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Friday, April 30, 2010

Giving Up Half a Million a Year to Teach Literature

ERGGGGHHHH. Why do I even read anything? Everything makes my blood boil or annoys me. I can't figure out why I was annoyed by a story in CNN Money, featuring a fellow who built a biz (earning $500,000/year!), sold the biz (for several million bucks, and now teaches literature as a TA at the University of Chicago. He's now making around $13,000, a year.

I'm at the end of my semester, toiling away, for thank heavens, more than $13,000. So why does this article annoy me? Some things that come to mind.

1. The other underpaid TAs don't have several million dollars in I-Bonds backing them up. They face an uncertain (to put it mildly) future, even as they spend most of their 20s getting their doctorates.
2. Why should people who teach literature be so underpaid?
3. And moms and dads who are shelling out for the University of Chicago: the person who is teaching your kid ($50,000/year for tuition, room, board) may be one of these TAs.

Help me, Readers. Should I be annoyed by this? Are you? Why? Or am I being a crabby person (as my students have been telling me of late) who should be applauding this guy who has given it up for Shakespeare? Who has reached the mythical state of FI (financial independence) to follow his heart?

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Isabel Marant et Moi

***As you read the following frivolous post, I will be blissing out at Jazz Fest****

The other day, the New York Times featured an article on a chic New York store featuring the chic designs of the chic Isabel Marant:

ALL the hot girls are going berserk for Isabel Marant, the young Frenchwoman whose label has mastered the jet-set bohemian look associated with carefree Parisian chicks: that thrown-together, cigarette-hanging-from-pouty-mouth style that pretends to shrug off effort. “Quoi, this? Pfff. I slept in this shirt, you silly child, and these pants were on the floor.

This is a fun article, very well written, with some good advice. For the writer realized that she could approximate the general look of the line--army jackets, sweatshirts--for very little, albeit in less amazing fabrics.

I'm sure my regular readers know where this is going. Yes, I am the proud owner of an Isabel Marant glazed linen anorak/raincoat/not sure what it is. It jumped out at me at Goodwill last year. I had never heard of the label, but there was a je ne sais quoi about it. It is, I must confess, Isabel's cheaper Etoile line. It also has a care label that says "Do not wash. Do not dry clean. Do not iron."

I haven't yet figured out how to wear the garment, but it looks neat--and very French--on the hanger. This is a typical thrift store tale: you see something amazing, you have to buy it, it IS an expensive treasure, now what the heck do you do with it.

At least I won't yearn for an Isabel Marant item. I have one.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

A Gift from Italy: Stale Bread Pizza

On a little procrastination break, I was perusing the New York Times. For some reason, I clicked on a story about a glamorous woman who has a restaurant empire: Donatella is her name. There was a picture of one of her specialties--stale bread pizza--which I immediately knew was in my future meal plans. We have tons of stale bread since Mr. FS has been baking for many years.

To my delight, they gave us the recipe!

Not only a recipe, but a blog post.

Whoever tries this first: how is it? I'll report back soon.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Budget Kitchen Renovation: Bling

Frugality and Bling? A contradiction in terms? No, I don't think so. In fact, bling can be the frugal person's best friend. As in clothing, so in kitchens. Every mother tells her daughter: "Just make sure the shoes and bag are OK. The rest will be upgraded (or downgraded) by those two items."

Thanks Mom, for your good advice, though I don't always follow it.
Having a kitchen where everything is of high quality is very expensive. But you can pick and choose. So a killer stove (like Duchesse's AGA!) can be a centerpiece. A neat farm sink: ditto. And--though some may disagree--a sculptural hood also has a bling factor. Following is my bling.

Stove Hood. A former colleague, who was weird in many, many ways, asked, when she heard I was planning to re-do my kitchen, if I would be willing to give her my stove hood. I had never paid much attention to it, since it came with the house. I took a look and it hit me: one element of bling. It's a Thermador with infrared heat lamps! It also provides good ventilation: my kitchen never is filled with greasy dust, as in previous kitchens. Cost: free with house.

Sink. I wanted a farm sink (aka apron sink). These are expensive and difficult to install (hence expensive labor). I discovered the IKEA Domsjo sink, which at the time was $300.00. I called and discovered that shipping would be $200.00! Then, I learned that one of Frugal Son's pals had to go to Houston to get a visa. I offered to pay his gas if he bought my sink. SUCCESS! Ikea, by the way, deserves my love because the sink is constructed so that it can be laid atop any countertop, thereby eliminating the costly cut-out and installation. My contractor was impressed. Cost: $360.00, including gas for a Civic Hybrid.

Giant old cupboard. One good idea is to sub a neat piece of furniture for overpriced cabinets. We already had this. We bought it from a woman who owned the fanciest clothing and furniture stores. It remains the most expensive thing we have ever bought in the furniture category. It has been in our possession for about 20 years. Following the cost-per-wear theory of clothing purchases, I have to say that the cost-per-year is very low. Original Cost: Too embarrassed to mention!

We have 3 bling items, more than the basic requirement of one. Do you agree with my bling idea for kitchens? And, what is your kitchen bling?

Monday, April 26, 2010

A Stroll Through Some Blogs: Simple in France saying NO

As I thought about strolling through some of my favorite blogs--both old and new (to me)--I decided to first highlight Simple Life in France, whose guest post I read yesterday at Early Retirement Extreme. That post is now on her own blog as well. Perhaps because Simple is living in France, with her French husband, I thought of being a stroller in French, a language that exists in some deep part of my memory, courtesy of some outstanding teachers, M. Giordano, M. Moore, and M. Danon, to name only the three best.

The word flaneur came to mind, although its use in cultural studies, owing to the work of Walter Benjamin and others, takes it in other (theoretical) directions from just strolling about. Needless to say, in the age of the internet, I googled flaneur and found a site devoted to the concept. Here is an epigraph from the Arcades Project Project that does seem to apply to my stroll through the blogosphere: "Taking a walk is a haeccity . . . Haecceity, fog, glare. A haecceity has neither beginning nor end, origin nor destination; it is always in the middle. It is not made of points, only of lines. It is a rhizome". (1000 P 263)

Simple in France's post (on both blogs) is about saying NO. She perceptively points out that saying NO to things you don't really want is the easy part; it's dealing with friends and family that is difficult. Of course, one can find new friends (sometimes--true frugal friends are rare); one has to deal with one's family.

In my comment on ERE's blog, I mentioned my recent moment in class. I had gotten there a few minutes early, and everyone was exclaiming over the BIG diamond on someone's engagement ring. I feigned interest, and then a student inquired about the location of my ring. I said I didn't have one. "Why?" I answered that I hadn't wanted one.

This admission led to a long moment of rather uncomfortable silence, followed by one student saying "That's neat." I think she was trying to make me feel better.

Then another student said, "You ARE Emersonian." I was so happy! A real life example.

Emerson says, Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string.

That, like saying NO, is the easy part. The harder part is dealing with friends and family. Emerson is aware of that: A man must know how to estimate a sour face.

Simple in France recounts some of the sour faces--and comments--she received when she discovered that she actually preferred some aspects of the frugal life. Believe me, my $30 wedding (that was for the license and the German measles test) did not elicit admiration from family members. Neither did my decision NOT to let my kids go on the yearly overpriced Disney tip with their schoolmates.* Some of my NO moments were so shocking to my family that--even in this space of relative anonymity--I will not share them.

What is interesting is that saying NO is understood when followed by "We can't afford it." And I find that in a cowardly way, I sometimes say that for--as Mr. FS says--"protective coloration." But when you say NO for the reason that something is not worth it (in general or to you), you will get those sour faces.

*** I wrote a post long ago about how I did not let my kids go on the Disney trips, but did happily spring for school trips to Japan.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Budget Kitchen Renovation: Waste Not

OOPS: Remember my kitchen renovation "series"? It has been shamefully neglected. Here's the third installment, which I drafted on my birthday, January 20.

In addition to being pathologically frugal, I am pathologically against WASTE--of time, money, or resources. That may be why I picked up about 20 pairs of pricy men's shoes that were left out for the trash near my home and transported the whole lot to Goodwill. That may be why I told the nice rep at Powells who offered to overnight a book they mistakenly left out of my order to forget it: I'd just take a refund.

It makes sense, then, that I am horrified to see the usual scene when a home changes hands: perfectly good--or at least pretty good--cabinets, carpets, and other items littering the garbage pickup area as the new homeowners seek to make their mark on their new home. That didn't happen with us. We bought a house we loved that was a little too expensive for us. We were able to do that because we had saved a large down payment. We were so horrorstruck at the expense of the house (and the 30 years of payments to which we had committed ourselves) that we left things as they were for a LONG time. The kitchen in our new house was a cheaply done reno, perhaps 5-10 years old. The one nice detail was the Mexican tile, installed, no coubt at great expense, over an old wooden floor (erghhh).

The kitchen continued to deteriorate. To stave off a renovation, Mr. FS painted the ugly cabinets, which improved things a bit. Finally, after 10 more years, we realized that the kitchen was really shabby, the cabinets were really crumbly. The kitchen had crossed the line.

So we went up and down the expense continuum. Finally--and I will spare you the years of agonizing indecision--I accepted my frugal nature. And accepted thereby a truism of frugality: use what you have. The more you can keep or re-use the more reasonable your renovation.

What we kept:
THE LAYOUT. This is a real saver. Moving an appliance is very expensive.

THE FLOOR. OK, I'd prefer the wood under the Mexican tile, but there's no way I would pull up the tile.

THE COUNTERTOP. The countertop is just some oak flooring that was laminated. It is quite scruffy. But we like it. We were planning to replace with old heart pine, but the contractor uttered the magic words: "Do you want to keep this?" A few bits were rotten, but I had the idea of filling in with old wood. It looks good!

If I'd had nice cabinets, you can bet I would have re-used some.

Any other waste not tips for kitchen renos?

Friday, April 23, 2010

From the Wall Street Journal: The Foreclosed Families of Abacus

My students and family laugh at me because of my overuse of the word poignant. Their laughter is justified; I think I used that very word in this very space in citing a sonnet written by John Milton.

One hardly expects to see a piece that (implicitly) calls for social justice in the venerable Wall Street Journal. Yet there is one. Alongside all the "I really can't relate to this" articles on the Goldman Sachs suit, the outsize bonuses paid to the loyal troops, the outsize profits of the banks, and all that, we have a photo essay of the houses (middle-class one and all) and families (ditto) whose mortgages were bundled in the "Hope this fails" package put together by the math whiz M. Fabrice Tourre on the instructions of his higher-ups.

See it here.

I'd say poignant is justified.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

A Poem for Earth Day

Blue Kimono gives us a Whitman poem for Earth Day; here is a sonnet by Wordsworth to add to the collection.

Please note, students of literature, that Wordsworth implicitly suggests that we can get back "in tune" with Nature through poetry. So read this poem and then go outside. It's a beautiful day.

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers:
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
The Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not.--Great God! I’d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.

The One Good Deal for Earth Day: Walgreens Printer Cartridge Refill

Yes, buying a bunch of sale stuff in honor of Earth Day is somewhat ridiculous. The Walgreens deal is all over the internet, but in case you haven't seen it: Thursday only, ink cartridge refills are $1.00.

These are usually on special for $10.00. We do this all the time. You don't pay if it doesn't work. I suggest bringing a few empties for that reason; there is a pretty high failure rate.

You need a coupon. It is in the weekly flyer, which should be available in your store.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Blog Anxiety and Broccoli Soup

Blog Anxiety: I never thought about it, but now I have it. You see, my blogpal, Funny About Money, wrote a post about laundry detergent, which mentioned my post about laundry detergent. Or, more accurately, the fact that we need little, if any laundry detergent. Anyway, her post was picked up by some video, which has gone viral, and now Funny is, I hope, well on her way to fame and fortune.

I'm not linked on the video, but I AM mentioned, so I'm getting more traffic than usual. Just a little. And I'm not heading to fame or fortune, though either would be nice. Especially the fortune, since I'm rather reclusive in real life.

What is most likely is that these readers will take a look and never return. Oh, how I hate rejection! (Then why did I choose to enter a field where every endeavor, including the initial job search, is marked by about a 98% chance of rejection?)

I would love to think of a post topic that would make all these visitors return. But, like other such moments, such as when I was mentioned on an artistic homekeeping site (pretty funny, since I am a messy person), such fame is fleeting. And, of course, I am somewhat paralyzed by the desire to write a killer post.

Oh well. Let me tell you about this broccoli soup I made last night. It is originally from Martha Shulman, but I don't know the exact source, since I scribbled it on a piece of paper. This is one of those recipes that seldom makes it into cookbooks, because it is so simple.

1. Simmer some (I used 4 biggish ones) garlic cloves in water (about 7 cups) for around 15 minutes.
2. Add some olive oil and thyme.
3. Add a bunch of chopped broccoli and around 1/4 pound of pasta.
4. While this is simmering, beat two eggs and stir in some parmesan.
5. When soup is done, stir in the egg mixture. Keep stirring.
6. Serve with croutons--or as I do--good bread toasted and rubbed with garlic, sprinkled with olive oil.

P.S. This needs quite a bit of salt.

That's pretty much a stone soup. Interestingly, a friend whose mother was born in Italy told me about a similar--and even simpler--soup. You just boil some chopped zucchini in water and add that egg mix. No garlic? No, he said.

Do you have any recipes for stone soup? Do you have blog anxiety?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

My Sentiments Exactly: Why Can't I Be a Megabank?

Just in case you didn't read this in The New York Times: a piece called You're Welcome, Wall Street.

I have wondered about just this myself: why can banks borrow at near zero and then get Treasury Bonds for 3%, while I can get anywhere from 0% to 1.3% on my savings. Why can't I be a megabank? I promise: I'll spend locally and start a ripple effect in the economy.

And, why, if I want a mortgage do I have to pay about 5% (a spread of almost 5%) while, when I bought my house, the spread was 1%. WHY??????

The easiest and most profitable risk-adjusted trade available for the banks is to borrow billions from the Fed — at a cost of around half a percentage point — and then to lend the money back to the U.S. Treasury at yields of around 3 percent, or higher, a moment later. The imbedded profit — of some 2.5 percentage points — is an outright and ongoing gift from American taxpayers to Wall Street.

You’re welcome.

And now for the truly obscene part. By keeping interest rates so stubbornly low — and by remaining committed to doing so — the Fed is crushing the rest of us, especially senior citizens on fixed incomes and those who have rediscovered saving in order to have some peace of mind.

For instance, despite my bank calling it a “premier platinum savings” account, I am getting a measly 0.15 percent interest rate. On my “premier platinum checking” account, the interest rate is 0.01 percent. In an essay in The Wall Street Journal recently, Charles Schwab pointed out that there is more than $7.5 trillion in American household wealth stored in short-term, interest-bearing checking, savings and CD accounts. (The average interest rate for a one-year CD is 1.3 percent.)

Our savings is another source of virtually free capital for banks to use to lend out at much higher rates. These anemic yields are a “potential disaster striking at core American principles of self-reliance, individual responsibility and fairness,” Mr. Schwab observed correctly.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Using my Talents Part 2: Books for a Literacy Project

Yesterday, I wrote about using my somewhat embarrassing talent for frugality to start stocking up for Lucy M's dorm cooking next year. It just occurred to me that I have another, less embarrassing example.

Lucy M. is part of a student group that will be working in Marion, Alabama, an area with a high illiteracy rate. Lucy and her pals will be spending 3 weeks there this summer. They decided to partner with the local public library and develop a literacy project.

One idea involves a book give-away for kids who participate. The budget so far is $50.00. Gee, that will buy you about 10 books. Lucy volunteered me for the mission. She knows that nothing is more important to me than reading and she knows that I like nothing better than to scrounge for books in thrift stores.

So voila: within a few weeks of rather lackadaisical effort, I've amassed almost 100 books and I still have money in the budget. I've limited myself to books that look almost new. We're thinking of writing a short message in each book, along the lines of "I love this book and I hope you do too."

Can you think of any other good deeds one can do with the talent for frugality?

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Using my Talents: Stocking the Pantry for Lucy Marmalade

Those of you with a bit of Biblical knowledge may recognize the allusion to the Parable of the Talents, which exhorts us to USE our talents, rather than burying them in the ground. Talent, incidentally, was a unit of currency in Biblical times, but the parable has been extended to mean that we should use our talents, in the sense of what our gifts are. Something of the double meaning emerges in Milton's poignant sonnet 19, where he meditates on his blindness:

WHEN I consider how my light is spent,
Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,
And that one talent which is death to hide
Lodged with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker.
. ..

Really, I wish my talent were for something a bit more--shall we say, elevated--but it seems that my talent is for frugality. Well, that brings up one of my favorite ideas from Emerson, which I've cited here earlier:

There is a time in every man's education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better for worse as his portion; that though the wide universe is full of good, no kernel of nourishing corn can come to him but through his toil bestowed on that plot of ground which is given to him to till.

So, to use my talent today, I acquired 10 cans of bargain-priced tuna, which are now residing in Lucy Marmalade's closet. She will be on a vastly reduced meal plan next year. We figured that each time she prepares her own meal, she will save around $8.00, which can go to a meal out or whatever the heck she wants.

The tuna is in a bag. Also in bags in the closet: 20 cans of beans, quantities of oatmeal, canned tomatoes.

Note that this saves her money and time. It also saves me money, and doesn't really cost me time, since I am out and about in any case.

Here then, dear readers, is the beginning of a food future stockpile. Next year, I'll send her recipes!

Have you been stockpiling the food futures discussed by Funny's guest=poster?

Friday, April 16, 2010

Good News/Bad News/Schizoid News/Financial News

A few days ago, Simple in France wrote an interesting post on her somewhat schizoid nature: pinching pennies here, indulging in luxuries there. I am similarly schizoid, I suppose: even in graduate school, when there were few pennies, I spent a lot on good coffee and parmesan cheese!

But my schizoid mood comes from the news. With the economy getting better, I have begun to peek at my statements as they arrive in the mail. Till recently, I threw them into a shoebox, unopened. What do I see? Not great, of course, but not gut-wrenching.

Then I look at the news online and see this: "State must cut $319 million from budget over next 10 weeks."

This dire headline is followed by some specifics: Senate President Joel Chaisson II, D-Destrehan, said the upcoming cuts could have a "devastating effect" on health care and higher education programs, which are almost certain to be targeted because they are the largest unprotected parts of the state budget.

While mid-year shortfalls are nothing new in state government, the current situation is unusual both because of the size of the hole and the timing. It's the second time this year that the state budget will have to be adjusted downward, coming on the heels of $248 million in cuts in December.

The last time the budget faced two mid-year shortfalls was in 2002-03. But several veteran Capitol observers could not recall a time when a shortfall of this size materialized so late in the fiscal year.

Is anyone else experiencing similar lurches from relief to panic?

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Unconveniencing vs Cooking from the Pantry

A few days back, I wrote about making chilaquiles in 15 minutes. That was probably sretching it; it probably took less than 10 minutes to put together.

One of my favorite blogpals, Shelley (lucky American who resides in England) mentioned that you can unconvenience the recipe to frugalize it.

Good point, Shelley. Usually convenience foods do cost more. However, that's only true if you buy the ingredients when you get a hankering for chilaquiles.

A while back, Funny About Money featured a guest post written by (it is now revealed) SDXB. The subject was stockpiling food to save money. I do this too and, in spite of the sneering at small frugalities around the web, I must say that my food savings have run into the 1000s of dollars over the years: I have NEVER spent more than $50.00/week on food, even when both my children were home. In fact, my pantry is so bursting at the seams, that I have limited myself to $25.00/week for the past two months. Guess what? It's still bursting.

So my chilaquiles: since I have the annoying capacity to remember what, where, and how much on almost everything in my abode, I can give you the prices.

Chips (Rouses): 14 oz bag=$1.00; used about 1/3=$0.33
Rotel (Big Lots): $0.50; used all=$0.50.
Cheese (killer deal at new Winn-Dixie): 8 oz shredded Mex-cheese =$1.00; used 1/2=$0.50
Beans (??): $1.00/lb dried; used maybe 1/3=$0.33
Sour cream (Rouses): $1.29; used about 1/5=$0.26

GRAND TOTAL=$1.92. Amazing to feed two adults for so little, you say? Actually, we got two meals for two BIG eaters out of it. On the side, we had some garden greens, simply steamed.

Honestly, I had no idea it would come out so cheap. So the message is: first stockpile and then cook.

What have you cooked from your pantry of late?

College Dorm Cooking: Frugal in France

When I started this blog, it was supposed to be a family affair, mostly me, but with help from the other 3. Luckily, Frugal Son is back on track, having sent us an email that recounts a meal he cooked circa January (c'est a dire janvier) in Nantes.

I love these stories about cooking for large numbers and having to deal with severe limitations in space, equipment, and, of course, cash. This is part 1.

Another exciting event from late January (oh man I’m so far behind in my writing it’s pathetic) was “The Last Supper” that we held in honor of Toby. Since I am known as the “guy who cooks,” I was given the responsibility of organizing everything food related, a task that I actually looked forward to since every now and then I like the challenge of cooking for a big group of people.

On the menu I planned to have:

1. Various hors d’oeuvres (olives, stuffed mushrooms, crudités etc.)
2. Boeuf Bourguignon served with tartiflette (scalloped potatoes with cream, lardons, and topped with reblochon cheese)
3. Salad with smoked salmon and a lemon vinaigrette
4. Cheese plate
5. Dessert

In addition, there would be an aperitif, a kir—an aperitif very popular in les pays Nantais that consists of six parts white wine with one part crème de cassis—, red wine to accompany the boeuf bourguignon, and then a white wine to go with the fromages and dessert. We were expecting about fifteen people and to complicate things even further, we wanted our budget to average out to less than 7€ per person. Have no fear, Frugal Son is here!

I did a quick tour of MarchéU, the little neighborhood grocery store about 100 meters from my dorm where I do most of my shopping, to get a rough idea of how much everything would cost. I planned on doing all the final shopping at Leclerc, the soulless mega store on the outskirts of Nantes, because I figured doing my shopping there would be about 20% less expensive than buying everything at MarchéU. The grand total after my tour of MarchéU was 110 euros, or 7.33€ per person, so we were well on track to come in under-budget. I did most of the shopping the day before the meal—we had reserved the foyer for Thursday the 28th—and Leclerc was even cheaper than I had planned especially for the more expensive meal components, specifically meat and cheese. The morceaux de boeuf pour mijoter were nearly half as expensive per kilo, which was fortunate since I ended up needing almost twice as much meat as I expected. The quantities I purchased were absolutely ridiculous: 2.2kg (5 pounds!) of beef, 1kg of onions, 1kg of carrots, 5 liters of red wine, 2 liters of white wine, 600g of smoked salmon, 1.5kg of mushrooms, 750g of reblochon cheese, and the list goes on. After the “starring” ingredients of the meal, I still had to get all of the things for the supporting roles: flour, bouillon cubes, potatoes, cream, garlic, multiple kinds of cheese for the cheese plate, lettuce (three kinds), lemons, jambon cru (cured raw ham), olives, vegetables, salad dressing, butter, and there are certainly things that I’m forgetting to list; it suffices to say, however, that I bought a lot of stuff and my room—this was BC, Before Cleaning—so my room really was like a war zone and with the addition of all the ingredients, it was nearly impassable.

On Thursdays I finish relatively early, around 15:30 and went straight back to the dorm to start cooking. The task of cooking for so many people is daunting enough in and of itself and the difficulty was magnified by the fact that I would be cooking with limited cooking supplies, both in quality and quantity. I personally have: one non-stick frying pan, one small pot with a handle, one medium pot with a handle, one enormous pot, one good knife, one cutting board, and various plastic cooking utensils (spatula, spoon, etc.). When everyone left last semester, I took all of the things they were going to leave behind and so I’ve stockpiled easily the best inventory of cooking utensils in the entire residence. My friends have various small pots and pans but there are only six heating elements per kitchen and often several of them are used by other people (who dare to cook at the same time as me!) so I have a very, very limited field of operations.

I started my Herculean task by chopping up the vegetables for the crudités (celery, carrots, bell peppers) while at the same time, I boiled 2.5kg of potatoes. I started off working by myself but fortunately people began to trickle in and give me un coup de main. I went down to the acceuil to get the key for the foyer and when I went to check it out, I realized that there was in fact NO OVEN, just a large metal box under the stove that looked like an oven. After turning on the stove, I also realized that it was completely non-functional. So, instead of doing the cooking in the foyer like I had planned, we had to change our tack; all of the cooking would be done upstairs and we would then bring everything downstairs just before starting to eat. Aye yi yi what a nightmare. In place of the tartiflette, I decided to make purée aka mashed potatoes with the cream and boiled potatoes so once the potatoes were done cooking, we mashed them up and put them off to the side in a giant Tupperware container. I had hard boiled 15 eggs at the same time that I boiled the potatoes so after setting them aside to cool for a bit, Floh and I began to peel them in preparation for the deviled eggs. I explained to Floh and Theresa how to prepare the filling for the deviled eggs and, entrusting them to the task, I started preparing the boeuf bourguignon. To start, I rolled the pieces of meat in a mixture of flour, salt, and pepper and then put them into hot oil. I had over 2kgs of meat (about 5 pounds!) so needless to say it was tough to do! I ended up using both my giant pot (quickly washed after boiling the potatoes) and my skillet and even so the meat was crowded so the flour didn’t brown as nicely as it should have. In spite of the inadequacies of the kitchen and my equipment, I pressed ahead as best I could. After browning the meat, I removed it from the pot and skillet and added the carrots, onions, and celery, which I had already cut beforehand. I lightly browned the vegetables as best I could and then re-added the meat and enough water to barely cover everything. It was at this point that I added some beef bouillon cubes (cheating and blasphemy, I know), a few cups of wine, some crushed cloves of garlic and some herbes de provence. I suppose this isn’t a classic boeuf bourguignon but tant pis, it’s good anyway. Now, I brought it to a simmer and just left it to cook while I started doing other things.

Theresa and Floh had done a good job with the filling (in addition to mayonnaise, salt and pepper they had also added some finely chopped cornichons) and so now we started stuffing the filling into the deviled eggs. We even had some paprika on hand to sprinkle on top and make everything pretty! Then, I started working on the stuffed mushrooms which, without the oven, were going to require some creativity. To make the filling, I took the stale ends of baguette I had been saving in my room and crushed them up as best I could with the non-sharp edge of my big knife to make some bread crumbs to which I then added some chopped up garlic. Next, I washed the mushrooms and de-stemmed them, setting the stems aside to chop up and add to the stuffing. I added the chopped mushroom stems to the skillet with a bit of olive oil and let the water cook out before adding the bread crumbs, garlic, some salt, and herbes de provence. While all of this was going on, I kept checking back on the boeuf bourguignon, which was contentedly gurgling away on a back burner far away from the main action, adding a bit of wine or salt depending on how I felt the taste was developing.

Embrace Your Coffee Addiction and other Stuff for Your Skin

Oh, how I love Paula Begoun. She just sent me (and everyone else on her no doubt massive list) a piece on food that's bad for your skin and food that's good for your skin. I'll skip the bad stuff (I think you know what it is). But just look at what tops the good list:

What to Eat to Look Better (and Feel Healthier)

I get seduced by potato chips and chocolate cake as much as the next person, but by keeping in mind what is really important I can pay attention to a vast array of healthy foods that work to reduce inflammation. And these foods are far from flavorless or boring! Quite the contrary, you may find that eating these foods coupled with antioxidant-rich spices to be a culinary adventure for your taste buds! The next time you're jotting down your grocery list, be sure to add these anti-inflammatory, appearance-boosting foods:

* Coffee (believe it or not, coffee is a tremendous source of antioxidants) and green tea
* Deeply-colored berries (blueberries, blackberries, raspberries)
* Deeply-colored vegetables, especially leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables such as red cabbage
* Red, green, yellow, and orange bell peppers (plus all types of hot peppers)
* Salmon and other cold water, oily fish (a bountiful source of omega-3 fatty acids; choose wild caught rather than farm-raised)
* Walnuts (most nuts have health benefits, but they're calorie dense, so be mindful of portion control)
* Olive oil (also recommended: grape seed, walnut, rice bran, and canola oils)
* Whole grains (the fiber boost reduces inflammation)
* Spices such as ginger, turmeric, cardamom, curry, cumin, garlic, oregano, basil, and tamarind

* Flax or pumpkin seeds
* Yogurt (preferably plain or those with reduced sugar)

COFFEE. I'm so happy. Various bloggers that elicit my admiration have been trying to kick--or succeeding in kicking the coffee habit. I love coffee, either expensive GOOD coffee, or New Orleans coffee with chicory. I generally have the latter since it is local, plus it is very cheap around here. I tried to give up coffee when I was pregnant; it took me about 1 day post-babies to re-establish my addiction.

When I was plodding through a German class in college, my teacher--Herr Rudolf--always said of my errors. "That's a GOOD mistake." Now we have Paula Begoun telling us that coffee is a GOOD addiction. It's full of antioxidants. Plus, in the frugal department, it's a lot cheaper than fancy creams and vitamins, and really a lot cheaper than botox. All that, and it enabled me to almost finish those 70 papers that have been hanging over me.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

What to Cook When You Have 70 Papers to Grade: Chilaquiles

In other words, when you are superbusy. And annoyed because lots of students handed in work without stapling the pages or without putting their section numbers on it.

So here is my 15 minute meal. The one thing you have to do in advance is have some cooked beans; otherwise, use canned. No recipe necessary. At least, I've never used one. Looks ugly, tastes great.

Chilaquiles for Tex-Mex Lovers Only

Rotel tomatoes or salsa
Corn chips (or corn tortillas toasted in the oven)
Beans spiced with whatever (we use a Cajun blend with black or pintos)
Grated cheese (cheddar, muenster,jack, whatever)

Do this as many times as you have room for and then top with sour cream. The original recipe called for baking, but I've discovered that you can heat in the microwave.

The original of this recipe was in the Greens Cookbook. It called for a spicy tomato sauce, spiced beans, frying corn tortillas, and a bunch of other stuff. I think the sauce was thickened with nuts. I was telling a friend that I wanted to make it, but that the recipe was too time-consuming. He said, "It's a convenience food. Use chips."

I never looked back.

I guess I have to return to my drudgery. Bon appetit.

Monday, April 12, 2010

If Only, If Only: Talbots Stock Encore

About a year ago, I wrote that I was thinking about buying Talbots stock. Not because I shop there, but because the blogs of "women of a certain age," were discussing how nice the revamped clothing line was. At the time, the stock was around $1.80 a share, owing to its feature as a "scary Halloween" stock by the experts, the Motley Fools.

Well! Today what do I see but a discussion in the Wall Street Journal about how the stock is now a Wall Street darling.

This is subscriber-only content, so you're not going to be able to see the whole thing. Needless to say, I googled for the stock price: $14.31. I was only going to buy 100 shares, but still, a couple of hundred dollars would be a nice bit of lagniappe in the budget.

Back in my first post on this, I wondered if we women should put our money into stock instead of (or in addition to) the clothing. It does seem that we were noticing SOMETHING that, as it turned out, eluded the "experts."

So ladies (and gentlemen), let's take our financial destiny into our own hands. As Emerson says, "Trust thyself."

P.S. I have no stock recommendations to make at this time.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Cleaning Up the Files: Personal and Financial Archeology

Everyone must know by now that I can't keep track of or organize physical objects. It's all here....somewhere. So as I go through bits and pieces of paper in order to do not only my taxes, but the taxes for Miss Ema and Frugal Son, I keep coming upon pieces of paper that merit attention.

**For instance, I am shredding some of my financial statements from 2007 (pre-meltdown). I don't need them any more. It is distressing to note that I had about the same amount of money then as now--though I've continued to pour money into my accounts.

**In another for instance, I am finally opening some of the statements--still in envelopes--from the downward slide of Fall 2008 till....well, perhaps continuing. Even though things have recovered a bit, it is still gut wrenching to see the plummeting.

**I found a column clipped from the Times-Picayune in 2004. It was written by Jonathan Clements, a great favorite of my rather's, who wrote a column called Getting Going for the Wall Street Journal. Sadly for me, though not for him, Clements now has a lucrative position with an investment bank or something. Anyway, this particular article suggested ways to allocate retirement funds so as to deal with the various bad things that can happen. Like inflation, like a major financial meltdown. Of course, in 2004, everyone was saying that, after the meltdown of 2000, we would see the next one not to worry. Clements suggested keeping 5 years of living expenses in a safe place--like CDs. How such advice was ridiculed in 2004; experts were then saying "You can always take money out of your home appreciation." I think Clements's advice would have saved a lot of people a lot of misery.

**Then I found a journal that belonged to my son. All pages were empty, except the first page, which has a single sentence. Dated February 2, 2003: I am only beginning to write a journal because of a great tragedy.

Anything interesting turning up as you prepared your taxes?

Friday, April 9, 2010

It's Spring: Free and Cheap Entertainment

No one was more surprised than I was when Mr. FS was offered a job in Louisiana. I said, "That sounds like a weird place." Then I was offered a job a few years later.

So twenty years later, I can cook gumbo, get all the references in articles about the HBO show Treme (oh, how I hope someone with HBO will tape it!), know about that contested term Creole, and free people of color, and stuff like that. Both my children say that they're glad to have grown up in a place with a distinct and distinctive culture.

April brings not only Jazz Fest (not cheap, but totally worth it) but a host of free or close to free musical events. Let's not even talk about the French Quarter Fest in New Orleans. Let's just look at freebies and cheepies in my little town across the lake.

Every Thursday in April: Rockin' the Rails at the Trailhead: Soul Revival, Ingrid Lucia, Paul Sanchez. Blackened Blues Band, Paula and the Pontiacs.

Then we are lucky enough to be invited to a musical evening where we all chip in for the musicians: This month we will have a Chicago singer who is also performing at Jazz Fest.

We just got an email about this concert at the Dew Drop Inn: On April 17 from 1-5 pm the Dew Drop will stage its third Tamarma mini jazz festival that continues a celebration of New Orleans based contemporary bands and groups that specialize in various forms of world music while still acknowledging roots in traditional New Orleans jazz.
The four hour concert, funded by a grant from the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation, will feature European and traditional New Orleans jazz from 1-2 pm by the 7-piece band The Loose Marbles; Brazilian and American jazz standards song in English and Portuguese by Sasha Masokowski joined by her father, noted guitarist and teacher Steve Masokowksi from 2-3 pm; gypsy and South American jazz underscored by New Orleans jazz by two seven string classic jazz guitarists, John Rankin and Don Vappie joined by bassist Jesse Boyd from 3-4 pm; swing dance jazz of America and Europe by the six piece New Orleans Jazz Vipers from 4-5 pm.
There will be outside food and arts and crafts vendors lining a portion of Lamarque Street for this event in addition to food provide by ladies of the next door First Free Mission Baptist Church.

Plus, the third Friday features a free concert on the Bogue Falaya River.
The third Sunday features a free concert at a local church, followed by snacks.
Plus, the LPO is playing for free some day or other.

How will I choose?

Even if you don't live in a musical paradise, I'm sure there are similar event indoors and out wherever you are. Check them out!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Decluttering and Plagiarism?

From Ecclesiastes:
What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again;there is nothing new under the sun.

And indeed there is not. I love reading books about personal finance, tightwaddery, decluttering, and the like, even though they all say pretty much the same thing. That is why I buy these books from thrift stores or check them out of the library. I do like owning a few; it is good to get an inoculation of frugality or decluttering now and again.

A few days ago, I picked up a new one: The 15-Minute Organizer by Emilie Barnes. Published in 1991 by a Christian press, the author thanks all her Titus women in her dedication. Chapters cover the usual suspects: decluttering, organizing, all problem areas for me, all blissful to read about.

Here is the beginning of her chapter exhorting you to declutter: We live in a world of mass production and marketing. We must learn to sort and let go of certain things, or else we will need to build a huge warehouse to contain everything . . .Years ago, when we got something we kept it until it wore out. But today it may never wear out before we tire of it. Yet it seems just too good to dispose of.

We often have things not because of an active decision to keep them but because we have not made the decision to get rid of them.

On an average, people keep things several years after their usefulness has passed. Perhaps we overbuy and have supplies, materials, and tools left over. The things we liked years ago are not what we like or enjoy today., but we hang on to them, thinking that someday we may use them again.

Good advice. But it sounds awfully close to the exhortation in the very first decluttering/organizing book I ever read: Totally Organized by Bonnie McCullough. I picked up T.O. for 50 cents at a library discard sale. I didn't even KNOW there were books on such topics. Truly, this book changed my life. I still have problems, but at least I know what I should be doing! Thank you Bonnie. I probably read this book 50 times. That is why Ms. Barnes's prose rang a bell. Here is my beloved Bonnie McCullough:

It's hard to throw things out. In days gone by, when you got something you kept it for life or until it was worn out. But now we live in a world of mass production and marketing, and to survive you either have to build a warehouse or learn to sort and let go. We often keep things, not because of an active decision to keep them, but because we have not made a decision to get rid of them. On average, people keep things five years after their usefulness has passed. . .Sometimes we overbuy and have supplies, materials, and tools left over and they mount up over the years. . . .The things we enjoyed ten years ago are not the things we enjoy today . . . (pp. 122-23)

Emilie Barnes has more than 20 books to her name! I would guess that one of her uncredited research assistants did wrong here....but who knows?

Anyway, great advice ladies. And I suppose this has turned into a recommendation for Totally Organized. In addition to her advice on organizing, McCullough has a great section on budgeting and money management.

Monday, April 5, 2010

My Chanel Shoes: A True Story of Thrift Store Karma

Since you last heard from me, we have been in Alabama, visiting our dear daughter. We were accompanied by my mother. All this intergenerational travel is fun, but stressful. Lucy Marmalade/Miss Em was a great host, getting us tickets to the ballet Cinderella and treating us to meals.

Now we're back, with about a week of vacation ahead of us. And I am, of course, completely uninspired. So I will present a true story of thrift store karma. I was saving it for an uninspired moment.

Several years ago (5? 6?), I was, as usual, blissing out at Goodwill. I was in the check out line, with some unmemorable stuff, when the woman in front of me (not someone I'd seen before) decided to show off her finds. She had about 4 designer bags. She explained to me that they were good fakes. Then she said, "But these are real." And showed me some black Chanel loafers. They WERE real. She said, "I don't wear this size, but I got them for my grandbabies to use for dress up." I said, "What size are they?" She said, "37." "That's my size," I gasped.

That's as far as you can go with thrift store etiquette. You cannot beg for the shoes or offer to buy them or even make remarks about how it is a total waste to give children Chanel loafers to use as dress up shoes.

And, of course, this woman paid for her wares and whisked off to wherever with the shoes.

Being a masochist, I went back to Goodwill the next day. I am embarrassed to admit that I was a wee bit depressed about the shoes. Really, it's better not to know about what you missed.

I was looking through a big bin of shoes. I said to myself (sorry if this offends your religious sensibilities), "If God wanted you to have the Chanel shoes, he would have given them to you!"

Then, you guessed it, ANOTHER pair of Chanel loafers appeared, identical to the first, only in brown. I kept looking for a third pair, but none appeared.

These are, no question, the most comfortable shoes I have ever worn. No one knows they are Chanel except for me. They are plain old loafers with the crossed c's on top. Interestingly, anyone who did notice the logo would assume they were fake. That is because, with my general disarray, I just don't look like someone who would have Chanel shoes.

Not only did I get the shoes, but I got a neat story.

Do you believe me?

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Frugal Moments in a Small Town:Oysters and Peppers

As long as I live in my little town, I will have to be well-behaved. Just today, I had to pick up a prescription for a back ailment. The druggist was the father of one of Frugal Son's preschool pals. Working at the counter was a friend of a friend of Frugal Son, who also was in Mr. FS's class last year.

That person told me that there was a good coupon for something I wanted to buy; she produced one from behind the counter. Thanks! I saved $10.00.

I mailed something at the little postal station at the grocery store. Angela, who works there, asked how my back was. She recommended a cortisone shot. Then I noticed piles of peppers (red, yellow, and poblano) on the reduced shelf. 39 cents a pound.

Since I was right there, I nipped into Big Lots. The nice lady who puts out the food said that nothing special had come in. So that saved me some time.

My mother is visiting. She and Mr. FS just went off to Acme Oyster Bar, an iconic New Orleans restaurant, which has an outpost here. They have an oyster special: 25 cents an oyster between 3 and 5, Monday - Thursday. Sadly, I don't like oysters.

What a frugal day!

Do you think small towns are conducive to frugality?