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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.