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)!