DIY job. 

So. . .it's a short post, today, after two weeks of basically nothing.  But I will be back to regular posting soon. 

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Being social

Okay. Maybe don't socialize quite this way!
One of the things I never really see touched on in blogs in this corner of the internet is being social.  Oh, you'll see posts about how to save money and be social, or how to get out of doing something expensive, but not the actual importance of just hanging out with your friends or family.

So take a wild guess what I'm going to talk about today.

I would recommend that everyone try to make sure they've got plans with friends at least once a week. It does not have to be anything grand or spectacular.  You do not have to go out to dinner or to a play or do anything expensive. But I would suggest you do something with friends.

Maybe it's because it's too easy for me to slip into hermit-mode (for real, laziness is a thing with me and often it's easier for me to just laze around and read).  I push myself to do stuff.  If a friend invites me out somewhere, more often than not, I accept (unless I have something else planned).

Over the winter, I got together with my friend from work, her husband, and people she knew from work for trivia night at the local bar.  We had a blast. I met people on the other teams--and while I can't remember most of their names, I know them by sight. I became friends with the people on my team. Even on the nights we bombed, we had a great time. Since it was the dead of winter, it was kind of a cheerful and fun thing to do midweek.  (This place is hopping during the summer, so trivia was an ingenious way to get more business during the slower months.)

Now, a different friend from work and I are going in on a CSA fish share.  Actually, it's her, her mother, and me.  We figure out which night we're all free, get together and cook up the fish.  We eat a good meal, usually invite at least one other person to join us, and relax.  We don't freak out over cooking the fish the very best way (though there is a lot of discussion about what we want--fish tacos? Bouillabaisse? Grilled? Baked?).  I joke that it's the one night of the week where I eat a proper meal.  Not entirely true--I certainly eat proper meals at home, but let's face it, they're for one person, so they tend to be simpler.  These dinners have the benefit of not only very freshly caught fish, but also fresh vegetables and/or salad, bread or rice, and a delicious dessert.

I really look forward to regular things like this.  They aren't fancy but they are fun. If you're having a bad day or a bad week or a bad year, it's easy to stay home and not deal with people. It's also a mistake. Don't be a martyr.  Getting out of your own head can only help if you're going through a bad patch, and going out and socializing is fun when things are going well.

So, my advice is to do something with friends on the regular. Play cards. Run. Eat. Play some sort of sport. Do something.

Sometimes we get so caught up in what things cost and Using Our Time Wisely In Ways That Require All Of The Words To Be Capitalized that we forget why we're careful with our resources.  We're careful for our own well-being; it adds to our quality of life and to our security. Well, taking time to socialize also contributes to our own well-being. It's fun. And we do need it. (Even surly beasts like me.)

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Animals are not a trend


Your urban farm chickens will not do this.

So last week my friend Dina went away for several days, and I was in charge of feeding and watering her chickens (and her cat).

This was fun, actually.  I am up pretty early in the morning, so I went to her place first thing.  She told me I could keep the eggs as a thank you.  She has nine chickens, and I gave them corn and chicken feed (pellets), as well as any vegetable scraps I had on hand.  (They are also fond of bugs, but I really don't want to find bugs in my house to give them.  There are plenty outside to be found.)  "Hello, chickens," I'd say as I would venture into the coop to get their water dispensers.  "You all look like little dinosaurs."  

And the chickens were all like LADY WE DO NOT SPEAK YOUR HUMAN TONGUE. GIVE US FOOD AND WATER AND GET OUTTA HERE.

And I'd bring them the refilled water dispensers and say "Okay, can you ladies please refrain from knocking this over?" And they were all like HAHAHAHAHA STOOPID HUMAN! WATCH US KNOCK IT OVER WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO, LOCK US UP IN THE COOP?

(Actually, they just knocked them over one day. But they were really insolent about it, or as insolent as a chicken can be, which, upon more thought, isn't very insolent at all.  Actually, I think "The Insolent Chicken" would be the best name ever for a diner or a pub.)

I got eggs.  They were delicious, with huge, firm yolks.  Breakfast was heaven. I woke up earlier than usual in anticipation of breakfast. Dina--and our friend Freddy, who has something like 18 chickens and a rooster--are always quite happy to share the bounty with me.

I would lie if I didn't admit to harboring fantasies about raising my own chickens.  Heck, at one point I had a starry eyed fantasy of having my own goats and making yogurt and cheese from the milk.  But I came back down to earth.  I am not a kid, where I will promise to take care of something (like, you know, a pet) and then end up leaving it to someone else (like my parents) to keep it fed and clean and content.

Raising chickens--or any sort of livestock--is work.  And it's a huge responsibility.  Before you get them you need to have a place for them to live--a good coop that has a nesting area, a roost, and if it's possible, a run.  (Or you can let them out for a little while but you want to make sure predators don't get to them.)  You need to have food for them.  You need to know that they will sometimes get sick and need veterinary care.  You need to know that after two or three years, they will stop laying eggs.

If this news story is any indication, most people who have come aboard the urban farming train have not truly understood this.

Chickens can attract pests (like rats).  My friends who raise them have to contend with that.   And if you cannot handle the thought of slaughtering a chicken (or having someone else do it) and eating it*, you'll have to be okay with having a lot of non-breakfast producing pets. (I know people who are just fine with that and who love their little egg-producing dinosaur impostors.)  Because after they stop laying, that's what hens will be.  Either dinner or pets.

*By that age, chickens tend to be tough meat-wise, but they are good for stewing and I imagine you could do well with them if you have a slow cooker and/or if you make something like coq au vin.

I don't have chickens because, well, right now I rent.  And I doubt very much I will get them when I buy a house.  I'm too busy.  If I do decide to get them, I'll make sure I know what to expect and I will prepare for every eventuality.  I think the gardens I'd like to have will be more than enough for me. (Though chicken poop is a fantastic thing to till into your garden plot.  Seriously. My friend Dina's vegetables are huge now thanks to all of that stuff she had tilled in to her plot.)

I think a lot of people have starry-eyed, faux-nostalgia about life on the farm, and that helps motivate them to get chickens.  But. . .life on the farm (especially back in the old days) was not some idyllic and wonderful thing.  It was hard. It's one  thing to choose something knowing that if you get tired of it, or if you aren't good at it, you can just quit and/or go to the store and get your eggs and vegetables and meat. It's quite another to know that if you get tired of it, that's just tough luck and if you're not good at it, you're in deep trouble.

I'm not saying don't do it.  My cousin has chickens and loves it. Two of my friends have them.  One of my friends where I used to live had them (when she sold her house, the buyer asked if they could keep the chickens). If you can handle it, if you really know what goes into it, have at it.  My friends all know what goes into it, they are good about caring for the animals, they have friends who will help take care of them when they're away.  They are sanguine about chickens getting older.  They're not shocked by it. Some people plan on delicious soup and coq au vin, and others dote on their older, bug and snail eating chickens.

What I am saying is that if you want to do this, think very carefully about what it entails.  If I ever decide I don't want to garden anymore, it's easy enough to stop.  If I had gardens at a house I bought and decided I couldn't do it or didn't want to do it anymore, it would be a matter of taking down the beds and re-sodding the plots. I wouldn't need to find a refuge for my vegetables.  You do for livestock if you cannot stomach the thought of eating them and don't want to take care of them anymore.  Livestock is a whole other thing. 

Monday, July 8, 2013

Gardening, Independence Day, Swimming and Pow Wows.

I spent the morning of Independence Day mowing the lawn and mulching my large garden plot in the community garden.  I know most people hate mowing, and I am not that fond of it myself, but I do love the grass clippings.  They make for good mulch.  I also gather seaweed when I can, but it's hit or miss when there is enough to take (or when the tide is out when you have time to take seaweed).  What does it say about me that I look at something for its mulch-producing potential?

Right now, there are beans and beats ready for harvesting.  The chard is going well and I take leaves from each plant to eat.  The garlic and shallots will be ready for harvesting soon.  My butternut squash plants appear to have overwhelmed my cucumber plant (and refused to go up the trellis I set up for them).  The eggplants are spotty and bug eaten; I am not optimistic they will produce anything but an eyesore.  The herbs are doing very well and the rhubarb is going gangbusters, as usual. The tomato plants are getting bigger and the walking onions are doing very well.  The leeks are doing okay, but this is my first time growing them, so we shall see.  The peppers are a bit spindly--fingers crossed, they'll start getting bigger now that the sun is showing itself more.  (It was very cloudy and rainy up until Wednesday night.)

My house garden is doing. . .okay.  I don't think it gets the light that's needed for the plants.  The mint and chocolate mint I planted in pots and the oregano I planted in the plot are all doing well.

Other stuff I did. . .

I had dinner with my friend and her parents; we went to see the local fireworks after, but it was cloudy and they weren't that visible.  My friend and I biked back to her parents' house, in the dark, which made me feel like a kid again.

I spent Saturday with friends who came up for the week; we went swimming and ate a lot.  I am very good at eating; if it was an Olympic sport I'd have the gold.  They have three sons who were a lot of fun to hang out with. 

I spend yesterday at the Mashpee Wampanoag Pow Wow with another friend of mine who's not from the U.S. and who's never been to a pow wow.  If you can go to one, I highly recommend it.  They feature dancing from various tribes (sometimes with competitions), they have stalls where people sell crafts, and chances for people from different tribes (and non-Native people) to socialize.   I hadn't been to one in ages.  We ate quail (delicious) and watched the dancers.  While I was there, I met someone who started a new business not far from where I live (and where I used to live) called Native Times Coffee.  She doesn't have a website up yet, but their address is 510 Plymouth Street, Middleboro, MA 02346.  You can also email Rita (Pocknett) Gonsalves at nativetimescoffee@comcast.net if you are interested in getting fair trade coffee or learning more about the company.  When she sets up a website, I'll link to it.  The coffee is delicious.  She is a member of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, and she sources her coffee beans from Native American farmers in South America. 

I hope you all had a great weekend!

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The Modesty Standard vs. The Beauty Standard

Lauren Shields wanted to cast off the pressure she felt to look a certain way all the time, and dress more modestly.

She observes:

Every morning I would shoehorn myself onto the train with thousands of expensive-smelling, coiffed women who somehow managed to keep their hair looking great under wool caps in winter and despite hot, stinky gusts of subway backdrafts in the summer. It was an army of ladies sporting fitted waistlines, toned arms, blown-out hair, full faces of makeup and heels (which was incredible, considering all the walking we all had to do). Everyone looked good, no one was phoning it in, and we were all stylish.

I commuted to a job in the city for years, and I wore suits (frankly, they are convenient, and two or three pretty much kept me dressed at work for years), put my feet in flat shoes (or even sneakers or snow boots, and put my cute flat shoes in my bag). I didn't wear a lot of makeup--still don't--and there are days I wear none.  Often, my hair isn't blown out, though it looks just fine.  When it was longer, I'd pull it back or wear it up.  While I have a lot of criticisms about the beauty standard and the ever-changing fashions that are semi-mandatory for women, it's a gross simplification to act like everyone out there is tottering around in six-inch heels with a face of troweled-on makeup. 

She decided to go for a year of wearing "modest" clothing--covered her head, wore sleeves, wore skirts that covered her knees, and eschewed makeup and nail polish for the most part.  Which, really? This is revolutionary?  That's me on a Tuesday (sans head covering, though I have no judgements about head coverings).  She gushed about the the men who told her they couldn't take women who were heavily made up seriously (myself, I find it irritating when people who are not held to a standard judge those who are).

Modest dress or not--it's two sides of the same coin.  We either judge and shame women for dressing modestly, or we judge and shame women for vanity. In both instances, I have heard people comment that such women are oppressed (by their culture, by beauty standards) that they don't respect or love themselves, that others won't take them seriously because of the way they look.


Enough.

It's easy to switch one set of standards for another. Dressed up and made-up or modest and plain, they're still standards judging women's appearance.  (Though, I do need to add here: I know someone who lived in the UAE, and she was pretty clear that the women there were dressed to the nines under their coverings.  And made up, and perfectly coiffed. It's not as simple as folks would have you think.)

My unsolicited advice is this: Dress how you want.  Adhere to the dress code at your job, and do so in a way that is comfortable for you (if it won't adversely affect your job).  If you don't want to wear makeup, go without if you can.  If you want to wear it, wear it.  If you're concerned that you're too worried about how you look, go without it for a week.  You'll notice that no one goes running and screaming from you.  If you want to dress in a way that follows the guidelines or rules of your religion or culture (and you feel safe doing so--unfortunately, there are jerks out there who love to harass women in headscarves), do so. If you prefer your heels and makeup, rock it!

What is modest to one person is slutty to another.  What is slutty to one person is modest to another.  After awhile, I stopped caring what anyone thought, because I could not win.  This isn't a game designed to have any winners for the women assigned as contestants, so I just bowed out, as much as I could. 

Monday, July 1, 2013

Chicken with Tarragon, Mustard, and Cream

It's been hot, rainy, and muggy these days where I live.  I couldn't hang my clothes up outside, so I hung them inside on the clothes rack.  After three days, they were still damp; I threw them in the drier for 15 minutes before they mildewed on me.

That kind of weather is not conducive to cooking.  Too hot, too muggy to stand over a stove or turn on the oven.  Unless you use your slow cooker, that is.

I had friends over on Saturday.  This is what I made (recipe from The French Slow Cooker).

Chicken with Tarragon, Mustard, and Cream

1/2 cup chicken broth
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper to taste
8-12 bone-in chicken thighs, skin removed
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
3 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, plus more for garnish
1 teaspoon chopped fresh tarragon, plus more for garnish
1/3 cup heavy cream

Pour broth and vinegar into a large slow cooker.  Stir mustard with salt and pepper to taste.  Brush the chicken all over with the seasoned mustard.  Arrange the chicken pieces in the slow cooker, overlapping them slightly.  Sprinkle with the garlic, parsley, and tarragon.

Cover and cook on low for 5 hours, or until the chicken is tender and cooked through.

Remove chicken to a serving plate and cover to keep warm.  Strain the pan juices into a saucepan and skim off the excess fat.  Bring juices to a simmer over high heat.  Stir in the cream and return to a simmer.  Taste for seasoning.  Pour the sauce over the chicken.  Sprinkle with the chopped fresh herbs and serve hot.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Gladiator death matches and seam rippers

As many of you know, I've been taking sewing lessons.  This has been a historically ladylike endeavor but I have to tell you, the words on the tip of my tongue last night were anything but ladylike.  Using my usual replacements would have gotten a lot of bemused looks from people (WHAT THE [GENTLE CARESS] JUST HAPPENED HERE???, etc.).

My teacher, Mikala, is very sweet.  She realized at the last round of classes that I really was lost (I originally wanted to sign up for absolute sewing 101 classes, and she thought I was ready for the more advanced beginner class.  Alas, it had been a while since I'd been at my machine or at a class).  She offered me these classes when she saw how lost I was.

I've been winding bobbins, which had been a mystery of physics to me until recently.  I'm slowly getting used to patterns and cutting things, but despite my best measurements, some pieces turn out longer than they should be (as long as they're not shorter or smaller than they should be--it's easy to just cut cloth back).

In this class we made a pillow cover and we're now making tote bags.  I had made a pillow cover ages ago, and was glad to find that I could manage to make another one.  I'd like to do that (in a different color/pattern) for my sofa and loveseat pillows, and get slipcovers for them both.  We're making tote bags now, and I'm hoping to get mine done by next class (our last).  Last night was interesting because I realized that my lines are either curvy/crooked, or they are straight but go off on a diagonal.  Spatial reasoning is not my strong suit.  This is how the class went:

"Okay, I'm ready to sew this seam." 

[After sewing for a few minutes]

"Oh [BODILY REFUSE]! Mikala, where's the seam ripper?"

(Repeat three or four times.)

At one point I was all FORGET IT, I DON'T NEED CLOTHING OR TO DO CRAFTS FORGET MY STUPID PRIDE WHY AM I DOING THIS TO MYSELF I WOULD DO BETTER IN A GLADIATOR DEATH MATCH.

Well, then I realized that actually, I would do much worse in a gladiator death match.  And I pictured myself in a gladiator death match.  The only hope I'd ever have would be to annoy my opponent with constant talking, which might ensure a quick death for me. If I was really lucky, it would go something like this.  (Unless the death match had to do with words, or shade throwing, or telling tall tales, or snark--in which case, yes, I would win.)

Then I realized that if I didn't snap to it, Mikala would be all, "Pamela, you're not paying attention," and if I wasn't thinking before I spoke, I'd say, "Oh, I was picturing myself in a gladiator death match."  And I don't think she would have appreciated me being the cause of the entire class throwing down their sewing and running for their lives for fear of the apparently unbalanced middle-aged lady who thinks of gladiator death matches while holding a seam ripper in her hands.

Like growing your own vegetables or raising your own livestock, etc., I think it's foolish advice to urge people to make their own clothes as a solution to financial hard times or as a vehicle for social change.  If you're good at it, such things are doable.  But you can't just buy a sewing machine and start making clothes.  I have had issues with a pillow case and a tote bag!  It takes years of practice to get to the point where you can make things like pants, skirts, shirts, etc.  If we had to rely strictly on ourselves and no one else to survive, this nation would be full of hungry, naked, surly people.

Granted, I think it's good to learn sewing just to understand what goes into it.  I'd urge everyone (including the dudes) to take at least a 101 course so you can really comprehend what it takes to make your clothes.  It is not easy work by any stretch.  

Mikala said that at this point, she can sew a tote bag in a couple of hours.  I would love to get to that point.  But first, I have to remember how to wind the bobbin.


Friday, June 21, 2013

Friday links

This text message war over a wedding gift has etiquette don'ts on both sides.  Two tips: Graciously accept any gift you give (weddings are not for making money, and not everyone can afford expensive gifts or will hit the mark on the gifts you want).  Also, if someone acts like a rude jackass, don't lecture them about etiquette and insult them and call them names (and call their marriage a sham marriage--that is really not okay).  Roll your eyes and count yourself lucky you saw their true colors early on.


Phelan has a friend who needs some help

Can someone tell me the point of outdoor kitchens?  If you have one inside, wouldn't you just use that, and bring the food out to your patio or porch?

Happy Birthday to Economies of Kale! It's the winter solstice where she is.

Mix your own house paint.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Blogs that appeal

The Grumpies have a list of things that may inspire them to leave a sharply-worded comment on a blog.  The things that inspire me to go from zero to snark are legion and infinite, so I probably won't go there.  What I tend to do is write about the issue generally and get ranty here.

Granted, the general interest, trainwrecky homemaking blogging that I'm doing doesn't often lead me to posts that make me grind my teeth and roll my eyes with such violence that I see my own brain.  Many of the blogs I've read are about how someone's garden is doing, what they're making for dinner, maybe a gripe about a bad day, talk about a craft project, talk about strategies for saving money or resources, talk about creative reuse, etc.  50 Uses for your rhubarb isn't going to inspire snark from me; though I may print out the post so that I can use some of these tips after I pay a visit to my own garden spot.

There are things that make me avoid certain blogs.  There are some big blogs that I don't read because I find them to be a bit on the smug and shamey side, or because someone insists on winning Complete and Total Denier of The Year (it's one thing to be frustrated and not be able to think clearly for a while, it's another to make denial a way of life).  The Grumpies made me think about what would make me avoid a blog like the plague.  They also made me think of what appeals to me.  So here is my list of what appeals to me.  Your mileage may vary:

Open-mindedness.  I don't mean that someone must be a free-love hippie.  There are some folks I read who are fairly conservative.  But they don't post screeds about how hateful group X is or how women all belong in the home or how Black people are all violent or how gays are ruining western civilization.  They're writing about personal finance or their crafts or their cooking or their gardens, and they figure that even people they don't get or don't have much contact with do these things. 

Humility.  This is ironic, since I feel like I'm incredibly arrogant. This is why I highlight my trainwrecks and failures.  I really don't want to be that annoying person who tries to convince everyone of how awesome they are.  We all mess up--well, I do.  I'll own it.  I'm no one's teacher, unless you want to learn about how long it can take to get the hang of something.

Encouragement. It's one thing to not like something or be very strong in your opinions--perhaps you all remember my rants about the voluntary simplicity and local foods movements--but it's another to sneer at people that they're doing it wrong.  We've all got our trainwrecky moments.  We are all doing the best we can, but that means we're not perfect.  Tell me what you're doing and how you're doing it, yes. As long as you don't assume that everyone will be able to do it, and you don't make moral judgements on people who don't do things your way, we're good.

Boundaries.  I prefer people who set some strict boundaries.  If someone has a habit of letting a troll or trolls run amok in their comments section, I'll probably give the blog a pass.  That's just tiring and distracting.  I'm not talking about dissenting opinions or an honest argument.  I'm talking about commenters who act hatefully or try to stir things up.


What will bring you back to a blog? What will turn you off?

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

A house hunting rant

Okay, so before I start on my rant, I'll catch you up on what has been keeping me occupied.  I found a house that I liked.  It looked like it was in great shape.  It was in my price range, albeit at the higher end of the range, but that was fine since I assumed it was in great shape and didn't need any major work done.  The lot was perfect--flat, sunny, fenced in.  It was 15 minutes away from work. It was on a street off of a major road--so it had the convenience but not the noise.  New floors (laminate), newer windows, newer roof, decent kitchen, bright rooms, good closet space.

Then I had the inspection. Oh, my lord.

The siding on the front and the back had to be replaced.  The front part of the siding was Masonite (I thought it was clapboard).  The parts where the paint and finish wore off turned out to be soggy.  Masonite is basically glorified cardboard.  Once the finish wears off (if it's not repainted, and this wasn't), that's it. The back--which was shaker shingles--was cupping and cracking and splitting.

Siding protects the outside of the house from the elements, including water.  Water can damage a house.  The inspector was very thorough.  When he asked me if I had any questions or if I felt he missed something (something he asked after we went through each section of the house), I pointed to the spot near the door.  "Oh, that's probably nothing," he said, and bent down to tap it with his screw driver.  The screw driver went right through the spackle.  "Oh, that's not good."  He pointed out that it was in a spot where the Masonite had worn away and gotten wet. The owner knew this was an issue, since he'd spackled it.

The deck was deemed unsafe--by both the inspector and by the contractor who went out to give me an estimate for the costs of repairs. There were no footings, it was pulling away from the house, and the inspector was able to make the thing shake with one hand.  Dear lord.

I got estimates for how much this work would cost--it would cost me $14K-$15K, and that's assuming there was no extensive water damage.  The owner would not come down, insisting that the deck was fine (if his tenant got hurt, he would have lost that house, but whatever, I'm a silly female) and that replacing the siding was just home improvement.

No, you eejit.  It's home maintenance.  Obviously, the deal fell through, despite the efforts of all other parties to convince me to pay the originally agreed upon price shy of $2K to take the thing off his hands. The buyer's agent and their project manager said with a straight face that the deck was fine--um, I  had two independent professionals look at it and they said it was a hazard.  My bank was clear that they would not give me a mortgage if the deck was deemed unsafe (it would be an underwriting issue), and an appraiser would take note of the state of the deck. I had this in writing.  I was told by all other parties involved that no one ever heard of banks doing that.  I had to point out, repeatedly, that I had this in writing (they all saw it), and that my bank was doing it, so their insistence that this was unusual didn't matter.  (I later Googled and found out that yes, it does happen). I finally got sick of debating, realized everyone was digging their heels in and assuming I was stupid, that we'd never come to an agreement, and I walked away.  I would never feel comfortable in that house.

Now for my rant.


Sunday, June 16, 2013

My Dad

My Dad is a very resourceful and resilient guy.  He never let it show if he was stressed out or worried about stuff, though I'm sure he was.  He, like my mother, is frugal and careful, and he knew that we'd be okay no matter what happened.

He made a bed for my dolls and one for my sister's dolls. He assembled our toys (he was a very good sport) and fixed things around the house.  He played catch with my sister and would argue politics with me (look, we are kind of an odd family sometimes).  He gardened with my mother (he still has some tomato plants he grows) and worked hard, but never let his family take second place. 

Being a father was his job.  What he did for work was just how he paid the bills; he identified as a father.  He was never going to be a company man, though he worked hard and did well.  He was never going to play politics and didn't care about getting the corner office.  He cared about us.  What mattered to him was his family--his wife, his kids, and our well-being.  He was never too busy for us. He didn't assume that because he was home from work that he just could sit down and watch TV and not do anything.  He was a father, and that meant that he was raising us kids along with our mother.

When he was growing up, all of the kids had to take turns making dinner and doing chores around the house.  He never thought of certain things being beneath him--growing up, it was typical to see him making meals, doing dishes, cleaning, etc.  He was never one to assert that he was the MAN of the house and the boss of everything--the family was run more by an oligarchy--he and my mother together. 

When I was a kid, he took me and my sister fishing.  I didn't catch anything, but I loved fishing with him.  We snacked on string beans from the garden and hoped for a fish to get hooked.  We fed a lot of sunfish a lot of worms. 

He read to us. He encouraged us. He listened--and still listens--to us.

He is funny.  He loves to joke around. He has a twisted sense of humor (like his daughter, I suppose). He loves his grandchildren and dotes on them. 

He was and is a great Dad.

Happy Father's Day, Dad! And to all of the fathers reading this, Happy Father's Day to you, too.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

I have not been kidnapped by aliens or anything like that

House-hunting has just been an interesting process.  I'll write more on it later.  Depending on how things go over the next two weeks, I may have to rethink a few things. 

Gah, I sound so mysterious, don't I?

OK.  Here are other snippets that have kept me away from the interwebs:

1) I cut my hair into a bob, which I'm wont to do periodically.  I actually love this cut, it suits me best, but after a few years I get sick of it and let it grow. 

2) Yard work.  Lots of mowing.  When it hasn't been raining, that is.  This is turning out to be a cool and rainy summer.

3) A Song of Ice and Fire.  I'm reading the series.  I'm on the third book. It's coming off as a bit of a bromance.  It's interesting, but a bit jolting after reading about knights and maidens and courtly intrigue and honor and dishonor to come across the word "butt."

4) I have several friends who keep bees.  One of them had a hive that swarmed, so another friend came over to help her get the swarm into a new hive.  Beekeeping is one of those things that I'm happy to let other people do.  I'll help extract the honey, and I'll enjoy the product, but the bees make me nervous!  One of my friends hives produced over sixty pounds of honey in one year, which was great, but the bees were the surliest creatures ever.

5) My rhubarb is going gangbusters.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Frugal luxury--iced coffee milk, Mister Donuts, and my love of kitsch

This is something I do with leftover coffee.  I got this idea from--of all places--Mister Donut when I was living in Japan. 

The only two places I knew of where you could get bottomless, American-style coffee in Japan was Mister Donut and the Hard Rock Cafe*. 

There was a Mister Donut next door to the school I taught at (it was one of several chain ESL schools).  Teachers and students often stopped in there to get coffee, or muffins, donuts, Chinese dumplings, etc.  Mister Donuts also had a points system, where you'd get a card of points for every 300 yen you spent (or something like that).  Accumulate enough points, and you could get their giveaway. 

By the end of my time there, I had three date books/calendars (those were featured in December/January and I planned on getting them); two pillows; a plate, cup, and saucer; and a couple of towels.  All with the cutesy cartoon characters featured in Mister Donuts in Japan and in the case of the calendar, with little sayings each month ("Spring is here! It's raining a lot. But the snails are happy.")  I had an unbridled thing for kitsch and we all went a little bonkers getting the latest stuff.  They apparently still do it but the prizes have changed a bit since I was there (which isn't surprising since I came home 15 years ago. Gulp.)

Okay. Wow. That was quite a derail.

Anyway, one of the things Mister Donuts offered during the summer was a coffee ice milk drink.  Basically, fill one glass with iced coffee cubes and pour milk over it.  The cubes melt as you drink the milk   You start out with mild milk and end up with a nice, strong iced coffee.  It's perfect on a hot and humid day, which were plentiful in Osaka in the summer.

So of course, I realized that I could do this myself. 

I'm not a big coffee drinker at home.  I'm more of a fan of tea.  However, I do make it, especially if I have people over.  I had my parents over for dinner on Sunday and I made coffee for us all after.  Later, I took the leftover coffee, poured it into ice cube trays, and froze it. I filled a travel mug with some of the cubes this morning, and poured almond milk over them.

You can use regular milk, almond milk, soy milk. . .whichever you like and whichever agrees with you.  It's good. It uses up all the coffee.  And it's quite refreshing.

*I did go to the Hard Rock Cafe with a Japanese coworker who was in a heavy-metal band.  We'd go for the brownie sundaes and bottomless coffee.  She got transferred to the main office and often stayed late because her boss was still in the office--it was bad form to leave before your boss.  However, if we had plans, she'd leave earlier. She'd tell her boss, and her boss would say, "Are you meeting Pamela at the Hard Rock Cafe for brownie sundaes again?"

Monday, June 3, 2013

Gardening news

I planted the garden with my garden partner the weekend before last, and I felt it for the rest of the week! My entire lower half was sore, and I was so stiff that I walked like a zombie.  But the garden was planted.  This is what me and my garden partner are trying this year:

Tomatoes (roma, celebrity, cherry, and a mystery plant or two)
Peppers (red bell, cayenne, jalapeno)
Basil
Pole beans (on poles)
Watermelon (on a trellis--it's a smaller variety)
Cantaloupe (on a trellis)
Cucumber (on a trellis)
Butternut squash (on a trellis)
Eggplant
Patty-pan squash
Swiss chard
Beets
Garlic (planted in the fall)
Shallots (planted in the fall)
Leeks
Nasturtiums
Lavender


Annuals or plants that survived the winter:
Rhubarb
Mint (wow, did it ever survive. . .and thrive!)
Rosemary
Lemon verbena
Thyme
Parsley
Walking onions
Sage

What I planted in the plot at my rental house:
Tomatoes
Basil
Tarragon
Peppers (cayenne and jalapeno)
Rosemary
Thyme
Oregano
Chard
Nasturtiums
Mint (in a pot)
Chocolate mint (in a pot)

I mulched this past weekend and saw that we lost a couple of tomato plants and a melon plant. So I'll have to replace those.  One of the other gardeners offered a couple of large tomato plants, which I accepted, but I'm not sure how one of them is doing.  Ah, well. It's always an adventure!

Friday, May 24, 2013

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Changing times and dress sense

If this becomes the style I will bemoan the kids of today.
Warning: Rambly post.

Last Saturday I celebrated a friend's 70th birthday. The group of us all chipped in and had high tea; we hired someone who actually brings the high tea to you.  It was a lot of fun.

One thing this tea maven does is bring hats that you can choose to wear if you want.  Now, I can rock a hat like nobody's business, but because my hair is long and no longer bobbed, it's a challenge if I'm wearing it up (which I was that day).  I did manage to get a wide-brimmed pink at on my head (my bun was low enough).

I've joked that I wish hats were still a thing. It's one of the few articles of clothing I can wear and look good in (except for baseball hats, which should be outlawed for everyone, men included*). Everyone was joking about how we looked like we were going to the races.

I've always been into history--especially knowing about how everyday people lived in different eras. (I swear I do have a point.)   I had had a vague feeling that hats were a thing in the past, but I wasn't sure if they were something everyone wore, or only wore at certain times and for certain events (like today) or what.  As it turns out, yes, a woman would not consider herself fully dressed if she went outside without a hat on.  Unlike men, she did not take it off once inside (hence the hat pin, to fasten it securely to your hair).  And up until recently (say, the late sixties), it was perfectly normal (and desirable) for women to wear gloves when they were out and about.  There was an etiquette around all of this, of course. You'd hardly eat your meal at a restaurant wearing gloves, for example, so you'd take them off and put them under your napkin on your lap.  But they were something women wore as a matter of course. I can't imagine wearing gloves unless it was cold outside. But there you go; times have changed a lot.

I've talked to my parents about what was normal for people to wear.  Blue jeans--heck, any sort of pants--were unheard of for women.  If you were home, you wore those (perfectly awful looking) house dresses, or a shirtwaist.  I have been trying to picture my mother doing the housework in a house dress, and I'm really grateful that she and Mr. Levi Strauss are good chums.  Jeans weren't even a big thing for men for a long time; they were favored by rebellious teenage boys and people who did physical work (they were originally made for miners back in the 1800's).  I'm pretty sure if you used the term "designer jeans" with a straight face back in that era that people would think you were having them on or that you were an odd duck.

T-shirts are also a relatively new thing.  My father told me that when they started to become popular, it was teenage boys wearing their white undershirts as shirts.  I'll bet the older set was bemoaning the popular trend of boys wearing their underwear out in public.  (That doesn't happen anymore, does it? Oh, wait. Ha! It does.)  T-shirts with writing on them weren't a thing.

And of course, people dressed up, at least compared to today.  You didn't go out to dinner in jeans, designer or otherwise.

I'm not bemoaning the fact that we don't dress up as a matter of course anymore--far from it.  Sometimes you'll see me in the local Rite Aid getting a jug of water because I have been working in the garden and drank what I brought.  I'll look a fright--old jeans, ratty t-shirt, hair up and flyaway.  Sometimes you'll see me in my gym clothes if I'm going out for a hard power walk or if I was on my way to the gym.  Sometimes you'll see me in jeans and a t-shirt because they are comfortable.  (And you will never, ever see me in high heels.  I wore them when I was younger, and my feet, knees, and back thank me for eschewing them now.)  My mother is far more comfortable in jeans than in anything else. There's a reason why they have become so popular.

It's just really interesting how our mores change over time.

*Obviously, I don't think they should really be outlawed, I won't judge you for wearing one, I promise.  I just think they look terrible.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Being sensible is such a bummer

It was certainly an interesting Sunday.

As the regular readers of my blog know, I've been looking for a house.  It's been quite an adventure.  There is one that I'm actually seriously considering though the jury is still out (I want to take a second look at it).  But one popped up that was just a little more than the one I'm seriously considering (which is dirt cheap), far bigger, with an attached garage and a fireplace.  Huge kitchen. I was intrigued.

There was an open house on Saturday and Sunday, with a "best bidder" sale on Sunday; the listed price was the starting bid.  Huh, I thought.  Trying to start up a bidding war? Is this something where they'll try to cut someone's real estate agent out of the process? (Agents work pretty hard for you so you don't want to do that!)  It's a way to sell your house quickly if you're motivated; it is probably a good way to get more for it in a shorter period of time than letting it sit on the market will do.  It's also a great way to jack up the price of the house--bidding on something will often impel people to go higher than they would in the hopes of "winning"--and sometimes will bid beyond the value of the object. (One well-known example is the experiment where a researcher had a roomful of people bid on a $20 bill. The "winner" got it for $22 or something like that.)

My agent told me to check it out, regardless.  I went, and was honestly enamored of the house.  It was a split level, and the kitchen was well-laid out (most split levels have little cabinet space in the kitchens for pots and pans, and they tend to be small.  I'm okay with a small kitchen but I want space for my pots, pans, slow cookers, baking dishes, etc. That's the one area where I have a fair amount of stuff and I use it all.)  It had a breakfast bar (with lots of cabinet space).  Decent sized dining area.  Hardwoods (except in the living room and the hallway, which I don't understand--why not make that hardwood as well?).  A fireplace. A good sized deck. Newer windows.  Lots of light.  Good-sized bedrooms and the master bedroom had a slider leading to a balcony.  Part of the basement was finished with a little guest suite--a sleeping area and a living room area with a bathroom.  A garage (not a necessity for me--I'm quite realistic about my price range--but oh, a lovely perk). Huge, fenced-in sunny yard aching for garden beds.  Views of a cranberry bogs.

The house was out of my league.

There were a few things I wasn't enamored with but that I could live with.  The cabinets were those awful contractor special things (white press board with "wood" lining the bottom, ugly) and the counter was a blah shade of gray.  You know what? It was still in good condition and it's not a deal-breaker.  The closet doors were all different (in one room, there were no doors, just a curtain).  There was a huge pine tree near the master balcony that made me nervous (those things snap in a good storm) and I knew if I got the house by some miracle I'd have to take that thing down for my own piece of mind.  But these were small details.

That was it.  Had the short sale I looked at a couple of weeks ago been like this house, I would have made an offer.

So what the heck. I put in a bid.

How it works is that they call you at 5:00 or so that evening (in order of who wrote down bids), tell you how many people are bidding, what the bid is up to, and ask you if you would like to increase the bid or bow out.  If you end up with the highest bid and if the buyer accepts it (which they might not), they will let you know but will contact your real estate agent (if you're working with one) to get the official offer and the details.  If you have the winning bid, you can bow out since it's not an official offer, and they'll go to the next lowest bid.

I did not think I would get the house (spoiler: I didn't).  I was nervous that I'd get caught up in the bidding process and end up bidding more than I should. There were five bidders when we started. By round two, there were four.  By round four, there were three.  By round five, there were two.  I was one of the two.

Color me shocked.  So for a minute I thought, Oh my god I might actually get this house! 

But alas, I did not.  Had I been further along in my lease or had more money to put down, I likely would have gotten the house--or I would have been willing to bid more.  I could have gone to the top of my price range (and yes, the house was worth it).  But I am in a lease and I don't know if I could find someone to take it over for me on such short notice; so it would be conceivable that I'd have to carry rent and a mortgage payment.  Depending on the mortgage payment it would be doable, but the higher the price is,  the less able I am to do it. The lower the price (and/or the further along I am in my lease), the higher I can go. I call it pain in the derriere math.

I did go $1,000 over the amount I swore would be my cutoff point.  I figured what the heck, maybe the other bidder would bow out and that amount wouldn't be onerous.  It would be well worth it.  But they increased it and I couldn't go on.  I mean, I could have tried.  I suppose I could have upped it (I only upped the bids by the minimum amount, which was $1,000).  But I knew that it would be a strain financially.

So congratulations to the best bidders.  They really did get a good deal on that house (it was worth more, for sure).  I'm disappointed but I don't regret bowing out.  Still, being sensible can be such a bummer.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Things I have stopped doing that lessened the stress on me and my wallet

Frugality isn't a matter of strict Puritan discipline, where you soldier through hardship and grit your teeth, promising yourself a reward when it's all said and done. It's really just a way of living. 

For a long time, I found myself struggling because quite honestly, I just wasn't making that much money.  I did not live in a huge place. I did not drive fancy cars. My expenses were low, but so was my paycheck.  All of the barking I heard about the latte factor frustrated me because I wasn't spending money on that kind of stuff!  Once I started making more money, I banked it. It was a great feeling.

There are times when I slip up and there are times when I knowingly splurge (which is a different situation altogether).  I find that what helps keep me on track are things that aren't necessarily focused on money-saving, but on sanity-saving.

I take a lot of walks and try to get to know the place where I live.  For a long time, in my old place, I didn't do this, and I missed out.  There was a small state park nearby that had ponds, beautiful trails for walking, biking, and horseback riding as well as an old mansion with tours on certain Sundays (it was the old estate of a local moneyed family that left it to the town).  There was conservation land nearby.  There was another old estate a short drive down the road.  Here, I'm near the ocean so that's definitely a draw.  There are also woodland trails and ponds to explore. 

Walking outside does several things for me. It gets me out of my own head and I start noticing things outside.  I breathe fresh air. And it feels a lot different than even doing a hard workout inside (though I'm not against that either).

I don't watch TV anymore besides the odd DVD.  I don't have cable (I did for a few years because the bundle was cheaper than my phone/DSL package, but that changed soon enough--and prior to that, I didn't watch much TV).  This is not because I must live like a pure and holy monk but because TV sucks away a lot of my time.  When I had cable, I got home and I turned on the TV.  I'd blink and find that a few hours had passed.  Now I get home and cook and eat and read and clean up.  Maybe I'll go for a walk or call a friend.

I don't subscribe to magazines (well, I do get Mother Earth News but that's really about it, and I'll probably let that subscription lapse).  Years ago I got Gourmet and Food and Wine as part of an inexpensive subscription offer.  It was escapist fun but it also ended up making me feel awful.  Those recipes called for ingredients I couldn't find or afford easily.  The magazines featured through their articles and ads the shiniest, best, most expensive kitchens and dining ware and wine glasses (and wines).

I don't go window shopping.  First, it's irritating--I don't like getting jostled and dealing with all the noise involved.  Second, if I don't need anything why look at stuff? You're more likely to buy stuff when you're in a store than if you're not.  So I don't go window shopping. That was a challenge for certain friends of mine who always wanted to go shopping; I'd decline and suggest something else.

I try to stay social.  I tend towards being a hermit at times, and so I will force myself to make plans.  I haven't really regretted it.  I'll also invite people over and make dinner.  It doesn't have to be anything fancy--maybe just chili in the slow cooker--but it's fun to get together.

I cull a lot of extraneous stuff.  I tend to feel a lot better if I don't have a lot of stuff to keep track of.  I do have a lot of kitchen stuff but I use it all.  If I haven't used it in a year, I donate it or give it away.  When I had a lot of stuff, I felt like I had to organize it better.  It was hard for me to keep track of things and I got overwhelmed. It was depressing.  I was no hoarder, but it was still a little much for me.

I don't let extraneous stuff  into my house, and I discourage people from getting me gifts (especially around Christmastime, which is a season where people lose all reason).  I really only exchange with my immediate family, anyway.  This is mainly because of the above culling.  If I need something, I will get it (or will tell the few people I exchange gifts with that the needed thing would be much appreciated).

I don't tend to go to yard sales.  I used to.  You can find cool things there.  When I needed certain things--such as casserole dishes, etc., I went.  However, it's too tempting to pick up a bunch of things you don't need because they're so cheap.  One good thing about going to yard sales was that I'd see certain things in all of them.  Those things you see on TV that look so awesome? Will likely be in every yard sale within a few years.  So if you really want the newest doohickey, wait a few years and then hit the yard sales and only look for and buy that thing you want.

What have you stopped doing?





Monday, May 13, 2013

Is it a cuddly cutie, food, or both?

Okay, this is another thing I refuse to eat.
Human are omnivores, though you wouldn't know it by the way we refuse to eat certain things.

I'm the same way, mind you.  There are things I refuse to eat (bugs, for example, at least the land dwelling ones, because I imagine them coming alive as I eat them and OH MY GOD I NEED MOUTHWASH AND LYSOL JUST THINKING ABOUT IT. Before you say Well, that makes sense, there are things like chocolate covered ants and grasshoppers, and there are places where people eat things like pan roasted grubs quite happily, and I'm told they are quite tasty).  So I'm not judging by a long shot.  But I can't help but notice what is considered food in different places.

There was a horse meat scandal in Ireland and the U.K.--apparently, the ground beef in the burgers sold in several major chains had horse meat in it.  IKEA also ended up being affected by this scandal. I was of two minds.

We all want to know what is in our food.  If you have a health or religious reason--or any other reason--to not want to eat something, you know if an item will violate your religious rules, endanger your health, or just gross you out.  I have Muslim and Jewish friends who will not eat pork; if they learned the meatballs they ate had pork in them, they would not be happy.  I have Hindu friends who do not eat beef. I have friends who will not or cannot (due to allergies or intolerances) eat dairy or wheat (celiac disease is no joke).

So what I'm saying is that I get it. I do! And we should be able to buy say, ground beef or ground chicken and be confident that we are getting that and nothing else.

But I am also bemused by the reasons--outside of religious or health--why we won't eat certain things.  Some people are horrifically offended by hunting but happily eat factory farmed chicken.  Some people are horrified that I eat venison and rabbit (you're eating Bambi and Thumper!).  Some people can't stomach the thought of eating goat (which is delicious, by the way. It tastes a lot like lamb).  We class animals into "those we can eat" and "those we do not eat" and sometimes the reasons are "but that animal is very cute" or "that animal is gross" or "that animal is noble and pure and wonderful" or "that animal was featured in a Disney movie and it offends my inner five-year-old."

It's not only meat.  Try and pick a bunch of dandelion greens and steam them for your friends. You will get a mix of reactions, I guarantee it.  Pick poke weed growing your yard? Better make sure it's served to people who aren't squicked by it.  You're eating weeds! Is a reaction I hear. Yes. They are edible. They are actually quite tasty.

In some parts of the world, horse meat is actually considered to be a great meal.  Lobster, currently seen as an expensive luxury item to eat here in the US, was considered trash food not so long ago.  Back in the time when white people in the US owned black slaves, it was served to them up North. And there is a rule on the books that prisoners will not be served lobster more than three times a week.  You know why? At the time, prisoners rioted after getting nothing but lobster.  Can you imagine the scandal now? My God! Why are we feeding criminals such luxurious and expensive food? But at the time, a lobster was considered a giant sea roach. (I try to forget that it's a big cockroach when I eat it as it is delicious.)

We would never eat dog or cat in the west, but we eat beef all the time.  Among Hindus that's just perverse.  I love me some sizzling bacon, but in I don't think it's going to be on any menu in the Middle East.  In some places, frog legs are considered viable food, as is snake.  (I have had both, actually, in Thailand.  The frogs legs were okay but way too much work for little meat.  The curried snake, or "serpent" as they called it, was good, if you didn't mind all the bones. By the way, neither taste like chicken. They taste like frog and snake.)  Historically, people ate songbirds, and there are places where they still do though I believe it's against the law now.  Seabirds used to be on the menu on coastal restaurants here until we realized we were clearing out the population.

I won't judge anyone's taste or repugnance. But I can't help but note our cultural love for certain foods, and cultural revulsion at others. 


Sunday, May 12, 2013

My Mom

One of the most resourceful frugalistas I know is my mother.

When we were growing up, she and my father were very careful with their money, yet we always had plenty.  On Christmas we would get one of the things we really wanted, and we'd get smaller gifts to unwrap as well.  We didn't drown under a mountain of toys but we always felt like we had a great Christmas.

She grew everything we ate.  Well, almost everything. We always had huge gardens (with maybe one exception because one house we lived in didn't get a lot of sun).  Those gardens produced things like tomatoes, garlic, spinach, cabbage, broccoli, corn, zucchini, summer squash, acorn squash, butternut squash, peppers, cauliflower, lettuce, beets, radishes, shallots. . .you name it, it was there.  She would freeze the surplus and supplement it with vegetables from the grocery store throughout the year.  I must have driven her up the wall, as I didn't like vegetables except for spinach and raw carrots and celery. (I was a very picky eater.)  When I was a kid I wanted a vegetable garden, and she and my dad made a little raised bed for me.  Then one day, I went out to it and saw a huge spider, screamed at the top of my lungs and ran far, far away from plants for the next 22 years. I think she's very amused by my urge to garden as an adult.  She doesn't really do it anymore--my father tends to a few tomato plants but they're finding it's taking up more of their energy than it used to.

She is a champion deal-finder.  When I was a kid, she had a desk set up with her coupons and rebate forms.  She never got to the level of extreme couponers, but she didn't want to.  She'd stock up to tide us over for the next sale.  She didn't want to hoard.

She makes the best pie I have ever had. I hated pie growing up and then, when I tried it again, I loved it. But hers is the best. No one has ever been able to top it.  I'm trying to get as good but it takes a lot of practice.  She made braided bread (not challah, but a thick, chewy bread that was just delicious). She made fried dough for me when she realized I loved the stuff.  She baked cookies and brownies and cakes a lot while I was growing up. She used to knit our slippers (best slippers ever) and she knit small stockings that held packets of Lifesavers for the Christmas tree.

She and my father have always been a true team, which meant I couldn't get away with anything when I was a teenager.  There was none of this "ask your father" or "ask your mother." Nope.

She was strict but not unreasonable. (Well, looking back I don't think she was unreasonable. As a teenager I thought she was SO! UNFAIR!) She persevered no matter how hyper, obnoxious, awkward, or rebellious I was. She's always had good advice and she always wants to lend a helping hand.  She will leap to our defense in a hot minute.  She loves being a grandmother to my niece and nephew.

She was and is a great mom.

Happy Mother's Day, Mom! And to all of the mothers reading this, Happy Mothers Day to you too!

Friday, May 10, 2013

Friday blogaround

In the wake of the Bangladeshi factory collapse, some retailers are showing where and how their clothing was made.  I would point out that it's not just clothing that is made in export processing zones--toys, electronics, small appliances, etc. are also made in export processing zones, and those workers are also exploited and working in terrible conditions.

Cash Only Living did 10 money-saving things this week.

What really happens to recycled electronics.

The Economies of Kale is doing a $21 challenge.

Questioning the idea that homeownership is good

The new luxury kids' bedrooms.  I feel the need to add, for a small subset of families! Most of us can't afford such things.

Lilli practices produce triage.

Five tips for DIY motorcycle maintenance.

How to save like your mother.

Have a great weekend, everybody!

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Giving without adding to the toy pile

Every so often, I see letters to advice columns about parents whose kids have every toy imaginable.  The parents want to instill in their child the value of charity and want them to give toys away. Or people complain that kids are materialistic and don't appreciate what they have (yet add to the present pile).

I do wish people would stop complaining about how materialistic kids today are.  I heard it when I was a kid; I'm sure my parents heard it as well.  Yet the very same people who complained about that were part of the problem by adding to the present pile. If you think there's a problem, don't be part of the problem. And while we're at it, let's keep in mind that sometimes people have very good reasons for doing things we may not advocate. Here's the thing: I used to be absolutely certain that I'd never let my kids watch TV if I ever changed my mind on the kid thing, that TV was evil, and that kids didn't need it. Then I babysat my niece (and later, my nephew). No, they do not need TV. But I needed them to sit in front of it for 15 minutes so I could use the bathroom. Or catch my breath. Or clean up the mess the toddler tornado made.  So. . .let's just say I got schooled quickly.

OK, rant over. Now, here are some alternatives I have used instead of adding to the toy pile.

Get them a book.  This seems counter-intuitive as you're getting them something, but if they're readers they will appreciate it. (Also, I'm not against gift-giving, but am for giving in ways that won't add to the toy pile). It will also encourage them to be readers. I have never heard a parent complain their kid has too many books (and if they truly do, they can swap them for other books).  Both of my niece and nephew enjoy reading. 

Send money to their college account if they have one.  You'll have to get the information from their parents (the bank, the address, the account number, etc.) and they may not be comfortable with that if you're not close.  You can also get a savings bond for the child for college.

Spend time with them.You can take them to a movie, take them to the park, do a project with them, or just hang out.  You don't have to plan a flash Disney vacation.

I used to have my niece over for sleepovers. We'd go to the playground near my place, we'd make her favorite dinner (well, I'd make it--Chinese food), we'd read stories and take walks and build quilt forts.  When my nephew was born, their family was busy enough that we weren't able to do that as much, but I did have him over for the day.  Yes, we took full advantage of the nearby playground, watched cartoons, and (I) made his favorite dinner (meatballs).

You'll have to do this when they're younger; as they get older they get into sports and hang out with their friends more often.  My parents and my sister and brother-in-law used to say that I didn't have to watch my niece (and later my nephew) when we were all together; but I knew that soon enough they'd be older and would rather do other things than hang out with their Aunt Pamela.  Which is as it should be. That they have a friends they want to hang out with and sports they want to play is a good thing.


What are things you do for the kids in your life? What are alternatives to yet another toy that the kids in your life will enjoy and their parents won't object to?



Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Soy and lemon fish with mushrooms and wild onion

Last week was the final week of the CSA fish share my friend and I had.  We might do the next round (still undecided).  I certainly have eaten well.

My friend was all booked up last week and simply wasn't going to be around to eat the fish. Not to get together and cook a big meal, not to even take half and make something--she had stuff going on every evening and weekend day.  She told me to take the fish and enjoy it, which I did.  Our share was yellowtail flounder and pollock.  The yellowtail flounder dish turned out to be a big fail (here's a tip: do not smother fish in cilantro base, just a little is sufficient).  The pollock dish I made was a success, however.

This is what I did:

The humble wild onion.
First, there are wild onions growing all throughout my yard.  They are everywhere--in my parent's and sister's yard, in my garden plot, everywhere. Well, they are edible, and they are tasty, so why not? I pulled a few bulbs out of the ground, washed them well, chopped the bulbs and minced part of the tops.  I tossed this into a shallow porcelain baking dish that was lightly oiled. I sprinkled pepper on both sides of the fish, placed it in the dish, and put a generous amount of powdered ginger and garlic on the fish.  I added a splash (about 1-2 tablespoons) of soy sauce and lemon juice. 

While the oven was preheating (I set it to 400 degrees), I soaked the last of my dried mushrooms in hot water; once they were soft I added them and a tablespoon of the stock to the dish.  I also added some long fronds of the wild onion tops. I covered it and baked it for about 20 minutes, until the fish flaked easily with a fork.  I added a few more onion tops for a garnish.

I ate it with short-grain rice and spinach. It was delicious. The sauce would also make it good for a lo-mien style stir-fry the next day for leftovers.