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Thursday, September 30, 2010

Chico's Answered! Because of My Post?

Dream on. Is it a coincidence that after almost a week of NOT responding to this poor woman, Chico's/Kim DID respond a mere 8 hours after I posted a criticism? Probably it IS a coincidence, though my blog-(com)plaints about my own customer service woes elicited a response from Chico's...sort of.

Here is the response from Kim. The first sentence reminds me of a lot of emails I get from students about assignments.

I did respond to you but for some reason my personal message wouldn’t go through to you on facebook.
I have similar body issues—I woke up one morning to find an Alien in my stomach. I literally did avoid seeing people for a while until I got a grip. Women in exercise class were (are) complementing for being pregnant, but it was my menopause. My solution. Keep working out, but don’t look in the mirror!
First thing to do is to start wearing body-shaping undies. Next was to find pants that fit. I have no problem with pull-on pants as long as it’s my secret—i.e. do not show the waistband, which is what I love about Chico’s jeggings.
I also drew upon all my fashion expertise to figure out how to dress in a more flattering way. Wear a dark monochromatic base to elongate and slim your silhouette—as you are doing by wearing black cargo pants and a black tee. But then draw attention to other parts of your body—colorful scarf, chunky necklace, tailored jacket for shape etc. My fav pulled together look is black pants, black tailored jacket and a white ruffled shirt. The ruffles hide my middle & the tailored jacket gives shape. Also accessories are now your best friend, because they boost can your mood and your look and always fit.
I wrote about this transition extensively in my latest book What to Wear for the Rest of Your Life. It has lots of how-to takeaway, but also inspiring women’s stories and my own about how our bodies and lives are evolving. I think you might enjoy it.
Hope all this helps. Be patient with yourself and don’t give up!
Also conversation #4 is being launched tomorrow.

The Chico's customer was so grateful for the response, though, as she noted, much wasn't really appropriate to an 83 year old Florida-living surgery-recovering woman.

Bless you for answering, Kim. I am 83, live in Florida, which keeps me in a perpetual state of hot flushes, so jackets just heat me up! And shirts actually don't go around my diaphram and 42 bust any longer! After hip replacement, my favorite pace walking was out, so being unable to walk my usual 5 miles per day was a jolt to burning calories for me! Even my daily aerobics became a painful project I eventually dropped. Now I simply attend a 50+ Fitness group and do what I can. Big lifestyle change! Caloric intake is very low, as just breathing food odors seems to add weight! C'est la vie. If Chico can design some forgiving tops for us older fans, we would appreciate feeling wanted still by the company to which I and many others in my peer group became addicted lo, these many years!
PS, the only glance I give the mirror is definitely ABOVE the neck! Weight is flattering up there!!!

When a few people suggested that Chico's was showing ageism, I (mentally) scoffed. When I (56) go to Chico's, I am usually the youngest person in the store. Yet I now think ageism might be an appropriate term. Who would tell an 83 year old to squeeze into Spanx and to keep working out? What a wonderful spirit the customer has though, don't you think?

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Query: What should Apple-Shaped Women Wear? Chico's Customer Service Again.

This is my public service question. I was wasting time--oops, perusing--the Chico's Facebook page. I was going to write a post about such pages...maybe not. And you all know (if you happen to remember) that I had an awful customer service experience with Chico's way back when. Anyway, a few days ago, some poor customer asked this question of Kim Gross, formerly of Chic Simple, who is now doing a gig with Chico's.

Kim, I'm becoming desperate! Have a closet filled with Chico clothes which no longer fit my ageing apple shaped body! You know the type: full top, diaphram and belly protruded from spine shrinkage, butt and thighs never a problem, but I have NO WAIST!
All my Platinum jeans are now too high waisted and cannot close, and I finally found the Perfect Ponte Pants last night, in black and gray, but NO tops that were full enough to buy! Florida is hot most of the year, so I'd love a longish Ponte vest, not fitted but maybe flared. An I need tops that are not body hugging! My hair is silver, my height now 5'3 (down 3 inches!) and at 83, I still want to look stylishly casual in Chico's chic!
Can anyone help me? PS, I at least have all the colors in a knit vest from last spring, black, gray, lime and blue. But I need things to go under them!

No response, even though Kim has responded to some others. Today, another post from the same person.

So this is "next week"; where is Conversation Four"?
Right now, I'm wearing my cargo pants in black, with a black short sleeve Tee. The waistline on the pants is curled over, causing even more lumps and bumps than I already have!
After about 20 years of wearing only Chico clothes and loving every one I bought, I'm desperate now that a medication I cannot live without has caused me to gain more pounds than I care to admit to, and I've gone from size 1 pants to a 3 in those forgiving Ponte Pants I just bought! I was kind of hoping Kim or someone would answer my previous post regarding a forgiving look for my apple-shape figure which is now 5'3" (Down from 5'6"!). I wouldn't even KNOW how to shop anywhere other than Chico, and everyone has always admired my Chico "look". Now I hate to leave the house, since I am feeling like a barrel!
Any suggestions to help my problem...please?

Man, I wish Kim or a Chico's rep would respond to this woman. If you ladies come up with something, I'll join Facebook and post a reply. I don't really want to be "Friends" with a store (that's what I was going to write about, actually), but may do so.

It's funny, my beef with Chico's was, after the initial abysmal customer service, their lack of responsiveness--even after I sent a follow-up email saying that not responding was rather insulting to the customer!

Chico's rides again. What can I say?

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Chinaberry Books: Frugality and Community

A while back, I wrote about creating a budget category for COMMUNITY. This is where I would earmark money to support businesses I value. The COMMUNITY category would accommodate visits to restaurants owned by friends and colleagues. That is why, when the students in my night class said, "Can we get pizza next time?", I suggested that we instead patronize the cafe owned by one of our instructors. So we did.

Have you heard of Chinaberry Books? This is a wonderful book service/catalog with wonderful recommendations for children of all ages. These people really know what they're talking about.

The company sent me a catalog (unrequested by me) 21 years ago, after the birth of the little guy who grew up into Frugal Son. They must have gotten my name from Biobottoms, a now-defunct company, from which I bought cloth diapers.

It was hard to find my community back then: cloth diapering supplies, cotton baby clothes, good quality toys; these were available mostly through very pricey catalogues, which I dreamed over, but seldom bought anything from.

I only bought a few books from Chinaberry. I was--and still am--a thrift-shopper and library-user. But I pored over the catalogs nonetheless.

Evidently, I had a lot of company. The catalogs started carrying notices that people who looked, but bought from discount stores--or now from on-line book sellers--were helping contribute to the decline--and perhaps eventual demise--of this wonderful company.

I don't get the catalog any more. I hope one day to have grandchildren for whom to buy books. I look at the website now and again, to relive the happy days of parenting little ones. Today I was struck by a post from the founder:

The collection of items on our website is the result of literally thousands of hours of work by our staff. We are a small company, so those thousands of hours should say something about our commitment to offer you an intelligent and thoughtfully-selected collection of items. From games that we actually play (you wouldn’t believe how many games have unclear instructions) and toys that we kid-test (and you wouldn’t believe how many problems we find in that process) to items for the family and home that we have used and loved and books that we read cover to cover (and reject thousands), the Chinaberry catalog is a one-of-a-kind catalog.

So, what you find here is the cream of the crop. And while I can’t pass up a good game, love watching a child have fun with a cool toy, and appreciate something that will make my life better at home, there is simply nothing like a book. Books can make us wonder, astound us with what has occurred in the past, make us more compassionate, make us more able to stand up for what we believe in, make us want to get outside our comfort zones and maybe do something, and make us better people. The fact is that a game, a toy, or something for the kitchen just isn’t going to change us or change the world, but a book can light the flame that will do just that.

And this is why it is very significant and disheartening to us that we have had to decrease the number of books we are offering you in the catalog. We devote more time than you will ever know to reading books and then choosing the ones that are great read-alouds; will make you and your child laugh together, think, or talk; will ask your early teen to think about more than the typical teen in our country is thinking about; or that you, as an adult, might find to be a worthy escape when you have a moment to yourself. Unfortunately, so many of those who receive our catalog go to the giant online book source (we all know who it is) to buy the books that they’ve read about in Chinaberry, that our company can no longer continue to devote the same resources to finding great books. If the Chinaberry catalog is of value to you, we ask you to spend your dollars with us if you find a book here that you want. We know it is tempting to get a bargain, but independent booksellers like us survive only because of customers who value our service and take the extra step to support it. We ask that you take this into consideration when choosing where to buy your books. And to those of you who have loyally supported us throughout the years, we offer our heartfelt thanks — your orders are what have kept us in business and for that we are truly grateful!

So often for me frugality has seemed to conflict with community. But I am making an effort to build community into my conscious spending.

Any more thoughts on community and frugality?

Monday, September 27, 2010

A Frugal Find: Marcela chez Metscan

A while back, I wrote a post requesting new (to me) personal finance blogs. I miss some of the bloggers who've stopped writing! And I felt my blogroll was too weighted toward the lifestyle ladies. Thanks for the suggestions, folks, I will follow up asap.

HOWEVER--it turns out my lifestyle ladies can ring the frugal chimes, and satisfy my appetite for frugality stories. (Sorry--mixed metaphor alert).

So, for instance, I headed on over to read Metscan, for my daily dose of elegance and discrimination fresh from Finland. There I found a newish-to-me blogger, Marcela, who lives in Cyprus (oh, how I'd like to go there.)Marcela presented her "capsule wardrobe," showing how relatively few carefully chosen items can constitute a full and functional wardrobe. Not to mention an attractive one.

What was most interesting to me was that Marcela grounded her discussion of fashion and economy in the financial crises that beset her home country of Argentina during the years she was growing up. Although my father grew up during the Depression and my mother's family lost everything when they fled Austria in the late 1930s, I myself have led a sheltered life, in part due to my parents' good financial habits.

In the midst of all Marcela's good and frugal wardrobe advice was one of the most beautiful frugal gems of all. (Sorry about formatting, but the story is so moving that I think it's worth it):

At one particularly low time in our economy, my mum, my brother and I developed a
ritual: once a week we would drive to the McDonalds drive through and order 3
cones of ice cream, 0.50 cents each, and then sit by the side of the road and
eat them sloooowly, chatting about the day, the week, our hopes and dreams. In
the middle of a very difficult time, those small cones felt like the world, and
those are memories I treasure. We learnt, albeit not always easily, that money
comes and goes (and sometimes goes more than comes ;) and to distinguish the
truly indispensable from that we could do without. But, of course, the lessons
weren't always easy ones.

Family, values, frugality not by choice. Thanks Marcela for the beautiful post. And thanks Metscan for giving the post a home.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

FS vs BFS: Plasma Donations

Oh, BFS aka Budgeting in the Fun Stuff threw down the gauntlet. She listed plasma donation for pay as one of the EWWWWWW YUK things that were too too frugal. Or, as she put it, "going too far to save money."

Actually, her post came in response to an article from Yahoo Finance. Reading BFS and looking at the original article showed me--yet once more--how value-laden many decisions are.

For instance, I have no opinion one way or the other about dumpster-diving at cemeteries to get flowers. I wouldn't do it, but I don't mind that someone does. I DO think it's awful to refill your condiment jars with the contents of the tiny packets that can be stolen from any fast-food place. Strangely, I'm not upset that the packets are stolen (or are they? how many packets per customer are OK?); I'm upset that the packaging is environmentally wasteful. In my value system, one should use as little of items in wasteful packaging as possible. Besides, I can get a container of ketchup for under $1.00. It would probably take hundreds of tiny packets to fill it up--a lot of wasted energy on the part of the environment and me.

Back to plasma. I must admit that Mr. FS donated plasma several times in grad school. Following the family tradition, Frugal Son found a donation place when he went to college. Two donations a week give him $70. That more than covers his need for spending money. The donations have become annoyingly slow this year, he says. Even so, he is being paid a decent hourly wage. The real EWWWW comes when you learn that the centers sell the plasma for many, many times what they give to the students and "real" poor folks who donate.

SO: BFS vs FS? What's your value system?

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Good Question: How Little Do You Need?

Although I am not particularly interested in attaining Early Retirement Extreme, the blog of that name gives me comfort. That is because the blogger, who has a definite philosophical bent, sometimes asks questions that I need to ask. To wit: not how much do you need to retire, but how little do you need?

How little do you need to retire? So though I do not aspire to early retirement, or to extreme frugality, or to living in a trailer, or to eating beans and rice for a week straight, I am so happy to know it can be done. SOMEONE is doing it.

Isn't it nice to know that in a time of on-going Employment Uncertainty Extreme?

Have you asked yourself any "How little" questions of late?

Thursday, September 23, 2010

More Asian Garden Stools at Big Lots: Cheap-er Chic

A while back I wrote a post ecstatically chronicling my purchase of 2 maroon Asian garden stools at Big Lots: with my 20% off coupon, they were $16.00 each.

Like big clip-on earrings and a few other things, these add chic to any--and every-- environment. It's rare that one can find a staple of shelter magazines at such a ridiculously low price: at Pottery Barn, they are $150 and they go up, up, up.

I was recently at the Big Lots near my place of employ. I noticed that they had 8 garden stools in blue. I hadn't seen any at my local Big Lots since I bought my two last spring. They were in the sale section, but had a tag saying "Special: $20," which was the price they were to begin with.

I decided to get two more anyway. I have a couple of spots for them, plus I can see the pair used as a coffee table in Miss Em's first apartment. When I got to the register, I said, "These were in the sale section. Are you sure they are not $10?" The cashier checked, and said "No. They are not $10; they are $5."

Yipes! I told the cashier the many ways you could use these in your home, and she said she would consider getting some. I must do what I can to spread the karma.

Here's a blogger who chronicles some of her Cheap Chic sources and mentions the Big Lots stools: Odi et Amo. (Very snazzy name: from Catullus).

Here is some more from the same blogger with many chic pics of the garden stools.

While I was there, I picked up some College Inn Thai broth for a mere 50 cents for a 32 oz. box.

How I love thee, Big Lots. When I fear the budget cuts beyond my control, I can at least look at my stylish Asian accents and prepare some luscious Asian curry.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Frugal Gems: My Foot, My Tutor*

I put out a call a while back for some new-to-me frugality blogs. I was afraid my blogroll was getting kind of unbalanced: all the stylistas are still blogging, but many of the frugalistas (or frugalistos) have ceased, sadly. Thanks to all who came through with suggestions: I will report back soon.

Interestingly, I have discovered frugal gems in other sorts of blogs. Frugality is all around us, it seems.

First up, let's look at Mary of SimplyForties. Mary writes about frugality all the time, in fact, but she somehow fell off my radar. Anyway, in the way of the blogworld, she kindly commented on MY blog, so I took a look at hers.

What a (re)find. There she had a great post on plantar fasciitis , an afflcition that seems to, well, afflict everyone, including women who have never worn high heels or pointy toes. (Not fair.)

Here Mary articulates a basic law of frugality: in her discussion of orthotics, she notes: According to a study done by the Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine custom orthotics are no more effective than off-the shelf orthotics so you might want to try the $50 Dr. Scholl's variety before investing in pricier models.

Frugal Maxim: Try the low cost version before the high cost. This applies to things besides orthotics. Try the over-the-counter mouthguard ($30) before the custom one your dentist offers to have made for you ($$$$????). Try the low-cost state university before NYU (you can transfer later).

Sometimes, the low cost version isn't satisfactory, but at least you KNOW FOR SURE.

Thank you, Mary. I shall return.

*Do you recognize the quotation: "My foot, my tutor"? Two possible answers.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

More Free Food for Grown Ups: Fear and Trembling

Another free food event. Is this a karmic event? There are rumors flying about mass layoffs. I'm not talking about it any more.

Last night, Mr. FS and I walked down to the pretty old church where we heard a free concert. We've been attending these monthly concerts for years. Last night we heard the New Leviathan Oriental Fox Trot Orchestra.

After the concert there is a reception with wine and a smallish buffet. Most of the attendees are in their late-60s and up. Many come from a very upscale retirement and assisted living community. I must say that the attendees are big eaters!

I noticed last year that the food was getting more abundant and better. I think that a a large group of women from the church now work in the kitchen; it's something of a social event. Last night, at the first concert of the season, the food was great, so good that we didn't have to eat dinner at home.

I tried to stick to the healthy stuff: gazpacho, a great barley and lentil salad with pine nuts, and fruit salad were the highlights. I avoided the pimiento cheese spreads.

Perhaps the forces of karma were saying to me: Don't worry about the bad stuff that might befall higher education in your state. You can always go to free concerts. You will always have a healthy and delicious meal once a month.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Free Food Opportunities for Grown Ups

I am trying to get my Frugal Son to write about Free Food Opportunities for the college student. Free Food is an intrinsic part of college life. Oh, for the wonderful teachers who invited the class over for a buffet! My college had, and for all I know still has, people called Scroungers, who sat by the place we bussed our dishes, and would pick out the goodies. Some of these people were probably the scions of prominent families. They were incredibly picky.

The other day I was the recipient of Free Food for Grown Ups. Tons of stuff was uneaten at the pot luck buffet where I scored my egg salad triumph. Most people just left their leftovers. Of course, none of my egg salad remained.

DON'T THROW IT OUT! While some of the people cleaning looked at the leftovers with horror, I and a few other frugal and/or ecological types offered to give the leftovers a good home.

I brought home about 1/2 pound of sliced cheese, a lot of cream cheese, some tuna salad (already ate that), and a giant bag of spinach salad, no dressing. Oh yeah, and some capers.

What should I make?

Do you give leftovers a home?

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Pot Luck Triumph: Egg Salad

What an unlikely triumph. How ridiculous.

I received an email asking me to PLEASE bring something to a large pot luck buffet. By the time I got around to opening it, I discovered that this year, you had to choose your dish from a list. That's a good idea as anyone who's ever gone to a pot luck with all one thing can attest.

Naturally, being of the frugal mindset, I perused the list ready to weigh cost vs ease. As it happened, the cheapest AND easiest dish still had several slots open: egg salad.

I made egg salad in the usual way. I boiled 14 eggs using the Julia Child method. Put eggs in pot of cold water, bring to boil, turn off heat, cover. Let sit for 17 minutes and then peel after submerging in cold water.

She does the eggs in From Julia Child's Kitchen.

When the eggs were peeled, I mashed them with a potato masher, added mayo (Kraft, nothing fancy), and salt and pepper.

I must confess that, because of many failures and much rejection over the years, I have pot luck trepidation. I made a wonderful couscous salad once with no takers. (Overheard: "This looks weird, but it's good!"). Let's not even talk about Michele Urvater's bulgur wheat salad. (A lesson here on grain salads?)

Last year, I was so nervous that I made Mr. FS do his one pot luck dish: his wonderful coleslaw. Even that was rejected, I think because it was in a pink-for-breast-cancer mixing bowl.

So, this time I made sure to use a nice dish: a white souffle dish from France. I put my egg salad on the table. I took a hefty portion for myself so it wouldn't look totally rejected.

I scanned the other offerings and wandered away from the buffet table. Then the BUZZ: "Did you make the GOOD egg salad?" "The egg salad is gone!" "Who made the wonderful egg salad?" "I heard your egg salad was great!"

After the crowds diminished, I checked out the leftovers. I saw the other two egg salads, which were in TINY bowls, and largely uneaten. I asked MR. FS why mine was gobbled up. He suggested, "The other ones were mashed in a blender. Yours was chunky."

Then I tasted one of the others: the distinct flavor of Miraclewhip! Ahha! I used real mayo, albeit from a jar.

Then I thought about it: 1. mashed up homogenous consistency, 2. small styrofoam serving bowl, 3. Miraclewhip.

Lord Peter Wimsy to the rescue.

The other offerings were purchased at the nearby grocery deli counter en route to the event. Mine was the only home made egg salad.

The secret to pot luck popularity egg salad division? Use a nice bowl. Leave it chunky. Use real mayo.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Are You Enticed By these Bargains?

For my frugal sustenance and sense of community, I either read old friends, like the Tightwad Gazette, or friends old and new around the blogosphere. The mainstream press is completely clueless about this stuff.

Last week, CNN on line had a feature under the rubric Frugal Fridays. I felt a sense of anticipation, followed by a thud of irritation. The article trumpeted: Get a designer whatever for 1/10 the price. Then the truth is revealed: Yes, you can get a Target version of the designer for 1/10 the price of the real line.

Want to dress like Drew Barrymore or Cameron Diaz without a blockbuster budget? Bargain-hunting fashionistas are counting down to Sunday, when Gaby Basora's new Tucker for Target line goes on sale -- the latest in the retailer's limited-edition designer collections.

But instead of paying $260 for one of Tucker's trademark silk jersey blouses, Target shoppers can snag a stretch georgette version for $24.99.

Have you ever seen the Target versions? They are so horrifyingly junky that they don't sell at Goodwill. The article said that certain items become collector's items and sell on eBay for big bucks. I suppose that if you can see into the future, you could justify buying something as an investment. But if you could see into the future, well, you'd know which stocks to buy, and wouldn't have to bother with Target and eBay.

Then there's this week's article about how to score (how I loathe that word) deals from on-line "members only" sales. These sites are the the antithesis of frugality: because things sell out quickly and in real time, your competitive instincts may get you to buy something that--if you thought about it--you would turn from as a terrible mistake. These "members-only" sites have zillions of members, anyway, so it's not like they're really exclusive anyway.

Some of the "ultimate scores" that were featured:
1. The Baby Twin Espresso Maker (pictured), available now, for $475, regularly $699.
2. A Vera Wang dress in silk organza for $699 on Gilt, regularly $1,850.

Oh, you get the idea. Here's a ringing endorsement from a happy aficianada: "I love HauteLook for baby stuff. They have a lot of the brands that you really can't justify paying full price for," says sample sale shopper Sara Michel Osberg.

Fashionistas and Frugalistas: What do you think of these bargains? Have you ever bought something from one of the featured sites? Are you a Target fan?

Oh, here's a good investment, especially if you check it out of the library.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Kids and Money: Now and Then

Once again, I am looking in vain for something I read a mere two days ago in the Wall Street Journal. ****UPDATE: Here it is, thanks to Lillian. It was about kids and money, that perennial topic, with the usual range of opinion. I liked the article because it began with a little story about a fashionista teen or preteen, who craved new clothes for school. Not having money from Mom and Dad, the fashionista sold her clothes at a consignment store and used the cash to buy new. I LOVE the story.

I would appreciate it if someone could find the link. This is not the first time that the SEARCH in WSJ hasn't come through for me. It's not like I'm looking for some obscure piece from days of yore.

That's the NOW of my title. Here's the THEN, from Sir Francis Bacon's essay Of Parents and Children.
The illiberality of parents in allowance towards their children is an harmful error; makes them base; acquaints them with shifts; makes them sort with mean company; and makes them surfeit more when they come to plenty. And therefore the proof is best, when men keep their authority towards their children, but not their purse.

Francis Bacon (the 17th century writer, not the modern painter) argues that children with the meager funding will "surfeit more when they come to plenty."

So the WSJ story suggests that small help from parents will make the child more resourceful; Bacon argues that the child will over-indulge in times of plenty.

Are you on Team WSJ or Team Bacon?

For me, I don't know. My children are still in process.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Walker Evans and Walker Percy

I live in a little town. It is quite unlike the homogeneous suburbia of my youth. Oh, how I hated the suburban lifestyle.

I am always amazed at the heterogeneity of this town of around 8500: some very wealthy people, a smallish middle class, and lots of poor people. That's how a native described the demographic to us when we moved here around 20 years ago.

It makes for some strange contrasts. There are houses within a mile of my pretty house that look like they are from a Walker Evans WPA photograph. There is an active Habitat for Humanity here, thankfully.

Then we have the economic and cultural elite. As a newcomer (yes! still and forever, I'm afraid), I don't know or see some of these people. Some live in huge estates behind foliage, with houses far, far from the road.

When I wonder how a Dries Van Noten cashmere sweater ends up in Goodwill (I wrote about this a while back), I have to assume it comes from one of these houses. Ditto for all the Carlisle and St John that wends its way to the thrift shop. And then there's the Escada sweater with many insect holes that I recently wrote about.

I may know. In today's Times-Picayune, the local section featured an article on our Cultural Icons. One is Walker Percy, famous author who died in 1990, just a few months after I moved here.

His presence still looms large. I had a friend who was proud to be a member of Walker Percy's very exclusive book group, even though he was asked to join years after Percy's death.

One of the photographs in the paper featured the widow of Walker Percy. It is very poignant: she is holding a photograph of her handsome husband and, according to the text, reading his biography.

Strangely, the widow's sunglasses are as prominent as the picture of Percy. That is because the glasses sport the huge logo: ESCADA.

Because of that prominence, even before I read the story and saw that the photo commemorated a sad moment, I said to Mr. FS: "Maybe this woman is the source of the Escada sweater I saw at Goodwill!"

Yes, I am shallow and trivial. Still, it's interesting to think that the people who live in the Walker Evans-type houses may get things from the homes of Walker Percy's family and their friends.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Paula's Choice: More shameless Commerce

I LOVE and actually buy this stuff, rare words from someone who mostly relies on drugstore makeup and skin care, especially when on sale.

It was from Paula's books (lent to me by a friend) that I learned about sunscreen and much more, information that was not--sadly--featured in the mainstream press. I even told a friend with skin cancer a thing or three about sunscreen ingredients, all from Paula. Sadly, the friend's pricey dermatologist did not divulge the info.

Anyway, every month Paula has some kind of sale or other. I am mentioning the current sale ($3.00 shipping) because there is a one-week bonus. With the code SEPT15, you get 15% off too.

She has a money back guarantee.

Paula's Choice Best Sellers

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Where are you in the spending continuum?

Whiling away some time reading the fashion section of the Wall Street Journal. This became a habit during the terrible two years (and counting) of the financial meltdown. I kept trying to learn what was happening by reading the WSJ, and found myself reading their fashion section because I couldn't bear to read the real financial news. Whatever.

Yesterday's article was about how luxury retailers are trying to give the customer good value. I guess that's kind of related to my frugal theme: after all, value and cost are not necessarily in synch, either at the high end or low end of the retail continuum. And I'm always asserting (whining?) that true frugality is about good value, not necessarily low prices.

I was struck by the definition of the luxury shopper:

Luxury retailers cater to a fairly narrow group of shoppers. Women that Bain & Co. and Vogue magazine call "established spenders" make up just 16% of the U.S. population but shell out around $3,500 a year on apparel, accessories and beauty, about four times the average consumer. Those women include fashion mavens and wealthy professionals, the study says.

Anais Aiken, a 40-year-old mother of two who lives in Dallas, wears designer brands regularly and follows trends from the catwalk. She recently purchased a runway look from 3.1 Phillip Lim, a cream chiffon ruffled evening coat and an asymmetrical dress, spending she thinks "around $2,500."

Readers: do you accept these numbers? Does the average woman spend only about $900.00/year on apparel, accessories, and beauty? I am an average woman, but if not for my blissed-out forays to an excellent Goodwill, and my practice of coloring my own hair, and the luckiness of having a daughter who can give me good haircuts, I would be way over the average number.

And I can hardly accept that the high-end shopper spends only $3500.00.

My mother, for example, middle-class all the way, spends around $1000/year just at the hair salon--and that's in relatively low-cost Florida. That doesn't even count her shopping addiction, which manifests itself in frequent trips to Chico's and elsewhere.

So Fashionistas and Frugalistas: what think you of those numbers?

Anticipation and Happiness: Nantes

Recently, I read something--somewhere--about happiness. (Have you noticed the burgeoning HAPPINESS INDUSTRY? or all the grant opportunities for HAPPINESS STUDIES?)

Of course, I want to be happy as much as the next person. Whatever I read had to do with ANTICIPATION as an enhancement to whatever the anticipated experience or object is. I suppose, then, that this theory would mean that a killer deal on a last minute trip to Paris would not be as happiness-inducing as a long-anticipated trip. I don't know about that. But the theory does seem to suggest that saving up for something promotes happiness more than putting it on a credit card and paying for it later.

So, I will share with you what we've been anticipating. Some of you may remember that Frugal Son spent last year in Nantes. Well, his favorite teacher, Danielle, liked him too. He told her about his France-loving parents and she said we could stay in her house during the summer. She teaches French in China every summer.

So...EVERYONE...that is the plan for next summer.


Hope it happens.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Another Request: New (to me) Personal Finance Blogs?

My second request: personal finance or frugality blogs that are new, wonderful, quirky, whatever.

Why do I ask? Well, I was looking at my Blogroll and noticed that most of the blogs-I-like-to-read are of the lifestyle genre. That is because many of the personal finance and frugality blogs that used to share space with the lifestyle ladies are no more. How I miss Chance of Roomfarm! And the others!

So: any suggestions for new friends to replace the old? Not the ones everyone knows about already, since everyone knows about them.

Any that are obscure, quirky, fun, intelligent? They don't have to be NEW, since I have not patrolled the entire blogosphere. I need to jazz up my reading, as well as my Blogroll.

Thanks again.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Fun, Frugal or Not: Request for Information

A request, Dear Readers. Now that our dear children are away most of the year, Mr. FS and I realize just how stay-at-home we've become. Perhaps too stay-at-home.

Part of this is due to our natures (we like to read); part to our professions (as teachers we deal with people ALL the TIME; usually these people have PROBLEMS for us to solve); but part, I'm afraid, is habit.

When our children were young, we seldom had to plan: on weekends, we would go to the zoo or a museum. Their childhood coincided with the highest stress period of our jobs: in the evening, we either hung out with people we knew through our kids, or attempted to write so we might publish, lest we perish.

Last night, we walked downtown to some gallery openings as recommended by a friend. We saw a few people we knew, including the recommending friend. We saw some nice artwork. We even had some cheese and crackers.

So what I'm wondering: how often do you go "out"? What do you do?


Friday, September 10, 2010

Thrift Stores and the Lure of Perfectionism: Escada Edition

Yesterday, I whiled away a bit of time at Goodwill. My lackadaisical stroll was arrested by a beautiful sweater. White. Cardigan. Neat cut: long with a self tie in front. Checked the label: Escada! Wowzer: exquisite, timeless, seldom if ever worn. My size too.

Then I spied a small hole (moth?). "Oh," I thought, "my mother can fix that for me." Then I spotted a few more holes, and sadly bade farewell to a sweater I probably would have worn hundreds of times.

This happens a lot. I am filled with empathy (perhaps misplaced) for the person who bought it, thinking it a super-expensive but perfect sweater, then spotted the holes, and, in horror, donated it, hoping never to see it again.

If I were to buy something as expensive as that sweater, I would look and look, in search of the perfect item. Like most quests for perfection (the Holy Grail comes to mind), this one would be filled with self-doubt.

Even if a perfect sweater revealed itself, some moth or splash of coffee would no doubt be drawn to it as well.

Sometimes evil people appear to ruin your perfect WHATEVER. I remember walking in downtown Bloomington on a slushy day. A car of screaming (frat?) boys swerved toward me, sending up a huge splash from a puddle onto the sidewalk where I stood. They cheered as I was covered in greasy slush. All my clothes were ruined; no amount of cleaning would get out the grease. Of course, since I was a graduate student, I continued to wear the items, since I didn't have the money to replace them right away.

Like many people, I have a self-destructive attraction to perfection. I remember reading 20 articles on Antigone, searching for the perfect combination of perspectives to share with my beginner students: a handful would have sufficed.

At least I don't have to worry about perfectionism in attire. At thrift stores, you find what you find. There's more than enough that is almost perfect.

So in addition to saving money, thrift stores save you from perfectionism in at least one little pocket of life.

Do you suffer from shopping perfectionism? What do you do?

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Anticipate Your Needs: Frugal Theme Parties

I'm so proud of my dear daughter: she is a frugal chip off the parental block. Last week, Frugal Son and a friend went to visit Miss Em. She sent a long list of necessities, including, of course, more burritos. One item: "the pink dress with fringe."

What the heck was that? As instructed, I looked in the closet and there it was. Turns out Miss Em was invited to a 1920s theme party. Last summer, she saw the dress at H&M on a non-Mom-accompanied shopping trip: it was in the $5.00 bin! Said Miss Em, "I KNEW I would have a 1920s party this year."

She also requested a few strands of white Mardi Gras beads. These are free, but we were lucky to have plain white beads. Generally, we donate the plain beads to thrift stores (which sell them for big bucks) and keep only a few choice specimens--like our garlic beads.

For a view of the $5.00 costume, click HERE.

Sorry to say, Mr. FS and I are dreary stay-at-homes and the thought of a costume or theme party makes us break out in hives. But we are good at anticipating our needs and buying ahead. Perhaps party-goers need to construct a costume pantry.

Miss Em is becoming an expert on festive frugality. You go, girl!

Do you like theme parties?

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

My Real Estate Idea: Weird?

You may be surprised to learn that in real life I am somewhat reclusive. I think teachers deal with so many people every day--all with problems of one sort or another--that we retreat to our cozy homes at the end of the day.

So...I don't know (well) all that many people here. I was surprised to discover that, out of my small sample group of friends, two had the same issue. Each had an elderly parent whose house was unsaleable, owing to the late troubles. There are two empty houses, because the elderly owners are now in assisted living.

The houses are paid off, so don't represent a huge financial drain; still, houses are not meant to be empty.

Interestingly, each of these friends also has a son, each of whom, to put it charitably, messed up in college, in spite of their charm, wit, and intelligence. Said sons are looking for work while they figure out what to which point, they may return to college.

BRAIN FLASH! I said to Friend #1, "Why doesn't Charlie live in his grandparents' house, look for work there, and maybe take courses at the college that just happens to be in town?" Friend #1, who is a financial planner, said "Not a bad idea."

I haven't tried this on Friend #2.

In a comment to Funny About Money, I ventured a surmise that creative youth may flock to some unlikely places in search of low rent and opportunity. Certainly, New Orleans has a younger, peppier demographic in the wake of the storm.

Are there any creative ideas to help people out of their various real estate pickles?

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

So...what to do with those caramelized onions? MEGADARRA once more

As I type, I'm making another batch of slow cooker caramelized onions. I figure most will go into the foods onions usually go into: soups, rice dishes, potato casseroles, and so forth.

The best use of caramelized onions as far as I'm concerned is in MEGADARRA, a lentil/rice/onion dish ubiquitous in middle eastern home cooking. I wrote about this dish, and bean cuisine in general, in December 2008, when I was a beginner blogger, with just a handful of readers. So, in addition to saying "Forgive the food of the poor," I will ask you to forgive the re-posting of this piece.

At some point nearly every blog on frugality has a post on beans. Usually bean cooking is presented as one of the miserable things you have to do as the cost of being frugal. Often one sees comments like “I’d eat beans before I’d give up … whatever. “ And doesn’t the famous Dave Ramsay, who tells you to attack your debt with “gazelle-like intensity,” advocate beans and rice…not because you want to, but because you have to, as penance for whatever debt you racked up.

Myself, I love beans. I did not eat them (with the exception of the occasional canned beans with hotdog dinner) till, besotted with Mr. Dr. Frugal Scholar, I set out to learn to make the bean burritos he ate at Mijares, the Mexican restaurant of his California boyhood. This was in the mid-70s, before salsa was in every grocery. Yumyum: they were good! And, as an added bonus, they were unbelievably cheap (beans were about 50 cents a pound); we were poor graduate students at the time, living on a $3,000/year stipend (for teaching!), half of which went to rent.

I now think of beans with an aesthetic reverence (is there such a thing?). Almost all the cuisines of poor countries focus on wresting flavor out of the plainest and cheapest ingredients: think of Mexican, Indian, and African cooking.

One of my favorite bean recipes is MEGADARRA, which I first encountered in Claudia Roden’s masterpiece “A Book of Middle Eastern Food.”

Here is what she says:
“Here is a modern version of a medieval dish called mujadarra, described by al-Baghadi as a dish of the poor, and still known today as Esau’s favorite. In fact, it is such a great favorite that although said to be for misers, it is a compliment to serve it.”

“An aunt of mine used to present it regularly to guests with the comment: “Excuse the food of the poor!”—to which the unanimous reply always was: “Keep your food of kings and give us megadarra every day!”

The dish consists of lentils cooked with rice topped with caramelized onions. Serve with yogurt.

I had the book for years before I made this. It sounded so plain. Then I tried it: WOW!

This is the recipe as adapted from Deborah Madison’s “Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone.” Her version is easier (if that’s possible) than Roden’s. Madison calls this “one of best dishes there is.”

Slowly cook 1 large sliced onion in lots of (6 TBS) olive oil till golden. (Tip: mix olive oil with regular vegetable oil for frugality and to increase the burning point).

Meanwhile, cook 1 ¼ cups lentils in quart of water for about 15 minutes. Add ¾ cup rice. Cover and cook another 15 minutes or so. Add salt. Check the water and add some if necessary. Make sure you stir that onion.

Stir onion into lentil/rice mix when done.

Top with yogurt.

As you serve to your family, proclaim “Excuse the food of the poor.”

P.S. If you are out of yogurt, it's still good. It's the onion that makes the dish.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Caramelizing Onions in the Slow Cooker

In anticipation of Labor Day, I am caramelizing onions. In the slow cooker. Which requires little labor.

I have discovered that I hate a number of things: going to the store for one thing, cooking at the last minute, dealing with onions, plus many more.

Because of the first on the list I recently bought 15 pounds of onions. For the last few months, I have been living la vida College Cook and using frozen chopped onions. This was partly for research and partly because, all through the summer, onions were over $1.00/pound! Ridiculous. Since frozen onions were the same or even less, I chose the lazy way.

This week, onions are 40 cents a pound. As we all know, onions don't last forever, especially in my hot and humid climate. I remembered reading that you could (sort of) caramelize onions in the slow cooker. Yes, you can. Just chop them, put 'em in with either oil or butter, turn the machine to high, wait 8 hours.

My slow cooker won't hold more than a few pounds at a time, so I will be doing this several times.

On the finer points, see the lengthy discussion at Chowhound.

I am going to freeze the much-reduced-in-volume onions in ziplocks and use in soups and, really, anything that calls for onions, caramelized or not. You can always make French onion soup or my beloved panade. I wrote about panade more than a year ago.

I got the panade recipe from the Zuni Cafe Cookbook, which has some of the most overheated food prose I've experienced in a while.

It's still too hot here for French onion soup or panade. Or overheated prose.

One last tip: those onions smell TERRIBLE while slow cooking. We plug the slow cooker into an outlet on our porch. We do the ssame for beans.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

My Rice Cooker Hero: Roger Ebert

When I was first experimenting with the rice cooker--just a few months ago--I was lucky enough to find Roger Ebert's blog on the wonders of "the pot." I was thrilled to see that he had a book coming out. A good writer and a good cook--all in one cookbook.

Here's an article from the New York Times.

And here is his book: only three more weeks.

I started with the rice cooker to help my daughter negotiate the challenges of cooking in a stoveless dorm suite. Now I use the rice cooker at least three times a week. And I have a stove! I love the rice cooker because it is CHEAP, EASY TO USE, SAFE, FORGIVING.

I know I will love the book. What's your favorite cookbook?