Wednesday, February 23, 2011

A Day OFF!!!

So, I was SUPPOSED to go to Missoula and meet Jeanne and Mariah (Hi Guys) BUT then I read the weather and road reports and while I could GET to Missoula, it didn't look like I could get back in time to be at work friday. If I'm not at work Friday I better be on my death bed because John would have to give presentations to 8th graders all day on his own and he would be pissed.

SO, I didn't go. I'm pouting. And I took the day off work anyway. It's always fun to be home when everyone else is at work. Like a snow day. Speaking of that, the storm only got apparent in the last couple of hours. It was fine this morning. Now we've had 2 or 3 snow downpours so I feel better about not going.

It has given me time to declutter the house a bit. Started the project this weekend after reading several blog posts by frugal types about how clutter costs you money. You lose crap and buy replacements or forget that you even have something. In cleaning out there has been one find that I had "replaced"...a humidifier. DOH! I think I got the replacement for 15$ about 5 years ago so it's not like it was a giant cost, but tucked in an unlabeled box in the bottom of a closet was a bigger, better humidifier that I totally forgot I had. Oh well. I've also found a few gloves, sox, and odds-n-ends. I won't need to buy a pen or pencil again before I croak.

And I've so far gotten a total of 3 big bags and 2 boxes of stuff to donate and a few boxes of things to sell possibly (0r donate when I don't get around to selling). I also took all the extra dishes and made a set of 10 place settings (minus cups/glasses) including cloth napkins to use for meetings where we serve food. I'm sick of watching the groups I'm in here promoting sustainability and etc chucking dozens of plastic or paper plates, bowls, and sporks. At least now we'll have a start on a good set of dishes to use. And by just using mine and taking them home to wash, if I ever DO have a dinner party, I'll have plenty of place settings.

If only Angela were here to help me with organizing the stuff I AM keeping. I've been bad at that in the past. The first stab will be to group like with like (one box for office supplies, one for correspondence supplies, one for financial records, etc) and write the date last sorted on it. It will be better than it was.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Things I've Stopped Doing to Save Money and Increase Life Satisfaction

So, in reading my thrift-spiration books (e.g. Compleat Tightwad, Tightwad Gazette, Ultimate Cheapskate's Guide to Life...etc) I came across multiple remarks that it's often more a matter of NOT doing things that doing things that characterizes a frugal lifestyle. Picking and choosing what TO spend money on means making many choices about what NOT to spend money on.
Here's a list of things I don't do anymore (some I do occassionally but not much really) that occurred to me. I wonder how much $$ this adds up to in a given amount of time.

-Using the dryer. I like hanging laundry up.
-Using shampoo/ hair looks better
-Using teeth are whiter
-Drinking water from plastic bottles...tap water is cheaper and less toxic (usually)
-Paying dues to professional societies...I had no respect for them anyway and I don' need to use them to network anymore (this was between 1k and 2.5k/year!)
-Turning the heat up...I don't like to sweat
-Buying dairy (except butter)...can't eat it anyway so that wasn't really a money saver, it was more of a sinus saver
-Eating meat at every meal or even every day...beans are cheap and keep forever and peanut butter is delicious.
-Buying salad dressing...I almost never managed to finish a bottle before it went bad whereas oil and vinegar kept separately last for ages and can be used for other things.
-Buying overly processed foods (except candy)...I cook mostly from scratch and enjoy cooking more than heating up a bag of something. I DO occassionally get a pre-fab Amy's Cheeseless
-Pizza or go out to eat and have tater tots. It's good not to go too far with these things.
-Throwing out food scraps...almost everything goes into compost or gets reused. Greasy waste does get thrown out (actually, set out by the road for the stray dogs to eat in the hopes they will get the craps in their owners' yards) since it will interfere with the compost and attract dogs/cats/pests
-Washing the kitchen floor...that's not frugal, it's just lazy and I should really do that again. It's been like 6 months.
-Buying new clothes (except undies, socks and footwear though in reality, all of my socks have been gifts in the past few years)...there is more choice at thrift and the prices are so so so much better most of the time. Occassionally I'll need to make an exception for a specialty item like super sturdy pants for outdoor work if I can't seem to find the size or quality at thrift after a few trips AND if the pants can be had on sale. Shirts have not been a problem neither have "dress" clothes. Dress clothes can be found at any christian based thrift store, worn for one event, and returned.
-Buying household cleaners...use vinegar, borax, washing soda, or plain old soap.
-Buying new furniture. The last purchase was the couch in a box for about 400$. I got that because I wanted something that could be transported in a car and the couch disassembles easily into various flat pieces of wood, a set of covers and several pieces of foam. It won't get me in "House Beautiful," but I wasn't really a candidate anyway.
-Paying to exercise. I don't pay for yoga classes anymore. I get them free at work and in reality I don't go much.
-Paying full price for office supplies. I find TONS of them at thrift stores or just lying around (pens and pencils you find lying around). Odd but true. File folders, binders, paper, notebooks, clips, staples, pens, pencils, white boards...all at thrift. I almost never use a printer anymore so I haven't bought ink in 2 years.
-Drinking pop. I just quit buying it in quantity. Every now and then I'll have a can or bottle for a treat but once out of the habit, it mostly tastes too sweet. I'm attempting to make home-made gingerale or ginger beer (the first attempt tasted like bandaids someone had peed on so we'll see...).

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Attempts at Decluttering

This is not my actual home (but it could be if I bought NEW furniture to pile up in the kitchen...):

I'm a 3rd generation pack rat on both sides of the family. It may go back further. The records are buried under piles of crap.
Mom pretends she's not a packrat but my sister (Hi Pam) called and told me that Mom had gotten Pam's tutus and leotards out for the little cousins to play with. Uh...Pam wore those when she was about 6 til she was about 10. She's 38 now. The folks have moved and been through 2 major floods. Pam was not an award winning ballerina. These are not the early togs of Maria Tallchief. She wasn't bad. But still. 28 years is a long time to store mounds of tule and spandex. I wonder if it still "spands."

Fred...well, isn't he the one who pulled copper pipe out of one house to store in the next?

Mom's mom's apartment is packed to the gills with stuff. Nice stuff. But packed. On the paternal side. When the tornado hit back in the '80s Grampa Wagner's canceled checks ended up in Wisconsin. Grampa had been dead for more than a decade and these were not the last checks he wrote. They were decades old when he croaked.

So, it appears that both nature and nurture program me toward packrattery.

Part of the packrat motivation/justification is that it is thrifty. It is. To a point. But when I can't find crap because it's lost in piles of other crap, that's not thrifty. For example, when I needed to "tidy up" so the landlord could fix something, I took clutter off the counter and shoved it in a box and put it in the storage room (the front bedroom). At some point after that I gave up looking for a favorite kitchen tool, this wooden dough scraper. I asked for one for the holidays. I didn't get one because they have disappeared from the kitchen shops. Last week I'm sorting through boxes and go through the "tidying up" box. There, among some junk mail, a few small bags from the co-op with spices in them, and other counter top detritus, is the missing dough scraper. Why the junk mail didn't go right in the recycling? Probably the bin was full that day or I was in a hurry so I set it on the end of the counter. That wasn't thrifty (though now I can take the cash I got for christmas earmarked for that and buy some new undies...woohoo). Neither was letting the spices age and get bland. It's only a couple of bucks, but I'm sure there are other things in other "tidy up" boxes. Time for another major decrapification. I used to do some when I moved every year or so. Staying put for a few years is working against me.

I'm making decrapification efforts but it's a long road. When I was in Iowa last fall, I went through about 13 boxes in Pam's basement. I cut it down to two. I've gone through 4 boxes last week in the trailer and took 2 plastic bins of stuff to recycling and a smaller box to Goodwill. Some of what went to recycling was books to the free bookbin. I tried to take back more books to the bin than I've taken out of the bin. From now on, more has to go out of the trailer than comes in (except for food...I'm not tracking outflow on that).

In theory this process should work. I'm not sure it will go so smoothly in practice. I DID bring 6 candles, a VHS tape and a DVD back from Goodwill (the VHS is "Shirley Valentine" and the DVD is "All About My Mother"). The total bill was 3$ which would be good just for the candles. And I need to put an equal volume of stuff in recycling or donation bins. Should be easy. I'm culling the VHS collection. As much as I enjoyed that 25cent copy of "Ice Castles"...I don't really need to watch it again. It's just as horrible (in a good way) as I remember. I have two VHS copies of "All About My Mother" which can now go to the library or Goodwill along with the "Anne of Green Gables" series I got for 25cents a while back. That will be 7 VHS tapes. That should balance things out.

I did find an entire box of baking pans I forgot I had. Some of them I've never seen before so I think Sher (Hi Sher) slipped some in while packing for my move (thanks for packing me for my move, Sher).

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Stupid News

OK, this EVENTUALLY gets to frugality and simplicity but the topic inspiration comes from criminally stupid "news" headlines.

I often swear off mainstream news for this sort of reason.
But, then I'll get back on one of the main "news" websites and look at the "health" or "family" or "parenting" "news" links. (Apologies to the grammar/punctuation nazis out there for the abuse of " ").

Some recent headlines decried that a "restrictive diet" could prevent 340,000 cancers in the US PER YEAR. That's fine and "good news." So I read it. That's when I realized it was stupid. The "restrictive diet"? Well, that's a diet of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and other whole foods. How is that "restrictive"? That is a normal human diet. Why use the word "restrictive" instead of "healthy" or "normal"? Is it REALLY that tough and restrictive to actually eat food rather than processed sugary high-fructose-corn-syrupy crap? REALLY? Are Americans that lame? Well, yes, many of them are but reinforcing the view that eating real food is some sort of special diet is stupid. (the frugal/simple bits: It's cheaper to eat that way, simpler to cook from scratch than to work extra hours to pay for crap, and it is both frugaler/simpler to stay healthy than to get treated for preventable cancer) (disclaimer: may or may not have had a chocolate sandwich for lunch last week...that's a candy bar in bread...but not having that would not make my diet "restrictive")

Then there was the headline announcing that the rise in the last 40 years of childhood obesity in the US is due to bad habit not genetics. NO SH*T? Really? There hasn't been a sweeping change in genetics in a country of 300million people in 40 years? Really? Because such a sweeping genetic change in that short of a time in a population that large is impossible. So, this is not news. This is stating the obvious. Turns out that if kids sit on their butts staring at screens (TV, computer, game thingy, whatever), rarely go outside and play, eat crap including lots of sugary processed snacks, have no P.E. classes, and don't go to bed at a decent hour; then the kids get fat. This is not news. (The frugal/simple bits: cheaper to send the kids outside to play than to buy them video games, pay for TV, etc. Cheaper to feed them real food...see previous rant...than crap. Cheaper to keep them healthy than to have a fat unhealthy kid).

When did the obvious become shocking? I put on some tonnage this winter. It isn't news and didn't need research. I quit moving around and ate lots of bread. Not news. Not a surprise. Not particularly frugal either. So today I bought more real food to restock the pantry and fridge and as a side benefit, it's hard to stay fat on greens and fresh fruit.

One last stupid headline rant: The above "restrictive diet" also cures about 78% of ADHD in young boys. BIG SURPRISE. This goes along with the "shocking" "news" that kids who get less screen time, play outside more, participate in strenuous physical activity, etc, have lower rates of ADHD and some with diagnosed ADHD no longer need meds. Jesus people. This was on The Simpsons years ago. Bart was diagnosed and the doctor wanted to give him meds. His parents ask if there is another way. The Dr. says that the only other treatment is regular exercise so Marge and Homer go for the meds.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Pantry Inventory Update

Well, I've bought groceries for me finally. Not bad. It's the first real groceries since 11-2-2010.
There is still quite a good stock in the "pantry" (you know, under the bed, in the front bedroom/root cellar, shelves in the kitchen and in the cupboards). But, alas, I was running too low on flour to keep the sourdough starter going. I COULD have ground up the remaining wheat berries and rye berries in my new antique hand crank coffee grinder and kept the starter going for a bit, but I would not have had enough to make a decent bread. And grinding wheat or rye in a lap style coffee mill takes forever. It's good to know I COULD do it, but also good to know I didn't need to. (This is not my actual grinder but a very similar one from the interwebs.)

So, what's left: I still have a big jar of black beans (about 2 quart size), about 6 cups of dry lentils. A cup of dry green split peas and a bit of white rice. Just cooked up the last of the wheat berries yesterday to go with some dahl made from some of the split peas.

I'm out of onions, only 2 cloves of garlic left, and have eaten the last squash that was ripe enough to eat. The other 3 may get ripe by May but we'll see...must remember that they take a longer season to grow and ripen. Aside: the hubbard squash was hard to open. I ended up doing a samurai chop with my big chinese steel cleaver. This was scary as the squash had to stable flat spot and I had to hold it with my other hand...I still have 2 hands and 10 fingers. Gramma told me sometimes her dad would take a hatchet to the hubbard squash late in the winter. Next time I will make a little pit in the yard to hold the squash and avoid endangering my appendages. It was not great just as roasted squash...kind of pasty and stringy even though undercooked. So I added a couple of apples (which I had to buy) and a fried onion and garlic (had to buy the onion) and some chicken bouillon and made soup. The soup was great.
Done with Aside.

Last week I cracked and bought fresh apples even though I still have dried apples, cherries (2 years old) and plums. Reconstituted dried fruit is fine, even still dry it is fine. But I just got sick of the same texture all the time. I've finished all the fish in the freezer other than the stuff that was buried and is too old and too freezer burned. That will get buried in the yard or garden...maybe under where I'm going to plant the rhubarb or in the raspberry patch. I also lost a box of quince. They almost got ripe and then shriveled when the "root cellar" got a bit too warm when the outside temp went up to the 50s and I forgot to totally shut the heat vent in there. A few days in the 60s and they went bad. Oh well. Good for compost and I'll plant a few.

All the garlic in the root cellar lasted fine and onions were good for several weeks in there. I'll stock up on more next year. If anyone has wooden food crates lying around, I would love them for the root cellar/front-bedroom. Having things on newspaper on plastic counter is not ideal. The counter sweats a bit which can compromise the food.

I still have plenty of spices, though ran out of sea salt so will stock up on bigger quantities when that is on sale. Hard to keep up with baking soda too since I use it for everything from cooking to hair washing to cleaning the toilet and clearing drains. I think 5lbs a year would be good (it also takes boot marks off the floor really well and soap scum out of the tub). 2 gallons of vinegar have lasted.

I'm also a bit starved for greens and last week bought some kale. This week chard. Those don't store so a cold frame and/or a late planting will be necessary in future. Sprouts help, but they aren't the same as greens or salad.

The coffee lasted! I ran out yesterday. My tiny tiny new coffee maker, one demi-tasse at a time, helped as did caving in and drinking some of the battery-acid the IT folks at work make. It's there and we have to pay for it out of our work budget so I might as well indulge. I've been having about 1/2 a cup a day with a bunch of ice to dilute the acid (it really is crap....when the sun is up more and I can wake up on my own I'll give it up again).

Basically it looks like I had plenty of proteins and whole grains stocked up.
For veggies...I need more variety in texture. Dried tomatoes and onions are delicious, but they don't have the same flavor or texture as canned or stored fresh versions. To make a decent soup base you really need to fry an onion and some garlic. You can get by sometimes with just fried garlic, but sometimes you really need the onion. Dried tomatoes are never the same as canned or fresh. Fresh are not really an option here in the winter without some sort of insane investment in hydroponics/greenhouse/power/ I'm going to try more canned.
I am very pleased with the results of the tomato dust. It makes a very good tomato sauce or paste. Though still with a very different flavor than canned or fresh. I'm going to make the effort to can some pints of tomatoes or tomato sauce next fall.

Dried fruits are quite good. They last indefinitely in closed jars. I've got 2 year old cherries that still make good additions to everything. I've used them to soak up the extra juice in cobblers and crisps made from frozen fruits. Frozen fruits tend to release a ton of juice. The dried apples crushed up make an apple sauce acceptable for cooking into other things. I haven't tried rehydrating the apples to put in a pie or cobbler on their own but I might. They are also good just as they are. Several breakfasts have been dried apples and a handful of nuts.

Speaking of nuts. I need more to get through a winter without buying new. That's another item I had to restock a bit. This is mostly because I use them to make "milk" for cooking and adding to coffee. If I didn't do that, I would have had plenty. I'm still in search of a local nut source and if I can get land I think that hazelnuts (which should grow here) would be a good niche crop.

The honey is lasting fine. I've still got half a bucket in the bucket and a few quarts on the shelf.

I've got a bit of oatmeal left and may stock up more on that or other grain flakes next year to allow for more breakfast bars.

I'd also like more sour-flavorings. I'm out of lemon juice and lime juice. There is no local source for any of that sort of thing. I'll keep planting seeds but will never have enough production to supply my sour needs. (Mostly because I've never had a seed grow beyond the twig stage before dying...I even bought a started myer lemon last summer at the farmers market for 15$! That's a lot of money for me....and it croaked immediately. oh well. Cheaper to start my own and watch them die.

BUT the plums planted in the yard are doing well! I checked them yesterday and the starts are still growing. A few more years and there will be plums. Woohoo! I have an offer on quince suckers from a colleague's yard and will try to get a cherry start from the neighboring grove where I "glean" (ok, take without permission which is stealing) pie cherries and crab apples.

back to the pantry...
The other spices have lasted with the exception of basil, oregano, and parsley. Will get more of those next year or plant more. The parsley in the garden is still sort of green but there is so little I don't want to "harvest" any. The mint is still looking productive as is the thyme so I should have plenty of those next year.

The peppercorns just ran out. A bit more of that would be good. I wonder if I can grow that...

That's probably more of a pantry update than anyone is interested in.