Friday, January 31, 2014


So anyway, I've been painting my nails red since Christmas. I don't know what's gotten into me. I never painted my nails red when I was younger. I painted them sparkly magenta and shiny, coppery gold during the disco years (aka junior high), and that was sort of it other than clear polish for years and years. Never silver or black, never blue, never green, and never, ever red.

But something came over me a few days before Christmas and I bought bottle of Sally Hansen Hard as Nails. As you can see from the above picture, my nails are still short, so it's not like I've got a dragon lady thing going on. Just a red thing.

I'm finding that red nails are fun. They put a little pep in your knitting. I feel very 1940s sitting by the fire clicking out a pair of socks with my red nails. Very retro.

Maybe red nails will become my signature. I have always liked the idea of having a signature something--a signature scent or a signature piece of jewelry. Is this a southern idea or just an old fashioned one? "Oh, Janice is known for always wearing pearl earrings. It's her signature." My grandmother's signature perfume was White Shoulders.

Given that I almost never change anything about myself, I'm sort of one big signature. My signature haircut: short. My signature clothing: jeans and a sweater. Signature shoes: clogs.

Really, I'm very boring. I have an exciting life of the mind, but you'd never know by looking at me day after day.

But now that I have red nails, maybe you would.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Abstinence or Moderation?

Finished Circle of Geese top. Now onto the quilting!

“Abstinence is as easy to me as temperance would be difficult.” Samuel Johnson

Gretchen Rubin over at The Happiness Project is an abstainer. Like Dr. Johnson, quoted above, it's easier for her to give up something entirely than to indulge on occasion. If the choice is frozen yogurt twice a week or not at all, she chooses not at all.

In general, I'm good with moderation, but from time to time I choose abstinence as a way of recalibrating. After my mom was diagnosed with lymphoma last summer, I found myself drinking a glass of wine (or two) on a daily basis, usually while cooking dinner. It wasn't the drinking that bothered me so much as how much I was looking forward to it.

So I decided to stop for a month, to break the habit. In February, I will return to my moderate drinking habits, which means a glass or two over the weekend.

Same with sugar. Much to my amazement, I can go days without sugar. It used to be that I could go a few hours. Then, a few years ago, I gave it up for a long stretch, and the habit was broken. From time to time I abstain for a week or two, to prove to myself that I can.

But you know what's hard for me? Chips of any kind. I can keep cookies in the house, pretzels, crackers, chocolate, ice cream, and as long as they're out of sight, I can ignore them. But if there's a bag of Doritos lurking in a corner somewhere, I will find it and I will eat it. Therefore, chips appear only very rarely in my pantry.

When it comes to being frugal, I'm finding that with a lot of things it's better to abstain: magazines, used books purchased via (too easy to click those buttons in a moment of abandon), trips to Target in general.

The hardest thing is being frugal at the grocery store. I can pass up cookies and bread (easy to make at home, and cheaper), but there's no point in cutting back on breakfast cereal or milk, and fruit and vegetables will always be on my list. Eggs, check. Meat, check. Sometimes I know I can get paper towels or peanut butter cheaper somewhere else, but once I start calculating the price of gas and the value of my time ... it pretty much evens out.

This is not to say that I don't try. We have vegetarian dinners, I stock up on meat when it's on sale, I don't buy much junk. But so far I'm over my frugality budget by about $15 a week. Not horrible, and to be honest, I'm not sure if I can do much better.

What do you abstain from to improve your health, your psyche or your bank balance? What have you given up and are happier for it?

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Horrible Hours

Mosaic blocks! Forty-one in total! I've been working on these on and off since last spring. At last they're ready to be made into a quilt.

For many years now, I've been trying to figure out what to do with the horrible hours. These are the hours between 3 and 6 p.m--which is to say, the hours where my energy is at its lowest and my patience at its thinnest.

The horrible hours are especially horrible during the winter. Once the sun starts its descent, the house gets chillier and I get nappier. My desire most often is to curl up on the couch with a quilt, but there's dinner to be made, lunches to be packed, and  boys to be fetched from hither and yon. The horrible hours are filled with stops and starts.

There may be no cure for it. Maybe I should count my blessings that I have lots of energy in the morning, and then again from after dinner until 9:30 or so. Maybe I should do regularly what I've done from time to time in the past, which is to prep dinner after lunch so that there's not so much to do later and I can take a nap if I want to. I don't mind cooking dinner, but I have to say I'm always happy when we're on the second night of a two-night meal and all I have to do is heat things up.

Does your day contain horrible hours? Are they the same as mine, or do you find yourself lagging late in the morning or in the hours after dinner?


This weekend Jack and I had a minor league spat that turned into a really good discussion about the Internet, social media and the difficulty being a parent of a kid whose generation is the first to grow up from day one with computers in their lives. We're pioneers here, all of us, and we have no idea how this computer thing is going to turn out.

What pleased me about this discussion is that it started out as an apology from Jack (well, an apology that didn't actually incorporate the phrase "I'm sorry for slamming my door," but you can't have everything). The fact that he'd done something that upset me and later sought me out to discuss it made me happy.

Jack turns fifteen in April. He is a quiet, private person, but in recent weeks we've had two good conversations about things that are important to us--computers (important to him, concerning to me) and religion (important to me, raising questions for him). They have been honest, funny, fairly open talks. They make me feel hopeful for the future of our relationship.


Frugality report: I'm trying to make a tank of gas last as long as I can, which means I'm limiting the number of errands I run. I'm bad about driving to the library whenever a book I've had on hold comes in (and I put tons of books on hold) or if there's something at the grocery store we sort of need, but don't absolutely need. I'm pleased to say that I've used just over a tank of gas since right before the Christmas break.

I'm less pleased that I'm over budget when it comes to my weekly grocery spending. The problem with stocking up is that you can stock up every week if you feel like it. At what point do you stop stocking up?

Well, if I'm going to make my monthly budget for groceries, that point is now. No more stocking up! Enough with the stocking up. Time to eat that tilapia in the deep freeze, even if everyone is less than excited about tilapia. The pioneers were less than excited about eating groundhog, but they did it and survived, and we will, too.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

What I'm working on now ... paper piecing!

I don't have any great frugality updates for you, other than I haven't been spending much money. In fact, I have purchased no fabric, books or yarn in 2014. I have requested two interlibrary loans and as a result have established a nice email correspondence with a very helpful librarian at my local branch. His name is Patrick, and he's giving me all sorts of good insider information.

In other news, I found two pairs of Will's clean socks the other night and left them outside his door, as he'd already gone to bed. I believe this was on Sunday. As of today, Wednesday, they are still sitting there. When I say I left them outside of his door, I mean I left them front and center outside of his  door. As in, he would have to step over them every time he entered or exited his room.

They are clearly his socks, and they are clearly clean, but I'm fairly sure it will never, ever occur to Will to pick them up and put them either on his feet or in his sock drawer. They could very well sit there until he goes to college.

I don't really understand boys.

My two favorite Christmas presents so far: 1) My Fit Bit pedometer. I slip it in my pocket every day and it tells me how many steps I've taken, how many calories I've burned, and what time it is. It also flashes me a little smiley face from time to time. When I sit down at my computer and pull up the Fit Bit site, all my information gets synced and I get all sorts of positive feedback for steps taken and calories burned. Hooray! I am a champ!

I fear that my Fit Bit device is also recording all sorts of other information  (credit card numbers, prescriptions, calls made), and feeding it to various authorities, possibly the NSA. But that little smiley face makes it all worthwhile!

Seriously, I'm trying to lose twenty pounds by my 50th birthday (May 30th, put it on your calendars!), and the only way that's going to happen is if I keep track of what I'm eating and make exercise a priority. My little Fit Bit makes keeping track fun.

2) My other favorite gift, and probably my very favorite gift, is a birdfeeder. It hangs outside my kitchen window and has quickly become the gathering spot for all the neighborhood birds and, unfortunately, the squirrels. The Man keeps saying he's going to make it so the squirrels can't get on it, but I say good luck. Last summer I had squirrels drinking upside down from my hummingbird feeder. The squirrels are ruthless and will stop at nothing. Fortunately, they're so fat they fall off from time to time, and the birds get a turn at the table.

Almost time to order seeds! Here in North Carolina, we'll start planting our spring gardens next month. Will this be the year I convince the Man to turn the front yard into a pumpkin patch? Stay tuned!

Friday, January 10, 2014

Friday Report

A little Friday humor for you.

Well, my dears, we have some very good news: my mom is in remission! No lymphoma cells in her bone marrow, no lymphoma cells anywhere.

Basically, my mom kicked cancer's butt.

Now, lymphomas are infamous for coming back, and my mom has to stay cancer-free for two years before she's considered cured. Still, you have to admit this is excellent news. Thank you for all your prayers during the last six months. They helped.

So that's a nice way to start off a Friday report, isn't it? In other nice news, it turns out that Jack, who has been living in Jack World for a long, long time, oblivious to the more practical aspects of life, is starting to pay attention.

Yesterday, for instance, I forgot to get the boys' lunches out of the fridge in the morning and put them next to their backpacks. I never forget to do this, although from time to time I almost forget, but I always catch myself and remember. Anyhoo, yesterday I forgot, and I didn't remember until 9 a.m. I was about to sit down to work, so I wasn't happy that I was going to have to drive the boys' lunches to their schools and drop them off with the school secretaries, which meant I was going to have to comb my hair and dab on some makeup and make myself presentable. Sigh.

But lo and behold, when I went to the fridge, the lunches weren't there! Had I put them in the pantry overnight by mistake? Nope. Not in the pantry, not in the mud room, not anywhere. The lunches had disappeared!

I emailed Will's homeroom teacher and asked if she'd check with him, and she emailed back ten minutes later to say Will's lunch was in his cubby and described what was in it (yogurt, grapes, goldfish) to ascertain if it was in fact today's lunch, which it was. I texted Jack, and he, too, had his lunch on the premises. So how did it get there?

The Man tried to convince me (gaslight me, more like it) that I had in fact put out the lunches and just forgotten. Not that he'd witnessed me doing so, but that had to be what had happened. It must be such a part of my routine, that I'd done it without noticing. No, I insisted, I'd remember. I would, too. But maybe I was going crazy! Maybe I was finally starting menopause. What else would explain it?

Well, what explains it is this: Jack is always last to the car, and when he went to grab his lunch, it wasn't where it usually is, so--get this--he went to the kitchen and looked for it in the fridge. Which is where it was, of course, nestled next to Will's lunch. So--get this--he grabbed his lunch AND Will's lunch. Both of them! He didn't get in the car and say, "Mom, where's my lunch?" and he didn't just grab his own lunch. Without any kind of fuss, he got his lunch AND his brother's lunch and he came out to the car and put his brother's lunch next his brother's back pack.

How do I know this? When I picked up Will, I said, "Will, how did you get your lunch today? and he answered, "Jack brought it out to the car for me."

Reader, I nearly fainted. I suppose the amount of pride I felt that my fourteen-year-old son can get his own lunch from the refrigerator and deduce that his eleven-year-old brother might also enjoy lunch today should be considered sad and pathetic, but there you have it. I am a proud mama. I am glowing with pride.


Frugality news: As discussed in my last post (and affirmed in the comments), a lot of frugality advice is not useful to the semi-frugal. But Jody led me to a blog that I think is very useful indeed. It's called Living Well, Spending Less, and I like it a lot. The writer's number one piece of advice on how to slash your grocery bill is to stock up on your frequently purchased items when they go on sale (which, she says, happens every 6-8 weeks). This is something I do sporadically, but not systematically. As it just so happens, my store is having a big two for one sale this week, and I stocked up big time.

To take advantage of this, one of my weekend projects is to take inventory of my freezer,  deep freeze, and pantry, so that I know what I have and what I need. I'd like to get to the point where there's a week at least every two months (maybe every month) where all I have to get at the store is milk and juice.

So the question for you this weekend: How long could you go without going grocery shopping? A week? Two weeks? Twenty-four hours? Do tell!

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Frugal Reading

Making my own bread to save some dough!

I've been reading books on how to live more frugally. Number one bit of advice? Stop eating out so much. Cut those restaurant bills, I'm told, and you'll save thousands.

Only, we never eat out. Or hardly ever. Okay, so cut out those weekend get-aways! Those weekly bouquets of tulips! No more bottled water! Take your lunch to work and school! Wash and reuse those baggies!

Hmmm ... I think I need I need a book on frugality for people who are already sort of frugal but spend too much on fabric and yarn and books. I suppose it would be called Stop Spending So Much Money on Fabric and Yarn and Books!

I have mixed feelings about the frugality books I'm reading. On the one hand, I appreciate the tips (some of which are actually helpful, especially when it comes to using less energy around the house). On the other hand, there's often a "holier than thou" tone I could do without (as well as the "what kind of idiot would spend money on ____" shtick that you often find in books written by men. "Yeah, we used to be chumps like you suckers," writes Mr. Cheapskate Testosterone, "and then we stopped heating our house and saved thousands each year!").

A book I was reading last night suggested I stock up on crescent rolls when they're on sale so I could make homemade desserts with them. Does layering a pan of crescent rolls with chocolate chips really constitute a homemade dessert? Maybe, but I'm a little suspicious.

I am interested to see how low I can get my weekly food bill without causing the family to revolt. I'm committed to baking more, which should go over well, and to stretching out meals (which may prove less popular). Last night we had beef and noodle soup made from leftovers from the bottom roast we ate the night before. It was a three pound roast I'm determined to stretch out into at least three meals, possible four (though not in a row).

Other frugal reading? My credit card bill. I'm fairly good about scanning it from time to time online to make sure there's no suspicious activity (both the Man and my dad have had their accounts hacked). But now I'm determined to check daily. On Friday, a mysterious $46 charge showed up. After some sleuthing, I determined it was an automatic renewal for a quilt magazine subscription I'd given to my mom for Christmas 2012 (at a much lower rate, I might add).

I called the subscription agency and had a frustrating conversation with a computer, who spent a good three minutes trying to entice me to continue with the subscription (which my mom no longer wanted, by the way). Finally, I got it through the computer's thick head that I wanted no great deals, no free issues, nothing. By the end of the conversation I was yelling, "No! No! No! Just cancel it!"  Finally, sounding very sad about it, the computer promised to cancel the subscription.

So $46 that might have very well slipped under my radar has been saved! The trick now is to not spend it.

Back to the books. More soon!

Saturday, January 4, 2014


Money-making project: Build bee motels and sell them on Etsy!

On Thursday, I sat down with a notebook and went month by month through my bills from 2013. One of my goals for this year is to get a handle on my spending. I want to end 2014 with zero credit card debt and a notable increase in my savings account. That certainly didn't happen this year--why not?

The $14 purchase is why not. $14 doesn't seem like all that much, does it?  $14 for fabric or sewing notions, $14 for a skein of sock yarn, $14 for a book.

But if you spend $14 often enough, it adds up to a lot of money. I will not reveal here how much money I spent on fabric and other craft supplies in 2013, but the sum is appalling--and about twice as much as I would have guessed. Twice as much! The funny thing is, it's not the big cash outputs that were the problem. They happened once or twice a year, and I was very conscious of them.

No, it was the little dribs and drabs that did me in. The fat quarter cut of fabric. The used book from The fact is, I have nickled and dimed myself into a budget crisis.

So yesterday, after writing down all the numbers, adding them up, and nearly fainting when I saw the results, I came up with a budget. A real budget--not the imaginary budget in my head that I'd been sure I was sticking to. A budget that requires I write down every purchase I make and subtract it from my monthly allowance. A budget that allows for fabric purchases, but insists that I shop my own stash of fabric first. A budget that tsk tsks at the very thought of idly tossing a magazine in my shopping cart as I wait in the checkout line. A budget that insists I go to the library instead of the bookstore.

When I realized what I actually spent each month, well, it was sort of embarrassing. It's like that moment you step on the scale and realize you've gained twenty pounds. You have no idea how you gained twenty pounds. It's not like you eat cake and ice cream every night. In fact, you thought you'd been cutting back.

But when you finally look at reality--how much you really spend, how much you really eat/smoke/drink/live on the Internet--it's also incredibly liberating. Now you know the truth and can do something about it.

I hope to blog more this year--I'm shooting for twice a week--and will keep you updated on my new frugality. I plan not only to spend less, but to earn more, mostly by teaching, but by selling as well. I'll share my experiments with making my own dish detergent and cleaning supplies. I'll give breathless accounts of my experiences with getting books through inter-library loans. You will be riveted, I promise.

Do you have plans for a more frugal 2014? Please share!

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

2014: The Year of the Bean

This summer I grew black beans in my garden. The pods turned magenta as they ripen and provided about as much beauty as you could ask for from a bean. I didn't plant my beans until later in the summer, and only got a couple pounds worth, but what beans they were! We ate a whole bunch of them tonight in a wonderful black bean soup, and they were marvelous.

I love beans. We didn't eat them growing up, not the dried kind you have to soak overnight, or really any kind other than green beans and baked beans on the 4th of July. When I discovered my first bean eaters in grad school, I was a little dubious. I did not find their black bean stews visually appealing. But after my first bowl of black beans and rice, I was hooked.

As I plan my spring garden, I will make plenty of room for beans. I want to grow beans that you can't find in the store--cranberry beans and scarlet runner beans and rattlesnake beans. There is something so satisfying about growing your own gorgeous protein and then eating it in a soup on New Year's Day. Very fine.


Christmas has come and gone. It was good, it was fine. I don't love Christmas, except for the part where I get to spend long stretches reading new books. There's too much work involved, too much money spent. I took a lot of notes in my Christmas notebook and most of them have to do with not getting so much next year--food, gifts, wrapping paper. Scale it back.

My two favorite parts of Christmas: 1) The Christmas Eve service we attended at the church up the street (the one where we spent so much on pumpkins earlier this fall), which was lovely and peaceful, and 2) The Christmas quilt I made, my first big applique project. Wanna see?

I wish the picture were better. I think if you click on it, you can make out some of the details. It was like putting together a puzzle. I see much more applique in my future.


Yesterday I went to the side yard with a saw in my hand and started pruning the fig trees. We have two enormous figs that we have not pruned an several years, and they've grown up to the second floor windows. We talked about hiring someone to prune them, but I decided that I should at least give it a try before shelling out any money.

Reader, I felt like Pa Ingalls out there. I can't think of the last time I sawed anything, but honey I went to town on those trees. It was hard work (I need to invest in a pruning saw, methinks), but so satisfying! And now I'm thinking I can take on the scraggily trees in our front yard, the ones we want to get out of the way so that Will can play football with his friends there. I think I can clear out the underbrush (now that the snakes are gone) and take care of business.

I had no idea I could cut down stuff all by myself. I feel like a new woman. That's a nice way to feel on New Year's Day. Who knows what else I might accomplish? The mind boggles, doesn't it?