Archive for October, 2010

Stretching the Almighty Dollar
October 30, 2010

For I did dream of money-bags tonight…                                     -Shakespeare (1596) 

A few weeks ago, I wrote about making do with what we have and being a resourceful good steward. I thought about this topic recently as I was walking towards the bakery to pick up an offering for a potluck dinner (I KNOW, I know, I should have baked it myself). A few doors down from the bakery is a local clothing resale shop, Baubles and Beads, whose door I haven’t darkened in years. Back in the day when I used to dress up to go to work and fancy parties, I would consign my clothes there. But given my casual lifestyle now, I have had nothing to offer them, and likewise, no reason to purchase anything there. 

What prompted me to go in? It was the fact that we accepted an invitation to attend a debutante ball at the Houston Country Club next month. The daughter of our dearest friends is making her debut, and of course, we want to be there for her. I didn’t hesitate when I said that we’d be honored to be there. 

But wait! That means I’ll have to purchase a “ball gown” and Joel will have to wear a tuxedo. Visions of dollars flying out of my wallet made me walk in that door. I just couldn’t justify spending $500-$1000 on a dress I might wear only once, maybe twice.

Sometimes spending money on quality classics is worth it. Give it the “cost per wear” test. For instance, I lean towards St. John’s separates, and have worn my black skirt so many times that I’ve had the elastic waistband replaced twice. I think I paid $200 for it back in the early 1980’s… it has been well worth its cost, at this point, probably less than  a penny per wear.

 The first person I saw when I walked in the door was my friend Katie, who was consigning some items. And then I saw a dog-walking friend, whose name escapes me (but I do know her dog’s name!). I surveyed the layout and started checking things out. Did I mention that they were having a special store clearance sale, and everything was 20% off the listed price? 

I found a number of things to try on, including the aforementioned ball gowns, plus some St. John’s separates among other things. Long story short, yes, I ended up spending $700, but I came home with TWO ball gowns (one was $179, the other $74), a cocktail dress, two St. John’s outfits plus a denim skirt and a pashima shawl. I’ll wear one ball gown at the party, and the other in the spring at an annual fundraiser that I always grump about having nothing to wear. 

So for what I might have spent on one dress that I will seldom wear, I got quite a lot, and I am once again a fan of resale shops! With a wedding on the horizon, I’ve lately become more focused on ways to cut costs. Other random ways to stretch dollars? 

  • If you get your car inspected one week past its due date, you will gain a month a year. If you keep your car for 12 years, you’ve saved a year’s worth of inspections! (you may roll your eyes at this one, but we do keep our cars long enough to reap this benefit. For instance, Bert is now almost 15 years old).
  • Pull a large cotton ball apart to make two smaller ones; that’s really all you need.
  • Use the lotions, etc. you get in hotel rooms. (or donate them to a charity that distributes them to those without resources).
  • When you think a bottle of lotion is empty, it really isn’t. There’s a lot more in there! Turn it upside down and wait… or if it’s a tube, cut it open with scissors and find much more.
  • Pour leftover nail polishes into one bottle and shake for a new custom color.
  • When using a professional mover to move a household, ask them for used boxes; they are FREE! Or ask at your local liquor store; they often have leftover boxes.
  • Three words: Half Price Books. Not only can you find books/music at a bargain price, they pay money for your used books! While I always knew this, I hadn’t ever actually gone over there to do so prior to this spring, when I cleared out my pile of books in the garage apartment.
  • Another book idea: go to the library. It’s free. Our tax dollars at work!
  • Coupons! Just do it. I used to religiously clip coupons in the days when I had to seriously watch my bottom line. I’ve been lazy lately, but have renewed my interest. It makes grocery shopping kind of a game of strategy.
  • Divide plants and re-locate them in your garden. It boggles my mind to see how much a pot of liriope, society garlic, ajuga, oriental lilies, katie ruellia, ginger lilies or aspidistra costs at the nursery. I’m sitting on a gold mine! If anyone wants ANY of the above mentioned plants, please come get them from me, for FREE!
  • When one of your rubber gloves develops a hole (rendering it unusable), don’t throw the other one out. Save it for the next time another glove fails, and hope that you have a new pair (maybe they won’t match, but who cares about that?)
  • Turn up or down your thermostat just one degree from your usual comfort zone.
  • Cut your spaghetti sauce with some water to thin it. Tastes just as good, but stretches further to feed more.
  • Turn lights off when not using them.
  • Coordinate errands to save gas. 

I’m sure pewperson readers have lots of other good money saving suggestions to share…

Speaking of saving money, do you remember the days when grocery stores used to offer S&H Green Stamps, Yellow Top Value or Pink Big Bonus saving stamps to reward shoppers? It seems so old fashioned now, but we used to take our stamps home, lick them and stick them in a book to redeem prizes. If you saved up enough, you could go to the redemption center and get a TV or some other cool item! 

Ah, those were the days! But these are the days now, and now that frugal is back “in”, I will feel quite fashionable in my resale attire and my custom fingernail polish as I replant my garden in my mismatched rubber gloves and read my library book in my slightly warm and dark house… with a car with an expired inspection sticker out front.

No Trespassing!
October 22, 2010

Good fences make good neighbors.                                                            Robert Frost (Mending Wall

My friend Charlie told us about a recent encounter with an unpleasant person who lives on the ranch adjoining his. Charlie calls him “Lottery Boy” because this man won the lottery and bought this property. Apparently, he may have a lot of money, but he doesn’t understand the unspoken rules of country civilization. 

On this occasion, the man illegally placed a gate across the road on which Charlie has easement rights, then threatened Charlie and even physically pushed him around, all witnessed by others in Charlie’s car. Of course, Charlie has filed a complaint, and legal recourse will save the day, but in the meantime, he’s got to be dreading another encounter with this obviously misguided and volatile person. 

My aunt owns 50+ acres on the Sabinal River south of Utopia, TX. Her property is long and narrow, north to south, following east side of the river. It was originally an old fishing camp, so in addition to her home, there are outbuildings such as cabins and a gathering house (called Hondo House). We always love to go visit; it’s not only fun to be with her, but it’s so wonderful to run free with nobody else around. 

To get there, you take an unpaved road off the highway which dead ends at her gate. It looks locked, but it’s really not. Once you know the trick, you can just open it and drive right through. 

Once when Shannon was in middle school, we went there with 3 of her girlfriends to celebrate her birthday. Joel was not with us, and even my aunt was out of town. The girls were old enough to go enjoy the river and explore the property without my having to watch them every second. I just told them to stick together and be back before dark, so we could bake a cake and then enjoy watching the stars and fireflies. 

I drove the truck down to the river to haul up the kayaks, but there were no girls in sight. As the daylight began to dim, I grew a little worried, but not enough to panic. Finally, here they came, paddling as fast as they could. They said they had been hiding from some men. 

This really bothered me, as part of the charm of going to Utopia is the sense of serenity and security. That’s one of the advantages of owning property out in the country. But particularly, on this occasion with these four young ladies, whose care had been entrusted to me by their parents, it was unsettling. 

As we loaded the kayaks into the truck, my adrenaline surged as I spied another truck driving  down towards us. As I mentioned, we were there alone, and NOBODY should have been driving on my aunt’s property. Obviously, this person knew how to get in the gate, and perhaps knew she was away. I remember thinking to myself, “I wish I had a dog, a man or a gun,” because I knew that my first responsibility was to protect these girls. 

A man got out of the truck. I stepped out and told him he was on private property and to please leave. I don’t recall the exact words we exchanged, but he did leave. I think he knew that my aunt was away and was surprised that someone was there. Just to be sure, I did note his license plate number. 

After we stowed the kayaks, we went back to Hondo House and proceeded to bake our cake and celebrate Shannon’s birthday. But I was a little on edge, thinking about that man, who knew we girls were there alone, far away from  help. The protective side of me just couldn’t relax. Happily, the girls were impervious to my anxiety and were having a great time. 

Sitting out in front of the house on that starry night, I was enjoying a glass of wine and finally relaxing a bit, when all of a sudden, I heard a car engine and saw headlights approaching! My heart was beating so hard, I’m surprised it didn’t jump out of my chest. 

There we were, defenseless and totally isolated. I stood in the roadway, blocking the car from approaching the house, hands on hips, looking as defiant as I could. Honestly, I had no idea what I was going to do (cell phones do not work in the Sabinal Valley), so I just stood there until the car drew near. And then… 

… the window rolled down, and my nephew Jacques said, “Hi Aunt Carol!” Talk about relief flooding through my entire body! He and some of his friends had decided to go camping, and just assumed it would be ok (he hadn’t asked my aunt, nor did he know we were there). Obviously the house full of girls was delighted at the appearance of boys, and I was frankly grateful that they were there, too. 

Long story short. Fences DO make good neighbors, if neighbors respect those fences. Don’t go where you’re not supposed to, and let those who are allowed to go where they may. 

And don’t mess with Charlie. Or pewperson, either, for that matter!

The Siren Call
October 15, 2010

All the news that’s fit to print (motto of the New York Times)  –Adolph S. Ochs (1896) 

Here I am working on this week’s blog post late at night. Why don’t I call it a day and revisit the subject tomorrow? Honestly, it’s because I am reluctant to shut down the social networks and links to online news sources, just in case someone posts something interesting or something major happens! 

My response to the inbox DING reminds me of Pavlov’s dog, who reacted accordingly to the aural cue. It’s addictive, and I am as guilty as that dog was. Back in the day when my precious old Shadow could hear, he’d get up from wherever he was parked by me in the kitchen when he heard that DING, because he knew that I’d go over to the computer to see who had sent me an e-mail. 

The temptation to see the latest message or news reminds me of the mythological creatures of ancient Greece called the Sirens, who lived on an island and sang an irresistible song that lured sailors to them. The doomed mariners who could not withstand the tantalizing music would ultimately wreck their ships on the rocks that surrounded the island. Legend has it that Odysseus had his sailors plug their ears with wax, but since he wanted to hear the Siren’s voices, he tied himself to the mast to prevent himself from responding. 

DING! Ooh, another e-mail! Must see who it is. 

According to Micha F. Lindemans, the Sirens’ words were more enticing than their melody: “They would give knowledge to every man who came to them, they said, ripe wisdom and a quickening of the spirit.” Sounds a bit like what eating the fruit in the Garden of Eden did for Adam and Eve! 

Oh, now there are some new Facebook postings! Must read them. 

In the olden days before the internet, I used to love getting the morning paper and reading all about what had happened in the world the day before. Now with the Siren call of 24/7 internet access, my morning ritual is somewhat anticlimactic. 

I know who won the game. I know who died. I know the 33 Chilean miners were safely brought to the surface. It’s not like I am constantly scanning the news web pages… far from it. Honestly, I get most of the “latest breaking news” from my  Facebook friends, who will pop in with an RIP so and so, or the score of the football game. Only then will I hit one of the online news sites to read all about it. Doing so rather spoils the next morning’s ritual, but I can’t help it. Darn Siren. 

An aside: When Princess Diana died over Labor Day weekend 1996, I was in Utopia, TX, totally removed from all news sources. It was only when I returned on Tuesday (2 days later) and opened up my unread papers that I learned the news. I was probably the last person in this hemisphere to find out what had happened. 

This makes a case for reading the paper paper! When you’ve been away, you can scan the pages for news that you have missed while you were gone. The news websites may offer the latest stories, but the old stuff gets pushed aside; if it is archived somewhere, I don’t know how to find it. 

DING! Another e-mail! Excuse me for a minute. 

Recently one of my Facebook friends admitted that taking her laptop to bed resulted in sleep deprivation. I guess she had to read just one more link… some people can’t stand being the last to know the latest!! 

This admission makes me long for the post Ike period in 2008 when we had no power for 5 days. The bad memories have faded, but the good ones are vivid. Thanks to an unusual and timely cool front, we enjoyed candlelit meals outside in the dusk and playing board games. What few dishes required washing were done by hand and set on the counter to dry (also by candlelight). Then we settled into bed shortly thereafter, because there was no power to do anything else. And we got a good night’s sleep.

I cherish those days. And I vow to tie myself to the mast and resist the Siren song of the internet. 9 pm will be my new shut down time, and I’ll enjoy reading the paper the next morning! Maybe I’ll start a new retro trend… 

DING! Sorry, this one will have to wait!

Oh, by the way: In doing my research on the Sirens, I discovered that the Starbucks logo features one…

Appropriate, don’t you think?

A Penny Saved…
October 8, 2010

“We have saved fivepence. (Pause) But at what cost?  Samuel Beckett (1957) 

I sometimes think that I could have been one of those strong, capable pioneer women, like those in my ancestry. I mean, I am resourceful and frugal, given to doing without when necessary and using what is available likewise. I have assembled a weed-eater and just last week disassembled a vacuum cleaner and then reassembled it. I have fixed a toilet, sewed clothes, drapes and a shower curtain. And I love to work in the yard; if I had the time, I’d do it all by myself. 

But I don’t have the time,  so I rely on others to do the things I once did. Daniel’s team does the weekly maintenance, and now I have Bill’s team installing irrigation, so I won’t have to worry about that chore anymore. Maria takes care of the basic house cleaning, and who irons these days? Twin Oaks does! 

As I wander further away from my roots, it occurs to me that I am not only distancing myself, but also my daughter from our legacy of hard working stock. For instance, here’s a look back in time to April 5, 1957 as described by my mother (who at this point had four children, ages 2-7): 

“Have been busy all week with the sewing machine! I’ve finished the drapes for 3/4 of our bedroom, sewed on two sashes which had been ripped away, two bed sheets which were falling to pieces, three dresses which were parting company at most of the waist, an elbow in my son’s shirts- then by hand, I’ve let down three hems and sewed on ten buttons. We are nearly ready for summer! 

Well, it’s getting late, and I have to bake a batch of brownies for our school’s big event tomorrow night. The Dad’s Club puts on a show, but the Mothers (as usual) furnish the food and have to sell it, too!” 

Three months later, she wrote:

“I started painting in our room- getting the metal part of the windows painted. It’s really the least noticed part, but the hardest to me, so I’m doing it first. Had to take down the drapes, so tonight I’m going to hem the ones I got down after I finish this. Anyway, I got two of the four done, and they look nice.” 

In other letters during this same era, she mentioned planting 30 ligustrum bushes (bought for $15 total) to create a hedge around the yard, and certainly there was much talk of food prep going on with all those kids, “plus the ever loving laundry and almost a whole afternoon at the grocery store.” 

She was some kind of resourceful! I don’t know how she managed, but it was a real necessity for her to watch her budget back in those days. I thought about this the other night when I was at the store and saw a gigantic 10-pound package of chicken leg quarters on sale for $5.90! We eat a lot of chicken because it is so versatile, however I usually purchase the packaged cuts that are boned and skinned (which comes with a price!). But given my heritage, I just couldn’t pass up this bargain… and with visions of dollars saved dancing in her head, Miss Frugal bought it. 

The old saying “you get what you pay for” applies here. In the first place, the package leaked “chicken juice” in the grocery sack (not a good sign). Then as I unpackaged the leg quarters, it was evident that they were not well cut, nor trimmed at all. 

I totally failed at skinning those darn leg quarters. I mean, triple ICK! My forebears were probably laughing at me from above. If I had to actually kill a chicken, pluck it and dress it, I would probably pass out at the disgustingness of it all. 

But I was determined to make my frugal purchase worth its while, and managed to squeeze out three meals for four people out of that slimy chicken! All I can say is that I salute my resourceful mother and her value shopping in my formative years which continues to guide me even now. 

I am hopeful that my own Shannon takes note and does likewise when she shops for her family. All those pioneer women in her ancestry are counting on her to continue the tradition!

Um, How About This One?
October 1, 2010

A woman can hardly ever choose… she is dependent on what happens to her.

-George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans) 1866 

I was going to title this post, “Choices”, but let’s cut to the chase. This week I’m feeling a little wrinkly, so it’s all about choosing a new brand of skin care product for me (specifically “wrinkle cream”). At my age, I need all the help I can get, so when I read about this or that new product, I make a note to give it a try. 

For instance, let’s look at “Oil of Olay” (OoO). Back in the days when dinosaurs roamed the earth, this brand offered one product. It was a pink, thin liquid which was kind of smelly, if I recall. Packaged in an old fashioned glass bottle with a black top, it was supposed to smooth one’s skin. 

Fast forward to the present and check out OoO in 2010. At the store today, there were 20 varieties of OoO from which to choose, all of which focus on a different aspect of one’s face. Each must contain an extra special secret ingredient to banish those nasty wrinkles (wherever they may be) overnight! 

Let’s see: There’s Wrinkle Smoothing cream, Hydra Firming cream, Skin Tightening serum, Deep Wrinkle Treatment, Eye Restoration complex, Age Repair lotion, and so on and so on. 

What is a poor girl to do? Close my eyes and point? I finally opted for Wrinkle Smoothing cream, just because that kind of sounds like what I was looking for. My point is that there are all too many choices! 

But it’s the same with spaghetti sauce. At my local Kroger, there were 15 brands from which to choose, and multiple varieties within each. For instance, there were 12 different varieties of Prego. You can do the math and visualize row upon row of sauces. It makes my head swim to have to make a choice, so I usually fall back on the same one I always buy. 

Likewise, I could say the same thing about mayonnaise, dishwashers, hair dryers, dog food, drawer pulls and so on. You get the picture. When we were shopping for new appliances and hardware, the array of selections was mind boggling in store after store. There were times I wanted to scream, “JUST PICK ONE!” and move on. Full disclosure here, I hate to shop! 

I am not complaining, really. When I think about the people around the world who have neither the means nor the opportunities or choices that we do, it makes me ashamed that I even thought to gripe about wrinkle cream in the first place.

We are so blessed to live in this day and age and place when and where we have so much bounty that it would be scandalous and humbling to do so. So now that my original rant has been deflated, it occurs to me to quote the one and only Emily Litella (who was played by the fabulous and sadly late, Gilda Radner) in the old SNL skits and say… 

“Oh! ….never mind!”