Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Favorite New Holiday Song

I have a new favorite holiday song.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Fall Update 6 weeks.   Suck.

Anyway, been busy/bored.  BUT some fun and possibly frugal or possibly spendthrift things have come to pass. 
I bought a "luxury vacation home" called "Wagner Haus" (must be said with a rough bad german accent).

It's a 17 foot 1972 camper.  No electricity, not even battery.  Therefore CHEAP (1100$) and parked on friends' land up near Newport, Washington.  It's fun.  I get to try out simpler ways of living.  Such as using more blankets because no electricity = no furnace (the fan...).  The fridge would work on just propane but hardly need it now.  I've been using candles and flashlights.  It gets cold at night but with plenty of blankets it's been surprisingly cozy.  I got up one morning and it was 25degrees inside the camper, but the only really hard part was putting on my pants which were also 25 degrees. 

I'll be digging an outhouse shortly.  I was going to do it this week while I was up there this week.  But, there were complications (ironically I had diarrhea...couldn't leave the friends' real bathroom long enough to do any major digging).  I did get a great deal on a seat for the outhouse!  2$ at a thrift store for a camp toilet.  It's like a little folding stool (heh heh) but with a toilet seat instead of a canvas seat.  It's meant to be used with disposable bags (puke).  I remodeled it by cutting the bottom out of a 5 gallon bucket and JB Welding that to the camp toilet.  Total outlay: 10$ (includes the new JB Weld which will be used on many many projects...probably only used 1$ of it for this).   I've got some heavy gauge pallets to tear up for the outhouse foundation.  For now, the "walls" will be a tarp.

Speaking of tarps.  I spent 25$ for two good tarps and some rope to cover the roof of the camper for the winter.  No reason to tempt fate.

SO, that is mostly money out in exchange for a great deal of fun.

Today I did something that I'm not sure is thrifty.  We'll see.  I bought winter tires with a set of rims for the new Subaru.  It was 1000$!  I could get a vacation home for that!!!  The rims were 60ish $ each.  This investment will be returned in 3 seasons of swapping them out for free at Les Schwab rather than paying each time which you do if they aren't on their own rims.  I had to argue with the young man at the tire place.  I asked for walnut tires.  He kept saying they didn't make them any more.  I kept saying I checked online and they do exist and Les Schwab sells them.  He tried to sell me a "walnut pattern tread."   I got firm and snotty and said "It's NOT a pattern.  There are walnut shells in the rubber."  He repeated they didn't make them.  I stared at him.  He called the boss over...yep.  Totally make those.  Toyo Observe tires.  They were right there on the shelf.  DUH.   Don't question me.  I know what I'm talking about.  I don't understand all the ins and outs of tires though and it seems that putting different rims/tires on disconnected the automatic tire pressure monitor thingy so for now I have to stare at the tire symbol on the dashboard.  Oh well.  Better to have a light flashing at me than to end up in the ditch on an icy drive.

Will these 192$ tires be worth it?  I think so, but hard to say.  The last walnut tires I bought (same brand but smaller for the old car) lasted 6 winters at about 10-15,000 miles per winter and would have gone one more summer.  And, they really help me stop on the conditions we have here in the winter.  I like stopping.

Spending as much on tires/rims as I've spent on a vehicle in the past...a crap truck that I overpaid for at 800$, and almost as much as my luxury vacation home...that's hard for me.   I'll be really glad I have them as soon as it snows.

Ok...the computer is acting funny.  I'm going to try to post this before I lose it.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Documentaries on Whiteness

So, I'm at a conference where most people are not "white."  One guy made a joke about needing a "white liaison" for his Tribe (because of all the federal agencies that have a Native American Liaison to help them communicate with Tribes).  Funny.

It made me think.  There are all sorts of resources for me, a white person (no one is shocked right?), to understand people of other identities.  But what are the resources for learning about white people?  Specifically, white Americans?

I thought about the great writers like Hemingway.  But really, he presents what he THINKS we want to hear.  That would be like trying to understand most Chinese people by reading Mao.  You'd understand something of a general mindset that some Chinese may have, but as for relating to the Chinese man or woman on the street, not very helpful.

Then I remembered how much I like movies.

Here are some movies that I think would help people understand the basics of white Americans:

Grey Gardens (the original documentary not that bit of fluff with Drew Barrymore)
The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia
Harlan County USA
Herb and Dorothy
Anything by Errol Morris (in fact, just watch the whole oeuvre)
The Interview Project (
A Class Divided  (also available online:
Jesus Camp

Narrative Films (dramas, comedies, ungenre-able)
The Straight Story
We Need to Talk About Kevin
Spinal Tap (OK, bit of a red herring but the movie itself is a cultural phenomenon important to my people)
The Lost People of Mountain Village (actually, this whole flick is free online: Part 1  , Part 2
Tiny Furniture
Wendy and Lucy
Annie Hall
To Kill a Mockingbird (also the book, obviously)
A Mighty Wind
A Christmas Story
Harold and Maude

The Simpsons
(I'm sure there's more here but I haven't watched enough TV in recent years to know what's out there and what's real and instructive about my people).

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Cooking As An Act of Economic Disobedience

Wow. I'm reading the book The End of Food by Paul Roberts. Real eye opener and I'm just in the background information bit. It's due at the library and I'm going to have to get it out again or something. Too much information to process all at once. Anyway, the bit that has grabbed me at the moment is the evolution of the food industry. Specifically the convenience food industry. It's not like I'm unaware. It's more that I haven't seen it all laid out in an organized, endnoted, fashion like this. Pretty compelling stuff.

The current food industry, according to Roberts, is dependent on "the continued decline in consumers' ability to prepare or even understand their own food." That's not the only thing, there's advertising, engineered consistent flavors, etc. I can't do much about the other factors. But I can totally cook from scratch and understand food.

 How far removed are we from a time when most American households not only cooked, but often grew, their own food for every meal, every day, all year, their entire lifetimes? I'm thinking "not very" is the answer.

Before Columbus sailed the ocean blue (1492), there wasn't much in the way of a prepared food industry here, though there was some. Dried and smoked fish and meats were traded a bit. Grains were traded, or stolen, a bit after drying which is partial processing or "convenience." Flavoring agents like salt and peppers were traded after some processing too. But really, not much compared to heading to the Quickimart for a hot pocket which you stick in some appallingly spattered microwave while you hit the equally appallingly spattered restroom. (Remind me to do a later blog on the "convenience" industry dealing with the outcome of food consumption someday.)

After the pilgrims landed there was some trade with the local folks for dried or at least harvested grains and vegies and some for meats. But mostly, if you wanted to eat you'd better have a family member or servant dealing with that everyday all day. I guess paying servants is another form of convenience food. We've outsourced servitude. I remember being impressed that my aunt (Hi Marcie!) had servants while she lived in India. She was of the upper social group in her area so that was the accepted social convention. They probably helped cook. We had no servants other than Mom who slaved away on food everyday. But sometimes we got a frozen pizza and there was breakfast cereal, canned soups, and etc. I think I remember her mostly cooking from scratch. I remember epic sessions of canning and freezing foods for winter from the giant garden and going to pick berries.

The big annual family "vacation" was geared around going fishing during blue gill spawning season and bringing home tons and tons...ok, pounds and pounds of frozen filets that we ate through the year. The deep freezer was perhaps our most important appliance. If it failed and everything thawed, we were screwed. Other vacation time was spent hunting. Deer was the prestige food, but we ate other things. Fred still occassionally eats squirrel (barf...greasy little bastards they be).

I remember getting beef from "retired" dairy cows on another aunt's farm. I'll have to ask how often that happened. I also remember weekly trips to the Jack and Jill grocery store (which I assumed was somehow linked to me based on the name).  I estimate, and will ask, that the greatest portion of our food was cooked by mom, mostly from scratch with the exception of bread. There were stints of bread baking, but mostly that was bought. As was the butter. Don't remember her churning any.

 A very large portion of our protein was killed by someone in the family. I think for the folks, it still is. They eat many many fish caught and cleaned by Fred. There is a cleaning station in the garage with hot and cold running water which anthropologically indicates 2 things...the importance of this food source and the desire of Sher not to have fishguts in her lovely cherry wood kitchen (Kitchens By Slugs).

When we lived in the first house in Waverly, there was a very large garden on the neighbor's land in what had been the bottom of the river so probably pretty fertile. During those years, a good portion of our vegies came from that garden but I have no estimate on how much.

 Let's go back one more generation to Gramma and Grampa and their folks. On my mother's mother's side they produced approximately 100% of their own food and much of the neighbors' food and had food based businesses. I remember the stories of the honey production. I think Gramma said her dad had a thousand hives but I'll have to ask again. They sold the honey and made honey vinegar and attempted honey wine though the story goes that Gramma's gramma thought that was sinful to spiked the bottles with a bit of mother of vinegar thereby increasing the vinegar output. Still a saleable product but not worth as much as booze. (Aside: I'm attempting some honey vinegar right now...there are facinating stringy thingies in the jar so here's hoping.) They had chickens, a milk cow, large gardens, and fished the Mississippi. They shared and sold and traded the extra and sometimes what wasn't extra. I'm guessing they would have purchased the flour for bread and will ask.

 I remember Gramma talking about how her mom was on the annual trip to South Dakota to introduce the newest baby to her folks, she'd stay like a month or so, and Gramma's dad decided to get a new stove for the wife. The first one arrived on the train and he declared it not good enough and sent it back. Greatgramma like to sit on the oven door to keep warm and he thought this one was flimsy and would break right off. I think that was a wood stove but not sure. Later, a kerosene stove for summer cooking was purchased. These events were very big deals and meant to increase the convenience of cooking at home. I'll have to ask if they ever ate in a restaurant or bought prepared foods.  They did quite a bit of canning and root cellaring. I'm sure there was hunting as there were several boys and some guns.

So, 1 generation back, my mom, most food from scratch and quite a bit killed or grown or foraged themselves. 2 generations back pretty much 100%, let's go with 90% because of the flour, killed, grown or foraged themselves.

For my sister: She grows the odd tomato after Fred plants her garden. Picks cherries off her tree and eats and jams them. She sometimes cooks from scratch and often uses convenience foods and often eats in restaurants.

 For my brother: Has grown his own beef and turkey. Hunts. Fishes. I suspect that a very large portion of his protein is killed by him. I don't think much in the way of veggies. Right now a large portion of his eating at home is home prepared rather than TV dinner sorts of convenience foods, but I don't know how much is from "scratch" and how much has some convenience food like industrially canned tomatoes.

For me: Lately too much restaurant eating because I don't want to turn the stove on in the summer (a summer kitchen is a priority part of my imaginary cabin). Probably 7 meals a week are restaurant or grab-n-go sandwiches. I have been drinking Zevia gingerale more than my homemade kombucha. And, almost all of the food I eat is grown, killed, or foraged by someone else. I do cook from scratch for the other 14 meals per week and have trained myself to minimize the convenience foods when shopping but do still buy pre-ground wheat (aka "flour"), pressed oils, etc.

I think for all of us we use the "convenience" foods of butter, oils, cheeses (except for me) and the like rather than churning, pressing or cheesing our own. I used to buy pre-fab almond milk but have found that it's actually MORE convenient to make my own from almonds. Since getting a tiny ice cream churn (just 1 pint at a time!) I also make my own sorbets and non-dairy icecreams but I still buy the nuts and berries and sweetener pre-made. In the summer almost all of my vegetables come from my CSA, which is local and not part of the big industrial ag machine, or my tiny wee garden. In the winter, I do my best with preserved foods but sometimes I just want to open a can of soup. It's so damned convenient.

So, all that to say, that those of us who cook from basic ingredients, "scratch," are performing one level of economic disobedience. Every time I grind up my own almonds with water in the blender, that's one more time I don't send money to a subsidiary of a multinational corp for my almond milk. Every time I make my own stirfry rather than buying a bag of prewashed, precut, premixed, pre-whatever frozen sealed in plastic veggies, I keep a little of my own money in my pocket rather than sending it to the half dozen multinational corporations who run the food world.

Think of every bit that you garden, if you garden. Even a pot of tomatoes or basil on the patio or a windowsill takes a tiny bit of money away from Nestle or Kellogg or Birdseye or whatever megacorp (which has personhood now, by the way). Good for us.

The community garden here where people can not only eat food grown right here in river city, we/they learn about how to grow it. We start to understand our food. Just this year I understood that sweet peas picked too late taste like crap and give me the farts. That's good to know. I also learned that they are still edible.

 OK, long way around the topic, but it's so compelling. There are really only 2 big seed companies in the US. That is a monopoly people. Please grow your own food, with seeds from the heritage seed companies or buy from local farmers, preferably those who save and use their own seeds or buy from those heritage seed companies. You keep money in your community, understand your food, increase your food and financial security, and carry on with important elements of being human. Providing your own food and sharing it with others. (Now, off to the store for a big box of Ding Dongs.)

Monday, July 23, 2012

A Frugal Icon has Passed

First, yes, I'm embarrassed that I read the HuffPo because it is utter crap...but my computer blocks most of and

ANYWAY: I'm sure I blogged out this guy in the past but I can't find the post.  Will put in a link if I do find it.

Herbert Vogel and his wife Dorothy are amazing art collectors who lived very simply and spent money on what they valued:  art and turtles.

They lived in a tiny 1 bedroom apartment in NYC.  They lived on Dorothy's salary as a librarian and spent his salary, he worked as a postal clerk, on art. Every inch of their apartment was stuffed with art. Great art. They bought what they loved and the over 5000 pieces now form the basis of many modern art collections around the US.  They donated it to the National Gallery (because it is free), which was unable to accept the entire collection due to curation and other costs, so much of it went to smaller museums and traveling exhibitions.  They could have been "rich" if they'd sold it, but they chose not to as they had no need for more money.  They hobnobbed and shared pet-sitting with Cristo and many other important modern artists.

The documentary about the couple: Herb and Dorothy.  2008.  Directed by Megumi Sasaki

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Historic Frugality

Turns out Abe Lincoln also had problems with moochers wanting his money when he was doing well.

The lovely blog "Letters of Note" published one of his letters to his half- or step-brother (I find wikipedia, and other sources muddle those distinctions and I'm too lazy to go to the library and figure this out, also it's SUPER hot outside so I'm not going across the street to the library for nothin' today).

Anywho, this half/step-brother was asking for money.   Lincoln noted that given this dude's constant pleadings for $$, this was just not going to happen.   I've been down this road with people twice.  It's tough to tell them no, but it has to be done.

Here's the link to the letter:

Here are a couple of my favorite bits.
The opener:

Your request for eighty dollars I do not think it best to comply with now. At the various times when I have helped you a little you have said to me, "We can get along very well now"; but in a very short time I find you in the same difficulty again. Now, this can only happen by some defect in your conduct. What that defect is, I think I know. You are not lazy, and still you are an idler. I doubt whether, since I saw you, you have done a good whole day's work in any one day.

The common sense approach:

You are now in need of some money; and what I propose is, that you shall go to work, "tooth and nail," for somebody who will give you money for it. 

And the incentive:

I now promise you, that for every dollar you will, between this and the first of May, get for your own labor, either in money or as your own indebtedness, I will then give you one other dollar. 

And the best possible outcome:

 Now, if you will do this, you will be soon out of debt, and, what is better, you will have a habit that will keep you from getting in debt again. But, if I should now clear you out of debt, next year you would be just as deep in as ever.

Nice.  And true.  

Saturday, June 23, 2012


I'm going to skip the whole "been too long" because that is obvious and get to the meat of the issue.

Betty, my long-owned and hard-driven 1994 Subaru Legacy Wagon is gone.  Gone to auction after being traded in on Thursday.

Sol (or any word for "sun" in any language other than English) is the "new" car in town.

I had Diana (Hi Diana) go with me because she's good at finding vehicles. I'm good at finding cheap housing.  Also, she is good at peer pressuring me into just buying something.

Betty needed new struts all the way around.  1200$.  The struts were so bad that they were going to become a safety problem.  A few days after I got this news from the mechanic, something let go in the back end (Betty's, not mine) and made a noise that was sort of  "clang...sproing" every time the back driver's side wheel hit a bump.  I'm guessing something actually snapped.  That noise and the metal-on-metal screech of all 4 struts, as well as the delay and thump between pressing the gas and actually moving, were about to make my nerves snap.

I'm pretty sure I squeezed every ounce of value out of Betty.  I paid 5960$ net (after the cash payout from the insurance when the Toyota was totaled by that damn teenager with a cell phone).  I put out about 4000$ in major repairs over the years.  Notable repairs:  camshaft pulley shot off on the interstate in western Minnesota;  alternator went out on the highway to Pullman one day; various CV joints/axles/bearings; 1 or 2 brake jobs though never replaced the rotors just had them ground.  I got 1300$ for the time that chick hit the back end of Betty on an icy day.  I spent $250 getting the tail light replaced.  So that's about 1050$ free dollars to deduct from costs.
That makes a lifetime net cost (because oil changes and that sort of thing are assumed and I never did a timing belt, gasket, or pump of any kind)  of 5960 + 4000 - 1050 = $8960

For that I drove 208,000 miles.   My miles per dollar of purchase cost and major repairs for Betty is: 23.2
I have always shot for 20 miles per dollar so I was ahead but with a few major repairs (and there would be more than a few once we got started), I'd be behind

If I'd done the struts: 20.67.   One big repair after that and I'd be losing even more ground.

I also had been wanting side impact airbags (and I'm sure my passengers had been wanting ANY airbag), my windshield was so scratched up from a life on the road that I could barely see at night from all the glare, and my seatbelts have been damaged and technically illegal for about 3 years.  Never mind the water that flowed out from the bottom of the dash whenever it rained (that's been going on since I got the car), and the new leak along the top of the drivers side window.  None of these things actually made the car stop or needed immediate repair to get from point A to point B, so I hadn't done them.

I got $759 on trade in for my car.  That is deducted from the net outlay on the new car, but I haven't figured the full details on that yet.

I had to realize that I'm not going to get 20miles per purchase and repair dollar anymore.  I'm sure as hell going to try, but it is something to shoot for, not a guarantee.  I've been driving on borrowed time on the last car for a while.  You just don't know an engine and transmission are going to last that long, never mind the differential and the rest.   Betty must have been one of those cars made on the day when workers are at their peak of performance.

So, the new car.  2009 Forester with 44000 miles on it , roughly.  It's a certified used car with a warrantee up to 100,000 miles (total miles, not mine) and three more years.  I drive about 20,000 miles a year now so I'll about hit that.  This is the first time I've bought a car without going to a mechanic.  That is scary, but realistically, I had researched this "certified" business and thought it was too far out of my price range but it looks like it is a real thing.  We'll see.  This car was bought locally, driven locally, and so all maintenance records are with one mechanic, at the dealer.  I'm sure any problem will show up in the next 3 years.  It has some sort of extra warrantee for the first year or two; I need to reread the materials.    And finally, I did not sign the arbitration waiver thingy so I can sue their asses if there is a problem.

This is quite a bit better/newer car than I planned on buying, but I really wanted the safety features and I still had cash for the purchase.

The dealer...Oh yeah!.  The name of my salesperson is "Cinnamon Crabb".  She's very nice despite what had to be a nightmarish journey though her school years with that name.
The dealership checked my credit rating and based on that, gave me the car immediately.  I hadn't brought my title or checkbook with me because I figured I'd have to go clean out my car anyway.   Nope.  Based on my stellar credit rating (I'm in the 93rd percentile...only slightly lower than my Iowa Test of Basic Skills percentiles), they wouldn't even take the cash deposit I had brought with me.  I asked if I should get a cashiers check.  "No, we'll take your personal check."  OK.  I emailed a heads up to my bank that I would be writing a big check to a car dealership.  I drove home in the car and went back on Friday with a check and the title to the old car.  I had forgotten a couple of things in the old car so got those while I was there.

All very exciting.  Now...if only that hail storm last night had dented up the car I would have gotten money back!  Oh well.  Someone will put a dent in it eventually and I'll get money back.  I do not do cosmetic repairs.

That worked well with Betty.  If I'd spent the 1050$ to get the tailgate and bumper dents fixed rather than kept the money I would have gotten a whopping 50$ increase in my trade in value.  I might have gotten another 50$ if I'd taken off the rust bits and gotten a paint job.  The cracked windshield had pretty much no effect on trade in.  Once a car has that many miles and 18 years on it, cosmetic defects are nothing.

I just checked a loan calculator and I'm saving about 3000$ by not paying interest on a loan for this car.  That's 3000$ that I will immediately designate as going towards the next car purchase, planned for either 2022 (10 years of use) or 2027 (Sol will be 18 years old).

Why name it "Sol"?  Because I bought on Summer Solstice which was also a super hot sunny day AND it has an automatic sun roof.
Other accessories it has that I don't care about:
heated seats
audio controls on the steering wheel
alloy wheels
AC (which I did turn on because there is a warrantee on the transmission...more on that at another time)
remote start
keyless entry
a bunch of security stuff
reclining rear seats...they tilt back 4 inches so passengers can chill
CD player (that technology must be on the way out if I have it in my car)

Stuff  I DO like:
back seats fold flat
those safety features
continuous readout of mpg average for 2 different trips so I can work on my fuel economy (this has a bigger engine than Betty so I'm losing a few miles to the gallon, but they don't make the smaller engine anymore)
getting in the car and assuming I'll get where I'm going
getting 3 years to see what will break in the engine or transmission due to the warrantee
ipod connection thingy that I don't know how to use yet.

I'm waffling on the's not terribly comfortable so I'm going to have to play with that.  Oh well.  Aunt Marcie was right.  Also, my old car's seats were 18 years old (but surprising had no rips or stains) so I'm still used to the pains those gave me.  I'm sure I'll adjust.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Earth Day Film Recommendations

I think we all know that I like Earth Day. I'll be on the radio on the actual day and will be giving an Earth Day movie list...but you saw it here first (my opinion may change by the time I get to the station).

Dirt (great documentary about the importance of soil)
The Real Dirt on Farmer John (great documentary about an eccentric midwestern farmer)
An Inconvenient Truth (obviously)
The Garden (about a community garden in LA)
King Corn (corn and what happens to it, check out Ricardo Salvador the best looking plant biologist out there...also brilliant)

Scripted Films:
Greenfingers (Clive Owen is a murderer with a heart of gold and a green thumb)
Silent Running (classic eco-film with a youngish Bruce Dern on a ship with the last plants)
Soylent Green (obviously)
Delicatessen (post apocolyptic black comedy about cannibalism (no other food left))
Brazil (it's me so you know this will show up on every list)
Lemon Tree (widow in Palestine/Israel loses a lemon orchard to politics)
Alamar (beautiful views of an ecosystem and culture that are not long for this world)

There are thousands more, but these are what comes to mind. Enjoy. Happy Earth Day

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Too long!

I haven't been on lately. Other interests like starting plants, going to meetings, and listening to books on tape. So really, no good excuse.

I do have an excellent thrift store report! I am going to a formal dinner to support a human rights group in the next county north. It's fairly formal and I have no decent clothes to wear, though several gorgeous scarves thanks to an Aunt who traveled in Asia and picked up a variety of lovely silk shawls and scarves.

After an oil change yesterday I made the most of my time in the big city by going to a few thrift stores. At one I found BRAND NEW tan wool herringbone slacks by l.l. bean or similar. Still had the tags on. They are straight leg style which is best for me. There was also a dark brown silk shirt which is in the same part of the color wheel, but not matchy-matchy. I think it will work. A new formal outfit for a total of 15$. Woohoo! There were also columbia brand zip-off pants! They didn't have tags, but no spots, tears, wear or anything. I never buy these new because they are pricy and because they are made of artificial materials and I don't like to support that...BUT these are good pants and my other zip off pants are suddenly too small. They will work well when riding my trike since the ankle openings have a draw string so I can tighten them up and keep them out of the chain. Since they were 3$ I won't mind getting chain grease on them either.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Household Expense Book 1978 Pt. 3

I'm back! Was on vacation for a couple of weeks then catching up.

Another installment in this ongoing series:

Reminder: I was thrifting (shopping at thrift stores) last fall and found a budget book. One that you record expenses in each day and total up for the week/month/year. I knew it was old but thought it was blank. It was 25 cents. So I got it. I like to do a money flow check up once or twice a year so figured the 25 cent budget book would get me through about 6 years. Seemed like a good deal.

When I got home and was putting my purchases away (the budget book and a puzzle of a Cezanne still life, 25 cents) I flipped through the book a bit more thoroughly and found that a few pages were filled out.

It was done in September and October 1978. Quite interesting. I noted that I pay less in rent now than the book's owners (we'll call them "they") paid on their rent/mortgage in 1978. So, I thought I'd put the expenses in the blog and think them through in writing rather than just in my head.

Here goes:

Totals for the week beginning 9.25 (had to reconstruct the date from preceding and following entries):
Meats 45.00
Groceries 38.50
Dairy Products 4.50
School Expenses 2.00
Church-Charity 10.00
Drugs-Medical Care
Beauty Care 5.00
Household Help
Entertainment 35.00
Beverages 2.00
Cigarettes-Tobacco 10.50
Household Purchases 10.00
Wearing Apparel 1.50
Gifts 7.00
Telephone 73.00 (!)
Gas 52.86
Electricity 15.17
Heat 5.61
Rent Or Mortgage 370.00
Auto Expense 73.00

Additional Categories were added as follows:
Aldens 36.29
Penneys 10.00
Alarms 39.87
M.C 25.00
TV Guide 15.50

Total for the Week: 880.30 (wow!)

It appears that the "Gas" is being used to record "gasoline" rather than furnace fuel as it has a daily entry.

Spent a ton on meat and groceries again. I just decided to eat buckets of organic vegetables again and at today's prices I'm having trouble spending that much...even out of season and these folks are buying in 1978 dollars during harvest when stuff should be cheapest. Even assuming 4 kids. That's a great deal of money on food. Percentage wise it's not too terrible. Meat, groceries and dairy total is $88.00. 10% of the weekly budget. Of course the budget is skewed with a few monthly expenses like rent/mortgage.

Once Again, I'm a bit taken aback by the Entertainment cost of 35.00. What the hell was there to do in 1978 that cost that much? High class hookers? One for each kid?

The Cigarettes-Tobacco is 1.50 per day. Must still be smoking a pack a day.

One red flag as far as financial planning is making categories out of stores..."Aldens" "Penneys." Budgets do best when the categories are types of spending, not locations of spending. Did you buy clothes at Penneys? Is Aldens groceries? Clothes? Garden implements? This is the start of not knowing where the money is going. In a week or a month or a year, how will the author know what was bought at these locations? Whether the purchases were for home use or gifts?
What is "M.C"? What was bought there? For whom? Bad biscuit (also, no savings).
Another red flag is not recognizing "TV Guide" (I hope that's a yearly subscription) as an Entertainment expense. Making the entertainment budget a mind-boggling $50.00. Maybe the hookers wanted to know what was on TV. It doesn't really matter as it's still an entertainment expense.

One final red flag on this is the fact that the author never fills in the "budget for the week" column. Perhaps the point was just to track expenses for a while and then figure out a reasonable budget limit in each category. It's one way to go. Yet, making sure the outflow does not exceed the income is another goal of most budgeting and without having even a target total or a note of what the income is, makes it hard to keep a daily, weekly or monthly eye on things.

The weekly total, $880.30, equals what is often my monthly total 24 years later, minus various savings plans e.g. vacation, real estate, car.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Fruits and Veg...Thrifty?

OK, running a bit of an experiment here. Partly because I am a fat lard and partly to see if it really is cheaper in the mid-run to eat healthy.

We know it's cheaper in the short run to eat crap...the dollar menu is ...well.. a dollar. So if you can get one or 2 or 3 items and pack in 1000 calories you're going to feel more full and make it through the next several hours. However, by the end of day 2 of eating the dollar menu, you're going to feel like crap and realize that you'll ultimately spend more. BUT if you live somewhere without easy access to fruit and veg, without space and ability to store them (e.g. roach infested inner city apartment complexes are rarely near a good produce market and you can't store things without them getting ruined), then the savings of shopping for fresh fruit and veg may indeed NOT be there.

In the long run, when you consider health care costs it's always better to eat as healthily as possible.

But what about the mid-range. Weeks or months?

I'm trying to eat a minimum of 4 servings of veg and 3 servings of fruit per day. In the short run, I'm too stuffed with salad to eat much more at lunch so that is good. But, organic salad is not available in my home town and I'm only in the big city once every two weeks or so. That means that I run out of organic salad in one week and have another week staring me in the eyes. Organic salad is also expensive. Hence more root veggies. They are healthy, store well and taste good and are fairly cheap. I've also been buying...industrial fruit and veg at the local store. I could probably get over the pesticides but I really resent all the plastic packaging.

After 1 week in, I've spent more on groceries than before. But that is partly due to coming to the end of most of my winter stock of veggies other than the squash. Still have quite a bit of lovely squash. And partly due to not having enough stored whole or frozen fruit and being largely out of dried fruit. It was a bad year for fruit last year and it's showing. I have some slightly soft apples left but those need to be in a salad or cooked or they are pretty unappetizing even though perfectly consumable. A few dried pears left. And quite a bit of plum sauce...must find more uses for plum sauce.

I think when more fruit and veg is in season and if I can get the sprouter going again full steam, it will be thriftier in the mid range to eat lots of fresh fruit and veg.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Household Expense Book 1978 Pt. 2

Another installment in this ongoing series:

Reminder: I was thrifting (shopping at thrift stores) last fall and found a budget book. One that you record expenses in each day and total up for the week/month/year. I knew it was old but thought it was blank. It was 25 cents. So I got it. I like to do a money flow check up once or twice a year so figured the 25 cent budget book would get me through about 6 years. Seemed like a good deal.

When I got home and was putting my purchases away (the budget book and a puzzle of a Cezanne still life, 25 cents) I flipped through the book a bit more thoroughly and found that a few pages were filled out.

It was done in September and October 1978. Quite interesting. I noted that I pay less in rent now than the book's owners (we'll call them "they") paid on their rent/mortgage in 1978. So, I thought I'd put the expenses in the blog and think them through in writing rather than just in my head.

Here goes:

Totals for the week beginning 9.18:
Meats 0
Groceries 26.50
Dairy Products 1.50
School Expenses 2.00
Drugs-Medical Care
Beauty Care
Household Help
Entertainment 31.50
Beverages 5.00
Cigarettes-Tobacco 10.50
Household Purchases 15.00
Wearing Apparel 5.00
Gifts 7.00
Gas 43.00
Rent Or Mortgage
Auto Expense 0.50

Total for the Week: 147.00

It appears that the "Gas" is being used to record "gasoline" rather than furnace fuel as it has a daily entry.

They did better on groceries this week! Looks like the main shopping was done last week with supplemental shopping this week. Another 1.50 in dairy. Either that's milk or this family eats insane amounts of butter.

Once Again, I'm a bit taken aback by the Entertainment cost of 31.50. That's more than 20% of the entire week's expenses.

The Cigarettes-Tobacco is 1.50 per day. Must still be smoking a pack a day. Is the current price of a pack of cigarettes still the same as the price of a gallon of milk? I don't buy either.

Their budget was lower this week but there still seem to be cash leaks for cigarettes and entertainment.

Friday, February 3, 2012

So today I was learning to pressure can. I'm pretty sure I've got it now because I doubt there are ANY more things I could have done wrong. I'm also pretty sure that I need to buy someone a new pressure cooker. It's not good.

There were three of us and we were under the impression that one person knew how to do this. BUT what we ended up without was a canner. So we borrowed a pressure cooker...without the canning insert. It was determined through unclear means that that didn't matter. It also seems the seal wasn't good and the thing boiled dry...long before we opened it so the bottom is warped.

The jars of meat didn't crack or anything, but I don't think they got up to pressure and therefore not up to temperature. Sigh.

It wasn't very frugal though I suppose gaining skills that are supposedly simple is ultimately frugal. However, ending up owing someone a pressure cooker is definitely NOT frugal. Though perhaps the lesson was ultimately cheap as I will trust my own instincts above committee choices from here on out and it's always good to be reminded to do that.

I did get to spend the afternoon, at work, in the company of two very amusing people and that is always worth it.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Dang It!

Another 12 day gap. How does it happen? It's not like I have TONS of things going on. Well, quite a few but last Saturday I was done doing everything I'd booked for the day by 5pm and that included a nap and 2 hours reading clearly I COULD have blogged. But the inspiration wasn't there. No, that's not it. I don't have any inspiration today either. Well, maybe a little.

Anywho, here we are. The topic du jour (other than "Dang It!") is: Accidental thrift.
So it snowed. I snowed alot. Like a super lot. Not like a few years ago when we had 3 feet in Plummer by Christmas, but like 12 or 18 inches over about 5 or 6 days. I don't like shoveling and it was drifting back over any tracks or shoveled bit anyway. Then the city crew plowed the street and there was a berm about 6 feet wide and 2 feet deep between the car and the road. Of course then it rained and coated the berm, and everything else...Thanks Yaktrax!...with ice. A quarter inch of ice. So I didn't drive. Eventually they plowed to within 6 inches of the back of my car (and left a GIANT snow pile in the yard but whatever). I put salt on that and a mere several days later the car was free again.

For about 10 or 11 days I didn't drive at all. I always walk around town but I know I would have found SOMETHING to do out of town if it hadn't been a giant pain to shovel the car out. So, I stayed home. I cooked from scratch and went to the local market rather than running to the Moscow Co-op for the bits and pieces to fill in around the ingredients in the house.
Turns out, there is a new much more liberal, policy on which produce is past prime and marked down. A crazy liberal policy. I got a total of 10.1875 lbs of perfectly fine produce for $4.37! Much of it went into the freezer and the rest got eaten. The 3lb 2oz bag of bell peppers was the toughest to consume quickly. Half ended up sauted and frozen for future use, most of the rest are now stuffed with blackbean sweet potato chile (garnet yams were in the reduced bin despite being fine...perhaps just weren't selling), and the last bit were consumed just sauted. I'll put the recipe below because it was awesome. There was also a head of cauliflower, 2lbs 3oz, for 99cents, and a bag of salad for 99cents. Not a bad selection.

Here's the recipe for sauted bell peppers I got off that was amazing and I'll be eating often from here on out:

3 T olive oil
5-6 cloves garlic, minced
4-5 bell peppers (any color of sweet pepper), sliced into thin strips
splash of balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper if you like

Heat the oil over medium heat in a skillet large enough for the peppers to be in a single layer.
Saute the garlic until is just begins to carmelize
Add the peppers and stir frequently. Saute until they are al dente, or more if you like them soft.
Throw in the balsamic vinegar and remove from heat (or turn it off if you're using an electric skillet).
Stir to coat.

Delicious as is, or as a sandwich (hot or cold). Season with sea salt and fresh cracked pepper if you like.
Something about the vinegar and the toasty garlic on the peppers was just right.
You could probably add some onion slices if you cared to.

So basically, being lazy about digging the car out saved me gas and grocery money.

Monday, January 16, 2012

A Thrift Miracle!

I wasn't even in the market for new boots...but there they were. At Goodwill in Mosow, ID. Keens size 10. I usually take a 9.5 but I tried them anyway and they fit. Awesome. There is no visible wear. There is (or was) however, some visible poo on the soles. I studied it a bit closer once I got the boots safely home...15$ for boots worth well over 100$ had others in the thrift store giving me the stank eye...I was already carrying around a pair of carhartt pants marked 4$ that also showed no wear (well, very very little). I was afraid of being attacked for hogging the best stuff. It's a cut-rate-throat world there.

At home I found that the poo was not dog poo as I suspected, but had berry seeds in it. That is more likely bear poo. So here's the story I wrote in my head: Some woman decides to try hiking and buys very nice boots. The first trip out she steps in bear crap and figures "not doing this again" and dumps the boots, poo and all, at the thrift store. It was dried and not smelly so it wasn't fresh. Perhaps the Mr. begged her for weeks to go again and she finally "lost" the boots to avoid another trip to bear country.

I wore them to the radio show yesterday and got home with sweaty feet. They are waterproof and must have insulation as it was about 25degs out and my feet got sweaty. Cool.

My other boots are a year old and still in fine shape. Normally I would not get new boots so soon, but it's not like they will go bad on me and you can't find thrift boots on demand. I've never found thrift boots before, in fact. If they had been the least bit stinky or oddly worn, I would not have gotten them. I did put some anti-fungal powder in there just to be sure I don't catch anything. Of course I've been bowling and those communal bowling shoes are much more likely to give me a rash than thrift boots.

The carhartts are a bit snug, but they'll break in and be slightly more comfortable in a year or two. Or so I hope. They are getting fashionable with the younger set, hipsters mostly, so I expect the thrift supply to increase.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Household Expense Book 1978 Pt. 1

Household Expense Book 1978 Pt. 1

This will be a bit of an ongoing series.

I was thrifting (shopping at thrift stores) last fall and found a budget book. One that you record expenses in each day and total up for the week/month/year. I knew it was old but thought it was blank. It was 25 cents. So I got it. I like to do a money flow check up once or twice a year so figured the 25 cent budget book would get me through about 6 years. Seemed like a good deal.

When I got home and was putting my purchases away (the budget book and a puzzle of a Cezanne still life, 25 cents) I flipped through the book a bit more thoroughly and found that a few pages were filled out.

It was done in September and October 1978. Quite interesting. I noted that I pay less in rent now than the book's owners (we'll call them "they") paid on their rent/mortgage in 1978. So, I thought I'd put the expenses in the blog and think them through in writing rather than just in my head.

Here goes:

Totals for the week beginning 9.11:
Meats 34.00
Groceries 72.05
Dairy Products 4.50
School Expenses 67.00
Church-Charity 10.00
Drugs-Medical Care
Beauty Care 2.50
Household Help
Entertainment 17.00
Cigarettes-Tobacco 10.50
Household Purchases 3.00
Wearing Apparel 32.00
Gifts 5.00
Gas 43.00
Rent Or Mortgage
Auto Expense 38.09

Total for the Week: 341.14

It appears that the "Gas" is being used to record "gasoline" rather than furnace fuel as it has a daily entry.

The fact that Meats accounts for 34.00 of the total 110.55 for food for the week surprises me. I guess it is much cheaper to eat vegetables, even dairy.
Dairy Products are a series of 3 entries of 1.50. I wonder if that was the price of milk.

I'm also a bit taken aback by the Entertainment cost of 17.00. Perhaps this was a special night out. Or there are kids involved.

The Cigarettes-Tobacco is 1.50 per day. That must have been the price of one pack.

To me, this seems like a pretty steep budget for a week in 1978. Perhaps there are children involved here and perhaps these folks did not live in a 30 year old trailer. On the other hand, the expenses for several lines are empty that would be pretty serious expenses for most Americans these days. E.g. Beverages. Many of our citizens spend a great deal on pop, alcohol and bottle water among other things. I myself recently had a 3.00 a week kombucha habit (then I got kombucha starter and have been producing my own with mixed, but thrifty, results).

Monday, January 2, 2012

Best Books of 2011 (GUEST BLOGGER)

This is our first appearance of a guest blogger. This post was written by Sally Perrine, one of the cohosts of Peace Radio, aka DJ Sally P, activist, community leader, and staff member at Moscow Public Library. Somewhere in there she has a spouse and lovely grown kids.

Sally gets her books at the library as well as an independent local bookstore, both of which are excellent choices for frugal types.

Sally’s Booklist – Best of 2011:

Running the books: The Adventures of an Accidental Prison Librarian, by Avi Steinberg (ANF). I thoroughly enjoyed this book, which features two of my favorite issues – prison (and its reform) and librarianship. Steinberg was a rather rootless young man – the early chapters were very funny and dealt with his angst about his place in life – when he took on the job of librarian in a tough Boston prison. From then on, his connections with the prisoners who sought out the library as a reprieve, as a distraction, as a place of hope, provided this reader with enjoyment. Here’s a snippet from a review by Elif Batuman: “Whether he is discussing Sylvia Plath with a fragile prostitute, compiling recipes for a gang member who aspires to his own cooking show, or helping a garrulous pimp write his memoirs, Steinberg is unfailingly thought-provoking, witty, humane, and above all, relentless in his pursuit of a good story.”

Griftopia: Bubble Machines, Vampire Squids, and the Long Con That is Breaking America, by Matt Taibbi (ANF). OK. This one will bum you out! Taibbi likens the American economy to a giant casino that regularly cheats the majority of its players out of their life savings while enriching a few players. He has the ability to explain complex issues in street language without being simplistic. Taibbi is a great investigative reporter (I learned a new word reading his work – autodidact), and it’s been fun following his career as he directly investigates issues, then afterwards goes to experts for explanations of what he’s seen and heard. This story is extremely depressing, dealing as it does with “too big to fail”, and he’s pretty pessimistic about the outcome.

My Reading Life, by Pat Conroy (ANF). Read-aloud wonderful, this book about books is a total delight, with as many laugh-out-loud moments as it has powerfully emotional reminiscences. Conroy, as he has done in all his books, reflects on his childhood as the son of a marine fighter pilot, and describes the ways in which books saved his life.

Day of Honey, by Annia Ciezadlo (ANF). Co-titled, A Memoir of Food, Love, and War, this book follows Annia through her life as a newly-wed journalist in Baghdad and Beirut, focusing on the people she met along the way, and their daily lives. She loves to cook and to eat, so much of her writing focuses on markets, restaurants, and the various kitchens that she pieced together in these war-torn cities. You’ll end up loving her, her husband, and his eccentric family. The book ends with recipes!

The Company We Keep: A Husband and Wife True Life Spy Story, by Robert Baer and Dayna Baer (ANF). Very interesting inside story about the CIA; some aspect of the work itself covered, much about the toll spy work takes on personal lives. Intriguing look at this most secret of US activities – overseas espionage.

Heart of the Monster, by Rick Bass and David James Duncan (ANF). This book, apparently hurriedly put together in response to the Megaload/Alberta Tar Sands situation in the NW, is a dream to read. Duncan, especially, is one of my favorite writers (his book, The Brothers K, is one of my all-time favorites), and his love of the environment in this region is tangible. Mixing fact and lyrical prose, this book will break your heart. Or inspire you to activism!

Beyond the Sky and the Earth: A Journey into Bhutan, by Jamie Zeppa (ANF). Beautiful account of a young woman’s journey from Canada to Bhutan. Feeling a bit adrift, Zeppa decided to teach for a year in Bhutan, and came to love the country in ways she hadn’t felt for her native land. A year stretched into 3, she taught young children, college age students, lived in several small villages, and found that the pace of life in Bhutan suited her so much that she was overwhelmed on her return to Canada. Lyrical writing, descriptive phrases that brought thiew as seen through the eyes of one of the sons from a blue collar household in rural West Virginia. Essential reading. This and his previous book, Deer Hunting with Jesus.

Dirty Secret: A Daughter comes clean about her mother’s compulsive hoarding, by Jessie Sholl (ANF). This nonfiction account reads like a novel – and follows a daughter’s journey with a hoarder mother. Full of good information about the neurological and psychological traits of hoarders (I share some of them!), and the difficulties they cause for their loved ones – and others, of course.

The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry, by Jon Ronson, (ANF). An odd little book (Ronson’s previous book was “The Men Who Stare at Goats” - made into a movie), ostensibly about the Hare Test for psychopathy, but mostly about Ronson himself, the process he uses to put together a book, and his own nature, which is characterized by high anxiety. There were some very funny bits about his reactions to meeting the people he interviewed – many of whom had been diagnosed as psychopaths. I did learn some stuff about the history of psychiatry and the current usages of various diagnoses.

The Big Burn, by Timothy Egan (ANF). Read this one in a gulp. The guy’s an amazing writer! And I learned a lot about this area, the people involved, and the politics of the times. The 1910 Fire, of course, is what this book is about – the fire that devastated the forests of Washington, Idaho, and Montana and the effects of which can still be seen. Anyway, strong recommendation to anyone just wanting a kick-ass read – with really solid info about our local history.

Here Comes Trouble, by Michael Moore (ANF). I’ve read all his books, I’ve seen all his movies, but I still learned a lot about this man. The first chapter deals with the repercussions following his Oscar-winning speech 4 days after the bombing of Baghdad. He received some serious death threats and attempts on his life – so much so that he put himself on house arrest for a couple of years, and had to hire Navy Seals for protection for awhile. Then he followed up with an account of a number of conversations with Kurt Vonnegut, which did a lot to pull him back out into activism. This book is full of little gems like this, and stories showing his life-long activism and courage.

Leaving Microsoft to Change the World, by John Wood (ANF). Inspiring account of one man’s effort to bring libraries to third world children. Wood, on a hiking trip in Nepal, visited a school in which there was a locked-up library with books that the children couldn’t read. He vowed to return with books. It snowballed, d/t his efforts and entrepreneurial skills, and to date he has brought 10 million books to kids in 5 countries. His website, Room to Read, provides additional information. (I learned about this book from a NYT editorial written by Nickolas Kristoff)

Vultures’ Picnic: In Pursuit of Petroleum Pigs, Power Pirates, and High-Finance Carnivores, by Greg Palast (ANF). Fierce, angry book about the problems caused by the financial elite, not just in this country but worldwide. Palast is a true investigative journalist, and he brings us along as he travels to Alaska, Equador, Central Asia, and elsewhere uncovering the crimes that have brought this world to the brink of ecological and financial disaster. Reads like a thriller.

Feynman, by Ottaviani & Myrick (YANF). Graphic novel version of an autobiography of physicist, Richard Feynman, whose personal life and teaching skills were as impressive as his scientific skills. Great illustrations. And you might learn some physics as well!

Faithful Place, by Tana French (AF). OK, I lost an entire Saturday with this one! Another across-the-desk recommendation, this extraordinarily compelling family saga/ crime novel pulled me right in and didn’t let up until the end. Set in Dublin, this character-driven novel features detective Frank Mackey, who returns to his birth home after an absence of 20 years to revisit the disappearance of his girlfriend. They were planning to run away, get married, and start a new life away from the poverty and alcoholism that had trapped them both. Smart, occasionally funny, amazing character interrelationships, and an acute sense of place combine to make this one of the best novels I’ve read – maybe ever.

The Monk Downstairs (AF). I liked this book on so many levels. One, it was a flat-out love story between two adults - very lush and sexy. And, two, it was an exploration of the ways one can live a life, the finding of the balance between contemplation and action. And, three, it was so beautifully written that I wanted to just savor the experience. It made me feel good about the human experience.

An Irish Country Doctor, by Patrick Taylor (AF). This guy’s a wonderful writer. Love to bask in the essential goodness of the story of 2 rural G.P.’s in Northern Ireland - village doctors practicing their art and science among delightful characters. Mainly escapist fantasy, but Taylor knows his history, and inserts bits of heartbreaking reality about poverty and political unrest. Very compelling story, this.

The Atrocity Archives, by Charles Stross (AF). This book is just fun. Well, apart from the Nazi werewolves and approaching Armageddon. But Stross has crafted a story that combines madcap “saving the world” theatrics with mundane office place bureaucratic nitpicking. Very funny, in a Bill Murray, Ghostbuster sort of way.

The Complaints, by Ian Rankin (AF). Classic Rankin (minus Rebus), this police procedural, set in Edinburgh, “stars” D.I. Malcolm Fox, a cop who investigates other cops. Fox, his sister, Jude, his co-workers, people a complex, character-rich story, that holds interest as the story twists and turns. Very satisfying to read a novel featuring characters who depend on intelligence and their knowledge of human nature rather than force. Rankin’s a master!

Moonlight Downs, by Adrian Hyland (AF). There are so many similarities between this book series and the Steig Larssen series; both written by a man featuring a (weirdly) strong, physically small female protagonist, who rushes into danger, righting wrongs with little or no sense of her own peril. Emily Tempest, the main character in this series, does not have the awful past experiences of Salander, but is equally rash, tough, and brave. All in all, a satisfying read, set in central Australia among the indigenous people there.

Fablehaven, by Brandon Mull (JF). Recommended by a 9-year-old, this fantasy kept me enthralled throughout. Main characters were a brother and sister, each exhibiting different aspects of courage and character – the younger brother’s recklessness getting everyone into danger (and advancing the plot nicely), the older sister’s caution and intelligence getting them out. The story is populated by fairies, satyrs, trolls, witches – all gathered into a refuge to prevent their extinction. Very fun read!

Red on Red, by Edward Conlon (AF). I was pretty engrossed in this novel – loved the characters, and the story of two NYC cops proceeded in an unhurried, organic pace. Written by the author of the NF bestseller, Blue Blood, Conlon, who is a detective with the NYC Police Dept and a Harvard graduate writes well and knows his stuff. Very visual; I felt like I could “see” the terrain and the situations as they unfolded.

A Darker Domain, by Val McDermid (AF). Fascinating Scottish police procedural featuring 2 of the most appealing female leads in my memory – Detective Karen Pirie, and journalist Bel Richmond – both smart, tenacious, hard-working. The story moves from 1960’s Scottish mine country where the battle between unions and the owners rages, to the present, and is full of the social commentary, social justice themes that I most enjoy.

The Redbreast, by Jo Nesbo (AF). This one made me think. I had to go back to the beginning to reread the first part, and mark the pages that gave specific names in order to keep track of the characters. A Norwegian thriller that moved 50 years into the past to WW 2 and Norway’s part in that war, and then into the present following some of the main characters and their descendents. Fascinating, and a worthy “successor” for Steig Larssen fans. And this guy’s still alive and writing!

Unwind, by Neal Shusterman (YAF). Author recommended by my son,Alex, this young adult sci fi novel was excellent! Provocative plot (difficult or “unwanted” teenagers are harvested for their body parts) and wonderful courageous characters make this another important teen read and an author to follow!

When Will There by Good News?, by Kate Atkinson (AF). Fascinating crime novel/family saga that touches on the repercussions of early childhood trauma and the ways in which it affects people many years later. After a truly appallingly violent first chapter, the book proceeds to explore the lives and characters of the protagonists – the chief detective and her old friend and former colleague approaching the mystery from a couple of perspectives, and a wonderful young character, the resilient orphan, 16-year-old Reggie, whose love and courage lead to a conclusion. Excellent novel!

I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive, by Steve Earle (AF). Singer-songwriter, Earle has written a wonderful novel that reads like one of his songs. Set in a poor area of San Antonio, featuring heroin addict Doc, the ghost of Hank Williams, and Mexican immigrant, Graciela, whose magic healing touch transforms everyone she meets. As Howard Mosher says in his review of this novel, “If Jesus were to return tomorrow to twenty-first-century America and do some street preaching on the gritty South Presa Strip of San Antonio, he’d love Earle’s magnificently human, bighearted drifters.”

The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak (YAF). Australian author, Zusak, has tackled the war, the holocaust, and has cast Death as the narrator in this far-ranging, troubling, compelling novel. Main character, Liesel Meminger, is orphaned at age 9, sent to a foster home, and lives out the war years with her dad, who she loves nearly immediately, her mom, whose brittle personality and angers take her a little longer, her best friend, the irrepressible Rudy, and Max, the Jew who wanders into their lives and lives in their basement a la Anne Frank for a time.

Bright’s Passage, by Josh Ritter (AF). Bright’s Passage, set in WW I France and West Virginia, features main character, Henry Bright, an Angel, and assorted other and sundry characters. Surprisingly dark in tone, given the joyful presence of its author during his musical appearances, the novel starts with the death in childbirth of Henry's 20-year-old wife, the birth of his son (the “Future King of Heaven”), and the forest fire that started after Henry, on the advice/demand of the angel - speaking through his horse - burns down his cabin. The story twists and turns, moving back and forth from the horrors of the war to the present. It’s a beautifully complex novel that ends with an affirmation of life.

Blue Heaven, by C.J. Box (AF). An “Everybody Reads” selection for 2011, this thriller, set in N Idaho, is a non-stop adrenaline ride, and starts off with 2 kids in peril. A story of contrasting cultures – rural Idaho vs inner-city Los Angeles – and a very clear good vs evil clash, this is one scary book. (One of the transplanted L.A. cops ruminating on the people in the small town that he moved to, “They’d never know in his heart he thought of them as jaded Europeans thought of Americans: as childlike, boisterous, loud, too insular to appreciate what they had, to unsophisticated to realize how easy it had been for them.”)

The Informationist, by Taylor Stevens (AF). Described as “smart, sexy, fast-paced” by Vince Flynn, this thriller has a main character very like Salander from the Steig Larssen books – kind of impossibly strong and brave, and damaged from childhood abuse. A page-turner, with some really appealing characters. My favorite was the African mercenary, Francisco Beyard – a tough guy with a tendbacklinksMode=ON