Saturday, January 31, 2015

Giveaway time!

Hey folks! Since a bunch more people are stopping by, I thought it might be nice to hold another giveaway - only this time it's TWO! TWO! TWO times the fun! Why? The winner gets TWO books!

ONE - a copy of my book, Hard Core Poor. (of course)

TWO - a copy of a fun book I picked up, The Rummager's Handbook. It's a book about making money off of things you find at yard sales, flea markets, and curb side "shopping" (also known as trash picking).

Between the two, there should be enough tips to give even the tightest budget a little wiggle room.

If you want a guaranteed copy, order through this link, and enter Q7QRAE5N to get a $2 discount on a paperback copy! (Digital copies are still only $3.99.)

The fun starts Sunday! (at midnight)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Frugal moments that feel funny

Have you ever gotten a great deal on something, brought it home, and started giggling because you now have SO MUCH of that thing it's just funny?

My mother in law gets those coupon books for Wendy's Frostys (frosties? Frosti? What's appropriate here?) at Halloween. You know the ones - a book of 10 coupons for Jr. size Frostiiis (I decided. This is what I'm going with.) for a dollar, and you give out the coupons to Trick or Treaters. Only she buys $20 or $30 worth of these coupon books, gives them to her kids, and when people want a treat we go get a few.

The coupons expire tomorrow. We still had a few books. This is what happens.

Friday, January 30, 2015

A cleaning confession

Dust makes me sneeze, and gives me a sore throat. You would think that would be a motivating factor to keep the dust down in my house by cleaning regularly.

<snort> Sorry, but if you came to my house on an average day, you might be hard pressed to see the dust because of the toys, books, and papers everywhere. There are days I find it hard to keep up with the details of life - clutter control, laundry, keeping Tristan uninjured and poison-free, teaching Daniel, and making sure Catie does her homework and projects. Dust? It doesn't demand my attention the way a crying toddler or a huge pile of toys or dishes does. So the dust settles. And builds. If you're picturing a light film on wood surfaces, I hate to gross you out, but picture big gross dust bunnies hanging out in hidden corners, under furniture, and dusty cobwebs hanging from the ceiling. The ceiling dust was what finally got me moving - I just couldn't ignore those dusty, dangling cobwebs anymore. Especially how they clustered at the top of my curtains.

A few days ago I mentioned that I gave my bedroom a medium-deep vacuuming. Yesterday I pulled the living room curtains down and washed them, vacuumed the main floor, and Jake helped me pull the couches away to vacuum behind and underneath.

Ya'll, it was a nightmare zone under there. Thankfully nothing dead or moldy - this time - but SOOOO much dirt, dust, and Lost Things. I had to empty the vacuum three times. And maybe that was the reason, or maybe it was just because we stirred the dust up, or maybe we're just catching Tristan's cold, but today both Daniel and I have the sniffles.

When I was in my early twenties, living in an apartment with the ex (who was a slob), I used to think cleaning was counterproductive for that very reason - the dust that was just lying there peacefully would become weaponized when I started cleaning and launched it into the air. So I'd have to stop cleaning until I recovered, and the dust would win another round. Nony at
recommends using a dust mask every time you clean for this very reason. A good vacuum really does help too - one with good attachments so you can just reach out with your wand and suck up the dirt at arms length. Donna Freedman recently shared how a Roomba keeps her home clean, and that's kept her asthma at bay. Unfortunately, with 3 kids and a big dog, it would take more effort for me to set up the house for the Roomba than it is to get out the regular vacuum.

That's two room so far that I've done medium-deep cleaning in - the dining room and kitchen get cleaned on a fairly regular basis, so it doesn't get so bad in there. I think I'll try tackling the kids rooms next week.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Thinking outside the basket

I have a love/hate relationship with most laundry baskets. They hold and carry stuff really well, until...
Look familiar? Or...

Or even...

That last one really rankles, because I tore a pair of pajama pants just walking past it. The baskets have also scraped, pinched, and scratched everyone in the house at least once.

These aren't the super cheapy cheap baskets, either. I think the big ones are currently $10 at Target - not super high end, but I had hopes that they wouldn't disintegrate with normal family use in less than 2 years. They're 2 bushel size, after all - they're supposed to deal with the weight!

So the last trip I made to IKEA, I found that they had added flexible rubber tubs to the laundry area, calling them laundry baskets. They were only $5, and I was down two good baskets at home, so I bought two.

 See those handles? They're actually pretty beefy.

And it's flexible! See how it bends?

They carry a good amount of weight, even though they're about half the size of my old laundry baskets, and the compact size makes me feel less like I'm going to scrape my knuckles when I walk through the door. If I found myself in a spot where I had to hand wash my laundry again, they'd make pretty reasonable washtubs, or I could fill them with ice and drinks for a party.

Of course, not everyone is near an IKEA, but rubber tubs are available in lots of stores in the summer. The handles might not be as nice, but the tubs will avoid the cracking and pinching problems so common with regular baskets.

On the IKEA laundry topic, they also make my absolute favorite drying racks, the FROST racks. They're only $15, fold to less than two inches wide, hold a full load of laundry, and don't have the problem with overlapping clothes that you get with the usual accordian-style racks. They look flimsy in the pictures, but they hold sopping wet jeans and towels without bending - they're tougher than they look.

No affiliate links here - I doubt IKEA even offers an affiliate program. Just a fan.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Cleaning in the sunshine

It was sunny today!

Picture me dancing like Snoopy.

Tristan wasn't as clingy today, we slept better than the previous few nights, and all the sun got me motivated.

I am totally going to brag - I did All The Laundry. Everything in the hampers, anyway - I didn't do anything crazy like strip the beds. And get this - everything is PUT AWAY. You organized types, I know you don't get it, but everyone who has dressed out of a laundry basket 4 days a week knows what I mean. This was a big deal.

And I vacuumed my bedroom - not just the carpet, either. I got out the extensions and cleaned under and behind the dressers, vacuumed the curtains, decluttered my dresser, wiped the dust off surfaces - the amount of dust that came out of my bedroom HORRIFIED me. Especially when I realize that there's more to clean in there under the bed. I can breathe a little easier now in my room though - and since Tristan still sleeps in our room, I feel like he'll heal a little faster breathing cleaner air.

I'm hoping for more sunny weather tomorrow - the living room really needs a good clean/purge, and I plan on giving the dining room a good clean-up. It's not easy, because we spend most of our homeschooling day in the dining room, and the living room is where Tristan plays most of the day. That's what makes it such a mess, and what makes it so critical that I clean it tomorrow.

Wish me luck!

P.S. - All day, Tristan refused almost everything I offered to eat and drink, only wanting to nurse. I finally gave up, only to turn around and see him munching my gluten free pretzels and drinking my iced tea once I left him alone. Apparently if I OFFER it, it's no good. Everything tastes better when it's been poached under the nose of your mama.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

A school district quirk

Catie's school isn't in our school district. If you're not from PA and you're used to the county-wide districts, like in Maryland, this might seem a little strange.

Lemme 'splain. PA has 67 counties but over 500 school districts. The districts are gerrymandered, cockeyed, and set up to ensure maximum confusion. One county may have many school districts, and one school district often crosses county lines. Bewildering.

So we live in one district - not the absolute worst in the area, but not good. The Catholic school Catie attends is in the next district over, a distance of 8.5 miles away. Our local district handles the busing for all the kids in our *distant* district over to Catie's school.

This morning, we didn't get the PBS telethon phone ringing moment where we were informed that Catie had a delay, so I shuffled Catie out the door at the usual time. I was exhausted because Tristan had a bad cough the past few nights, so I went back to bed. 10 minutes later, Catie comes into my room saying "a guy was walking by and said the schools are on a two hour delay!".

A huge question mark appeared over my head. (Not really, but wouldn't that make life more interesting?) We hadn't gotten the EVERY PHONE RINGING at 5:30 - what gives?

I get up and do a little searching. Sure enough, Catie's school and its' parent school district were on a regular schedule. But our HOME district was on a two hour delay. I called the secretary at her school - they're a sweet, helpful bunch there. She explained that if I WANTED to, I could load everyone up in the freezing van and drive Catie over, or we could just wait for her bus to bring her in 2 hours later. It happens occasionally that the school districts don't synch up, and whenever the outlier students arrive, they join up with their class already in progress. Daniel was still sound asleep, Tristan was tired, sick and fussy, and I doubted my ability to walk straight, let alone drive. So we waited for the bus.

I did actually ask the transportation folks what happens if our district is closed and the other is open, but I was so tired I didn't retain the answer. Maybe I'll call back tomorrow and disguise my voice or something.

Yet another argument for unifying the school districts into something more effective.

Monday, January 26, 2015

More snow

It's not exactly a snowpocolypse right now. We've had an inch or two fall, but we're supposed to get another 4 inches by tomorrow morning.

I know Catie is thrilled - snow that starts on a Sunday night is the ultimate snow day timing. The thing is... remember listening to the radio or watching the TV banner crawl, waiting to see your school district pop up so you could go back to bed? We don't do that anymore. Instead, the school district sends out a robo-call on EVERY NUMBER that the school has for you at 5:30 AM, letting you know if there's a delay or closing.

And that IS nice. Alarming, and early, but nice. Because when I hear EVERY PHONE IN THE HOUSE ring (2 cell phones and a "landline" VoIP) at 5:30 AM, I know right away that I only have to focus hard enough to figure out if it's a 2 hour delay or a closing, and then go back to sleep. If I can slow my heart rate back down, that is, because hearing EVERY PHONE IN THE HOUSE ring at 5:30 makes me a little jumpy.

And I have a feeling that I'll be hearing all those phones ring again tomorrow morning, because the snow is supposed to continue into late tonight and tomorrow morning.

Daniel is less thrilled, since homeschooling days off are dictated more by sick moms or kids, or if the weather is too beautiful to stay indoors. So he plugged through his work and is mostly done at 11 AM.

Oh, and Catie? She's working on her National History Day project - she aced her school level and is moving to to regionals, so she needs to polish it up a little for the next level. She's less thrilled now than she was earlier.  :)  I'm such an awful mom, aren't I?

Thrifty stuff - we have a fire going in the wood stove to reduce our heating bill, I made a big stack of pancakes for breakfast (which we ate with an orange each, to try to keep the fruit intake up), and we're keeping Netflix busy for the benefit of Tristan, who's sick AGAIN. It's cheaper than renting videos.

Sunday, January 25, 2015


Do you ever find yourself getting stuck while doing something, and suddenly realize the solution is super simple?

I was looking at my washer and dryer as I switched laundry loads. They're just basic models - the washer is a top loader that we got for $75 at a yard sale, the dryer is only about 2 years old, but it's a simple white gas dryer. Nothing fancy here. But they were getting gross - both machines had detergent residue, dust, bits of lint, and other grubbiness all over them. If you had your 9 and 12 year olds doing laundry, your machines would get messy too. (Who am I kidding - I made most of the mess!)

I sighed, because I didn't have any paper towels or cleaning rags in the laundry room right then. How could I get the machines clean?

And then - DUH! I looked at the to-be-washed dirty clothes hamper. I grabbed a dirty t-shirt, got it wet, and wiped down the machines, then threw it into the next load!

Little moments like that make me both proud of myself and make me wonder where my brain lives most of the time. I hope it's somewhere nice.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Bikes - we can do better.

I love my bike. I mean, obviously - look at my url! But there's something that bugs me about bikes that are generally available at the stores right now - they're mostly not designed as transportation, but as toys or sporting gear. I think we're doing bikes and people a disservice by making all the features that make a bike easy to ride everywhere into add-on options.

If I could design a bike fleet, the first thing I would include would be integrated, hub-driven lights in every bike. It's silly that in 2015 bike lights have to be purchased separately! All the bikes would have fenders to keep the mud off your clothes, and either a chain cover or full chain case to prevent cuffs and skirts from getting caught.

For individual bikes, I'd have to offer a few styles of cargo bike - a longtail, a bakfiets, a cargo trike, in both regular and pedal-assist versions, and Dutch-style uprights with baskets and rear racks built in. One of the options I'd have to offer is heavy-duty tires and tubes in each bike - possibly even the solid closed-cell foam "tubes" that are used in factory settings. Why? One of the peskiest things about riding a bike as your standard transportation is getting a flat when you have a full load, kids along, and/or no time to spare. I would like to see a day where bike flats are as unusual in a cyclists day as a flat on a car. There has to be a way for someone to make a lightweight, yet tough and resilient air-filled tire. C'mon, manufacturers, get on it! 

Also, I'd like to see more bikes with higher weight limits. I don't mean just cargo bikes, though I'd like to see one that can handle an 800 lb gorilla! I mean bikes for people who are trying to get started in their weight loss, might want to bike to the bus transfer center, and aren't confident that a bike will handle their weight. The average bike from Walmart is rated for 250 lbs - I know a lot of guys that that will JUST make that cut-off. Then there are people heavier than that - the weight limit becomes yet another barrier between them and the fun, freedom, and exercise potential of the bike!

Yes, I know ALL of these bikes currently exist. I'm saying there need to be WAY more of them, and they should be available everywhere, not just internet special orders.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Acceptance sucks sometimes

I have trouble with gluten. It's not that I avoid it because it "makes you fat" or something silly like that - it causes real stomach disturbances for my daughter and me. To the extent that Catie sees a GI specialist every 3 - 4 months to make sure everything is still OK.

I also have Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) - a condition where the male/female hormones get out of whack, and if it goes untreated the ovaries start sprouting cysts. Other side effects include irregular cycles, getting fat, depression, and growing facial hair. Oddly enough, the thing that triggers my PCOS is a prediabetic condition called insulin resistance. It's one of those horrible self-perpetuating things - the hormone imbalances make it hard to lose weight, what with the cravings and depression and all, and the added weight makes the insulin resistance worse.

I've been under treatment with Metformin (a drug usually used for diabetes) for 3 years - if I hadn't been taking it, I don't think I could have gotten pregnant with Tristan. I know it's important to watch my sugar intake, so I don't become full fledged diabetic.

Here's the thing. I already can't eat gluten. The consequences of eating gluten are immediate. So in the rare moments that I get to have a gluten free baked goodie, I tend to overindulge because I've been feeling deprived.

Yesterday I baked gluten-free banana muffins. There are lower-sugar recipes that I could have used, but I used a recipe that called for a cup of sugar on top of 6 bananas - that's a LOT of sugar. Then I started eating them - some sort of dopamine switch got flipped on in my brain from the sugar, and I ate way too many. Then I spent the rest of the day dealing with the aftermath of a sugar high and crash, which my body doesn't handle as well as it used to.


But I'm really struggling with the idea of cutting out sugar.

Doubly stupid.

Because cutting out sugar would gave a bigger overall impact on my health than cutting out gluten. My mom has been off sugar for the past year - she not only lost a good amount of weight, but she told me that once you get over the first few days of cravings, you don't miss it that much.

I also have to drop the diet soda again. I was doing OK with iced tea sweetened with stevia and the occasional cup of coffee, but over the holidays I started up the soda habit again. You know what the funny thing was? The first glass I had tasted like malted battery acid - I only kept swallowing out of habit!

My health problems are part of why I got my big bike - I wanted to build more exercise into my life while making it fun. It's been so cold the past month though, that I haven't gotten the bike out of the shed in about 4 - 5 weeks.

So, here's the plan.

I'm going to make a pitcher of tea. I'm going to brew some coffee. And I'm going to look up some recipes on , because she has a lot of low-sugar and healthy sugar gluten free recipes.

And I think I'm going to have to hide the M&Ms from myself.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Grandma Betty

My Grandma Betty holding Tristan right after his baptism.

Grandma Betty is 87 and still living on her own in a little condo, drives her own car, takes my cousin Olivia to and from school daily (that's actually Olivia behind her in the picture), goes out to the movies and dinner with friends once a week - she has a better social life than most people I know. She's beginning to slow down a tiny bit - she needs hearing aids these days, she walks with a cane, and she doesn't bake much anymore because of her diabetes.

But her pies - oh, when she baked a pie, it was the stuff of legend! The crusts were perfectly flaky, the filling was never too sweet or too tart. One memorable summer in my teens, I helped pit sour cherries from a neighbors tree, and she made them into the most wonderful cherry pies I had ever tasted. One of my dad's favorite meals that she would make was stuffed pork chops - serious food that would settle into your belly and saturate your whole being with a cozy, well-fed feeling.

She's still going because she always kept going. She raised 6 kids with spotty backup from an alcoholic husband, and even though she stayed married to him until he died, she didn't put up with his crap and lived separately from him in his later years. She's a Pittsburgh woman, sweet and loving, but tough as nails. When I was little, she was always the fun grandma who would play on the floor with you. She just "got" little kids. These days she can't get down on the floor, but but we visited her around Christmas she got out her stash of toys. Tristan found a ball (his favorite toy lately) and she flipped her cane over and used it as a croquet mallet, knocking the ball back to Tristan over and over again.

She a prayer powerhouse, too. It seems like she sits right in God's ear.
She's not all sweetness and light though, driving in the car or watching a Steelers game with her is an education in vocabulary. That woman can cuss the ears off a dead dog!
Then there was the time she almost ran over Mr. Rogers in the early '80's. Yes, THE Fred Rogers. He was crossing the street in front of her, she braked hard (probably called him some interesting names) and suddenly registered who it was that just waved at her. She told me "I could see the headlines - 'Grandmother kills Mr. Rogers!'".

She worked at J.C. Penneys for years - I'll never know how, but the year of the Cabbage Patch craze, she got me an original Babyland General Hospital doll, with a cloth head and handmade shoes. I still have her, though the shoes went missing years ago. She's probably pretty valuable by now - I haven't checked.

She's still in fairly good health, but sometimes I worry about her. She's had quite a few neighbors in her condo building take nasty falls or get stuck, and they didn't always have their MedAlert button with them. These are stories that give me chills to think about. I've been thinking about her a lot since our most recent visit, and pray for her safety often.

This is a spotty, strange post, but I'm just going to leave it as is. It mirrors my thought patterns today.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015


See all that? I know, it's not that much, but it wasn't there this morning, and it's supposed to keep coming until this evening.

I had a dentist appointment today for my semi-annual cleaning, and my mom showed up to watch the boys just as the snow started to fall. I figured it wouldn't be a big deal - the dentist office is only 7 miles away on a well-traveled road. I figured that the other cars would melt the snow as they drove, keeping it relatively safe.

When I got out of the dentist office, I saw I was mostly right - there were trails of slush, surrounded by snow. It didn't look all that bad. And of course, I was driving this -

My All Wheel Drive van (which is yes, still slowly croaking) should be able to handle this, right?  But I'm still driving on "all weather tires", and practically speaking I wouldn't have switched to snow tires this morning even if I had them around.

So I was approaching a red light with several cars stopped ahead of me, started braking at what I thought was a reasonable distance, and had a Come to Jesus moment as my ABS brakes kicked on and I kept sliding. The last thing I remember yelling was "Please Dear God let me STOP!!!!" - right before I finally stopped. I was a few feet away from rear ending the guy in front of me.

I drove the next 5 miles home VERY carefully, and lost control momentarily as I was pulling into the driveway. I parked, walked in, and strongly considered a glass of wine with lunch to settle myself down! (I didn't - but I considered it.)

I thought hard about what would have made the situation better. Obviously AWD wasn't the answer. Snow tires might have helped, but this is the first snow in ages - we wouldn't have had a reason to put them on before today.

The only conclusion I could draw was - I shouldn't have been out there! I looked at the snow and thought it would be no big deal, but forgot that wet and icy roads are very dangerous. Last night there was even a freezing fog warning, quite possibly the most dangerous weather condition, because people don't realize that the mist is turning into a fine icy coating over everything. It's so easy to underestimate the danger of slick roads. If it's snowing, sleeting, or other slippery precipitation is falling, don't drive if you can avoid it. Yes, even if you have a monster SUV like my husband (I'll be a little nervous until he gets home safe.).

To my Florida readers - I hear you chuckling. Stop it.  :)

Monday, January 19, 2015

A book that isn't mine, and getting unstuck

I recently read a book that has me feeling like I tumbled out of a long sleep, wondering how I got here, why my clothes are torn, and when was the last time I brushed my teeth.

Not because it was awesome fiction, although I've had that reaction after really good novels. No, this book made me feel like that about my own life.

The book is called "Delusions of Mediocrity" (not an affiliate link). It was a free Kindle download a few days back, right now it's $2.99. It explains how so many of us get sucked into under-earning positions through some sense of being undeserving of more. Further, it goes into how once we're in those underpaid positions, we (she calls us "co-dependents" - I don't love the psych-talk, but she has some insight here) give everything we have and then some trying to improve the lot around us, and get almost nothing in return.

Please understand - I'm not saying being a volunteer is thankless, or that giving of yourself is foolish. What I am saying is that giving your all, working to the bone and wearing yourself out, in the service of a retail job or other low-paid wage-slave position will ultimately end with you feeling that nothing you do means anything. When you dedicate yourself to a job that is a people user-upper (you know the kind - high turnover, happy to hire new people when the old quit or get fired, and no matter what you give of yourself, you can't seem to get promoted) you have given yourself to work that will never pay you in an equal amount to the pain you experience.

Not that you shouldn't do the best work you can in a job - it's just... working in a retail or other service job, it's easy to get wrapped up in that place, in that weird little world. Your life revolves around the schedule, around inventory and delivery days, dealing with customers, and you lose sight of anything else you thought of doing with your life. Your job has become your life, and you no longer have the energy to work on writing your book, or applying for that awesome job in the paper (which you might secretly think you couldn't get anyway, since your most recent experience is in a different field). You're just... stuck.

If you're stuck right now, you don't have to stay that way. If you work someplace where the big raise they're dangling is only a few cents, and they work you to death and don't appreciate you, you don't have to stay. You don't even need to stay in the same field! You can move, you can change. Apply. If they say no, that's the worst that can happen - most potential employers will not say "get out of here, scum! What made you think you could apply here?". They just say "good luck out there". If you have a book that you've been working on, send it out there! It doesn't HAVE to be a regular publisher - you can self publish through any number of places, put out e-books (I like Amazon's platform, but there are others) and get your words out there! You can even release your album or independent movie that way.

Make that change happen! It's OK to do things differently - especially if doing things the way you have been isn't working anymore.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Kids school projects

Now that the big day is over, I can tell you about Catie's National History Day project!

This is our first year attending a school that participates in the National History Day competition, so this was a new, scary challenge for her. She had never even had to to do a long term project before her science fair project earlier this year, and I allowed her to do that as a partner project. She got really lucky in her science fair partner, and said partner did a beautiful job on the project... Catie helped a little...  

So when Catie told me that she wanted to team up with her science fair partner again to do NHD, I put my foot down. It was going to be a solo venture for her this time - she had to do all the work, or I'd worry that she hadn't done ANY of it. Now, there are different styles of project that they're allowed to do - a research paper, a 8.5 - 10 minute performance, an exhibit, a documentary, or a website. And of all the things to choose, she picked the performance! That meant she had to write a 1200 word script with bibliography, memorize it, and perform it in costume for the judges. I mean, I can understand if she had done a group performance (and I might let her do it that way next year) - performing a 10 minute script with up to 4 other people wouldn't be so bad. But she really made it tough on herself doing a solo performance - she had to have that whole thing memorized on her own with no note cards! And because she's my daughter, it took a little (a lot) of pushing for her to have her final draft done the week before so she'd have some time to memorize it. Catie is my penance for the things I put my mother through as a kid.

(She chose to focus on Clara Barton and the American Red Cross, so she's dressed as a WWI Red Cross nurse. Yeah, I had to sew. Sigh.)

I think she chose the performance because she thought it would be less work than the paper. AHAHHHAAHAHAAAA! Somehow she didn't realize that a 8.5 minute speech is around 1200 words to write, then memorize, then PERFORM.

There are some amazing projects put forth every year, so to be perfectly honest I just hoped she would get a decent grade in history class for this - it was required, and a fair chunk of her class grade.

The Big news? She got an A+ and is moving on to the regional level! We're very proud - she's a little nervous, because now this means she has to refine her performance and do it again!

Saturday, January 17, 2015

paying it down

I have a few little things I do to make some side money - baby sitting, selling my book, and I have a massage therapy client I work with regularly. For a while I was just spending my earnings. Then I started saving them in our secondary checking account, so it wouldn't get spent by accident - I'm saving for an electric assist motor to put on my bike.

But I started thinking about something - we also have a credit card (0% interest) through that same bank, which we used to buy windows a few months ago. We have a plan to get it paid off before the 0% interest deal expires, but I thought it would be nice if we could pay it down a little sooner.

I asked at the bank if I could make payments on our credit card balance in person - they said "sure, as long as you have the account number!". So I made a commitment to deposit half of my side earnings in our account, and make payments on the credit card with the other half. Somehow it's much easier to just hand over the money to the clerk than to mail a separate check. Especially if the extra amount is only a few dollars, if I'm already at the bank, it's a breeze reducing my bill by $10 rather than the pain of writing an extra check, addressing another envelope, stamping it, and walking it out to the mailbox!

I know some people are disciplined enough to just set the extra payment money aside and add it to the regular payment, but I don't usually "do" the bills - Jake does. If I make these extra payments on my own, I don't have to pester him with depositing money into our "bills" account, reminding him to add that amount to our payment, etc.

It's also too easy to talk ourselves out of putting that extra payment in, if the money is already just sitting in our account. When I have the money in hand, and I make the decision to use that money to pay down our bill, it's great to be able to simply hand it over and have it go toward our bill.

This in person payment method can also work if you have a store credit card - at least, it used to. I worked at a jewelry store that allowed people to pay on their store card balance in person, and some department stores will still allow you to pay that way. If you're already in that area and dropping by the store isn't going to encourage you to spend more, why not take an extra $5 or $10 out of your pocket and make an extra payment on your bill? It makes a difference in how quickly you pay your bill down, and more importantly it makes you THINK about making the extra effort to reduce your debt.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Cornmeal pancakes

I woke up hungry for pancakes today. But I'm all out of my premade gluten free "bisquick", and I wasn't in the mood to make regular pancakes anyway. Instead, I threw this into a bowl

1 1/2 cups yellow corn meal
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs
pinch of salt
enough milk to make a thin batter - semi-runny
a drizzle of molasses for the iron boost and flavor punch

I didn't add baking powder, but it would have made them turn out more puffy and light. You could do this with less sugar, too, but it helps everything hold together.

Fry on a griddle like you would ordinary pancakes - these will be heavier and chewier than regular pancakes, and much more filling!

This is all that was left, and I had to hold off hungry hands for a second to get this picture. I hope you appreciate the lengths I go to for you, reader! (They had eaten plenty - I'm not starving them, honest.)

Serve with butter, syrup, molasses, applesauce, or even apple butter - they go well with lots of toppings.

Just ask

I recently had some boring medical tests done - nothing major, just maintenance on a health problem I've been managing for a few years. What I had forgotten is that in the time since I had my first round of tests and now, our insurance has changed from the electrician's union to the private insurance we picked out through Jake's new employer. And where the union insurance paid everything, this insurance only paid about half - we chose a higher deductible plan so we wouldn't lose our shirts paying the premium every month.

The net effect was we got a bill for $750 for blood tests - and that was for half of the bill! On the bill, they offer a 10% discount if you paid in full within a month, but that's just a little out of reach right now. I mean, we COULD pay it, but other areas would suffer. The bill also offered a number to call to set up a payment plan. I sighed and dialed, figuring we'd be able to set up a payment plan for the full amount.

When the (actual person!) picked up the phone, I told her the situation and asked how negotiable the bill was. She told me she could give me a discount of 25%! And then I asked about a payment plan, assuming that the discount wouldn't apply, and she gave me that TOO - so just by calling and asking, we were able to reduce that medical bill AND spread it out over a few months! All I had to do was ask.

On a similar vein, I've been trying to promote my book (Duh! said the readers, having known this already). One of the best ways to get more people to buy my book has been to get other people talking about it. So I've been emailing frugal bloggers daily, asking them to read and review my book. Some have said no, either because they don't feel like they can commit the time or because they don't do reviews on their blogs. But a few have said yes, and I'm eager to see what they think of it! When the reviews go up, I'll link to them.

If you have a blog and would be interested in reviewing "Hard Core Poor", or if you have a favorite blogger and you'd like to see what they think, email me - I'd like to hear from you!

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Homeschool curricula for the non-planner

I mentioned in one of my early posts that I send one kid to Catholic school and homeschool the other one, mostly for personality and learning style reasons. But what I DIDN'T mention is that up until 2 years ago, I was firmly convinced that I could never homeschool - it sounded too scary! I mean, ME, pick out my child's materials and lessons for the whole year? What if I left out something important?

So last year, when I first decided to keep Daniel home and teach him here, I tried an public cyber charter school. I had tried it for about half a year with Catie in second grade, when she was dealing with some health issues, and I had liked it a lot. And there's a lot to recommend them, at least at first - they're public schools, meaning paid for by the state, so it costs you nothing to enroll. They send you a loaner computer, printer, all the books and materials you'll need for the year, and reimburse you for your internet on a quarterly basis. What's not to love?

Unfortunately, a lot. It's still a public school, so the online teacher is responsible for teaching your child, not you. That means that there are certain days and times that your child has to sit in a virtual "classroom", dealing with 20 other children, while they try to listen to the days lessons. After those lessons are over, it's still the parent's job to get them through the actual school work for the day. In Daniel's case, in 3rd grade, he had 2 1/2 to 3 hours of virtual classroom time daily, after which he still had between 5 and 6 HOURS worth of school work to do. I'm no mathematician, but 9 hours of work from an 8 year old (not including breaks and lunch) seemed unsustainable, especially when that 8 year old has attention issues. The idea with schooling from home was that we wanted MORE flexibility in his education, not less. I felt like we were being chained to the computer all day! We asked if we could go "asynchronous", meaning not having to log those classroom hours daily, but we were told that was impossible - going "asynch" was for the most dedicated students. As I wept about the impossibility of the schedule to my homeschooling friends, they dried my eyes and filled my hands with books from their shelves. They told me homeschooling would be so much easier than fighting the cyber school formats, and they were right.

We live in Pennsylvania, one of the strictest states in the Union when it comes to homeschooling regulations, and I have to say - it's not so bad! We keep a portfolio through the year, show it to a professional evaluator who determines whether or not an appropriate education is taking place, and turn the evaluation in to the superintendent of the school district.

But getting back to the curriculum part - the first year was scary, as I tried to make sure we were working at grade level and covering all the mandated topics. But this year I discovered a free online curriculum, designed by a mom who reports in Pennsylvania (though she's a missionary working abroad) that covers all the needed topics and levels. It's called Easy Peasy All in One Homeschool, and it offers a totally free education, Kindergarten through 12th grade, all online. It's just the curriculum - the parent is the teacher - every day the work for the day is laid out, reading passages and math problems are hyperlinked, and it's fairly easy for the student to work through much of their day on their own should they need to. I need to work with Daniel most days to keep him on task, but some days he surprises me how well he works independently.

Easy Peasy is a Christian curriculum, but there's another completely free online curriculum that's secular, called Discovery K12 (they're changing servers right now, but check them out in a day or so). The biggest plus for Discovery K12 over Easy Peasy is Discovery K12 has a way to track what assignments have been done online - it's a much more technologically advanced website. Beyond that, the materials are very similar - public domain books available online for free, free math games, free science videos, etc., but Easy Peasy also has daily Bible study. I wish I had known about these programs last year, since they would have made me feel much less like Bambi when he stepped out on the ice when I was trying to write those lesson plans!

If having the daily lessons planned out for you doesn't work for your family, Mater Amabilis and Ambleside Online offer full lesson plans for a Charlotte Mason style education, without feeling like each day is dictated by an unseen taskmaster. And if you are the type that really enjoys making lesson plans, An Old Fashioned Education has a comprehensive list of public domain books that may pique your interest.

And none of these cost a dime. Keep that in mind, if you should ever look at homeschooling materials for sale - you don't always get what you pay for. Sometimes you get much, much more.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

On making a big deal about something that turns out to be not a big deal at all.

So, I raised the price of my book and wrote an emotional, deeply thought out blog post explaining why I thought I needed to do this, made up a discount code to knock the price down again, and then agonized over "should I have done this? People will hate me!".

And then the new price went live on Amazon. And Amazon, as is their right, had decided to mark down my book from the list price. And their sale price was lower than the original price of my book, but they take that out of their cut - so I still get paid more while the book price effectively stays the same.

I was so worried, and God had this covered (through the kind folks at Amazon).

Silly me.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Gluten free flour mix

When you have to switch from a regular diet to a gluten free diet, you soon discover that there are a lot of complications when you try to bake. There is no one single flour that can take the place of wheat flour in every recipe, but if you blend different kinds of gluten free flours, you can come up with a substitute that works pretty well in most recipes.

You can buy pre-mixed gluten free flour blends, but they tend to be rather expensive - and when I bake for my family I don't want to have to buy $10 worth of flour every time I make pizza. So for the last few years I've been using this flour blend that I mix from flours from the Asian Indian grocery store. (The flours are available at my regular grocery store, but they cost so much less at ethnic stores, that I encourage anyone who is going gluten free to find an Asian market and shop there for flour.)

3 parts rice flour
3 parts either arrowroot powder or cornstarch
2 parts sorghum flour
1 part corn masa mix
1/2 part instant mashed potato flakes (optional)

I mix up this flour about 30 - 35 lbs at a time, and it costs me a little less than a dollar a pound once it's all mixed - a pretty good price for gluten free flour! That's a 3 gallon bucket that used to hold frosting at a grocery store bakery - now I store my extra flour in it.

Oh - my pizza?

2 1/2 cups warm water
3 - 4 tablespoons oil
a packet of yeast (2 1/2 tsp)
2 tbsp xanthan gum
2 eggs
enough GF flour mix to make a play doh like dough - it should be stiff but slightly sticky

press the dough flat in greased pans, pre-bake the crusts for 15 - 18 minutes at 400 degrees, remove from the oven, top with sauce, cheese and your favorite toppings, return to oven for about 15 - 18 minutes. Voila! Pizza!

Hope you enjoy it!

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Book price changing - please read.

Suze Ormond often talks about people - women in particular - putting themselves "on sale". That is, offering their services or products for less than the competitors, sometimes in an effort to get more customers, but more often because subconsciously, they believe they don't deserve to charge the same as the other guys. The reasons are often nice-sounding - "I want to give this client a break, they're so sweet", "I haven't been doing it as long as that other guy - of course I should charge less", but they all boil down to the same thing - charging less than they should for their work.

I've been struggling with this since I launched my book. I wanted to make sure my book was affordable, but I also wanted to make a small profit. When I first launched the book, the minimum price I was able to set was lower, giving me a higher profit margin. Apparently some hidden cost increased right after I launched, and it reduced my profit margin from each sale. Ever since, I've been struggling with the idea that the price was wrong, but not knowing if I should change it. There were reasons in my head like "I want people who are struggling to be able to afford my book", and "if people see that I raised the price, they're going to think I'm greedy and arrogant".

But the biggest reason of all? "I don't think I deserve to raise the price because this is a self published book, and I didn't 'pay my dues', get rejected a bunch, and finally get a deal with a big publisher". Which took me a while to admit to myself.

So I talked with some very supportive friends about this, prayed over it, and did a little research. A non-fiction book, as long as mine, in the print size that I used, would not be overpriced at $9.99. I did take a few requests to heart, most noticeably adding a Table of Contents, but otherwise it's still the same content. The Kindle version will stay at $3.99 (and free if you buy the print book or are a member of Kindle Unlimited).

If you still want to get a print copy and the price increase is a problem for you, use this link and enter the code Q7QRAE5N for $2 off the purchase price, bringing the price back down to $7.99. Share the code with as many people as you like - I'll give plenty of notice before it expires!

I hope this post will not only explain why the price has changed, but will encourage some of you who may be putting yourselves "on sale" to charge what you're worth!

tl;dr version - My book is worth an extra $2 per copy, but I'll deduct that if you buy it this way and use the code Q7QRAE5N .

Edit - the prices just went live today, and Amazon has decided to offer a discount of their own on the paper copy - it's marked down to $7.38 right now! So you all still get to enjoy the lower prices no matter which link you choose!

Frugal shipping

OK, so another thing about self-publishing your book, is that you're the one responsible for sending out promotional copies to potential reviewers.

I got my latest batch of books, and made plans to get mailer envelopes while running errands yesterday. Only we got a late start, and we had to go to several places to get everything done. By the time we stopped at the third place, it was already well past lunch time (for all of us) and heading into nap time (for the toddler). I was still dealing with the remnants of a cold, and I didn't have much stamina left - we had to get home, fed and napped, and SOON. I decided a compromise was in order - I had planned to drive to another shopping center to get "real" poly mailer bags, but I knew there was a Dollar Tree in the same plaza as stop #3, and Dollar Tree carries 6"x9" bubble mailer envelopes, 2 for $1. My 5"x8" book fits perfectly in those.

So after stop #3 we walked up to Dollar Tree. I reached for the bubble mailers, meaning to grab 4 packs so I wouldn't run out, when I saw something else. 3M postal mailing brown paper - a big roll for $1.

I bought the brown paper, brought it home, wrapped my books in a plastic shopping bag (to protect them from rain) and then wrapped them in the brown paper and packing tape, and addressed them.

It may be a tightwad-dy solution, but I still have lots of paper, and this solution only costs me about 5 cents a book instead of 50 cents.

At some point I will probably go ahead and try to appear professional, and buy the "real" shipping options... when the book sells so well that saving 45 cents seems silly!  :)

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Why "Hard Core Poor"?

I've had one or two people say in comments "The book sounds neat, and I'd like to read it, but I have issues with the word 'poor'. It sounds so dire."

I get that, and when I chose the name "Hard Core Poor" for my book, I knew it was a loaded word. Here's why I did it anyway.

When I was seriously broke, any time I did something that saved me money that was unusual or difficult, I said I was being hard core poor. It made me feel tough, like "poor" couldn't beat me. Like I was too hard core to let a little lack of money stop me from doing what I needed to do.

Also, it sounded borderline naughty. That made me laugh, which was something I sorely needed. And it had a snappy sound to it.

So probably ten years ago, I decided that if I ever wrote a book, gave "thrift" classes, or otherwise advised people on serious ways to save money, the phrase "Hard Core Poor" would have to be a part of it.

I have another phrase in my head, which may or may not play out as a book someday. It took me about 3 years of part time effort to write this book, so we'll see what I can do with this.

Meanwhile, on the home front, Tristan the Two Year Old Terror is finally not sick anymore, Jake is mostly better, and I'm improving after a few days of coughing and low fevers. But the big kids have not been sick yet, and Catie has a HUGE project due next week - this makes me superstitious and nervous. Daniel? Eh, homeschooling is lovely in that as long as we log 180 days and get a good solid education in there, we're good on WHEN it happens.

Hope you're all well and warm!

Thursday, January 8, 2015

A little something for all of you

Hey, welcome again to all you newcomers from Monroe on a Budget and Penniless Parenting!

I just wanted to offer you all a little something to say a huge THANK YOU for stopping by! If you wanted to buy a copy of Hard Core Poor in paperback form, if you buy it through this link, I have a discount code that will give you $1.50 off!

Just enter 6T5QRQE5 in the discount code section at checkout. You do have to buy it through this link to get the discount, not the usual Amazon link.

Happy frugal-ing!

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Sickness and planning

(Hi, everyone from !)

We've been fighting off a nasty cold here, and like good people, we share things. I've been lucky enough that I haven't been affected... yet. But Tristan the Toddler has been coughing and icky, Jake has taken two days off work this week feeling lousy.

Tonight, I started to feel just a little yucky. Enough that I'm a little concerned that I might be coming down with this cough/ache/tired thing.

So I did something smart.

Tonight we had chicken breasts, mashed potatoes, and broccoli. I had some frozen, gluten free pie shells in the freezer. I took some mixed veggies, the leftover chicken, the left over broccoli, and made some chicken pot pie filling tonight, while I can still stand. Tomorrow I'll put the filling in the crusts, top with mashed potatoes, and bake for 40 minutes. I should be able to do that even if my legs have fallen off. Dinner - solved. That's no mean feat in a family that has two gluten free people, and can't just order food on sickie days without taking out a second mortgage.

I wish I were smart enough (and ambitious enough) to make up a bunch of meals like that, like gluten free lasagnas and casseroles. I mean, I AM that smart - I know I could do those things - but acting that smart is a whole other story.  :)

Encourage me along, if you would - I'll try to do the same for you!

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Welcome, Monroe on a Budget readers!

I'm so excited - Monroe on a Budget did a fabulous write up on my book (Hard Core Poor, in case you're new here)! I wonder if "real" writers get less excited and gushy after a while when somebody likes their work - it's going to take me a long time to stop bouncing like a demented Valley Girl every time someone says something nice about my writing.

This was bounce-worthy, though - she compared me to Amy Dacyzyn (The Tightwad Gazette) (not an affiliate link - I just love her work). The Godmother of Thrift and me, in the same sentence. 

Boing boing boing!

And word has it that my good friend "Penny" at Penniless Parenting will also be doing a review of my book this week - she's really the reason I got the interview with Monroe on a Budget. She said a little something about how much she liked my book, Paula Wethington (the journalist) saw it, and she contacted me!

Meanwhile I'm snuggled on the couch with a sniffly toddler, watching the snow fall. Daniel got through all of his homeschool assignments early today, and the snow isn't heavy enough to close school for Catie, so things are really relaxing... on the outside.

On the inside? Boing boing boing!

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Nickel and Dimed, a dozen years later (for me)

I'm re-reading "Nickel and Dimed" by Barbara Ehrenreich - it's a much lauded book about a middle aged woman who lives a comfortable, upper-middle-class life, deciding to go "undercover" as a member of the working poor for 3 months, one month in each location. When I first read this book about a dozen years ago, I was living the hardscrabble, working poor life. I was often working two part-time jobs or one full time one, and all the work was pretty physically and emotionally draining. When the author was recounting the fatigue and the utter lack of appreciation that low-wage workers experience, I remember feeling both glad that someone was telling the story and a sense of "duh!" - you don't think those clerks and waitresses are there for the endless joy of dealing with the public, do you? The way the employees are casually mistreated by management (having their first paycheck withheld until the day they quit, for example, to prevent people from starting and quitting immediately) is so common none of us would have dared to challenge the legality of it.

I remember after a year of working in a retail store, idly reading the federal employment law poster and being shocked that I was supposed to be receiving a half hour unpaid lunch break when a shift went over 6 hours. We might occasionally get to dart to the food court if our store had double coverage, but invariably we had to bring our meal back and gobble it either in the back room or behind the counter. I mentioned it to my manager, and she shrugged and said "legally, yes, that's what we're supposed to do, but corporate only allows me so many employee hours to staff the store. I honestly can't schedule the lunch/dinner breaks with the hours we're given". I looked. She was right. Then there was the time that the messenger service who delivered all the store paychecks for the whole region had some sort of delivery SNAFU, and all of us were paid 4 days late. It was a crisis for every single person who wasn't signed up for direct deposit (which wasn't as common in those days). We were borrowing money for gas from friends who worked elsewhere, so we could afford to get back and forth to our jobs for which we hadn't gotten paid. The company said "Well, we sent the checks! There's nothing we can do - why didn't you sign up for direct deposit?"

While all those moments weigh in my mind, this time around reading Nickel and Dimed, a  person stood out that I hadn't remembered in previous readings. In Florida, she mentions a restaurant hostess who was always well-groomed and well-dressed, in a variety of personal outfits (hostesses wore their own clothes, waitresses wore a uniform). The author was shocked to discover that those lovely clothes had come from thrift stores, and the hostess was living in her car.

That hostess is now my hero. The rest of the book has a few strong people, working through many personal struggles and miseries, but that hostess now holds a place in my mind as a person holding on to her dignity in the most challenging circumstances. She wore beautiful clothes that she didn't pay much for, showing up for work even when she likely hadn't gotten much sleep from sleeping in a car. She shows poise and grace, not complaining that she can't afford clothes from Macy's, but getting pretty clothes at the price she could manage.

The rest of the book now reads to me as navel-gazing culture shock - a pampered well-to-do woman (though she keeps referring to her parents blue-collar past) stunned that getting by on minimum wage is hard on the body, mind and spirit. Especially she realization that she isn't getting any acknowledgement for her hard work - we all love praise, but she seemed to be upset that she wasn't getting an "atta girl" after working while tired and sore.

The book has a purpose, I guess - many people have never struggled to the extent that I did, and would still be doing if I hadn't married. They have no idea of the hollow boned feeling you have after working long, physical shifts, and realizing that the pay you earned today won't even pay half your electric bill. It will just about fill your gas tank, if you drive a small car or prices are down. It might buy a weeks' groceries, if you stick with the cheapest stuff. And you have a car payment that's late, rent that's late, the heat could be switched off if you don't hustle something quick, and people are depending on you to provide a stable environment. But when you're working with the public, you're not allowed to let any of that show - you wouldn't want to anyway, because it's embarrassing and takes away from the real focus, the customer. 

That's why the hostess is now my hero - she barely merited 3 lines from Ms. Ehrenreich, but she came off as displaying true grace under fire. Maybe if more had been written about her, I would have found out that she was a major whiner in her off hours, or got good and drunk every night so she could sleep. But as it is, she seems like a person making the very best out of the bad hand she had been dealt. I admire her. And I pray that she was ultimately able to get a comfortable home.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Dryer heresy

I was talking about laundry with a friend recently, and we were talking about dryers vs. drying on the line or on racks.

For the record, I love line-dried clothes. Especially when they're dried outside - they smell so good, it's cheap as all get out, and there's a real tactile pleasure in hanging and folding the clothes off the line. But I have a theory that may shake other frugalistas to their core. I don't think using a dryer wears out your clothes.

What??? But there's all that lint that comes off the clothes in the dryer! And it sets stains and makes some garments shrink!!!

Yes, it can set stains, and shrinking can be a problem, and I know some sweaters and undies need to be treated with care to avoid getting stretched, but the lint is what I want to address. A few years ago our dryer pooped out, and for months I dried clothes on racks in front of our wood stove. I was disappointed as the weeks wore on, because the clothes started looking pilly and dull. When I finally was able to run them through the dryer again, the lint screen was LOADED, but the clothes looked fresh, bright and fluffy again.

So what was happening there? My theory is that the WASHER loosens the fibers of the clothes, causing most of the lint to come off of the clothes. If you dry the clothes in the dryer or in a stiff wind, the lint gets fluffed away. If your clothes hang without being disturbed, you might not notice after one or two loads, but after a few weeks of washing and hanging you might start to see lint build up.

If you want to save money on running the dryer, hanging is great! If you want to avoid shrinkage or set-in stains, keep hanging! But just because you don't see a handful of lint after line drying, doesn't mean it isn't being formed. You just don't see it collecting in one place. If you're dedicated to line drying, make sure that some of the time your clothes get to really flap in the breeze, not just hang still indoors. Or you can fluff them in the dryer for 5 minutes to shake off any loose fibers and make them feel softer.

The point is, the dryer is not a monster that will chew up your clothes - just your money.  :)