Friday, June 26, 2009

Frugal Friday: Speeding tickets and mindfulness

My number one frugal tip for this week is this: Don't get speeding tickets.

Earlier this week, I was driving along, on my way to my CSA pick up, listening to the radio and going over in my head my budget, what I was making for dinner, what I needed to review with my tutoring student that evening. All of a sudden, there was a motorcycle cop standing by the side of the road, waving me over.

Startled and confused, I pulled over my car and rolled down my window.

"The reason I pulled you over, ma'am, is because you were speeding."

All I could think to respond was "I was? I am so sorry!" and I really was.

The officer politely nodded, checked my license, said "You were going 38 in a 30, ma'am, and this is a high complaint area," and handed me a $150 ticket. In about 30 seconds, all my careful planning and frugal budgeting went out the window.

So why did it happen? I wasn't in a hurry, I wasn't feeling especially rebellious, I don't particularly like driving fast (and I mean, 38 mph, whoa baby).

It happened because I wasn't paying attention to what I was doing.

Obviously, paying attention when you're driving is crucial, and it could have been a whole lot worse than just a speeding ticket. But giving complete attention to the task at hand is important - and frugal - in almost everything. I can't tell you how many times I've added something incorrect to a recipe and made good food inedible, or picked up something at the grocery store that wasn't part of the sale, or thrown away a form I needed to submit a rebate. When we don't give our tasks the attention they deserve, we make mistakes, and mistakes can cost money.

So my goal for this week is to stop trying to do everything at once and to just do one thing at a time, with the proper attention and mindfulness. And to just slow down - both in my car and in my head.

See more Frugal Friday posts at Life as Mom.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Book Review: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

I just finished reading Barbara Kingsolver's book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and I can't get over how much I loved it. I've read books on sustainable eating before, and I've read Barbara Kingsolver's fiction before, and this book had the best of both worlds. Telling the story of Kingsolver and her family's year of all local eating, this book read like a delicious memoir instead of as a textbook. The descriptions of setting and, of course, of food made this book much more positive than many other sustainable tomes. Rather than primarily a critique of the food industry, this book was mostly a celebration of local food. From endearing stories of gifts of plants to hilarious tales of turkey mating, Kingsolver manages to lend just the right tone to the whole story.

In addition to being just likeable overall, this book taught me a few lessons:

1. Asparagus, though difficult to plant, will grow back every year and signify the coming of spring.
2. If you're ever in Appalachia and someone gives you a plant, don't thank them. Unless of course you want to bring ill fortunes upon the plant.
3. There are chickens that lay multi-colored eggs. Really.
4. In the summer, be very skeptical of anyone who wants to give you squash or zucchini, particularly if you also have your own garden or CSA membership.
5. Acid should be added to tomatoes if you are canning them in a hot water bath because not all varieties have enough acid to make them safe.
6. Making soft cheese is (or at least sounds) fun and easy, and homemade soft cheese have less lactose.
7. It really is impossible to write a food memoir without at some point ending up in Italy (See also my review of Bill Buford's Heat).

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The ordinary is extraordinary

I've been spending a lot of time quietly reflecting lately and something keeps popping into my thoughts. I keep thinking of something that I wish I'd told my students before I left, especially my graduating seniors. If I had them all in front of me again, what I would want to tell them is

"We keep telling you that you can all do extraordinary things, and I'm sure that you can. But more and more what I realize is that that's not what life's all about, that's not what matters. What matters is that you do the ordinary things in extraordinary ways."

And the more I go over this in my head, the more I realize that it's not the kids so much that I need to tell this to as myself. I am always looking for the big thing that I am going to do with my life, even now, even after years of career and years of marriage, still looking for the thing that I'm going to do that's really going to matter. But I think that I'm missing the point. I think that the truth of it is the essence of simple living that I've been in too much of a hurry to grasp: Everything matters. It matters how I fold my laundry, it matters how I talk to cashiers at the grocery store, it matters how I spend my quiet afternoons. I think everything in my life for a long time has been leading up to this one realization.

I don't need to do something extraordinary to matter. I just need to do everything in my life with care and love.

Monday, June 15, 2009


I'm still trying to get used to the idea that I no longer work full time. My last week of school was very sad for me, and at the same time very heartening because it showed me that I really had made an impact on other people's lives. Then last week, what with being my first week out of school, felt kind of like a brief vacation. That along with hubby's PhD defense (which he passed! Hooray!) made it hard for me to take the time to adjust and accept the fact that I have a different life now. I think when we move at the end of the summer, everything will be a little bit clearer, but right now I feel like I'm in limbo.

I've never been very good with change, and I'm especially not good with uncertainty. Right now all the change is a little bit overwhelming; I have to decide who I want to be now, and I'm not sure I'll be very good at figuring that out. I don't know how to be a housewife, I don't know how to be anything but a teacher and a student, and I'm pretty sure that I don't want to be either of those just now. Reinventing oneself isn't easy, and I am just realizing that it's something that is worth expending the time, energy and thought for.

Does anyone have any suggestions for what I ought to do, for who I ought to be now?

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Errand day and other things I blow out of proportion

The thing I dread more than anything is running errands. I'm not sure why exactly. It's some combination of the driving, the waiting, the being away from home. It fills me with an overwhelming sense of anxiety. Since I hate it so much, I tend to procrastinate my errands until I have a big old pile of them which fills me with even more anxiety.

The worst thing about the whole scenario is that I have ABSOLUTELY no sense of how long anything will have to take. A simple trip to the post office or the bank, and I feel like I need to block out half a day. The grocery store, I have convinced myself, cannot be navigated in less than an hour. I map out complex routes to increase my efficiency, I wait until I have a long, uninterrupted block of time, and then I dive in.

And it's never as bad as I expected it to be.

Don't get me wrong: I still can't stand waiting in line at the post office. I have yet to find a time to go to the bank which is not incredibly unpleasant. But when I finish my errands, I always have - along with a sense of relief and accomplishment - a little voice in my head that says "Oh. That was it?"

I dont' know why I build these things up in my head to be so overwhelming and all-encompassing. I know that I am making myself crazy. And yet, I continue to do it.

So, what's the solution? Do you have any tasks in your life that you blow out of proportion and avoid?

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Festival of Frugality recap

This week's Festival of Frugality is up at Personal Finance Analyst, and it's a great one.

Some of my favorite posts:

Frugal Tips from America's Cheapest Family is a great book review that takes apart a book I've been meaning to read.
55 best ways to Save Money is a huge list of great frugal tips from readers. Most of them are things we already know, but it's always good to hear them again.
Ten Ways to Save Money when you fly on your family vacation is a great rundown on ways to save on trips. I do most of these, but there are a few new takes on things that I wouldn't have thought of.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Lazy summer

Usually I start the summer with vast and far reaching goals: make money, write more, spend less, organize/declutter, finish projects, write more, lose weight, exercise more. Then about halfway through the summer I realize I've accomplished almost none of it, and I get extremely disheartened. So this summer I'm setting only one goal for myself.

Be lazier.

Sounds easy, huh? Well, not for me. Somehow I'm no better at being idle than I am at being productive. I'm not working, I'm not in school, my house isn't especially clean and yet I will go through entire days without being outside, and end the day anxious about all the things on my list that I haven't done. What am I spending my time on? I can never remember or tell. Whatever it is, it doesn't bring me joy.

So this summer, I want to do less. I want to forcibly make myself sit and do nothing, or read a book (with permission to stop whenever I want). To eat slowly and taste my food. To sit outside and watch people go by. I'm just going to rest for a while and get off the treadmill, and once I learn how to do that maybe I'll know what it is that I want to do with my time.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Because I wanted to live deliberately

I turned my ketchup bottles upside down because I wanted to live deliberately. Hmm, somehow it doesn't have the same ring to it as what Thoreau said.

There are two kinds of frugality and finance blogs out there that I know of. One of them goes into details about things like how to make your own laundry detergent, substitute cheaper ingredients into recipes, and hang your laundry. The other type likes to insult writers of the first type. Lives for it in fact. Gets most of its juice from saying just how wrong those frugal writers are.

"Why are you spending time counting the number of grinds on the pepper shaker? Tearing paper towels in half? It's a waste of your time and brainpower! Do you know how much more money you could make/save by [insert topic of blog here]?? How can you guys be so stupid as to think it matters whether you get the last ketchup out of the bottle???????"

The thing is, they don't get it. They're totally missing the point.

People don't cut their toothpaste tubes open to save the 5 cents on toothpaste. We don't spin our laundry an extra time before putting it into the dryer because we think this will make us millionaires. Frugal folks are, for the most part, just trying to see what we can get away with, how to get by with the least possible stuff. For some of us, it's simply an exercise in austerity, for some it's an issue of stewardship and ecology, for some it's part of a larger budget plan.

But the point of frugal blogs is to remind us that the individual frugal choices matter. Doing more with less makes us aware of what we have, makes us focus on all of our decisions more. It's about being connected to the food we eat and the products we buy. Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity.

Thoreau would be so proud.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

CSA and vegetable wisdom

I've written before about how much I love my CSA. Last summer, one of my husband's friends was visiting when I picked up my basket and he got to see me process and cook my vegetables - and he even got to eat some. Apparently it made an impression on him because he went home and got himself a half share in a CSA near him. A few weeks ago, he had a picture of it on his facebook with a caption that read "Now I just need to figure out what to do with all this." I glanced over my husband's shoulder and said "Tell him to steam the asparagus, sautee the swiss chard with garlic and onions, and use the green onions in everything."

I was kind of amazed to hear the words coming out of my mouth. A year ago, I wouldn't have known half that. Some other things I've learned from my CSA:

  • I love chard. Collard greens not so much.

  • When it's squash season, you eat squash. And you eat it all because next week there will definitely be more.

  • Most greens don't need to be boiled for a million hours and I like them better when they're not.

  • The fresher the vegetables, the less you need to do to make them taste great. Except for collards which still usually need bacon.

  • When you eat fresh raw vegetables for lunch and dinner, it's hard not to lose weight.

  • In hot climates like mine, by the time the tomatoes come in, most of the lettuce is done, so the salads my mother made in my childhood are hard to make locally.

  • Husbands must be accounted for when planning vegetable sides. Even if they do like their green beans mushy.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Doing Good: Share a Little Comfort

Right now, if you click on the link at Share a Little Comfort Kraft will donate one box of mac and cheese to Feeding America. Yay!

Define splurge

I've been reading Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, and one of the (many) things that struck me was an offhand comment about Amish friends of hers. My rough paraphrase is, You can tell a lot about someone based on how they define the word splurge.

Now, I'm not suggesting I am as self-possessed and simple as the family in the book. I like things. I like good chocolate, I like my Roomba. On a global scale, I am more spoiled than most people in the world.

But my needs aren't too great either.

When I started talking to people about what I wanted to do with my summer off, I told them that the first thing I wanted to do was pamper myself for a little while until I felt better. People told me it was a good idea and started asking myself how I intended to pamper myself. Was I going to get a massage? a pedicure? some good wine?

Umm, no. All I really wanted was to curl up in my bed in the afternoon with a book. Maybe a cup of coffee. And for lunch I wanted to saute some vegetables from my CSA basket before they went bad (and to eat them without a 10th grader hitting me in the back of the head with a grape).

I'm not perfect, and I think my goal in life is to become the kind of person whose splurges are always this simple, but it makes me smile to know that in some things I can already be so easily pleased.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Ways to Save Money this summer

So, once again it's summer and I find myself with plenty of free time and less than plenty of money. Oh, I have some savings, but I have no full time job nor am likely to especially soon. More time, less money, means it's a great time to start refocusing on ways to save.

  • Turn off the lights. Maybe turn off the computer too. It's amazing how much energy we waste during the course of a day.

  • When I'm home by myself or when we're both going out, turn the air way up (or off altogether). I really don't like the way air conditioning feels, and I'm willing to be a little warmer. I can wear shorts or drink ice water. Also, I need to check the thermometer on my porch and open the windows when it's cooler out than in, and batten down the hatches when it's hotter.

  • Hang my laundry. I've never done this before, but I'd imagine it'll dry very quickly in the 100 degree weather.

  • Cook from scratch. During the crazy last month of the school year, we ate out a lot. A lot. I plan to change that this summer. I would like to go even further, though, and try making yogurt,cheese, pasta, and more of our bread.

  • Use up the stockpile. I'm moving in the relatively near future so it's time to stop buying so much and start using it up. If I wasn't moving, I'd be reluctant to use up (or I might have to rebuy everything at full price), but I'd still try to use down a little to get through the income gap.

  • Find fun, free things to do. Since we live near a college, there are lots of free lectures and forums, and I am relatively sure there are some free outdoor concerts and movies too.

Anyone have any more great suggestions on things I can do this summer?