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Thursday, May 29, 2014

Decluttering the Freezer with Diana Kennedy

Still cleaning out the freezer. It's not empty by any means, but we can kind of move stuff around to see what is in there. What a concept.

Our meals have been quite luxe. Here's a sampling of what we've had since I last reported on my progress. Moroccan chicken and vegetable stew on couscous. Artichoke and mushroom sauce on pasta. Pierogi with sour cream and caramelized onions with red cabbage slaw on the side. Marcella's standby minestrone with those great parmesan rinds we got in Chicago, best souvenir EVER.

And last night, I finally made something that's been on my to-try list for a long time. The mushrooms, onion, and peppers (real poblano--love) were all roasted and in freezer bags. Instead of creme fraiche, I mixed yogurt and ricotta. Cilantro from the garden. I made beans and rice in the rice cooker for a side dish.

The only thing I bought: mix of yellow squash and zucchini, which were (yay!) on sale this week.

All I can say:  Diana Kennedy is right.

This is my all out favorite dish. Even without the cream and cheese it makes a delicious vegetable side dish and with all the rich things, served in individual gratin dishes, makes a wonderful first course or main vegetarian course. I have modified the cooking method given to me. By cooking the mushrooms separately, the flavor is intensified. The small tender clavitos (Leophyllum decastes) literally "little nails" known as Fried Chicken mushrooms in the U.S., are my preferred mushroom for this recipe, but any small, juicy mushroom may be substituted.
1 pound (450 gms) zucchini or green squash
3 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 heaped tablespoons finely chopped white onion
1 large poblano chile, charred, peeled, cleaned and cut into narrow strips
salt to taste
1/2 pound (225 gms) mushrooms (see note above) rinsed and shaken dry
1/2 cup (125 ml) loosely packed, coarsely chopped cilantro
4 ounces (115 gms) queso fresco or domestic Muenster cut into thin slices
1/2 to 3/4 cup (125-188 ml) crème fraîche
Rinse, trim and cut squash into 1/4-inch (3/4 cm) cubes. Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil, add the onion and chile strips with a sprinkle of salt and cook without browning for about 1 minute. Add the squash, cover the pan and cook over a medium heat, shaking the pan from time to time to avoid sticking, until the squash is almost tender -about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, toss the mushrooms in the remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons of oil, sprinkle with salt and stir fry for about 5 minutes or until the juice that exudes has become almost gelatinous. Add to the squash. Sprinkle the top of the vegetables with the cilantro, cover with cheese and cream. Cover the pan and cook over a gentle heat for about 5 minutes until the cheese has melted.
Excerpted from My Mexico by Diana Kennedy Copyright© 1998 by Diana Kennedy. Excerpted by permission of Clarkson Potter

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Feeling Poor and Shabby: At Goodwill

Mostly I hang out with people like me: middle class. I would guess that I am the higher end of the crowd that hits Goodwill. Every now and then, I feel poor and shabby: in Paris, walking along and suddenly surrounded by people of enormous elegance and wealth (oops! on the rue de Sevres--right by Hermes), on the upper east side of NYC--places like that.

Yesterday, I had the same feeling at Goodwill. With my fellow shoppers, I was perusing a rack that had just hit the floor. OMG: a cluster consisting of a Donna Karan suit, a Missoni dress, a Blumarine dress, about 5 pieces of Dolce and Gabbana, a Pucci top. Oh yeah, a Herve Leger bandage dress. WHAT????

I bought the whole lot (which the other perusers showed no interest in, btw) in the hopes that they would fit Miss Em. Miss Em has the chic-i-tude to pull this stuff off--if she can fit into the tiny sizes.

Who donated this stuff?

Well, luckily for the inquisitive me, I found dry cleaning tags. The rich donors are a pair of doctors, plastic surgeons: Mr Doctor has a breast reconstruction clinic in New Orleans; Ms Doctor has a practice specializing in breast augmentation and tummy tucks in the next town.

Strangely, this find leaves me feeling not elated, but dispirited. Why do you think that is?

One of the finds, only in shocking pink.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Am I Still A Picker? Church Sale and the Buffalo Exchange

I was driving to that frugal paradise, the public library, when I saw a yard sale sign by the Presbyterian Church. It was 11:45; the sale ended at noon. UGH! I love church sales. Last year, I got some great items for Frugal Son's new abode.

I went in and saw that it had been totally decimated. The exhausted volunteers told me that I could have a bag of stuff for $5--plus whatever didn't fit in the bag. Always glad to help.

I saw two ugly Christmas sweaters, something I KNOW I can get credit for at the Buffalo Exchange. I also saw a witch's hat. Ditto.

So I got those things, plus a NEW IN BOX Kohler toilet seat (!), currently $40 at Home Depot, some ugly oven mitts for Frugal Son, some envelopes for everyone (actually needed these), some ugly dip spreaders for me and Frugal Son (needed these too), a beautiful Dale of Norway cardi with pewter clasps (I have a weakness for these), and a serviceable black leather tote bag for lugging stuff my last few years of work. Two ponchos from the Grand Canyon (great for travel--these were in the little bags); a few sharpies.

The sweaters and witch hat went to the Buf (right near Frugal Son's abode and near Ace Hardware, where we had to get stuff anyway). We got about $25 in credit, with which Miss Em can get an item or two.

And this was just the detritus.

That's the toilet seat from the Home Depot site. My bathroom does not resemble the photo, alas.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Sunscreen Bargains: Last Day

Oops! I forgot to share some sunscreen bargains. Today is the last day. But if there's one thing I've learned in my life as a frugalista, it's that another bargain--sometimes even better--is always around the corner.

First is my fave Paula's Choice. As you probably know by now, this is the one thing I hawk. If you have not bought anything from her yet, she has a buyer gets $10 off, Hawker gets $10 credit. If you use my link.

Right now, she has 15% off everything with free shipping over $50. NOT BAD. but the REAL deal is that with the code EDDSUMMER14, you get 30% off the two products below. The sunscreen looks especially tempting. Today is the last day for the 30% off deal. (If you can't avail yourself of the $10 credit because you're already a customer, the 30% off is a good deal in and of itself.)

I myself was in Whole Foods the other day. Today is the last day of their sunscreen deal also. I was going to buy the Paula stuff, but instead got some Kiss My Face Spray sunscreen for 30% off. Paula recommends it, so I know it's good.

The prices below are the 15% deal. You will get more off with the code!

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Pickers of Yesteryear: Enemies Part 1

Not all is rosy in the world of pickers. I remember seeing two women at my local Goodwill: each had hold of one end of a vintage child's rocker. They stood and stared at each other for several LONG minutes, hissing insulting comments. Finally, one let go.

So too back in Bloomington, Indiana, in the 70s and 80s. Unlike Karen and Sioux, remembered in my last post, I did not have a car and my effort was limited to the two thrift stores within walking distance. Also, unlike them, I did not have another job. Mr FS was living on his grad student teaching stipend of $300/month and, though he was willing to share with me, it was really not enough.

Off I went to hone my newfound talent (see tale of my 25 cent jacket which turned to $12 before my amazed eyes). It hardly required any investment and I started making money right away.

Two people, who no doubt have long forgotten me, were very hostile. There is enough for everyone at thrift stores, but treasures like beaded cashmere sweaters and the like are not available in abundance. So my entry into the market was, I soon realized, not welcomed by those who were already doing it.

One of the people who disliked me was PM, an older woman (if the person by her name is the one I knew, she is now 87 years old). We all thought she was crazy. Several of the women who ran the Eye of Osiris were writers and we often plotted out a mystery novel based in the vintage biz with PM either as victim or as murderer. PM was--by gossip--the ex-wife of a professor. She had had a gig as secretary in an academic department and had lost her job when she tattled on a faculty member for some misdeed.  (It's hard enough now to go against the patriarchy. Imagine then!)

PM was desperately poor or so she said. She had obviously really come down in the world and lost her status--and how to get it back in Bloomington when everyone has a PhD and is competing for the same low-end jobs? Especially then. Some said she had a son from whom she was not in frequent contact. She had a close relationship with her daughter MM. In fact, the two together reminded me of Miss Havisham and Estella from Great Expectations.

Eventually, PM got a job in a museum or agency. She had some security again, so she quit her picking activities. Even though she was quite hateful, I do hope she found some happiness. (Pic below from UK Telegraph)

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Where are the pickers of yesteryear?

I have always been a nosy/inquisitive/observant/analytical person (some of these are more positive than others in implication--take your pick). So it in my nature to have closely watched the more experienced pickers that came into my purview back in Bloomington, Indiana. Truly, working in a vintage shop (the Eye of Osiris), hanging out at thrift stores--I met  many people not in my usual academic sphere.

I so admired all these women who lived by their wits. I was a rather timid studious type. I learned a lot by watching them. Good memories. And I hope some good lessons about taking chances.

There was Gail, who had been in theater school with Kevin Kline. All she wanted to do was be a costume designer, but alas, she had to take low-paying jobs to support her young daughter after her husband took off. She was only an occasional picker, and  a truly creative person. She was upcycling clothing before the term existed.

There was Sue, who in the way of the 70s and 80s, spelled her name Sioux. She had a husband and a stepson. She drove all over rural Indiana selling insurance policies. While she was in the tiny towns, she went to thrift stores. She said the little old ladies who ran the shops couldn't believe she wanted all that old stuff.

Then there was Karen. I knew her the least, but she was the most interesting to me--a true live-by-her-wits entrepreneur.  Her main business was "feather art." While she created some beautiful, complex pieces, she made most of her money selling simple feather earrings for $7.00.

She drove all around going to craft shows. En route, like Sioux, she stopped at thrift stores and brought back tons of stuff. She had so much that she not only consigned at the Eye of Osiris, but also opened her own shop, The Material Plane, with her soon-to-be-ex-husband.

She also bought up houses, doubles on the cheaper west side of town away from the university. When I knew her, she owned at least two doubles, living in one unit and renting three others. I can't imagine the size of her current real estate empire (?). She was all business.

Noodling around the internet, I discovered that Gail (so sad) died a few years ago at only 67; Sioux--who had a very common last name--may or may not own a real estate business; and Karen--well, she's still at it. She wrote an interesting biographical/historical piece on the site of her business's YELP review. I love her self-identification as "unemployable."


Established in 1985.
I used to sell on consignment at the old Eye of Osiris and I had so much stuff in there everyone said i should have my own store so when my daughter was a babe and I was married i though it would be a good thing for my mate to run the biz while i was Mom and out shopping for stuff. He just held court in the store, smoking clove cigs and giving stuff away to pretty girls after they modeled it for him, so that didn't last long or the marriage but it's been my store now for a long time. He has one in Louisville now and my daughter used to have one here.We've all changed for the better, and time goes on and 80's is vintage.

Meet the Business Owner

karen c.
karen c.Business Owner
I've had a vintage store forever, I'm unemployable! I pride myself in only having what I think is the best, true vintage. I've also created my feather art for a long time. I keep a few pieces for sale in my store.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Who's the Picker, Anyway? with a Foray into Film and Literature

These posts on my impoverished past have led to a good deal of reflection. And, even though I can't remember anything that happened five minutes ago, I am remembering some details of my past.

First question: who IS a picker? I suppose it could be anyone who sells to someone else. The picking ends when an item reaches a final customer. Mr FS and I bought some antique quilts when we lived in Indiana, when quilts were all the rage. We met a lovely woman, Lois, who was a picker for other dealers. She was a small town woman with very little money, but an incredible feel for objects and a true sense of beauty.

She really liked us, so she would often give us first dibs on items she bought from someone's home in her small town of Spencer, Indiana. Once she offered us a quilt for $200. It had trapunto work, but was not particularly beautiful. Plus we had no money. So we declined.

A few weeks later, we visited some well-known quilt dealers at their home in Indianapolis.  Rod Lich and Susan Parrott. Amazingly, they are still in business. I don't know why they put up with us, since we really had almost no money. While we were looking at their quilts, another dealer--from Texas--arrived. Rod and Susan showed her the trapunto quilt we had turned down. The Texas dealer bought it for $750! Rod and Susan assured her she could get $1200 for it in Texas.

Items, particularly antiques and collectibles, have no "value" other than what someone is willing to pay. And dealers sell things to other dealers. Up and up. And sometimes down.

This all made me remember a rather wonderful book I read when I lived in Indiana: The Rembrandt Panel. It was passed to me by my art-loving friend Charlotte. It concerned a picker who found a painting in a junk shop. He thought it was a Rembrandt and so brought it to an art dealer, who figured out that it indeed WAS a Rembrandt. Unfortunately (and I'm really not ruining anything since this happens early on), both these characters are killed by the bad guy. Charlotte wondered how the author could kill off such a great set of characters, especially the art dealer. After that, the plot devolved into silliness. The author--an art historian--wrote another book (not as good), and died shortly thereafter.

Now, a foray into film. I really liked the movie Please Give. The main character, played by Catherine Keener, owns a shop that wells mid-century modern furniture that she buys from estates. She feels guilty about how little she pays for things. One funny moment comes when she passes a high-end shop and sees a table the owner bought from HER shop--only he is selling it for much more than he paid, just as she did.

Issues of value, issues of knowledge, so many issues!

I am kind of relieved that I'm not interested in "collecting" things anymore.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

What to do if you don't want a picker to resell your donation?

This is in response to Duchesse's comment on the post about my past life as a picker. She has seen her chic donations to charity end up in boutique windows. That is a tribute to her fab taste, but also....errrrr...annoying.

I won't get into the ethics of reselling (except I do talk about it below--oops). I did read something on the issue that pointed out that charity shops were in business to make money for their charity, not to provide cheap goods for the needy (though this is a by-product). Also--trust me--if people didn't buy for resale, the charity shops wouldn't make much money. Seriously, most of the people I see are resellers. In the USA and perhaps Canada today, many of the needy have too much clothing--just like the rest of us.

There are reselling practices that I find unethical. Example: my area Friends of the Library has a huge book sale every month. A book reseller is now in charge of the sale. THAT is unethical. The reason it's unethical is because he LOWERED all the book prices (to a dollar for hb and 50 cents for pb) and now has first dibs on everything. I used to see him with his price scanner at Goodwill all the time. Now I suppose he just works his book sale. I spoke to the former prez of the organization on this : he said "It's ok because he puts a lot of hours in." I replied, "He's not donating his time. He's being compensated." Whatever. Now he can scan the donations.

Another example: the former manager of an area thrift store (who was not very alert due to health issues) had daughters who sold on Ebay. You could see the daughters take things directly from the donation area to their cars--without even paying a paltry thrift store price! That's even worse than the above example.

But what can YOU do with your chic donations if you want them to go to a needy person who would be thrilled to get them? Sadly, not much. Pickers are EVERYWHERE (perhaps I'll do another post on this). I would suggest donating directly to orgs like "Dress for Success" if you have interview-worthy items.

OR take the item to a consignment store yourself. Then donate the cash proceeds to a charity of your choice.

OR find a bunch of worthy recipients. One of Frugal Son's friends--a grad student-- wanted cashmere sweaters for the cold winter. I gave her some of my overstock.

Any other ideas?

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

True Confessions: I Was a Picker

PICKER: An earlybird who hunt swap meets, estate sales, thrift stores, etc and scoops up the good deals - often for resale in antique shops or on ebay. (Urban Dictionary)

Recently, a commenter on my blog asked if I noticed pickers in my area thrift stores. The answer is YES. In fact, I have seen pickers in every thrift store I have ever been lucky enough to enter. And, as a further in fact, I myself was a picker (and may still be one, though I try to resist.) Based on my expert observations, I would say that at least 75% of the people you see at thrifts and the like are pickers. No kidding.

Perhaps this will be the start of a series of posts. I find the phenomenon interesting, because you see people who live--sometimes very well--by their wits. I find that admirable, even though they often get stuff I covet.

Let me start with a trip to my impoverished grad school past. Because of funding issues, my program cut the years one could have a TA (a form of indentured servitude imo). Opportunities for employment in college towns are extremely limited.

One day, my French friend Michelle had a yard sale on my well-situated porch. She was preparing to move to the former Yugoslavia with her fiance Mauricio (sadly the marriage failed). She sold Mauricio's Tito-era wool overcoat for a dollar to a nice young woman.

 A few days later, I was lamenting my incipient unemployment to a woman I knew. She said, "Since you go to thrift stores anyway, why don't you buy things to consign at the Eye of Osiris." So the next week I bought a vintage jacket for a quarter at the giant yard sale held in graduate student housing. That was my first investment.

I took it to the Eye of Osiris. There was the woman who bought the coat! She remembered me. I asked her if she had sold the coat and she said yes. It had sold for $25.00! Then I showed her my jacket. She liked and said she would buy it on the spot. She gave me $12.00.

So I went back to the thrift store and discovered that I was good at finding things, which has been both a blessing and a curse. I ended up working one day a week at the Eye of Osiris and made many dear friends and enjoyed working with the eccentric customers who frequented the place. It was probably too much fun because I became a terrible procrastinator on my dissertation. The original owner Pat sold the store to Nora, who turned it from a vintage store to a head shop. But by then, I was pretty much done.

I got a teaching job.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Non-Financial Accounting: Time Regained

I am beginning to recover from the end of the semester. I like every part of my job except grading. The worst part is assigning grades. I have a headache from the start of finals week till grade turn-in. Even after, since I get numerous sad and/or mad emails from students--only two so far, but the numbers may grow.

I am close to achieving a life goal: to read all volumes of Proust's "A La Recherche." I am on the last volume--"Time Regained"--and have 432 pages to go. It is a difficult read for me. My reading style (fast) does not coordinate well with Proust's complex sentences. Sometimes I can read only a handful of pages before stopping. Can I read 432 pages in two weeks, when I will go on vacation? I hope so.

The thing about reading Proust is that you forget what you've read almost as soon as you read it. My in-house expert, Mr FS, says that is to be expected. I asked him what to do when I've finished. He said "Start again." He's been doing that for over forty years.

Is anyone else reading a long and difficult masterpiece? I have many more on my list. Time is running out.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Frugal Duolingo: Progress Report

Like many, I spend too much time noodling around on the internet. Since noodlers are the product being delivered to advertisers (via blog links and those tempting ads that track your habits), I occasionally succumb to the "good deals" that pop up. I am a weakling for bargains, even if my spending remains in control. I waste a lot of time and add to the clutter with which I always struggle.

I have been trying to shift my noodling from Nordstroms to Duolingo. I am not always successful, but I am wasting a lot less time. After my initial rush of success, my progress is slowing down. I have trouble with some negatives and some adverbs. And, unlike my French teachers M. Giordano and M. Moore (how I wish I could thank them), Duolingo does not give partial credit. How awful to hear the buzz of failure for a careless error--like saying "the" instead of "that"--in a lesson on adverbs, even when you get the adverb right. I never thought I would miss the mere quarter point deducted by my red-pen-wielding French teachers for each tiny mistake.

Duolingo rewards you with virtual currency of lingots. So far, I have not spent any, not because I am a natural saver (though I am), but because I am not really motivated by the gamification of the site. I am, however, motivated by the percentage that pops up: according to the site, I can now read 45.7% of French articles. I can actually read more, because my French goes beyond the lessons I've completed.

I have spent more than thirty years lamenting the deterioration--the near demise, probably--of my French. Last year, Miss Em said "How much French did you have?" I answered "Four years."

I should say that this was four years of the excellent New York State Regents program. My high school French enabled me to pass out of French via placement exam not only in college, but in graduate school. If I hadn't left high school after my third year and had taken French my senior year, I would have read Madame Bovary along with my class.

The wise Miss Em said "Then it will take you four years to get it back." It's looking like it will take me a lot less than that.

The French has become more of a struggle ("une lutte"--wow! popped right into my head!). I was doing a lesson in my office and a colleague dropped by. When I told him what I was doing (and this fellow is a trained linguist), he said "Why do you want to do that?"

But I do; I do.

Frugality Index: many lingots stashed away PLUS less money spent on the "bargains" that bombard us on the internet.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Who Shops at Big Lots: Me and Philip Starck

As a break from grading exams (soon to be done!), I accompanied Mr FS when he went to the drugstore to pick up a prescription. I had him drop me off at Big Lots, which had sent me a coveted $5 off $15 coupon. The prices are cheap enough as is (at least on some things: know your prices) but at a further discount! A thrilling experience for a frugal type like myself,

With my coupon, I got some graham crackers, lots of canned diced tomatoes, an Ahh Bra. Two more exciting things: I got some Mario Batali pasta, the exact same kind as is sold at Eataly, only at Big Lots it was $1 instead of $3.20. Mr FS got a dvd of Mean Streets, one of his fave films. Total spent: around $11.

OK. That was about as much excitement as I can take. However, when I got home, I did an internet search for something about Big Lots and came upon an LA Times article from 2008, the depths of the Great Recession, when frugality was all the rage. the only thing I miss about the Great Recession: all the frugality articles that fed my frugal soul. This particular article featured the great designer Philip Starck as he filled a basket at Big Lots. Maybe I can buy one of his famous Ghost chairs if I keep shopping at Big Lots. Love those chairs.

My favorite part of the article consisted of this pithy saying, with timeless wisdom that goes beyond the panic of the economic downturn: "We have been sticking our money into the fan," he says, miming a stack of bills being shredded by the blades of a ceiling fan. "We must be more intelligent now."

Louis Ghost Chair, Set of 2

Friday, May 16, 2014

Thrift Store Fun, Thrift Store Folly

Unlike many of the financial "experts" in the blogosphere, who counsel us to "make more money" (as they did, by selling their blogs for several million dollars), I am a big believer in saving dollars here and dollars there. The financial bloggers, many of whom have retired on the proceeds of their blogs, also counsel us to "negotiate for more money." Hear that legislators???? My pennies and dollars are all that remain in my control.

Hence my killer grocery shopping skills and my thrift store acumen. Perhaps I was karmically sent to my town because we have--no question--about the best and cheapest thrift stores I have encountered. Plus, in a small town, you see the same people every time you go to a thrift, so one has some social interaction.

Today, when I got home from administering my last final, I was completely exhausted from sucking up all the panic and misery of my students. I HAD to go to a thrift store for the spa experience. A trip to Goodwill--about 3 miles--was too much, so I contented myself with the little Food Bank thrift, which is about 1/2 mile away.

Well! Paul, the former manager of the thrift shop, who has since been promoted to an administrative position at the food bank, was at the register and boy was he crabby. You see, the people working at the thrift have been running 1/2 price sales and playing "let's make a deal" for a few weeks. They also missed a Dooney and Bourke bag and put it in the $1 bin. Paul saw that. (No, I was not the lucky buyer.) He told me that REVENUE WAS DOWN. WAY DOWN.

EVERY SINGLE customer whined about the renewal of full prices (i.e. $2.50 for most clothing). EVERY SINGLE customer asked Paul to lower the prices. I was too scared to ask him! I did point out that prices had to be low at thrifts because people made a lot of mistakes in purchasing. Some items have damage that one doesn't see till one gets home. ETCETERA. He finds me rather amusing, so I did cheer him up a tiny bit.

Anyway, I bought some beautiful fabric samples. Don't ask me why. I can't sew. I do have a love for fabric and seeing gorgeous linen blend fabrics--some toiles, many printed in England-- just wiped me out. I could not resist. I'm hoping the creative Miss Em will help me figure out what to do with them. Some of the pieces are pretty big, 18" by 45," though most are smaller.

The one useful thing I got was a little cuisinart mini-prep processor. I have one, but I got it for Frugal Son, a fabulous cook. I even plugged it in to see if it worked.

When I got home, Mr FS sighed about the fabric. He took one look at the mini-prep and said, "There's no blade." OOPS. I, the usually careful shopper, had just wasted a few dollars on a defective item. Just as I had told Paul. If he's not too crabby, I'm going to tell him next time I see him.

Still, I helped support the food bank.

Bailey & Griffin 20754 56

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Grading, Grading: Grossly Material Things

I sometimes think that as there are stages of grief, there are stages of grading.  Sadly, I often forget this and experience the stages anew each semester. Grading is a difficult task, at least for English teachers, who grade essays and papers and don't just run some multiple choice exam through a scantron machine.

First stage: irritation. Why do so many students hand things in late? Why do so many students hand in bunches of loose sheets. I have more than 100 students: try dealing with all that paper!!!
Second stage: anger. Why didn't those students listen? Why didn't they do the reading? Why didn't they read my email?
Third stage: empathy. This is evoked by all students, but most especially mine. I used to teach at a private college. In 1988, the median income of student families was $80,000/year. I now teach at a state college, where many students have their own families, jobs, and serious money issues. Not to say that my affluent students didn't have emotional and other problems. My current students have those too. But they also have financial issues that are often overwhelming.

So as always, frequent meltdowns. One student--a mother of 4--had her husband ask for a divorce right before finals (I recommended the counseling center and gave her a hug). Another student broke down and mentioned that a relative had been a victim of horrific violence (same response as to student above).  Another student sent an email about a severe medical problem that would make her late for the final. She wasn't supposed to drive, but ended up driving herself since no one else was around.

And those are just the students who tell me what's up. Most do not. Yes, I know that students will lie about disasters for various reasons (though the ones mentioned above are all true events). And that doesn't even account for students working 30 or more hours a week to support themselves, while they are supposed to be full-time students.

I read that one value of reading literature is that it helps us develop empathy. Click the link to the left for an array of articles on that topic. I have always been a reader and, of course, I've been teaching literature for many years now. And, teaching at my current place of employ, I am reminded often of Virginia Woolf's wise words, which remind us that material things can keep us from doing what we're supposed to be doing.

I asked myself; for fiction, imaginative work that is, is not dropped like a pebble upon the ground, as science may be; fiction is like a spider’s web, attached ever so lightly perhaps, but still attached to life at all four corners. Often the attachment is scarcely perceptible; Shakespeare’s plays, for instance, seem to hang there complete by themselves. But when the web is pulled askew, hooked up at the edge, torn in the middle, one remembers that these webs are not spun in mid-air by incorporeal creatures, but are the work of suffering human beings, and are attached to grossly material things, like health and money and the houses we live in.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Decluttering the Freezer: What We've Eaten

I recently made a vow to clean out my freezer. One of the pillars of my frugality is saving money on groceries. This is easy for me because I am a lover of the "food of the poor" and chow down on lots beans from various cuisines. Also, food bargains just leap out at me and are heard to resist.

Looking back at this blog, I noticed that I made the same vow each year. With little success owing to the aforementioned food bargains throwing themselves at my feet. This time, I meant business. I lowered my food budget to $20 a week. That will force you to use what you have.

Here's what's been on the menu, from the fancy to the more mundane.

--shrimp with tasso and mushrooms on cheese and jalapeno grits (not as hard as it sounds)
--STEAK with baked potatoes
--roast chicken cooked a la Zuni Cafe (with the trademark bread salad)
--pumpkin and sausage pasta sauce
--African peanut soup
--chicken stew on couscous
And other stuff I can't recall at the moment....

Some freebie leftovers came my way. From a bit of the ubiquitous spinach dip (pot luck party leftover), I made a frittata, using eggs that a colleague gave us. A double freebie!

Then, with some freebie chips, I made taco soup. Except for the chips, everything was a freezer clean out item.

Part of the trauma of Hurricane Katrina (for those of us a bit out of the city and its flooding who were spared the brunt of the tragedy) was caused by the pain of throwing out tons of  food in our electricity-less weeks. We were gifted with so much salmon and steak that we couldn't consume it or give it away. Everyone around here starts cleaning out the freezer at the beginning of summer, just in case the electricity goes out again.

Bon appetit!

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Destressing While Grading: French Lessons

Could anything be more dispiriting than reading research papers which are a pastiche of copied and pasted primary and secondary sources? And the sources are found--sadly--on sites with names like schmoop and gradesaver. Every now and then, the sites present dubious information (like the "fact" that Shakespeare was depressed about the closing of the theaters and so wrote sonnet 29. Or the "fact" that  clowns and fools  are markers only of comedy. Really? Only? Isn't there a fool in King Lear?) Enough! My mission in life is to develop assignments that help the students learn to read the material. Alas, I am required to assign traditional research papers in certain courses, assignments that were developed before EZ COPY PASTE (should I trademark that?).

So, to take a break, I am playing with Duolingo, the language learning site I first read about on Frugalshrink. How I wish I had had this before. I last studied French around 40 years ago. One kind woman we met in France told me that she could tell the language was in there, trying to get out.

I hope so. I don't know if I could learn a language from scratch on this, but I am tearing through the lessons and will hit the more sophisticated and difficult Foreign Service lessons later.

 Today I even had to translate a frugal saying.

Acheter mieux, jeter moins.

Well sort of frugal. Could one also say Acheter moins, jeter moins? Je crois que oui.

I am so happy! Back to the grind.