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. . .

Saturday, April 23, 2011

That's a Lot of Horse Sh*%!

Quite literally. Really.  Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought even 5 years ago that I would willingly drive 20 miles to go get a free load of horse manure! But that's exactly what we did today so we can improve the soil quality in our raised vegetable beds.  With the ongoing drought in Texas, the manure was really dried out, and we are going to have to wet it down and mix it in with our compost pile before we can use it, but I know I can look forward to a bountiful harvest next year once all this crap, literally, is mixed into our dirt.  Tomorrow, we have to shovel it out of the truck bed. Oh joy. . .

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Thank You

Today is my birthday. Feeling a bit under the weather, but the family is taking me out to dinner later.  I am at a age when, if my husband and I want to get something and we can afford it, we generally will, though we will always try to find whatever we want used before we fork over our hard earned money to buy it new.

So, no presents this year. My husband more than made up for it last year when he surprised me with a very expensive set of kitchen knives that I was too cheap to buy for myself.  I use it with a lot of gratitude every day when I cook.

I wanted to take this opportunity to thank those of you who bother to read this blog. I now officially have 9 "Followers," but I was surprised to learn today (when I finally figured out how) that my blog has had over 1000 page views since its inception.  Whether you are an official follower or not, "Thank you" from the bottom of my heart.  I was doing this for myself mostly, as an online diary of what I've been up to.  I was pleasantly surprised that I had not been talking to myself.

I think those of us who take the initial step to start a blog have a frustrated writer in us wanting to emerge out of the shadows.  I know I had an inkling to write a novel that I've been nursing in my heart for years, but where to start?  At least this is the first step.  Don't know if I'll ever have the time or will power to actually write that book, but I thank you all for bothering to read my rambling thoughts.  And you know what? Starting a blog doesn't cost a penny, so it goes right along with the frugal theme.  :)

Here's to hoping that this next year in my life and yours will be evermore frugal and joyous.


Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Frugal Bathroom Part II

I completed the unfinished project for our hall bathroom.  This is what the other side of the bathroom used to look like:

Gag me with a spoon! I think you can see why this bathroom had to go. . . I HATED those faux marble looking smoky mirrors.  We used to live in a rent house when we first got married that had these same mirrors.  Ugh! WHAT WERE THEY THINKING??  They must have been high on SOMETHING.  There is no other explanation. . .

Without a second thought, this bathroom got ripped out except for the tub as soon as we got title to the house.  We installed a new toilet and it stayed like that for two years.  Last year, we finally got around to finishing it off.  I had to find a new vanity because the one above was history.  Have you ever priced bathroom vanities? A basic, nothing-to-write-home-about vanity made of particle board WITHOUT a counter top, sink or faucet was running at a minimum of $500 at Home Depot or Lowes.  It was out of the question, and that vanity was really ugly anyway.  I was not interested.  What to do?

I searched high and low.  Again, Craigslist to the rescue.  The new-to-me used solid wood buffet was $100.  It sat in the dining room of an elderly lady who was moving into a nursing home.  I'm sure it never got much use.  It has the furniture look that is popular now, but I think it looks timeless because of its' Country French styling.  The undermount sink was less than $50 from  The big splurge items here were the granite counter and faucet that came to around $500 total.  But, considering a bottom-of-the-line vanity from a big box retailer sans counter, etc was going for $500, my husband and I could live with that.  We don't plan on ever moving again, so we were willing to spend the money this time.

Here is the in between look with the temporary mirror we were using.  Notice that I am getting ready to install the mirror I showed you yesterday.  I was using the tapes to figure out where to install the hanging hardware.  I am not too bright when it comes to numbers, so I believe in the mantra, "measure twice, do once."  Even so, my husband complained that the mirror was too low and I had to redo it.  Drat!  In a perfect world, all the crap on the sink would not be there, but hey, I live in the real world.  Maybe one day when the boys are gone, my house will have the semblance of a model home. . . 

Which reminds me, I remember reading an old issue of Architectural Digest, and the feature was the home of Garrison Keller of Lake Woebegone fame (I think that was his name). He wrote an accompanying article, saying that the home in the photos does not exist, and that it was an illusion, meaning in real life, his house has all kinds of stuff strewn around because his family lives there. I thought it was reassuring of him to say that instead of making us believe that his life was perfection. . . But I digress. . .

So, without further delay, here is the finished bathroom.  I finished spray painting the chair and reupholstered it today.  What do you think??

The hanging black plaque was another thrift store find that was around $4.00.  The mirror we had been using was moved over to the other wall as art.  I LOVE to use mirrors. I don't look at myself much, but I love the silver color that reflects the light.  The chair was a freebie when I purchased the buffet/vanity.  It had a dated finish, but I liked the shape, so a quick spray painting with the same satin black paint as the mirror updated it.  I covered it with a fabric remnant also from the thrift store for, I think, 79 cents.

Yes, I am pretending that the bathroom always looks like this, but alas, it does not.  The photo is a grand illusion, I'm afraid.  Normally, the counter has all sorts of bottles and such strewn around, but one can dream. . .

Monday, April 18, 2011

What Else I've Been Up To. . .

I wrote about our bathroom before and promised that I will show you the vanity area sometime. . . I'm not ready to show you just yet, but here's a teaser of what I've been up to to finish it off.

The reason I was not ready was because I've been on a hunt for a mirror to hang over the vanity. We've been making do with a small mirror until I found the right one for the right price, meaning a great mirror for a very cheap price. I had no luck at the thrift stores at all, and I was to the point of succumbing to full retail (well, to a point). About a month ago, I spotted this diamond in the rough hiding behind a gaudy painting:

It had good bones, but its' previous owner had tried to do a shabby chic number on it, without success.  The paint job was dingy, dirty, and downright ugly. Actually, I think it was gesso and not paint, and it was splotchy and noticeably built up over some spots.  But hey, it was only $9.99! So I brought it home, and it sat in the corner of the bathroom until I finally got off my tush and went at it:

Here, I masked off the edge close to the frame and covered the rest with masking paper I had left over when we painted the house before we moved in.  Can you see the bad distressing job on the edges? It was waaaaaay overdone and really ugly.

Lastly, here it is after several coats of satin black spray paint.  I pondered whether to attempt distressing it again, but decided against it.  I think it will eventually acquire the requisite patina as I used it over the years.  The satin finish is very understated and makes the mirror look a lot more expensive than it was. 

I'll post a photo of the bathroom soon, I promise!

Garden Projects

Inspired by Kate's post at Living the Frugal Life, I built myself a Native Bee box yesterday with some scrap pieces of lumber I had in the garage.  Here it is, hanging from the fence post in the back yard by my vegetable garden.  I've never heard of "Native Bees" until I read her post. I Googled it, and read some more about it.  I was not aware that honey bees are not native to the U.S. and most native bees are solitary bees who live out their lives alone other than to mate to lay eggs for the next generation.  The hardest part of making it was drilling all the holes for the bees to lay eggs in.  The battery on my drill kept dying, and I had to wait until it was charged up again.  I'm looking forward to seeing if my "condo" will attract winged guests!

The irony is that right after we closed on our house, we had to pay a bee expert to remove three bee hives that had been built inside the exterior wall while the house sat vacant for two years.  My husband and a contractor had an unpleasant close encounter when they were discussing a job.  They were poking around the roof line, and disrupted the bees who immediately became angry and started to swarm.  I've never seen two grown men running so fast!

When the "bee guy" showed up, he removed the siding on the outside wall and grabbed the hive and shoved it inside a plastic garbage bag. He then cleaned the area as best he could of the honey and sprayed some sort of chemical where the hive had been.  He promised that although we might see stray bees for a while close by, they will not go in to try to rebuild the hive because the bees do not like the chemical.  He said most of the bees followed the hive into his plastic bag, and they will be relocated into a hive box in a commercial bee operation.  Even after 3 years and a power washing of the exterior wall, you can still see the dark spot left by the dripping honey below where the siding was opened up to reach inside.

Anyways, I did not have a 4 x 4 lumber, so I used three short pieces of boards and screwed them from both sides top and bottom.  After the holes were drilled, I added another scrap piece for the roof to protect the hole openings from dripping water.  I promise to post another photo when the "visitors" have checked in!

You can't tell from this photo, but the other recent project was to plant some raspberry plants along this fence. I got them on clearance at the garden center a couple of weeks ago.  I purchased 12 plants, and threw one away by mistake because they look like a dead piece of stick! I had just made a big pile of weeds and vines I had pulled up to clear the area to plant them, and then promptly threw one of the plants onto the pile by error. I tried to find it, but it was a classic "needle in the hay stack" situation, and I gave up. Sooo, I only have 11 plants. Hopefully, they will start putting out new shoots sometime soon.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

When the Going Gets Tough. . .

Don't you sometimes feel like you just want to curl up into a ball and do nothing? That's how I feel today. Don't want to talk about being frugal, thrifty, tightwad, etc., etc.  I just want to get my caffeine fix and go curl up with a book and forget everything. 

My younger son is 15, and he is navigating through some very rough waters, figuratively speaking. He is surly, all attitude, back talks and argues.  It is really frustrating trying to get through to him, because he won't listen. He "knows" everything.  I know intellectually it is a waste of my breath arguing with him, and yet. . . I end up in a shouting match with him over. . .nothing.

But I do remember the sweet boy he used to be, just a short while ago. He used to have platinum blond hair as a toddler, which was really strange because I am a dark brunette and I remember from biology class that dark is the dominant gene.  He was very sweet tempered and angelic.  I used to have an irrational fear that he would be in some horrific accident, and I used to pray over him as I put him down to sleep that he will be safe and my fears will remain a figment of my imagination.  On the weekends when my husband and I used to try to sleep in, he used to climb into our bed and lay close to me, patting me with his small, chubby hands as if he was trying to comfort me. . .

I know. . . I hope. . . this will pass.  He will grow up into a responsible young adult in a few short years.  But until then, the battle continues. . . Today, I'm taking a time out.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Out of Storage Cooking

Inspired by Frugal Queen, but also out of necessity, I've been cooking out of the pantry and freezer.  We have been hemorrhaging money like there was no tomorrow for the last two weeks and we are flat out of money. As I blogged in my prior post, we had to purchase tires for my son. We also had to pay for a car loan, out-of-pocket medical bills, unexpected auto repair, and some other things.  We are down to our last pennies practically (and we still have to keep money aside for gas), so I've been forced to get creative.

Yesterday, I made chili with two cups of pinto beans cooked in the pressure cooker for about an hour, then drained and cooked some more with seasonings for another 20 minutes or so. After the beans were nearly cooked, I put everything in an enamelled cast iron pot to finish cooking.  My pressure cooker is aluminum, and it would have reacted with the pureed tomatoes I added (food safety is important). When it was all done, I defrosted a pound of ground beef which I then browned in a skillet before adding to the chili.  My house full of men would have had a strike if I did not serve meat. . .

Today, I am roasting a 12 pound turkey I purchased back before Thanksgiving when turkeys go on sale. This 12-pounder cost me around $4.00 back then and will give me enough meat for approximately three meals in addition to the bones that will be cooked to make stock for soup.  I will be serving the meat with some frozen corn and rice.

While the turkey was roasting in the oven, I decided not to waste the heat and make a rustic cake for desert as well. . . This was a recipe I had made a few times called Swedish Visiting Cake. The recipe calls for sliced almonds, but I didn't have any in my pantry. I had a half used bag of fresh frozen cranberries in the freezer, so I decided to use that instead.  I changed the original recipe to suit my lazy ways; the recipe called for melted butter but I didn't see the point of dirtying up a pot just to do that.  However, I don't see or taste any difference, so I keep doing it my way. . .

To make the cake, cream 1 stick (8 tablespoons) of softened butter in a mixer until fluffy. Add 1 cup of granulated sugar, 1/4 teaspoon salt and mix until incorporated. Then add 2 large eggs, one at a time until well combined. Add 1 teaspoon vanilla extract and 1/2 teaspoon almond extract.  When everything is well incorporated, add 1 cup all-purpose flour.  After the flour is mixed in, add about 3/4 cup frozen cranberries until just combined so as not to break up the berries.  This makes a very stiff batter that is almost dough-like. You must scrape it into an oiled 9 inch cake pan or cast iron skillet and smooth it on top the best you can.  Any unevenness seems to fix itself in the oven though as the butter initially melts. Bake in a 350 degree F oven for 25 to 30 minutes until golden and a bit crisp on the outside.  The inside will remain slightly moist, but a toothpick inserted should more or less come out clean with the slightest hint of batter sticking to it. 

Since the cake does not call for baking soda or baking powder, it will not rise as a traditional cake but is more like a cross between a coffee cake and cookie. In my opinion, you should not skip adding the almond extract, as that is what gives the cake its most delectable aroma.  If you want to make this according to the original recipe, then skip the cranberries and sprinkle about a 1/4 cup sliced almonds on top of the cake along with a sprinkling of sugar before placing in the oven.  The cake is wonderful either warm or cooled. I never have any leftovers. . . And here it is out of the oven with the half eaten turkey:

Tomorrow, probably turkey vegetable soup made from the turkey stock.  When the going gets tough, the tough need to get creative. . .  

Friday, April 8, 2011

Frugal Raised Vegetable Beds

We had to buy new tires for our older son's truck. That was not so frugal, but it had to be done or his vehicle would not have passed inspection.  His tires are extra BIG, 33 inches in diameter to be exact. Rather than pay the additional fee to the tire store to dispose of them, I brought them back home to try something I read about in a now discontinued blog.  I was going to reuse them to make raised beds for my vegetable garden.

Here is my younger son who happened to be home cutting out the sides of the tire with a reciprocating saw:

Thank God for power tools! :)  As you can see from the photo, they are quite wide. Since these are heavy duty truck tires, I believe they are also quite sturdier than regular passenger vehicle tires.

Here they are in my garden after the sides were cut out and dirt shovelled in:

The one in the foreground was planted with shallots, which tend to be expensive in the supermarkets.  I remember reading somewhere that you save money planting vegetables that are pricey.  The other three were planted with three different varieties of cucumbers, slicing, pickling and an oriental variety I planted last year that I saved seeds from a cuke that was allowed to mature on the vine.  That means I didn't even have to buy the seeds! :) You can't tell from the photo, but the seeds in the second bed germinated just since this morning when I went to water!

And here is another shot of the rest of the beds:

The two beds with the darker soil is from last year when I purchased bagged garden soil.  That can get expensive really quick, so this year, we purchased a truckload of dirt.  It probably is from a riverbed or somewhere like that, so there is no organic matter in it.  I was not sure how the seeds would germinate in such a medium, but so far, everything appears to be doing nicely.  I just need to make sure to fertilize it once or twice during the growing season.  When the compost in the pile you can see in the background is ready, that will be mixed in so I hope the garden will do even better in the following years!

I will be adding two more tire beds later this summer when my husband's truck needs at least two new tires to pass inspection on his vehicle.  Tires are not cheap, so why spend extra money to the store just to get rid of the old ones?  These babies are pretty much indestructible, so these will be in our garden for years to come.