Posts Tagged ‘frugality’

I spoke at a breakfast Rotary Club meeting this morning. The club meets at a rec center about 30 miles from my house.

To get there I rose early, put on some confidence clothes — today a sleeveless LBD with a black/gray/white flowy scarfy cocoon thing over it, because it’s July and 90 degrees  was predicted but I’m a teeny bit self-conscious about the crepiness (not to be confused with creepiness) of my upper arms — and gave myself plenty of time to get there because you never know with Denver traffic. This is something I have continued to try to outsmart since moving here 11 months ago, sometimes successfully, sometimes not.

The traffic was not bad, the sun was up, it was a glorious summer morning. I found the place with only one missed turn. The rec center was off a main street in a fairly new development on ground that used to be Stapleton Airport before it was replaced by DIA.

Kudos to city planners for the way they have redeveloped that area into mixed use areas of retail, office, residential, and open space. (Except that like everywhere else in Denver, housing costs are through the roof, making it very difficult for lots of people, even if the area includes a few mixed income/affordable housing units.) This center was  on open space. Lovely day, like I said.

I went inside, met people I had only emailed with before, ate some fruit and a scone with my coffee, made some follow-up-worthy connections, and gave my talk. As I left, I passed the area devoted to stair-climber machines and treadmills. They were full.

I thought as I walked out into the fresh bright air, why would people pay membership fees, drive their cars however far, park and go into a building and exercise on these machines, when they could just take a walk down the lovely streets and on the trails set up for walking and running? This is Colorado, where it’s sunny, like, 300 days out of the year. People move here in droves for the gorgeous weather. And it was morning, so it wasn’t too hot yet.

What am I missing?

And then — and then — we have more people than ever being put on mega-doses of vitamin D by their physicians after they are deficient in that essential nutrient. Spending 30 minutes in the sun a day meets our daily requirements, or so I’ve been told. Look it up.

What I saw this morning is not peculiar to Colorado. You can go anywhere in America and observe the same thing. It’s a symptom of something. What would you name it?

As Brian Wilson said, “I guess I just wasn’t made for these times.”




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Potato salad for breakfast? Why not? We order eggs and hash browns all the time when we eat out.

I made potato salad last night, and it was my supper, along with a bowl of blueberries, au naturel. A good portion of both, lest you think I’m wasting away here.

Actually, I’m not eating potato salad again for breakfast, but I thought about it before I remembered the leftover canned pumpkin in my refrigerator that need to get used up. So I made some pumpkin oatmeal various-flours bread, which is in the oven as I write. I can anticipate the potato salad for lunch.

In a pinch, in a hurry, I might buy potato salad from the supermarket deli. But I don’t like it as well. It’s usually too goopy for my taste, more like mayonnaise with some lumps of things in it.

I make potato salad like my grandma and mom made potato salad. No written recipe, which bothered me as a newlywed but doesn’t any more. Eventually you get it.potatoes eggs

Here’s what went into yesterday’s batch:

4 good-sized potatoes that I had found in the produce clearance bin at the supermarket about a week ago. Peeled, chopped into the size pieces I wanted for the salad, boiled in water until tender. More than once I’ve cooked the potatoes too long and they’ve more or less disintegrated when I stirred together the salad. No worries. At a pot luck one time someone asked me for my recipe because they liked that I used “mashed” potatoes. It’s called not setting a timer. Oh, and don’t forget to salt them. I often forget. You can salt  afterward, but it’s a bit less even than salting the potatoes in the water.

4 eggs. These were farmers market eggs, laid by happy hens that get to toddle around a pasture instead of stay squeezed into a cage or pen. The cost of the eggs probably ate up the savings on the potatoes, but well-treated hens matter to me, and the eggs taste better and are better for you, I believe. My grandmother had chickens, and I grew up with farm eggs.

Some sweet onion, chopped up.


Some sweet pickle relish, maybe 1/4 – 1/2 cup, with juice. Grandma would have chopped up sweet pickles she had put up herself from cucumbers she grew in her garden. In my gardening days I would have done the same, but now I just try to find sweet relish that is not made with high fructose corn syrup.

Enough mayonnaise to moisten it all, but not so much that it drowns it. I use olive oil mayo these days.

A healthy squirt of mustard. Yellow, brown, whatever you have. This time I had brown.

Stir this all together in a big bowl. Add more mayo if it’s too dry. Taste it. Add more mustard or salt if you think it needs it. Or more pickle relish juice. It’s your salad.

I like real food. No purist, but I try to eat as close to real food as I can, given the rest of my lifestyle. I like my potato salad. It’s one of those common sense things that got passed down to me, just hanging out with women whom I loved who knew how to do stuff.

I think Mom and Grandma would be okay with eating potato salad for breakfast, too.




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I didn’t go to the grocery store to educate a checker. I just wanted to pick up a few things, including some produce. I was pleased to find rhubarb, because I want to make a rhubarb custard pie. A pass past the clearance shelves to see if there were anything I couldn’t live without, which there was not, and I headed for the checkout. I usually don’t use the self-checkout even when I can, preferring instead to cast a vote for a job for a living person. The checker whose line I chose seemed at ease and efficient, but when she took the rhubarb out of the basket, she said, “Now you’ve stumped me. Is this red celery?”trimmed rhubarb

“It’s rhubarb.”

“Oh, okay.” Then she picked up the cauliflower. “This isn’t cabbage, is it?”

“Nope. Cauliflower.”

As she finished ringing me up, she said, “I’m not really up on my vegetables. Mainly because I don’t eat all that many vegetables.”head of cauliflower

My intention in telling this story is not to be critical or make fun of this young woman, and the bagger who wasn’t much more knowledgeable. I tell it because I believe this is all too common. School children don’t know what a potato is, even though they eat tons of French Fries and chips. They can’t tell a pear from an avocado.

This is a handicap. A learned — or lack-of-learning — disability. The cure? Garden. Neighborhood gardens. Garden with friends or parents or kiddos. It doesn’t have to be big. If you don’t have any other space, plant something in a container on your patio or balcony. Your friendly neighborhood garden center will be happy to coach you.

Patio container with soil and new lettuce plants

Newly sprouted lettuce on my balcony

Also cook. From scratch. We live in a time, as Michael Pollan, author of Cooked, has said, when we Americans spend more time watching other people cook on television than we do actually cooking.If you’ve never cooked anything, don’t start by trying to do what those celebrity chefs are doing. Look up basic instructions and recipes online, and just try something.

You don’t even have to cook to cut up the cauliflower and dip it in ranch dressing. (You might even try making your own ranch dressing. It’s cheaper and better than the bottled stuff.) Eventually you might even step out and bake a pie from real rhubarb. 

Cooking, too, can be fun with someone else. Kids love it, especially when it’s a shared activity.

Obviously this is about more than giving correct answers on a pop quiz on vegetables. No one debates the nutritional benefits of eating vegetables, which is what this checker told me she does not do. We gain power to care for ourselves and our families when we have a working knowledge of actual food (as opposed to food-like substances, again to quote from Michael Pollan), how it grows and how to prepare it.

So you’re welcome Ms. Checker. Glad I could introduce you to some of my friends today.

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I replaced my computer last month. I won’t go in debt for such things, so that plus all the accompanying software and a car repair put a dent in my emergency fund. Over the next few months my goal is to replenish it. Therefore I’ll be even more careful to live simply, frugally.

For instance, when do I really need to buy groceries? How about shopping in my cupboard and fridge/freezer first?

My last trip to the supermarket yielded an 8-lb. bag of locally grown potatoes for $1.50. Usually I don’t use that many potatoes before they grow  sprouts and go soft (baby sprouts I just break off and use the potato anyway), but I’m determined not to waste them this time. So breakfast this morning — a day off so more time to cook — was one potato, shredded and fried in olive oil, with one egg fried in the same skillet. Yummers, and it’s real food. I know for a fact all the ingredients in my breakfast. To drink: OJ and coffee. By the way, regular coffee in a regular drip coffeemaker, black. Pennies, not dollars at a coffee shop.

Being frugal empowers me to move forward rather than being tethered to paying for the past. In fact, if you think about it, simple living is a future-oriented mindset.


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You know you’re thrifty when….

You go to Kohl’s to return a gift and shop with a gift card, and you leave with one sweater from the 80% off rack, marked down another 15%, and the rest of the money left unspent.

You iron the tissue paper you get in gift bags and stash it in your gift wrap box to reuse.

You make your own laundry soap.

You have made crackers — even if you then decided they are not worth the effort or the mess. Hey, you’re not fanatical.

The wardrobe that recently was complimented as classy is composed of things you’ve worn for years, thrift shop and deep clearance rack finds (see above sweater), hand-me-downs from wealthier friends, items you make yourself, and here and there a new piece or accessory.

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My house feels like a weight around my ankles that I don’t want any more. If I had thought I’d live here as a single woman, I would not have picked this house. Come to think of it, I didn’t pick it anyway. Art did. I never saw it, other than a few photos, before we agreed to buy it. It met both my criteria, that it be big enough that if our children came to visit they could stay with us and that the neighborhood be walkable.

Then Art died, in this house, in the living room. After one failed attempt to sell it, I’ve stayed on, made it more my home than ever, and found I like living alone. Yet the yard work and home maintenance are stressing me out, and so is the length of the mortgage. Freedom from these would feel so good.

I went to visit a friend recently who lives in an apartment downtown above a restaurant. Not sure if it would be called a loft or not, but I could like living in a space like that. The building is probably 100 years old. It has windows that are almost floor to ceiling, wide worn wood plank floors, ceilings a good 12-ft. high, and lots of open space.

Maybe a place like that will be available for me. Maybe it won’t. But in the next few days I’ll decide whether or not to list my house for sale again. I probably will.  Maybe it will sell, maybe it won’t.  If the time is right, God will open the way and this house will be a good fit for someone else.

My family doesn’t come to visit very often, but I still want an extra room for when they do, because they are always welcome. I still want a walkable neighborhood — in fact, if there are actual shops and parks to walk to, instead of the boring figure eight in this little subdivision where I live now, I’ll be more likely to walk. It will feel good to choose a place all by myself and arrange and decorate it to suit just myself. I’ve never done that before. It’s about time.


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I find myself this morning burrowing through boxes I thought would stay closed for a good long time. It all started yesterday when I found out that I need a new furnace.  The good news buried in that bad news is that a new heating/cooling system will be hugely more energy efficient than my current 1975 models and will save me money big time on my utility bills, but I still have  to figure out how to pay for this. I know God will provide for me. He always has, one way or the other, but I’m working with him here. I know my cushion won’t cover the whole expense. For some time I’ve been tossing around the idea of signing up with airbnb.com, offering my guest room to travelers for some extra income. Now the furnace issue is pushing me to get serious, and before I can actually do that I have to clear out the closet in there. Hence, going through boxes. Some I can just carry downstairs, but others maybe it’s time to weed stuff out. Again.

I boxed this stuff up during the year after my husband died. As widows do, I went through his stuff, got rid of lots, and saved some. I haven’t opened it again in two years. So far I’m one book box in. Already the process drains me. I thought I was done with this.

Just now I messaged a relative to ask if she and her husband, in seminary, want some of the theology/devotional books. I’ve put a Spanish-English Bible and a U.S. Constitution/Declaration of Independence booklet in my tote bag to take to work Monday, to put out for food pantry clients, because our experience shows that people are not just hungry for food, they are hungry for something that feeds their soul and mind.

Then I picked up a couple of my own books that I’d boxed up because I hadn’t looked at them in probably fifteen years: When I Am an Old Woman I Shall Wear Purple and If I Had My Life to Live Over I Would Pick More Daisies. They’ve become stereotypes since I bought them, and I figured they were Goodwill bound. But when I opened one and read a random poem, it took me straight to my mother, who died by my side in 2001, and I think I may need to reread both books again. I go to another poem, and there I am, too. At least for now, they will return to my shelf.

I still don’t know if I’ll follow through on this airbnb.com idea, but I’m closer to it than before. I don’t even know if I’ll ever be done sifting through things — and thoughts, and memories, and emotions. This is what it means to be alive, right?

By the way, I’ve been reading Joshua Becker’s blog, Becoming Minimalist. If you want encouragement for simplifying your life, you might want to check it out. Just be warned, that the process of thinning out possessions will often take you to some important emotions. But that’s really a good thing, too, is it not?



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