» Archive for the 'Frugality' Category

Things I worry about less as I age: Bravado

Tuesday, June 16th, 2009 by kara

So our gutters are clogged up (again) and my wonderful husband was about to climb up there and dig them out last Saturday.  He was going to do this hisself because we are underemployed right now, and cannot afford to hire someone to come and do for us.  He was hesitant about getting up on the ladder, so I went to exchange my faux-Crocs for actual, lace-up shoes and climb up myself.

Doesn’t sound like such a big deal, does it?  Just climb on up there and use the garden trowel and the hose to show those downspouts who’s boss.  And I’m way shorter than he is, so I’m naturally more nimble.  Well, it’s not all that simple. Ya gotta see our house.  We have a ranch-type house, which is actually a bi-level.

This means that one end of the house looks like a plain old ranch which is kind of built into a slope, and the other end of the house looks like a two-story home.  We have a six-foot folding ladder which we set up on the back deck, that allows us to reach the roof on that side of the house.  This does NOT, however, protect us from falling arse-over-teakettle off the opposite end of the roof, which boasts almost a 20-foot-drop to the hard-packed clay of our Tennessee yard.  Or to the unforgiving cement of our driveway.

And of course the downspouts that are clogged are the ones at the high end of the roof.  For Pete’s sake, there is a BIRD’S NEST on one of the downspouts at the high end, and I worry about the baby birds leaving the nest prematurely and splatting in the yard!  This is quite an unforgiving height, people!

I got to the top of ladder, had my palms touching the shingles, and then I looked off to my left, toward the high end of the roof.  I saw that drop, almost as if for the first time, and I contemplated the consequences of falling off that end of the roof and landing with an ominous thud sound on that hard-packed clay ground.  It struck me that if one of us fell off that end of the roof, that it would undoubtedly mean hospital time.  SERIOUS hospital time, if not actual death, or worse.

Keep in mind that in my earlier days, I was very adventurous and somewhat athletic.  I mountain biked, played softball, Rollerbladed, and in my spare time I served two communities as a volunteer firefighter.  In that capacity I did many silly things, including capering about on the roofs of peoples’ houses, and I did them with alacrity.  I’m not certain why I was so foolhardy back then.  Part of that bravado can be attributed to indestructible, fast-healing youth, part of it to not wanting to be seen as weak by the people around me.

And I can now acknowledge that I did have a delusional trust in my turn-out gear’s ability to protect me from any and all harm, although that might have been a tad naive:  I’m not certain how steel-shanked rubber boots and a fire helmet could protect me in the event of a 12-foot fall, but then again I never devoted a lot of thought to that potentiality.  I only knew that if I followed procedure and wore my equipment properly, that nothing bad would ever happen to me, ever!

Yep, I was delusional.

When I was a firefigher, I was much younger and therefore capable of withstanding more damage and healing more rapidly.  I was also covered by health insurance courtesy of my full-time jobs and the fire departments.  So just in case something awful DID happen to me, I wouldn’t have to worry about whether I’d have to try to walk off a 12-foot-drop from a steeply-pitched roof rather than go to the emergency room.

There was a combination of powerful forces influencing my decision last Saturday:  1.) I’m older and don’t bounce as well as I used to, so there’s a good chance of me being seriously injured, and 2.) I’m uninsured now, which means that I have to be careful about treating an embedded splinter with respect in order to avoid huge medical bills–much less DOING SOMETHING STUPID LIKE CLIMBING UP ON A ROOF TO CLEAN THE DAMNED GUTTERS.  Plus, I am a tad older now, and my flexibility, strength and reaction time is just a bit ‘lesser’ than it was at my peak.  I really shouldn’t be tempting fate.

I rationalized this all out and convinced myself I was being sensible and careful by forbidding Rick to go up on the roof, and declining to climb up there myself.  But there was still that little, smirky voice in the back of my head whispering “Chickenshit.”  The bullheaded, stubborn part of me wanted to push through this fear.  Even today, the bullhead still wants me to put some long pants and tie a long rope around my waist and drop it over the ridge vent to tie to the truck bumper in the driveway, and get this shite done.  And the chickenshit part of me says “Don’t be stupid.  Let it go.”

So I’m gonna just let it go.  The gutters can overflow until we can afford to hire someone to come and clean them out for us.  Now all I have to do is get over the shame of being chickenshit scairt.  But being chickenshit scairt and in one piece is better than being broken, or dead.

Recession drives people back to their basest behavior

Saturday, March 21st, 2009 by kara

So my wonderful friend Dannette and I are of “a particular size” which we don’t want to maintain.  This size also makes it difficult for us to find clothes.  So we usually buy ONE pair of pants in this size which fit and flatter us, and insist that we’re going to lose all the excess weight, and hold ourselves hostage to this ideal by not buying any more clothes until we reach the desired size.

Unfortunately, the recession is hitting everyone hard now, and we’re all afraid to buy anything at all, which of course is perpetuating the damned recession…which would seem to be irrelevant to this topic, BUT IT’S NOT.  Stay with me for a moment.

Dannette lives in a very nice apartment building in Tucson, AZ, which boasts its own coin-operated laundry room.  She and I both are very conscientious about keeping track of our time in the washers and dryers when we use a communal laundry room, and although we will leave our laundry there while the cycles complete, we’re very prompt about returning at the end of the cycle to collect our laundry and free up the machine for the next user.

She did that last week, and was shocked and ticked off to find that two of her loads of laundry had been rifled through and plundered–someone had stolen her new capri pants and a blanket belonging to her dog, Zoe.  She said it had to have been someone intent on larceny because the pants and blanket were in two separate dryers.

“I can’t believe that someone actually stole my pants!”  she exclaimed.  “That’s so awful!  Honestly, if I see someone around the complex wearing, I think I’m going to rip them off of them right where they’re standing!”

The worst part of this is that the capris were in stock in many stores just a few weeks ago–and now all the stores are out of them in Dannette’s size.

“I’ve been to five stores looking for these pants, and how pissed am I that I have to buy another pair, anyway?!  But I can’t even FIND another pair of them anywhere!”

And how creepy is it that someone actually had enough GUTS to stand there in front of the dryers occupied by someone else’s laundry and sort through the contents to find something they wanted?  It’s not like a resale shop–you’re invading someone else’s privacy when you go through their laundry like that.  Just…creepy.  And weird.  I can only imagine that this sort of behavior is due to the recession–instead of going shoplifting in a store, you hang out in the laundryroom and pilfer someone else’s clothes?  Maybe you’re saving gas money by stealing close to home??

Budget cell phones and technofear

Tuesday, January 13th, 2009 by kara

So you’ll recall that my Wonderful Pumpkin got laid off from his job last Thursday, and along with the paycheck, health insurance, and company PowerBook, he lost his cellular phones. Not just one, but two: A Crackberry and an iPhone.

Heh! I just thought about the title of my last post, “From two incomes to none” and realized that THIS post could be called “From two phones to none” as well! Aren’t I a card?

Anyway. Rick went to drop off some paperwork today and do some banking, and I realized after he left that I had no way to contact him when he was away from the homestead. No cell phone, no pager, nuttin’. And before you ask, no, we haven’t kept any of our old cell phones–we just a few months ago donated the old ones (the remaining phones that I haven’t destroyed) to charity. Isn’t that timely of us??!

So today we went in search of a cell phone for the Pumpkin. He’d LIKE an iPhone. Well, I’d LIKE to have a pony, and a Jeep Wrangler, and an ofume bathtub–but we can’t afford any of the above just now. We popped into a local AT&T store, because my cell phone is through them and we thought we could pick up a (free) bare-bones phone for Rick and add a line onto my account. Simple and low-cost, right?

Yeeeaaah. The guy at the store told us there really aren’t any free phones anymore. The very CHEAPEST phone we could get Rick (from the store) was $100, before tax. And it was NOT a great phone. I thought “Heck, if we’re gonna drop a hundred clams on a cell phone, why not drop two hundred clams and get him what he wants?”

I said that, and his eyes lit up, but then adulthood caught up with enthusiasm, and we agreed that we really couldn’t spend that much money on a cell phone. We decided to go home and noodle on it a bit. And search the web for cheaper alternatives.

We looked, and Rick tried to find an inexpensive phone that would also sync with his Macintosh, while I checked into pay-as-you-go phones from Target. As we looked, I commented it would be pretty ironic to get him all set up with a new phone and a new number on my account, and then for him to find a job at which they PROVIDE him a cell phone. He said “Then I could give YOU my iPhone!”

Dear Readers, you must understand that I do not need (or even really want) an iPhone that badly. I am very happy with my Motorola SLVR. I know how to enter phone numbers quickly into the address book, I can make my own ring tones and transfer them with a minimum of fuss (here’s one of my favorites) and I’ve learned the phone’s OS pretty thoroughly. My SLVR has survived several violent trips to the sidewalk/asphalt/tile as well as a dip into the (as-yet-unused) toilet, and has outlasted even a custom-made Vaja case. It has endeared me with its stoic nature. It is my electronic hero.

Plus, I fear that my reluctance to part from the familiar SLVR means that I have outgrown my nascent geekdom and become my mother. My darling mother, Norma, had a negative technological capacity–if we (her children) changed her radio from AM to FM to listen to rock & roll radio stations while we did dishes at night, she couldn’t figure out how to get it back on AM the next morning so that she could listen to the local news on WHAK (Radio 960 AM in Rogers City, MI, if you’re curious). We explained numerous times, but she never ‘remembered’ how to do it.

The clock in her car was always off, too. In order to find out what time it actually was, you had to know the algorithm that was currently in effect. One afternoon I checked the time in her car and said “No WAY is it already 10 minutes after five!” And she said “Well, of course not–it’s only 2:17.” I turned to look at her and said “Where did you get THAT from? Shadows on the ground? An invisible sundial? A little time-telling gnome that’s living in your earring??”

And she explained that the last time she tried to change the clock to the accurate time, she accidentally put the hour forward two instead of back one, and set the minutes seven too far in advance, and she didn’t feel like messing around with it any more at that point, so she just remembered how far off the time was and applied that formula with those variables every time she checked the clock. Er…wouldn’t it be easier just to figure out how to set the damn thing correctly?

Where things got cagey was when Daylight Savings Time ended or began, and she’d have to remember if she were adding or subtracting hours and if so, how many. Sometimes, in the spirit of making a fresh start for the new season, she’d try setting the clock again–and then she’d end up having to remember a new set of variables for the time formula. I’d like to think it kept her mind young, like doing crossword puzzles and word searches.

Anyhoodle. I feared I was becoming like my mother when I began to eschew technology. A few years back, when camera phones became popular, I found that I had a strong prejudice against them. Same for organisers that were supposed to do triple duty as your digital camera/videocam, and your telephone, too. NO. I want my Palm Pilot to do only planning, my telephone to be a telephone, and my digital camera to take pictures–and that’s IT. What if I were on the phone with someone and wanted to check my calendar and make an appointment? How embarrassing would it be to put someone on hold to find a telephone number or set an appointment time, and inadvertently hang up on them? And God forbid if I were driving or carrying grocery bags or doing anything else at the same time. If you have something that does everything, does it do any of those things WELL?

I told my sister Mary about the Jitterbug, a basic cellphone that’s aimed at senior citizens. It even offers a DIAL TONE. Isn’t that quaint? I thought it was a great idea, particularly for people like me who don’t want or need texting capability or camera phones or streaming video. She agreed. It’s official, I am a technophobe. Or at least, I don’t covet technology the way I used to just a few years ago. Or maybe I should sign up for a revival of The Golden Girls.

That’s why getting an iPhone isn’t the end-all, be-all for me. I just wanted to get Rick a PHONE, so I could call him if necessary, rather than setting a piece of furniture on fire and sending smoke signals from the front porch. I understand that he’s still in love (lust?) with technology, and I’d love for him to get an iPhone for his own self, but that will have to wait for a little while.

Fortunately, I’d sent out a plea to my Freecycle brothers and sisters here in Knoxville, and tonight a wonderful woman replied with an offer of two AT&T cell phones which she and her husband no longer use. We can just buy a SIM card for Rick and add a line to my account, and he’ll have a cellphone in case I flip out and need to hear his voice when he’s away from me. 🙂

From two incomes to none

Saturday, January 10th, 2009 by kara

Two years ago, we were a two-income family, able to make two housing payments and support two separate households. Yesterday, we went from being a one-income family to a no-income family. My husband, my Wonderful Pumpkin, got laid off from his job at a local company which I won’t name.

I know we’re not alone in this state of being. Lots of other people are either jobless, or dreading the possibility of being jobless in the near future. This jobless state of being is scary for us, as we’ve never been both of us unemployed at the same time. As so many other newly-unemployed people, we are not completely prepared for this. We have been trying to live as frugally as possible for a year now, especially since I’ve been unemployed as of our move to Knoxville. At the same time, we’re working to pay off our unsecured loans (credit cards, signature loans, etc.) so we can eventually live off of cash and not rely on credit cards to pay for things like car repairs and other emergencies. That paying-off-debt thing has been going pretty slowly, especially when we’re trying to live off just one income, but we were managing.

When we were living and working back in the Ann Arbor area, we both had full-time jobs, and my salary was roughly half of what my husband was earning. So while I wasn’t making a lot of money, we still enjoyed a healthy household income. And yeah, THAT’S the time when we SHOULD have been living frugally and trying to pay off our unsecured debts–NOT when we transitioned to being a single pay source family.

And before you say it, I know that I’m a lazyass and that I should have been working at least part-time ever since I joined my husband here in Knoxville. But I’ve been enjoying the freedom to hang with our dogs and work for local dog rescues, and since that’s a value that my husband and I share, I’ve rationalized that this worthwhile work is a fair exchange for a paycheck.

Down here, there’s no chance of me being able to earn what I was making up in Ann Arbor, when I was working as a technical support representative for a company which wrote software for newspapers that ran primarily on the Macintosh OS platform. In the first place, I’d been at my former job for almost eight years, and even though I didn’t have a degree or certificate in my field of employment, I knew my job and did it well. I was self-taught in using and troubleshooting problems with Macs, so much so that I earned a spot as one of the MacSpecialists for the August, 2002 grand opening of Michigan’s very first Apple Store, at Twelve Oaks Mall in Novi.

That’s a point of pride for me, if you hadn’t noticed. There were MANY people who were interested in those positions, and I don’t recall exactly how many applicants I competed against, but I do remember there were thousands. THOUSANDS. :::grinning foolishly::: Some will say that I’m a member of the Cult of Macintosh, and that my knowledge of and devotion to the brand is obsessive and therefore not a true accomplishment, but I put a lot of brainwork into getting and keeping that job. And I’ll always look back at my time at The Apple Store with pride.

Down here, not only are the jobs paying less, but there are fewer jobs in my line of work experience–and there are certainly no Macintosh-only software houses who are looking for technical support representatives. My associate of applied science degree, completed two years after my high-school graduation, is in graphic arts technology, and almost all the printing techniques I learned then are quite literally considered antique in today’s world. So we can consider THAT pretty much useless.

At my current level of (irrelevant) education, the best employment I can hope for is probably a retail sales job at which I can make $8.50 an hour–and that’s NOT gonna carry us through, so I should be worrying.

Strangely enough, though, actually hearing the news that my fabulous man was one of the people targeted for the cut was more of a relief than anything. I can say that with certainty for myself, at least. I can’t really speak for Rick, but I think he’s feeling a little bit of relief that this is finally all over.

You see, the company at which Rick worked has been suffering the effects of a tanking economy for the past year. They started making changes to employee benefits and planning personnel cuts back in July 2008 to try to head off the worst of their current financial dry spell. When those initial cuts didn’t work, they began planning more personnel cuts, and rumor has been running rampant about the company’s closing ever since then. We’ve been living in a constant state of low-level panic since summertime, and I think that’s taken its toll on our emotional and physiological well-being.

So while it was devastating to us both to hear that my husband lost his job yesterday, there was also a huge component of relief in finally receiving that news. At last, we knew for certain. No more waiting and wondering, no more “not today, but maybe next week” rumors of layoffs…

First thing Rick said to me yesterday (via instant message) when he “pulled the short straw” was “I’m sorry baby.” I don’t want him to feel like this is his fault–it’s so NOT his fault. I wish you all knew my husband. He’s scary-smart, responsible, loyal, super-dedicated, and hellishly driven to perform his job well. He’s one of the most conscientious people I know, and he feels responsible for every body and everything. So how did the two of us hook up? Heck if I know…probably the Big Guy in the Sky is sitting on his Heavenly Throne with a pen in his hand, making tics in the column titled “Kara Really Owes Me.”

So now we’re both looking for employment. I’m hoping and praying that we don’t have to relocate in order for Rick to find another job, because we’d end up taking another sizable financial loss on the sale of this house, just like we did on the sale of our home in Michigan. (That was the first time I’d ever heard of the SELLERS taking an $8,000 check to closing, but that’s another story.)

I’m still hopeful, though. I’m hoping that Rick will be able to find another job that will allow us to keep this house and buy dog food for the furkids, and maybe THIS job will be closer to what he really wants to do (be an astrophysicist) as well. Maybe I’ll find the one job in all of Knox County that requires me to be familiar with Macintosh computers as well as string words together into (semi)coherent sentences.

Maybe we’ll win the PowerBall lottery. Maybe golden monkeys wearing stocking caps will fly outta my butt. Any of those above scenarios will warrant an note here, folks, so stay tuned. And for everyone else out of work now, hang tough–it will all get better someday.

Why aren’t there coupons at Christmas?

Wednesday, December 31st, 2008 by kara

Lately I’ve been clipping, saving, and using coupons in order to stretch our household dollar. I use a plastic coupon wallet which is carefully divided into different types of grocery store products, and it’s populated with coupons (of course) and a darling little coupon trimmer made by Franklin (which gives you a good idea how old it is, Franklin is now Franklin-Covey), a nicely-functional pen and of course coupons.

I misplace my coupon wallet occasionally, which is really frustrating but understandable because it’s too large to fit into my purse. So at the end of a shopping trip I usually toss it in on top of the groceries in one of the sacks for the trek into the house. Sometimes, though, the wallet falls out of the sack inside the car and ends up underneath the seat, or I leave it in the cart…well, THAT only happened ONCE and I realized it before I even got in the car. Whew. That was close.

The last time I truly misplaced it, I actually lost out on a free sweatshirt from Quik–I had saved all but one proof of purchase to mail in for a free Nestlé Quik hoodie, and I lost the damned coupon wallet. Couldn’t find it anywhere. I actually went to Target and Kroger, the two stores which I frequent, to ask if anyone had found it in a cart and turned it in to lost & found. Nothing.

I harassed my sister Mary up in Michigan, because she’d been visiting us around the time I misplaced the wallet, and I hoped that she’d remember the last time I had the wallet. I must have asked her about it at least 50 times, trying to jog her memory to see if she recalled its last sighting.

I tore the damned house apart, all the while visualizing that hoodie fading away from me like a foggy vision torn apart by the breeze. Grrrr. I HATE losing out on a deal, especially one I’d worked so hard for! I bought those bottles of Quik with coupons, and it took quite a while to collect enough coupons to buy all the necessary bottles at a discount. So there was quite a lot of time and energy that had already been invested into this hoodie.

I went through my entire car and trunk multiple times, stopping short at pulling up the carpeting, because let’s face it–it would show if it had worked its way underneath the carpet and I just didn’t see any telltale lumps.

After a few weeks I bit the bullet and bought a new coupon wallet, exactly like the first one–except this one was cobalt blue and clear, not pink and clear. I began repopulating my new wallet with coupons, and it took a little while but I finally got my coupon stash back to its usual population.

And then for some reason I was in my hubby’s truck and poking around in the armrest/console storage thingie, and THERE WAS MY COUPON WALLET. With my coupon trimmer, my nice, smooth-writing pen, all those Quik proofs-o-purchase, and my shopping list from five weeks ago. I was so happy! And then I was so angry! Because guess what the date was! It was THREE DAYS PAST THE DEADLINE TO MAIL IN THE DAMNED QUIK SWEATSHIRT OFFER.

Mary said “Go ahead and mail it in anyway–it’s not that far past the deadline. I’ll bet they honor it!” So I wrote out the check for postage and handling and tucked it in the mail. I wasn’t very optimistic, but it was a very cool sweatshirt, and Rick really likes Quik.

Six weeks passed and I was starting to feel kind of optimistic about the sweatshirt, because how long would it take them to tell me to “Stuff it! You’re past the deadline, lady! No sweatshirt for YOU!” So they MUST be packaging up my X-Lg Sweatshirt and mailing it out to me!

The next day, I got back my original envelope, marked “Return to Sender–No such address.” So they must have rented that post office box just until the offer’s deadline. But WHY did it take the USPS so long to return my envelope, then?

*Sigh* Yes, I really need to find a hobby.

Getting back to my original topic, which is losing my coupon wallet. I’ve done it again, lost the wallet, can’t find it in any of the expected places. There wasn’t anything as time-critical in there as the Quik proofs of purchase this time, but I did have some Ball Park Frank coupons for the Black Angus dogs, which are NOT to be missed! These things are the Cadillac of hot dogs! Mmmm…black angus…

So after a couple weeks of pissing and moaning, I got out the old pink and clear plastic backup wallet and prepared to start building up my coupon library again. But I didn’t count on it being Christmas season. Apparently retailers think that consumers are so busy buying Christmas gifts that they STOP USING things like shampoo and toilet paper and dishwasher detergent until after New Year’s Day.

I’m here to tell ya that ain’t so. The coupon pickings have been mighty slim over the past few weeks, and I’m feeling like I’m missing a limb when I comb through the sales papers on Sunday. I try not to buy something until it’s on sale AND I have a coupon for it, which means that my grocery list is composed with careful timing. I try to have a backup toothpaste or antiperspirant before we run out, but I have to make sure that I’ve purchased that backup as frugally as possible.

Anyway. If you’re a shopper in the Knoxville area, and you’ve come across a cobalt blue and clear plastic coupon wallet in the basket of your cart, treat it with love. You’ll need to sort through the coupons to get rid of those that have already expired, and the coupon trimmer is pretty much worn out by now–I’ve just kept it as a mement0, really. Enjoy, and may it fill your Sundays with coupon obsession just like it did mine.

Detergent deal and a sad commentary on my life

Tuesday, December 30th, 2008 by kara

Yesterday I went to Big Lots on Kingston Pike here in Knoxville, to stock up on household stuff and health and beauty supplies. I’ve found lots of really good deals at Big Lots, but you’ve got to keep an eye on the prices: For example, a 64-ounce bottle of a brand-name liquid hand soap (all right, I know you can probably guess what brand it is, but still) was FIVE BUCKS, and I know that I can get that same size, same brand soap at Target for $4.64.

I also can get the Target brand soap (same size, same scent) for $3.05, I think–which means I don’t buy the brand-name hand soap refill at all anymore–unless it’s on sale and I have a great coupon.

Since we’re now a one-income family, I’ve made it a priority to try to get the most mileage out of each dollar possible. It’s kind of a game to me to see how much money I can shave off the grocery bill by combining coupons with sales or buying store-brands over national brands, and some days I hit a home run, which is gratifying. Other days I lose coupons and forget which store has the sale and that’s a downer, but suffice it to say that I enjoy challenging myself.

One of the cost-cutting measures I’ve made in the past year has been to change my laundry detergent from Method to Purex. I looooooooove Method’s Fresh Air scent–it’s so very clean, and I personally think the detergent does a great job, especially on whites. And it’s very concentrated, which means that even the 64-load bottle is teeny–but that shizznat’s EXPENSIVE compared to Purex: At Target, the 64-load bottle is $14.99. Before the summer gas-price debacle, I used to could get a 32-load bottle of Purex for $2.34 on sale, with even more savings if I had a coupon for it.

I don’t see coupons for Method brand products very often. 🙁

So, as much as I love the Method detergent, I couldn’t accept the price difference per load: Twenty-three cents per load for Method, compared to SEVEN cents per load for the Purex. Scent and other aesthetics are ludicrously important to me, but so’s money. I bit the bullet and continued to buy the Purex.

Fast-forward to last night, and my quest for household staples. I didn’t really expect to find laundry detergent at Big Lots but I thought I’d look anyway. Since I’ve misplaced my coupon wallet (AGAIN, dammit) I didn’t have any coupons for detergent (which brings up another question regarding why there are no COUPONS in the paper around Christmastime, but I digress), so I wasn’t bound to purchase any particular brand.

I saw an endcap for a big bottle of a national-brand detergent with a smaller sample bottle of liquid fabric softener cello’d to it but I passed that up because I don’t use liquid softener. And then! Lo! Behold! I turned the corner and was greeted by rows of the sweet, petite, curvy Method detergent bottle! Thrity-two ounces of household bliss for only $4! O, joy! O happy day!

Well, it wasn’t Fresh Air scent, it was Sweet Water, Method’s signature scent,but still! I like Sweet Water, too! I put four bottles in the cart and felt that I should have taken more whilst I could lay hands on it, but that might have felt like I was obsessed.

I was mentally rubbing my hands together and chuckling all the way home (I’m telling you, scent is VERY important to me, and I love doing laundry with a lovely detergent!). When I got in the door, I couldn’t WAIT to tell the Pumpkin about my find! I must have looked like a junkie coming home with a badly-needed fix. I explained about the price difference and how that prevented me from using this wonderful detergent and my eyes glittered as I toted the liquid gold to the laundry room.

And the Wonderful Pumpkin suggested that I check the other Big Lots in the area to see if they maybe had this same detergent, but in the Fresh Air scent. I love him so. He completely understands me.

But in the midst of my rush of joy, I realized that I was all ecstatic about laundry detergent. LAUNDRY DETERGENT. How shallow is my life that something as mundane as a sale on laundry detergent can elevate me to ecstasy? :::groan::: I have REALLY got to find a job or do something to broaden my world a little more.

I’ve decided I will go back and buy more today. It really is an excellent bargain for an outstanding laundry detergent. I’m just a little abashed that I was going to approach this with the same verve which I might have used in my youth to pursue INXS concert tickets. Sad, sad, sad.

Missing family and being away for the holidays

Monday, December 22nd, 2008 by kara

It just doesn’t feel like Christmas for us, at all. I don’t think that will change, especially since we’ve only got a couple of days before Christmas is all over us. I think the worst part is the fact that we’re going to be away from our family and friends for the second year in a row. Last year at Thanksgiving and Christmas, we had just finished buying our house here in Knoxville, and we were still getting settled, as well as being VERY short of money; it was a given that we’d tough out the holidays being apart from everybody.

This year, however, is going to be the second consecutive year we’ve spent away, which we didn’t really plan on doing. We’re staying home and being particularly careful with money because we’re faced with the possibility that Rick may lose his job. His company has kept him and his co-workers in suspense since about mid-October with several sizable layoffs, restructuring and rumors of the company folding, and I’m here to tell you that this protracted mindfuckery is torturous. Are they trying to wear most of their employees down and make them find employment elsewhere? That would certainly cut down on the number of severance packages they’d have to fund.

And while my hubby is a sterling, valuable employee who brings home the bacon with startling regularity, I am not half as valuable as is he. I don’t have a usable college degree, and the last eight years of my work experience consist of technical support for outdated computer software on an operating system platform which holds less than 25% of the commercial and business marketplace. So it’s a good bet that I’M not going to be able to find a job (or even three or four jobs) making what Rick makes. In the time we’ve lived here, I’ve become very active in dog rescue instead of being employed for a paycheck, and that’s very rewarding to me personally. Rick agrees that this is important work, and he’s glad that I’m able to do it as well as spend much of the day at home with our own dogs–but let’s face it, rescue really don’t pay well. Scratch that–it don’t pay AT ALL, and that’s not helping us to pay the heating bill and buy prescription kibble for the dogs.

So due to our lack of funds, we’re staying home THIS year as well. And we’re not buying presents because we may not have any income after December, so we’re triply knocked out of the holiday spirit. Even the most basic of holiday activities, sending Christmas cards and baking cookies, has no appeal for me right now.

I’m not adjusting well to being away from our family and friends. I really, really, really miss everyone, much more than I thought I would, and especially around this time of year. And with the gas prices and the precariousness of our employment situation down here, we haven’t made it home as often as we thought we would, which makes Tennessee feel even further from Michigan.

And today we got bad news about Rick’s grandpa–his blood pressure and heart rate dropped precipitously this morning, landing him in the intensive care unit with plans to install a pacemaker. Rick’s grandpa has been through a lot of different trials in his life and he’s had some health issues recently, so we were very concerned. Very fortunately, his pacemaker installation went well and he’s now in a regular hospital room instead of in the ICU, but this just underscores the need for us to plan a visit home, soon. We’ve been away too long without a visit. It won’t be in time for Christmas, but we’ll make it home to see everyone sooner than later.

Recycling, of a sort

Sunday, November 23rd, 2008 by kara

So Jes and I were just talking about where we get all our useful information these days (why, the interwebz, o’ course) and she asked a rhetorical question: “Who uses a telephone book anymore these days?” And I said “I use mine. The thick ones. I’ve stacked them up to make an elevated water bowl stand for the kids (dogs).”

And when we get the new ones, I’ll get fancy and tape them together with strapping tape, and wrap them in a piece of old vinyl tablecloth to keep them nice & dry. Sooo, it’s kind of sort of recycling, because I wouldn’t be using the phone books any other way.  And it’s being frugal because I won’t have to go spend money on an elevated watering bowl for the dogs–I’m just using what I have here at the house. (Always, Gentle Readers, always keep packing tape on hand in your household.  The uses are myriad.)

My next question would be “does this count as being a craft project?”  I guess it could, if I used a really nice vinyl tablecloth…

Cake/brownie mixes and baking bread from scratch

Wednesday, November 19th, 2008 by kara

Just put a pan of brownies into the oven for my Pumpkin. I used a *mix* and I feel kind of dirty about it…after all, it’s JUST brownies. I could probably have done this from scratch. But it’s so QUICK to just be able to open the box, crack the eggs and measure the water and oil…and they smell so goooood while they’re baking…

What say you, Gentle Reader? Are mixes a sop to convenience and thusly the Devil? Or are they valid shortcuts for busy people who don’t need to prove their culinary capability by cooking from scratch?

I thought that I should also be able to bake bread from scratch, too. Bread is SIMPLE. The staff of life, the basis for many different meals and foods. Flour, water, sugar, salt, yeast. Can’t get much simpler than that…but I’ve tried making bread at various times in my life, with varying degrees of failure.

Recently we’ve been trying to spend as little money as possible in preparation for a possible financial Armageddon. As a result I’ve been trying to make as much food as possible from scratch. Prepared foods are expensive and don’t always contain wholesome ingredients, especially commercially produced bread. And now that I have nothing but time, I feel that I should be doing something productive with it.

Cookies are simple for me. I can make a yummy, lovely cookie out of just about anything. Soups, stews, meals from scratch are pretty easy too. Yeast breads are a different story, however. I found a really good recipe for homemade frozen biscuit dough over at http://www.hillbillyhousewife.com/paulasbiscuits.htm , and had reasonable success with edible biscuits using Susanne’s friend Paula’s recipe, but for the most part, the mysteries of yeast-risen white bread have eluded me since the beginning of my cooking career.

I have tried repeatedly, sometimes using the same recipe over and over again, sometimes using a new recipe. But I have been successful in making nothing more than an almost inedibly hard, poorly risen loaf. Each time. I call it “The Breadbrick” because it’s not so much a loaf as it is a brick of very dense bread. It’s probably more suited to being used as a building material.

I may decide to patent the process if I can figure out what I’m doing wrong so that others can follow my lead. Then millions of people can produce their own “Breadbrick(TM),” the portable snack that can also be used as a personal protection device. Keep the Breadbrick(TM) in your purse, and you can nibble on a corner before going in to do your grocery shopping, and if someone tries to take your purse on the way in to the store, you can clonk them on the head with the Breadbrick(TM) and knock them out.

And I KNOW that my bread is less-than-pleasing. My wonderful husband told me the other day “I love bread…and I love the bread that YOU make, too.” Which I interpreted as “I love the stuff that you make that’s SUPPOSED to be bread, because I love you and everything you do for me.”

*Sigh* I owe the man a loaf of pliable, slice-able, honest-to-goodness bread.

It’s just BREAD, for chrissake. I should be able to do this successfully. I’m full of hope at the beginning of every batch, and the house smells wonderful with the proofing dough poofing out its yeasty goodness into the air. And the smell of baking bread? The only smell better than bread baking is toast toasting.

But my failures are wearing me down. Each stiff, compact loaf I produce wounds my soul. I MUST bake a comely loaf of bread! I’m at the point where it’s not even a QUEST any more, it’s my OBSESSION to make an appealing loaf of plain ol’ white bread from scratch. I was pissing and moaning to Jes about it the other day (really, WHY does that woman still listen to me? All I ever do is complain to her!) and she found a great website that describes the breadmaking process in detail: http://www.thefreshloaf.com/lessons/yourfirstloaf .

After poring through the incredibly detailed descriptions and helpful video here, I think I’ve figured out what I’m doing wrong. I believe I’m putting too much flour in while kneading the dough, which would make the dough stiff and dry. I’ve been letting the dough rise (or proof) in my wall-mounted microwave, because I noticed that it’s quite warm inside when I turn on the worklight underneath. Maybe it’s TOO warm for the final proof, causing the bread to collapse in on itself when it goes into the oven, so I’ll try doing the final proof on top of my stove or inside the oven itself. I have made yeast-risen French bread successfully many times in the past, and the main difference between the two processes is that the French bread does its final proof on baking sheets on top of the stove, because the sheets are too big to go back into the microwave.

I’ll try it again and let you know. Hopefully this attempt won’t be another epic FAIL.