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Sunday, April 27, 2014

Third Best Deal in Chicago: 54 cents

This is the final installment in my series: Best Deals in Chicago. It really goes to show you that there are all sorts of wonderful treats everywhere you go.

This one is kind of embarrassing. I spend a bit of time mooning over the blogs of elegant travelers and chic dressers like Pseu of unefemme, Duchesse of Passage des Perles, and Janice of the viviennefiles. But I am here to say that my third best frugal treat in Chicago came courtesy of McDonalds.

You see, I got kind of sick in Chicago and spent a night and a day with a terrible stomach ache, so bad that I spent most of that day sleeping while Mr FS did conference things and hit the Art Institute. He kept asking me if I wanted anything and I said the only thing I wanted was soft serve ice cream.

When I was back on my feet (sort of), Mr FS noticed a McDonalds near our hotel. We stepped in and I said (I AM CHEAP): I only want it if it's under a dollar.

To which the server replied: It's 54 cents. WHY? Because of a similar promotion from Burger King. Whatever.

It was pure bliss and we had a soft serve every day. My stomach is still bothering me as I write and I would love another one right now.

I asked Mr FS why it was more pleasant eating a soft serve cone in McDonalds than being in Eataly, where the hordes walked around the crowded and noisy store WHILE eating gelato or drinking wine. UGH. Mr FS replied: Because this is a quiet and uncrowded place and we're spending LESS than the food or environment would indicate. At Eataly, the food is overpriced and you either sit while people swirl around you or [as I mentioned earlier] you buy a $5 cup of gelato and eat it while walking around. So the price is too high for the environment.

Has anyone else ever had a blissful experience at a fast food restaurant?


Friday, April 25, 2014

Second Best Deal in Chicago: Parmesan Rinds at Eataly

First best is, you may recall, our membership at the Art Institute. The second best--no suspense since I gave it away in the title line--was discovered when we were scoping out the food choices near our hotel. In pervious trips, we zipped all over Chicago, going to various well-reviewed ethnic restaurants. Back then, though, we had a friend with a car or the leisure of a longer stay. Also, we now live in one of the greatest restaurant cities in the USA, so we don't need to spend a lot of time hunting places down elsewhere.

Within a few blocks we found Trader Joes (yay! though this turned to disappointment. TJ has gone sadly downhill in quality). Then we found Whole Foods (yay! but the takeout options, as expected weren't great). Then we found: EATALY.

I had read about this Italian food emporium, run by various luminaries in the food biz. Oh, the cheese! Oh, the gelato! Oh, the pizza! But, oh the noise! Oh, the crowds! I had to get out of there. We checked out the offerings and decided to come back the next day after reading some reviews. As we perused the  goods, I spied the SECOND BEST DEAL of the TRIP: rinds of parmesan (reggiano, the real thing) for $2/lb. Mr FS and I wondered if this was a one-day special or an error. So we bought 2 pounds to take home. Even the rinds sell for about $10/lb at our local Whole Foods.

Well, we read some reviews of Eataly and EVERY ONE of them said the place was over-priced and disappointing in quality. And--basically--a tourist mecca. The pizza was singled out as particularly bleh.  Needless to say, this was a total turn-off. But we did brave the crowds to buy two more pounds of parmesan rinds. The price was not a mistake.

Why am I so ecstatic about parmesan rinds? Because if you add them to soups, the broth is infused with richness and a delectable flavor. Most recipes say to remove the rinds when the soup is done and discard them. NEVER! I eat them. If the soup cooks for a long time, the rinds turn into a gooey treat.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Freezer and Pantry Clean Out: This Time I Mean It!

Every year, I write about how I MUST declutter. And that includes the food clutter. I have an average size fridge and freezer combo. I can't imagine how much I would amass if I had a separate freezer in which to collect "bargains."

Mr FS and I will be going on vacation in about 6 weeks. One would hope I could make a dent in the food. In past years, I had limited myself to $25 a week for food. For the next six weeks I will try for $20.

The week started well. We ate some frozen bean burritos, a beloved homey dish especially appreciated after a week away from home. Then I took out chili for tonight.

Then it happened: I stepped into the grocery for a bit of fruit and emerged with 3 lb of bananas, 1 1/2 lb of Aidells sausage, 3 lb of "turducken" sausage, and some boneless chicken breast. All the meat was 75% off, so my grand total was around $7.50. I'm hoping that Frugal Son doesn't have much food in his fridge. I'm planning on a big present.

As temptations go, food bargains are pretty benign. I'll let you know how it goes.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Best Deal in Chicago: Joining the Art Institute

Mr FS and I spent a bit of time in Chicago recently. We went to a conference and did some conference-like things.  We spent a lot of time in Chicago in days of yore and did all the tourist must-dos. This time, we decided to go for broke in our out-of-conference activities. Craving beauty, we joined the Art Institute! For a year. For 5 days.

It costs $23 for a ticket to the Institute. The base membership costs $90 for an adult and GUEST. We also got a 10% discount for living far away. So for $81 we had 5 days of bliss (we went twice a day, since our hotel was a short walk away.)

We also got free admission to special exhibits (only one, as far as we could tell). A chic tote bag with a zipper. Early entry into the recently re-opened modern art galleries.

And--drumroll, please--entry into the Member's Lounge, which had comfy Eames and Barcelona chairs (and other iconic designs) and FREE COFFEE and TEA. Good coffee too--Illy. Mr FS and I joked that the coffee almost covered the membership. We also got to hear bits and pieces of very cultured conversations. Treats all around.

Chicago Art Institute Museum Café lounge

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Mr FS--artiste--made a sale!

Yay! Three upper-middle class ladies came over and one bought a piece. It was his smallest, cheapest, and most primitive. Now he knows.

We are rather reclusive, so we await Miss Em's return. She wants to see if she can enter the art biz and she can help her dad on teh way.

Thanks to all for your fine advice.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Just say no to working for free...CLEP

Right after reading Duchesse's post on the important issue of "precarity" in employment, I check my work email (from home) to find ANOTHER missive from CLEP, part of the massive money-making testing industry in the USA. Last time I got one of these, I replied that responders should be paid for their time. I guess they didn't get the message.

They've got to be kidding. My children took two tests from the industry last year--totaling about $400. I would do the survey for a test coupon my kids could use. What do you think Sterling Bland gets paid?

Dear Colleague,

I am writing to you today in my capacity as Chair of the CLEP Humanities Committee. As you may know, CLEP is the College-Level Examination Program, sponsored by the College Board and designed to allow students to earn credit for college courses by demonstrating their mastery of relevant subject matter. Exams are offered in more than 30 different subjects. Students who place at or above the recommended cut-score for a particular exam can earn credit for the corresponding course(s) at participating schools. For the CLEP Humanities exam, this is generally a two-semester survey course in Humanities or in literature, art, music, or the performing arts.

In recent years, the CLEP Humanities Committee (composed of faculty from a variety of institutions throughout the United States) has been working diligently to revise and update the exam to ensure that it reflects the significant, and ongoing, changes in our field. To enable us to continue improving the exam, we need the help of our fellow teachers and scholars. Specifically, we need to learn more about how a relevant survey course or courses are being taught at your institution. If you teach one or both semesters of a relevant course (or have taught it in the last three years), we would be extremely grateful if you would take the time to complete the online curriculum survey at:

The information gathered in this survey will enable us to make important decisions about what to include on the exam, about the kinds of skills that should be tested, and about whether modifications should be made to the overall test specifications.
We ask that you complete this survey by May 9, 2014. Please note that you do not need to teach at a participating CLEP school in order to complete the survey. If you do not teach a relevant survey course (or its equivalent), we would appreciate your forwarding this e-mail to a colleague who does.
Finally, survey participants may request a free copy of the survey results. I strongly encourage you to do so, as one of the more rewarding aspects of my work on the CLEP Humanities Committee during the past several years has been having the opportunity to broaden my own understanding of the work being done in the classroom at colleges and universities throughout the country.
Thank you in advance for your time and assistance.
Sterling L. Bland
Rutgers University at Newark
249 University Ave

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Advice Needed: How Much to Charge for Outside Outsider Art?

A few years ago, Mr FS, who heretofore had evinced no interest in his artistic side, began to make creatures of wood. I suppose he can be classed as an outsider artist since he has never had a lesson. Still, he has been to the Louvre and other major museums, so I suppose he's a semi-outsider. The art is definitely outside.

The creatures reside on our fence and the outside walls of our house. They have been attracting a lot of attention from dog walkers and walkers. Many ask if they are for sale. So far, we've said NO. But the creatures are multiplying a bit too fast and this morning a prominent local resident, who has been involved in the local arts community, said she'd like to buy one, and to help us sell them. She knows well-connected types, and hinted at a freebie or cut price for herself.

The prominent resident told Mr FS he would have to determine a price. (Earlier she had herself suggested something like $1,000. This seemed crazy to us!) Of course, teacher types like ourselves tend to undervalue our time and our labor. So, Readers, another question: how much could Mr FS charge for these large creatures, some of which take him more than 30-40

hours to complete?