Saturday, July 30, 2011

Honest Joe

On any given Saturday morning spring through fall, weather permitting, as you travel east on the main drag through town, you’ll notice a large hand painted sign on the left. "Honest Joe"*. To the unaware the place looks like any other yard sale. A front yard studded with old ladders, tables filled with stuff, and a friendly guy with a waist bag full of change, ready to say hi.

Actually, "Joe" runs what we call a "perpetual yard sale". Now, I have no problem with someone emptying out his attic, or Grandma’s cellar for that matter, but this guy is hard core. He goes from place to place dickering with unsuspecting yard sale sellers to buy up their wares. I imagine him chuckling into his borsch as he resells what he acquired, at jacked up prices. He can get away with it because he has a great location with lots of parking. It’s perfectly legal and all that, as he’s feet outside the borough’s limits. But it sure looks like a commercial venture on residential property.

Our first summer in the area, I hit his sale, (thinking it was the real deal), and was astounded at the prices he asked. Better than antique stores, but out of my league. After spotting him there every weekend, I realized the ladders were solidly sunk into the front yard soil. Yet because he is still selling seventeen years later, with some variation in table merchandise, I suspect it is profitable.

Is the bohemian in me secretly envious of a guy who can make a buck from other people’s discards? Can yard sales really be considered a commercial venture? The fellow has to eat. It’s not like he’s robbing banks. I have friends who trash pick and erratically resell for side money. Are any of them any different? What about the two guys in their Beverly Hillbilly truck collecting scrap metal early trash day morning? Or us picking up squashed aluminum cans off the road during evening walks? Isn’t it only a matter of degree?

Really, I don’t know.

Our state requires kids to fork over taxes on their earnings no matter what their age or amount, even if it costs more to process the tax than what they owe. One baby sitting eleven year old sent her taxes in cash. The revenue people had to close down shop and count it with a witness present. Well if "Joe" really is an honest Joe, he’s paying his fair share, most likely by check. So should I begrudge his efforts to stabilize government, keep stuff out of landfills, and promote the entrepreneurial spirit? No. I think my nose is out of joint because he talked me into selling him four wooden chairs for $20. I thought I’d given them a good home. Afterwards a neighbor whispered to me, "They aren’t for himself, he’ll just resell. That was 'Honest Joe'".

*His name has been changed.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Heart to Heart

Benny Goodman played the Philadelphia Academy of Music around 1973. A bunch of us impoverished jazz fans took seats in the nosebleed section. He was fifteen minutes late and we mortified the rich furred and fluffed front seaters by stomping our feet and chanting, "We want Goodman, we want Goodman". An old man came on, eyeglasses glinting in the stage lights. As he played, his bones unstiffened, the music pulsed up, golden, fluid honey. Then poof, too soon, it was over. We pounded for encore after encore. The rich folk had drifted out way before the final, "Sweet Georgia Brown". The die-hards craved more. By jingo we wanted our seven bucks worth! Goodman moved off stage as music’s afterglow still lingered in the air. We got up without speaking and left.

Friends consider me a bit of a Luddite. Raised with classical music and jazz at home, I never got into contemporary rock, blinking before it like a bewildered cave dweller in the sunlight. As a kid, I’d sit for hours listening to Tchaikovsky’s stretched and mournful Pathetique. By bits and pieces though, it came. The Beatle’s hauntingly beautiful Norwegian Wood. That tight a capella riff in the Beach Boy’s Sloop John B, so lovely you could cry. There was music in there. Good stuff that reached in and grabbed you by the tonsils.

Listen for it in today's music. Every once and a while they get it too. From their heart to your heart.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Pearls Before Swine

There was this blog see, and I really liked the writers on it... I entered into what at first seemed an online, thoughtful debate on a theological issue I was reevaluating. Tithing. The “other side” seemed intelligent enough and willing to talk. I was fairly certain of the truth of a particular practice, but a chance comment by someone I highly respect, made me realize they held to the other perspective.

Well if I was wrong, I wanted to repent.

So after holding back from the discussion I entered in, sketching out possible biblical lines of reasoning from both sides. There were two men on this forum, (not the writers), playing tag team with all comers. At first there was some interaction with modest respect on the other side. I waited. One was rather emotional and used Paul’s suggestion to the Judaizers rather freely. So I addressed the other man who sought to reason from the scriptures. His thinking did not hold up under scrutiny though. There were gaps, and when he used a source outside of scripture to make a point, (some historical item from a fellow I was unfamiliar with), I suggested the bible was sufficient, at least we both have our bibles to look at.

Taking the same scriptures the Bible Guy used, I diligently took them apart and could not come to his conclusions. They were interesting enough, but not as clear to me as they were to him. The Yelling Guy entered the discussion, basically calling down God’s judgement, misquoting my previous posts, and accusing me of the very things he was guilty of. So I told him he was wrong. Then BG zipped in and ripped me personally to shreds. Point weak. Talk louder. So I told BG he was contentious, and the discussion was over. The sad thing is, there has to be some solid thinking on the other side.

But I still don’t know what it is.

Friday, May 27, 2011


When you have to make a choice and don't make it, that is in itself a choice.
- William James

Up until this year, our youngest simply waved textbooks over his head and the contents sucked in by osmosis. That doesn’t work anymore. So I confronted him with putting effort into his subjects. He justified coasting, “Why bother? Will I ever really need algebra?” I gave him possible scenarios and his eyes glazed over.

"Your education is like a funnel, the less you learn now, the narrower your choices become later. It diminishes your capacity to understand more complex issues. It reduces your learning/studying strategy options."

I hope that sinks in.

He’d like to take Latin instead of Spanish, but if his grades don’t improve, he’ll repeat Spanish 1. Right now the world is open to him, full of promise.

Learning the hard way seems like such a waste of time.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

You Know It’s Really Spring When...

It’s 61 degrees outside and drizzly. The trees are in fairly full leaf, that impossible to paint very green, too much yellow color. Mourning doves nest under the back porch. A cardinal couple flit around the house. Goldfinches dart to and from our neighbor’s thistle feeder. Robin males sing their love-struck hearts out.

Dirt comes alive with creatures, smelling like the dirt of childhood, and pollen dusts everything yellow.

The annual batch of dandelion wine bubbles lazily on the counter, along with an exotic experiment, violet wine. The dandy is solid, slightly sweet, herbal stuff, in a wonderful bright yellow. A country bumpkin brew. The violet is a fragile, heady, sweet wine, with a pinky amber tint. An ancient drink of Caesars.

Our garden is in, and properly fenced. Beans pop through the soft earth. Tomato plants dig in and reach up. Potatoes unfurl their dark green leaves. Narry a glimmer of carrots or spinach, and the basil stands limply. But we’ll see. With a black thumb, any positive result is a gift.

A ring necked rabbit longs for her way in, as she nibbles yard greenery. I talk to her every morning, touting the nutritional advantages of dandelion leaves. No dice. It’s like suggesting Attila the Hun show mercy. The markings nail her as a fifth generation descendant of the carrot and bean desecrator, Bunzilla. Cute, but sneaky. Very, very sneaky.

Other new beginnings. Our first born graduated college this week and hopes to plunge into the real world. A job. A car. Jazz drum lessons. A new kit. Surprise! You’re off the dole kiddo, onto responsibility, time to pitch into the household. The younger one dabbles with the idea of summer work now that he's 15, but hasn’t moved an inch. If he doesn’t get cracking, we know people who’d be more than happy to hire him for yard work. Besides keeping him flush, manual labor is a perfect remedy to “I’m bored.”

Everything indicates spring has arrived in the mid-state. What about your neck of the woods?

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Let the Buyer Beware

Good things can be used to cloak sneaky practices. So be on the alert when you shop.

Buy One, Get One. Inflated prices can make this deal no real deal. Check out generics or coupons or another store on similar items. If you keep a price book, all the better, as you really know when the deal is an honest one.

Free with shipping and handling. Like when I took advantage of redeemed “points” from a credit card to get “free” small light weight stocking stuffers that ended up costing me $4.99 S&H a pop. Totally not worth it. If they don’t clearly list the S&H, watch your wallet.

After rebate pricing. Some rebates are nearly impossible to collect on. Complex procedures, tight deadlines, small print, all lower your chances of actually getting the cost break. Also beware of getting a “gift card” or “debit card” rebate with short expiration dates instead of actual cash. Will you actually use it?

Pricing with a “99 cent” suffix. Zeros scare us. That 99 cents on the end makes us think we’re getting a better deal.

The package looks the same but the contents shrink. 16.9 oz. peanut butter, 1.5 quart ice cream, 5 oz. tuna all show creeping inflationary pricing.

Adding an ingredient to a soon to expire patented name brand medication, renaming it, and continuing to charge high prices. All the while a generic of the original is considerably cheaper.

Buyer’s reward cards. Giving you 10 cents off per gallon of gas when you buy $100 worth of stuff is not a good deal. So if your tank holds 16 gallons you save $1.60. Big whoop. Our huge chain grocer does this trick and their prices are consistently higher than the local mom and pop chain.

And one of my personal least favorites. A coupon for $1 off 2 or 3 which when calculated, still doesn’t bring the price down to anything comparable.

The sad thing is people fall for these tricks all the time. Don’t be one of them.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

God’s Hand

Sometimes it’s as if your prayers bounce off a bronze sky. Slow and tedious going. Conversions of family members, jobs, grades, overwhelming projects. Then out of nowhere you ask God for something, maybe not even verbalizing it, and “POOF” it’s answered to overflowing.

We got a phone call from our first born. His girlfriend wasn’t able to stay with her housemate, as the home was being sold sooner than expected. She needed a place until she got an apartment of her own. "Well", I said, "she can have the sunroom".

Imagine being in an already slightly cluttered space, sleeping on an air mattress, surrounded by your worldly goods in boxes and black plastic garbage bags. Far from adequate. But she’s been a trooper about it.

Anyhow, back to the answered prayer part. She has no kitchen stuff or furniture. A lady at church died recently. As the home was being sold and the contents cleared out, her sister offered us whatever we wanted. My sweetie went to the books of course, and found a few gems to add to his already overflowing shelves. I thought about our guy’s girlfriend and brought back a set of dishes, glassware, and some cookware. She returned from classes, took one look at the stash laid out on the dining room table and said, “That’s the pattern my mom used to have.” and gave me a big hug. Then someone on freecycle offered yard sale leftovers. That yielded blue sheets, (her favorite color), other bedding, tupperware, and a personality filled stuffed rabbit. A friend emptied out her mother-in-law’s place and set aside flatware and kitchen cooking utensils. Yet another freecycler offered a crock pot. It’s a glorious thing to observe so many things coming together in such a short amount of time.

I’m excited to see what’s next.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Inflation, the Silent Killer?

I’ve been talking to myself lately, and mulling around some Len Penzo stuff. He’s one financial blogger I follow regularly, always thought provoking. A while back he suggested inflation was the government’s way to tax individuals without showing the bruises. Current government obligations will be paid in post inflationary dollars while interest rates charged on their loans remain relatively low.

He mentioned in another post, if we took the 1970 criterion used to track inflation, costs are actually up 9.6% over last year. Yet according to government stats, the current CPI (Consumer Price Index), is 2.1% . It’s based on a newer “typical shopping basket” which skews results. Why is this important? The CPI is used to calculate our “inflation rate”. That rate determines social security benefits, other “entitlements”, and many times governs the “cost of living” salary increases in the private sector.

Another Len Penzo post included individual stats for commodity changes over the last year on coffee, wheat, cotton, sugar, gasoline, etc. It’s a more accurate indicator of present/future price increases as retail prices generally follow wholesale. I went to his source last week,, and found this info. Pork bellies, up 30.55% over a year ago, unleaded gasoline, up 31.79%, heating oil, up 44.26%, sugar, up 57.89%, wheat, up 60.50%, corn, up 103.38%, coffee, up 121.51%, feeder cattle, (where your hamburgers come from), up 18.%, cotton, up 124.63%. So kiddies, now you know why Mom is rationing your Sugar Gobs cereal.

According to the US Census Bureau, the average household income in 2009 was $49,777, down from $50,303, in 2008 and $50,233 in 2007. It was $48,201 in 2006. The 2010 stats aren’t in yet, but they won't be pretty.

To clarify, a household is defined as one or more persons living together. The current US average is 2.63 people, and slowly rising, as kids stay home longer and older folks move in with the kids. It’s crazy. We’re being squashed from three directions. All these stats together means less money per person to pay for more expensive goods.

So how do we handle it? We can gripe. We can worry. Panic even. We can demand our legislators act wisely, budget within incoming revenue. (No guarantee they will.) Write letters to the editor. Stockpile. Buy gold. We can scramble for alternative housing situations. Live in treehouses. Squat in abandoned buildings. Build tiny portable homes. Start communes. Go off grid. We can try other ways of obtaining needed goods. Borrow. Share ownership. Rent. Barter. Become freegans. Forage. We can tighten our belts across the board, scrimp and save. We can develop a “side hustle”. We can divert personal resources from wants to needs. We can put in a Victory garden and keep chickens.

We can do tons of things, but what if they don’t work? Have we considered God is getting our attention by hemming us in? The thing that owns our thoughts, has our worship. (I’m talking to myself here.) What if we focus on him and ask for wisdom? We may end up doing many of these same things, but at least our priorities will be right. While everything else is throwing temper tantrums for our loyalties, why not seek him? Could comfort be the real killer, the thing that has us by the tonsils? What if we take to heart the verses,”I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” or “Your heavenly father knows you have need all these things, but seek first his kingdom and his righteousness and all these things shall be added unto you”. What if?

Friday, April 22, 2011

Spring Cleaning

It’s not just wiping dirty windows or replacing smoke alarm batteries. I’m convinced stuff breeds in dark corners over the winter months. In spite of my best efforts, yard sales are not a good way to divest. I've tried individual, multi-home, and neighborhood sales with poor results. This, in spite of low prices, clean pieces in good shape, and enthusiastic promotion. We live in an upper middle class suburban neighborhood. So it's not as if people fear for their lives or wallets. It makes no sense.

Frankly, I've done better by lugging stuff and pairing with other people in more trafficked places. One friend lived in a manufactured home park on a corner property, another in an expensive neighborhood, another on a major thoroughfare near a large grocery store. It's all a matter of what people expect to find, where.

Craigslist is another option for clearing clutter, with free listings and photos. We posted yard sale leftovers there and had better than 50% success. Far less hassle than yard sales. CL is good for larger household items in good condition. A posting method I'm considering is to remove a listing after a week and re-post it so that it stays current.

In desperation we’ve done the paid method. We work with an Ebay fellow who charges 30% of the profit and all fees. Yes, a bit steep. But we’re also paying for his track record of positive feedback, photos, write ups, packaging and mailing out. Ebay is better suited for quality pieces that photograph well and are easy to ship. It’s success rate is less than 50%. But we got some surprisingly good results on things that did move. However the fees are killers on non-sellers. To figure if it’s worth it, track like items and see how the bidding goes before listing your own. Some tricks. If you post on Thursday with a ten day span you get the advantage of two weekends. If you hold off, September through November are prime time for giftable items. I image textbooks would be hot just before the school year starts and clothes appropriate to the season.

There are still choices with leftovers. Write up an inventory and give your stuff to the Salvation Army or Goodwill for a tax write off. There are standard tax deduction amounts listed on the Goodwill site .(

If getting cash back is not an issue, offer pieces on freecycle. Or put them out on the curb with a “free” sign, hang out the window, and see how long they stay there until someone picks them up.

Anyway you handle it, your home gets some much needed breathing space.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Wanna Be A Coupon Queen?

You want to save a bundle and are bollixed up by the coupon industry? Let’s take the guy head on.

Where do you find them?

Online on coupon sites. Friending product manufacturer's on Facebook. Buying the Sunday paper. By calling a manufacturer’s toll free number and asking for them or giving feedback. Trashpicking. Purchasing returned Sunday papers in bulk at the publisher (often by weight). Trading with friends. In the mail. Through entertainment books. Asking on freecycle

How do you organize them without driving yourself crazy?

Alphabetically my dear Watson. File them in a recipe box with lettered partitions by product name. They'll be much easier to retrieve. Then once a month go through your stash and pull expired ones.

What’s the best way to use them?

If you’ve ever formally tracked prices in your area stores, you know there can be a huge price range on similar items. So the trick is to get the best overall price. The “perfect storm” combination is a manufacturer’s coupon coupled with a store coupon on a sale item. Some stores allow you to use coupons on damaged packages or pulled items in the discount bins. Now you’re really talking my language. Some stores double coupons up to a certain amount. But if you get one of those printouts that say “$5 off your next purchase” you’re up there with the coronated wonders. Now the product manufacturers know all this stuff and they’ve been playing hardball. When a coupon used to say 50 cents off one, which can be doubled at some stores, it reads $1 off two, which can’t. And knowing when they will reduce a wholesale price on an item, thus influencing retail prices, manufacturers make their coupons valid for different time slots. One trick is to pay attention to the beginning and the end of expiration dates. So if your store changes prices mid-week, you might have a sliver of time when the coupon overlaps a sale.

That should be enough for now. We’ll save rebating for another day.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Better Than Marriage Counseling

We did premarital counseling and it was a great investment. We knew it wasn’t our job to change the other person. The fact that my sweetie hated peas, mushrooms, camping, beets, sweet potatoes, changing the oil, succotash, baked beans, bird watching, Mexican food, being late, sushi, Moussaka, and wearing shorts or sandals even in the hottest weather, was not that big of a deal. Really.

Still, after we tied the knot, a few oddities showed up. Dear Hubbie hates fixing things, and comes to quick conclusions. I love noodling something out, and ponder every possibility before making a decision. D.H. was a money burns a hole in your pocket kind of guy, I was, for lack of a better word, a skinflint. After the initial shock, we’ve come to appreciate the differences. And we’ve learned from each other.

During the early budgeting years we added one category that’s saved us a ton of strife and discouragement, even during the leanest of times. Sort of like the steam vent on a pressure cooker. We’ve labeled it “Personal Mad Money”.

In our budget, every category is covered, directed savings included. And every paycheck we get our P.M.M. in cash. $5. To do with whatever our little ol’ hearts desire no questions asked. For $20 a month we save untold marriage counseling fees. That’s the kind of bargain I can wrap my head around.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

You Is Here

The story goes of a traveling salesman lost in back roads. He sees a young boy, stops the car, rolls down the window, and says, “Son, I’m lost and need to get to such and such a place. If you could tell me where I am, I could check the map and figure out how to get there.”

The boy looks up, astonished, “Sir, you is here.”

Starting from where we are is basic to any endeavor. The widow faced with her creditor was asked, “What do you have in the house with you?” And though God made all things ex nihilo, and can do it again any time He pleases, it’s not the normal way of things.

Where are your finances? What are your skills? Your personal connections? Your stuff? Your energy levels?

How can you get the best bang for the buck? Like the fellows given the minas, if you work with what you have in hand, you receive more to work with later, but if you shove it under a bush in a napkin, it all gets taken away.

So where are you?

Thursday, March 3, 2011

A Super Saver’s Dirty Little Secrets

Everyone knows someone who’s always late for an event. They have good excuses. “I’m sorry, the tire fell off my car.” or “I forgot to feed the cat.” Non-savers are the same, there’s always a reason why they’re fishing quarters from under the sofa cushions before payday. “My kids gag when I serve leftovers, so I had to order pizza.” or “This was a once in a lifetime trip to Monte Carlo.”

Well, get over it! Buck up! The most efficient way to tackle it is head on. Make it a game if that helps. Remember when you used to hold your breath underwater? Like that. See how long you can go without buying something. I double dog dare ya!

1) Take an axe to your budget, separate needs and wants. Be honest now. A car may be necessary for work, but a brand new Buick sedan? Not.

2) Plan for contingencies. Allow yourself breathing room in the areas of time and money. Set up a cushion fund, and only tap into it when the situation is dire.

3) Give every dollar a job. Tell it where to go. Be a grownup. You’re the Big Boss now.

4) Squirrel away windfalls. Anytime a little extra comes your way, birthday money, a long lost rebate check, a quarter on the street, put it into a special fund. And no peeking!

5) Do the old dieter’s trick. Plan your splurges. Savor that warm cookie, let those chocolate chips melt and buttery morsels crumble on your tongue. But don’t say, “If one is good, ten is better.”

6) Take the long view. There will be glitches, but get back in the ring and keep punching.

So there you have it. The not so secret secrets. "Live long and prosper."

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Happy Soup

In February it will be
My snowman’s anniversary
With cake for him and soup for me!
Happy once, Happy twice.
Happy chicken soup with rice.

--Maurice Sendak

We’ve been experiencing Indian Spring these past few days. Nice walking weather. But if Punxsutawney Phil is to be believed, and how can that sweet faced fellow deceive us?, winter is not over yet.

With puffs of cold air skittering across the floor this morning and wind wailing through the trees, today is perfect for a warming supper. Happy juxtaposition. The bits and pieces container in the freezer is crammed full, so it’s time to act. What kind of concoction can I whip up from a couple tablespoons of corn, leftover gravy, a bit of shredded cabbage, some ground beef crumble, vegetable liquid? Pretty bor-ing. Hmm. I’ll add more liquid, some chicken bits, slivered red pepper and broccoli for color, heat it through with a dash of garlic and basil, and bake some crusty Cuban bread on the side. That’s the ticket. Fuss free. Warming. Three cheers for soup!

Friday, February 11, 2011

How to Use “Spoiled” Food

Just passing a catchy blog question on to you from "Tip Hero". What do you think? Here's my list.

1) Hairy fruits and veggies go to the compost heap. We considered one particularly impressive orange mass for show and tell once, but transportation issues came into play.

2) Slice mold off cheese. If it's truly spoiled, chuck it. Budding Flemmings may want to grow it in a Petrie dish. As a parent, that's your call.

3) Use soured milk in baked goods. Oddly colored milk, no.

4) Puree mushy fruit to enhance smoothies, cakes and muffins. Avoid, "euw that's gross", by tucking them in when the kids aren't looking.

5) Whirl dry bread in the blender. Add crumbs to homemade granola, as extenders in meatloaf and meatballs, or mix with melted butter as a casserole topping. This "salvage" is well tolerated by all.

6) Cut up or trim limp carrots, potatoes, fresh herbs and celery and dump them in ice water to revitalize them. If the container is in the fridge, be sure it is tip proof.

7) Cook soup from mushy vegetables. Pureed vegetables improve muffin batter and tomato sauce. Same caution as 4.

8) Toss spoiled, not freezer burnt, meats. Food poisoning has no redeeming value.

9) Cook freshly cracked eggs right away. Since egg albumin is used as a culture medium, don't chance questionable ones.

10) It is my opinion, plain steamed okra cannot be salvaged.

After reading the Tip Hero responses, one stood alone. So I'll pass it on. An older lady set leftovers out on the counter just as her husband came home from work. He'd take one look, and suggest Applebee’s.

Hmm. I wonder what’s in the back of my fridge?

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Simple Pleasures

I was reminded of the joys of metal bottle caps today and it got me reminiscing. A slightly older kid in the projects showed me how to melt old fishing weights in them with matches to make a pretty nifty substitute for marbles. I think his name was Steve. In a pinch you could use old crayon bits, but lead really gave heft to the thing and made it worth much more in trade. He also showed me how to squash a coin by laying it on a train track, but we won’t go there. He also showed me how he cut a hole in a wire fence and jumped from the second story balcony onto the playground below and how he sharpened a penny edge on the pavement to make a weapon. We definitely won’t go there.

If I recall he was suspended a couple times from school.

If you built a scooter out of wood crates (a la Bill Cosby fame), it was considered over the top wonderful to plaster the thing with bottle caps of all kinds. It didn’t help the aerodynamics much but it was cool to look at. By the way, we didn’t use buggy wheels, but took apart keyed on skates, (before your time, I know), and attached the front part to the front and the other to the back. It took something to maneuver, but what’s a challenge like that to a kid?

When it rained in summer we’d race popsicle sticks in the gutters. Or get soaked to the skin and look for rainbows after. Or squish mud between our toes on the well worn grassless places. Or open our mouths to let the drops fall in. Slightly warm and tasting like dirt.

The Mr. Frostee truck wailed it’s siren tune at the base of our hill on summer afternoons, and kids thundered down the fire escape stairs hollering “the ice cream truck is here!”, coins gripped tightly, to queue up in front of the window. It was always so hard to decide. And with the line behind you, you had to think quickly.

Fall meant leaf piles. Hopscotch and Spring were standard on the school playground. I was never good at Double Dutch. But let me tell you, never, ever play Dodge Ball with boys. They aim to kill.

Behind the bushes near Carmella’s grocery store, people tossed bottles. You got a two cent return on the small ones and five cents on the big. That was the day when kites were fifteen cents, a roll of string was a dime and one brand of chocolate bar was still three cents. Like I said we lived at the top of a hill so the winds would tuck under those things as you ran down it and float into the sky.

Winters had their own joys. Snowball forts and fights. I was really good at making fast round snowballs but had no oomph to my throw, so got clobbered more often than not. Sliding the slopes on large sheets of cardboard. Snowmen. Tromping the ground to write words. Opening your mouth to let snowflakes melt on your tongue. Hot cocoa with marshmallows at home while your clothes dried out draped over chairs near the heat. It was also drawing and creating time, laying out art supplies and taking over the dining room table.

All this fun without batteries. And you, my dear second born, surrounded by electronics, and books, and videos, tell me you’re bored?

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Major Surgery on the Grocery Budget

Some of you frugalistas know this stuff already. If you read enough blogs you’ll notice there are quite a few impressive grocery shoppers out there. One mom in Michigan feeds her family of 8 for under $80 a week. And more than half of her crew are adults. She has a garden of course. Still, that comes to a “whopping” $1.43 per person per day out of pocket. Another blogging mom pushes the limits by incorporating ethnic foods most of us never considered, like banana peel chutney, or chicken skin cracklings.

Einstein said insanity is repeating the same thing over and over and expecting different results. These shoppers accomplish budgetary magic by thinking and acting way outside the box. In other words we need to shop differently, cook differently, and eat differently, to get a different bottom line.

Meat. Substitute cheaper proteins for it like beans or seitan, use a filler to stretch it, serve smaller portions, raise your own, hunt/fish it, or purchase cheaper kinds.

Vegetables and fruits. Grow and can your own, forage, glean, visit a pick your own farm, join a food coop or CSA, purchase at seasonal vegetable stands, buy seconds, bulk. Negotiate with your local groceries to take the slightly older stuff off their hands for less, and make it into soup to freeze. Always follow the seasons. Compare frozen with fresh, stock up during the “can” sales. Even without a garden, you can grow your own sprouts, or keep a window box for fresh herbs.

Starches. Incorporate these into your made from scratch cost cutters. Buy bulk flour and oats, they can be frozen to keep from spoiling. Put bay leaf in the container to ward off bugs. Even try the Possum Living method of getting human grade grains at feed stores. Make your own bread, pizza dough, cookies, muffins, hot cereals, and granola, from scratch, for much less.

Liquids. Drink more water, consider reducing coffee and tea consumption, avoid sweet processed drinks, cut the milk with non fat dried, compare fresh fruit with juices, and pour out a serving, not a glassful.

No matter how you do it, there’s always room for improvement. Try notching down gradually and see how low you can go before the kids notice. Then bring it back up a bit for a comfortable set point.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Bucket List

Our first born came to the table early Wednesday morning for his brother’s birthday breakfast. He hung around after, to tell me of pedals and high hats and crashes he’s known and loved, miming taps and blows as he spoke. His dream drum set up, vivid in his mind, already surrounded him with sounds as with friends.

Now he’s working on the nitty gritties. Getting another job. Saving.

I have dreams too.
* Travel cross country. To seek out those crazy concrete buildings shaped like tea cups and donuts, shoes and ice cream cones. Take touristy pictures. Stay at the Treesort in Washington for two nights and get the T shirt.
* Grow a perfect tomato. Warm from the sun, thin skinned, wet and sweet.
* Build a small house with a stained glass window out of salvaged bits, on a piece of land near trees and a stream. Perhaps on wheels for travel. Perhaps without for summers spent with family.
* Return to Italy with my sweetie. Master the language well enough to manage without a dictionary.
* Visit the world’s longest yard sale.
* Identify birds by their songs.
* Forage entire meals a la Euell Gibbons.
* Finish writing a book about my father, a sculptor, for his grandkids. Stuff it full of stories, and photos of his work. Weave a bit of biography throughout.

Each dream has a starting place, the string end to follow through tangled real life. I’m taking a few strands at a time. One actively, while the others lay fallow. Doorknobs, architectural salvage and building print outs for the house. Language tapes and a coin jar. A friend’s promise to teach what she knows about native plants in the spring. Boxes and boxes of clippings and letters.

So dream your dreams. Build on your dreams with the bits and pieces you’ll need to reach them. Don’t give up. Even the process is worth it. It’s all worth it.

Thursday, January 13, 2011


Time like an ever flowing stream bears all it’s sons away, it flies forgotten as a dream, dies at the opening day.

While sitting around the dining table recently, we discussed the relative nature of time. You know, how summer vacation weeks go so quickly, and school weeks drag on. I proposed time actually does move differently for different people and situations. You see, the theory of relativity is just that. We don’t really know if there is an objective conversion point where stuff becomes energy if it moves fast enough. So time may actually be influenced by our perception of it. The week before Christmas actually is longer for the child itching to rip off wrapping paper, than for the parent scrambling to get every thing done. And while the school day seems interminable for the kid in school, it’s not near long enough for the mom to squeeze in all her errands.

With that phrase, Isaac decided I had gone off my nut.

Think about it, time imposes parameters beyond our perceptions. God made time, it’s His creature, just like a rock or person. And will, like all things, be disposed of in the end. It does move on within our realm. So it’s like this. God controls time and time controls us. We can’t stop it, it’s relentless, and so we must use it wisely as we would any limited commodity.

I’ve decided to finally buckle down and write about my dad. Why? To extend his artistic influence a tad longer, and transfer a bit of him onto our kids and their cousins. Secondly, at this time, because my resources are diminishing. Mom’s mind is failing, dad’s colleagues are growing older, and printed materials are disappearing.

If you visited our house today, you’d see eleven book boxes in the living room, dragged down from the attic. Art books, catalogs, and papers in piles, computer printouts neatly laid out on the radiator, and two pages of actual rough draft. The task at hand is to accurately condense a man into words and photos on a page. I’ll keep you posted how it works out.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Passive Budgeting

You don't get rich by what you earn. You get rich by what you don't spend.
- Henry Ford

When you think of Henry Ford you think of his Model T, the first mass produced car. By using an assembly line he was able to produce a good product in less time and thus make it affordable for the masses. He further streamlined the process by offering “any color as long as it’s black”. What you may not know is he specified the dimensions for crates his mechanical parts were shipped to the factory in. So instead of cutting more wood for the floor boards, he just took apart the boxes and used them in the car.

A lady wrote to Dollar Stretcher describing how she tracks her non-spending on a white board in her living room. If she comes home and makes supper instead of buying take out, she calculates the difference and writes down what she saved that day. She should show some impressive results by year end.

One mom had her kids clip coupons and compare prices on goods on her shopping list. They were given the difference. You can bet they scrutinized the Sunday papers and kept the coupon box in order.

Granted, it’s easier to make a budget and spend up to it, than keep track of what’s not spent. But the second is more encouraging. So think about what you don’t spend. It may give you just the boost you need.