Custom Search

Thursday, October 29, 2009

What to Do: Unsatisfactory Upholstery Job

Some help needed Readers. As you may recall, I paid a woman my mother knows for advice on fabric and paint color. I could not be happier with her work. Then I needed to get the sewing done.

I got a recommendation from a neighbor. Careful me: I had some chairs done first. Good job. The second phase involved 5 pillows and ottoman reupholstery, in a stripe.

The stripes on the ottoman are rather askew. A far cry from my previous slipcover, which was beautifully done--also in a stripe--by a friend.

I already paid and all. I was in the midst of dying my hair (huge money saver for the frugal) when she arrived. So I didn't really look over the work, because I was afraid I'd get hair dye on the fabric.

So, Readers. Do I call her and state my dissatisfaction? If so, what should I say? What should I expect?

Or should I let it go? I don't see that it would be possible to fix the work, but, then, I'm not a sewer.

Advice appreciated. As well as a script, if you think I should call.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A Good Deed: Chicken Pot Pie

It's hard to admit this, but, like many teachers of my acquaintance, I don't really do enough extra for others. I think this may be because we are in a GIVING profession. So we feel excused from all the extra stuff that others do. That's not a good excuse. Today, however, I am going to bring dinner to a chemo-weakened acquaintance. This woman is my age and is on her second cancer experience.

I volunteered to make chicken pot pie. My partner told me to just make the creamed chicken and veggie part, because Mary can't chew very well. My partner will bring mashed potatoes and vanilla pudding. This seems like the ultimate comfort food.

There's often a component of selfishness in many good deeds. Mine is that I am keeping half the chicken stuff so I can have some! I love chicken pot pie, but seldom made it. It is a time-consuming business, involving stock, bechamel or veloute, chicken (hopefully, you have left-overs), individually prepped and steamed veggies. What a pain. And, finally, my bete noire, pie crust. And don't tell me it's easy. It's not easy for me. In fact, it's impossible.

Then I read a quick and easy cookbook and discovered liberation. The author said to just make 2 cups of white sauce and throw in a package of frozen mixed vegetables. So that's what I do now. I also poached some chicken breast and cut it up and added to the other stuff.

I also picked up some bisquick at Big Lots for a mere dollar and hope that I can produce an acceptable biscuit for my own dinner. Yes, I know that women in the South can whip up biscuits without a recipe. In 5 minutes. I have seen it done many times. But even after 20 years here, I am still referred to as a Yankee. Yankees can't make biscuits. Everyone knows that.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Clutter and Bargains: The Example of Babysitting

1968: I am 14 years old. My father is self-employed and his business is doing pretty well, so my mother is also working full-time. This is why I am going to buy my back-to-school clothing myself. In those days, a teenager could proffer a store credit card (visas et al were in the future for most families) and say "My mother said I could use this." In those innocent days, the teenager would be believed.

However, I tried to pay for as much as I could with my babysitting money. I had just raised my price from 50 cents an hour to 75 cents. I had lost a few customers to the price increase, including one family that fired me for not cleaning the house while I was there, but there were lots of children. Even at 75 cents, babysitting was so cheap that many of the moms left for hours on end on school days, often telling me that they were taking a course in "crafts." Or the couples went out at night for 8 or more hours. Little did I know that for some of these families, the 60s had arrived, with a full complement of John Updike-style infidelity during the day and "swinging" at night.

Anyway, I took the bus to A & S, a mid-priced department store that is probably no more. In fact, that whole genre seems to have disappeared. There I bought 4 items: a tan corduroy skirt, a tan and brown diagonal plaid skirt, a cream fisherman style sweater, and a brown v-neck sweater. You can tell that I was trying to mix and match, having probably read an article to that effect in Seventeen. So proud was I of my self-sufficiency that I remember the prices: $6.00, $8.00, $10.00, $6.00, for a grand total of $30.00. Except for the corduroy skirt, these items were probably synthetics, since the natural fibers movement of the 60s did not really hit till the 70s.

In other words, 40 hours of babysitting, which probably took me 3 or 4 weeks.

My daughter was 14 in 2005, owing to my late start on children. There are not too many kids around, so babysitting is in short supply. Happily, some children appeared across the street and Miss Em walked over to announce her availability. We wondered what to charge and guessed that $6.00 an hour would be the going rate. Much to her surprise, before she could announce her rates, she was given $60.00 for her 6 hours. We learned that $10.00 an hour was standard!

If Miss Em went to Target or Ross, she could buy clothing for about what I spent so many years ago. But her 4 items would only have taken 3 hours of work. Is it any wonder that our closets are overflowing and that the floors of most teenage rooms are dotted with clean and dirty piles of clothing?

Is it any wonder also that thrift stores are filled with near-new clothing? When I first went to thrift stores many years ago, the pickings were indeed slim. Now, I must keep myself from overbuying.

Sadly, the things that are really important, education and, most important, health care, are out of reach for many. These don't mess up your house either. Both have risen way faster than inflation, while clothing, plastic toys, and other junk are so cheap that it's easy to accumulate.

Last summer, Miss Em was asked to babysit for two kids while she was staying with my mother in Massachusetts. The east coast rate is even higher: she was paid $15.00 an hour and netted $120.00 for 8 hours of work.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Frugal Fieldwork: At Barnes and Noble

Our Frugal Friday entertainment began with a stop at an art opening. Our friend Peg had a show of pencil drawings of her trip to France at a coffee shop owned by another friend.

Then, since we had already made the arduous journey to the next town (no kidding! endless roadwork makes for an unpleasant drive), we headed to Banana Republic, where my mission was to use a $10.00 gift card that was about to expire. Mission accomplished, I went to Barnes and Noble, where Mr. FS was waiting for me. There we ran into two former students now all grown up, one of whom works as an instructor in my department.

I mentioned that Banana Republic had a 25% off special for those who used their credit card. They said they were planning to go there but did not have a credit card. I offered them the use of mine and they declined. When I suggested that they get a credit card if they wanted to buy something, they looked at me in horror: We can't get another credit card. It seemed that for them--as for others--possessing a credit card constitutes an irresistible temptation. That's why even among the frugal and newly frugal, there are two opposed credit card philosophies: Use them for everything and get the rewards vs. Cut them up and never use them again. I am lucky to be in the former category. And those in the latter category are lucky to know their weaknesses.

As we headed to our car, we ran into the husband of the artist whose show we had visited. He was going to Barnes and Noble to buy a book-on-tape for a 10 hour trip to a new vacation house in North Carolina. Again, I was struck by the differences. I would have gotten a tape at the library.

In fact, we have been listening to Dickens's Hard Times on our way to work. Truly a sentimental journey. And certainly a reminder to be thankful in the midst of hard times for so many.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

St John Dilemma: Keep or Sell?

As I've said before, thrift store zen experiences lead to clutter. If I could achieve the highest level of zen, of course, I could wander through thrift stores without buying anything. As is, however, I am only a lowly disciple on the parth to enlightenment.

Mostly, I donate the excess. Good excess, I try to swap at Buffalo Exchange, giving my dear daughter the proceeds. Really good stuff, of which I have little, presents a problem.

Anyway, I have two St. John suits. The first is cobalt blue, trimmed with sequins and rhinestones. Quite an over-the-top specimen of the genre. This is a size 2. Strangely, the jacket fits me. Sort of.

The second, more recently acquired, is pink with (thank heavens) black trim. This is a 6 and it really fits me. When I put it on, I look like a somewhat flaky and disheveled society lady. Of course, I could never wear this AS a suit, with the pink skirt. I would have to take it down a notch and wear it with my regular old black pants.

There is an on-line consignment venue--Rodeo Drive Resale--that specializes in St. John. I knew about this place from reading an article about the women of Congress, some of whom patronize the site. Suits like mine go from $400.00 to $600.00, and consignors get half! I would have to dry clean (even though I am philosophically, financially, and ecologically opposed to the process) and ship. So trying to sell these would require a cash outlay of sorts, especially for the sequin jacket, which probably requires special treatment.

And of course--like my acquaintance who broke her engagement 30 years ago, thinking she would find Mr. Right-er (and never found anyone)--I may never find another St. John.

So, ladies of the internet, sell or keep?

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Yo Yo Ma vs New Orleans Black Chorale: Frugal Choices

Not only has summer turned into autumn over the past few days, but our frugal lives have been filled with free entertainment. More on all the events at a later date.

We just got back from the monthly concert at the church down the street from us. Tonight's concert: the New Orleans Black Chorale. A wonderful concert, followed by a reception, which amounts to a free dinner.

The woman who introduced the singers mentioned that Yo Yo Ma was in town, playing with the New Orleans Philharmonic. Well, we didn't know, so we didn't have to make a choice. And a search did not tell me what the tickets cost. I wonder what we would have done.

Local concert: free, a 5 minute walk away, free dinner.
New Orleans concert: a world famous player, at least 2 hours in the car, maybe $100.00 for mediocre seats. No free dinner, obviously.

It is a measure of the frugal calculator embedded in my brain that I run the numbers even on hypothetical situations. What would you have done?

Two other factors.

We heard Ma play at Tanglewood quite a few years ago. The only spots on the lawn that were available by the time we showed up were in the blazing sun. After a valiant effort, I dozed off.

Also, the post-concert food tonight included a favorite from last year: roasted tomato soup with basil. Reader, I had two cups.

So how do you decide between two desirable events? When is money no object?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

A Little Clutter Victory and a St John suit

I took a peek at some of the retirement statements that have been rolling in. This is the first time I've peeked in about a year. Things are still very depressing. Those who started saving a year or so before the meltdown have pretty much recovered. People like me--and it seems unfair that diligent savers should be more penalized--are still far out of whack. That coupled with the news that various Wall Street companies will be paying out record bonuses . . . well, it does tend to promote anger and depression.

So does clutter! So in order to feel that I am in control of at least a tiny portion of my life, I resolutely bagged up some clothing and took it off to the Food Bank Thrift. When I dragged it inside, I was told "No Clothing." GRRRRRR. Of course, I had to take just a peek anyway. And then I found a quintessential rich lady suit: a St John! Pink with black trim. I couldn't find the tag and when I asked the price, the manager said $8.00. Then I found the tag: $4.00. (Because of my middle class aura, I am charged more than others at thrifts. I'm not sure if this is fair....The manager was embarrassed when I discovered the tag, probably because she had just marked the suit). Reader, I backslid.

So then I had to go to Goodwill so I wouldn't return home with even more than I set out with. Donation completed, I took a peek inside. I found another rich lady item: a Carlisle jacket. Plus some nice Talbots pants. Reader, I put them back! Give me a cyber pat on the back!

Then I stopped at the recently-opened used bookstore, where I exchanged 5 paperbacks that I didn't want for one hardback that I do want: The Commander's Palace Cookbook.

MINUS about twenty items of clothing and five books
PLUS one suit and 1 book

Hmmmm. Maybe I will do this every week.

And now I have the recipe for the famous bread pudding souffle with whiskey sauce!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

How Many? How Much? Request for Help.

Readers, I have long been aware of my clutter problem. I am also aware that my clutter problem is exacerbated by my zen hobby of frequenting thrift stores. For some karmic reason, this is the only area where I have good luck, nice clothing and desired books falling into my hands with scarcely any effort.

So what I want to know is: what is a normal amount of clothing to purchase in a year? Like everyone else, it seems, I aspire to a French woman's closet, with a few really nice items. I have a French size closet, in fact, since I live in an almost 100 year old house.

Unlike a lot of the frugality people, my issue is not HOW MUCH I spend, since I spend very little on clothing each year. The issue is HOW MANY things are in the normal range for yearly purchases.

The math is obvious: since the average price of an item is $3.00 at my preferred sources, if I buy even 4 items a month, by the end of the year, I will have spent only about $150.00, but accrued about 50 items.

Too many! So, like people who don't know what a normal amount of food is, I need to know what a normal yearly accumulation looks like.

Any help appreciated.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Politics at the Oral Surgeon's Office

This is a "What would you do" post. I am not asking whether you are for or against a particular issue. I am asking whether political material in a professional office merits a response or action. Help me out, folks.

Last week, after paying $2000.00 for the first phase of my tooth implant (no dental insurance at my job, btw), I noticed a stack of cheaply put together pamphlets. There was a little handmade sign over the stack saying "What Mr. Obama's Plan Means for You." The pamphlet itself was a low quality production, full of comments like "forced family planning," "illegal aliens covered," "government will tell you what you can eat." Etc.

Anyway, as a left of left of center type 9not a typo), I started shaking. It was especially ironic that there was a stack of shiny "What Medicare Can Do for You" brochures right next to the pamphlets.

Here's my issue. I felt that the oral surgeon, to whom I have given vast amounts of my paltry pay over the years, was politicizing his office. Because of that, I felt that I was tacitly supporting his political view by patronizing his business.

Now, given that residents of my state are overwhelmingly against any health care reform, and that those of my race, education, and general socioeconomic status are overwhelmingly conservative in all things, I expect to be out of step with many people whose businesses I frequent. So the issue is the stack of pamphlets, not the doctor's beliefs.

So, I said to Dr. W. that I didn't think it was appropriate to have the material in the office. The doctor then calmly went into why "well-meaning" reform was a bad idea, based on his 40 years in the field. So he didn't respond to my point, which was that he was politicizing his office space.

I gave up--since I am not too good under pressure--and asked him where he got the pamphlet. He said it was endorsed by the "society for maxowhatever surgeons." I could hardly imagine a professional society putting out such a cheap looking rag. When I got home, I looked more carefully and discovered that the source was someone's conservative blog.

Next day at work, I decided to consult with my colleagues. One, from a Detroit unionista family, wasn't there. So I consulted the more temperate types who were present. Every single one--even the most mellow--said that I could not patronize this doctor once he had politicized his office. (Of course, if I agreed with him, I would feel great about supporting him.)

Those of you who have read this far, what do you think? Both about politicizing an office space and then about patronizing a business that advertises views with which you do not agree? If frugality is about getting one's finances in alignment with one's values, then this seems to be a frugal issue.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Frugal Karma: Two Episodes

You never know. Mr. FS and I have been walking on the Tammany Trace every day. Yesterday, he suggested that we walk in the neighborhood instead, even though we sometimes dawdle. OK.

So we set out and passed a yard sale. Now I don't do yard sales--too much driving and too much time wasting with uncertain outcomes. Too much stress as people watch you reject the junk they spent so much on. But this was KARMA.

First, Mr. FS declared that he would wait in the street, but eventually he sidled over and found just what he wanted: a SONY discman. $3.00!

Then I kind of wafted over to a table where I found a package of 7 yards of fabric cording. In the exact colors I needed. This was even more karmic because the roadblock to my getting some pillows re-covered has been choosing the cording. I tried two fabric stores and even with TLC customer service at the second one, I almost passed out from the "paradox of choice." Strangely, this cording is nicer than the ones at the store. And, even though the seller was asking for too much money for her clothing (some from Paris!), the cording was only $1.00.

Then we continued on our walk. We had to walk back to the yard sale because we had not a penny on our persons when we went on the walk.

Today, I wended over to Goodwill. There I found just the book I've been wanting to read: Flow, by Mihaly Csikszentmihakyi. Of course, I had to buy 4 additional books, since books are $0.39 each or 5 for $1.00. In one of the books I found a wedding invite to the fancy (Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore Santa Barbara) nuptials of Danielle Trober and Alexander Vouvalides. Also in the book was a card listing hotels with space reserved, helpfully listing the price range, from $$$ to $$$$$.

The juxtaposition of my budget blissful thrifting and the fancy route to (I hope) wedded bliss was interesting. Back to grading papers. Seldom is this an activity conducive to flow. But perhaps after reading the book, I can achieve this blissful state.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Elizabeth David's Mushroom Soup: For the Frugal, Lazy, Even the Post-Dental

I shall have more to say at a later date about the political and ethical crisis attendant upon my dental visit. Right now, I would like to share a recipe for those who must eat "soft food." Oh, that's not you? How about for the lazy? How about for the frugal? How about for the SUPER frugal who pick up all the "reduced for quick sale" mushrooms at the grocery?

I am generally in at least two of the above categories. When the mushrooms are reduced to 79 cents a pound, I am in three. And, this past week, I have been in all four.

My little Penguin paperback of Elizabeth David's French Provincial Cooking was bought at a wonderful Bloomington Indiana institution: the used bookstore Caveat Emptor. A search suggests that it is still there, presided over by some of the same motley crew that founded it, lo these many years ago. No doubt I acquired the book via trade-in credit. I discovered, way back then, that you could buy books at thrift stores and trade them for credit, magically transforming books that you spent perhaps a dime for into nice poetry books published by Oxford University Press or literary criticism left by some disgruntled grad school dropout or cookbooks! How to live without cash is a lesson from those days that has stayed with me, in addition to my critical reading and writing skills.

Since, as noted above, I am lazy, I am presenting this not as David wrote it, but as a lazy and error-prone typist (moi) would:

Saute 3/4 lb. sliced mushrooms in butter. Add some sliced garlic and salt, pepper, nutmeg. (David adds parsley, but I seldom have any.)

Add in some dried bread. (This is the thickener! So much easier than the usual roux. I always have dried country bread. This is a good time to use all the "artisan" bread ends you may have. David says to soak the bread in some stock and then squeeze it out. Not going to happen in my kitchen. But go right ahead.) Stir till all amalgamates. (I just move immediately to the next step.)

Add about 1 1/2 pints of stock. (Good idea! Sometimes, I don't have stock. So I've done this with good old water, but then I add extra garlic.)

When all seems done, you're supposed to put this through several thicknesses of sieve several times or put into a blender. Then you're supposed to return to rinsed out saucepan.

What I do: use my trusty stick blender and blend right in the pot.

Stir in a little cream. I seldom have this, so I stir in little milk, plus some butter. I figure that will turn into cream.

I've eaten so much of this in the last few days that I need a long vacation from it. But it was good for the first three days, along with my other staple: mashed potatoes.

What do you eat post-dental work?