Monday, December 5, 2011

Smoking a Turkey

I did not roast a turkey for Thanksgiving this year because my brother-in-law offered to do it. So what we did was take a turkey out of the freezer on Thanksgiving day that I had purchased last year when it was on sale before the holiday. I let it defrost for 4 days, and then brined it in the orange cooler for 3 days in a solution of 2 cups kosher salt, 1 cup brown sugar and 1/4 cup Montreal Steak Seasoning. Boil the seasonings in enough water to dissolve into the water and add it to the cooler with enough additional water to submerge the bird and cool the solution down.  Then add ice on top of it all to keep it cooled down so the meat does not go bad.  You need to make sure it is iced during the three day process, but we only needed to add a little bit of additional ice once a day. 

After three days, we brought out our smoker that I got for FREE when we lived in an apartment complex for a short time in-between houses. Yes, that's right, this was left in the trash next to the dumpster after somebody moved out of the complex.  We fired up some charcoal briquettes, threw on  some Mesquite wood chips I purchased on clearance a couple of years ago. We put the turkey in the smoker at 11:00 a.m. and took it off at 4:30 p.m. We added additional charcoal and wood chips once during this process.

The finished bird awaiting consumption.  It was DELICIOUS!  The turkey was the BEST we had ever had, bar none. It was moist with just the right amount of smokiness. If you can get your hands on a smoker, I highly recommend it! Even if you don't have a smoker, the turkey tastes almost as good roasted in the oven after you brine it.  As I've mentioned previously in another post, turkeys are a great value for your money pound for pound. If you have room in your freezer, buy some extra birds and roast them once every couple of months. The meat can then be worked into other recipes like casseroles or the pot stickers I made the other day to enjoy another day when you are short on time.  

Friday, December 2, 2011

Frugal Turkey

I still had some left over turkey from Thanksgiving (roasted by my brother-in-law) that I had to use up before the meat went bad. I decided to make some pot stickers with it. I had some left over ham meat too, so I took the meat off the bone and put the turkey and ham in the work bowl of my food processor and gave it a whirl. I estimate I had about a pound of meat. To that, I added
about four sliced green onions, two cloves of grated garlic, a splash of sesame oil and sake and some black pepper. If you don't have sake, you can use sherry or omit altogether.  I did not add salt because the turkey had been brined and the ham is salty as it is on its' own. To that, I added two eggs to bind the meat and make it a bit wet, since the meats were already cooked.

I already had a package of round pot sticker skins purchased for $1.79. If you can't find the round ones, you can use won ton skins. You can easily find tutorials for making pot stickers on YouTube. They are not all that hard to make. Here is the first batch frying in a skillet with a bit of canola oil.  

You want to fry the bottom of the pot stickers until they get a bit of burned on the bottom like this. Then, you put a bit of water in the pan just to cover the bottom of the pan and steam the dough of the pot sticker to cook them through. Slap a lid on top and let it cook until all the water is gone. You may or may not want to repeat this process.

Serve them with a some steamed rice and dipping sauce made from equal parts soy sauce and rice vinegar and, if you like spicy foods, some Chinese hot pepper oil. The proper way to serve the pot stickers is to place them on a plate bottom side up to show the crusty bottom.  (I did not know this until very recently. . .)  Total cost for approximately 50 pot stickers came out to a whopping $2.00!

Bon appetit! 

P.S. Please excuse the grainy photos. I don't know why the Blogger app does this. . .

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

I'm Thankful

As I sit tapping out this post on my phone, Thanksgiving safely over and anticipating the arrival of Christmas, I am thankful for the roof over my head and food on my table and my family's general well being.  Like the majority of families all over the globe, we've had to do some belt tightening in our budget due to the rising costs of just about everything. Yet, even with that, we are very well off compared to some.

On the news the other day was a story of how Walmart, the largest retailer in the US, has had to change the way they run and staff thier stores in the current economy.  Because government payments to families on public assistance are deposited into the recipient's bank account after midnight on the first of each month, the store managers have been getting swamped with a large number of shoppers coming to shop at the 24 hour stores right at midnight as soon as they confirmed the deposit of the funds.  The news story showed a young, well dressed, otherwise ordinary looking couple, shopping cart at the ready, calling the automated phone number of thier bank verifying the deposit.  The look of relief on thier faces when the money was finally there was very sad and disturbing.

The sad truth is that most people are only a paycheck away from economic distress.  In the current state of economic and political uncertainty, it is important as ever to prepare for the worst and hope for the best.  When my husband and I started our food storage to stockpile non-perishable food items about two years ago, we did so in secret from friends and family for fear that they would think we were weird and a little bit looney.  Now, I regularly hear radio hosts and even financial advisers giving advice about stockpiling and buying multiples of items when you come across a good sale.  Times have certainly changed in a very short time!  Just the other day, I heard a radio host tell his audience that this Christmas, the best gift you can give yourself and your family is the gift of food storage!  And he is a very mainstream national figure!

I'm thankful that I'm ahead of the curve and that my pantry and freezer is full of items purchased at rock bottom prices. I'm going to challenge myself to feed my family without grocery shopping except to purchase produce for the next few weeks. Nothing should be taken for granted in these tough times.  Being prepared is the best thing we can do for ourselves.

Monday, November 28, 2011

When Life Throws You a Curve Ball...

The tough get going. . . Hello again! It's been 3 months since my last post. Many thanks for keeping me on your blog list! As I mentioned in my last post, I have not been in the mood to post due to things beyond my control. You live your life trying to do the right thing, and BAM! Things get absolutely screwed up. What I can control however, are the things I do for myself that I enjoy. I missed reading all the lovely blogs out there, and reading your comments here. So I'm going to give this another go.

What I can tell you is that the last several months, frugality totally went out the window.  My husband decided that he wanted to join the country club to play golf.  He rarely spends money on himself, so I did not argue.  For the last 18 years, we have been focused on raising our sons, sending them to private schools, taking them to music lessons and sports leagues, with rarely a time out for ourselves. He said, "we are doing this for US, something nice that we deserve." What can I say to that?

So I went along.  We have been members for about 4 months now, and he decided that the membership is not what it was cracked out to be. He could not get tee time when he wanted, and then some of the courses were constantly closed due to tournaments. We were not getting our money's worth. He just told me the other day that he wanted to cancel the membership. A very expensive lesson, but better than continuing to waste money and getting no return on the investment. This was not the source of my stress, however, and it was actually quite fun while it lasted. But membership in a country club and acting all hoity toity is not me, so no great loss here.

Anyway, going to try to get back on topic and tighten the belt on our finances.  I feel renewed in my quest for frugal living. My husband has a good job, but he is nearing the end of his career. We need to pay off the last few bills we have so we have no worries in retirement. Our child rearing days are almost over (thank God!), and now it is time to focus on us. Our sons are rarely home, so we are finding that we are spending more time by ourselves. Here's to our "almost here" new future!

I have spent the last few days decorating the house for Christmas.  Most of the decorations were purchased years ago when our boys were smaller. These days, I've only been purchasing "new" decorations at thrift stores as I find them during the year. As I was unwrapping my latest find from this past summer, I made a serendipitous find. The Teddy bear sitting to Santa's left dressed as a jester was a perfect match to the Santa! I did not notice this until I set him down alongside. What a chance find! And he was only $3.00! (Not so the Santa, but he was purchased during my pre-frugal days!)

I'm looking forward to a great year! Thanks for visiting with me again!

Friday, August 5, 2011

I'm taking some time off

Hello and goodbye to all the wonderful people who bother to read this blog.  I'm going to take some time off from blogging, and thought I would let you know in case you have been wondering.  I just have not been in the mood to post, or even stay on course of being frugal.  Just look at my previous post, and you can sort of tell I've gone over the edge in some respect.  Some personal issues that need to be worked through, and I don't know when things will improve. . . Let's just say that it's really beyond my control to really do anything about it, and I have not been very happy for some time.  My wonderful husband has been the rock that has allowed me to have some semblance of normalcy, and I'm really grateful for that. . .

Since I've been under so much stress, I was diagnosed with shingles (never mind the fact that I didn't even know what that was when the doctor told me).  Fortunately, it was a very localized case (under my hairline in the back of the neck) and not all that painful, but a bitch regardless. I don't wish it on anyone.  My word of advice to you would be to go ahead and get vaccinated against it.  I found out after the fact. . .

Anyways, while I won't be closing this blog, it will just sit "out there" without me posting for the foreseeable future.  When I'm back in the game and feel like I have something worthy to share, I'll start reposting, whenever that may be.  I hope you will keep me on your blog list so I have something to look forward to when I am able to work through the issues facing me.  Thank you for all your kind words and comments! I really enjoyed reading them.

Hope to see you soon!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Today' Shopping

I went shopping today to stock up. I wrote sometime back that I don't use coupons, but I had an epiphany. If I have them, then I might as well use them.  All this was purchased for $60.71, plus I received a $5.00 off the next purchase coupon so that really makes it like $55.71. (Please excuse the grainy photo. I don't know why my photos look like this when posted via the Blogger app for my phone.)

I purchased 7 bottles of Wisk laundry detergent, 3 bottles of Clorox bleach, 2 bottles of Lysol toilet bowl cleaner, 4 jars of Kraft mayo, 4 bottles of Dove body wash, 10 cans of flavored almonds (for my dear husband), 12 Three Musketeers bars, 2 Reach toothbrushes, 4 body wash tools, 20 count flour tortillas, head of lettuce, tub of sour cream and 1 six count Handi Wipes.  (Whew!)

All items are regularly used/consumed items.  As a rule, I always stock up when prices are at their lowest.  Total coupon savings according to the receipt was $44.96 in addition to the store sales price savings of $42.78.  So that means if the items were not on sale and/or I did not use coupons, this shopping trip would have cost me $145.45! Now that's what I'm talking about!  I don't believe in using coupons just for the sake of using them, but when combined on top of sale prices, the savings make it worth the time to assemble and organize them.  Why didn't I think of it before??

Friday, July 8, 2011

Shopping Without Consequences

One spends a lifetime learning how to spend money.  There is no way out of it. In order to live, we are forced to spend money on food, clothing, shelter, transportation, the list goes on.  Commercials on TV are all about getting you to part with your money, whether it's for products or not. Even the PSAs are about spending your hard earned money for this cause or that.  And during a political season? Then it's about getting a candidate elected with the help of . . . your monetary contributions.  A lifetime of learned behavior is hard to give up, even if you try hard not to succumb to all of the temptations out there.  My trick to resisting the temptation to buy is to go "shopping" on Amazon.  Sounds weird, but it works for me.

You see, Amazon sells just about everything you can think of, and for the most part, the prices are cheaper than a brick and mortar establishment, due in part to the fact that they do not have the overhead to pay for a storefront.  I can search for items I'm coveting with the click of a button, and if I want it, I'll place it in the shopping cart.  But instead of checking out by paying for that item right away, I stop and just let the item sit in the cart saved under my account for months, or even years.  Why? This gives me a "cooling down period" to really determine if I really, really want an item, or if it's just a passing fancy on my part.  It also gives me the time to see if I can find it cheaper on Craigslist, eBay, or in a thrift store. 

For example, I have a serious weakness with books, but I hate going to the library to borrow them because I always forget to return them on time.  When the movie "The Other Boleyn Girl" came out, I wanted to buy all of Philippa Gregory's books then and there.  I placed them all in my shopping cart, and I was tempted to buy a couple of them right away, but I resisted.  And you know what? Over the last several years, I found a number of them at my local thrift store in almost mint condition for $1.99 each.  I figure just the books I have now would have cost me a couple of hundred bucks, but instead I paid around $10.00 for the lot. 

Over time, many of the items I thought I really wanted, turns out to have no lasting appeal.  I will then delete it from my shopping cart, and I'm no less poorer because I didn't buy anything.  Turns out, there is nothing out there one really, REALLY must have. Most of the things are a want, not a need, so for me, using Amazon to satisfy my immediate need to "buy that gizmo now" works.  It's fun to shop without having to face the consequence of forking over your money.  And being aware of what things cost on the retail level allows you to make an informed decision when you see a deal out there in a thrift store or some other venue.  That's spending your money wisely.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Sticker Shock

The 4th of July is over. Independence Day is usually filled with a lot of noise after twilight, but this year, it was very quiet due to the almost total ban on fireworks sale.  We have been experiencing severe drought in Texas, and as a result, the only fireworks allowed were the big public displays.  Texans are pyromaniacs, and there are huge warehouse stores all over that only open for about 20 days out of the year (10 days before the 4th of July and before New Year's Eve).  This year, all they were allowed to sell were small  fireworks that don't shoot up.  I'm sure the businesses were hurting pretty bad. We passed by one such store yesterday afternoon, and there were absolutely no cars in the parking lot although they had an "open" sign.  I guess this is what you get when you put all your eggs in one basket. . .  But I digress.

On Saturday, my son wanted to go browse in a sporting goods store, so I took him to a big box store that moved into a bigger building recently.  I had not been in a retail establishment other than grocery stores in a long, long time, and boy did I get a dose of sticker shock!  $24.99 for an Under Armor shirt? Good grief!  WHO pays that kind of money?  But you know what? The store was PACKED. I could not believe how full the parking lot was.  You would think it was the week before Christmas! 

I realized how much my values had changed since I was younger, when I thought nothing of buying things even if they were not marked down one bit.   I can't imagine paying that kind of money for one lousy shirt!  Then I was looking around children's clothing, and it was not much better. A toddler T-shirt was $16.99!  Can you imagine how much clothing you could buy at a thrift store for that amount, even though they too have been raising prices?  Insanity, I tell you!

I realise the economy needs consumers to purchase things to keep the economic engine going, but my days of paying full price for anything is over.  I'll leave that to those people who has not seen the light of being frugal. . .

Thursday, June 30, 2011

What's Wrong With This Picture?

As with a lot of like-minded people, I LOVE thrift stores.  Or rather, I should say "loved."  I have been noticing a disturbing trend for a few years now. That being, that they are really getting mighty proud of their wares.  It's a THRIFT STORE, OK? But the prices are getting very, very, retail.

Yesterday, I stopped by my local store while running errands, since I was in the vicinity anyway.  With gas prices being what it is, I don't go anymore just for the pleasure of it.  It now has to be an afterthought if I'm driving around doing other things.  Anyhow, I stopped by, and noticed they had received a large shipment of candles. My guess is that the donation was from a business because they had a TON of these candles.

These candles were FREE, meaning Goodwill did not pay to get them.  The whole idea of a thrift store is for the store to take donated items and make some money for community outreach programs by selling them at steep discounts to consumers who are in need to save some money due to the economy or their current financial situation. But the marked price of the candles? Give me a break!  A tall scented candle in a glass jar was marked $7.99.  A jar half the height was $3.99.  I can buy them cheaper at Walmart or on sale at any store at the mall if I hit the right sales.  This is absolutely borderline insanity here! It's a THRIFT STORE! HELLOooooooooooooo?

OK, perhaps they are trying to make more money with the economy being what it is, and them needing to service more "customers" for their charitable programs.  But I think in reality, they are hurting their cause by jacking up the prices to retail levels like they have been doing.  Obviously, they don't know the first thing about how the economy works. It's like increasing taxes in anticipation of collecting more in tax revenues. In reality, when taxes are raised, revenue decreases. I just read an article the other day about a state here in the US which raised income taxes on the "rich" thinking they would get an additional $100 million in revenue.  But guess what? Tax revenue actually decreased by about $120 million because those "rich" people they were counting on either left the state altogether, or had second homes in other more tax friendly states where they could claim domicile.  Lesson: Don't count your chickens before they hatch.

My point is, we're not stupid.  I have a flinch point when shopping at thrift stores.  If the price is the same as retail, then I'm going to buy retail because the selections are much better.  Honestly, I think the management at these thrift stores need to wake up and smell the roses.  Because you know what? They are going to lose customers really quick if they keep this up. And who really loses? It's those people the charitable thrifts are trying to help.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Clearance Score!

Grabbed these 5 cans of powdered milk at Walmart on my last trip there. These are 3.52lbs/1.6kg cans. These went straight to my stockpile for future use.  These were marked off 50%, so each can came to $7.74!  With milk prices going through the roof and a gallon of milk hovering around $3.50 or so, regular milk has been relegated to drinking and morning cereal only.  I used to use evaporated milk for cooking, but I am down to my last can out of the stash I had on hand.  Last time evaporated milk went on sale for $0.50 a can, I think I purchased around 40 cans?  Since then, I have not seen them go on sale.  Regular price for them now is around $1.30 or so a can, so you can see what a good deal these canisters of powdered milk were!

I have been using powdered milk in baking and cooking for about a year now. It is convenient to have on hand. No last minute trips to the grocery store because I don't have milk to use in a recipe.  Taste wise, I think powdered milk is no different than regular milk in cooking.  I have to admit I have not tried to actually drink the stuff mixed with water.  What I have read is that if you do want to drink it, one must mix it in a container and chill it in the refrigerator first.  Otherwise, it is my understanding that it tastes like yuck!  I hope I never get to the point of having to resort to that!  I have used powdered milk in Southern biscuits, milk gravy, pot pies and cake recipes with success.  So if you come across deals like this, I recommend that you grab it! Unlike regular milk, these don't go sour on you!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Why I Haven't Been Posting

Life intervenes. . . Our home life has been very unpleasant lately as my 15 year old son has been acting really very crappy. Our sons get treated a hell of a lot better than my husband and I ever were when we were their ages. But the self-centered teenager that he is, he refuses to listen and understand.  My husband and I have been living through hell dealing with his ugly moods, and life just has been miserable, to say the least.

I was born without a father. He left the scene before I was born.  Back when I was young, the term used was "illegitimate."  Nowadays, one has a single mom or dad, and as a result we are left guessing the circumstances of a person's birth.  My mom hooked up with an Australian man when I was 2, and he is the one who raised me. He died when I was 14 and my mother had to scramble financially as we were not provided for in death.  Fortunately, she had previously gone to secretarial school and was able to find a job before we were in a financial bind.  Growing up, I was responsible for preparing dinners for her after I got home from school.  I don't remember ever getting an allowance, and I was careful about what I asked her by way of money because I knew we were just making ends meet.

But I was fortunate that my "father" had left just enough money in my mom's bank account for me to finish schooling at a very exclusive private school in Japan.  She then paid for one semester of college.  After that, I managed to work my way through the rest of college and paid the rest of my private tuition myself.  Thank God for the fact that I spoke English and was able to work as a conversational English teacher.  I had a pretty cushy job working 4 hours every evening until 9 p.m. after classes.  I made enough money to pay for my tuition and then some.  I did miss out on the social scene on campus, but I still had friends from high school living in Tokyo, so I managed some fun times in between classes and work.

My husband had it harder. He was one of five children from a working class family.  His dad was very tough on the boys because he was working graveyard shifts to get the family fed.  Long story short, my husband moved out when he was 14 and never went back home.  He worked full time and continued attending high school until about a month before graduation when he had just had enough.  He joined the military and got his GED. He did 5 years in the Navy and then worked his tail off to get a 4 year college degree in two years.  He was hired by the government after that and we met shortly thereafter.  Not satisfied, he went on to get a Master's Degree when our younger son was just born.  He is now the boss of his office here in Houston.

We don't dwell on these facts, but we do mention them once in a while when we get really frustrated with either of our sons.  Although we have tried hard not to spoil them and to keep things in perspective, the fact of the matter is that they ARE spoiled rotten.  They don't even know it, and they think we are not generous enough as are the parents of their friends.  At the stage of life they are in, "generosity" equals "love," and in their minds, we don't love them enough.  So what to do?

We are not going to change the way we treat them.  We expect them to do certain things and act in a respectful manner.  In return, they get to do what they want, within reason.  I guess the sticking point is the "within reason" part.  Our younger son in particular thinks our definition of "within reason" is not acceptable.  The latest spat had to do with us not allowing him to go on a week long trip with his girlfriend's family.  We said it was not "appropriate," and he refused to accept that as a reason.  Call us old fashioned, but he is only 15 and there are certain things a responsible parent just does not allow one's child to do. This is one of them.  Our older one has wised up, and for the most part, is respectful and does what we ask him to do.  In return, he gets to hang out with his friends more than we used to let him, because after all, this is his last "free" summer before he graduates.

Honestly, I never thought I would say this, but I can't wait until they are old enough to move out. There's been too much drama lately.  I miss the days when they were very small and they were so fun to be around. . .

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Only Thing Free Is The Air We Breathe

Isn't it sad when you REALLY think about it? That nothing is free except for the air we breathe to live? We live in a society where we MUST consume, meaning it costs money to do ANYTHING. We are all struggling financially because the economy is so bad and the cost of everything is going through the roof.  We are paying for the really bad decisions the government and the politicians within made over the course of decades.  Unless one is homeless and has absolutely nothing, we have to pay for taxes, food, water, transportation, heat, housing, etc., etc.  It is really frustrating that even if you own your home free and clear, we must still pay property taxes (at least here in the US) to the local government year after year for the pleasure of owning your home.  If you fail to pay, they can come after you with the force of government might and eventually force you out of your home.  What kind of CRAP is that?

True, you can minimize your outgoing expenses by cutting back, buying used or accepting hand-me-downs, growing your own food and/or foraging for it, but one must still spend money somewhere.  Just imagine how much extra money you will have toward your retirement, vacation fund, house fund, or whatever else your heart desires if the government was not so greedy.  Every year, Tax Freedom Day comes later and later (April 12 for 2011), and what do we really have to show for it?  Zip, zero, nada.  It is estimated that every American "owes" approximately a $200,000 share of the national debt as it stands today.  I just read in the news that a brand new high school in California built at the cost of $105 million to the local tax payers cannot open because the school district has no funds to pay for the new teachers and administrators to open the school.  Is is insanity.  WHEN is it going to end?

Thursday, June 9, 2011

It's Criminal

I received a friendly "Notification of Drainage Utility Charge" from the city the other day, and it really, Really, REALLY made me mad. You see, back in last November's General Midterm Election, there was a city proposal on the ballot to allow the city to charge a tax to property owners based on how much impervious surface it has on the property in order to "help" with flood control.  Never mind the fact that the county already has a taxing Flood Control District and the city is part of the county! Houston wanted more money.  Period. End of story.  Anyhow, the measure passed, god knows why, so here we are.

According to the notice, my monthly charge was going to be $20.10!  I know I mentioned before that I live in an older semi-rural neighborhood, and we do not have water, sewer, or a curb and gutter drainage system (we are on well and septic).  Translation, we don't get JACK from the city in terms of services.  Actually, our area is not even physically connected to Houston proper but was annexed by the city in a tax money grab about 10 years or so ago by virtue of the fact that it is "connected" by Lake Houston!  Oh yeah, we had a ballot measure on that too, but the local residents got outvoted by the people who already lived in Houston.  But I digress. . .

The "notice" clearly states that I have an open ditch and not a curb and gutter, and an open ditch is one of the exceptions to not having to pay the monthly fee. BUT, I will get charged regardless UNLESS I send in my protest in a timely manner.  So I have to waste my money on postage because the online protest only accepts supporting documents in a PDF or TIFF format, which I don't have the capability to do.  They are counting on a number of potentially non-taxable homes not sending in the protest in time so they can collect their damn tax regardless! What kind of bull crap is THAT!  I thought government was corrupt, but this is really, Really, REALLY low!

Oh yeah, and I'm now hearing through the grapevine that the city will place a meter on our well to charge us to use the water that is under our property.  Who wants to make a bet that they will maintain the well in perfect working order?  It's criminal!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Free Table and Our Old Sofa Set

Got a text from a neighbour down the street the other day if I wanted a free coffee table.  She said it was a hand-me-down from her sister-in-law, and it just was not working for them as they have two small children.  I gladly took it as I had been looking for a table to place in front of this couch. (I don't know why the photo looks grainy. I tried the Blogger App and the photo loaded, but with this quality. The bug's not resolved. . .)  Though I'm not sure if I would have purchased this table, I think it looks fine, and the size is just about right.  You can't beat free! I took over some homemade lasagna later in the day that I made with the marinara sauce from my tomatoes.  She was appreciative because she got the night free from getting dinner ready.  It was a good trade for both of us.

This is our "great room," that is thus far underutilized.  You might remember that we had been renovating our house, and the project is not yet completed.  There is supposed to be a bar area opposite this couch which still has to be fitted in with cabinets.  Still looking for deals, but I would like it completed before my older son graduates from high school next year.  Anyhow, this room still needs to get furnished, and I have been scouring Craigslist for a leather couch and chairs to replace the ones in the photo.  Most sellers want too much money, and I understand that if one is selling, you want top dollar. But I'm on the buying end, so I'm holding out for the deal of a lifetime! If I'm patient, something will turn up, I'm sure. 

The sofa and chair in the photo is old and on its' last leg. It used to be in the family room, and is the set my husband purchased for me when we found out I was pregnant with our first child.  Until this set was purchased, we had NO furniture. NONE. We were sitting on plastic chairs in our rent house because we had just moved cross country, was broke and just starting out his new job in San Diego.  That was almost 19 years ago.  It served us well over the years and withstood two children, guests and several dogs, but the seams are giving out on the back cushions and though I have tried to repair it, the repairs don't seem to last. 

When we purchased it, it was brand new from the furniture store, and I believe we paid about $3000 (!) for them plus a loveseat that is not in the photo.  Of course it was on credit.  That is not what we would do now, but we weren't really thinking back then. We were young and broke.  And it was before the Internet, email and Craigslist were even dreamed of. We initially tried to find a used set through the classified ads in the newspaper, but gave up after many false leads.  Someone always seemed to beat us, and we got tired of trying.  So we paid top dollar for the set and it was purchased on credit.  Were we stupid, or what??  We have wizened up considerably since then, and paid $200 for a very nice leather sofa and matching chair we now use in the family room that I found on Craigslist.  I hope I can find another deal like this.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Random Thoughts

Well, it really sucks when you get used to doing something, and then can't. Still no luck with the Blogger app for my phone, so I guess it's back to getting the photos off of my camera.  I just hate that extra step I have to take. . .

The vegetable garden is really taking off, and I made some home made marinara sauce with the bumper crop of tomatoes the other day.  Just chopped tomatoes, a splash of balsamic vinegar and a teaspoon of sugar and I let that cook up until the tomatoes started to fall apart.  I then put that through a food mill to get the skin and most of the seeds out and simmered the remaining liquid until it had reduced by about a third. Salted to taste, and it was really, REALLY good.  My husband commented how the taste does not compare to store bought spaghetti sauce.  The only downside was that I did not have enough to can, so next time, I will wait until I have a large stash in the freezer.  I had been reading up on tomatoes in my copy of The Encyclopedia of Country Living, and I saw that you can freeze whole tomatoes until you have enough to make a big batch. I will give that a try.

I got dinner going rather late yesterday as I had a migraine for much of the day.  I saved dinner by cooking a whole chicken (purchased for $2.50 when on sale) in my pressure cooker with a splash of lemon juice, several dashes of dried minced garlic, pepper, some Montreal Steak Seasoning and a bit of soy sauce.  Cooked that under pressure for about 30 minutes while I chopped up several zucchini from the garden and pan fried that with garlic powder, salt and pepper and some Italian seasoning.  The chicken was falling off the bone at the end of cooking.  My husband is on a low/no carb diet now, so that's all he had.  The boys ate it along with some leftover mashed potatoes from the other night. So the total outlay for dinner was only $2.50!

I realized yet again that I need to utilize my pressure cooker more often.  It makes tough cuts of meat tender AND cooks it faster than conventional cooking. If I remember to do that, it will help reduce our electric bill.  Our house is all electric, so it adds up after a while.  Need to find more recipes. . .

The food mill was a splurge item for me a while back.  I had been coveting one for a LOOOOONG time.  I had a $50 gift card from Williams Sonoma, but the All Clad mill I wanted was over $100.  That's more expensive than any of the pots and pans I own. Do I get it or a cheaper model that was mostly plastic?  I decided to go for quality because I knew I would be using it a whole bunch once I had enough tomatoes to can the surplus.  Though I still cringe when I think of the cost, I have not regretted the purchase. It is a joy to use, and has 3 interchangeable disks. I made some vegetable cream soup with it when I first got it, and it was so velvety smooth without the addition of cream.  My husband taught me that if you need a tool, one should always go for the best you can afford so you don't have to replace the item over and over.  In the long run, it's frugal.  That's my story and I'm sticking to it!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

I Hate The Blogger App!

I HATE IT! It is more convenient for me to take pictures from my phone and post it here, but the app stopped working.  I then installed the "official" Google version (I was not even aware that I had the unofficial version in the first place), and it SUCKS! I unistalled and installed the damn thing THREE TIMES (!) without success. It "force closes" on me or tells me the "upload failed."

HELLOoooooooo, you there in Googleland who is most surely monitoring this sort of post, FIX THE DAMN THING!!!

Till the issue is resolved, happy blogging (elsewhere)!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

How Does My Garden Grow?

Why, very well, thank you very much!  In fact, it is really coming along swimmingly.  This is a photo of my butternut squash plant and the baby squash forming behind the squash blossom.  The length of the squash here was about one inch long and about as thick as my pinky finger. 

As one new to the joys of gardening, this being only the second year of trying to grow vegetables, there is something really magical about seeing things grow.  It is akin to the wonder of watching your children grow and reach different milestones in their lives.  Last year, I got my garden going a little too late, and the only thing that grew were the Chinese bitter melon that only I like to eat.  Texas gets very hot quick, so we have to get the plants in the ground early in the spring to get them established so they can tolerate the heat.  The tomato plants last year did not do JACK. I planted them too late and even though it is a heat loving plant, it just was too hot and I did not get A. Single. Damn. Tomato.

Anyways, here is the same plant only about a week later:

Here, the squash has grown to about 3 inches long and has plumped up some.  The photo does not do it justice.  It is so shiny and very pretty with its' pale green vertical stripes.  I saved the seeds last fall from a store bought squash.  I planted six seeds, which is probably too much, now that I see how the plants are growing.  The vines are starting to fill out and there are numerous babies on each of them.  I think I'm going to have a bumper crop if the critters stay away. <knock wood>

The beds are filling out.  I realized, being the novice that I am, that I needed to do something about the paths.  The weeds keep growing almost over the beds, and I'm always ever cautious of the snakes (yes, we have some on occasion).  This winter, we plan on cutting down at least two diseased trees in our yard. At that time, I am planning on renting a wood chipper so I can then recycle the wood chips to use as a mulch cover for the paths to keep the weeds under control.  But until then, I have to deal with the tall weeds in the paths that the lawn mower can't get to.

One thing I noticed since getting the large tires in the yard is how much I like them.  Yes, they are ugly to look at but I really don't care about that.  This backyard is not visible from the street or prying eyes of neighbors looking in, so aesthetics is not that important.  What I like about them is the fact that the plants are elevated almost twice as high as the those in the wooden raised beds.  That makes for easy weeding and harvesting.  It is very easy on the knees if all you have to do to is bend down instead of kneeling by the bed.  (I guess I'm not as young as I think I am. . .) 

The other day, I gathered the first of the tomatoes and jalapenos and made some homemade pico de gallo.  I chopped up the tomatoes, jalapenos, a bit of onions and tossed all that with a bit of salt and a splash of lime juice from a bottle.  Let the flavors meld for a bit in the refrigerator, and voila!

The. Best. Damn. Pico. De. Gallo. EVER!  It was divine with some tortilla chips. My husband and I made a light lunch with just that. 

All of the tomatoes I used were sort of funky looking, and I think if my garden was a commercial operation, they never would have made it to the store.  But they tasted better than the ones from the store, and it really made me realize how much waste there must be in a commercial farming operation that can only sell perfect looking vegetables to the grocery stores. Food for thought, literally.

How does YOUR garden grow?

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Almost There

The flower bed I started working on last weekend is almost done! I had to purchase additional resin edging to keep the dirt in place so it will not drain out through the cracks in the decorative rock "wall."  It was backbreaking work bringing in the dirt to fill the bed, one bucket at a time from the backyard because I don't have a wheelbarrow yet.  I mixed in some horse manure for good measure and planted three flats of impatiens I purchased at the nursery that was on clearance.  I probably will buy a few more flats to fill in the rest of the bed, or some perennials, I have not decided yet.  But it is wonderful to see some color in this corner of the yard. 

It has been very dry in Texas, we only had one rainfall in close to two months where I live.  The rest of the state is doing a lot worse.  You can see that the lawn is looking pretty sad as a result.  That is my next project when I have the energy.  Thinking of a cottage garden here eventually so my husband and I will have something to look at when we are relaxing on the front porch.  That project will have to wait for the time being, as it is getting almost too hot to do any work outside.  I was soaked when I got done filling the bed with dirt yesterday.

As I was watering my potted plants that I keep by the front door, I saw this little guy:

Amazing how the lily leaves can support his hefty figure!  Just kidding.  (Reminds me of the GEICO gecko though.)

I can't wait for the lilys to bloom, the stalks with the buds on it has been growing for some time.  I'm expecting then to bloom any day now.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Gardening Update

My vegetables in the garden is coming along, some faster than others.  I am fortunate that I can plant the seeds and seedlings in the ground a lot earlier than some other people as technically, I live in the sub-tropics.  Most of the plants here were planted in early March through early April.

The first of my produce from the garden:

I was at a loss on what to do with such a small amount of green beans.  I steamed them for about 5 minutes and served them alongside the grape tomatoes as an appetizer with some wasabi mayonnaise.

I had been planning to buy a persimmon tree at the nursery, and when I went over, the fruit trees were on sale @ 50% off. I purchased a peach tree also and planted them both in the side yard where we are in the process of creating a fruit orchard.  We have a bit more space, so I may go get a couple more trees next payday. The trees are hard to see in the photo as they are not much more than sticks with leaves.  I wonder how many years until they start producing? There is a Japanese saying that says, "peaches and chestnuts in three years, and persimmons in eight." I don't know how old these trees are, so it will have to be a surprise.

The pear tree in our backyard has fruit growing on it.  The tree was (I'm assuming) planted by the former owners. We are going on our 4th year in this house, and this is the first year this tree has borne any fruit.  I think the fertilizing spikes we have put into the ground the last two years are finally having an effect on the tree.  It will be wonderful to harvest the pears when they are ripe, and it will be a good opportunity for me to learn the can home grown produce.

I never grew anything prior to last year, and this is all new to me.  I must say that I am quite enjoying seeing things grow.  The butternut squash I planted from a seed from a store bought squash and saved the seeds from is even blooming and growing baby squash.  Same with the acorn squash.  It is really quite wonderful.  If only the critters will stay out of the beds.  I think the squirrels are using my beds to hide stuff in, as I often see small holes dug up in the dirt.

Friday, May 13, 2011

And I Thought Big Brother Was Watching Me. . .

OK. So I have a wee bit of conspiracy theorist in me. . . When my last silly post on Louis Vuitton disappeared from my little ol' blog overnight, I was mighty suspicious.  Does Google have some kind of thought police that removes posts criticizing advertisers in any way? Did I offend the higher powers that be who had some sort of vested interest in Louis Vuitton?  I don't trust Google to begin with, and my mind was conjuring up the many ways I might have violated some sort of blog posting policy (who reads the fine print, anyway??).   

So I was wrong.  Just a minor hiccup at Blogger when they were doing routine maintenance (or so they say. . .). 

But seriously, sometimes all this tech stuff really creeps me out.  Especially when you know that every post is analyzed to the n-th degree by some computer algorithm to maximize Google profits.  I was reading a Facebook post by a friend just yesterday and she was noticing how the ads on her homepage kept changing with every comment she made. After a while, she started throwing words out there, and the ads just kept keeping pace with whatever she said.  SCARY.  It's a little too much like that Tom Cruise movie from a while back who's name eludes me, where advertisements on walls and billboards greeted him by name as he was walking past, trying to lure him into buying "stuff." 

All this, of course is aimed at consumerism and commercial consumption.  Don't get me wrong. I am a firm believer in Capitalism and the free market system, but when reality starts mimicking fiction from only a short while ago, it really makes one pause to think about it all.

The fact of the matter is that, increasingly, we are losing our freedoms on many fronts.  Even while blogs we can create for free from the comfort of our homes in our pajamas give us all a platform to spout off whatever we care to throw out there, we must be mindful that all of this is recorded for perpetuity.   Once it is "out there" we can't take it back.  And it may, in some way, come back to bite us someday. 


Wednesday, May 11, 2011

My Louis Vuitton "Habit"

I had to go to the sporting goods store today to get my husband some new ear plugs for his swim workout.  As long as I was there, I might as well pop into the Goodwill thrift store nearby!  I found a Martha Stewart book for 99 cents and was checking out, when I noticed three mint looking Louis Vuitton bags behind the counter.  I asked to see them, and while I was convinced that they were the genuine article, I passed them by.

Why, you ask? Well, for one thing, my pet peeve recently has been that thrift stores in general are getting awfully proud of thier merchandise.  Yes, I realize it's for charity and a good cause, but recent pricing is bordering on retail levels.  For crying out loud, all the items were FREE!  Hellooooooooooo???

The bags were $39.99, $79.99 and $99.99 respectively.  For a split second, I toyed with the idea of buying one of them and putting it up on eBay, but what if it's a big flop?  The cheapest bag was in the best shape, but I was somewhat amazed at how cheaply made they all seemed to me. I just did not want to take the chance that I would have wasted the money. So I left the bags at the store.

You might say, if they looked cheap, surely it was a knock off? I'm convinced they were not, because all the purses had the LV logo on all of the hardware and "Louis Vuitton, made in France" leather label inside.  One of them even had a serial number on it.  My theory is that if it was a knock off, the manufacturer would not go through all that trouble.  It just is not worth the investment for them to do all that if they were just trying to make a quick buck.

Back in the day, when I was much, much younger, I desperately wanted one (or two or more) of these bags.  But even in my insane youth, I was not crazy enough to spend a king's ransom for one lousy bag.  So I never got one, until I purchased the three in the photo.  This is the extent of my Louis Vuitton "habit."

The largest one was purchased at a garage sale for a whopping $3.00.  Compared to the ones I saw today at Goodwill, this one was made when Louis Vuitton was synonymous with quality.  The leather handles have a rich patina from use by the previous owner, and I get a big kick every time I use it, which is not often.  But, I know I have the satisfaction of other people noticing that I own one, and the secret satisfaction of knowing how much it actually cost.  Hey, it cost less than coffee from Starbucks!

The white one was purchased about 3 years ago at Goodwill for around $3.00.  Funny thing is, it was in the "valuable goods" case at the store, but the price was not so valuable.  I purchased it not to use, but to eventually gift it to one of my husband's nieces when they are old enough.  Same for the other brown bag wich was about $1.50, no kidding! I purchased it last year at my local Goodwill.  I have not yet decided if I will gift it, but I'm probably going to use it as a make up bag when my current one falls apart, because it is just the right size for that.

Now, I have no clue how much these things retail for.  I thought, at most, $100?  I have a high school friend in Japan who has the Louis Vuitton account for a market research firm in Tokyo.  When I posted a photo of the two smaller bags on my Facebook account and wondered how much they were if new, she told me quite a bit.  She mentioned that an iPod case was going for over $300!  Insanity, I tell you!  I'm sure glad my "habit" cost less than lunch at McDonalds!

Do you have a "habit"?

If It's Not NEW, It's EWWW!

For other people, perhaps, but not me. (A shout out to the Thrifty Chicks blog, where I lifted the above phrase.)  I've been loving to thrift shop ever since I discovered them.  My only regret was not discovering them earlier than I did.  I shudder to think about how much money I wasted shopping retail in my youth.  By the time my first son was born, I wised up.  Most of his baby clothes and through his toddler years to about five were all purchaed at thrift stores.  Beyond that, boys are so tough on clothes, especially pants, that I had to resort to retail sales items.  But I figure I saved a small fortune regardless.

But most mothers are not like me.  They want the best for their progeny, and will spare no funds.  If it's not new, it's ewww!  Seriously.  Even my late mother-in-law, God rest her soul, looked upon me with disapproval when we let it slip that her grandsons were dressed in second hand clothes from the thrift stores.  You see, she was a product of the Depression Era and lived through some hard times in her youth.  It did not matter that her father was one of the very few who never got laid off because he was a deputy sheriff and a big wig in the small town where she grew up.  Anything that was previously used, to her, was garbage. 

In her mind, even true, honest to goodness antique furniture that a well-to-do person would willingly pay thousands, if not tens of thousands for at auction at Christie's or Sotheby's was rubbish.  So she just never understood why we would pay several hundred dollars to buy a piece of antique furniture, because it was somebody's cast off any way she looked at it, regardless of the fine craftsmanship you just cannot get in brand new furniture.  When we told her it was part investment, since we knew when time came for us to sell the antique, we could probably recoup the purchase cost, she just shook her head as if she thought we were crazy.  She was content to buy a cheaply made set of furniture from Sam's Club that was "Made in China."

On a grander scale, this was the case in McAllen, Texas, in the Rio Grande Valley where my younger son was born and where we lived for two years.  Now, this is a part of Texas that is very poor and where there is a very high percentage of people living in the lowest of low socio-economic level.  Yet, there was a building boom the whole time we lived there, and from what I understand, nothing has changed in the 15 or so years since we lived there.  In McAllen and the nearby suburbs, big, brand new single story houses with soaring ceilings were all the rage.  And the operative word was "NEW."  The market was so strange in that previously occupied houses had a hard time selling compared to new construction. People wanted houses that no hands had touched except those of the workmen that built it. 

The weirdest part of the whole equation was that McAllen and the entire Rio Grande Valley had no major industry except for citrus and other agriculture, but nothing you could get really rich off of.  That is, except for the underground "industry" of dope smuggling across the Mexico border.  McAllen just did not have enough jobs to justify all of the nonstop construction.  So did that mean that the neighbor next door was involved in the "industry" somehow?  I never found out.  Rumor had it that a high school in Starr County near McAllen received an anonymous cash donation to build a school gymnasium upon the condition that it had to be built in the shape of a marijuana leaf, and it was.  But I digress.

The point I was trying to make is that "used" is not a bad thing. Not at all.  In fact, even my mother-in-law knew that, though she didn't realize it.  She left her diamond rings to her granddaughters in her will.  If "used" was truly that bad, she wouldn't have, right? 

; )

(Almost) Free Pasta

Ronzoni pasta was on sale at Kroger for 50 cents each if you purchased 10 participating items in the store. Although I generally don't use coupons, I found out about their "$1 off of two boxes" coupons. I printed out the coupons at, and had enough coupons for 16 free boxes. I had to buy 4 more to get the sales price, so I paid $2.00 for 20 packages, or 10 cents each! That's what I'm talking about!

I think deals like this makes me want to reevaluate my aversion to coupons.  I normally don't use coupons because, 1) I don't get the Sunday paper, 2) I don't buy that many processed foods, and 3) I am too lazy to try to find deals like this.  BUT, free is free, and if the stores and the manufacturers are having deals like this in these hard times, I think I better start paying attention!  A big "thank you" shout out has to go to the "Deals To Meals" blog I follow, where I found out about this.  Though the sale was over yesterday, you can still go online to print the coupons, which are good through June 9th. I would say one dollar off of two boxes is still a good deal! Hopefully the sales will continue through next week!  You can only print each coupon twice, but I have two computers in the house, so I got double that amount.  If you have access to more computers, then hurray for you!

BUT, as with most things in life, you get a break on one thing, and then get socked in another.  At the last dental appointment, our dentist informed us that both our sons better get thier wisdom teeth pulled because they are coming in and will screw up thier orthodontic work in progress. He recommended that it be done this summer.  My older son started complaining that his mouth was hurting two days ago, and is scheduled for the oral surgery tomorrow.  Out of pocket costs for us (with insurance) will be $1300+. Ouch!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

I'm Pooped!

Hello. Just a short post today. I should have taken a "before" photo, but I forgot. I guess you can call this the "during" shot.  This bed by the tree was VERY overgrown. I had some plants there that's been there since we moved in that looked like some sort of iris, but the dang things have never bloomed. I just got tired of looking at them without the flowers. The bed was also overgrown by weeds and downright ugly to look at.  This area is in plan view when my husband and I sit on the front porch, so I'm going to see if I can plant something, ANYTHING, that will bloom, preferably a perennial so I don't have to mess with it year in, year out.  I want color! That's the minimal requirement.

The rock enclosure is a recent project by "moi" with some stones left over from the previous owners' landscaping project, so it cost nothing, as was the black weed barrier that you can see a smidge.  I plan on filling the bed with the soil we had delivered for the vegetable beds and the horse manure so whatever I end up planting will have a good chance of surviving. 

But right now, I'm pooped, so I'm off to shower to cool down!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Cheap Thrills

I have seen this not-so-little guy hanging out in our backyard three times in the past week, always right before dusk. I know it's not exactly a good picture, but I just so happened to have my phone with me when I took this photo from inside the house. Since I always see him (or her, how does one tell?) on the fence or on top of the shed, I suspect his roost/nest must be close by. My husband and sons think it's a hawk, and I agree, but I couldn't figure out what kind, although I looked through the field guide we have in the house.

Goes to show you don't have to spend any money to be entertained. We have two large undeveloped tracts of land on two sides of our neighborhood as well as a state park on the other side of one of those tracts, so we do get our share of wildlife around here. Certainly a far cry from what I was used to growing up in Tokyo, Japan, which was nothing more than an asphalt jungle. I do miss it sometimes, but glad I don't live there anymore. The most I saw of wildlife back then were some sparrows, crows and pigeons.

Yesterday, I was at a loss as to what to make for dinner, so I threw some chicken bones I had in the freezer from past chicken dinners with some water and boiled that for a while until the broth turned a beige, murky color. I then strained the bones and other bits, added about 4 diced carrots, 2 stalks of celery, an onion and a bell pepper with some chicken bouillon granules and let all that simmer until the carrots were cooked through. In the meantime, I took out a pound of ground pork from a pig our neighbour raised but we shared the cost of upkeep and mixed in an egg, some grated Parmesan and tamale flour (my husband is on a low carb diet right now so can't use bread crumbs). I made little meatballs with that and dropped them into the soup to cook. My version of Italian Wedding Soup.  I know it needed some greens, but the rest of the family won't eat it if I had put any in there.  Everything was already on hand, and it was cheap. Best of all, everyone seemed to enjoy it, even the picky eaters of the family who shall remain anonymous... I wonder if the hawk would eat any of it if I put some outside?

You might enjoy taking a look at a live feed of nesting eagle chicks @ This morning, they were off the air but there are links to when the chicks hatched. My son told me about this site which he viewed with his class at high school live. He said while they were watching, the mother bird brought back a fish and the father bird brought back a rabbit for the chicks to eat.  Free fun is everywhere, if you care to find it!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Manager's Special

Had to make a run to Kroger last night to get cash for my son to buy tickets to an upcoming dance (remember I said children are NOT frugal?).  While there, I went up and down the aisles looking only for items marked down worth buying, and the above photo is most of what I came home with.  Three packages of Nolan Ryan's ground chuck (hormone and preservative free) marked down to $3.92 a package (about half off the per/pound price). Five packages of Ball pickle mix, from $0.94 cents to $0.59.  A tray of cinnamon rolls marked down to $2.19 (day old bakery is always 50% off). Four rolls of discontinued deodorant, priced at $1.30 each (sorry, the boys grabbed two as soon as I got home). And, two jars of Kim Chee at $1.99 a pop (regularly $4.99 each).

In addition, I purchased an off-season box of six 4-hour Duraflame logs for $6.00 (regularly $15.99), and 3 more boxes of Kroger brand 2-hour logs for $2.59 each (regularly also $15.99, go figure).  I had already put them away in the garage, sorry for the mess.  These logs are quite a savings, and we will surely use them once it gets cold again on its' own, or as starter logs for the fire wood we plan to buy this summer to prepare for winter (the wood is cheaper when not in season).

I was glad to find the Kim Chee, as I have not purchased any in a LONG time.  As with a lot of things I like to eat, it's something the rest of the family will not touch with a ten-foot pole, LOL. So I do feel bad spending five bucks just to please my cravings, aside from the fact that I think at that price point, it is waaaay overpriced.  I felt $1.99 was acceptable.  The reason they were on "special" was because the lids were starting to bulge out, I suspect.  I think those of you who don't eat the stuff would have been very disturbed to see me open it and then proceed to eat some this morning. You see, Kim Chee is fermented cabbage pickled with a ton of cayenne pepper, and the stuff continues to ferment in the bottle after packaging.  When I opened the lid, I heard a fizzing sound as the gas inside was freed from confinement.  Upon taking the lid completely off, there was a lot of bubbling going on!  Anyone not used to this would think the stuff had botulism and promptly thrown it out! I LOVE the stuff!

BUT, even with the substantial savings, the receipt was still over $40.00! I hate to go shopping.  You have to fork over so much money to buy so little. . .

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Garden Update

The new (old) tires have all been planted.  The 5 we found along the side of the road also had horse manure mixed in while they were being filled with dirt.  It will be interesting to see how the plants in those beds compare to the beds in which I used commercial fertilizer in.

The peas are sprouting:

The eggplants (aubergines) are starting to bloom:

But I'm quite not getting why there is such a discrepancy in the growth rate of the Golden Beans in this bed.  Notice it gets taller on the left side of the photo? The beans are all from one bag of seeds, planted in the same bed, with the same soil and gets the same amount of sunlight. As far as I can tell, the bed is level.  Anyone have any clue?

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Children are not Frugal

These are trying times. . . I have one son (17) on the verge of manhood. Yet, he starts CRAP with the younger one (15), who is going through some tough times, hormonally speaking.  Sometimes (often), I wonder why on earth my husband and I wanted kids in the first place.  Ever get that feeling?  But as with my younger son right now, hormones does a crazy number to yourself and your sanity, or lack thereof. I know way back when, when I was praying for children, it was the ticking time bomb doing all the thinking and feeling.  Had my hormones been under control, I wonder if I would have had kids?  Probably not.

But I guess that's how nature intended it.  If it weren't for the unexplainable urge to procreate the next generation, would humanity even exist?  Of course not!  I remember when I was pregnant with the first one, and I was scheduled for a C-section, the doctor asked me if I wanted to have my tubes tied because it would only have taken a couple of extra minutes of his time.  Did I say, "yes"? Of course not!  In the last stages of pregnancy, one is still not sane, because you are way deep in the midst of "procreate and nurture" mode.  What sort of question is THAT? "Do you want to sterilize yourself?" Sheesh!  Insanity, I tell ya!  Insanity on my part, that is.

Instead, we had two kids.  Private schools, sport activities, birthday parties, etc., etc.  If we did not have kids, my husband and I would be filthy rich by now! Just imagine the ROI on the money we could have invested in the stock market! We would be millionaires many times over!  <sigh>  But like most people, we're not.  And that's OK.  We're OK with the fact that our retirement will not be as rich and varied as Donald Trump's or Warren Buffet's will likely be.  As long as the boys grow up into men who care for each other and will be there for the other if one of them is hurting or is in trouble after we are gone.  I know time will change and improve things between them.  I have no doubt.

BUT.  If you are still childless and mulling the concept of procreating, think long and hard.  Run for the hills!  Children are not frugal.  No, not at all.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Cheap Chic

Many moons ago, when I was either in high school or college, there was a bestselling book on fashion titled Cheap Chic in the U.S. Lately, I've been thinking about what I remember from the book (it was a LOOOONG time ago), and I wish I had paid more attention to it than I did back then.  The book was about how one could dress fashionably even if you didn't have a lot of money, and interspersed throughout the book were bios of real life young women and how they shopped and dressed on a  limited budget.  The book promoted shopping in thrift stores as a way to combat the high cost of fashion at a time when, I realize now, people who were not "poor" never ventured into such stores to shop.  I know the concept was new to me. Heck, I've never even heard of it until the book came along!  I also remember myself feeling somewhat superior to a high school classmate who I ran into at a mutual friend's party after we had all graduated from college, when she mentioned how she regularly shopped at Goodwill so she could save money. Oh the horror! The truth is, she was waaaay smarter than me. I was downright STUPID.

Back in the day, I thought nothing of buying 10 ( ! ) pairs of shoes on one shopping trip. But that person no longer exists. . . I don't remember buying any "retail" new item of clothing for a minimum of 5-6 years.  I've shopped at thrift stores and garage sales for at least 20 years now.  The other week, a neighbor gave me the opportunity to look through some discarded clothes from someone she knew before she took them over to the women's shelter. I gladly took what fit me. New clothes from heaven! So what changed?

I think when one settles down and start a family, and you are no longer responsible just for yourself, one's priorities takes a big hit of reality check.  I know mine did.  Especially so after the birth of our first son.  We went from two paychecks to one paycheck in addition to the added burden of moving to a city with a higher cost of living (San Diego).  Something had to give, and that was paying full price for things.  If we could find it used, we did. If it was free, that was even better. And if we could do without, then we went without.

That doesn't mean we will never pay retail.  Another important concept I remember from Cheap Chic was the idea of "Price Per Use."  This is where that cute outfit you absolutely had to have because "it was on sale and so damn cheap" ends up costing you more in the long run if you end up wearing it once or twice or not at all, than the expensive, top-of-the-line item because if you divide the purchase price by the number of times you use it, the expensive item comes out cheaper than the throwaway item.  For example, if you purchased a classic blazer for the ungodly price of $500.00, but you wore that at least once a week for 5 years, then your price per use would be less than $1.92. But if you bought an outfit for $15.00 but only wore it once or none at all, your price per use is $15.00!  I'm not trying to rationalize here, I don't think I can fork over $500.00 for one item of clothing, but you get the idea.  Just because an item is expensive should not deter one from purchasing it if you absolutely know that it will be used over and over, and you can afford to buy it without putting it on credit.

I guess what I'm trying to say here is that if you can't find what you need used, you don't necessarily have to dismiss buying it retail. But if you can't, or if the used item will end up costing you more to use it, as the case may be with old electric appliances, then you might consider buying it new (but preferably on sale).  Cheap Chic is all about being smart with your hard earned money. 

Monday, April 25, 2011

Roadside Treasures

My husband had a hernia surgery last Wednesday, and was under doctor's orders to be moving around instead of planting himself in bed as conventional wisdom used to be back in the day.  Two days after his surgery, he decided he needed a walk.  We went out for a leisurely stroll along a lonely stretch of road right outside our neighborhood:

This road has a VERY deep ditch along its' side to control runoff from the rain (in Texas, when it rains, it pours). Anyways, we were strolling along, and found a big, fat tire in the ditch. I said to my husband that the tire looked like it was the same size as those we made raised beds with. I decided we could use more vegetable beds, so we should come back and get it 

As we continued on with our walk, we found not one, not two, but 4 more tires of the same size along the road, meaning we found 5 tires total.  On one level, that was fine by us. We could sure use them. But on another level, it really made us mad. For crying out loud, doesn't whoever threw away those tires know that we LIVE here? Why do they think it's OK to dump tires along the side of the road? REALLY?  Talk about lack of civility and common courtesy!  Not to even mention that they are trashing our planet!  Sheesh! (Breath in, breathe out. . . OK,  I think I'm done venting. . .)

We sent our sons off to retrieve those tires after we got back from our stroll.  They were not all that happy about it, especially after they got home.  They were complaining that the tires were HEAVY, and they could barely get them lifted into the truck bed.  My husband asked them if they stacked them up in the driveway. The answer was negative. When asked why, they said all they could do was roll them off the bed of the truck, and that if they had not done so, that I would never have been able to move them!

When I went out to check them out, I understood why. These tires were even larger and heavier than the tires from my son's truck. The three guessed they were probably dump truck tires. When I measured them, they were fully 42 inches across. They will make sizable beds, and all for FREE!

We also found a sizable patch of wild blackberries. We went out later to pick some. I think they will be in season for at least several more weeks.  I washed them quickly and put them on a sheet pan in a single layer to freeze in the freezer.  That way, I don't have to worry about them going bad. I will probably make blackberry cobbler and blackberry dumplings (my husband's favorite childhood dish). If I get a sizable stash, I may even give a go at making blackberry preserves.

We also went back later that afternoon to dig up some of the blackberry plants to replant them in our garden.  Don't know if they will take, but at least it's worth a try, and it was free. Can't beat THAT!  So all in all, it was a good day, even if I got really pissed off at the sight of those tires initially. . .