Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Retirement Remedies: How We Use Sub Accounts to Stretch Our Money

Sarah asked me several questions about what I call Sub Accounts and I realized that this might be as unclear to others as it is to her.  So I thought perhaps a detailed explanation and an example might be in order.  Now the easy way to do this would be to take a photo of one of my actual ledger sheets but my husband would have a fit if he saw it on public display.  So for the sake of his sanity, I will show an example of how checking register is set up.  The figures are totally fictional and used only as an example, just so you know.

We gave up using a check register about a year ago when we found that we now had to pay extra for them along with checks.  For about $3 I can buy a notebook full of ledger sheets (or print off the web) for about the same costs in ink which is less than we'd pay for the 2 registers!  Crazy, ain't it?  So we now use ledger sheets and because they are inexpensive, I use one for each pay period.  As a bonus the ledger sheets are so much easier to read than those tiny lines in the registers.

We have, as most folks do, certain things that come up routinely.  For us those would be electric, Internet, cell phone bills, insurances.  Each pay period we set aside HALF of the total amount due.  Then we set money aside in what I refer to as "sub-accounts".  These categories include car maintenance, home maintenance, tags and taxes, etc.   We take the average annual costs and divided them by 26 (we are paid every other week, 52 weeks in a year divided by 2 is 26).

So this is how our ledger sheet might look in any given pay period

Electric  ($50.00)                           $50.00                 $450.00
Internet ($35.00)                            $35.00                 $415.00
House Insurance   ($100.00)          $50.00                 $360.00
Home Maint. ($125.98)                 $25.00                 $335.00
Car Maint.  ($237.40)                    $25.00                 $310.00

What you are reading in the example above is what we are setting money aside for, how much we have in that category and how much we actually subtracted out of our checking balance.  In the last three examples you see that we've a balance greater than what we set aside.  That's because we are building those balances. We refer to those final three as sub accounts, an account within our main account.  We don't pay any extra fees, we don't set up separate savings accounts, we just allocate money into that category.    Money does not physically leave our account until we write a check for one of those categories.   While our account balance appears to be $310.00, in actuality it is higher.  But we base all our figures on the balance column figure.

When we spend money in a category you might see something like this:
Electric  ($50.00)                           $50.00                                      $450.00
Internet ($35.00)                            $35.00                                        415.00
House Insurance   ($100.00)          $50.00                                         365.00
Home Maint. ($125.98)(79.98)      $25.00                                         335.00
Car Maint.  ($237.40)                    $25.00                                         310.00
Aldi                                                $50.00                                         260.00
Lowe's                                           $46.00            Home$46.00         260.00

You'll notice that in this example, I've spent money at Aldi and money at Lowe's.  The money spent at Lowe's was for home maintenance and so in the deposit column I write down $46.00 and subtract that amount from my home maintenance fund, leaving a new balance in that category of $79.98.  Because I've physically given Lowe's money I write a debit to Lowe's, but that money has already been subtracted from our account  in previous weeks and set aside in the house maintenance account, so I add it back in as a deposit which zeroes out that purchase.

It's harder to explain clearly than it is to do.

John and I have been working our account in this way for nearly 20 years now.  It started during one of our children's senior high year when senior photos,  graduation gown and cap, yearbook, etc. all came due in a year's time.  We coped with it by setting aside a bit of money each pay period and kept track of the balance.  Well that worked so well that as we freed up our money (paying off our debts) we started setting money aside routinely for other upcoming expenses, within the checking account.

If you think this would be a nightmare to balance it truly isn't.  When I balance my account it is as simple as adding the balances in our sub accounts to the balance showing in our register.  While I do not bother to balance to the penny, we are within easy range of having the correct amount per our bank statement reconciliation.

This system works really well for us.  We don't have the struggle of dealing with multiple accounts.  We don't have to transfer money from another account when we need these funds.  It means that we can maintain a higher balance in our checking account which allows us to keep our account free (we don't pay any activity fees.  Once upon a time we also got free checks with the account but that changed in the past couple of years).  It means that our savings account balance remains more stable because we don't touch it for routine needs or normal annual expenses and therefore it is truly our savings. Our bank charges a fee if we make multiple deposits or withdraw frequently from savings, so working with the sub accounts offsets those possible fees.

This has also taught me an important lesson.  Once upon a time I ran my checking balance right down to zero more often than not in a pay period.  Carrying a balance in our account took some getting used to and I mean that sincerely but it's become a habit and I admit it's a rather pleasant one.  

We are VERY  disciplined and do not consider these sub account balances as usable for anything except the intended purpose, so you won't find us eating out and borrowing money from those accounts to cover the cost.  In a dire emergency we might use the money, but honestly we've never yet had a dire emergency that warranted using those funds.

I hope this better explains how we use our checking account to work for us.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Frugal Fail: What It Is and What It Isn't

I suppose it was really brought home over Christmas because I was doing what I normally do each year at that time: watching every version of Dickens A Christmas Carol.   It's our tradition to watch all available versions of it, excluding cartoons.   I like A Christmas Carol! Scrooge  has money enough to meet his needs but he suffers privation in a prideful way.  He eats poor meals, refuses to allow sufficient heat in home or work place, even begrudges his clerk his wages and makes Bob feel shame and embarrassment for asking for his deserved and much needed pay.  He implies that Bob, who is poorly paid and has a family to feed and clothe, squanders his money in a frivolous way.  Scrooge is a miser.  He doesn't care for money for what it can do for him or others.  He only accumulates it.

I write a good deal about frugality on my blog.  I follow other frugal blogs. I really enjoy reading other people's frugal doings, but I have noticed a trend of late of people apologizing for any sort of spending or for any indulgence or splurge.  It's almost as though there is a contest on to see who can be more frugal, a miserly way, than another.

Sometimes someone takes another person to task for not doing a certain thing that they personally have found frugal.  Oh the brouhaha that can get started because of a spending point that others disagree with!

We buy sodas.  We buy them every grocery pay period and we're not going to stop.  Now and then someone feels the need to point out that we could save more money if we'd stop buying soda.  No matter that I always buy on sale and often have a free coupon from MCR points.   Nope that is not good enough for some folks.  All they see is that we get a box of soda every two weeks.  I never retort because if they are worried about that less than $5 indulgence what would they say to my indulgence in real perfume or the annual lot of NEW hardback books I buy myself after Christmas each year?  Where is it written that anyone who claims to be frugal must forgo any expense that is not wholly utilitarian?

Not too long ago I read an apologetic statement about someone with chronic pain soaking in a hot bath a few times a week when the weather is cold.  She has arthritis and found the hot water soak did wonders for pain control but she felt the need to apologize for having a hot bath twice a week.  I  saw no need of the apology then or now.  For goodness sake, give yourself permission to enjoy that hot soak and the relief from pain it allots!

On the other hand was a woman whose planned savings this year equals two years salary for us.  I do  not begrudge her her savings...but she was always stating how very cold they keep their home, at a temperature that is just barely above freezing,  in order to save just a very very few dollars.  I believe that while her plan to save money was very admirable she really made the task of saving seem onerous and difficult and filled with hardships to others who might have been new to savings;  much as the woman who loses a hundred pounds reports that she works out at the gym for five hours every day.  I've yet to meet many who want, or have the time to indulge in that method of losing weight.

Here's my thing.  I am a moderate sort of person and truly do believe that there was a great wisdom in my Granny's admonition to 'have moderation in ALL things.'  I apply that to my savings and spending, to my frugal life, as much as I do to any other area.  There are areas where I will save and scrimp and make do and other areas where I spend a good bit.  Being frugal isn't a competition. It is a balance between saving in areas that matter little so that you can spend a little in areas that matter a lot. That's what makes my life over all a Frugal Win in my opinion.

So let's define what a frugal fail is: when we refuse to buy an affordable and  better quality item (even a used one) because it costs more than a much cheaper version is definitely a fail.  I used to buy the very cheapest t-shirts and pants for my wardrobe and all it got me in the end was a lot of badly faded and shrunken pieces that never looked nice for any decent occasion.  Eventually I realized that  buying the best I could afford (from clearance racks usually) almost always meant that I never had a clothing crisis of nothing decent to wear and actually cost me about half what I'd been spending in super cheap selections.  I'm not buying designer or top quality clothing, just medium priced mass produced pieces but I am often able to wear them for several years.

A frugal fail is any repair that is needed and you ignore it because you are convinced it will cost you too much to replace or will be a difficult job.  Wait long enough and it will indeed be far out of your price range when you are finally at a point where ignoring it isn't going to work any longer.  That leaky faucet that eventually turned into a steady stream and caused damage to the sink, the cabinet, the flooring, not to mention running up your water and sewage bills...and if it was a hot water leak, you were paying higher electric costs as well, suddenly is a costly repair in time and money.  Yet it might have been easily repaired.

Another frugal fail is refusing to purchase foods that will support a healthy diet.  I've heard plenty from folks claiming that good food is too expensive and they buy nutritionally dead items because they think they are cheap.  Failing to protect your family's health is a big fail!

When we were at our poorest and had the most mouths to feed, we learned to never skimp on whole foods and pantry staples.  We bought seasonal fruits and vegetables in quantity, we made sure that the children had an ample supply of Vitamin C rich foods.  We trimmed our budget by reducing meat, and stretching it with vegetables and pastas and rice and beans.  We always had carrots, onions, celery, lettuces, apples, oranges and peaches on hand and encouraged the children to glean summer fruits and berries that grew wild.  That was when we were POOR!  As our income improved our biggest change was to serve a bit more meat.   Pantry staples meant that we always had the basic needed ingredients to make most foods.  It took  more time, but it saved us loads of money.

What were some of our other frugal wins?  The time we decided to replace the deck assembly on a mower rather than buy a whole new mower.  We got three more years usage from that mower and then gave it to someone who used it as part of a start up lawn service when we bought a larger mower more suited to the size yard we keep mown.

We bought a used Honda in 2003 and drove it for six years.  Then we passed it on to Katie who drove snot out of it for 4 more.  When it finally drove it's last mile she sold it for enough money to make a sizable down payment on another vehicle.  The key to that long lasting Honda was routine servicing and maintenance.  John likes to say that we baby our cars and we do because we find the service they give us is long lasting.  All that maintenance and routine repair might have seemed foolish and expensive but the years of service it netted us from the car made it well worth while.

And as an aside, we bought an even older used Honda in 2003 (yes, we had to buy two cars that year, within a 3 month period!) from an individual who had babied his car as well.  That car ran for us for 6 years.  Then we let it sit in the yard pretty much unused and only cranked it a few times a year for 3 years.  We sold that car for a nice sum and it is still running for the couple who bought it from us!

Another frugal win was accepting a used dishwasher from family when they remodeled their kitchen.  My dishwasher works just fine and has for 18 years now...Their dishwasher worked fine too and is about ten years old.  When mine quits I've got one waiting in the wings.  It cost me nothing.  If I get two or ten years usage out of that other dishwasher then I've got plenty of time to research and find a bargain on a replacement for that one.

Personally I don't consider it necessary to apologize for small indulgences.  Small indulgences are not frugal fails.  Failing to enjoy life IS.

What will you have? A frugal  fail or a frugal in?

Sunday, January 25, 2015

In My Home This Week: Planning the Week Ahead

It's another new week...they do seem to keep coming around regularly don't they?  I haven't gotten nearly as much done as I wanted for this month and here we are in the last week.  I'm going to approach the week cautiously, not wanting to aggravate my back which has been acting up to some degree all month long.  Old pesky thing.  I finally determined there were plenty of jobs I could do that were low stress on the back.   Trouble is they are just not the jobs I want most to be doing.  I was thinking more along the lines of mulching and digging and painting and shifting furniture.  Well.  Instead I am sorting out drawers and trying to make things look a tiny bit fresh.

My pantry and freezer are full.  I need to purchase only produce, bread and dairy for foodstuffs.  I think this next month I shall focus on stocking paper and personal care products and one or two pantry items that are very low (rice and pasta comes to mind).  That's the plan for the next two pay periods...

Now it's time to plan another week of meals.  I always start these menus and just as I am at the end of the planning and ready to post, my mind goes, "Nooooo....I'd rather have xxx and yyy instead."  I am trying to stick to my plan when it's merely a matter of taste at the moment and altering it only when I find I have leftovers or other items that need to be used.  The reason I do stick hard is that first planning session is all about a balance of meat/meatless, budget/higher end budget.  If I alter the menu overmuch, I get out of balance.  This week I want to be careful because I know that next weekend will be a little pricier for us.  Good incentive to keep the meals lower budget.

Egg, Hash Browns, Toast
Bagels and Cream Cheese
Raspberry Rolls, Sausage
Bran Muffins, Cheese and Turkey Bacon Grits
Banana Nut Doughnuts, Cheese Omelet
Fried Eggs and Toast (x2)

Turkey Noodle Soup, Apples
PBJ, Chips (x2)
Toasted Cheese and Turkey Spam Sandwiches, Pickles
Tuna Salad
Baked Potato with broccoli and cheese
Chicken Sliders

Roast Chicken, Roasted Asparagus, Wild Rice Pilaf, Brownies
 I love the chicken from the meat market but these birds are little ones.  I used the thighs for salads the night before.  We easily ate the two tiny legs, and breast quarters for our dinner.  The rice dish was a leftover portion from last week that I made into a fresh side.

Pot Roast with Vegetables, Salad, Rolls
I put this on to cook while we were out at church.  It's easy enough to make a salad when we walk in.
Even though I have the roasts cut in half when I buy them, I am hopeful to have at least 1 serving leftover which will be enough to stretch to a second meal combined with leftovers later in the week.

Out with Mama/On My Own (x2)
I'll have a day out with Mama and a day when John is at work this week.  There are leftovers in the freezer and fridge which will suffice for my dinner.

Cowboy Pinto Beans, Coleslaw, Cornbread
I hope I can find the recipe I saved for these.  I am sure there will be leftovers...In fact I'm counting on it to make the next meal!

Beef and Bean Enchiladas, Corn, Green Salad
The beans and beef leftovers will combine for this dish. I will make enchilada sauce and freeze the leftovers. I always use Rhonda's good sauce recipe.
There was no pot roast leftover.  It turned out to be a fatty piece and much smaller overall once it shrank as a chuck roast will.  So here I am already planning over.  I might make bean enchiladas from them but we shall see.  Or I might take the broth and make a soup from it.  Or I might just plan another meal entirely.  At the moment I want to go on and post this and I've no idea what I'm going to do for that seventh meal...I'll let you know when I know, okay?

Philly Cheese steak Sandwiches, Steak Fries, Baked Apples
I'm going to shave a frozen sirloin steak and then cook it with onions and frozen green peppers to make our sandwiches. I'll serve on the good bread we buy at Aldi rather than rolls.  It's a nice sturdy bread and will work fine.

Jobs This Week:
Last week:

deep cleaning  the kitchen  in increments. WIP  (Work In Progress)

Put things Christmas things in shed.

Write a letter and get a package off to my oldest grand daughter and daughter.

Hem 2 pairs of jeans and set up as outfits with my list of possible 'looks'.  No.  

Mop floors (if it isn't raining). No....

Wash and freshen napkins, tablecloths (if not raining).  I'm going to hang them on the line and put the drying rack on the front porch too.  I may have to wash in increments.  

Pay bills, run local errands.

Grocery Shop

Tag and place a few new items in the booth.  I pulled some things from the stash for this.  I bought new shelving 

Take a bag of things to donate. Still gathering items.

Return a purchase I made last week. 

This Week:

deep cleaning  the kitchen  in increments.
This stays on the list this week.  I cleaned all the counter tops and the items on them, rearranged things, etc.  I would like to sort out another bank of cupboards this week.  And take down the chickens on the soffit and clean those.  This week I will also include 

Mop floors.

Tag and take items and shelves to the booth, set up and arrange display.  I'll get John to go with me to put the shelves together.

Make the necessary returns.

Make reservations for a planned visit to see Kingsland family later next month.

Re-pot some pansies that are not doing well where they are.  The planter they are in will not stand up to weather so I'll put them in one of the now empty pots in the little flower bed next to the steps. 

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Coffee Chat: Winter Serenade

Here we are!  Time to stop and have another chat...I've got some lovely Cherry Almond Cupcakes.  You can find the recipe right here.  They turned out the most perfect shade of pink.  I am really fond of cherry cake.  I'm always looking for a good recipe and I think I've found one.  Next time I'll chop cherries to add to the batter of the cake because I like to bite down on a bit of cherry.  If I'd known how pretty pink these were going to turn out I'd have saved the recipe for Valentine's Day.  But then that would be later and this is now and so have one and some half and half in your coffee and let's chat a bit.

Oh Half and half...First I'm going to address a comment from Pam earlier in the month.  Carageenan is a seaweed (Irish Moss) byproduct that is used to thicken and stabilize dairy products. I haven't meant to say it is bad for any/every one.  I have mentioned that it's bad for me because it causes me to have mild respiratory symptoms that I dislike.  The more of it I imbibe the more I feel I can't get a proper breath.  When I stop using products that contain it, I find I breathe easier.   It's an allergic reaction and it's mild but it's unpleasant enough to make me want to not feel that way.   It seems wise, on my own behalf, to watch for the product in the ingredients list and avoid those products.

And Angela asked about the Butter Chicken recipe.  I sort of combined two recipes but this one was one of those.

We've had some lovely days here the past week.  Sunny and cold and sunny and not quite so cold and sunny and warm enough to throw up the windows in the late afternoon and a bit of rain and fog and then windy and sunny and cold.  The nights continue to be frosty.  One night I left the heater turned up to daytime temperatures and even though it was still cool enough to sleep under the quilt we didn't rest half so well.  Then last night we'd gone off to bed and left the heat turned down to 62 and despite the quilt it was too cool and we didn't sleep half so well, lol.  Now there is just a 5 degree difference but gracious goodness, what frail creatures we are that two or three degrees either way can upset our rest.  Of course I notice the same thing when we start turning the AC higher in the summer and the heat down every fall.  I told John the consolation is that in a few years we're going to keep the heat at about where we run the AC now and not turn on the AC hardly at all.

I may have sounded a bit vague last Friday about things in the Living Well section.  We didn't get bad news, nor did we lose money in any way.  The situation involves more than just our side of things so I had to be vague about it and have to now as well.  Suffice it to say that we felt a bit down and we had to take a long hard look at our side of things.  Optimistic as we normally are, it was still a bump and made us more than usual aware of the reality of our financial lives.  I can't tell you the pendulum has swung hard back to optimistic yet.  It still smarts a bit, but we're just not going to live our lives afraid of what's around every corner, anymore than we're going to lose sight of our limits.  Balance...Seems to be the word of the year.

I can't really tell you what we did after our picnic last week.  I was out with Mama on Wednesday...I'm pretty sure Thursday and Friday were just muddling through days.  Saturday I took the words 'Shabat Rest' very literally and took two naps, one mid-morning and another mid-afternoon and then struggled to sleep that night.  My own fault and no one to blame but me.  I dragged myself from bed Sunday morning determined that regardless of my lack of rest I would have one day to really accomplish something.

Well...I worked in what I called 'rounds'.  I started with some deep cleaning in the kitchen and after a couple of hours, I sat down to rest for a half hour.  Then up to work another couple of hours and sit for a spell.  The kitchen also got a wee bit of freshening up.  I like, when I've cleaned deep, to leave something new and fresh in the area to show that I've worked hard.  I want to do a bit more freshening but I don't have what I want/need yet to finish up. This little vignette is above the stove top/under the hood.  I bought the tray that miserable day I went through the antiques mall two weeks or so ago.  It's a little rough, but it's just the sort of thing I am drawn to.

This next area is at the back door entry.  I repotted the ivy into that pretty planter and then set up the two trays.  The smaller tray was my other purchase at the antiques mall.  I got that tray at half price, simply because I stopped and talked to the dealers.  I love these sorts of trays and I sort of/ kind of collect them.  I had two others that I sold and one that I've repainted to a more suitable to me style.  Since I've taken this photo I've added a tall blue vase at the end where that floral tray is.  I't really pulls the blue from the grapes and the flowers, so that note of color is pretty much all the way across the shelf in a subtle way.

I'm pretty pleased with my bit of refreshing work...and just longing to do some major work but I am just having to wait on it.  For one thing, I'm not completely sure of my direction.  I have to do things slowly and wait for things to speak to me.  I really want to finish that guest room up before I start another big project...but I'm not above 'listening' to what a room says and grabbing up the things I find.

Last Sunday morning I sat in my kitchen sitting area and did my Bible study.  I had been listening to a number of sermons that morning.  There was no one that stood out but they all dealt with the same theme and I was moved to pray fervently.  And then I opened my Bible and read about Jacob asking his household to put away the idols...It was such a wonderful moment of revelation for me and I had that  feeling of grasping full knowledge of a passage and seeing the past, present, future of it.    I wanted so much to convey that shining moment...and yet when it came to putting it into words it was so ordinary...That is not the first time that has happened to me nor will it be the last.  My heart/soul were aligned just so at that moment of reading and not distracted but by the time I came to share it, I was no longer there but here.  Yet it is those shining moments when my spirit overflows into my heart and my mind sees the truths and revelations that I long to achieve.  It is so transient a moment that it comes and goes quickly and I am left wanting more but unable to say what that more is.

That moment made me happy and set me on the path to working industriously in my home.  I really enjoyed my work on Sunday.  I washed and hung to dry and folded tablecloths.  I had two loads go out on the line.  The wind was up and the sun was shining.  I opened the windows later that afternoon and listened to the tablecloths snap and  beat and bang.  It was the best sound.  More than that was the wonderful clean aroma of them.  I piled the folded things on the dining table and John commented on how good they smelled when he came in from work the next morning.

There were so many napkins that I put those in the dryer. I definitely need to determine if I'm going to try and salvage some of these or just let them go.  They are stained, badly so, and need some work, but then they have been used and used and used. It's another of those tasks that I will get around to eventually.  I'm never surprised any more that the harder you work the more work you find that wants doing.

I didn't over work but I worked steadily enough to be good and tired.  When I sat down that afternoon, I realized that I was deeply happy.  I find that a good day's work always leaves me feeling satisfied and nothing makes me happier than going about my home making it clean and neat and lovely.  I think it's the most satisfactory career I've ever had, this being a homemaker.

I've actually been reading once more.  Gladys Taber's Stillmeadow Seasons is one of the books I chose.  I started at the back of the book, reading about winter (December, January, February and March in this book) and then moved around to the front.  I'm up to April now.

I think what I like most about Gladys is that she rambles about from one thing to another in a chapter and never sticks to one subject.  She has thoughts on many subjects but some how her love of home and hearth is the lacing that keeps them all strung together.   I realized that I have probably patterned my coffee chats after her work, but it was unconsciously done.  And now that the pattern is set, I may as well continue, agreed?  So thank you dear Gladys for the inspiration.

I will share this bit about Gladys Taber.  Years ago when we lived in the town to the south of us, I used to go to the county library.  At the time it was the Carnegie library and sat on the main street in a lovely old marble building.

The interior was set up so that to the right and left were two small reading areas for youth and reference materials and then in the middle of the room was the librarian's desk.  Behind her, stretching the full width of the building was the adult reading area.  The county no longer uses that building and I don't think it carries the Carnegie name any longer either.  Things change..Not always in an improved way in my opinion but the new library is next door to a park so the children can have reading and good fresh air and the old library offered no such accomodation, hardly parking even...But the old building was lovely with woodwork and old mission style furnishings.

The librarian was Mrs. Violet Moore.  She was a Minnesotan and married a man from the deep south small town in which she eventually became the librarian. She also wrote regular columns for some of the big city papers. She was a well known writer across the state of Georgia and corresponded and lectured with many well known authors. I was absolutely in awe of her, at least at first.  I soon found that I just plain liked her.  She was a lovely plump white haired woman in her 70's at that time.  She wore her hair piled atop her head and was possibly 5 feet tall. She was well read, and loved to talk about everything under the sun.  She also was something of a cook...which is how she came about writing to Gladys Taber.  Miss Violet sent Mrs. Taber a kitchen hint/tip.  I can't remember just what it was but she was astonished to get a letter back from Mrs. Taber who told her that she herself had invented that tip and Miss Violet needn't claim it!  Miss Violet never quite got over her distaste of Mrs. Taber after that.  She lent me all the books by Gladys Taber I wanted but she always reminded me of that incident between them, lol.

Incidentally, though John lived just two houses above me, I heard him play guitar the first time there at the library.  He came in and sat down on a stool and played for Miss Violet and I was no end awed to be in the presence of both a writer and a songwriter!  Of course, I had absolutely no clue that in a few years I would be married to this guitar playing songwriter and raising a family with him...  As far as I was concerned at that moment in time, I'd just about hit the top step of the staircase to the artistic elements in our community.  Oh my!

Another book I'm reading is Main Street by Sinclair Lewis.  I first read this book in high school and I was head over heels in love with Carol Kennicott and her idealistic views.  I read the book again a few years later but I was still young...From this side?  I am not in love with Carol Kennicott.  I find the view points in the book eerily close to what I hear being batted about in today's political arenas.  I do however, recognize her desire to create something meaningful and beautiful.  I realized this morning, as I sat on the porch while the animals ate and gazed at the shed and started dreaming of what I might do to make it pretty that I am Carol Kennicott in some ways.  I suppose we all are, especially us homemakers who love to fluff and dust and create little vignettes here and there.

What I am appreciating now is much of what I appreciated in my recent reading again of Gone With the Wind: the accessbility of historical information so that I can get a better idea of the time period and interests.  I've read about authors and listened to music and looked at fashions for that time period. For some reason, I had it in my mind that the book took place in the years prior to WWII.  It is actually set in the decade or so before WWI which  is a whole different viewpoint and changes my perspective entirely.  This idealistic view came just years before war and then economic depression.

This business of reading a book and stopping to look things up is a sort of education in itself.  Perhaps this is the sort of homeschooling I'll do this year for myself, simply take reading slow and look up references and histories and songs and books mentioned.  Having a working understanding of the author's background through these elements is truly helpful.  And look at all I learned from Margaret Mitchell... Why I discovered things about my own family history reading through her book and then looking things up!   It led to a lovely rabbit hole experience with genealogy which is always fun.

Speaking of genealogy, I haven't done a thing with it since late November.  I was very disappointed that Archives.com didn't seem to care much whether I re-subscribed or not.  I was waiting on a renewal notice and didn't get one.  Then I got caught up in the work of our family party and forgot all about the renewal.  I still have access to my family tree but cannot access the limited resources allowed with a subscription.  No great loss really and I say that sincerely.  I found as time went on that I got more from web searches than I was able to get from the site itself.  It was a great way to get a hard start at family search and worth that annual access simply to see what I liked or didn't about it.

We were up fairly early this Tuesday.  It was grocery/bill/errands day.  We made several stops and came home to eat a late lunch.  I felt rather worn by the time we were done and I guess John did, too.  John told me he was going to do sleep and sat down in his chair, put up his feet and went right to sleep.  I decided to get up and do a few things in the kitchen area, then I settled into my chair and read my Bible study which I'd put off doing that morning.  Then I picked up Main Street and read for a solid hour.

I had the windows open and the uniquely country sort of quiet was going on.  A crow 'Caw, Caw, Caw'-ed across the field and now and then I'd hear a group of coyote howl, which is a lot creepier to me at night than it is during the day.  Overall the very stillness was so restful and so peaceful and so soothing, I might have been on vacation at the beach for all the rest I gathered in that hour of reading next to the open windows.  I felt that deep love of this property and this house welling up inside me all over again.

I mused over this love of land.  In my childhood, this was where we felt safe and free to be children.  Granny's rules were straightforward and unchanging.  Work was done together and then we were allowed to go play wherever we wished on the property.  In very early years it did seem the bottom where we played was terribly terribly far from Granny but in reality it is a 5 minute walk at best.  Later we ventured a little further but Granny would periodically whoop at us and we had to whoop back, a signal that all was well with us.  If she yoo-hooed we were to yoo-hoo back and then hurry home.  It was a system that worked very well and if ignored we got a switching when we did return to the house.   The incentive was good to answer, lol.

Granny never complained over mud or dirt.  She was of the mind that children and clothes and dirt and mud went together and were the main reasons why bathtub and washing machine and dryer were bonus blessings in her household.  So we were very happy when we were here.  While at home we read and watched television and listened to the radio at Granny's we were almost always outdoors.  There was no lying about in bed sleeping late either.  You got up and dressed for breakfast which was served about 7:30 and you went to work right after breakfast.  First it was housework and then it was yard/field work if there was any and then it was playtime.

My father was one of those fussy sorts who didn't like dirt and mud, as was his mother.  Children should always be quiet, seen but not heard, and look neat as pins at all times.  Playing should be reserved for quiet activity such as reading though he truly preferred we just sit quietly.  It was a rather restrictive thing to a child and I'm sorry to say that we seldom stuck to being quiet.  There was almost always some sort of play ongoing and we invariably got loud about it.  Daddy wasn't mean.  He was just a very anxious sort of parent.  We were always, in his eyes, on the verge of some great accident: drowning, broken bones, cracked skulls, kidnappings.  It made us anxious I think, as well it might and what tortures his brain must have gone through thinking of all those horrid possibilities.

We suffered none such thing as that from Granny.  She trusted us to take some care when we were playing about the place and in all the years of grandchildren here we had only two incidents.  I slid down a stack of rye seed and hit a metal spike that cut my knee deeply enough for stitches.  Another time our youngest cousin fell from a tree and broke his arm.  I guess that is a pretty good record for 7 children who pretty much did everything children used to do: ride bikes, play ball, slide down banks, climb trees, dam the creek, wander the fields, etc.

I woke this morning early, about 5am and as I lay abed I heard the wind begin to pick up.  I got up about 5:30, quietly so as not to disturb John and went to open the kitchen curtains.  Even at that dark hour I could see the heavy clouds and the low lights of neighborhoods and settlements over 5 miles away as the crow flies.  But the wind coming in surely meant the clouds were going to be chased away.  One good hard house shuddering gust more and I was convinced of it.  I took a quilt and curled up in a chair and listened to the wind and dozed right back off.  It was a lovely hour of sleep in which I dreamed of Granny and Katie and a lovely plump baby who kept saying 'please'...The brain is a funny thing, truly it is, especially where dreams are concerned.  But I woke happy and that is what counts most isn't it?

Well, there's the empty coffee pot and the last of the cupcakes are gone.  I think it's time to end this chat and I'll move on to other things for the afternoon.  I've a longing to go down the genealogy line and see what I might find.  It's been bugging me for weeks.  Talk to you again real soon...

This Week In My Home: Frugal All Week Long

 I freshened two areas in my home (this one is in  the back entry) using what I had on hand.  I re-potted the ivy into a prettier pot and everything else was moved about from other areas.  It all looks fresh and new and I love it!  No cost decorating.

Saturday:  I promised John a breakfast of sausage gravy.  We had that over leftover warmed biscuits.  Yum.

I made a simple at home lunch even though I had no desire at all to cook.  It was quick and easy.  I thawed frozen burger patties (I made up when we brought the ground meat home at first of year) and cut two medium potatoes into oven fries.  Everything went into the oven to cook.  It was quick and easy and painless for clean-up as well.  I cooked two extra burgers to put in John's work lunch tomorrow.

After sunset, I prepared items to go into John's lunch for work tomorrow.

waste:  some turkey sausage thingies that we like from Aldi. They are like Slim Jim but not quite as dry.  I've noted before that once the package is open they spoil.  I should have put them in the fridge.  Unfortunately this package got lost in a basket I keep in the cabinet.  I think I'll swap that basket out.  It's black and hard to see items that might be lurking in it.  I tossed about six of the sausages.  Ugh.

Sunday:  Made John breakfast.  Packed his lunch.

Washed two full loads of laundry.  I decided it was time to freshen my dining linens.  Today I washed all the napkins (lots!) and tablecloths.  I still need to wash all the place mats and runners, but they can wait.  I hung two loads on the line, all tablecloths.  I put the napkins in the dryer.  Everything is so crisp and fresh now.  I am not putting them back into the drawers until I have time to wipe them out.  They I'll try to store everything neatly.  I've culled a few items for donation or sale.

Cleaned my kitchen counter tops and all items on them most thoroughly.  That was my deep cleaning exercise for today in that room!  It took nearly two hours to get it all done but it looks so nice and uncluttered and neat.  All except that dish drainer...I really am thinking of getting one of those spongy microfiber mats to put dishes upon and doing away with that drainer board.  It would free up so much more room!

Sorted coupons I'd clipped earlier in the week.

Balanced checkbook.  Good thing.  I found I'd forgotten to write down a small purchase I'd made.

Got bill box ready to for Harvest tomorrow.

Opened the windows and let some of that cold fresh air blow through and clear the house of odors and such.
Have taken advantage of my television today to listen to cooking programs, a kitchen program that discussed thrifty tips, ice skating and Downton Abby.    I also got a good deal from sermons I heard this morning.

Lunch was easily prepared and tasty.  Supper was a frozen leftover entree from the freezer.

Made myself a single cup of coffee.

Shopped at home: mayonnaise, blueberries, coffee, milk, buttermilk.  Some from the freezer and some from the pantry.

Monday:  Made blueberry muffins for our breakfast this morning...I am running low on bread and it seemed a good way to stretch things out by skipping toast.

I have struggled with dry splitting cuticles for years.  I started using coconut oil on them about two weeks ago and it's remarkable how much better and healthier they look.  Bonus is that my nails are also healthier and growing more quickly since I started using it.  And it's so inexpensive.  I have 1 tbsp in a little tub container and I've barely decreased the amount at all.  A warm fingertip brings it right back to oil stage and I rub that on my cuticles and massage in.

I wanted to make a cake and thought I'd half the recipe when I saw that it made 2 dozen cupcakes.  My muffin pan is a bit larger than a standard cupcake pan.  I figured that I wouldn't get quite 2 dozen from the recipe and I didn't.  I made a dozen cupcakes and then I used my doughnut pan and made six doughnuts from the remaining batter.  I put those in the freezer for another day's treat.

I chose to half the amount of frosting.  This proved to be a wise choice.  I might have piped the frosting on the cupcake and used more but there was enough even with half the recipe.

I halved another recipe as well which called for 1 stick of butter, 1 can of mushroom soup and 1 can of evaporated milk plus 1/2 cup water.  I used regular milk and skipped the water.  I used half as much milk as the recipe called for, half as much butter and half the can of soup.  Honestly we had a gracious plenty and could have had leftovers!  (We didn't keep any for leftovers however).

I cooked twice the amount of rice needed today.  I put the leftovers in the fridge.

I ran a full load of laundry and a full load of dishes.  I put both to wash on a short wash cycle.  John hung the laundry to dry.  I cut the dry function off on my dishwasher but about two thirds through that cycle I turn it on.  This gets rid of the bulk of the water on the dishes without running the heat dry for a full cycle.

Paid bills.  We have one pay period each month that is significantly smaller than the other one.  It all has to do with how the work days fall and it pretty much sucks to be honest, but we have learned to manage it.  I try to keep this pay period's groceries down to just the basics: dairy, produce, bread and any absolute outages that have already or will occur before the pay period ends. It is what works best for us.  This pay period I have a small amount extra (not sure how that happened but I've checked our figures three times, lol) so I will stock up on a few items that are on sale at the local grocery.  I will buy a case of canned vegetables and three cans of Turkey Spam to go on the pantry shelf.

When I made dinner today I thought I'd thawed chicken thighs and breasts.  The plan was to use the chicken thighs to make a small batch of chicken salad.  I found I'd taken out legs instead.  I just went ahead with my recipe, oven frying them.  We had legs for supper tonight instead of having chicken salad.  Same difference in the end.  I used up leftover mashed potatoes to make potato pancakes to go with the chicken.

The past two days it's gotten a little warm indoors towards 3pm.  I have opened windows both days and kept them open until the late afternoon temperature drops.  It has kept the house quite comfortable and I like to have that air movement through the house.

Tuesday:  Toasted blueberry muffins for our breakfast bread.

Made sure to tell John that we were eating only a portion of the sausages cooked.  I put them away after preparing our plates, so no temptation.

We bagged up trash, gathered banking stuff, mail to send out...combining errands with grocery shopping.  We filled up the car on our way home.

John bought us lunch out of his allowance.

I went a little over my grocery allowance.  There were some very good deals this week on items I stock in my pantry.  This will balance out over time.  There are plenty of weeks without good sales on anything.

Opened windows when we returned home and let the house air out.

Wednesday:  We bought tags for our cars today.

We made some changes to our auto insurance policy and cancelled the tag on the truck.  It hasn't left the yard in two years so it seems silly to keep it insured and licensed.  John is going to put it up for sale.

Took my car for an oil change.

The tags and the oil change came from sub accounts where we deposit a small amount of money each pay period.  It was nice to know that those 'big' sort of expenses (tags plus oil change was a good amount) were covered and we didn't have to scratch to find money to cover.

Came home to eat lunch.  I had a quick and easy meal option here.  We ate so late that we skipped supper last night and just had  a light snack about 7pm.

Thursday:  Made John breakfast and packed his work lunch.

John only has a small dorm sized fridge at work which must be shared with four others and also store the shop's soda/waters (sold to fund two annual dinners).  He asked if I could just pack him peanut butter sandwiches and shelf stable foods that needed no refrigeration.  That was easier than I thought it might be.  I was thinking this morning that I can also buy him the shelf stable pudding cups to go into his lunch bag.  As he pointed out to me he eats a well balanced diet here at home and he's only at work 48 hours each week.  He doesn't think nutritionally he'll lose a load of ground in those two work days.  Since I can also pack fresh fruit, water, etc. in his lunch I am inclined to agree.

Took water with me when I left the house.  Should have taken two bottles but didn't.  I had no place where I could refill it, so I bought one.  I see all the time where people rant about buying bottles of water but really, I'd rather have the water than soda.  Just sorry I failed to realize that I'd want two instead of one.

Found a brand new pair of moccasins at the thrift store.  They are Minnetonka and very nice and fit perfectly.  I shall enjoy wearing them!

I was thrifting to stock the new shelves that arrived for the flea market booth.  Yes, I finally stopped procrastinating and ordered the shelving.  I am expanding my space and I need more stuff to fill it up.
Expansion doesn't mean going nuts with spending.  I stayed within my usual limits and paid for it all from my allowance.

Stripped the bed and washed the sheets with the clothes in the laundry basket.  I'd rather wash a full load than a half one.

Friday:  John asked for a special dinner today.  I agreed readily enough since it was inexpensive to make and it was SOUP.  Soup is one of my favorite things to eat especially when it's wet and cold and miserable outdoors.  I had leftovers enough for another meal.

I baked a chicken for Shabat dinner tomorrow.  I put cornbread in the same oven to bake, making good use of the oven heat.

John washed a full load of clothes.  He hung some to dry.

I washed a full load of dishes.

I brewed two single cups of coffee this evening after supper for us.  We normally don't take coffee in the evening but we both were just longing to have one to chase away the chill.

All in all it seems a small day for savings doesn't it?  It was...But it was the same small things I do every week, in and out to save money.  Washing baggies, packaging leftovers for another meal, checking the fridge for potential additions to meals for the next day or so, measuring pet food, hanging clothes to dry.  It's not exciting, it takes a little more patience than doing otherwise.

Living Well

Small details...Often they go unnoticed.  The photo above is a case in point.  You might have to enlarge the picture but on the knee of this statue (looks awfully real doesn't he?) are two lizards sunning, one an adult and one a baby.  John pointed them out to me.  I'd been looking at the garden plot but had failed to notice the lizards.  Small detail.

It's those little details that make home special.  The way a lamp is placed for reading, or the way we arrange a mantle is not really something that is absorbed right away, but it comes to the attention of a visitor or family member as they relax and look about a room.  These little arrangements are seldom expensive but usually just a pleasing group of items that are already at hand or that have been picked up for next to nothing at a thrift store.

Perhaps the person looking is not even sure just why a home seems so pleasant, especially when nothing is obviously expensive or eccentric looking, but the overall feeling is that there is something particularly comfortable and appealing about the home.  That is just as it should be.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The New Savings Culture

I have reported before that I spend a few hours each week trolling about on Pinterest reading frugal blog posts.  There's always the off chance I might learn something I haven't known before, or relearn something I'd forgotten (just as good as a new trick is a forgotten trick!)...Most blogs tend to stick to the old basics that we've all learned and repeated: stop eating out (as much), stop buying new when used will do as well, stop spending what you haven't earned yet...You get the idea.  Sort of a 'Frugality for Dummies' mentality.

However, there is a new savings culture out there and I've noticed it creeping in amongst frugal blogs with a subtle message: Frugality isn't worth it.

How, you might ask, do they justify their position?  By trotting out the old and hackneyed methods of savings (stop eating out, stop buying lattes and stop overspending) and hinting that small savings are the least effective way to manage your funds.  You should work to earn more because a new and better job will reward you many times over.  You should invest instead of save.  You should cook from scratch but forget coupons or meal plans.  That's too much work for too little return.  You should buy top quality as you can afford to pay cash but used is not necessarily the way to go, if it requires repairs or sprucing up.  You should skip the work of a vegetable garden but find a good CSA that will deliver organic vegetables and fruits to your door on a weekly basis.  Nothing against CSA...Not everyone has the space or the physical ability to garden.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Shabat Thoughts: Unpacking

In the Talmud, it is stated that Abraham's father, Terah,  was a shopkeeper who sold idols.  We know Abraham, or as he was known at that point in history Abram, was a man whom God promised to father nations, with generations as numerous as the stars in the heaven descending from him.  He is often referred to as the Father of Faith, namely the Christian Faith.  Yet his father was a maker of idols...

Skip ahead two generations and we find that Jacob, his grandson has returned to the house of his mother's peoples, also descendants of Terah.  Though he has been there many years, his uncle Laban does not deal fairly with Jacob. At last Jacob determines that he must leave that land and return to his own country.  He takes his wives, children, cattle and sheep and leaves.  Rachel however, takes more than her own belongings.  She steals her father's idols.

This has always puzzled me.  Jacob was a son of Isaac and a grandson of Abraham.  He was raised to believe in one God, the true God and not to worship idols.   Laban had obviously been raised to worship the idols and this was taught to his children.

Jacob had never been treated as much more than a servant by Laban and Laban never allowed him to become a son of the household.  He treated his daughters' poorly as well.   One scholar opines that in stealing the idols, Rachel is taking something of import from her father in order to elevate Jacob's status.   Furthermore she lies to her father when he overtakes them and searches for his idols.  She sits upon them in her tent, refusing to rise, offering the excuse that it is her womanly time.

Perhaps Rachel was being rebellious and defiant of her father in taking his idols.  Perhaps she felt the idols were a symbol of the respect due her husband, which had not been forthcoming in all those years of labor.  Perhaps she was frightened of leaving home and all she knew to go to a strange country and live amongst strangers. I know only that she took the idols of her father with her on this journey, fleeing in fright and in secrecy, away from a father who had demeaned and frustrated  every good thing promised to them.