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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Frugal Son Changes Francs to Euros

Ummmmm. Did I mention that I was in California, with very limited internet access? Luckily, I have another missive from Frugal Son. We did the same thing when we were in France last summer.

Monday January 16, 2012: Bref. Je suis allé à la Banque de France.
Today I did what Mama and Papa have been nagging me to do for months and finally went to the Banque de France to exchange the 100 franc note for euros. In addition to Mama and Papa’s constant reminders, there were a few other factors that were the ultimate impetus for my trip. For one, the euro had recently “celebrated” its 10th anniversary—although celebrated seems a little strong for the somber mood that surrounds the euro these days—and France was entering the waning weeks in which franc notes would be able to be turned into euro. Coins had already long passed this point, becoming valueless in 2005, but bills are still exchangeable until February 17. In addition to the limited time left to exchange, there was also the problem of my very limited funds following my Winter Vacation extravaganza in Germany and the Alps, which meant that the 15.24€ that the 100 francs would get me was suddenly a very enticing sum that would actually have a tangible effect on my day-to-day financial situation. I don’t work on Mondays, so in the morning I was free to go to the bank. I ended up getting a late start, so I had to walk briskly to get to the bank before they closed for lunch at 12.15. Fortunately, the bank was just about an eight-minute walk straight up the road that runs in front of the lycée, and though I had passed it many times on my way to the market, I managed to “get lost” (in reality it was just further up the road than I remembered) and had to ask directions from a postal employee. The building is surrounded by a tall metal fence, which also has panels to prevent you from even seeing in. The only public entrance was a little door in the fence where I had to push a button and then wait for someone to talk to me on the intercom. After a long wait (I even contemplated pushing the button again, but decided not to for fear of seeming suspicious or something) someone finally came on and asked me what I was there for and if I had identification; once I responded the door slowly swung open. Next, I had to press another button to get through the door into a little entrance room, where I was confronted by yet more doors! I again had to press a button and wait for permission to go through this door, which lead me into a tiny little air-lock type room with a machine for scanning IDs. I had to place my passport against a little scanner and then wait for approval before pushing the button and waiting for the next door to open. Finally I was in the actual bank, which was totally empty. I went to a guichet that was specially assigned for people exchanging francs and, after ringing the bell, briefly waited for the employee to show up. He took the francs, my passport, asked me about my address in Le Mans before handing me a full-page receipt to sign and handing over the euro bills. I left—once again going through all the doors—happy to have a bit of extra money to pay for some “exceptional” expenses, most notably a hair cut!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Shoe Shopping in France with Frugal Son

He has a tiny budget and needs some new shoes. He's trying to shop French-style: more quality, less quantity. So far, he's just window shopped.

Wednesday January 18, 2012: Bref. J’ai fait du leche-vitrine.

Although in the US I normally detest shopping, I feel like in France it is a lot different. For one, most shopping in the US seems to involve going to some gargantuan mall and spending all day flitting from shop to faceless shop, invariably one of the many chains that is exactly the same and found all over the country. Plus, shopping in the US is about buying a LOT. In France, while there are of course the grands surfaces that are more or less like malls in the US, shopping seems to more focused on small businesses that specialize in a few things. Inevitably this makes the goods more expensive, but that leads me to the next reason that I find shopping in France bearable and even enjoyable. In France, buying stuff is more about finding a few high quality items that you are going to keep for a long time and wear over and over, instead of getting twenty junky items that you are going to chuck out next year so you can repeat the whole cycle. Of course there are the H&Ms and other chains where price and quantity trump quality, but I think that French people and French sensibilities still place a lot of value on having a few great, albeit cher, items bought with care and intended to last.

Today after school I decided to go walk downtown and do a little window shopping, or leche-vitrine, which literally means “window licking”. I have been ogling some desert boots à la Clarks for some time, so today I decided to finally go try some on. The walk from my school to Place de la Republique follows Rue Nationale, which is a very commercial street with tons of different stores for everything from clothing to honey (yes, there is a store that only sells honey and honey products) to kitchen supplies. On the way to Republique I decided to stop in a yarn shop to look at what they had for my new obsession—knitting (more on that in a later letter)—since I had just run out of my first ball of yarn. This leads me to another thing that I love about shopping in the little stores, which is that it is a very personal experience. The store was tiny—just a narrow room with floor to ceiling shelves stocked with all kinds and colors of yarn—and the only person in the store was the owner. We talked about yarn, and he told me about the various products he sold, and even though I didn’t buy anything I think he was happy just to talk to me about beginning knitting and, consequently, I am now much more likely to go back there to buy my yarn. He had tons of cool stuff (the store only sells one brand of yarn, Bergere de France, but running the gamut from 100% synthetic to 100% cashmere to alpaca / wool blends) and I can’t wait until I’m good enough to start using some of it.

After leaving the yarn store I kept walking down Rue Nationale, which turns into Rue Minimes just before joining Place de la Republique. Rue Minimes is really the street to do shopping in Le Mans; it’s where all the big stores are (H&M, Galleries Lafayette, Eram, etc) but it’s also where the fancier independent stores are. I first went into a little shoe store called Heyraud (might actually be part of a chain, I’m not sure) because that’s the only store I know of in Le Mans that has actual Clarks Desert Boots. I didn’t try them on because I didn’t have the nerve (the store was very empty and I felt out of place), but I did feel them and look at them to see how they felt in terms of quality since, at 119€, they are the most expensive of my options. After, I went across the street to Eram and went and looked at some of their Eram brand desert boots. I actually tried them on (they looked good!) but I’m not sure if the quality is as good, although at 59€ they are half the price of the Clarks. After Eram I went to Galleries Lafayette, and there I looked at, but didn’t try on, the Hush Puppies desert boots (89€, but I think that’s pre 30% discount) and the Lafayette brand desert boots (79€, but again, I think that’s before a 30% discount).

Of course, me being me, I’m incapable of making a decision for myself, so I’m going to wait until MK or someone can come with me to help me make a decision. All of the shoes look good, but I want a second opinion to back up my ideas on the quality. Right now I’m kind of leaning towards the Hush Puppies, but I’m still thinking pretty strongly of getting the Clarks. I figure if they are as good quality and last as long as these Johnston and Murphy’s loafers I have now then they are well worth the price. I also went upstairs to look at sport coats / jackets; unfortunately the only one I found that I liked cost…435€. After Lafayette I popped briefly into H&M just because I know they have some fitted khaki denim type pants that are stylish and that I like. While I was there I ran into Laine, Bernie, and Diptesh (all three are fellow assistants) so I hung out with them while they finished their shopping and then headed home. One day I’ll buy something stylish to complete my makeover!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

A Question to Be Asked: Gifts and Thrifts

Oh, I have been a slacker of late, at least in the blogworld. In real life, I have gotten started with the semester. Today, though, I found myself in a thrift store. Why?

As Sir John Falstaff, a much-loved Shakespearean slacker, says to Prince Hal, a faux-slacker who will become King Henry V; "A question to be asked." Why, if I am in need of decluttering, am I subjecting myself to temptation, in the name of relaxation and saving money?

This has been a constant question to be asked. Such questions become more urgent around New Year's Day, not to mention my birthday of a few days ago. On my birthday, I received a beautiful gift; it lifts my heart every time I look at it.

Since this object is so beautiful, I decided to share some of my overabundance with others and so brought a big bag of very nice excess stuff to the thrift. That was good, but then, of course, I had to take a tiny peek. If I buy one item per week (which would be easy enough), I would amass 50 items per year. My beautiful gift would be buried in clutter!

So my last (for the moment) rude question: about how many new clothing items enter your space each year? I need a sense of what normal people do.

A question to be asked.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Intentional Spending

How I love seeing examples of this. Two very different instances from the blogworld. The first, from a blog I'd never read till I followed a link on Une Femme details the purchase of a pair of longed-for Hermes boots: yes, here we have a blogger who is twins with Carla Bruni.

Then from a blogger I've been reading for a while: iamtheworkingpoor. She has had many challenges this year, but managed to pay off her debt, help out her family, and find--when she wasn't exactly looking, the RV of her dreams.

I am, at the moment, trying to decide on my next savings goal. Mr FS got himself a new laptop (a Mac!); I am still searching for the object of my desire.

What are you saving up for?

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Paying the Price

It's easy enough to think frugality and cheapness are the same thing, that we should strive for the lowest cost. I do it myself sometimes. Sometimes, I have to resist the lure of the low price.

It is not worth it to drive to even a nearby grocery store to buy apples that are 20 cents less a pound than usual.

I have been engaged in grocery resistance for a while now. As of this year, I am trying to get to the next step and here are my first projects.

1. Beauty in my Surroundings. Susan Heller, my mother's decorating pal, suggested a fabric for my living room. Two, actually. I already bought one. It was easy because I found it on sale somewhere or other and the site had free shipping. There it sits, 4 yards on the bolt. The other one is more difficult. It is almost $40.00 a yard and all polyester. Yuck. The pictures do not show how good these fabrics look together and how the blue matches my newly painted walls AND picks up a tiny spot of blue in my grandparents' old rug.

Of course, I could go to a fabric store and look. Last time I did that, it took about two hours (of driving and looking) and none of the swatches ended up working. I was also depressed and covered with a film of sweat! Stress does that to me. The total savings would be at most $40, since I need two yards for a few pillows.

So I should JUST DO IT. Then, of course, I have to have the pillows made, since I can't do even the most elementary sewing.

2. Satisfying Miss Em's Material Desires. And she has many, being 20 years old. She is not as dementedly frugal as I can be, but she has some moments. I got a glimpse of myself (the dark side of frugality) when I witnessed Miss Em trying to get some make-up at Ulta: it was BUY 2, GET 1 FREE and she had a $3 coupon. She went crazy! That is because there were only two of the face powders she wanted. Finally--partly because I find make-up stores rather boring and poor Mr FS was waiting in the car--I said: JUST BUY ONE. She did, with gratitude.

The other thing Miss Em wants is camisoles from Banana Republic. They are $25! So, while I was having my nervous breakdown, she sweetly asked if she could use the $15 birthday coupon they send me every January. Sure. Sometimes it's not worth the time to find a SINGLE item you want on sale.

Of course, once you relax in the demented frugality department, you receive karmic rewards. I was getting something at a drugstore, when I saw some face powders marked down to 75 cents. They were a Paula Begoun recommended brand, so I got three for Miss Em. Now she won't need face powder for at least a year.

Then, when I was creating the link to the overpriced Banana cami, I saw that they were having a 30% off sale. Better than nothing. I think I will get Miss Em 3 or 4 (4 will get free shipping too), so we will not have to think about that for a year.

OK karmic forces: where's the fabric?

Seriously, for what kind of things do you "pay the price" because seeking out a bargain will cost too much in time or end in failure anyway?

See Funny About Money's related post on having a hated tree cut down.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

How to Gauge Cashmere Quality

Just in case you missed the little article in the Wall Street Journal.

This confirmed everything I THOUGHT, but now I have some evidence for my assumptions. In honor of the article, I wore the cashmere V-neck my mother bought at Harrods in London about 30 years ago. It was 100 pounds when the pound was par with the U.S. dollar (an event never repeated, at a time when I was too poor to go anywhere). Thick, made in Scotland. My parents were ecstatic at the price and my father was thrilled to be interviewed on the subject of how far American dollars were going in England. He was very loquacious and so was sad that his lengthy analysis was reduced to 1 second of radio time: "A cashmere sweater for $100!!"

By some weird harmonic convergence, I bought an old Hermes cashmere sweater at Goodwill (when what I want is a SCARF! Hear that, Thrift Store gods!!!???). It is the thickest cashmere I ever felt. I can hardly imagine wearing it indoors. I need to find this to test out my new cashmere knowledge, but I think Miss Em spirited it away.

The best place to feel nice cashmere is in vintage shops. No comparison with most of what you find today. Many bloggers feel that Lands End offers the best price/value ratio for cashmere nowadays. I tend to agree. Some of the cashmere at thrifts is so poor quality (and the bad stuff gets worse with age) that I won't even spend $3.00 on a sweater.

I guess if you want to test the best of the best with your hand, you could check out Hermes. I would be too intimidated myself.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Lessons on Quality in Clothing: Fabric and Construction Details

A couple of readers have asked me how one recognizes quality in clothing--both in the retail and secondhand markets. As a total non-sewer, I have to say I have learned a lot from books.

I've written about this book before. I first encountered it courtesy of a friend with whom I was planning to compile a guide to secondhand shopping in New Orleans. Well, the friendship ended as did the idea, hatched in those halcyon pre-Katrina days.

Why is a book on secondhand shopping still in print after 12 years? Because most of the book is on how to recognize quality: in fabric and in construction. It is really good: even buttonholes and button orientation are things to inspect.

Confession: When I was in graduate school and my TAship ran out, I discovered that I was very good at finding vintage clothes. So I did. And consigned them at the Eye of Osiris, the epicenter of the Bloomington vintage world. In another life, I must have been a seamstress or weaver, because I am very good at discerning nice fabric. In fact, I run my hands across the racks at thrift stores. I can always recognize fellow fabric people, because they--like me--look with their hands.

This is definitely a skill you can acquire, simply by going to stores and touching the merch (clean hands, please!). You could follow the path of Terri, at Rags Against the Machine, who will be scoping out shops from low-end to high-end in the coming year.

Try to get a hold of that book. It is fascinating reading.

Do you have any recommendations on how to learn to discern quality?

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Next Nosy Question: What Clothing Do You Buy at Retail?

As I mention in some recent responses to comments, the time for my ultra-frugality may be coming to an end. I do need to loosen up a bit. Miss Em will be out of college next year, so I can relax a bit.

While pondering my perhaps too-frugal ways, I realized that I cannot recall the last time I bought an item of clothing at "retail." Oh, a pair of jeans for Frugal Son, a few years ago, and even they were paid for by Grandma.

In part, this is because I have a pretty good understanding of how sales cycles work. There is very little that is not on sale at one time or another. the twice a year sales of my girlhood have been replaced by a near-constant cycle of sales. Also, I like going to thrift stores, so I seldom need anything on short notice.

So dear readers, I thank you for providing me (and the universe!) with a list of well-priced basics. Now, a more nosy question, what do you think is "worth" (however you want to define that) buying at retail?

By which I mean clothing and accessories and shoes.

Thanks for helping me!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

What clothing brands provide both reasonable prices and good quality/value?

Just wondering, chic and frugal (sometimes!) readers: which clothing lines provide both decent quality and reasonable prices. Here, I'm not talking about how you can use your Hermes bag every day for ten years, yielding a reasonable COST PER WEAR.

I'm talking more about Lands' (their typo) End tees worn by the wise Vivienne.
Or the silk basics recommended by the equally wise Duchesse.

I guess I'm talking about the basic pieces that will enable those of modest or moderate means to save up for the special item. Sad to say, I mostly buy these basic basics for Mr FS. I bought Mr FS two turtlenecks from Lands'End a few months ago: the cotton is combed and of quite good quality. I need to look for some myself!

P.S. Of course, the reason Lands' End can sell their tees for such low prices is because they are produced where labor costs are very low. I can only hope that these big companies have the desire and muscle to enforce fair working conditions and wages. The rash of suicides at the Chinese factory where Apple products are made gives one pause--or more than pause, really.

P.P.S. Check out Duchesse's swoonworthy shawl in her blog pic.

Friday, January 13, 2012 I weird or what?

In response to my somewhat incoherent (because I haven't figured things out fully) post that was a response to a blog comment, here's another of the same. metscan--elegant blogger from Suomi--wrote this, to my post about all the luxe goodies I've found at thrift shops:

So, I gather that deep inside, you actually desire the " brands ", the luxuries, as you mention all the fine brands you have bought from thrift shops, only you are not willing pay the price asked for them in a luxury shop?

And she added: Sorry, I have some mixed feelings right now..

Me too. What motivates me? Is it really just that I don't want to "pay the price"? A complex issue, both personal and cultural. Cultural, because in the United States, unlike in Europe, pricing is wacko, to put it mildly. In Germany, say, where sales are regulated, the whole economy is supported by those prices. Here, that is not the case: I have to save up for expensive dental procedures (of which I've had many); higher education for one's children is extremely expensive; and there are few guarantees for retirement. So, in Germany I would pay the price. Here, I need to save where I can for scary uncertainties. It's easy for me to save on clothing, so I do.

And--on the personal side--well, who knows? I like my Lands End cashmere as much as the Dries Van Noten. They are of equal quality, though neither is of the quality of some of my vintage pieces.

Does it make me feel clever? Well, yeah.

Do I feel that good quality items are overpriced? That the name commands a ridiculous premium? Yes. That is why so many fakes abound, which are hard to distinguish from the original.

Am I aware that wearing status items can lead to better treatment out in the world? Yes.

OK. Back to planning my classes for next week. I wonder what I will wear on the first day of class....

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Frugality /Luxury/ Endorphins

Hmmmm. An interesting comment on one of my making do posts. Yes, my blog was visited by LPC of Privilege, a veritable celebrity in the blogosphere. (Perhaps this is related to my recent encounter with Bryan Batt on Magazine Street.)

LPC speaks of her need of extravagance, and then says Granted, extravagance that is within my means, but I don't get sufficient joy from frugality to compensate for the endorphins gained from the occasional (affordable) luxury. Ah, what would we not do for endorphins?

My question is do the endorphins come from the object or from the extravagance? Or the intersection of the two?

Sticking to luxuries on the material plane, I myself have gotten several luxury items over the past few years: a Dries Van Noten cashmere sweater, a Dries Van Noten jacket, a Hermes cashmere sweater, three Hermes ties--one with tags, a Hermes scarf, and a few other things I can't think of right now. The ones I mentioned are at the pinnacle of my thrifting of late, however.

These were thrilling finds. Are the endorphins greater if you buy these items in luxe settings rather than in a thrift store, where they didn't even make it to the "Special Prices" rack?

Perhaps more endorphins are to be had from the dangerous quest and the danger of spending too much?

Thanks, Lisa, for leaving such an interesting comment.

Any thoughts on the above questions?

News from Nantes!

An email from the people whose home we stayed in last summer:

Où que vous soyez, nous vous envoyons nos meilleurs vœux pour l’année 2012.
Avez-vous des projets pour l’été ? Nous serons à Nantes, au moins jusqu’au 20 juillet car Laureline (la fille de Jacques, que vous connaissez) nous a annoncé à Noël qu’elle allait accoucher vers le 13 juillet !! Nous voilà donc bientôt grands-parents …
Mais si vous souhaitez revenir, vous êtes les bienvenus !

Yay! We can go back! Now we need to plan where else we will go.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Making Do: Simple Cooking with John Thorne

Still thinking about making do. Here is something by one of my favorite food writers on the topic. If you haven't read John Thorne, you are in for a treat. All his books are wonderful. This excerpt is from Simple Cooking.

His essay is called Perfect Food and has an epigraph from Alice Waters, who is a force in California cuisine and beyond: I am sad for those who cannot see that a brown-spotted two foot high lettuce, its edges curling and wilted, is ugly and offensive. It is a fundamental fact that no cook, however creative and capable, can produce a dish of a quality higher than that of its raw ingredients.

I must confess that I find Waters insufferable. Even aside from that, I think I would find Thorne's view more compelling.

The cook who must carefully sniff the gamy shank of lamb or pick suspiciously through the pail of bruised berries is drawn to connection by necessity. Their scrutiny is genuine and the repayment is in kind: such stuff tells us things that perfection can never share.

This isn't to say that real cooking requires the spur of dubious materials. What I imagine as the counter to anesthetic perfection is what to the kitchen gardener is a common experience. They glory in what is perfect in their crop, but they feel attached to all that they planted, protected, plucked. These are, after all, their children too.

And the hand that happily sorts these things, gouges away the soft spots and digs out sprouting eyes, that rubs off scabs and flings small salvageable bits into the soup pot, is a hand once again the extension of the tongue. Our appetite should always be larger and more curious than our hunger, turned loose to wander the world's flesh at will. Perfection is as false an economy in cooking as it is in love, since, with carrots and potatoes as with lovers, the perfectly beautiful are all the same; the imperfect, different in their beauty, every one.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Buy the Cheapest Ham You Can Find

I was returning home after a somewhat dispiriting day, when I saw a sign outside of a tiny grocery in Robert, Louisiana: spiral ham 99 cents a pound.

Even though I am under strict orders not to buy any more food (due to over-full freezer and fridge), READER, I BOUGHT ONE. I seldom eat ham: my mother never cooked it and I cook perhaps one a year. Mostly I'm interested in the bone, from which yummy red beans and rice can be made.

Here is my favorite recipe, actually my favorite preface to a recipe. It is from Saveur Cooks American and is a recipe offered by Monte Williams, an ad executive in Manhattan.

Here is the preface. Monte Williams has used this ham as a party staple ever since, as a young arrival in town, he first had it at a glamorous New York party.

Watching the other guests devour the glazed, glistening hunk of pork, Mr. Williams begged his hostess for the recipe.

Buy the cheapest ham possible. glaze the hell out of it and cook it for a long time.

And the Saveur editors caution: So don't waste your money on a fine aged ham; use, as we do, a plain old bone-in prepackaged supermarket ham.

OK. Here is the recipe from the Saveur site. Strangely, Monte Williams has morphed into Monte Matthews. Whatever.

15-lb. smoked ham on the bone
1 1/2 cups orange marmalade
1 cup dijon mustard
1 1/2 cups firmly packed brown sugar
1 tbsp. whole cloves
1. Preheat oven to 300°. Trim tough outer skin and excess fat from ham. Place ham, meat side down, in a large roasting pan and score, making crosshatch incisions with a sharp knife. Roast for 2 hours.
2. Remove ham from oven and increase heat to 350°. For glaze, combine orange marmalade, mustard, and brown sugar in a medium bowl. Stud ham with whole cloves (stick one clove at the intersection of each crosshatch), then brush with glaze and return to oven.
3. Cook ham another 1 1/2 hours, brushing with glaze at least 3 times. Transfer to a cutting board or platter and allow to rest for about 30 minutes. Carve and serve warm or at room temperature.

Monday, January 9, 2012

In Defense of Making Do: Diana Phipps

Or should I say "An Apology for Making Do"? That would be an echo of Sir Philip Sidney's Defense of Poesy, which also goes by the title Apology for Poetry. How to defend something that seems frivolous, useless, and even deceitful? If you're really interested, I'll let you know how Sir Philip Sidney did it.

In the meantime, we shall turn to another aristocrat, Diana Phipps. I've written about her before. She is an aristocrat whose family lost everything, so she turned to "making do" to have comfortable spaces. Whenever I need some aesthetic inspiration, I look at her book, as much for her attitude as for anything else. For your reading pleasure, here is an old article about her. A blogger has helpfully photographed the living room DP did in London.

I lived what I think are called my formative years in a castle. Changing political and financial circumstances played havoc with our living habits. Within the first ten years of my life, my parents twice lost and once regained their properties from occupying military forces, losing them first to the Germans, then to the Russians. After that came various stages of poverty. When we finally became emigrants to the United States, at last, once again, I had a room of my own. It was in an ugly and very small house. There I first began "making do." I built my furniture out of cardboard boxes from the grocery store. Over the boxes I glued blue-and-white gingham bought at Woolworth's. I tented my bed with the same material and had masses of ruffled cushions on the floor when floor cushions were not yet the fashion. They were stuffed with clothes waiting to be ironed.

Thirty years later, I'm still doing more or less the same thing, but now the gingham occasionally also covers a grand chair.

And thirty years after that was published, she is back in her castle, courtesy of the great Vaclav Havel. I remember reading that she used masses of pajama flannel to swath some of the beds. This site shows some pictures of the beautiful interiors.

Sir Philip Sidney couldn't say that poetry--by which he means fiction in general--makes people happy. Back in the day (1500s), that wasn't a good enough reason, so he had to come up with others. I must say: making do makes me happy.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Good Source for Temporary Slipcovers: Making Do with

While I am mulling over the definitions of making do and frugality proferred by my readers, I will give you a good source for the kind of making do (in the definite second best sense) necessary for many: slipcovers.

I am the proud owner of two vintage Henredon armchairs of pleasing shape, whose upholstery seems to have been used as scratching posts by millions of cats (of previous owner).* I am also the owner of a very shabby sofa that I got for free. Not exactly free: I bought a sofa, only to see the upholstery fabric disintegrate in less than a year. The seller (cursed be his name: Wes) said that the damage had been done by my cats. Only I didn't have any cats. I girded my frugal loins and called the company; after an investigations, they replaced the sofa and told me just to keep the old one. Thanks!

Now all three reside in my study/guest room/former room of Frugal Son. They are dispiriting to behold. Eventually, I will have slipcovers made for the chairs (at least $250 each, including fabric). Trouble is: I'm not sure where these treasures will end up and the sofa will be history pretty soon, but is useful for the nonce.

Those loosefit slipcovers which are sold everywhere are sooooooo hideous. And frugal me hates spending money on something hideous, not to mention temporary. By chance, I came upon the aptly named site: Ugly Sofa. They sell seconds from Pottery Barn: dropcloth slipcovers, and, even cheaper, the kind with separate pillows.

I bought the dropcloth because they are huge squares of fabric, which means that I can eventually use them as fabric for my "real slipcovers."

Warning: the shipping is very expensive.

Good thing: this seems to be a small family biz. One of their other offerings is Christmas stockings that came with wacky monograms. They cut the tops off and made new cuffs. Ingenious! Frugal!

Verdict: I got yards and yards of nice cotton twill that can be re-used. It doesn't look great (because I am uncoordinated and can't arrange fabric well), but it looks better than what is underneath.

I'm very happy to be making do--in this instance.

And, since I mentioned millions of cats, let me direct you to this children's book, which was a favorite of both Mr FS and his mother, Virginia. It was reprinted when our kids were little and we bought millions of copies to give as gifts.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Does the term "making do" depress you? Does the word "frugal"?

Ah, connotations! I am so happy about my new-to-me scarves, courtesy of my mother. Since I had previously fantasized about getting another Hermes scarf, I saw this as making do--in the sense of creative, economical, ecological: frugal in the best sense.

So I was surprised when Duchesse said this in a comment: "making do" so lifeless and limp. There is room in between for *pleasing*. I am referring to a certain level of "good enough" that has not a whiff of settling.

Hmmm. What she means by pleasing, I mean by making do. My scarves are more than pleasing, however: I like them a lot. In these last days of my winter break, I am finding lots of ways to make do: with some book shelves and with some slipcovers (more about these choices later, maybe).

The word frugal has a similar effect. When I teach Ben Franklin, who has a lot to say on frugality beyond the "penny saved, penny earned" saying, I find that students are repulsed by the word frugal. EWWW, they say, that means cheap No it doesn't.

So, as to the questions in my title, what do you think of these words?

Friday, January 6, 2012

The Lure of Perfection and Making Do: My Mother's Scarves

Like many other bloggers, I sometimes have the urge to buy one perfect item--and be done with it. I first had a glimpse of this orientation many years ago, when I dined with a person who is somewhat famous: I'm sure she doesn't remember me and, in fact, took no notice of me at the dinner. All I recall, other than her indifference, was her pronouncement that for the past few years, she had bought a single Armani suit each year. And that was all. So impressive! Since she was pregnant when I met her, and wearing borrowed maternity clothing, I couldn't gauge the success of her choice.

But whenever I think this is the way to go, something happens to make me reconsider.

We recently took a family trip to Florida. We rendezvoused with Miss Em's friend Mr C in Pensacola, where he left his car and joined us for the journey. Miss Em put some of her stuff in the trunk of the car, so Mr C could bring it to school for her in January. A few days later, Mr C got a phone call: someone had thrown a rock through the window of his car! My first thought (after condolences to the car owner, of course): oh no! All of Miss Em's expensive new items are in her expensive new backpack!

As it happens, the vandal just wanted to make a mess and everything was safe in the trunk. And I also remembered that homeowner's insurance would cover any stolen items anyway.

Still, owning expensive items can be stressful. I loved the fact that if my young children spilled grape juice on their thrifted outfits, I could remain nonchalant about the whole thing. I know if I did buy that Hermes scarf (about to go up in price, by the way) I would worry about losing it, spilling something on it, etc etc.

My mother gave Miss Em and me a few pieces of jewelry that belonged to my grandmother and great-aunt. I asked my mother if she had any scarves she wanted to get rid of. As it happened, she had a whole pile of lovelies from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. She bought them many years ago when she attended some lectures there. I don't think she's worn the scarves for 20 years. She was happy to give some to me. She may, in fact, have gotten the scarves at a discount, since my father's cousin does research at the museum.

So, my mother decluttered. Miss Em and I got some pretty scarves: ecological and economical at the same time.

And I can still save up for the perfect one.

Do you make do or go for perfection?

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Multi-Generational Housing? Retirement?

I guess I never told you that we were going to Florida. Well, we're back, and Miss Em is off to her next adventure.

I'm in the waning days of my vacation, and love nothing more than curling up with a good book. FROM THE LIBRARY. Everyone knows that is a key part of Frugality 101: use the library.

One book I'm reading and loving is this.

Yes, I am thinking about multi-generational housing.

Every few days, it seems, there is some article on the increase in multi-generational housing brought on by the financial meltdown, We hear of college grads or young adults moving in with parents; parents moving in with kids; the middle-aged moving in with even older parents; or the same older parents moving in with their middle-aged kids. This is always presented as some dire necessity,* to be escaped from ASAP.

The parents of the baby boomers are especially horrified at the prospect. My mother--aged 81--was talking about assisted living, and I suggested she move in with us if she needed extra care. She said, "That is the cruelest thing anyone has ever said to me." I didn't mean it that way! I thought I was nice.

Anyway, the dire articles always have zillions of comments, most, like my mother, horrified. Then there are those, mostly of Asian descent, who say: That's how we do it! Some point out that college grads who do that can save up for a house. The elderly can hang with their grandchildren and children. Multi-generational housing is presented as positive--something that can be pro-active, rather than simple re-active to economic or other emergency.

That last has been especially on my mind. Instead of a few intense (and not always in a good way) visits to relatives, wouldn't it be nice to have a more low-key relationship--every now and again, for a short time?

The book pictured above shows many ingenious transformations of houses (and not Mcmansions) to accommodate more than one family, with opportunities for togetherness and lots of privacy. I've already figured out how my 2000 square foot house with small back building could accommodate not one, but two families in addition to Mr FS and me.

Food for thought. What do you think of the issue of multi-generational housing?

*After writing dire necessity, I knew it was from somewhere. It is: Milton's Samson Agonistes. This tells of Samson's death, when he pulls the walls of the temple down, killing the Philistines and himself.

O dearly-bought revenge, yet glorious!
Living or dying thou hast fulfill'd
The work for which thou wast foretold
To Israel, and now ly'st victorious
Among thy slain self-kill'd
Not willingly, but tangl'd in the fold
Of dire necessity