Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Travel Souvenirs

When you you really need souvenirs?  

I like to have a little something to remember a place by.   I've gone through a few phases.
At first, I would buy books...uh, heavy and expensive and how many of those have I actually read?   Zero.

Than I went through a calendars and whatnot phase.  Better.  But again, done after a year or so and other than the calendars, they weren't things I would just see on a daily basis, so not much remembering going on.

Now I get tiny things that I'll see now and then...and smashed pennies.  The smashed pennies take up almost no space and cost 50 cents or a dollar each.  And you usually get to turn the crank thingy which is fun and a little obnoxious so double fun.   I'm thinking about having the pennies from a trip joined on a chain into a bracelet (by my sister so cheap).

The daily use souvenirs that have been great successes for me:

Tea towel from the tea and coffee museum in London.  I use it as a cozy for my kitchenaid mixer and so I see it most days and think "That was a great trip."

A handmade pottery plate from Santa Fe.  I met the potter and her husband and chatted.  I really liked the plate and use it most days and think "that was a great trip."   Since I had bonded with the potter and husband, they even stopped by Idaho for a visit on their way through.  Fun.

Thin cheapo reproduction plates of English royal dishware from olden tymes.   (I think Chris got me these...still love them).  They are a bit fragile so I don't let guests use them...I wouldn't mind the damage so much but they are tin and the paint comes off in your food if you're not careful and I figure guests don't want to eat paint chips.   They are cool and I remember the trip when I use them.

In DC, I tried to go even smaller.  I got quite a few smashed pennies, kept the Van Gogh decorated metro pass card, and got chapstick from the Smithsonian.  I put the pass card up with other tickets I've posed in a little space in the kitchen.  It gives me things to think about while I cook.  The chapstick is in my pocket.

In Wales (trip described in past post), I got a pen at a thrift store.  It was new, but had a logo that reminded me of the store and of Wales.  It just gave up the ghost.

I've got ticket stubs from Italy, Wales, Seattle, Santa Fe, Denver, pretty much everywhere I've been.  These are fine souvenirs.

I guess my recommendation is tiny and cheap.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Thrifty Vacation Housing Options

Moving along on my list of topics I said I'd cover about vacationing....frugally and simply (or fairly frugally and fairly simply since the MOST frugal and simple would be to sit at home in the cold and dark).

So, I've tried hotel/motels...some are a fairly good deal.  Some are not.
I've tried (vacation rentals by owner), not bad.  Prices go as high or low as you want.
And the DC trip was through  Again, price range is quite wide.

3 of us shared a 2 bedroom apartment in DC, with full kitchen, one full bath, and a washer dryer (nice ones, not those crap stacking ones with a top loading washer), breakfast foods included for about 35-40$/each per night.   That was really good.
Here's a link to the place if you're curious:

The beds were great.  Pam (Hi Pam) got the couch so she'll have to give us a ruling on that.   It was very private and no steps other than the front porch.  It is in a working class neighborhood in DC.    The Metro stop is literally yards from the front door.  You can see the place when you get off the Metro.   4 stops to the Mall.   So, we didn't feel we spent too much time or money on transportation.

Having the washer/dryer meant we could pack with only a small carryon that fit under the seat in front of us.  The airlines sometimes require you to check the roller bags these days with the overloaded flights.  That doesn't cost you money, but it does cost you time waiting for the bag.  I personally don't want to pay to check a bag so the washer facilitates that savings.

By staying in a working class neighborhood rather than at trendier or more "nightlife" type area, we also got a less expensive place.

With much of your experience depends on your host so read the reviews and communicate with the host before committing.  The host, Wayne, was awesome!   Good directions and suggestions.   He encouraged us to take a bus to the national cathedral rather than the metro.  Even cheaper AND it's like getting a free tour of DC.   Some people might not care for the bus as the poor people take the bus along with everyone else, but we didn't mind at all. 

What you don't get with airbnb: a round the clock concierge, linen service, a cookie-cutter-predictable-chain-hotel experience, reward points, etc.

When I've managed to get excellent prices on hotels/motels, it's largely been in "mom-n-pop" type places.   They don't have advertising and often don't have websites so there is some risk.  But isn't life full of risk?
One of my favorite cheapy hotel/motel experiences was at Paul's Motor Inn in Victoria BC
This was several years ago and I cannot vouch for their current conditions.   The room was clean and quiet (due to the cinder block walls...those don't transmit much sound).  The onsite restaurant hadn't been redecorated, or restaffed, since the 1970s.  If you like vintage you'd love it.  If you like modern and exotic then probably not for you.   The place came with parking.  Since I drove there and it costs to park in the city, free parking is important savings for me at a motel/hotel. 

In Seattle I generally stay at the Travelodge University.  It's not the cheapest, but the location is good, the price is very good for the location, free parking, and there are some 1 and 2 bedroom apartments with full kitchens.  These cost a bit more than the regular rooms but I'm usually able to recoup much of the difference by having 1 or 2 meals a day in the hotel.

I no longer go so far as to sleep in the car to save money.  I have a job and find that sleeping inside with a toilet and shower available is way better and worth the money these days.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Thrifty Packing

So, as noted in the previous post, I pack so that I have ONLY a carry-on.   This saves baggage fees and the hassle of hanging out at the airport waiting for bags.  I don't want to pay extra fees and I want to get the most vacation for my flight dollar.

This trip, as with most, I packed in an ancient day pack I used through much of grad school (so purchased sometime before 1997...I might be a lookalike that's only a decade old but I think it's closer to 20 years old).   It has one main compartment and one outside front pocket, 2 shoulder straps.  That's it.   I have an alternate bag for trips where I need a bit more or expect to bring back a bit more, but we'll stick with this bag for now.

We knew we had a washer and dryer in the apartment we'd rented (more on the apartment at a later date) so we knew we could do laundry easily.  Even without a washer/dryer, I find I can wash everything but jeans in a gallon ziplock bag. 

Here's the total of what I brought, clotheswise, including the outfit I wore on the plane:

2 pairs of jeans
2 turtlenecks
1 silk thermal undershirt
1 shortsleeve t-shirt (for jammies)
2 longsleeve t-shirt
1 button down overshirt
1 nice sweater
5 undies
3 pairs of wool socks, various weights
1 pair of light hiking boots
1 pair sturdy walking shoes
2 bras
1 leather coat
1 color coordinated scarf

All clothes are in one color range and yes, I pretty much looked the same every day since I ended up wearing the button down shirt as a jacket.  Oh well.  I wasn't in DC to impress people with my fashion sense (of which I have none).

I could have left the coat home and just worn a thick thermal undershirt.  I don't have a decent light jacket at the moment and the weather forecast indicated some chilly temperatures...which didn't really appear.  I never took the coat out of the apartment once I'd arrived.

To get all this, and my toiletries and sundries, in the pack, it's important to pack tight and be willing to carry the weight.
Wear the heaviest things even if you'll be a bit too warm on the trip.  Once you wear it onto the plane, you can stuff it under the seat in front of you, or roll it up for a lumbar support in those CRAP airline seats.   So, the boots, coat, a turtleneck, button down, scarf, socks, undies, bra and jeans were the outfit of the day.
The rest went in the bag.  First, I put the undies in a thin, and clean, veggie bag left over from a grocery trip, then stuff them in a shoe.  There was room left over for a rolled pair of socks.  The other shoe got more socks, a bra, and the silk undershirt.  I also packed an extra pillow case as I had recently put henna in my hair and didn't want to dye anything at the apartment.  This pillow case was an old one so if I needed to lighten the load, I could leave it behind.   One pair of undies was beyond the pale and was chucked rather than brought home.  1 t-shirt and 1 turtleneck were also potential donations if there wasn't room on the way home.

So, the stuffed shoes went into the bottom of the bag for rigidity.  Then the jeans.  Fill in around the edges with rolled or tightly folded shirts.  The pillowcase was folded to the size needed to make a layer across the entire bag and the packing thus far, then the sweater and the rest were layered on.  I had about 4 inches of space left in the top for my neti-pot and sea salt and threw in a cloth handkerchief for good measure.  Also in the top were the phone charger, ipod charger, etc.  The toiletries bag goes in the small outside pocket along with the travel journal.

I have an expandable, but still very small, travel purse that I can take on the plane as well.  It was purchased because with the expando-zipper around the bottom open, it will hold a water bottle upright.  The purse had the water bottle (filled at a drinking fountain after passing security...saves on those stupid expensive bottles of water at the airport), a bag of almonds and craisins, a pencil, tiny earbud type headphones, and the like.  

The combined weight of pack and purse was maybe 10 lbs.   That didn't include the clothes I was wearing.

Packing tight like this, also makes for easier travel on public transportation.  I took the Metro from the airport to the apartment and it was no problem.   On the Metro back to the airport at the end of the trip, the only problem was when I set my backpack on a bench to wait for a train...then got on the train without it.  I immediately noticed and was able to jump back off and grab the pack and get back on.   Thank goodness!   In DC, and at the Arlington Cemetery stop, that bag would have been taken by security and possibly blown up had I left it behind. 

Arlington Cemetery stop you ask...Why yes.   We (Mom and I) stopped at Arlington to watch the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier on the way to the airport.  Since we'd packed light, we just took our bags along.  I wouldn't choose to hike that far everyday with a pack, but it meant we could make the most of our final day in the city.  Nice.

Mom also packed VERY light.  She did put a few things in a clothing donation bin before we departed.   I had plenty of room so went ahead and brought my potential-donation clothes home to take on the next trip.

A final note:  I did not take along any toothpaste, shampoo or etc.  I don't use them anyway.  I took a small jar of sea salt (fits in the neti pot) which I use for tooth brushing.  I wash my hair with baking soda and rinse with dilute vinegar and figure I can get that at pretty much any store.  The apartment was well stocked and had both on hand.   The apartment also had plenty of lotions, potions, soaps and shampoos so that if you do use such things, you wouldn't have needed to bring any.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Thrifty Travel

OK, the THRIFTIEST travel is to stay home but that's not really what I'm about.  So, I'm going to do a little series on thrifty travel based on my recent trip with Mom (Hi Mom!) and Pam (Hi Pam) to DC for 10 days.   It was a blast and pretty dang thrifty.

Topics to be covered:
Packing:  ONLY a carry-on and keep that small enough to go under the seat in front of you. 
Choosing a place to stay:  we used to find a nice place, good price and with a washer/dryer (helps with the packing bit)
Sights, museums, eating, entertainment: Get the most bang for your buck
Souvenirs:  Do you need them?  (probably)
Getting there: This can be the toughest place to really make deep cuts in the travel budget without sacrificing time and enjoyment so balance may be a key consideration.

And there might be more.

The 10 days in DC were amazing and a pretty darn thrifty for the three of us.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Using What I Have...or Attempting to Use What I Have

So, I generally stock up on food and whatnot in the fall (like a squirrel).  The goal is to have enough to get through spring  without having to do a big grocery shop.   The issue has been lack of organization in planning and storing this so that it was the right amount and I actually used it.    When you don't know where things are, you don't use them up.  By "you" I mean "me."

A couple of weeks ago I spent a couple of hours gathering together everything I had that was canned (home canned) or dried and stored.   There were a few things from 2008  and a few that had lost their integrity (broken seals) and some that it was now clear that I won't use up (too many dried plums).  Those jars were emptied into the compost to grow again in a new form next year.

The rest, including this year's canning and drying products, were grouped by type on the living room floor.  It was all in jars so no carpets were harmed in the process.

Then, I counted and catalogued the whole she-bam.  

I took a day to think about how long this stuff could last me.   Prices for fruit and veg are highest in the late winter/ early spring so I figured it would be most frugal to eat the most canned/dried/stored stuff from January through April. 

Then I assessed my total amounts.  It looked like it would break up into 7 groups fairly evenly and any extra good would go into the January through April groups.

Finally, I found 7 sturdy boxes.  They are fairly uniform in size, fruit boxes, but not entirely so the biggest ones were for the January through April months.   I labeled the ends and lined them up in a semi-circle around the goods.

A bit more math...and I knew how much would go in each box.   Then the divy-ing began.  I started with canned and dried tomatoes since I had the most of those and they are a real staple item in my cooking.  This ensures a pretty steady stream of good tomatoes for soup, stew, chili and salsa all winter, with extra in the usual months.
The few odds and ends, like 2 small jars of dried onions, were put in those late winter month boxes too.
I made sure there were 2 or more jars of apple butter or other sweet treat in each box, with 3 in the late winter boxes when there will be less cheap fresh and local fruit available.

You get the picture.

Once everything was divided up, I of course ran across one last box of perfectly usable canned and dried goods that I'd missed!  Darn it!  But a jar of dried hot or medium peppers got to go into each month's box, which will make for much better chili.

The 7 boxes were then lined up under my bed in order...of course I didn't plan all that well as getting to the "November" box this afternoon will require me to move 2 other boxes.  I will reverse the line-up order next year so that the "November" box is the easiest to get to.

There are other stored items I'll need to remember.  The potatoes, onions and squash are all in the front bedroom/root cellar.  The bedroom isn't exactly warm (about 51-55 degrees) but the temperature fluxuates all the way up into the 60s on a sunny winter day and I don't want to do that to the stored vegies.   Those will stay in the north bedroom in cold storage.  I love potatoes and onions so I don't think I'll forget them.   I haven't devised a system for how many per month I can consume, but given that they also tend to go soft at variable rates, I'll just try to stay ahead of the rot.
I didn't get many squash, only about 5 or so, this year due to scheduling problems (couldn't get to the final day of farmers market when they are cheap) so I'll have to see what can be done with other things.

I also have quite a bit stuffed in the freezer.  It's just the freezer above the fridge, but I must have 30lbs of meat in there (chicken, lamb, pork and beef) along with frozen fruit mush from making shrubs (more on that in another post) and various other fruit/vegie things.   I tried to do a better job of labeling and packaging this year.  Meats were divided into single servings where possible (don't really want to do that with a roast), well wrapped and labeled.  The fruit/vegies were similarly divided and labeled.

I left basic condiments, dried beans, grains, flours, and my stock of zevia brand pop in the cupboard and on the kitchen shelves.  I may move the Zevia to the monthly boxes so I don't drink it all at once.  I don't usually buy a case at at time but will write a blog on why I did this time.

Now the plan is to get out a box on the first of each month and try to use it up before I get the next one out.  This should cut down on my waste as well as keep me from eating out as much in the winter.  I can't decide if I should put the food on the kitchen shelf unit, or put the box on the kitchen table like a center piece so I can remember to use it up.  Probably the latter this year.  That way I can track what does and doesn't get used, what I had too much or not enough of, etc.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Dumpster Dive Frugal SCORE!

OK, it wasn't really a dumpster but "free book bin at the recycling center frugal score" was too long for the title.

I found THIS:

It was just sitting there.  I have volumes I, II, and III.  This however has a few more articles, takes less shelf space, and is just a bit cooler.

So, does anyone want my old volumes I, II and III?  I could send them out if someone wants them.  I got the final volume, III, with birthday money and have already read it twice.   The information is still good even though it's been read.

The Tightwad Gazette was a frugality/thrift newsletter in the 1990s to early 2000s written and distributed by a woman who actually lived, and presumably still lives, the lifestyle.  

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Movin' On Up (or Out or Over or Whatever)

So, my friend Jeanne is moving to Oregon.  It's a big move.  From a full size house to a wee trailer.  I won't give anymore details without her permission.

Anyhoo, it made me think about thrifty/frugal moving. 
I reread the entries on that in the Tightwad Gazette (if any of you do not have copies of The Tightwad Gazette, vol.s 1-3, get them (from the library or thriftstores, obviously)).
And of course, I've moved over 20 times myself and helped people move many times.  TIP: Do not get a pick up or fullsize van while in college unless you want to help everyone move.  They will help you move in return but in college, lots of them leave before they can fully return the favor.  Oh well.

So, I think these are the best tips and techniques for the move from the above sources and some from (The Dollar Stretcher):

1) Get rid of stuff!  If you find a box and don't know what's in it because you haven't unpacked it in the last several probably don't need it.  There may be some important papers in there, so  you probably need to go through it, or better yet, have a friend go through it and sort out ONLY the very important papers, cash and actual valuable jewelry.  The rest gets donated, recycled or trashed.  You'll save enough on storage and moving to replace anything else that might get chucked.  Let it go.  

2) Get rid of more stuff!  Find a friend or enemy  or street person and have them sit with you and say "get rid of it" while you  hold up item after item.  When I was home once going through things at the folks after a flood I'm thinking "what possible use is my kindergarten report card other than to remind me, 40+ years later, that I never could finish a project?”   Perhaps Mom didn’t want to throw it out the day after it arrived, but there must be some point at which one can let these things go. 

3) Even get rid of furniture!   Do you REALY need to keep that 2nd dining set?  (Okay, perhaps we don’t all have that problem but I have a few too many dining sets), that 3rd overstuffed chair?  Or whatever furniture you’ve got duplicates of?  Let it go.  Give it to a thrift store, sell it if you have time (but don’t store it in hopes of selling it later, the storage will cost you time, money and emotional energy and it’s just furniture).  My current theory is I have one butt, so how may seating options do I need to come between it and the floor?  One guideline I’ve seen is have enough or the appropriate things to serve your needs 90% of the time.  The other 10% of the time you can borrow, rent or make do.  That sounds reasonable.

4) Think about shipping things!  Do you have a friend or relative at your present location who could ship you things once you move?  The post office, UPS, even bus companies ship things reasonably.  If you have 10 more boxes of crap than will fit in your current vehicle, you could ship those rather than rent a trailer.  As you think about shipping them, perhaps there will be a few more things you can throw out.  When at the post office, remember parcel post.  Usually that rate will not be mentioned in the options they give you.  Ask for it.  Also, pack books and papers separately and ask for the “book rate.”  It’s even cheaper.  A second benefit of this is you can have things shipped a few boxes at a time and sort them as they come in.  Take just enough to camp out when you get to your new destination and then have things arrive over days, weeks or months.  You  may find some of it seems not worth having once it gets there.

5) If you need to rent a moving truck, shop around a bit!  Prices vary.  Ask the rental agent if there is a day of the week when rentals are cheaper or if there is a drop off point within an hour drive of your new home that would be cheaper than the closest point.  These things are especially helpful if moving to small towns.  Sometimes there is a “boonies premium” on things.  You might consider this for shipping as well.  Having a package go to the UPS storefront for pickup can be cheaper than a rural delivery, especially if the storefront is in a town you visit regularly.

6) If at all possible, don’t use movers.  They are expensive and they don’t care about you or your stuff.

7) When packing, consolidate but keep the boxes small enough to lift.  Most sites and books with tips recommend getting used boxes from liquor stores etc.  This is actually one item I now buy new.  The standard size flat-pack file boxes from office supply and department stores are excellent and not too expensive.  The advantages include the size (about right for carrying), the easy labeling, the easy stacking, sturdiness, not stinking of food/booze/other-former-contents, they fold flat again when you are done with them and can be stored under the bed or etc until the next move.  They are also good for storage and sorting at the new home. 

8) Don’t buy packing peanuts or bubble wraps or etc.  Pack dishes and other fragile items in your sheets, towels, washcloths, clothes, etc.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve shown up at someone’s house to help them pack the kitchen (a speciality of mine) only to find that they’ve already packed the sheets and towels and other cloth items in boxes and won’t get them back out.  Wasted space and weight!  I can wrap an entire set of plates and bowls in a couple of sheets in one file box.  Works great.  Don’t forget kitchen towels.

9) Sort out a minimum of things to live with upon arrival and pack separately in well labeled boxes!  This should be higher up in the list but I can’t be bothered to rearrange the list.  Anyway, a few pairs of pants, a few shirts, undies, soap, cleaning rags, a towel and washcloth, a bit of cash, a plate, bowl and silverware for everyone moving to the new place, and similar things.  These all go in one box.  Maybe a rubber tub.  WELL LABELED and put in the vehicle in a very very accessible location.  This way if there is a break down, you pull this out and head to the cheap motel.  If there is no breakdown, you pull it out on arrive and you have enough to clean yourself and the place.  I like to also have a box of basic cleaning supplies (vinegar, baking soda, scrub brush, gloves, bar of soap) ready as well.  If you arrive and find that the cupboard is full of mouse crap, you can wipe it out, disinfect with the vinegar and keep going.  If you pack the cleaning supplies in a rubber tub you can use the tub as the water bucket.  This is another item to put right at the main door of the vehicle so it comes out first.

10) Keep an address book handy.  I know we all use our phones for numbers now, but you’re moving and stressed and will forget to charge the phone, lose the charger, or drop the phone in a gas station toilet that is not worth reaching into.  The address book is also good for breakdowns.  You’ll know someone who knows someone in the area where you are broken down.

11) Put aside enough money to order take out or delivery food upon arrival if you can.  If not, try to pack something you can just grab and eat.  You’ll be tired and cranky and dirty and the pans are packed god knows where at the last minute.

12) Allow 1 or 2 more days than you think you need for the trip. 

13) Think about alternatives to truck rental.  I know a young couple who bought a van to move with and sold it shortly after arriving at the new place.  This allows you to generate cash upon arrival AND allows you a bit of storage space if you need to clean out the new place or don’t have a place to land in the new town.  I did this once as well.  I owned a van and was moving many states away.  A beau (a bad beau but a beau never the less) and I were caravaning on the way down.  We parked my van full of crap at the house of an acquaintance while we looked for a place to live.  This saved driving two vehicles around the new town.  It also allowed us to clean the place we found (a total dump between a drug dealer and an alley) before unloading the van.  A few months later when the  money ran out, I sold the van for rent money.  Not my happiest hour but at least I got to keep living indoors.  You may also find someone who needs a vehicle driven to a new location.  If you’re moving to a retirement type area, Florida, Baja, put an ad in craigslist and put out the word.  There could be an elderly couple moving that way who’d like someone to drive their RV down for them.  You never know.

That’s probably enough for now.
I should confess that I’ve never used all these tips but I’ve intended too.  In reality I start out on this path, then just start sweeping 

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Honesty is Slightly Less Frugal than Dishonesty...

Alas, I got free sox.  Really really good free sox.  BUT if I'd been dishonest I would have gotten free boots.   It was the threat of Beulah rising from the grave and flying out here on her broom that made me admit the free boots.

Anyway, here's the deal.  I ordered boots from the Keen's online store.  I couldn't find the model I like anywhere else so I copped to paying retail and I think you all know how painful that is for me.  I was all but barefoot so I decided to suck it up.
Well, the first shipment had screwy tracking and was late.  I called the customer service and the dude there couldn't figure it out either so fedexed another pair..  A day or two later the original boots show up.  Then the replacement boots show up.  The tracking on the first pair still showed them as lost.

Being honest, I just couldn't keep 150$ boots for free.  I emailed customer service (HOPING that no one would answer).   They did answer and sent a free return label and said they were sending me free sox.
The sox came fedex in a few days.  Nice.  The sox are worth about $17.00.   Not bad.  But less than the boots.  Still, nice to get free sox.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013


Well, famous-ish.  A story I posted to the Dollar Stretcher website last year is re-running as a link on their front page.   I started reading it and didn't quite recognize it until I was partway through and though "Hey, that sounds just like me...oh, right."

My New Used Car

I'm going to put this on my resume' as a published article.

Monday, July 1, 2013

At Last the Power Bill Is Down!

During the winter, I often pay well over 100$ for electricity (forced air electric heat in a nearly 40 year old trailer).  I expected a bigger drop in May, but alas and alack, it did not come.  Down quite a bit, but not to summer levels.  The furnace was off, but I was using the oven to cook and finding things to cook in there so I could mooch the heat off the oven.  It was still frosting over night into June.  Also...sometimes a space heater was necessary.

The June bill from the city just came and my electric is FINALLY down to about 35$.  That's pretty minimal.  I'm going to try to get it under $30 for July and August.  That would be awesome.  We also get this little bar graph now showing how the usage compares to the the past 12 months.  Big drop in electric usage.  My water usage is level because it isn't actual use, just the levels they bill at...the lowest level is well over 3 times my usual monthly use and costs about $14.50.  Cripes.  Then there is 40$ of sewer bond.  43$ of sewer and something for garbage pick up (which I hardly use because of my whole reduce-reuse-recycle system and the 2 composting systems).   So, if I can get a bill UNDER 150$ for my non-phone utilities, I'm pretty excited.

Major steps to be taken to conserve electric this summer:
1) Shut off the hot water heater if I'm gone for more than 24 hours.  It heats back up in like 45 minutes and the bill drops.  People tell me it's cheaper to just keep it hot but I have not found that to be the case.

2) Eat mostly uncooked foods (I don't want to say "raw" because I'm not a "raw foodist").  Lunch was salad with 3 or 4 kinds of lettuce (THANKS CSA!), side of chips and hummus, and possibly a green worm for protein but I'm pretending that was just a pea in the salad.  There were actual peas in the salad and I did wash it so if it WAS a worm, it was a clean worm.  Maybe even a ceviche worm since I washed the lettuce in vinegar water.

3) Avoid opening the fridge and just standing there.

4) Do something about that gap in the fridge insulation thingy.

5) Shorter showers.  No more meditating until the hot water is gone.  With the chlorine filter on the shower I can't use one of those on/off shower heads.  Those cause too much back pressure and blow out the 35$ filters in about a week.  Normally the filters last a year or more.  So, shorter showers and probably washing hair in the sink rather than in the shower.

6) Become devout about cooling the place overnight and closing up at just before sun-up.  This is a bit rough but then I think about all the Muslims who get up at dawn to pray, AND they are in Ramadan this month so they really have to get up in time to eat and drink for the day.   Getting up and shutting a few windows and taking out a couple of fans, then hitting the sack again is nothing and I get a big pay off.  Today I walked home for lunch in over 90 degree heat (I walked very very slowly so I wouldn't need another shower) but it was not quite 70 inside the trailer.  WOO!  The laundry I left on the line this morning had shrunk in the heat! (not really but if the pants are tight I'm using that excuse)

I think those are my major steps for the summer.

I'm already:
1) Keeping the water heater at 120
2) Using a hotpot rather than the stove when just heating water
3) Unplugging appliances and electronics when not in use (sometimes via a circuit breaker) including the stove.  For the stove I flip the breaker as this is much much easier than emptying the bottom of the cupboard and prying the plug out.
4) Hanging laundry to dry (haven't owned a dryer in nearly 9 years)
5) Washing in cold water most of the time.  Once in a while I use warm water to help get the residual soap out of the clothes.
6) Keeping frozen water bottles in the freezer to help stabilize the temperature
7) Keeping drapes/curtains shut during the day

Wednesday, June 5, 2013


I've been thinning the carrots in my garden so those remaining will hopefully grow bigger but ...
(insert dramatic music)

Oh wait...I can insert dramatic music:

Some bastard* has been BITING my goddamn carrots!  Not eating significant portions, just taking a bite and moving on.

I didn't take a photo because I was too ticked off.

The garden is a raised bed so someone must be coming over the edge and tunneling through.  I thought perhaps I'd put in a bunch of cayenne pepper, but that will hurt the worms too...don't want to hurt the worms.  They help things along.  They've seemed to leave the radishes alone.  I've harvested several of those and all were fine.

Any ideas for mystery-tunneling-carrot-biter-control methods?

Friday, May 17, 2013

Waste Through Pour Menuing

OK, I made up that last word.  But seriously people...put the main ingredients on the menu and I won't be wasting so much money.

I had a working lunch today at a restaurant.  I carefully looked for a reasonable dairy-free and cost effective option.  We had to pay for our own lunches.  So, I got some basic burger with a side salad and a vinaigrette.   The salad comes not just TOPPED with grated parmesan, but bottomed with it as well.  There was cheese laced throughout.  What the hell?   I hadn't said "no cheese on the salad" because this was a GARDEN salad and I have never picked a head of cheese in my garden.  Also, I've had it before WITH NO FREAKING CHEESE.  I was really pretty pissed.  Probably too much so.  I tried for a second to pick the cheese off, but there was no hope.  It was everywhere.  If it weren't allergy season I'd cheat a bit but not right now in pollen central when I need to mow the lawn.  Dairy gives me sinus infections and makes my allergies much worse.  So it wasn't like I'd die.  But really, I was already going to waste the bun, and the money spent no the bun, because it was fried in butter and then apparently re-buttered.  I knew that so I pull the burger off the bun immediately.    Without the salad, it meant that I got to eat a naked burger with 2 slices of tomato, 4 pickles, and some ketchup.   Not really worth 9 bucks. 

I have sent an email to the restaurant, via one of my aliases, that it would be nice to know when there are common allergens like dairy on things where they aren't expected...say "garden" salad.   I realize I'm too pissed off about this.  More than it deserves.  It's just that I don't understand when cheese became a default ingredient in everything.   I've had it show up on club sandwiches when it was not listed in the ingredients.  If it ever appears on a BLT I will not be responsible for my actions.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Woohoo Craigslist!

I don't know if I've blogged about how much I hate mowing lawns.  Probably.   Here's a short review:
I hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate mowing lawns.  I don't get it.   Why cultivate something that you cut, fertilized, cut, water, cut....etc.  Anyway, there you have it.

And a renter, that's part of the deal.  I have a reel mower like this:

Actually, that might even be the right brand.  I've had it for 15 years and maybe use it 5 times a year.  

The current lawn generally gets too tall in the spring to make any progress with that type of mower and I have to hire it done:  40$ (and the person may or may not show).  I hate that.
Sometimes, like say this year, the landlord concedes defeat and hits it with his riding lawn mower.   He did that last weekend.  The damn lawn already needs mowed again!   It hasn't even rained.

So, in the quest to be a decent tenant I've been scanning craigslist.  Once upon a time I had use of an electric mower and liked it better than gas.  1) quieter  2) no fumes 3) works good enough.   So I thought perhaps I could try that again.

Sure enough, there was an ad for this mower:

It retails for about 240$ to 260$.   Slightly used on craigslist:   $40.
And it came with a heavy gauge cord (which you need unless you want to start fires all the, burning grass off just makes it grow better).

Good deal.   I may try to mow a bit tonight to keep ahead of the stupid lawn.  I'm sure I'll fall behind again but I think getting a more effective mower shows good faith on my part.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Movies worth owning

I was listening to the radio (remember that?  like TV but without pictures and it comes through the airwaves for free...unless you're one of the schmucks who pays for it) and heard a show where film makers talked about movies they can watch over and over.

I have many of those.  Some I own and some I don't.  When I do own them it's usually because I got the flick as a gift or from a thrift store.  I can't remember the last time I paid full price.  There are a few that I check out from the library over and over.

Here are a few favorites:

Escanaba in da Moonlight.  Very funny take on hunting camp in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  I own a thrift store VHS copy that is dying slowly.

Kitchen Stories.  A scandanavian film about anthropologists studying the kitchen habits of Norwegian farmers.  Very amusing in a slow depressing way.  Library checkout...repeated.

Grey Gardens.  The ORIGINAL documentary NOT that HBO tripe with Drew Barrymore (who is a fine person as far as I know but that movie should not have been made and adds nothing to the story).  Got the DVD set as a gift.

Kinky Boots.  Cute story of a shoe factory in England that struggles to stay open and keep its staff employed.  I own it.  Don't remember if it was a gift or thrift.

My Name Is Joe.  The story of a scot getting sober and trying to stay that way against some serious odds.
I bought a VHS off the internets's very hard to find this movie and I love it.

There are more but I'll stop now.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Paying Off That Mortgage

This post, on The Dollar Stretcher (excellent website for thrifty types), does a better job than I have in explaining why I think it's pretty much a good idea for almost everyone to pay off their mortgages.

The tax write off is not enough motivation since you only get 25-30% of your interest money back.  In the long run, paying off early, even just over paying a bit each month, can save you more than 25-30% of that interest.  

And think about what you could do with that money WITHOUT a mortgage payment.   Save it.  Pay off other debt.  Improve you health insurance.  Travel.  Buy better food.  Quit your job in a huff.   Avoid losing your house if you lose your job.   Less debt means you are less of a wage-slave.

So, that sort of logic is why I'm saving saving saving and hope to buy my next home without a mortgage.  If I pay cash, I'll save a TON on interest.  I already did that by paying cash for the car.  My interest cost was exactly $0.00.   Nice.

According to an online interest calculator, if I'd gotten a 4 year loan at 5% interest I would have paid nearly $2000.00 in interest.  Instead, that money is in the bank.  I also paid no loan fees or costs. 

I should look back at my old mortgage papers and see what my closing costs were.  I know the interest, if I paid the loan off in the 30 years with no over payments or pre-payments, would have been pretty much 2 times the cost of the house...yikes. 

End of today's rant.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

The King is Dead...

Sad news today.  I'm not sure if it's frugal or not but I wanted to comment on it.

Roger Ebert just died.   The film critic and author.

His writing had gotten much more interesting since he'd lost the ability to speak a few years back.  He wrote about how he was left out of conversations even when he had a computer that could produce speech.  By the time he typed in what he wanted to say, the conversation had moved on.  He seems to have also had more time to think.  Some of his reviews and columns were much more philosophical than in the past.

He'd recruited and mentored a crop of new film critics.  They'd been doing most of the reviews since he broke a hip a few weeks ago.  He announced that the break was not related to cancer.  Alas, it was.  And now he's gone.

I agreed with most of his reviews, though not all.  And his website has been a great resource for finding great old, and new, movies as well as figuring out what was coming out on DVD.  I hope "they" keep the website going, whomever "they" happen to be.

I checked his site each week to see what was coming out that I might want to see.   I also read his cookbook, and got a library to buy a copy.   That was pretty thrifty...making soup in a rice cooker.

He'll be missed. 

Ebertfest, his film festival in Illinois will start soon.  I'd always wanted to go.  I wonder if that will continue.  He chose the films himself.  They were often not "new" but always overlooked gems that didn't get enough screen time in regular theaters.   One of the main films this year is Days of Heaven.   It's been a favorite of mine for years and years.   It think it's the first time I realized how important cinematography is, not just plot and dialogue.  Also, how quiet a movie can be.  It's wonderful.  I think I'll watch in in memory of Roger.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

How Big Is Your Wardrobe?

Mine is way too big.  

I'm trying to get rid of 1/2 of  my crap right now.  I'm starting with the kitchen and my wardrobe.  More on the kitchen later.

To get going on figuring out the balance between need/want in the wardrobe, I interviewed my Gramma.  She's in her 90s, not very far in, and lived through hard times before the Great Depression, and then the depression.  She grew up in a tiny town in Iowa on the Mississippi river in the 1920s.  The 20s may have been "roaring" elsewhere,  but she says that for rural people, they were tight financial times.

I asked her how many outfits she had as a kid.  She said her family was better off than most in the clothing department because her grandmother (my great great) in South Dakota was a dressmaker.  Gramma's mom would get the kids' measurements, send them out in a letter.  Then, their gramma would make clothes using material from the old clothes given by some of the ladies in town.   She made dresses, shirts, pants, coats and  underwear.   As a result my gramma said she often had 6 or 7 outfits.  This was quite a few.   She said that the other better off families in town, like the people who owned the store, had 2 or 3 outfits per kid.   The poorer had one outfit and one Sunday outfit.  The very  poor, and she said that was quite a few, had one outfit per kid and no undies.  So they were cold. 

She had 2 pairs of shoes.  One for school and one for Sunday.   Her father took all the kids to town each fall and got them shoes and they each also got to pick out a new cotton blanket.   She said it was a big deal to have your own new blanket each year.   Many families had one pair of shoes per kid.  Others had zero.

I asked if her family was rich.  She said she didn't know if they had more money or if her dad was more likely to spend his money on his kids.  Maybe both.

When she got to high school, which was in another town so she worked for her room and board there, she only had one pair of shoes and fewer clothes.  I think this was after the depression had begun.  Also, her gramma wasn't making her clothes anymore.  I don't know if that gramma had passed away or just gotten too old to do it.

She also told me about farming out kids.  Her siblings weren't farmed out that I know of, they had gardens and a milk cow and bees and other things to do at home.   Other kids, especially in poor families, were.  She told me about Lyle.   I knew him when he was an adult and I was a little kid.  He was farmed out when he was 6 years old.  He was sent to live with a farm family and help out.  He went home on the weekend.  She said that the family he worked for was very good to him which was not always the case.  He went to school and they fed him and clothed him.  I think he's the one she said got underwear from the wife of the family he worked for.  When he went home on the weekend his mother would take the undies and put them on another kid before she sent him back to the farm.  This way she ended up with underwear for all the kids.  Undies are apparently a big deal.  They were for warmth as well as hygiene.  I can imagine your pants and shirts get quite a bit stinkier faster without undies than with undies.

So, back to my quest.  6 or 7 outfits seems reasonable.   And yet...I think I'll shoot for 10 per season for the moment.  I consider an "outfit" to be the pants/shirt combination and I wear my jeans multiple times between washings, fewer times in the summer or when doing fieldwork.

I think I could get by with 3 pairs of jeans (I've made do with 2 in the past but sometimes you have to wear damp jeans when it's that tight) at a time.  For summer 1 or 2 pairs of lighter weight field pants and a pair of jeans.   Right now I've been rotating 3 sweaters (those Norwegian ones from the thrift store) and 2 or 3 shirts for my winter work wardrobe.  No one has said I look unprofessional, in fact I've gotten compliments on every outfit.  I do need turtlenecks or mock turtle necks under these and I think I've been rotating about 4 of those.  In summer I usually end up rotating 7 or 8 buttondown shirts.  Let's go with 8 to make this less painful at the outset.  Easier to donate another shirt than to buy it back from Goodwill.  On the weekends I wear t-shirts or a t-shirt with a sweatshirt depending on the season.  T-shirts are also important for fieldwork and gardening.   Let's say 10 t-shirts for the first cull.
I have one formal event outfit and 3 scarves that go with it (Thanks for the scarves Chris!)

So that comes out to:

3 jeans
3 sweaters
3 shirts
4 turtlenecks

1 jeans
2 field pants
8 shirts

Non-work wear:
10 t-shirts
1 formal outfit (in case of weddings or a friend being inducted into some hall of fame)

I do have the occassional conference or meeting requiring a bit more spiff than my regular work days.  For those it would be nice to have 2 decent shirts and one nice sweater.  I wear either black or brown pants with these.

Conference wear:
2 shirts
1 sweater
1 black pants
1 brown pants

Then there are shoes.  While 2 pairs, or 1....or none, may be a livable situation, it isn't practical for me.  Right now  I probably have too many partly due to my reluctance to get rid of those that are worn out.

For hazmat fieldwork I need one pair of old hiking boots and a pair of rubber knee boots.
For non-hazmat fieldwork I have a pair of "good" hiking boots (not as worn out)
I wear the good hiking boots to work most of the winter.
In summer I have a pair of brown walking shoes and a pair of black walking shoes.
For formal events I can use one pair of brown and one pair of black boots (non-hiking).  Right now I have 2 black and 1 brown pair, but none of my "formal" (like for conferences) boots is less than 10 years old so I think I'm OK there.

And then there is the winter weather gear.  I'll save that for another post.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Most Excellent and Thrifty Movie

I watched a very cool Chinese film (obviously).
The Piano In A Factory.

It's about a couple who are divorcing.  The wife has hooked up with someone who makes more money and moved away, while the husband is staying in the same defunct industrial town making little cash.  He believes that his daughter will choose to live with the parent who can give her a piano.  Hijinks ensue.  There is, obviously, a theme about money and it's place in our lives.
To add to the fun, lots of Russian music.  Quite humorous really.

Since this DVD is from Film Movement (which someday someone will get me a subscription to....) it comes with a short film.  Noeud Cravat  (Necktie) about what we give up to climb the corporate ladder and whether it's worth it.  The cartoon is French, but there is no dialog so it doesn't matter.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Sugary Drinks Are Apparently Evil

As my friends from college know, I was once a serious diet coke addict.  I even drank the off brands...shasta, whatever was on sale at Fareway.   I'm not proud, but if I needed to pull an all nighter to get a paper done, or because I worked midnight to 8am that one semester and then taught french from 8-8:30 (note the very very short transit time between jobs...yikes), and then had class all day with once a week an evening seminar that was supposed to end at 10pm but often ran until 11, the buses only running until 10:20pm...and the walk to my job being about an hour.

Anyway, drank lots of crappy sweetened carbonated beverages with known toxins like saccharine, aspartame, etc in them.  I've stopped partly because of the costs.  Even off-brand pop costs more than tapwater or tea (especially if one reuses the tea bags).

It looks like this has also helped my mental health.   Sweetened beverages are linked with depression.

So, in addition to the direct cost of the pop, the disposal costs whether recycling or trashing the bottles/cans, and the expected healthcare costs of getting diabetes from sugar or cancer from aspartame, now we have to add in the costs of mental health care.  WTF?

I do have the occasional sweetened beverage now, but it's almost always a stevia gingerale or an all natural gingerale and I rarely exceed 3 servings in a week.   I don't know if I'm less depressed, but according to science, I have less chance of being depressed.

Now for a rant on the stupidity of some of our medical research conclusions in this country:

Read the title of this:

Being overweight linked to lower risk of mortality

According to this, being fat means you might not die.  Uh.  Yeah.  You're gonna die.  We're all going to die.  Get over it.   Fat or thin, young or old, at some point you're going to die.  This sort of asinine research conclusion is common in the US.  I wonder if the rest of the world thinks they too can avoid death.