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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Potato Pickle Soup is Good!

A few days ago, I asked for opinions of this (to me) weird sounding concoction. I made it a few days ago, and it is GOOD. The whole pot probably cost less than $1.00. I had some potatoes I bought cheaply for Thanksgiving (ditto the carrots). We had scallions in the garden. Frugal Son bought a big jar of pickles for $1.00.

So this is yet one more incarnation of one of my favorite food categories: the food of the poor. How wonderful to think of Polish peasants--cold and damp, craving SOMETHING tasty in the winter--making this stone soup.

This is definitely comfort food.

P.S. I left out the dill because I didn't have any.

4 large Yukon Gold or Yellow Finn potatoes (skins intact)
1 large carrot, chopped
2 tablespoons butter
1 bunch scallions, chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
4 sprigs fresh dill (leaves only), chopped
4 half-sour pickles, chopped
1 cup pickling liquid from the jar of half-sours
Salt and pepper, to taste

1. In a pot just large enough to accommodate them in a single layer, fit the potatoes and carrots. Add enough cold water to just cover them. Bring to a boil, cover with the lid, and cook for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the potatoes can be easily pierced with a skewer.

2. In a soup pot, melt the butter over medium heat. Stir in the scallions, garlic, and mustard seeds. Cook gently, stirring often, for 5 minutes or until the garlic is soft and fragrant but not colored.

3. With a slotted spoon, transfer the carrots to the scallion mixture; set aside.

4. Remove the potatoes from their cooking liquid (set the liquid aside). When the potatoes are cool enough to handle, slip off their skins. Quarter the potatoes and return them to the potato water. Sprinkle with dill. With the edge of a wooden spoon, chop and mash the potatoes. There should be lots of potato chunks, none very large.

5. Tip the potato mixture into the carrot mixture. Add the pickles and pickling liquid. Bring to a simmer, and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes.

6. If the soup is too thick for your taste, add a little more pickling liquid, or milk or water. Taste for seasoning, add salt and plenty of pepper. - Adapted from John Thorne

I LOVE Thorne's writing. This is his first book.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

"Surprised by Joy": A Sad Poem

The subject of this poem is Wordsworth's daughter, Catherine, who died very young.

Surprised by joy - impatient as the wind

Surprised by joy – impatient as the wind
I turned to share the transport – Oh! With whom
But thee, long buried in the silent tomb,
That spot which no vicissitude can find?
Love, faithful love, recalled thee to my mind –
But how could I forget thee? - Through what power,
Even for the least division of an hour,
Have I been so beguiled as to be blind
To my most grievous loss? – That thought's return
Was the worse pang that sorrow ever bore,
Save one, one only, when I stood forlorn,
Knowing my heart's best treasure was no more;
That neither present time nor years unborn
Could to my sight that heavenly face restore.

For a nice explanation of the poem, see this essay in The Guardian. Here is a bit of that piece.

This sonnet activates a series of "pangs": the moment of delight, the desolate realisation that the one person with whom the speaker wants to share it is irrecoverable, the pang of guilt that the beloved child could have been forgotten, and, finally, the remembered moment of desolation. The natural event, the source of the joy, un-described but beautifully left to our imaginations, is quickly erased. Nature, for once, fails the poet. The sonnet seems to travel a considerable distance, though it turns back on itself to look again at the moment of anguish, "when I stood forlorn,/ Knowing my heart's best treasure was no more." It blossoms early and vividly but it appears to be prematurely concluded, or, at least, rapidly transformed from immediacy into memory.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Would You Try Polish Potato Pickle Soup?

Here is what I'm dying to cook. I can't (due to overabundance of food from Frugal Son that needs to be used up). It sounds so interesting, plus this particular version is courtesy of my favorite food writer John Thorne. Does it sound good to you? I am of 100% East European descent, so that perhaps accounts for my inexplicable yearning.

4 large Yukon Gold or Yellow Finn potatoes (skins intact)
1 large carrot, chopped
2 tablespoons butter
1 bunch scallions, chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
4 sprigs fresh dill (leaves only), chopped
4 half-sour pickles, chopped
1 cup pickling liquid from the jar of half-sours
Salt and pepper, to taste

1. In a pot just large enough to accommodate them in a single layer, fit the potatoes and carrots. Add enough cold water to just cover them. Bring to a boil, cover with the lid, and cook for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the potatoes can be easily pierced with a skewer.

2. In a soup pot, melt the butter over medium heat. Stir in the scallions, garlic, and mustard seeds. Cook gently, stirring often, for 5 minutes or until the garlic is soft and fragrant but not colored.

3. With a slotted spoon, transfer the carrots to the scallion mixture; set aside.

4. Remove the potatoes from their cooking liquid (set the liquid aside). When the potatoes are cool enough to handle, slip off their skins. Quarter the potatoes and return them to the potato water. Sprinkle with dill. With the edge of a wooden spoon, chop and mash the potatoes. There should be lots of potato chunks, none very large.

5. Tip the potato mixture into the carrot mixture. Add the pickles and pickling liquid. Bring to a simmer, and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes.

6. If the soup is too thick for your taste, add a little more pickling liquid, or milk or water. Taste for seasoning, add salt and plenty of pepper. - Adapted from John Thorne

P.S. I love how the recipe uses part of the pickle liquid!

This book by Thorne was my first read after I turned in grades for teh semester. Pure bliss!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Joyce, Plato, Karma, Purses

I once wrote a post titled Frugality and Destiny, wherein I wondered if my destiny is to be super-frugal and there's no escape. I am once again thinking that may be true.

Recently--in honor of my big birthday coming in 14 months--I decided to buy a handbag. Not a super expensive one, but a medium one. I am a teacher, so middle-class, and have never bought a new bag. How weird is that?

So, like the narrator of Araby (great story by James Joyce about the quest for beauty and the disillusionment en route), I set out on my quest. Only mine was through the internet. Eventually, I ordered 4 bags, planning to leave Miss Em with the final choice, since she is the decision-maker of our family.

The other day--needing a break from the often dispiriting labor of processing final exams--I headed to Goodwill. Unlike the narrator of Araby, who finds that Araby (a bazaar) is not what he thought it would be (an exotic, exciting place), I am never disillusioned with Goodwill. I love it! Everyone is equal: you find what you find.

Most handbags sported by the shoppers are--let's face it--fakes: L Vuitton, Gucci, and Coach. In fact, one reason I would never buy a real bag by LV is because everyone would just assume it was fake anyway, given my reputation for frugality. And most of the bags on display are fakes too.

On that recent trip, among the many fakes and free bags with purchase (ugh--Estee Lauder, stop cluttering up the universe with free bags) were two bags: they were copies of two of the Michael Kors bags I ordered! The Kors bags, in turn, were inspired by even more expensive bags by Hermes. A copy of a copy of a copy. Hello Plato! (In honor of the many students who use these cheater-websites, here is a link to one of the worst)

These bags--and others--were being snatched up with glee by the shoppers. I had an image of sporting one of my four candidates, only to be asked if I got it at Goodwill in the shopping frenzy. Kind of deflating.

Then I wandered by the tote bags. There I saw a Baggallini tote. We recently got Miss Em a small suitcase by that company (at Twice as Nice, a great consignment store in Alabama). The tote was OK. I realized it would serve my needs. I need a bag to carry to class with files of papers in it. It wasn't too bad looking, though I would prefer a solid color to the gray/black zebra-ish print I got. It was $2.99, way less than the fake bags on the special-priced rack.

So should I thank the forces of Karma for bringing me an inexpensive bag that will serve some of my needs? Or is it just a reminder that frugality is, indeed, my destiny?

Friday, December 7, 2012

How to Pay for that Handbag: Thai Chicken Soup with Rice

It's probably obvious what my "financial philosophy" (if that's not too grandiose a term) is: sweat the small stuff so you can have the big stuff. Some people do it the other way. Unless you are a very high earner or low desirer, you have to do it one way or the other.

How am I going to pay for my chosen handbag (or maybe two)? Even though they were on sale, they range from $90 (for a fourth candidate en route) to $250! Well, as usual, I seek to minimize my daily expenses, figuring that eventually the money I save will add up to whatever it is I want.

My latest candidate for FOOD THAT COULD BE FROM A RESTAURANT, BUT IS CHEAP. Not to mention easy. Red Curry Chicken and Rice Soup. it is from a wonderful cookbook by Leslie Revsin. She was a well-known chef who put together a cookbook for her busy daughter.

1. Cut about a pound of chicken breasts into bite-size pieces and saute in a little oil. Remove.
2. Saute chopped onion and a few sliced carrots till done. Add 2 TBS Thai curry paste.
3. Add 1 can of coconut milk and 1 can chicken broth. Simmer for around 15 minutes.
4. Add 1/3 cup rice. Cook 10 minutes. Add the chicken and cook till rice is done, around 10 minutes.

I made this last night and it was very rich. Cheaper than a Thai restaurant.

Perhaps my other mission in life--aside from spreading the joys of frugality--involves spreading the word about lesser-known cookbooks. Everyone has heard of Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa. Have you heard of Leslie Revsin?

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Twixt Virtue and Love: A New Purse??

A STRIFE is grown between VIRTUE and LOVE;
While each pretends that STELLA must be his.

That's by Sir Philip Sidney. The lines just popped into my head, as lines of poetry are wont to do. Was I thinking about grading final exams? No, I was taking a daydreaming break. I was thinking about my new handbag!

So, the strife within me is between virtue (frugality) and love (not physical desire in this case, as it was for Sidney, but for NICE STUFF). That strife is why my blog is often conflicted. I love frugality and even wish I were of the cut WAY back on stuff mindset (like many of the frugality bloggers) but I do enjoy getting things now and again. Even if I don't need them.

So, the purse. I realized last year that I was getting near a big birthday (2014) AND that I had never bought a new handbag. I've gotten them from thrifts and from my mother's donation bags. So I thought I would buy one for my 2014 birthday. Then I decided to get one this year. This is not really frugal since I have lots of handbags from the above sources.

For a few mad moments, I thought about getting an iconic bag of one name or another. But I noticed when I saw these bags carried by various stylish women--here and in France last summer--I did not feel that frisson of desire. Thank heavens for that.

So I started looking at midrange bags, more befitting my midrange life and definitely midrange salary. I now have three bags to choose from: all bought from Nordstrom at between 40-60% off. Since I must resume my grading in a bit, I cannot post pics. But you can see two of the candidates on the blog UneFemme. Pseu has such good taste. (The two are the Astrid and the Candace. The Astrid, probably unfortunately, is in a python print which looks like something Carmela Soprano might carry. so maybe not for me. The Candace is black).

I await the homecoming of my daughter, Miss Em. The rest of the family is of the genre INDECISIVE. fortunately, Miss Em did not inherit this trait. So we all wait for her visits and await her decisions. She's always right. (OK. She was wrong once.)

I got the bags from Nordstrom and will return the losers. Even at 40%-60% off, these bags are a splurge for me. So, not really frugal. Every time I deviate from the frugal path, I fear that I will never return.

I'll let you know what Miss Em decides. She's due for a visit December 23. She may tell me to return them all.

Monday, December 3, 2012

5 Ingredients, 5 Minutes=Soup

Too good for College Students only. So--for all the frazzled people out there, whether your frazzlement is due to school, work, holidays, etc. From my hero Andrew Schloss. This is also very cheap, so you can put your savings towards either necessities or desires.


1. 15 oz can of broth
2. 15 oz can of black beans (or any beans) drained
3. 15 oz can of tomatoes
4. 7 oz instant black beans** (these can be expensive--so why not just use another can of beans and mash with fork OR a can of refried beans?)
5. hot sauce

Combine in your rice cooker OR a pot (if you have a stove). Add 1 can of water. I would guess you could also put in a bowl and microwave. Heat up. Let sit a minute to let flavors develop.

This makes enough for 4 servings.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Harmonic Convergence: Brussels Sprouts

Ah, nothing makes the frugal heart sing as much as unexpectedly finding something you need--or even want--on sale. Such happened to us last weekend. We were whiling away some time at Whole Foods (yes, a favorite family activity at home and abroad), when I spied BRUSSELS SPROUTS 99 cents a pound. Man, that is cheap!

We bought a big bag and gave some to Frugal Son.

For even more harmonic convergence, a recipe appeared on the New York Times website. Turns out that that the humble and oft-reviled brussels sprout is positively chic. Here is the recipe; the author says improvise. It took a lot longer than 20 minutes, however.


Sea salt
8 ounces penne
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, more for drizzling
3 ounces pancetta, diced
1 large rosemary sprig
6 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
1 jalapeño or Serrano chile, thinly sliced (or substitute 1 large pinch crushed red pepper flakes)
Freshly ground black pepper
8 ounces brussels sprouts, thinly sliced
2 teaspoons butter
Fresh lemon juice, for serving
Freshly grated pecorino cheese (optional)

Bring large pot heavily salted water to a boil. Add the penne and cook until pasta is just al dente (do not overcook).
Meanwhile, heat large sauté pan over high heat and add the olive oil. When oil is hot, add the pancetta and rosemary, and sauté until the fat on the pancetta starts to turn translucent and very lightly brown, about 1 minute. Add the garlic, chile and freshly ground black pepper to taste, and sauté until garlic and pancetta turn richly brown, about 3 minutes. Add the brussels sprouts, a large pinch of salt and a splash of water to pan, and sauté until sprouts just start to soften, about 2 minutes. Spread sprouts mixture in pan and press down to flatten. Let it sear for a minute, then stir it up and repeat. This helps brown the sprouts. Add the butter, and sauté for another minute.
Drain penne and add it to pan with brussels sprouts mixture. Cook, tossing, until everything is well mixed. Spoon into pasta bowls and top with a drizzle of oil and lemon juice, and a little cheese if you like.
YIELD 2 servings

Frugal Son returned to Whole Foods a few days later, hoping to get more. Alas, the sale was over.

Have you had any unexpected frugal opportunities?

Thursday, November 29, 2012

An Easy, Very Good Vegetable Soup

I just posted this on my other blog--an unbelievable easy recipe for vegetable soup made with frozen and pantry ingredients. This is surprisingly good, given how easy it is. Mr FS ate two bowls. Of course, he eats two bowls of almost anything.

Here is the recipe, from a clever cookbook called Almost from Scratch. The author creates recipes using "convenience foods"--like packaged bbq pork and the like. Some of his his ideas are gimmicky. For instance, he flavors a soup with packaged onion dip. Why not just use sour cream and dried onions, which you are more likely to have? Still, the book is full of genius ideas, and I plan to post on a few of the more easy and cheap offerings.

I have added some College Cooking modifications. This makes 6 servings.

Broccoli-Spinach--Potato Soup with Cheddar

Saute 1 cup frozen chopped onions in a little butter.
(CC Modification: just throw these in the rice cooker. You can try to saute in it, but it is a pain. Oh well.)

Add 32 oz broth.
(CC Modification. OR some broth with water and a few cloves of garlic. Or just water with garlic.)

Add about 10 oz frozen chopped broccoli and 10 oz frozen chopped spinach.
(Remember: you don't have to be exact.)

(Turn rice cooker on. When it comes to a boil, click on warm.)

When everything seems done, puree with your stick blender.

Stir in 3/4 cup instant mashed potatoes. (OR a leftover baked potato or a few frozen french fries or--losing potato flavor--some cooked rice)

(Keep on warm.) Add grated cheddar and serve.

You can also add some milk or even stir in some cream cheese.

Don't boil once you add the milk products!

Friday, November 23, 2012

A Plug for my Cookbook: A Gift for the Harried

We are not Black Friday shoppers. In fact, we have been lounging around all morning. No doubt the good deals are gone. Thank heavens for that!

Even so, I have a plug or pitch or whatever you want to call it. If you look at my other blog, you will see that my zeal for helping out the poor, hungry student--or any busy person really--has been reawakened. The reawakening is courtesy of a review in a college paper, which outlined the experience of a college cook: armed with a college cookbook (not mine!), plus $50.00 worth of ingredients, she produced 3 small meals, none of which came out very well. UGH.

For the same $50.00, you can buy your College Cook my cookbook ($2.99 on Amazon or for a pdf here--look to the upper right), a rice cooker, and a box of ingredients: rice, canned tomatoes, tuna, broth, canned beans, tortillas, and so on. Enough to make almost a week of meals. The book calls for a single shopping trip, mostly canned and shelf-stable ingredients, and offers a series of COORDINATED recipes that use the ingredients in different ways.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Shop at a Small Business: Amex $25 Credit

I posted about this last year. For some reason (I would like to know who's paying for it: AMEX or the merchants), AMEX offers a $25 statement credit if you shop at a small business on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. You have to register your card.

I did this last year and was skeptical about the whole thing. I thought it was a hoax. So I used the credit at the little grocery store down the road. And, by golly, I got the credit!

This year, I noticed small print to the effect that different cards on the same account must be registered separately. WHAT??? We have 4 cards on our account: me, Mr FS, Frugal Son (emergencies only), Miss Em (ditto).

You can look up qualifying small businesses on the site. Mr FS and I want to go to the little grocery. Miss Em wants to go to UAL, which we have shunned this year, because she tends to overbuy at their 80% off prices. And Frugal Son plans a trip to St James cheese, which is truly a paradise.

We don't do Black Friday chez Frugal. We don't really do malls any time. But venturing out on Saturday to a little store: seems like a possibility.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Holiday Bazaar Wares and Food: Ideas?

Frugal Son--and some of his colleagues--are thinking about renting a booth at the Holiday Bazaar at their school. The booth rental ($40) is the fundraiser. As well, some local restaurants are donating part of the proceeds of their food to the school.

Here are the ideas Frugal Son came up with:

1. Hand-drawn or printed cards done by Miss Em, who is a very good artist
2. Small homemade loaves of bread (see our how-to vimeo)
3. Limoncello (we have a lemon tree!)
4. Mulled wine

My ideas:

1. Potato-leek soup
2. Spreads (cream cheese and...whatever)
3. Chocolate dipping spoons

Since Frugal Son and his pals are interested in helping the school AND in making a bit of money, the goal is to find things that are fairly cheap to make and--as important--usable even if they don't sell.

Any ideas, creative readers?

Friday, November 16, 2012

Another Try: College Choices and a True Confession

Hmmmmm. The responses to my last post suggest that I was less clear than I hoped. It has been a difficult few months fo me, it is true. No wonder I can't write.

I will probably be unclear AGAIN. Nevertheless, another try.

I was struck by the fact that Sarah's parents had shelled out $20,000 a year for 4 years and that Sarah faces $20,000 in student loans, which her parents are committed to repay. I wondered if--looking ahead from that place almost four years ago--the parents regret the college choice. After all, Sarah is at a medium-level private school and majored in Psychology. So prestige-factor (crucial if one aspires to an academic career) and major (Psych does not necessarily lead to a lucrative career or anything in particular) are lacking.

I further wondered if parents should look ahead to the TOTAL cost of 4 years and figure out how their financial commitment could best be deployed. I did not mean to suggest that Junior be offered a car if he went to a lower cost school. UGH. I knew parents who did that. Bad idea, in my opinion.

I did wonder if parents should think about what they could give their kids with the total cost. Sarah's $100,000 could buy:

1. A BA from a mid-level private college with regional reputation.
2. A BA from a state school, with enough left over to buy a car (AFTER GRADUATION) and a hunk of a house.

I don't think people think like that. Should they?

The reason I am wondering is this. I put away some money in a 529 plan. My children are super test takers and ended up with totally paid degrees from state institutions. The 529 money languishes. It can be used for grad school and that may be where it will go. I can also take the money out, paying a small penalty. The money belongs to ME and Mr. FS.

Yet part of me--let's be honest, most of me--feels that I would like to share the leftovers with my children, both of whom did very well in college and have many options before them. While not $100,000 (don't I wish!), the money could ease their passage into independence. Kind of like a dowry in the olden days.

Do I make any sense this time? What would you do with the 529 money?

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Should College Students Reap the Benefits of their Choice

Mr FS and I attended musical event last night. At the break, we talked to an acquaintance. Our chat followed a familiar course.

Acquaintance: How is Miss Em?
Me: Fine. How's Sarah?

There follows a 10 minute monologue detailing Sarah's many accomplishments. Poor Miss Em! The inquiry is perfunctory really: the acquaintance is only interested in blabbing about her daughter.

Las night the conversation took an unexpected turn. Instead of the expected bragfest, Mom said "I can't wait till Sarah graduates. I told her: that's it!" After some questions, I learned that Sarah--who attends a mid-range private college--got a lot of grants ("the tuition is over $40,000"). Still, Sarah faces $20,000 in debt and Mom and Dad pledged to pay it off.

I said, "$20,000 isn't all that bad for 4 years in a private college."

Mom said, "That doesn't count the $1800."
Me, "A year?"
Mom, "No, a MONTH."

I love math, as long as it's low level, so I quickly computed that we are talking about around $100,000 in after-tax income. Mom is a paralegal and I'm not sure what Dad does--something with maps.

Then I started thinking. If Sarah had elected to go to a state school, she would have received the Louisiana tuition scholarship (TOPS). Mom and Dad would have been on the hook for about $10,000/year for room, board, and books.

That totals $40,000. What about the other $60,000? Well, that could buy Sarah a car post graduation, leaving around $40,000 for a house down payment.

While I've heard some parents offer a wad of cash in lieu of a wedding to the happy couple, I've never heard of anyone offering to let the student reap all or even part of the financial benefit of choosing a lower cost school.

What do you think of this modest proposal?

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Emergency Savings: An American Concept?

Almost back from a bout with the flu, or something. Dire times at Frugal Son's place of employ.

Frugal Son is working (under-employed at the moment) at a tiny bilingual school, one of the many charter schools that popped up in the post-Katrina years. Last week the employees learned that--because of a mistake made by the former financial officer (???maybe, rumor mill at work)--three of the non-teaching staff were let go. The lowly paid staff, I'm sure.

Frugal Son was shocked that one employee--who had been working for two years--had no savings. A request was circulated amongst the staff: please donate what you can. I'm no longer shocked by such requests: I've gotten many over the years, including some for helping with funeral expenses.

Frugal Son was worried for the woman, but also incredulous that she hadn't saved anything for a rainy day. I mentioned that after two years, she would surely be eligible for Unemployment.

That made him feel better. Then he said, But she's French. I'm assuming French people employed in the US are eligible for Unemployment? Right?

But then I wondered: do French people--or Europeans from the wealthier countries--have a concept of an Emergency Fund? Does the social safety net function as an Emergency Fund? Is the Emergency Fund an American concept, owing to the very lack of that safety net?

Does anyone know? Frugal Son has a tiny emergency Fund at the moment, but he's only been working since mid-August.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Off Topic: A Moment from Teaching Paradise Lost

Oh, I know you may scoff at me and my students. After all, I teach at a state institution for average students. Among the least interested of my charges: the students in my REQUIRED survey of British Literature, for non-majors. Very few want to be there, needless to say.

I made my poor kids read big chunks of Paradise Lost. Perhaps it's more accurate to say I dragged them through it. Then, I had them do an assignment which involved writing out lines on certain topics (to prevent the dreaded copy/paste) and then saying what the lines mean.

This fellow presented these lines by the Son of God as he talks to God the Father.

O Father, gracious was that word which clos'd
Thy sovran sentence, that Man should find grace; [ 145 ]
For which both Heav'n and Earth shall high extoll
Thy praises, with th' innumerable sound
Of Hymns and sacred Songs, wherewith thy Throne
Encompass'd shall resound thee ever blest.
For should Man finally be lost, should Man [ 150 ]
Thy creature late so lov'd, thy youngest Son
Fall circumvented thus by fraud, though joynd
With his own folly? that be from thee farr,
That farr be from thee, Father, who art Judg
Of all things made, and judgest onely right

Noting that "most people don't know how life was for the Son before he came to earth" (true!), he went on to explain

Dad, I know u love your creations, so why not let me go down there and help them get on the right track before you go A Wall (AWOL??) on them in a sense.

That seems about right, don't u think?

I am so happy when they get even a little!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Happy Hour Food: Frugal Joie de Vivre

Mr FS and I are starting to go out to eat a bit more. Yes, one child out of college, the other almost out. We need to have more fun. The problem with going out to eat: it is expensive and sometimes it's bad. Frugal Son says that an occasional bad meal is an inevitable part of the overall experience. Unfortunately, we had a disappointing meal right off the bat at Brigtsen's, a New Orleans institution that gets ecstatic reviews on various sites. Oh well, but at over $100, I was miserable.

One good way to eat in restaurants without wasting $140.00 is to check out the Happy Hour offerings. We are going to visit Miss Em soon and she suggested we go to Happy Hour at Epiphany. The small plates are half price! Luckily for all of us, we have the metabolism of a 6 year old: we get very hungry very early and don't like to eat big dinners. This wouldn't work for a more European metabolism. I guess you could have a second dinner at 9 pm.

Check out the offerings. How will we choose? Have you found Happy Hours at your local restaurants? And--which 3 dishes would you pick?

Small Plates

Bread Service (Buhl, AL)
Whipped Berkshire Pork Butter and
Housemade Brown Sugar Bread
3(per Couple)

Steak and Eggs* (Cottondale,AL)
48 Hr Short Rib, Potato Hash, Rena's Soft Farm Egg

Pickled PEI Mussels
Basil, Warm Bread, Good Olive Oil

Housemade Local Berkshire Pork Sausage ( Buhl, AL)
Good People Brown Ale Mustard, Fried Brussels, Radish

Snows Bend Turnips (Coker, AL)
American Caviar, Tat Soi, Nori Powder

Oysters and Bacon (Appalachicola, FL)
Braised Bacon, Radish, Soy Caramel, Peach,

Snow's Bend Butternut Squash Soup (Coker, AL)
Red Curry ,Coconut, Apple, Bon Secour Shrimp

Organic Greens and Peach Salad (Coker,AL)
Benton's Country Ham, Coconut Milk Vinaigrette, Feta

Asher Blue Cheese Salad (Thomasville, GA)
Greens, Apple, Buttermilk Vinaigrette, Pumpkin Seed Oil

“Shrimp and Grits” (Bon Secour , AL)
McEwen and Son's Polenta, Dashi, Bacon

Rena's Farm Egg* (Cottondale, AL)
Farm Egg, Braised Bacon, Hon-shimeji Mushrooms, Kalamata Olive “Soil”

Baked Stones Hollow Goat Cheese (Buhl, AL)
Yellow Beets, Leek Ash, Purple Basil

Hay Smoked Scallop Crudo*
Cocoa Nib, Kumquat, Shaved Peach, Radish, Tat Soi

Oak Hill Beef Carpaccio* (Eutaw, AL)
Horseradish, Local Arugula, Salsa Verte

Local Cheese Tasting (AL)
Red Hill Cheddar, AA Creamery Cheeses, Warm Bread, Fruit

Local Vegetables and Sides

Katie Farms Roasted Sweet Potatoes (Coker,AL)
Berkshire Pork Fat, Kim Chi, Soy, Hot Sauce

McEwen and Son's Polenta* (Wilsonville, Al)
Rena's Farm Egg, Stones Hollow Goat Cheese, Maple

Miso Creamed Corn (Coker, AL)
Red Curry, Coconut Milk, Hot Peppers

Fried Brussel Sprouts (Coker, AL)
Snow's Bend Lardo, Peach, Soy

Local Collards (Coker, AL)
Ginger, Soy, Red Chili, Brown Sugar

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Etiquette Questions: Art Exhibits, Coffee Shop Performances

We're still bending under the weight of objects (from Mr FS's late parents) and obligations (hundreds of assignments to process and hundreds more en route). Still, we try to have a little fun now and then.

To wit. We recently received invites from two people who are midway between acquaintance and friend. The first is to an art exhibit, which will feature--in addition to the art--live music and probably refreshments.

The second is to a coffee shop performance.

My question. If we go to the art exhibit, are we obligated to buy something? Can we just admire, listen to the music, and go home? We were once invited to an exhibit of work by a truly starving artist. We knew what was expected and--gritting our teeth because we didn't like the work very much (though we liked the artist a lot)--we bought a piece. This artist is a retired teacher married to a lawyer, so this is definitely not of the same category as the other invite. Plus we have not a bit of wall space available.

For the coffee shop performance--by a musical lawyer and her boyfriend--we know we are expected to buy some coffee and put money in the pot. Right? Does anyone know an appropriate amount?

Mr FS and I are clueless about so many matters of etiquette. It is truly embarrassing. Any advice will be much appreciated.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Moving Stuff: Fairly Cheaply and Safely

Yes, we have been busy. That's why we took a while to fix our broken door handle. Thanks to all for their scary stories and concern. We are usually not such slackers in matters of safety and maintenance.

The main event that got us behind on work and life was the necessity of going to California to help clear out the home of Mr FS's late--and missed--parents. Aside from the emotional stress in this case, moving anything is stressful PERIOD. I read that movers receive a huge percentage of consumer complaints--more so since the moving biz was deregulated and many companies practice scams. To wit: you get your estimate, the truck shows up at your new house with all your stuff and the movers tell you there is a $1000 UNPACKING FEE not included in the estimate.

While almost nothing in the parental home was valuable on the open market, almost everything was valuable to the 3 children: handmade furniture, fabric creations, eccentric collections.

Mr FS took on the research. He eliminated ye olde rent a U-Haul because we live far away and had already missed some school because of Hurricane Isaac. We eliminated the traditional moving van service because we got ridiculously low estimates and had read too many complaints about scams. We looked into Greyhound--suggested by a reader--but that would have involved many, many packages and trips to Santa Rosa. It is a good deal for a few bulky items, however.

The cheapest suggestion was to build a giant crate on a pallet and fill it with the goods. These would then be transported by truck. This was suggested by our brother-in-law who is a contractor. However, this involved serious logistics and heavy machinery. Too scary.

We ended up using a U-Pack service. A big truck rolls in. You fill your designated space--we had 5x6x8. A divider is rolled up. the truck gets the rest of its cargo and eventually the truck arrives at your abode, where you unpack.

I was skeptical. I kept telling Mr FS that we could only fit a few pieces of furniture in. Spatial relations are my low point on standardized tests and in life. Mr FS insisted that everything would fit in like a puzzle. He was right. It ended up being like the little car at the circus from which emerge 12 tall clowns. We could even take things that we thought we would have to leave behind: like the cast iron frying pans that belonged to the grandmother of Mr FS's father, who was born in 1918. Frugal Son, a committed cook, had requested them for his new apartment.

We used ABF U-Pack. The cost was about $1700.00. There were no surprises.

The best advice we got was from ABF. The rep said the cheapest way to move is to get rid of all your stuff and buy new stuff on arrival!

Sunday, October 7, 2012

My Broken Door Handle Saves me $8 a Day!

In our graduate student years of poverty, Mr FS and I would look longingly at some of our friends who were married to people gainfully employed: we would sigh, "I can't wait till we're in the middle class." And even many years later, we still can't believe our good fortune: here we are, in the middle class.

At the moment, we have a sub-middle-class car situation. Frugal Son--who is trying urban life sans car--borrowed our "new" (10 year old) car for a trip. We were left with our older car: a sturdy Toyota Camry circa 1998. We love it!

A few months ago, Mr FS opened the door on the driver's side and the plastic handle broke. With some duct tape, he managed to fix it. A few weeks ago, I opened the door on the passenger side and broke that handle. Sadly, Mr FS cannot fix it. We will probably get a new handle, but we have been busy.

We did wonder: was this a sign from the universe that we should get another car? I told Mr FS that many frugal types (our role models) believe in saving $250 per month in a car fund. That way, when you need a car, you have the money. We have managed to save for our next car. But--as in “O God, make me good, but not yet” (is that really from Evelyn Waugh?)--we are thinking "We are grateful that we have saved for another car, but we don't want to buy one yet."

I figured that each day we hold on to the old Camry, we are saving about $8.00. And how often does anyone sit on the passenger side? At most, twice a day, during our commute, which is only two days a week. Therefore, we are saving about $8.00, every day we hold on to this car. Think of how much money one would need to generate that kind of interest payment--especially in this day of ridiculously low interest rates!

Every time Mr FS and I go somewhere together--which necessitates opening the door with a screw driver--we say "Yes! We are in the middle class." We said it today in the parking lot at Whole Foods (Miss Em wanted to try the $2.99 wine), where we had by far the worst car, not even counting the door handle.

Do you ever put off a major purchase even when you've saved enough?

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

OWF: 1918-2012

We've been in beautiful Northern California, helping clean out the home of Mr FS's beloved father. Mr FS comes from a family of letter writers (and savers!), so we have--just to mention two pertaining to frugal subjects--a letter from his grandmother Faith to her husband (away on work?) just after the stock market crash of 1929 ("I know we can make it") and letters from his father to his own father enumerating his expenses at Harvard in 1936 (laundry was $6).

We also appreciated thousands of books, mostly poetry, sad that we had to leave most behind.

Death is the mother of beauty; hence from her,
Alone, shall come fulfilment to our dreams
And our desires. Although she strews the leaves
Of sure obliteration on our paths—
The path sick sorrow took, the many paths
Where triumph rang its brassy phrase, or love
Whispered a little out of tenderness—
She makes the willow shiver in the sun
For maidens who were wont to sit and gaze
Upon the grass, relinquished to their feet.
She causes boys to bring sweet-smelling pears
And plums in ponderous piles. The maidens tas
And stray impassioned in the littering leaves.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Can You Get Rich With Burritos?

Even though I read lots of blogs dealing with (supposedly) frivolous topics, I am at heart a frugal girl. Married--thank heavens--to a frugal guy. And the parent of--even more thank heavens--two frugal offspring.

As a frugal girl, I crave contact with other frugal types. Sadly, with the exception of my colleague Merton, I have no one to discuss such topics as "What is the best stock-up deal at Piggly Wiggly this week?" Yes, even though I am a teacher of literature and love to show my students how certain words reverberate through Hamlet, I find such discussions compelling.

Needless to say, the blogosphere was a godsend to frugal girl in search of frugal friends. Sadly, most of the frugality blogs seemed to devolve into "Make more money blogs" stuffed with ads for payday loans. Then I discovered Mr Money Mustache. Get it?

A lot of people must be in search of frugal friends, because his posts get 100 comments! He's a guy who saved 3/4 of his engineer's salary for about 10 years and retired. Not to sit around, but to do other stuff. And yes, he has a family. While I don't aspire to early retirement (in fact, MR FS and I are at the age OF retirement), I believe in frugality as a general principle. So I've been blissing out reading through his posts. Ahhhhhhhhh.

One of his themes is "Get rich with." Get rich with the library. Get rich with your bicycle. These are not new ideas. Even the great Amy D of Tightwad fame admitted there was nothing new under the frugal sun. But how much more compelling to say "Get rich with" rather than "Save money with."

I have some new frugal apprentices this year: Miss Em's friends Mr C and his roommate C. They are Americorps volunteers. Mr FS and I send Miss Em off with 100 frozen homemade bean and cheese burritos each semester. We learned last year that Mr C was eating a lot of them.

Guess what? Mr C is a very smart fellow, having achieved knockout scores on his SATs and--we hope--on the MCAT. He learned how to make burritos himself. Then C started eating them. Now they make burritos together.

Can you get rich with burritos? They cost around 30 cents a piece. If you eat two or three for dinner a few times a week instead of the usual more costly options, do the math. I may ask Mr C to work it out: he majored in Economics.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Cream of Barley Soup: Pantry Dinner

I mentioned this soup in a comment about two years ago. I can't believe I've never posted the recipe. Since we work lonnnngggg days on Mondays and Wednesdays, I like to have dinner all made when we get home. So on Sundays, I generally plan out my meals. I always like to make do with what I have, especially since I want to (maybe) buy myself a birthday handbag 18 months early. Pantry cooking obviously requires no outlay of cash.

Cream of Barley Soup with Mushrooms (copied from a defunct blog--so already simplified from the source: Deborah Madison's book of soups)

Cover 1/3 cup of hulled barley with water - set aside. Heat a pot with 2T olive oil and 1 T butter. Add 2 large chopped shallots* and 1/4 tsp dried oregano and saute for about 5 minutes. Add 2 grated* carrots, 2 minced cloves of garlic and 1 chopped leek*, saute for 10 more minutes. Drain the barley and add to the pot with 6 cups of water and 1.5 tsp of salt. Bring to a boil and simmer for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile simmer 1/3 cup barley in salted water for 30 minutes.

While barley in the soup pot is cooked - puree with 1 cup of sour cream*. Return to pot - salt and pepper to taste. Add cooked barley. Top with pan fried sliced mushrooms and serve with bread.

*I subbed my frozen caramelized onions for the shallots and leeks. I chopped the carrots. I cooked the soaked barley with everything.

Sadly, I am out of sour cream, so I'm subbing some half and half that's on its way to oblivion.

Barley keeps growing! Every time you re-heat, you have to add water. I think this is one of those immortal soups. I thought this would make two dinners, but I think it will make three.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

25% off coupon for Coach bags!

I am so conflicted. On one side, I frequent Goodwill and Dollar Tree and swap good grocery deals with my colleague, Merton (who is even more obsessive).

On the other side, well, I am thinking about buying a Coach bag. Yes. This idea started percolating back in the spring, when I thought it might be neat to get a nice bag for my 60th birthday (2014). I really like the Coach Legacy line.

So by meandering here and there, as is my wont, I discovered that this week you can get 25% off all Coach with a coupon on Facebook. I'm not even ON Facebook, but Mr FS is. Coach is his only friend at the moment. Soon we will unfriend.

Mr FS said, Why don't you get your birthday bag now, so you will get more use out of it? He's always trying to get me to spend more money on myself.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Hurricanes, Migraines, Decluttering of the Mind

Luckily, I don't suffer from migraines. I do suffer--as last week--from hurricanes. So far, hurricanes have caused me some property damage (Katrina), but mostly anxiety, discomfort, and boredom.

I've been thinking that the post-storm feeling (assuming you suffer mostly from boredom, rather than truly serious losses) is like what Joan Didion wrote many years ago about migraines. So I looked up what she had to say:

For when the pain recedes, ten or twelve hours later, everything goes with it, all the hidden resentments, all the vain anxieties. The migraine has acted as a circuit breaker, and the fuses have emerged intact.

In the long wait for power, Mr FS and I read and dozed. Now, Mr FS is doing a major overhaul of the cluttered garage and I am cleaning up various indoor spaces. A giant pile of reading material was donated to the library yesterday.

It does seem that a decluttering of the mind has to take place before any sort of physical decluttering. Do you find this to be true?

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Reading: A Frugal Gift

Yesterday, in my first post-hurricane post, I listed the books I read without--and then with--power. I have often felt that the greatest gift given me is my love of reading. Unlike Mr FS, I did not grow up in a house of readers. In fact, though doing well in school was encouraged, I sometimes thought that my family thought reading was--well--unproductive. I remember sidling up to my mother as she was in conference with my 4th grade teacher. I expected to (over)hear praise for my fine grades. Instead, I heard a discussion of how I "read too much" and needed to "go outside more to play." I was stunned. How could the activity that brought me so much happiness be so devalued?

As is no doubt obvious, I also get a lot of pleasure from frugality--for its own sake as well as for necessity. What--in our time and my place--could be more frugal than reading? The first frugal tip one hears is USE THE LIBRARY. And yes, the library has computers, and dvds, and pizza parties for teens, all of which are great helps to frugality, but the biggest savings comes from books. And what use is that if you don't like to read?

While reading may be a very inexpensive pastime, travel is not. I once asked Mr FS why his parents didn't travel more, even in their long retirement. He said it was because (he thought) his father liked reading so much, that he traveled in the mind. Like Thoreau: I have traveled much in Concord. At least I think that's what Thoreau said (my expert, Mr FS, is in his little shed, where he reads). The internet provides various versions of the Thoreau quotation: I have traveled A GOOD DEAL, I have traveled WIDELY. Whatever.

I am not quite ready to travel exclusively in that way just yet! In fact, much of my frugality is in the service of saving up for the big travel expense of next summer.

These meanderings were prompted by some internet travel as I read about Marilynne Robinson, author of the three books I read over the past week. I found a wonderful interview with her in the Paris Review. What an interesting person: she reads so much more widely than I do.

Here is the end of the interview: on reading and travel.


Do you feel like there’s something you’ve missed out on in life?


There’s always something that I feel I’ve missed. I should travel more, for instance. I went to Paris last fall, which was a great departure for me. I flew Air India, which in itself was quite remarkable. I had a lovely time in France and I thought, I should do this more often. But then I come home and I think, I have all of this work to do. Look at all of these books I haven’t read. Frankly, you get to a certain point in your life where you can do unusual things with your mind. So then, I think, do them.

Ahhh, something to look forward to. After our next trip--we hope to Vienna, Budapest, and ????. With a stop in Paris, of course.

In the meantime, I want to start on Robinson's non-fiction, including this, which she seems to think is her most important book.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Thanks to Worriers and Well-Wishers

Let me repeat: thanks to you all for sending worries and good wishes while we endured our most recent storm. Once again we were--and are--lucky: we live in an old house built on high-ish ground (so no flooding); we had plenty of food; and we only lost power for 36 hours.

While I could have used my storm time to do something useful, mostly I read and dozed off. So did the other three people in my house: Mr FS, Frugal Son, and his friend Michael--the last two seeking refuge from New Orleans.

I did enjoy my reading. I finished Home by Marilynn Robinson. When I finished it, I realized I didn't remember the beginning very well, so I re-read the whole thing.

Home folds into Robinson's earlier Gilead in an interesting way. So I re-read Gilead too.

Then I decided to re-read Robinson's first novel Housekeeping, published more than 20 years before her second. Housekeeping is her most challenging--and overtly literary--novel, very allusive.

I needed some help with it. By that time, the power was on and I had the internet again. Believe it or not, you can watch a lecture by Yale professor Amy Hungerford on the novel. Wow! You too can experience an Ivy League education.

I learned a lot (and there are lectures on other works too). I was also comforted by the fact that the Yale students didn't seem any more prepared than mine do. Most hadn't read the book!

I hope everyone has a chance to take a look at these novels. They are wonderful.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Saturday, August 25, 2012

For Now: Twenty Years Later

Books directed to messy people like me caution against the For Now habit. Oh, I'll just leave this box on the table for now. And then, of course, the box attracts a lot of other clutter, as in the Broken Window Theory.

As I look around my house preparing to figure out what to bring from the California home of my late in-laws (at great expense), I see many For Nows of another sort. For instance, when Mr FS and I first came to Louisiana, it was unclear if I would be employed. We lived in a very cheap rental house with our new baby and almost no furniture.

I bought some on sale chairs at Pier One: they were WAY on sale, knock-offs of Parisian cafe chairs. I was in love. Sadly, they were of typical Pier One quality and one chair broke within a week, necessitating the return of all (no, I explained to Mr FS, one cannot have a set of three chairs).

On a walk with little Frugal Son, I passed a used furniture store where I saw 4 sturdy (key word after the flimsy Pier Ones) restaurant-ish wooden chairs for $12 each. They are actually nice looking, in a utilitarian way. I bought them FOR NOW.

Twenty-odd years later, I still have them. It occurs to me that if any nicer chairs wend my way, it should be easy enough to send the still sturdy chairs to a new home.

Looking at my stuff with a critical eye is the only bright spot in this dreadful process. I am sorry that I did not schedule regular inspections over the years.

Do you have any For Nows in your home?

Friday, August 24, 2012

Rice Cooker Meals for Everyone, Even Me

Now that I'm back in school, I'm more frazzled than usual. Out comes the trusty rice cooker. I used a recipe in a regionally published cookbook as a base.

Like many regional cookbooks, this one has recipes that are all kind of the same, calling for Rotel tomatoes and Cajun seasoning in almost every dish. I put together something based on Cabbage Casserole, which involved throwing into the rice cooker some cooked ground beef (I had this frozen), some onions, bell peppers, green onions, 1 cup rice, 1 cup or so of water, a few handfuls of preshredded cabbage and OF COURSE a small can of Rotel tomatoes. Turn on the rice cooker. It will know when to stop. If you need to add more liquid, do so.

Serve with hot sauce, also OF COURSE.

My hero Roger Ebert is right: the pot knows. I left out several things, including a pound of sausage, that I didn't have. It was still good.

The author says that this tastes like stuffed cabbage. Well, I wish. My grandma (from Poland) was a terrible cook, but she made wonderful stuffed cabbage. They didn't have Cajun seasonings or Rotel in Poland--or Brooklyn--though they probably do now. This tastes like what your Cajun grandma would have made.

After a long day at work, I must say I enjoy throwing a bunch of stuff into a single pot, letting the pot do the work, and then having enough to eat the next day. At which point, you will have to wash a single pot.

Next time, I'll add some cooked red beans.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Dismantling a Household: Advice Needed

Though I wrote a bit on the happy event of Frugal Son getting a job and setting up a mini-household in a tiny New Orleans apartment, I did not write about a sad event. The death--not unexpected, but devastating nonetheless--of my much-loved and esteemed father-in-law.

He lived in northern California, near his daughter, in a house full of memories and mementoes of 45 years in a big house in Pasadena. Now, in addition to the emotional issues, we have to face the issues both emotional and pragmatic of what we will take. The other children--in the same town and in Seattle--have already taken their chosen objects.

Nothing is valuable in a monetary sense. But my in-laws were great makers and collectors of objects: handmade crafts of my mother-in-law (some of whose sweaters I posted in the early days of this blog), furniture built by my father-in-law, plus collections of bells, glassware, etc etc.

And the books! My father-in-law, an English professor, had, I would say, one of the most beautiful minds I have ever encountered. He also had a house full of books: poetry, music theory, and Roman history make up the bulk of it. Do I need to mention that Mr FS shares his father's profession and love of the first two categories.

Mr FS will have to go through the process of deciding what to take and what to leave behind. Does anyone have any advice--even a reference to some good books on the topic--of how to deal with the pragmatics of moving many small and a few largish objects?

Any words of experience would be much appreciated.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

We are all College Cooks

What is a College Cook? Someone with limited time, space, know how, and facilities. In truth, I have only one genuine College Cook in my immediate circle: Miss Em, who is heading into her last year of dorm life.

Frugal Son just moved to an apartment in New Orleans: he packed his beloved rice cooker. Mr C--an affiliate of our family, though not officially a member--just moved into his post-grad apartment and received his first rice cooker (courtesy of me and Goodwill) and a copy of the little guide Frugal Son and I put together:

This is not just a collection of easy recipes: we recommend 20 easy to buy and store products; we then offer 2 weeks of recipes that can be put together quickly, with little mess, in rice cooker or microwave, two college approved appliances. Oh, and did I mention that you or your cook will save a ton of money--not to mention time?

We priced it as low as Amazon can go for our program: $2.99. For the same price, you can order it from us and receive an ebook.

Even though I like to cook, I am as lazy as the next person (lazier, probably). I cook with my rice cooker most nights.

Check out our college Cooking blog for occasional posts and suggestions too.

Any other suggestions for the College Cook--even if the College Cook is long out of college?

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Remember: Return the Duds

I am a big believer in saving little bits of money; over time, they add up. Lately there has been a lot of cleaning up and out in our frugal home, both for happy reasons and sad ones. Many transitions.

Miss Em is getting ready to return to school soon. As the neatest and most organized member of our household, she gets it done. Today, she got together stuff that needs to be returned.

I am always recommending sticking to shops with unconditional guarantees. To wit:

Garnet Hill: two sweaters (she's keeping the shoes)
Nordstrom: some shoes that, alas, did not fit well
LL Bean: her backpack ripped at the seams

These guarantees are great, but only if you make use of them. I am always quoting my late frugal dad: You're paying a lot of money for that guarantee, so use it.

Additionally, she is returning items to two stores that you may not know stand behind their merchandise: Sephora and Bed, Bath, and Beyond. Yes, if the eyeshadow doesn't please, bring it back.

Being a good consumer can yield more than a few dollars back. The total for the above is going to be SOMETHING, even though everything was bought on sale.

Have you been a good consumer lately?

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Tiny Frugal Tip for Air Travelers, with PG Tips

Miss Em came home yesterday from her four weeks at Oxford, where she took two classes and visited London, Edinburgh, and Wales. She was VERY careful about money because, even with a gig as assistant to one of the profs, the trip was expensive.

One of her frugal moments came about by accident. She had many types of tea, including the famous PG Tips. She went to a fancy coffee spot in the airport and asked if she could buy some hot water. She could. It was 50 cents. She got a big cup and a top. She repeated this several times during her airport time. EAch time, she saved about $2.00.

I am always annoyed by the high prices and generally low quality of airport food. We generally bring emergency provisions. Now we can also enjoy tea.

Good job, Frugal Girl.

Any other tips for the airport?

Monday, July 30, 2012

Major Decluttering Event Ahead: Happy News

To get right to the point. Frugal Son GOT A JOB. Not a well-paid job, but a worthy job that will look good for the future and will give him a bit of time to see what he wants to do next.

He is working at a lycee in New Orleans, wonderful because he will use his French AND because post-Katrina, New Orleans has attracted the hippest 20-somethings anywhere. Also, Mr FS and I will be happy to visit him now and again: we saw him for 4 days once he returned from his year working in France.

The DECLUTTER EVENT: he will be living in an old half-double in New Orleans so he can take a lot of the excess OUT OF THE HOUSE. One of my friends remarked--apropos her first chronically unfaithful husband moving out and taking half the furniture: At least the house looks better. Our house will look better because of a happy event.

Anyone who knows a 20-something knows what I'm talking about in this long recession: he's lucky to have a job.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Olive Oil and Salt Scrub: Dipping My Toes In

Ah, how to return to blogging after a long hiatus? Mr FS and I were in France for almost six weeks, three with Miss Em: perhaps details of our adventures will creep into posts now and again.

Anyone who knows me (either IRL or in the blog) knows I detest wasting things. One of my last activities in France involved a salt and olive oil scrub for my tired feet.

You see, we had a kitchen in several of our abodes, so I bought a liter of olive oil the first week and we schlepped it around in our rental car. We didn't use it up though.

There we were in our airport motel with my olive oil and some salt. I had been in misery over dry skin for a while, owing to time in the South of France (Nimes, Arles, Avignon, to name the most well-known spots). I was planning to leave my olive oil in a prominent position, in case the motel cleaners wanted it (doubtful). Then I remembered the salt scrub: mix oil with salt (or even sugar) and rub on your feet. Then wash it off or you might slip.

This was pure bliss: everyone knows that exfoliation is a good thing, right? Then I did it again in the morning, leaving the bottle of oil in a prominent spot as planned.

By the way, this activity was performed standing on one leg (with one foot in the sink) of a cheap motel. Imagine how luxe it would be sitting on the edge of a bonafide bathtub--of which we had only one in all six weeks.

Try this if you haven't yet. I'm sure everyone has dry skin from the hot summer.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Shout Out to Nordstroms: Price Adjustment

I'm still on vacation (in mind only, alas). Still, I wanted to remind everyone to ask stores to adjust prices. Miss Em bought three pairs of shoes at Nordies in late May. The other day, we got a "Final Markdowns" notice--and there were her shoes, minus $18. I called and--true to their reputation--we were given an immediate $54 refund.

I spend so much time saving pennies and dimes. It's nice to have an occasion to save dollars. Also nice to have a GOOD customer service tale for a change.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Vacation Mode: No Comments, Please

I just realized that I have been on vacation! And--though I may check in now and again--my vacation may continue till August.

I have also disabled the comments (sorry! love comments!) because some icky people have left some icky links in comments.

However, my ability to paragraph is restored. Happiness.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

What I Saw at the Buffalo Exchange

The Buf--as we call it chez nous--mostly attracts the 18-28 set. I definitely feel like the old nonna when I go with Miss Em. And, indeed, I seldom find anything for myself there. But what I've found is very good: a pair of unworn red Mephisto flats for $22, some unworn UGGs, also $22, and--yesterday--my Carlisle belt. Even though the cupboards were almost bare of nice things, we did spy 3 pairs of almost-new Marni flats ($40) and some unworn red and white striped Repetto ballet flats ($20). But I also got a glimpse of future offerings. One seller was a 20-something carrying an LV Speedy and wearing very expensive sandals. She was unloading piles of linen items! Next in line was a 40-something woman. She sold 2 pairs of Uggs, some Bogs (I've always wanted a pair!), plus other stuff. Her car trunk also contained boxes of very pricy shoes--including a Manolo Blahnik box. I must have been staring too hard at her merchandise, because she gave me a strange look. I guess I scared her. But that's some of what's upcoming at the New Orleans Buffalo Exchange. Sadly--or perhaps luckily--I won't be there again for a while. The shoes looked too big for me, too small for Miss Em anyway.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Buffalo Exchange Results...Plus a Clutter Event

Miss Em and I did very well at the Buffalo Exchange. They offer 30% of their selling price in cash or 50% in credit. They are very honest and transparent about the transaction: stores like that live and die by reputation. The nice buyer took about half of a laundry basket of apparel plus box of shoes, netting us: $160 cash or $270 credit!!!! WOW! We took $100 in cash and $105 in credit. Added to the credit Miss Em got a few weeks ago, we--she--has a total of $280 in credit, a healthy proportion of her next year's clothing budget. I bought a Carlisle belt for $10, but otherwise, we found NOTHING. We did add to our clutter, however. We picked up Frugal Son from the airport, after his 8 months abroad. The house is already a mess. That's OK. So happy!

Friday, May 25, 2012


Mr FS, Miss Em, and I are off to New Orleans. Miss Em and I have been closet cleaning: in addition to stuff already donated to the Food Bank thrift, we put together a big bag of stuff for the Buffalo Exchange. Our aim: to get Miss Em credit for her clothing next year. What will we come back with? Any ideas?

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Bossypants and the Buffalo Exchange: Decluttering Clothing

I am lucky to have occasional visits from my beloved daughter, whose eye is impeccable. She always helps me go through my closet. There she sat, reading Bossypants (which should have been HER name), looking up to pronounce DONATE, KEEP, or BUFFALO EXHANGE. The book was perfect, because it was OK to interrupt (whereas interruptions NOT ALLOWED during tea, chocolate, or more intense books). The Buffalo Exhange idea was also inspired: we will take the maybes and near-duplicates to the Buffalo Exchange, and keep what they don't want. We will get Miss Em/Bossy credit for next year and go home with a lighter load. Our new mantra: LET THE BUF DECIDE.

Monday, May 21, 2012

How to Declutter Nice Clothing: Help!

I've been cleaning out my little closet (single rod, about 3 or 4 feet) and I've been marveling at how NICE the clothing is that I have. While I would not win a fashion blogger award, most everything I have is of good quality, thanks to the excellent thrift stores here. The kind of things I want provoke little competition. So, along with my attitude of gratitude, I have a perhaps unusual quandary: how to declutter clothing that is all of around the same quality and all nice? I do not aspire to a minimalist closet (too stressful for a spiller like me). I remember that wardrobe expert Janice/Vivienne once said she aspired to 64 items (8 sets of 8?). Does that sound right? And, if so, how many of each item? Advice much appreciated.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Beauty Bargains: Sunscreen and Philosophy

Still trying to recover from the end of the semester: it is always thus. Two bargain opps in the skincare category. My beloved Paula Begoun has FREE SHIPPING ON ANY SIZE ORDER! This is good, especially if you want to try ONE THING. She also has 50% off on some of her stellar SUNSCREEN. Also--and this has been all over the internet--my other beloved store--Big Lots--has (or had) lots of Philosophy make up for $3.00! It's amazing how unprepossessing pricy make-up looks when it is hanging on a rack by the checkout lane at Big Lots. A lesson there. My Big Lots is suppose to get another shipment tomorrow, btw.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

A Gift for the Grad: Using My Talents

The best gift, of course, is one the recipient wants. I recently bought a wedding gift, using the registry. Gnashing my teeth all the while, thinking I could get 10 things for the price of the one (biggish) gift I am buying. It was the right thing to do though. Right now, I am in the process of buying a graduation gift for Mr C, a recent family friend. On Saturday, I noticed that the 2.8 million dollar home a few blocks away had a yard sale sign. So off we went. Mr C found some sport coats (cashmere and camel hair!) in his size. I said: Let me buy those as part of your graduation pres. He was pleased, so I got him a nice belt too. Hmmm. This is really using my frugal talents. Next, I'm going to buy him a slow cooker (new) and a stick blender (ditto). I already gave him a second-hand rice cooker and a copy of the little ebook Frugal Son and I put together. Finally, I am going to get some food staples for his first real cooking adventures. Mr. C will be working in a Vista program next year while studying for the dreaded MCAT exam. If he learns to cook efficiently, he will have skills that will take him through med school and beyond. I've finally found the perfect recipient! Happy Graduation Mr C!

Monday, May 14, 2012

More Advice for the Low Salary Grad: Live Like You Should Have When You Were a Student

Honestly, if a recent grad is making only $1000/month in a worthy endeavor, STAYING OUT OF DEBT is of the utmost importance. I would say: Live like a student. Except for the fact that most students live like they are middle- and upper-middle class people, either on the parental dole or getting into debt. So my advice is Live like you should have when you were a student. Every bit of debt you avoid is a blessing for your future. The recent grad of my acquaintance asked me what he should stockpile. After the rice and beans recommended yesterday, I would pick up some canned tomatoes and cheese. Best place for cheese is Costco or Sam's Club. Or Trader Joe's. So now you won't die of starvation. Any more advice?

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Advice for the Recent Grad: Low Salary Genre

Ahhhhh. The recent grad. Time for advice: get a no-fee credit card, contribute to your 401k, get a Roth IRA, blahblahblah. But what about the recent grad of the low salary type? the Vista volunteer who will be making $1000/month at a worthy endeavor? (In the meanwhile studying for MCATS) I already gave the grad two books. And I say it's also time to learn basic frugal skills, which are a necessity when you have little and allow you to get more out of your money even if you are a well-paid physician. The grad asked me to help him save money on basic household expenses. To start, I say: buy a big bag of dried beans. Then buy a big bag of rice. Both are investments that will pay off. What would you advise?

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Luxury Goods: Real or Not Real?

One of my students was yapping with me after her final. I asked her what she planned to do after graduation. She didn't know. She mentioned that her father works at Saks in the shoe department. I asked her if she had thought about working there. Hmmmm, she said. I asked her if her father had gotten her the GIANT Damier LV bag she was sporting. No, said she. It's a fake. She said her father recognized it as fake right away. She also said everyone assumed it was real even though it cost only $40. Everyone thinks it's real because I drive a BMW, she said. What's real? What's not? Always a question.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

A Gift for Me! Soup Bones

Later today, we will have two visitors: Mr C, Miss Em's friend, and his twin brother, Mr C. They are bringing me a present! Oh no! They are poor college students and I have too much stuff. Miss Em told me what the present is: lamb bones left over from a dinner (in the C family, they throw out such treasures). I will make some soup. Because, for me, the title of Barbara Kafka's magnum opus rings true. The perfect gift. Thanks in advance.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

How have you helped humanity today?

This is the annoying question I posed to my kids--too frequently. And, of course, I feel (perhaps mistakenly) that as a teacher I am AUTOMATICALLY a helper of humanity. At the ends of semesters, though, I wonder: facing mountains of student work, a surprising percentage of which is plagiarized, I wonder if I should even bother preparing for class! Often the student will copy and paste something and then laboriously alter many of the words (number and tense) to evade searches. I just got a slew of plagiarized work on this wonderful play. But I also got an email a few weeks ago, which I did not respond to. I was sick, I had just gotten back from a conference; I had tons of work. Blah. Blah. Blah. For a long time I wanted to write you to thank you for two specific things I learned from you. First long ago you wrote about hand blenders. It triggered me to remember I had one I never used. I enjoy espresso and make my own mochas as I think mine are great and much cheaper than espresso stands. I started using my hand blender to froth my milk. I use it every day! I also read about the click it reading glasses on your blog. Right afterwards I was on jury duty and the judge had them. I ordered a pair and LOVE them. I just put them on in the morning like a piece of my equipment and I always have them. Honestly I couldn't live without them. So I just wanted to tell you personally that someone way up in Washington state enjoys your blog and got two great ideas from you! So perhaps I'll have to content myself with helping humanity with stick blenders and Clic glasses. I do love both of those things myself. Thanks, READER, for the compliment.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Learning from Students: Pay Cash for Your House

Even though I am about to have a meltdown from overwork, late papers, and crazy students, I love to teach. And sometimes I even learn stuff from THEM. Today, I inquired of my class about how much I should spend on a wedding gift for a young fellow I've known for...his whole life. Then I asked my sweet student who is about to marry her junior high school boyfriend what her plans were. She said: We're going to live in a trailer.WHAT???? For five years only.WHYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY???? So we can buy a house for cash after five years. I don't like debt. This girl has a 4.0 in her academic work. Also a 4.0 in frugality. Wow.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

A Good Idea from An Everlasting Meal: Precook Your Vegetables

I first read about this book in the Wall Street Journal. It was mentioned in a piece on leftovers, one of my favorite topics (no kidding). I put in a request at the public library, and--lo and behold--the nice bookbuyer ordered it. As it happens, there is only one idea in the book I really like: precook your vegetables for the week. I have been doing this for a while--caramelizing and freezing slow-cooker onions, roasting vegetables, making large vats of ratatouille--but I had never elevated it to a philosophy. What Adler points out is, that if you have a bunch of precooked vegetables, you can make dinner in a trice, since the vegetables are the hardest part, taking prep, chopping, etc. Her faves seem to be greens and roasted vegetables like cauliflower. You can make sandwiches with precooked veggies, throw cooked greens into a stir fry, and so on. She is especially fond of the sandwich idea, starting with toasted, garlic-rubbed bread Italian-style. WARNING: This isn't really a recipe book, but an idea book. There are SOME recipes. Adler takes as her model How to Cook a Wolf, by the great MFK Fisher. Maybe I've been reading too many student papers (make that definitely), but I have to say that Adler's prose doesn't do it for me. Her foreword is written by Alice Waters, famous foodie, and Alice presents these three sentences as examples of Adler's fine writing. Sentence 1 on eggs: Eggs should be laid by chickens that have as much of a say in it as any of us about our egg laying does. (REALLY? I don't have a say in whether I lay eggs or not.) Sentence 2 on leftovers: When we leave our tails trailing behind us we lose what if left of the thoughts we put into eating well today. Then we slither along, straight, linear things that we can be, wondering what we will make for dinner tomorrow. Sentence 3 on salting: The noodle or tender spring pea would be narcissistic to imagine it already contained within its cell walls all the perfection it would ever need. We seem, too, to fear that we are failures at being tender and springy if we need to be seasoned. It's not so: it doesn't reflect badly on pea or person that either needs help to be most itself. So, if you like the prose, read the book. In any case, PRECOOK YOUR VEGETABLES. THEN EAT THEM. (Sorry--still can't paragraph with the new template)

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Words of Wisdom and Warning: Decluttering

As a messy clutterbug AND a teacher, I have a double whammy: teachers often let personal tasks pile up and get to them only after the semester is done. So, stuff and jobs have been piling up. Adding to the emergency is that Miss Em will be bringing home two people: her friend Mr C AND his twin brother, also Mr C. So, we have been cleaning. And, of course, as all teachers know, cleaning is a great way to avoid the real task: grading student work. For emergency assistance, I went to the library (note: LIBRARY, friend of frugal and messy) and checked out two books by my favorite clutter guru, Susan Pinsky. Here is the warning and, for me, motivation. According to Susan P, most of the clients who hire her for a hefty hourly fee do so for one task: to go through their STUFF and motivate them to get rid of it. She does not spend most of her time creating clever organizing systems. No: she holds up item after item and says Go or Stay? Susan P is not a big fan of frugality because she says it leads to clutter (and I gotta admit, she has a point). But I am WAY TOO CHEAP to pay someone to stand next to me and say Go or stay. So I'll do it myself. Here's the drill. Read a few pages of Pinsky. Put some stuff in the donation bag. Grade a few papers. REPEAT. How's your decluttering going? Or are you a paragon of no-clutter? If so, wish me luck.

Friday, April 27, 2012


A short post because I cannot for the life of me figure out how to PARAGRAPH with the new template that has been inflicted upon me. Yesterday, while noodling around the internet, I came upon a post that asserted that the Rachel Pally caftan was the BEST DRESS EVER. IN SOLID COLORS, of course. Oh my, thought I. I HAVE that very dress and never wore it. Dragging myself from some of the 300plus pieces of work I must process before my semester ends, I found the dress (black, so almost invisible) on the VERY LAST HANGER in my tiny closet. The dress really lacks hanger appeal. It languished for months at the Food Bank Thrift shop; I eventually tried it on during a half-price sale. It was $4. It does look quite snazzy! But I am wondering, apropos my title, if I sometimes don't properly VALUE things because I get them so cheaply. So, yes, it was a good VALUE, but really not, since I haven't worn it. Perhaps the full price model would be a better VALUE because I would VALUE it more. Has anything like this happened to you? P.S. I've discovered that adding the pics breaks up the text and thereby serves as a PARAGRAPHER.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Can You Bargain on Furniture?

In spite of my frugal ways, I am not good at bargaining. I guess I have a fear of rejection! I've heard here and there that it is possible to bargain in furniture stores. As an early-bird planner, I am already thinking about the couch I will buy in a year or two. So far, I like one at Crate and Barrel. When we were in Boston, we walked right by a CandB. We went in and tried the sofa. We liked it. The nice sales guy (Kenny) said that, instead of buying on-line, I should give him a call. The shipping is shockingly expensive, so I'm hoping for a deal of some sort. So the question is: can you bargain at a store like Crate and Barrel? Yay or Nay?

Monday, April 23, 2012

Excavations at the Thrift Store: Inside the Suitcase

It is probably no surprise that I find consumption habits fascinating. Perhaps this is because my father was in market research. Perhaps this is because one of the few books in my house when I was growing up (I was the only reader in the family) was a cheap paperback of The Status Seekers, a huge best seller in the 50s. I suppose I am a bit of a statys seeker myself, as I seek nice things at thrift shops! Anyway, I made a hefty donation today and, of course, had to take a peek inside the store. I thought the thrift store gods had rewarded me for the donation by giving me a somewhat beat up Mulberry bag. Alas, I'm pretty sure it is fake, but still nice for $3.00. I also bought a big suitcase by Hartman. Why, I do not know. Inside, I found the real treasures: the detritus of the suitcase donor. And perhaps I found the answer to the mystery: why would someone donate an almost new suitcase to Goodwill? Inside one of the pockets, I discovered the tag and spare button for a pair of Bussy pants by Chameau. And a Wesport chemise by the same maker. Then there is the fancy tag for a tie by Beretta. And a tag for something by Barbour--maybe a jacket? So...who is this outdoorsy, probably wealthy person, who brought back all these items from the eurozone? Checking a big bag like the Hartman costs a pretty penny also. Did this person buy all the stuff in Europe and then need to buy a big bag to bring it home? Did he then donate the bag because he already had too many suitcases? What do you think? Do you like thrift store mysteries and excavations?

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Eileen Fisher Washable Crepe Pants at an Almost Frugal Price

I know, I know, mindless consumption. Actually, I am on a quest to help Miss Em, beloved daughter, find an EF coat she craves. So, I was looking at Nordies on-line Rack section. A very limited selection, and I fear Miss Em may have to wait for the expensive coat, perhaps forever. While I was looking at the tiny selection, I noticed some of my fave pants at 60% off. Less than I paid for them a few years ago, gritting my frugal teeth and girding my frugal loins. The EF washable crepe is fantastic: elegant and easy care. There are two choices in limited sizes. Here and Here Remember, free shipping and returns with Nordies!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Rescue Missions: Frugal or Insane?

Everyone I know seems to have a rescue dog. My sister-in-law cares for (rescue) feral cats. These are worthy endeavors.

I have rescue stuff. Thrift store shopping is by definition a rescue mission. I am drawn to the imperfect rejects: the cashmere sweater with a tiny hole, the cookbook with stained pages. How could someone cast off something with such a minor defect? I suppose I am thinking of my own defects and imperfections: minor and not so minor.

A recent rescue: At the New Orleans Airport, we were sitting neat a few business travelers, all male, with that aura of success. The one with the most obvious aura got up, said loudly "After 25 years, it's time to say good-bye." Walked over to the trash and dramatically threw out a small travel bag. It looked nice to me.

I figured his performance was public, so I said Why are you throwing it out? He said The bottom split. Do you want it?

I said I have a tendency to rescue things, so OK. He went back to the trash, fished it out, and presented it to me.

It was a Ghurka bag, a bit stained, but still nice. Kinda like this, only without the outside pocket. I told him we would try to fix it. He seemed happy. He told me he had carried the bag on trips for 25 years, many to Europe.

As the concept person (see my post on harder-than-they-look window treatments!), I rely on people with know-how to get things done. Enter Mr FS. He glued the bag from the inside. He used PL Loctite Sealant.

Honestly, the bag is so neat that I would duct tape it from the outside if necessary.

Are rescues an inherently virtuous activity? I don't know. They can lead to clutter. What do you think?

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Garnet Hill: Free International Shipping till July 2

Wowzer. International Peeps: Free shipping at Garnet Hill for $100plus orders through July 2.

Garnet Hill has a lovely aesthetic and--though I am loath to encourage mindless consumption--if you NEED something (Eileen Fisher? nice bedding?), this is a good time!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

A Frugal Tip for Travelers: Oatmeal!

Mr FS and I went to a conference in the great city of Boston. Our conference--scruffy academic types--coincided with some others: Jesuits (definitely not scruffy and boy did they have opulent food buffets!) and marathoners (boy did they look great!). Also, medical equipment (boy did they look rich!) and endodontists (had trouble telling who the endos were). I love analyzing the aura of the different groups. And I must say that the Jesuits looked the best in their uniform, outshining the lady in the lobby with the giant gray Birkin bag.

Mr FS and I were--as always--seeking to stretch our money in our frugal way. We don't get a food per diem in these hard economic times. I had an idea! INSTANT OATMEAL PACKETS.

These are pretty cheap, especially when they go on sale. I have a lot because 1. I thought Miss Em might want some (she doesn't) and 2. I got a bunch of freebies when both kids brought home boxes abandoned by their dorm mates.

We stayed at the pricy Marriott (conference rate!), which, like most fancy-ish hotels, lacks a microwave. Nevertheless, we could make our oatmeal when we heated water for tea. We used the little half and half in the coffee service for milk. Even without the coffee maker/water heater, you could do this with hot tap water.

The Starbucks in the lobby sold oatmeal for $2.55. Room service (yeah, right!) had it for $9.00.
The real luxury was not having to venture out for breakfast. We haven't yet decided what to use our savings for.

Do you have any frugal and easy travel tips?