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Saturday, April 27, 2013

"The Shirt" by Robert Pinsky

Many thanks to Janice, of viviennefiles, for reminding us of the true costs of what we wear.

I am remembering fondly the little ILGWU tags in clothing from my vintage days.

The back, the yoke, the yardage. Lapped seams,
The nearly invisible stitches along the collar
Turned in a sweatshop by Koreans or Malaysians

Gossiping over tea and noodles on their break
Or talking money or politics while one fitted
This armpiece with its overseam to the band

Of cuff I button at my wrist. The presser, the cutter,
The wringer, the mangle. The needle, the union,
The treadle, the bobbin. The code. The infamous blaze

At the Triangle Factory in nineteen-eleven.
One hundred and forty-six died in the flames
On the ninth floor, no hydrants, no fire escapes--

The witness in a building across the street
Who watched how a young man helped a girl to step
Up to the windowsill, then held her out

Away from the masonry wall and let her drop.
And then another. As if he were helping them up
To enter a streetcar, and not eternity.

A third before he dropped her put her arms
Around his neck and kissed him. Then he held
Her into space, and dropped her. Almost at once

He stepped to the sill himself, his jacket flared
And fluttered up from his shirt as he came down,
Air filling up the legs of his gray trousers--

Like Hart Crane's Bedlamite, "shrill shirt ballooning."
Wonderful how the pattern matches perfectly
Across the placket and over the twin bar-tacked

Corners of both pockets, like a strict rhyme
Or a major chord. Prints, plaids, checks,
Houndstooth, Tattersall, Madras. The clan tartans

Invented by mill-owners inspired by the hoax of Ossian,
To control their savage Scottish workers, tamed
By a fabricated heraldry: MacGregor,

Bailey, MacMartin. The kilt, devised for workers
To wear among the dusty clattering looms.
Weavers, carders, spinners. The loader,

The docker, the navvy. The planter, the picker, the sorter
Sweating at her machine in a litter of cotton
As slaves in calico headrags sweated in fields:

George Herbert, your descendant is a Black
Lady in South Carolina, her name is Irma
And she inspected my shirt. Its color and fit

And feel and its clean smell have satisfied
Both her and me. We have culled its cost and quality
Down to the buttons of simulated bone,

The buttonholes, the sizing, the facing, the characters
Printed in black on neckband and tail. The shape,
The label, the labor, the color, the shade. The shirt.

Friday, April 26, 2013

A Gift from Me to Me: Plastic Storage Bins

I put the gift in the subject line, lest you read this post in search of nifty Mother's Day gifts. Yes: I am going to treat myself to plastic storage bins. Clear ones. The bliss of it.

For lo these many years, Mr FS and I have relied on cardboard boxes. Not only because we are TOOOOO frugal, but because we moved a lot in our earlier years together. So it's just a question of habit. A few days ago, I looked at the boxes anew, with their markings: fabric, pillows, whatever. My favorite are the markings of Mr FS, because he is a terrible speller. In our early days together, I was his spellcheck.

Cardboard boxes--ugh. Even after all these years on the job, I am still amazed to be middle-class. Those years of terror in graduate school really did me in, I'm afraid, permanently. But check these out: I am going to buy 6 or so.

Aren't they beautiful?

Do you have any real or metaphorical "cardboard boxes" in your life?

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Another New Orleans House

A week or so ago, I linked to two houses that were available. WERE is the operative word. Each had an offer--or several offers--within a day or so. They were beautifully done. There are many beautiful houses in New Orleans. The ones I most like--small, old, in nice areas--cost about $600,000. Oh well.

Since those first houses, we've looked at several others, all awful in one way or another. The market is so hot that people don't even make an effort to make the houses look nice in some cases. Like this one, which had an immediate offer and then was back on the market. We rushed to see it: the horror, the horror! Let's see: it has an asbestos roof, a squishy floor, a weird floor plan. The front is so cute!

Here's one on our radar.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Cheap, Easy,Good: Italian Sausage Soup

I love having financial goals (beside the ever-present retirement), so I have been flexing my frugal muscles in order to squirrel aside some cash IN CASE FRUGAL SON finds a HOUSE. Also, grading season is upon me, so time is shorter than usual.

As always, I act on the belief that keeping food costs down is key to frugality, at least my frugality. From a wonderful cookbook.

Italian Sausage Soup

1. Cook 1 lb sausage--either take out of casings or use bulk. Remove as much fat as you want.

2. Remove meat from pan and saute 4 chopped celery stalks, 1 chopped onion, and some garlic in the fat.

3. Add 4 cups water and the sausage. Cook for a while.

4. Put some crusty bread in each bowl and top with some parmesan.

The writer suggests some add-ins. I added in chopped carrots, a can of drained chickpeas, and some greens from my garden. Spinach--even frozen--would be good also.

The neat trick with the soup is that the sausage essentially creates its own stock. I LOVE this cookbook!

Friday, April 19, 2013

Rough Housing Math

Since I last posted (yesterday), a few more promising houses have been listed and received offers. Oh well. The question at hand: how can Frugal Son--even with help from Mom and Dad--pay for a house? Here's my rough math: tell me what I'm neglecting to take into account.

Frugal Son is ALREADY paying $600/month for a tiny, shared apartment. He had to find an apartment PRONTO when he got a job. Still, he's in a nice neighborhood, so he wouldn't save much by moving to another apartment.

The realtor suggested that Mr FS and I--with our good credit--take out a mortgage and then SELL THE HOUSE to Frugal Son. We can get a lower rate.

Let's say the house is $300,000. Forget the downpayment. At current rates, the cost for a 30 year mortgage would be around $1200/month. Add about $400 for property tax and insurance...and we are up to $1600.

Frugal Son is currently paying $600 for half of a 600 square foot apartment. If he rented a bedroom in his house to a friend for the same $600, he would be on the hook for $1000.

1. Frugal Son said he could swing that, if necessary.
2. Frugal Son will be making more money soon, probably. He is working on his teaching certification.
3. We're committed to gifting Frugal Son the amount we saved for his education, which we didn't use, owing to massive scholarships. So, if we gifted him the $400/month difference between his current rent and the mortgage on his new abode, we could help him for AT LEAST 100 months.

Now people had these fantasy scenarios during the housing bubble with disastrous results. So to consider possible disasters.
1. Does Frugal Son need a roommate? Yes, but it's not absolutely essential, especially if his house is under $300,000 in the example.
2. Can we help out if roommie doesn't appear or work out? Yes.
3. What if Mr FS and I lose our jobs? We ARE tenured, but I've run some firecalc* scenarios, and we can survive a frugal retirement even if we were both fired.
4. What if Frugal Son loses HIS job? Well, he can make just as much by being a substitute teacher.

What is ALL OF THE ABOVE OCCUR SIMULTANEOUSLY? We have that education fund safety net.

*Firecalc: the best retirement simulator I've ever seen. Check it out!

Am I missing anything here?

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Further Housing Bubble Notes: Open Houses

We went to two hastily-called Open Houses yesterday. Hastily-called because a house listed two days ago already had offers THE NEXT DAY. That was the little skinny shotgun house we liked. It looked just as nice in person. The neighborhood is--as they say--in transition.

Then, to make the unexpected drive right after work (car trunk loaded with papers to grade) worthwhile, we looked at another house, very very nicely renovated, also in an up-and-coming neighborhood. (See? I am learning the lingo). The house inside is nicer than in the pictures. Note the lovely garden behind. And see if you can figure out the layout. This was a classic New Orleans double shotgun that was made into a single. Our realtor thinks this will get competing offers and go higher than the asking price. Actually, he thinks the same of the first one.

I, of course, was totally enamored of both houses, even though they are very different. I think I have the thrift store buy-it-now mentality, which says, there's only ONE of this item! The broker told me to calm down (don't worry--it takes a lot to make the pathologically frugal sign on the dotted line. Not to mention Mr FS was there, smiling in an understanding way. When the broker tells you to calm down, you know you're getting a little crazy.)

Now we know--a teeny bit better--what is out there. You may ask: how can two English teachers think to help their in-transition son buy such $$$$$ houses? I ask too. I like numbers, but even I can hardly believe in this possibility. But the math works out. I will do some rough math tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Beautiful New Orleans

Where even a young fellow, with a little backing from Mom and Dad, can consider a house like this.

Real Estate Bubble Part 2: Seems to be a Bubble

Duchesse wisely counseled in a comment: go to open houses. That would be great. So far, though, the houses that look intriguing are UNDER CONTRACT within a few days. Seriously. What open houses? For those of you who've been through a housing bubble: is this what a bubble looks like?

I can feel the bubble metabolism: HURRY! HURRY! BEFORE IT'S TOOOOOO LATE.

Monday, April 15, 2013

A New Housing Bubble? Or Is It Just Here?

I wrote a little while ago about helping Frugal Son buy a house. We are not experts on the process, having bought just one house. We still love the house, but--neophytes that we were--we were manipulated by everyone involved. A horrible experience, with many shady operators.

An acquaintance--the former head of the public library here--brought over her friend and neighbor, a very nice guy. I guess he will do as well as anyone. We haven't actually looked at anything. That is because the houses we are interested in seem to be selling in a matter of days. DAYS. So the agent calls the listing agent--and the house is already under contract.

Is this a new bubble brewing? Any advice on how to keep our heads would be much appreciated.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Declutter Progress

This is probably the first and last time I'm doing this, but....I packed away a bunch of Frugal Son's stuff. His apartment is tiny and has no storage space, so I don't mind doing this for a while. I now have a shelf on which to to "stage" things.

What I staged: stuff for Buffalo Exchange, stuff for fancy on-line consignment store, books for Amazon credit.

Buffalo Exchange: This is a bit of a game for Miss Em and me. She loves getting credit.
Rodeo Drive Resale: Where I send a few pieces of St John stuff I never got around to wearing.
Amazon: Hey, even $2-$3 adds up when you have a bunch!

I also donated three more bags to the Food Bank Thrift. According to Feng Shui--at least the popularized version whose popularity seems to have faded somewhat--getting rid of stuff will unleash energy through your home. I haven't felt it yet, so I suppose that means I need to get rid of MORE. Off to mail the boxes to Rodeo and to Amazon. Uh oh: I mail from Office Depot, which is right across the street from Goodwill. Wish me strength.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Don't Be Jealous!: Appeasing the Thrift Store Gods

A few readers expressed a wee bit of jealousy over my thrift store finds of last Thursday. It was--as they say in the blog shopping world--quite a haul. One day, I might muse on WHY the thrift store pickings are so good in my little town (pop 8500), not to mention cheap. But, believe me, readers it is a mixed blessing. HAUL is the operative word, especially for one who lives in a smallish house, circa 1910, with little closet space.

Three of our four family members are disorganized clutterbugs. I realized this anew when I was trying to clean out Frugal Son's former closet (now general use, though with some of his stuff remaining). I won't go into the not-too-safe item I found or the family memento I thought I lost--at least not now. But I made a panicky call to Miss Em (the organized one) and she said "I am really getting sick of these constant emergencies. I will help you when I get home."

SO the clutter: that is why good and cheap thrift stores are a mixed blessing. There is always something else...and it is always cheap enough to buy.

SO I will appease the thrift store gods. After all, I have to admit I still want to find nice stuff. But the outgo basket needs to be a lot bigger than it has been.

SO yesterday, before the emergency that precipitated my call to Miss Em, I donated several biggish bags to the Food Bank Thrift--called All Saints. Today, I will make a return visit with some more bags.

If I were an organized blogger-type, I would make a vow to declutter and post my progress. That's not going to happen: wish me luck anyway. Facing the scorn of Miss Em is a scary prospect. Ask me how I know.

Friday, April 12, 2013

"You're a Minimalist": The Dangers of Thrift Shops

Last night, we had a free downtown concert: a pretty great group called Bonerama. I ran into an acquaintance who is a financial adviser. She was telling me about a client who is going to have to sell her house because of massive debt, result of student debt and the vagaries of shopaholism. Her profession: physician. (And she went to LSU med school, which is reasonably priced, so it's not all tuition-related debt.). I said: Oh, how I wish I could coach these people through frugality. To which: Oh, but you're a minimalist.

You've got to be kidding. I stopped by Goodwill yesterday for some stress relief from a difficult Wednesday at work. I came out with the following: a bulky knit men's cardi from Banana Republic (dated 2012 inside), a somewhat vintage-y camel cashmere men's cardi from N. Peal of Scotland, a vintage men's Pendleton wool shirt jac (love these!). These were all for Mr FS. For me, I found a FLAX linen set: beige loose pants and a matching top. Oops. Almost forgot: men's Eddie Bauer down vest. Total: $18.00.

And I left behind a bunch of other stuff. You can see the problem. Do that once a week and over 200 items enter my abode.

Maybe the good doctor mentioned above faces financial ruin because of shopaholism (btw, she is in her 30s and so has time to recover from her disease). I think I may have thrift shopaholism.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Another Eileen Fisher Sale: Sorry!

I might have to change my blog name. Let's see: Someone Who Needs to Stop Obsessing About Everything and Buy More Things For Herself in Places other than Thrift Shops. That's it! Can I find a community in the blogosphere?

This morning, I bought two more Eileen Fisher tops. This is a test. I am afraid that it will be like falling off a cliff--like the blog tales of women who buy ONE Hermes bag and then accumulate another ten. That would be dangerous for me: I am but a teacher, with a teacher's salary. I still can't buy (or bring myself to buy) EF at retail. So I take an occasional spin through the Nordstrom site and the Eileen Fisher site.

Today, Eileen is having a 40% off sale on a few basic items. It goes through tomorrow night. I tried to order my tops and the site was having difficulties. I called up my frugal mojo and put in a call to Nordstrom, where the nice rep was happy to price match for me. We were commiserating about the high price of EF and how hard it is to find on sale. She said it flies out the door when on sale.