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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Peanut Corn Chowder: To take Your Mind Off Stressful Things

So much stress! The Thanksgiving break is followed by the end of the semester: Frugal Son and Miss Em return to papers and finals; Mr. FS and I return to stressed-out students and lots of grading.

Then we have stress from the news. Just sticking to the financial front: a U of Chicago economist (very conservative institutional affiliation) attributes the lingering unemployment situation and other bad things to income inequality in the United States.

The most emailed article from the New York Times (now #2, behind something on vitamins) concerns a former Goldman-Sachs employee who made zillions of dollars and is now dying of brain cancer. He wrote a book counseling a common-sense approach to investing, with a mix of stocks and bonds. In index funds. Shades of John Bogle. Both Mr. FS and Frugal Son read this before I did. They marveled at the fact that the G-S employee didn't know much about personal finance: he just worked at a big money-making machine. He's now sharing what he learned since an early retirement. See below for Amazon link to the book.

And--not to mention--all the rumblings about insider trading that have been filling the Wall Street Journal.

I'm sure no one wants my opinion on all this. Instead of railing against the system (which would, no doubt, be very boring), I will share a recipe I made with some Thanksgiving stock. Frugal Son went a little wild chopping celery. Looking at the pile of neatly-cut pieces, I thought of this soup.


2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup chopped celery
1/4 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup chunky peanut butter
2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
2 cups canned corn, drained
1 cup light cream or half-and-half
Salt to taste

Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the chopped celery and onion and cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the peanut butter until it has melted.

Return the pan to the heat and gradually stir in the stock and corn. Bring to a boil, stirring. Reduce the heat to medium-low and sim­mer, uncovered, for 10 minutes. Reduce the heat to low, add the cream or half-and-half and heat gently. Add salt to taste.

Ladle into warm bowls, garnish with celery leaves and serve.

From The Best American Recipes 1999 edited by Fran McCullough and Suzanne Hamlin (Houghton Mifflin). Originally copyrighted 1998 by Trisha Meckler and published in More White Trash Cooking (Ten Speed Press).

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Coffee, Tea, and Me

The above title is an allusion to a scandalous book of the 1960s titled Coffee, Tea, or Me. This book--unread by me--detailed the sexual adventures of flight attendants (then called stewardesses) and pilots in the swinging 60s. Evidently one of our neighbors (a pilot, never seen by me) was a character in it. His disguise was transparent and his wife Lillian divorced him and moved away with their 6 kids.

My Frugal Son has been home for a few days. He has been maligning me for buying too much (good) stuff at Goodwill. He has a point. But watch out for the forces of thrift store karma.

Frugal Son has become interested in loose tea. We searched--to no avail--for our tea strainer. So...when I went to Goodwill, what do I find?

Of course, this item was greeted with ecstasy by Frugal Son.

On to coffee. I made some nasty comments about the now ubiquitous coffee pods. Funny About Money replied with a survey of coffee making methods and paean to the French press, which is what I use.

This inspired me to waste some time--I mean, research--coffee making methods. I discovered this, which seems pricy for what it is. It seems like it would be less messy than the French press, however.

Has anyone used it?

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Pet Costs: WOW

Because we travel a lot, we have had a pet-light life. We recently gave away the last of our pets: a big fish tank with long-lived denizens went to a student and two cockatiels went to Miss Bonnie at the grocery store. Everyone is happy.

For a while, we had the ideal cat situation: two wonderful cats, mostly neglected by their owner, lived on our porch. But the cats grew old and stopped coming. I asked the son of the owner what happened to the cats. He said, "Oh, I guess they haven't been around for a while."

My mother, newly widowed, wanted a dog and we found her a great one. At the last minute, she backed out, because she had acquired a boyfriend!

So, we haven't had to make any decisions about pets and pet costs. But Funny About Money spent a fortune on her beloved dog a few years ago. And our friends took their aged dog to Texas for heart surgery, which cost many thousands of dollars. The dog died less than a year later.

If you're thinking about a pet, the New York Times has an article on average costs. What do you think of the numbers? And, pet-free peeps: is cost holding you back?

New York Times on pet costs.

Friday, November 26, 2010

My Black far

I've never shopped on Black Friday. No, I take it back. We had a family tradition (now outgrown) of heading to New Orleans on Black Friday. We'd whiz past Lakeside Mall, which had nary a parking space to be seen, and headed to the Audubon Zoo, where we had a membership. The parking lot was always empty!

Then we would head to Bloomingdeals, the thrift store of the New Orleans Junior League, which had its annual toy sale.

This morning, though, I shopped. I had a few things on my NEEDS list and I decided to tune out the ads and look today. So now I have a new washing machine to replace the 20 year old one, whose top hinges have rusted off. AND a new microwave, to replace the one that is taking longer and longer to heat up my coffee.

I decided to be a satisficer and not go crazy with my usual indecision. Both items came to around $300 (yes, I bought a cheeeeep washer) and have free shipping.

Some emails I've gotten, if you feel like less utilitarian shopping.

Garnet Hill, the catalog I dream over, is having 40% off sale items AND free shipping!

LL Bean has free shipping, a $10 gift card if you spend $50 AND 10% off everything. That last is applied automatically.

Cuddledown, whose comforters I swoon over, has 25% off everything, today only. I also swoon over their $3000.00 beds, but such will not happen today...or probably ever.

I do need some milk, so I may head out to a brick-and-mortar grocery later. Groceries are quite forlorn and desolate the day after Thanksgiving.

Hope everyone is having a cozy day.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

No-Stress Thanksgiving: The Menu

I don't find Thanksgiving all that stressful. It is a low cost meal and the traditional items are EASY. I used to make the beautiful vegetable purees from The Silver Palate Cookbook, but no more. I hate cleaning the food processer.

We decided to spread the side dishes out over two days; this met with approval from the visiting children.

I did manage to spread some Thanksgiving cheer, by developing (extemporaneously, in a split second) the easiest menu imaginable. I wended my way to CVS this morning to get some of their fantastic freebies. While there, I said hi to Gary, one of my favorite former students. Then I checked out.

The woman at the register told me her meal was being prepared by her mother and daughter. She told me she couldn't cook. In fact, she got that panicked look that one gets encountering something that most people find easy but that brings chills and fear and inevitable failure. (This is different for everyone. For me, it's directions. For Mr. FS, it's matching shirt to pants. Whatever.)

I told her what to do: Heat your oven and when it's 350 degrees, put the turkey in. Basting is unnecessary. After a while, put in some sweet potatoes and white potatoes. They will take a bit over an hour. When the turkey skin is brownish, take it out and check. It won't take as long as you think if you don't baste. Open a can of cranberry sauce. Prepare a salad using one of those mixes at the grocery that come with dressing and all. Buy something for dessert.

In all my years of teaching, I have never seen a light bulb moment like I did with my cashier. She told me that she would try next year.

My menu is more complex, of course, but the above menu follows the 80/20 ratio of the Pareto Principle, whereby you get 80% of the benefit from 20% of the effort.

I guess I should have told her to buy some stuffing mix too. Oops!

Have a good day everybody.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Chocolate-Pumpkin Bread Pudding with Coconut Milk

I love finding recipes that use things I already have and NEED TO USE UP. The bread pudding below (copied from New York Times) was part of a feature on a vegan Thanksgiving. The coconut milk subs for the dairy--milk and eggs--that makes a bread pudding bread pudding.

Has anyone tried this? Does it sound tempting to you?

Chloe Coscarelli’s
Chocolate-Pumpkin Bread Pudding

This warm pumpkin bread pudding has a dash of spice and is studded with chocolate chips. It’s a rich and creamy dessert that’s free of dairy and eggs but will leave everyone feeling indulged.

1 cup coconut milk
1 15 ounce can organic pumpkin
1/2 cup brown sugar (can use maple syrup)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon cloves
10 cups cubed day-old bread of your choice (about 10 to 12 slices of sandwich bread, depending on the thickness of slices)
3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips (Guittard and Ghirardelli are among those that are nondairy)
2 tablespoons brown sugar
Powdered sugar for dusting (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease 14 4-ounce ramekins (single-serving ceramic dishes) or a 9-by-13-by-2-inch baking dish.

2. In a blender, process coconut milk, pumpkin, brown sugar, salt and spices until smooth. In a large bowl, toss the bread cubes with the pumpkin mixture and chocolate chips until each bread cube is coated.

3. If using ramekins: Evenly sprinkle about 1/2 teaspoon brown sugar into the bottom of each greased ramekin. Fill each ramekin to the top with the mixture and lightly press it down with the back of a spoon. If using a 9-by-13 baking dish: Fill the baking dish with the mixture and lightly press it down with the back of a spoon. Evenly sprinkle about 2 tablespoons brown sugar over the top of the bread pudding. The brown sugar will help the pudding to caramelize on the edges. (Steps 1 through 3 can be done up to three days in advance; store covered in the refrigerator.)

4. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until top is lightly browned. If using ramekins: Let the pudding cool a few minutes, then carve around the edges with a knife to loosen and unmold. Garnish with powdered sugar if desired and serve warm. If using a 9-by-13 baking dish: Let the pudding cool a few minutes before serving. Cut into portions, then garnish with powdered sugar if desired and serve warm. The pudding can be baked right before serving or earlier that day and then reheated for 8 to 10 more minutes right before serving.

Yield: Serves 14.

Or should I make the traditional (in my family) pumpkin brulee?

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Budget Busters: Little Recurring Expenses

Ah, those recurring expenses: cable, cell plan, internet access, health club membership. These are examples of some of the biggies; financial experts always exhort you to negotiate on these or cut them out entirely.

Some are really big. When my in-laws moved from the house in Pasadena with the under $500.00 annual tax bill (thanks to Proposition 13), they incurred a tax bill on their new home about 20 (not a typo) times higher, even though the houses were of equal value. My parents bought a condo in a Florida community with a clubhouse, which now costs my mother about $500.00 a month. Without it, her social life would be non-existent. Both parties would, I am sure, say these monthly expenses were worth it. I guess the moral is: be aware at the outset. My mother said some people left the community and moved elsewhere (Or tried to. Florida condos are not easy to sell) because, with the decline of their investment portfolios, they simply could not afford the club.

Then there are the little recurring expenses. These are ones we barely think about, because they are measured in dollars, not hundreds or thousands. I have an Amazon gift card (a great gift! Thanks to the giver!). I was looking under Grocery and Gourmet items, because they sometimes have decent prices on food, my favorite gift, because it is--literally--consumable. I sorted by Bestsellers, because often the ephemeral bargains show up there: the limited time markdowns.

Guess what most of the top-sellers were in Grocery and Gourmet foods?

. . . . . . PAUSE . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

DIAPERS (not food, I know, but they showed up) and COFFEE PODS.

All I have to say is: if I, the least domestic, slacker-type housekeeper on the face of the earth, can use cloth diapers, anyone can. At least you only need them for a few years. When I see the prices, I realize that my children's college funds were jumpstarted by the cloth diapers we used.

As for coffee pods: do these have any redeeming features? You buy one of those coffee makers and are forever locked into a wasteful, expensive, un-green system. And, in my experience, the coffee isn't very good. I read a while back about a GREEN coffee company (organic, fair trade, and so on) that had a crisis about these: they were big money-makers, but the antithesis of green practice. They ended up making the product somewhat less wasteful, but still...I forget how they justified the product.

Have you gotten locked into monthly fees that end up being budget busters?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Sometimes You Gotta Pay the Price: Bargains vs Community

We had two annoying auto expenses in the last 2 weeks: one (my fault, when I scraped the underside of the car on a curb) cost $170; the other (car's fault, hate the Honda) involved the fan not working, during a terrible rainstorm, en route to work. Scary drive. Mr. FS estimated that the second would cost $500.00.

He returned with the news that it was ONLY $280.00. "So, he said, "I spent $150.00 on bicycle shoes."

No, he wasn't kidding. He had ordered bicycle shoes from a mail order company a while back. They didn't fit right. Luckily, they do fit Frugal Son. Meanwhile, he had gone to the local shop and tried on some shoes, which seemed like they would work for his hard-to-fit feet. They didn't have his size, so he decided to wait.

This decision--the UNFRUGAL CHOICE--was made after reading a Frugal Traveler column in the New York Times. The author was looking for some shoes for travel. I can't remember the brand he ended up with. But he spent a lot of time with a helpful young salesperson and THEN BOUGHT THE SHOES ON-LINE.

I was appalled. So were lots of other people, judging from the comments. So Mr. FS and I decided: if you try it, you have to buy it, especially if you have received lots of personal service from an employee.

Have you paid extra for community of late?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Best Gifts for Kids 3-8

Even though I'm bad at gifts, I do know several excellent gifts for kids 3-8. These are not the kinds of gifts that will cause a moment of ecstasy when the wrapping is torn off. In fact, they might get a rather low-key response....or even be ignored. But long after Tickle-Me Elmo is in the donation box, your recipients will be playing with these. In fact, if you take cost-per-play (based, of course, on the cost-per-wear concept), these items are practically free.

1. UNIT BLOCKS. I bought these when my kids were little and they were played with every day for 8 or so years. They became roads, puppet theaters, and Noah's Ark. Make sure you get UNIT BLOCKS (this will embed math in your child's head); mine were maple. Twenty years ago, my set of 60 cost over $100.00. I got mine from a school supplier. Like many other things, these are now available from Amazon and are cheaper, perhaps for ecological and economic reasons that might upset us.

2. PATTERN BLOCKS. These make fantastic patterns and provide hours of fascinating play. These are fun for adults too.

3. CUBE BLOCKS. These were a particular favorite of Miss Em, who called them quilt blocks. Here is something similar.

All you need for the rest of the childhood years are a few dolls/animals, some plastic animals, some little cars or similar. Maybe a marble run.

4. OK. Can't resist that memory. Get a marble run too. You need to watch the little ones with the marbles, however.

And remember: GOOD art supplies. Your children can play with the toys du jour when they visit their friends. Their friends can play with the blocks at your house.

With the money you save on toys, you can .... do something wonderful. Your choice.

Any other good ideas?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Award for Most Incongruous Thrift Store Find Goes to....

A truffle cutter. Yes, an Italian truffle cutter was donated to the All Saints Thrift Store, which benefits the Food Bank. Unlike Goodwill, which attracts people from all economic walks of life, All Saints has mostly poor shoppers.

That truffle cutter sat there for a month, moving from one shelf to the next. Finally, it was bought by YOURS TRULY. Perhaps I took pity on the poor gadget. I guess it makes a neat little gift for Frugal Son, who may one day have a truffle.

It looks kind of like this:

What, I wonder, went through the mind of the donor.

What's your most incongruous thrift store find?

True Confessions: Why I don't Use Coupons

Every time I read the message boards on the crazed couponing sites (Grocery Game, for a fee, or other freebie sites), I'm filled with envy. Why can't I get peanut butter for a quarter? Rationally, I know it's not that simple. It takes time and money and mess to coupon. PLUS many coupons are for things I don't want to be tempted to buy, things like air freshener and rice-a-roni and hamburger (or other) helper. PLUS the biggest savings are on freebies from the drugstore, and I can get those myself without following couponing sites. PLUS I spend so little on food anyway; the payoff would not be great.

Also, I'm too messy to add another layer of mess to my life.

Temptation came in the form of a free newspaper thrown on my driveway. There were coupons. I flipped through and noticed two 50 cent coupons for items I was going to get at the drugstore anyway. Oh, a dollar saved! Thrilling!

So I clipped the two coupons and got ready to go. The drugstore was on my way to somewhere else I needed to go. I pick up my purse and the coupons are nowhere to be found! I do a quick search and STILL couldn't find them. Finally, I decided to go anyway. On my way out, I noticed the two coupons on top of the recycling basket. How did they get there?

I put the coupons in my wallet. Then I noticed that some school stuff was in my bag. Didn't want to carry that around, so I went back in and put my gradebook and other things on the table. Went to the drugstore. When I reached the checkout: NO WALLET!

In a moment of madness, I thought: Oh, I'll go home and get the coupons. Then I did the math. That would be insane, in terms of time, money, and gasoline.

So I bought my things and went home, since I didn't want to continue on my errands without my wallet. There was my wallet, next to the gradebook.

Now do you see why I don't use coupons? Does anyone want the coupons?

Monday, November 15, 2010

Credit Cards without Foreign Exchange Fees

From the New York Times: Credit Cards Without Foreign Exchange Fees.

I will have to do the math for my family, but Miss Em may spend part of the summer and then a semester abroad.

The 3% foreign transaction fee (pure profit for the card companies, according to the article) is offset somewhat by the cashback I get from American Express.

Would you go to the trouble to get one of these cards?

Yet Another Gift Suggestion: Music with Reekarules

I herewith present some shameless commerce on behalf of someone else: Ulrike Masakowski. Ulrike--aka Reeka--is a local pianist of some repute and part of a well-known New Orleans musical family, perhaps on its way to becoming a dynasty.

I met her for the second time last night at one of the musical events I am lucky enough to be invited to. The music was great! It left me reeling, and I think everyone else in attendance felt the same. The performers were Leah Chase (vocals); Don Vappie (bass); and Steve Masakowski (guitar). Thanks to Mark Goldstein for putting us on "the list" of invitees.

Anyway, I was happy to see Ulrike again. The reason is that I make her happy: I look a lot like a friend of hers--Harriet--who died some years ago.

She showed me two book/cd sets she put together to help children and adults learn piano. They look great. And, at under $20.00 each, they qualify as a frugal gift.

This is from her website: Music is a gift that should not be exclusive to a small fortunate number of people but to anyone who feels drawn to it. It is my privilege to help you find your way into this world of music.

Check out Reekarules.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Another Standard Gift: Recommended by Experts

While the standard gift may be scoffed at by people for whom gift giving is a pleasure, for those of us who--to be plain--suck at gifts, a list of good ones would come as a relief.

I just remembered a standard gift suggested by two eminent tastemakers: Chuck Williams of Williams-Sonoma fame and Ina Garten of Barefoot Contessa fame. As it happens, they recommended the same gift. I read interviews with these luminaries. Each featured the same question: What do you recommend for a wedding gift. Each said they gave a set of French glass bowls to all newlyweds. I checked Williams-Sonoma and they now carry an American version of the iconic bowls.

However, you can still find the French version, which, of course, is oozing with je ne sais quoi.

Here is another standard gift I would love to receive. Since I--and presumably most others--did not receive a set at my wedding, I would be happy to get these for holiday or birthday.

Would you? Keep gift suggestions coming, please.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Standard Gifts: Easy Gifts for the Holidays, Too Easy?

I first encountered the concept of the standard gift in the very first organizing book I ever read: Totally Organized.

As I recall, the author mentioned that she had a standard gift for weddings: first, monogrammed pillowcases, and, since she wrote the book, a copy of her book! What a good idea.

When my children were little, the great bargain mecca in my area was a Scholastic Book warehouse sale. This was sort of a secret and open only to teachers. Someone told me about it; I called; and yes, college teachers were eligible. In truth, the sale was open to anyone who knew about it.

One feature of this sale was the "Fill Your Box for $25.00" area. You can get a lot of books--not to mention small educational toys--in a box. These treasures filled our gift shelf for years, saving us time and money.

Since I am not a gift-giving diva like my blogfriend Duchesse or my real-life friend Brigitte, both of whose choices amaze me with their brilliance, I must rely on the one or two sure-fire gifts in my repertoire.

For youngish men, I've already recommended (AT LEAST 5 TIMES) the great pen.

For youngish folk in general, I recommend the Rick Steves travel pack. I got one for Frugal Son a few years ago and may get one (shhhhhh) for Miss Em. Perfect for going abroad.

Garnet Hill, a catalog I've been mooning over for many years, has a good deal for folks of all ages: a cotton fleece throw. At the moment it is half price ($30) and has free monogramming. It comes in yummy colors and would be a wonderful gift for children, teenagers,and so on. It would even be a wonderful gift for ME. That's saying a lot, since I hate getting gifts as a rule.

Do you give standard gifts?

Friday, November 12, 2010

New Options for Elder Living: Golden Girls

I really think there's a change in how people are thinking of living in retirement. That's why I so liked Funny About Money's ruminations on the group of independent 80 year olds she met.

Here's something I read today, about older singles taking in roommates. It's sometimes, but not always, because of financial need. It strikes me as a good way to deal with the perhaps too-big unsellable-in-this-market house.

Check it out.

Would you take in a roommate?

A Gai Shan Life: Wonderful Blog

I wish I knew what "A Gai Shan Life" means. Does everyone know but me?

Whatever. This is a great blog. Like Funny About Money (probably found this blog through her blog, back in the day), Revanche has many interesting things to say about money, frugality, and stress. She went through a period of unemployment (now over) without stressing too much, owing in part to her frugal ways.

That alone would make her a great role model (even though she's probably half my age). BUT she also is responsible for the (financial and other) care of her parents. She has already had more challenges than I have and she is meeting them with flair and aplomb.

She does get to have some fun too. She loves food, travel, and fashion.

What can I say? She is sooooo admirable. I loved reading about her trip to Chicago: this included budgeting and all that jazz, but some great food pics from this city of great restaurants.

Read around her blog: you will find something wonderful.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Re-Introducing Funny About Money

OK: not quite the New Year, but time to clean up and do things with intention.

First up: let's re-introduce Funny About Money. Funny was my first favorite blogger. She writes about money and stress. She faced unexpected unemployment and is winning. She lives in a Housing Bubble state and is hanging on. She is, in truth, a role model.

My favorite recent post of hers concerns eldercare--when YOU are the elder. Funny finds some hope among a group of 80-somethings she met, all of whom have retained a large measure of independence and all of whom are living on their own. A dark glimmer of hope, indeed.

This is something we all need to think about.

If you can't quite face elder issues, you can always check out her apple turnovers.

And I must mention her super writing skills; through this blog, one certainly experiences the pleasure of the text.

Who are your favorite bloggers?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Good Price on Not Your Daughter's Jeans...Maybe, for a While

For my 40 and over blog pals only, I guess.

I know a lot of us like the Not Your Daughter's Jeans jeans. I avoided trying them on for a long time, but finally succumbed, and now I see what everyone is so ecstatic about. Still, around $100 for a pair of jeans! Ridiculous. Thank God I found my first pair at a thrift.

Anyway, it seems that Amazon, in its quest for world domination, is now selling clothing. They have some NYDJ for a sort of good price. The strange thing is that the jeans were $53.00. I added them to my cart. They then went up to $98.00. I removed them from my cart. Now they are down in price once more.

Amazon has constantly--annoyingly--fluctuating prices. So, as they say in the coupon world, YMMV.

Hmmmm. Is Amazon on its way to world domination? I can't get the on sale jeans in a link, though I can in my own search.

Well, here's an example of sale jeans, though they are in the ponte model.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Ready for Gift Giving? Young Male Edition

Well, I lucked out. I am bad at gifts to begin with, plus my kids say "Nothing" when I ask. (Funny, that's what I say in all sincerity.)

Frugal Son has a triple-whammy coming up: holiday, birthday, graduation. He mentioned that his friend Michael is spending next semester in Argentina and that he would like to visit during Spring Break. I said, "How about a plane ticket as our gift to you?" This elicited a smiley emoticon: SUCCESS!

If a ticket to Argentina is not on the radar screen for the guy in your life, how about my standard suggestion for any occasion, including graduation: the LAMY SAFARI pen. I have recommended this before, and will continue to do so. You can't go wrong with this one, whether for stocking stuffer or what you will.

My son picked yellow, but the other colors--including clear--are nice too.
Any other ideas, dear readers?

Monday, November 8, 2010

Sic Transit Gloria Mundi: Selling Academic Books

I keep meaning to gradually de-accession my huge collection of books, many bought during my years in graduate school. If I work till I'm 65, say (I wish, I wish), I should get rid of about 10% of my books per year. Every now and again, I check the value of a book on Amazon, and think, oh boy, a pretty penny awaits.

For instance, I have this book somewhere.

And this one.

It's so hard to say good-bye to these books. I remember my sense of awe and wonder during those years, along with a panicked feeling that I might never find employment.

Today, however, I realized that my vast collection may, in fact, be mostly worthless. The English Club had a book sale. At the end of the day, a big FREE BOOKS sign was put up.

Many books were donated by a recently-retired colleague. Many of the books he donated were ones Mr. FS and I owned, staples of the graduate student/professor library of days gone by, the days of THEORY. No one wanted the books.

I didn't take them, since we already own them. How do these fare on the open market?

or this?

How depressing! That one doesn't even get a picture! This one was required reading.

Oh, it's all too depressing. But I do need to declutter. The vision (mental only, since I did not participate) of my in-laws getting rid of a 50 year collection of books is so painful. Mr. FS spent his last week in his childhood home packing boxes of books and taking the rejects to Goodwill, which rejected them.

Perhaps it is fate that I picked up this poorly-written tome recently for a quarter.

Strangely, this one seems to be worth more than some of the academic books. I could sell my copy for $2.64.

What lessons should I draw from all this?

Saturday, November 6, 2010


My posting has been sparse, I must admit. I've been a little sick; semester has reached a stressful point; and today my dear daughter is visiting with a friend.

So, check out said daughter's frugal Frida Kahlo Halloween costume.

And for you fashionistas out there. I accompanied daughter and friend to United Apparel Liquidators, aka the best store in the whole world. There, I saw a new shipment of ELM DESIGN for between $40 and $120. I also saw some Dries van Noten ballet flats. My daughter bought a pair of pants for $8.00.

Then we hit Goodwill. I was not looking very seriously, but nonetheless came upon a Gerard Darel linen jacket. How the heck do these things show up in my sleepy town? Daughter didn't buy the jacket, but did buy a Gary Graham blouse. It was a sample, dated 2006, made of lace and silk. Totally gorgeous. We had never heard of the brand, but sprung for it ($3.00 with my discount). Once again: how the heck do these obscure brands end up in Goodwill?

I dropped daughter and friend off at tiny local restaurant, with some cash to treat themselves to lunch. I came home for my own lunch.

How wonderful these visits are! And blogfriends: you are invited for a day of shopping and a little lunch. Come on down.

Friday, November 5, 2010

King Arthur Flour Cheap, with a Catch

Those who bake, like Mr. FS, sing the praises of King Arthur flour. It is expensive, though it sometimes goes on sale around the big baking holidays, like Thanksgiving.

What's a frequent baker to do? Get it where the bakers get it: from a wholesale supplier. What's the catch? You need to buy it in 50 lb sacks.

First, go to the King Arthur website. Then, go to the bottom of the page "For Professional Bakers."

Then, find your local distributor. Mine is Koerner and Company in New Orleans. Yes, they will sell to individuals. A 50 lb. sack of King Arthur is around $20.00, depending on what kind you choose.

Some things I cannot buy because of the quantities required: no, I cannot buy a 24-pack of yeast. But, oh, what a wonderful gift for Frugal Son: a tub of duck fat!

Bon appetit! Do you have any wonderful sources for ingredients?

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Income Inequality and Ben Franklin

I don't know about you, but I get upset every time I read something on the increasing income inequality in the United States. Here's a piece from the New York Times that presents the work of some academics on the topic. Read it and weep with me.

Let's look back at one of our Founding Fathers, indeed my fave Founding Father, Ben Franklin. OF course, he achieves the status of favorite because of his well-known comments on frugality. But Franklin also has something to say on income inequality in America, or rather, on its absence. By mediocrity, he, of course, means medium, or something like that. Happy indeed! This is from Information to Those Who Would Remove to America. Read it HERE.

Here's the best part:

The Truth is, that though there are in that Country few People so miserable as the Poor of Europe, there are also very few that in Europe would be called rich; it is rather a general happy Mediocrity that prevails. There are few great Proprietors of the Soil, and few Tenants; most People cultivate their own Lands, or follow some Handicraft or Merchandise; very few rich enough to live idly upon their Rents or Incomes, or to pay the high Prices given in Europe for Paintings, Statues, Architecture, and the other Works of Art, that are more curious than useful.

How I love you, Ben Franklin.
And how I love Mr. FS, who told me about this piece.

On Election Day 2010

Monday, November 1, 2010

Teaching Children About Money with and without Jeff Opdyke

Given my love of reading about things financial, frugal, and family-oriented, you would think that I would love Jeff Opdyke, who has long written about families and money for The Wall Street Journal. In fact, though, I seldom read his column, and when I do, I get upset for one reason or another.

Perhaps this is a knee-jerk reaction to an essay he wrote many years ago: there he recounted spending $20.00 on spices for a recipe that called for a teaspoon of garam masala. I almost passed out! Not only can you make this spice blend with spices that are in your pantry, but you can buy the blend ready-made for very little.

Today, however, I succumbed to an essay. Here is the opening:

To a comment from his 14 year old son that a $30 field trip was kind of expensive, Dad replied "I guess $30 is kind of pricey for a 14-year-old without any income. But it isn't so meaningful to me."

OK. So Opdyke now realizes that his cavalier answer was dumb. (Was he showing off to his son? Who knows.)

The rest of the essay talks about how our kids see WHAT we buy, but not what we don't buy. In other words, children don't see the complex decisions about money that may underlie every purchase...or non-purchase.

I just don't believe it. Children notice EVERYTHING. Over the years, my kids asked why we didn't have cable, why we didn't have tostitos, why we didn't go to McDonalds more than twice a year, etc. I'm sure my students know how to gather evidence for comparative essays because they COMPARED and CONTRASTED all the similarities and differences they saw in family consumption patterns.

In fact, I remember asking my own parents why Karen got a princess phone for Christmas and Cheryl's mother made lasagne, which seemed more interesting than our family fare. Many years later, I remember the answers. I would guess that my children remember some of my answers too.

One parent in the Opdyke circle complained that his children didn't see that he bought a lower-priced car than he needed to so that the family might use the money saved for other things. Trust me, the kids noticed. I remember lying down in the backseat of a 1950 Buick (this was in 1965, no seat belts in that old car), so that my friends couldn't see us! And I knew why we had it too.

If it's true that the parents in the Opdyke circle never explained why they make certain financial decisions, then maybe the problem is that the kids didn't feel comfortable asking.

Did your families encourage questions about financial decisions--both visible and invisible? What kinds of explanations should parents give? Are you comfortable answering questions?