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