Tuesday, March 31, 2009


In the time since we've pledged not to buy anything new, I have rediscovered lots of things in my house. When I need something now, I have to make do. And now that its been 3 months and I'm so used to it, I wonder why I was ever so closed-minded as to go out and buy something for a specific purpose when something else would do. Little things--I got to looking at my cell phone the other day and realize it has the functions of about 12 things I own--camera, alarm, memo, clock, timer, address book... I can do way more on the computer than I ever thought to do before. I can reserve library books and DVDs, watch cable shows and shows I missed on TV, pay my bills. And of course, there was the one time we laughed ourselves silly when we finally used the timer on the VCR to record a show--technology that's been nearly obsolete for a decade but hey, its there and we own it and why go out and buy something else?
The list of rediscoveries goes on and on, but one thing I never realized I would rediscover was my kids. I'm home with them all day, I talk to them and play with them, I KNOW them. But the thing about kids is that they are always changing. They are complex little creatures with thoughts, hopes, dreams, questions, goals and fears. Sometimes we get so wrapped up in our own world that their little protests and questions seem inconvenient or unimportant to us. But I'm finding now that what I learn about my kids through day to day interaction really just scratches the surface of who they are, and who they are becoming.
We've changed our schedule a little in the house recently, which has led me to my epiphany of rediscovery. The kids have always been put to bed at the same time. The 8-year-old gets a hug and a kiss and a "good night", then I go on to rock the little one to sleep. I have always enjoyed the time with him at night--the only time he is ever still enough to hold and talk to. Well, this has never gone unnoticed by the 8-year-old, and she's always wanted her share of the attention to. In the past few months, she's really fussed and complained about wanting me to lie down with her for a few minutes before she falls asleep. After all my thoughts of "She's way too old for this" and "I can't get this started when my hands are full as it is", I finally realized--she needs something from me, and neither she nor I probably know what it is. So after spring break, we decided to put the little one to bed an hour later. He plays with Daddy in his playroom while I spend time with big sister. This has worked far better than I thought, for many different reasons. Now that hubby gets home later, he misses out on time with the kids and they need it. And a later bedtime keeps the little one in bed an hour later in the morning, and I have been able to get the whole day up and running and organized in that blessed hour of peace. The whole day runs more smoothly, and I have more time for him and for everyone because everything is done.
But for the really amazing part--my daughter talks to me. And she is a really neat, really wonderful kid. All year, I have been asking the usual Mom questions--"How was school? Who did you play with today? How was your spelling test?" I pretty much get a shrug and an "I dunno". At dinner we have fun chatter, and we certainly spend time together and talk about lots of other things. But at night, she says she just feels like she needs to be hugged. And if I sit there, not talking, just "being there", her words start to tumble out. "Guess what so-and-so did at P.E.!" and "You know what happened in math?" and after that, there are sometimes questions. "What happens when people die? Are there really UFO's?Why did Grandpa Dan get cancer? Is Dad going to get it? Can we get another cat?" They come at me, no particular order, just a jumble of things she's trying to sort out in her 8-year-old mind. I find I have to answer without any change in tone of voice, because the first hint of amusement or concern will close the door immediately. After the questions often come the things that weigh on her most heavily, probably the real reason she needs Mom and needs to be hugged. "So-and-so yelled at me at recess and called me stupid". "I forgot my math book in the other room and the teacher was really annoyed". And things that tug at my heart--"Am I ugly?" What can I say? "Of course not! Did someone tell you that?" Silence. "Why do you think that?" Silence. But I've been hearing that one alot, and I know she's reached the age where she's self -conscious, other kids' opinions matter, and Mom can't fix everything. But I can listen, I can hug, and I can be there. And I can learn more and more about this wonderful kid, whose thoughts and questions and fears are important and real.
Every day I see neighbor kids coming home at 7 at night, their parents tired and impatient and shooing them in to do homework and get to bed. In the morning I see the same kids, often fussing and crying as their parents shoo them out the door, warning them to hurry up and not make everybody late. And all I can think is that those kids have so much to offer, and I hope their parents are listening. I hope they aren't those gadgets in the house with all those cool features and capabilities that get forgotten and underused because life is just too busy.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Another Freecycle find

I haven't been paying much attention to Freecycle lately, other than to give things away, because we have just a short list of things we'd like to have and we really don't need to bring anything else into the house. I'm so pleased with all our decluttering and the feeling of everything being in its place--I don't want to lose it! But one of the things I've wanted for a long time is Christmas dishes. Every year I tell myself I'll get some, and every year I decide it isn't worth the money to buy a set of dishes I'll only use for a few weeks. Of course, I always intend to find them on post-holiday clearance, but that never happens either. So I was really excited to see a post offering some on Freecycle--a service for 4, perfect for our family. The giver lived only a few blocks from me, so I was able to have them in my hands in about 15 minutes. I'm pretty excited about this find--too bad I have another 8 months until I can decorate for Christmas. They'll be waiting!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

A weekend of yard work

Despite a cold start, its been an absolutely beautiful weekend--lots and lots of sunshine, warm days and a cool breeze to keep us from overheating. The back yard needed attention and the garden needed planting, so there wasn't much question of what we were going to do this weekend.
Friday, we relaxed and watched "Because of Winn-Dixie", checked out from the library. We hadn't seen it and the kids loved it. Saturday mornings are all about soccer, so in the afternoon we finally got to the yard. My daughter helped spread dirt and transplant our seedlings while my husband took care of other yard work and my son made sure enough mudballs hit the side of the garage. Our seedlings seem to be experiencing some major transplant shock, so in a few days we may need to go back to the mounds and plant more seeds. Fortunately, there is still time! We have a tiny garden, so we tried to focus on what we like to eat and what we've been succesful at growing in the past. We planted zucchini, yellow squash and cucumbers in mounds. We made a row for parsley, planted from seed. (I can already taste the tabbouleh!!) and a row of basil (ditto the pesto). I have lettuce already started in a container, along with cilantro in pots. We mulched around the edges to keep the weeds down, and I guess we'll keep watering it and see what happens!
While we had the mulch out we went ahead and re-mulched the little one's playscape. We made this play area last year so that he'd have a place to play and a place to keep all his toddler stuff out of the way of the lawnmower and dog and various other hazards. It didn't need to be too elaborate, since we have 3 well-equipped parks within walking distance, but it needed to be fun. He loves it! We got the landscape timbers and mulch at Home Depot last year with a gift card (credit card reward) and bought the sandbox at Wal-Mart. Our neighbor was throwing away the climber/slide--it was too bulky to bother to take anywhere and she was overjoyed when we said we could use it. My brother's family handed down the picnic table that their boys had outgrown, and the little ride-on toys were another curbside-at-trash-day find. His little Spongebob chair was $1 at a garage sale. We've all had alot of fun in that little area--my husband and the little one scooping sand and hauling it in the dump truck, my daughter and I being served mud pies and "cookie-doughnuts" at the picnic table. I can see the playscape from the kitchen window, so he can play putside while I cook and wash dishes.
Other than the play set, we have two swings for the kids--each hanging from a branch of our pecan tree. My daughter has a trampoline we gave her for her birthday last year which tucks neatly around a corner so that she can play on it but we don't have to see it from the windows. So the kids have plenty to keep them busy while the grown-ups work!
Now that the garden is in, the weeds are pulled and things are in order, its up to Mother Nature to fill in the trees and the plants in the landscaping. When summer gets here, we will be spending most of our time out there!

Friday, March 27, 2009

Menu plans

I mentioned yesterday that we have bumped up the grocery budget now that hubby has a new job, and that the reduced-for-quick sale and the fresh, in-season produce deals have been great. We have an abundance of food in the house, which I LOVE, and I'll talk a little about what we're doing with it.
I was able to make a complete menu plan for this week, along with a menu plan of entrees for next week. (I'll have to fill in with more fresh produce on Monday) I also was able to make and freeze a few things using the excess. The picture above is of our frozen strawberry treats. I made up this recipe, mainly because the kids like frozen treats and I couldn't find anything sugar free, organic, without artificial coloring or preservatives, AND affordable. I make these whenever we have the ingredients and the kids consider them a big deal. They basically contain yogurt (I use homemade), organic whipping cream, fresh strawberries, and Stevia. I freeze them in cupcake liners (I have an abundance bought after Easter one year for 5 cents a pack). I'll do an e-how on it when I get the chance and post a link here. This made good use of the sale organic strawberries and the yogurt made from the bargain milk!
Another thing I was able to make and freeze was "green potatoes". They are basically twice-baked potatoes with broccoli mixed in and topped with cheese. They freeze well --first on cookie sheets to individually freeze them, then placed in a freezer container--and make a good quick addition to a lunch or dinner when we need a little something extra. These used up about 50 cents worth of my potatoes, some fresh broccoli (.99/lb!) and the sale cheese ($1/8 oz).
I decided NOT to make and freeze pancakes or muffins this week. I found that when cooking from scratch and trying to save money, our diets start to revolve around wheat a little too much. This is probably fine for most people, but for whatever reason my family doesn't do well on too much of it. I especially start to feel lethargic when I eat too much wheat. So we are taking a break from that this week, focusing on all the other goodies we have available.
I'm glad to be cooking less complicated meals, since our evenings are so hectic. Hubby gets home later now and can't help with the shuttling to extra-curricular activities, so 3 nights a week I need to feed the kids early and get my daughter out to swim team or soccer with the 2-year-old along for the ride. Once we get home, we head straight into bath and bedtime routines.
So what have we been eating?
Monday: baked chicken legs and thighs, mashed potatoes, steamed broccoli and carrots, green salad
dessert:strawberries and whipped cream
Tuesday: Tuscan bean soup, greek salad, whole wheat artisan bread (reduced/$1) dessert:sugar-free ice cream
Wednesday: grilled salmon, sauteed asparagus and red peppers, spinach/strawberry/walnut salad with homemade honey mustard vinaigrette
dessert: sugar-free pudding
Thursday: beef and pasta skillet, green beans (from frozen), yellow squash (frozen from parents garden)
dessert:fresh pineapple
Friday: homemade cream of broccoli soup, grilled cheese sandwiches, carrot sticks dessert:sugar-free ice cream
Saturday:grilled hamburgers, homemade french fries
dessert:sugar-free popsicles
Sunday: pork chops, blackeyed peas, green potatoes, steamed asparagus
dessert:sugar-free blueberry cake (reduced for quick sale; in the freezer)
Next week's entrees: (will decide on sides once I shop and see what I find)
Monday: chicken breast
Tuesday:turkey meatballs, brown rice,
Wednesday: salmon stuffed with spinach and pesto
Thursday: simmered chuck steaks, mashed potatoes (leftover in freezer)
Friday: homemade pizza
Saturday: spaghetti with meatsauce
Sunday:baked chicken (whole, cut up), blackeyed peas (LO in freezer from previous Sunday)
Normally I would have one or two "leftover buffets" per week. However, since the little one and I eat leftovers for lunch and hubby now takes them to work, I just leave the leftovers alone. A couple of times this week we've had even more than we needed for dinner and the next day's lunches, so I froze them into individual meals for hubby to pull out of the freezer when there is nothing else available.
This week has been my first experiment with offering dessert after every meal, and I'd have to say so far I'm pleased with the results. I have been careful not to bribe the kids with it, but when we sit down I make sure to tell them; "I have xxxx for dessert!" They have eaten all their dinner and all their veggies every night, and it has been nice to linger over the table for a few more minutes over dessert and talk. Since they've been eating their meals so well, they've been snacking less. I'd rather they do this, because I've read studies showing that kids who graze all day tend to take in the same number of calories as kids who don't but not as many nutrients and not the variety of nutrients they need. (probably because they don't tend to snack on sauteed asparagus or steamed broccoli!) And while I suppose this is okay once in a while, its not okay every day and my kids were starting to want to do that. So if some strawberries and whipped cream or sugar-free ice cream helps improve their overall nutrition--fine by me!! :)
For breakfast this week, the kids have asked for exactly the same thing every day:
-smoothies made with homemade yogurt, soy milk, a banana and the ugly strawberries that they won't otherwise eat
-ham slices (hormone-free, nitrate-free)
-cantaloupe or fresh pineapple
They eat every bite!
Hubby and I have our own breakfasts--I've been having the millet cereal and he's been having that along with two eggs every morning. Breakfast has been easy at our house!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Reduced for Quick Sale

Now that were home and back in the swing of things, its time to deal with groceries again. I had been really cutting back when hubby was job-hunting, since it was something I could do to help our finances. However, now that he is working again we both agree that eating well and eating HEALTHY is our top priority. I have bumped our grocery budget back up! Before the layoff, I really wasn't paying attention to what we spent and was very surprised when I went back over receipts and found we were spending $800-900 per month. Now that I AM paying attention, I think we can eat the way we want for $500-600 per month. This includes all health/beauty items, diapers and vitamins/supplements as well.

As I've mentioned before, we try to buy mostly organic and mostly fresh items to cook from scratch. That makes it hard to use alot of coupons, thought there are some out there. I concentrate our organic items to milk, eggs, flour, pasta, the "dirty dozen" fruits/veggies, meat when I can find it cheap enough, and whatever cereal or crackers we buy. I have found that the best way to get deals on these items is to find them reduced for quick sale. We have popped in and out of grocery stores more often than usual in the past week due to all the traveling and party preparations. This gave me alot of opportunity to scour the aisles for reduced items, and with good results. One store tends to mark down the organic milk every so often, and when they do I stock up. Another has a large organic section and periodically marks items down on the shelves because they aren't selling. I have also found that when regular milk or meat are on sale really cheap, people buy less of the organic and if I go in towards the end of the sale cycle, I'll find that they have marked down the organic stuff since it didn't sell. This week, I got 4 packages of organic chicken, 5 half gallons of Horizon milk ($1 each!!), and 4 boxes of organic cereal. I was happy to find a coupon for one of the brands of cereal online and print it, so two of the boxes cost only 99 cents each. I also got a 10 pound bag of potatoes for $1.00. I made organic yogurt from some of the milk to stock us up. I later went to Target and bought 4 pounds of Laura's beef for $2.99 a pound and 3 packages of frozen wild-caught salmon, 1 1/2 pounds per package, for $6.99 each. At a third store we had popped into, 8 oz packages of shredded cheese were $1 each, so I stocked up on those. This will really help with entrees for the next couple of weeks!

For other shopping, I focused on fresh fruits and veggies in season. I LOVE spring, since all our favorites are in season and on sale! Fresh asparagus, broccoli crowns and tomatoes were all .99 per pound. Organic strawberries were $2.99 per pound, and cataloupe were 2/$1! ( I bought 6--my kids love cantaloupe!) I also got mangoes 3/$1 and a fresh pineapple for $1.25 after a coupon printed online. I rounded it out with 6 pounds of organic apples that cost way too much and some regular bananas. We are fortunate to have fresh organic spinach and lettuce from my parents garden, so we are in good shape.

My only other great find was diapers. The Kroger brand were on sale for $5.99, and I had printed two coupons for $3 off, so I got them for $2.99 each. I was pretty excited about that.

After a quick run through the aisles for brown rice, beans, a few frozen veggies, some pesto, coffee, etc we are set on groceries. This was on Monday, and I made a menu plan of entrees to last two weeks. I will need to restock fresh fruits and veggies this coming Monday. I total I spent $143. The total saved through sales, coupons and reduced items is $92. I'm glad to be eating a better variety again!
In my next post, I'll run through our menu plan and talk about some of the items I was able to batch-cook and freeze using these sale items.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

What makes a house a home

I mentioned in my last post that part of our whirlwind week was a trip to New Orleans. I mentioned that it was a special place to me, but I'd like to say more about why. My mom was born and raised there, and though she moved away when she married my dad and had all of us, we grew up visiting regularly. To us kids, New Orleans wasn't about the French Quarter or Mardi Gras or seafood--it was about "Grammy and Pawpaw's house". It was the most magical place on earth.
I can still remember the excitement of a visit. We'd be almost crazy with anticipation during the 6 hour drive, and we always arrived at night. We'd wake up when we felt the rumble of the bridge beneath the tires, and would sprint from the car to be the first to ring the distinctive doorbell. I can still see the terra cotta tile on the porch, hear the bark of their old poodle, and smell the wonderful smells of our favorite foods waiting for us inside. Our grandparents' faces would light up when we came in, and the smiles never faded. During the whole visit, we felt like the most important people on earth. Looking back now, I realize that though we always felt spoiled rotten on our visits, nothing that my grandparents did to show their love for us was material. They didn't buy us things, there were no shopping trips or piles of toys. We just knew, minute by minute, that they were happy to see us. My grandfather liked to take us for walks, chat with all the neighbors about what we were doing and how we'd grown. When we entered a room, he smiled and greeted us, no matter what he was doing. When we talked, he looked us in the eyes and listened. My grandmother knew what everyone's favorite foods were, and they were always ready for us along with a smile and a hug.
Even as an adult, I'd visit New Orleans and it always felt the same, no matter my age or circumstance. I brought friends to visit, and boyfriends. As I mentioned in the last post, during one visit with a friend we returned to Grammy and Pawpaws house and she exclaimed "I think I've met the man I want to marry!" I had met his friend, and was pretty impressed with him too. Within two years, we'd married those men we came home to talk about that night. My grandparents loved my husband, and the magic of their house was there for him too.
We lost my grandfather in the year 2000 after a long and well-faught battle with cancer, and we adjusted to a "different" New Orleans--no less loving, just with a small ache in the heart. There was never a time we visited that we couldn't feel him there.
In 2004, hurricane Katrina roared through and destroyed my favorite house. Thankfully, my grandmother had evacuated safely, though she lost everything she had. We siblings were devastated, first of all for her, but also for all the memories we held so dear. It seemed unthinkable.
On the first day they allowed residents back to see their homes, my husband drove through the night with my grandmother to be one of the first let in. He called me from the bridge, and I could only imagine the butterflies in her tummy as she sat on that bridge, much like the excitement I had felt crossing it but for a very different reason. She bravely went through the house, found what she could, whispered a peaceful goodbye to the cat she'd had to leave behind, and moved on to a new life here in Texas.
We visited the remains of her home on our trip last week. That terra cotta tile is still there, and seeing it still brings me back to those special days. I chipped up a few pieces and brought them home. A few days later, I visited my grandmother in her new home. Amazingly, though it is a different home with different things, it feels just the same. When I walk through the door, I could be 8 years old again, ready to be hugged and loved and taken care of by the people who love me. Its not the house and its not the stuff that make a home a part of your heart--its the love that's shared. That goes with you wherever you are. I'm so thankful to have "New Orleans" in my heart, and I can only hope I'm doing the right things so that someday my own children will feel this way about the home I am making for them.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Whirlwind week

Its been a busy week! We spent Friday the 13th on all things birthday. I went to school with my daughter in the morning to watch as the headmaster gave her a much-anticipated birthday pencil in chapel. (amazing how excited the kids get about this!!) Later that morning the whole family visited her classroom to bring sugar-free popsicles to celebrate her birthday, then we left school with a car full of kids to enjoy the skating party. It was tons of fun--one small sibling of a party attendee came up to me and exclaimed "this is the best day of my life!" We had friends sleep over, and wouldn't you know the stomach bug that's been going around decided to hit my house at about 10 p.m. My daughter and I both spent the night being sick. Luckily, her friends were so worn out from skating that they fell asleep early and nobody but my daughter was upset about it! She says that her birthday was great despite its fateful ending.
We had no sooner cleared kids out of the house than we packed up and headed out for a spring-break vacation. I found an incredible last-minute rate on a very nice hotel in New Orleans, so we made the 6 hour drive with the kids and dog and enjoyed several days there. My husband and I have a special connection with New Orleans. My mother's family is from there, and that is where my husband and I met. We had our first date there, were married near there and have always loved it. We stayed in the French Quarter and I'd have to say it was certainly very different being there as parents as opposed to newlyweds! Different things were interesting and fun. The kids enjoyed the ferry rides across the river, the horse-drawn carriage ride and the hotel pool. We adults loved the sights and sounds, the restaraunts and the memories brought back by familiar places. It was a wonderful few days. We came home just long enough to unpack and repack, then drove 1 1/2 hours in another direction to visit my parents and the 5 nieces staying with them. My kids absolutely love their cousins and don't see them often enough, so for them it was Disneyland. They had a ball.
We finally came back Friday night and slept soundly in our own beds. This morning, I had to face reality! I spent a solid 9 hours unpacking, cleaning, cooking, putting things away and washing 10 loads of laundry. Luckily, the kids were happy to be home and played contentedly all day. The two-year-old had grown weary of traveling yesterday and had been throwing tantrums at the drop of a hat, but he transformed instantly once he got home and back into his routine. He played so long in his sandbox today that he fell asleep in my lap after his bath!
We had a wonderful week, but I am ready to slow down and get back into our routine. Hubby starts his new job Monday and my daughter goes back to school, and life will be calm and quiet again.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

A birthday with nothing new

As I look back over my old posts, I realize that alot has changed in the way we think about things. In the first days of our pledge not to buy anything new, every time we worked our way around something it was a big deal, something fun and new. Now its just normal. I don't even think to write about it, even though some big or small challenge seems to hit us most every day.
This week has been a bit of work as we've tried to prepare a wonderful birthday for my daughter without buying anything new. I can't say its been hard, since luckily my daughter is very much on board with the nothing-new concept, but it has tapped a bit at our creativity.
Luckily, now that hubby has a job we could take the money issue off the table and simply focus on the "nothing new" aspect.
Her gift was pretty easy. She desperately wanted a Nintendo DS and has made sure to mention it every chance she's gotten for months. We managed to find a like-new DS with 2 games on Craigslist, so that was taken care of.
Her party was easy as well, for the most part. She wants a skating party, so we have booked that and it doesn't involve anything new. We sent out "e-vites" via e-mail, so there were no paper invitations needed. The only difficulty there was convincing her she couldn't invite every person she's ever known in her life--LOL. With much prodding, we managed to pare the list down to 16 of her closest friends. (!) We thought that with it being spring break, lots of kids would be out of town and the party would bring itself down to a reasonable size, but it didn't quite work that way, as 14 have RSVP'd. But I plan to take full advantage of these younger days when all the girls are best friends and the world is perfect, because there will come a day when they won't see it that way anymore. So 14 it is, and they will have a wonderful time.
We had to purchase the cake, since it needs to be sugar-free and I've had terrible luck baking sugar- free cakes in the past. Luckily, this is in the category of food and doesn't count against our pledge. We already had candles for it, so we didn't have to buy anything there. That left us with only the gift bags to deal with. Luckily, we had a package of white paper lunch bags on hand, so I will bring those along with markers, stickers and etc for the girls to decorate when they take a skating break. I have assembled a "treasure basket" so that they can choose their own goodies to go into it. I filled it with all the misc toys and treasures my daughter has brought home from parties and events, Chuck E Cheeses and the like and has never touched again. I was surprised at how much there was once I started looking, and am glad to have found a use for it other than taking up space in the house! I finished the basket off with lots and lots of candy that my daughter has brought home both from recent parties and as a prize she got at school for reading. Again, I'm glad to have found a use for it, since nobody in our house eats candy.
So there we have it, a birthday with nothing new! It seems so normal to do things this way that I really didn't think much of it until one of the mothers asked what we had gotten my daughter for her birthday. Without a second thought, I answered that we had found a great DS on Craigslist. There was a surprised silence until she finally mustered an "Oh, that's....nice" and changed the subject. I have to remember that not everyone "gets" this, and not everyone wants to get it. But for those who do, I hope we can set the example that it CAN be done, and it can be absolutely wonderful!

Monday, March 9, 2009

A new job!! (and more free-decorating)

First and foremost, we are thankful that hubby has found a new job and will start work at the end of the month. There's more of a commute than we would like, but the pay is good and in this economy (and with the competition from all the OTHERS in his field who have been laid off) we are grateful for it. The kids and I have most certainly enjoyed having him home and its been a wonderful experience for all of us. And now, with the job hunt out of the way, he can move from being a man on a mission to a man taking a well-needed rest. We will certainly miss him when he goes back to work!

Last week, hubby spent his time replacing siding on the house (we had to buy those materials, unfortunately it went to the category of "urgent home repair") and the little one and I spent time at a friends house. He played with the daughter while I helped my friend clean her garage, pack boxes and prepare her house for sale. I am always happy to help friends who need it, but in this case it was especially nice because when a person is moving, their "stuff" quickly becomes "junk" to them. No matter how much they loved it before, the thought of packing and moving it quickly turns them around. So at the end of the week, I hauled home that cute little stand that I put in my bathroom, a desk for my daughter's room, and lots of nice wooden storage crates. The storage crates inspired a pantry redo, and they are now labelled and organizing the pantry, with quite a few to spare for organizing the garage. The wicker stand inspired a bathroom "freedecorating" spree, which was much-needed. We have never done anything to decorate the bathroom, since I have never liked it. Its oddly-shaped and not quite functional, with little storage and a blue slate floor that completely clashes with the warm colors in the rest of the house. Well, once I put the stand in there, I was thrilled with the storage it opened up and the way it warmed up the room. I dug out some pretty metal sconces that I had found on clearance once and didn't know where to put, and I also added a garage-sale lamp, a rug not being used, a garage-sale plant and wall hanger and the extra hand towels from the half-bath. I am pleased with the result--it is now warm, functional and more in line with the rest of the house.

Spending time in my friends impeccably-decorated house really gave me a shopping itch. I appeased it by visiting some garage sales on Saturday morning. Wouldn't you know, the first sale I happened upon was that of an interior designer, clearly selling of the excesses of her trade. There were granite slabs, tumbled marble tile, tons of pictures and decorative items and paint. They happened to want far more for their stuff than any garage-salers are willing to pay ($300 for a picture? $100 for a globe?) but the paint was well-priced and we desperately needed some for our kitchen and breakfast room. . We were beginning to wonder if paint for the kitchen was going to fall into the "urgent home repair" category, but I kept giving it more time. Now, luckily, I found the perfect paint--a full $50 gallon of paint that I picked up for $7.00. Our kitchen is now painted and I am amazed at how perfect the color is. I also bought a large planter for our ficus tree in the living room for $15. That has cured my shopping itch for now, and we have a beautiful kitchen! I'll post pictures once we get everything put back in place.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Nelson's lesson

I've been thinking alot these last few days about our cat, Nelson. We're approaching the one-year anniversary of when she died, and those who have loved and lost a pet will know that they hold a permanent place in your heart. Ironically, the most valuable lesson about thrift and frugality was learned from my cat, as it was because of her that one day it all came together and made sense.

To tell you about Nelson, first I have to tell you about Blackie. Back in my husband's apartment-dwelling bachelor days, he got out of his car one day and found himself followed by a cautious but friendly cat. She parked himself outside his door, and the next morning was there to greet him and follow him to back to his car. When he arrived home again, she was there to follow him to the door. Soon he began to feed her, then took her in, and eventually she crawled under his couch and delivered 7 kittens. The runt of the litter was Nelson. She couldn't nurse well and Blackie didn't show much interest in her, but she was full of fire and my husband loved her immediately. He bottle-fed her, found homes for the other kittens, and brought her with him into our marriage.
For the first 7 years, the cats were our kids. They wove themselves so subtly into our lives, we simply couldn't remember when we'd ever slept without a cat on our feet or watched TV without a kitty in our lap. When my daughter came along, Nelson provided comic relief on those long, colicky nights when we'd go to slip the baby in the bassinet and find a warm furball in the way.

When she was a year old, Nelson disppeared. The next day, a freak snowstorm passed through and we were worried sick. After a week, we started to lose hope. On the 14th day, she pulled herself through the kitty door, weak and sick and cold. After a trip to the vet for antibiotics and some time in front of the heater she was fine--but the tips of her ears and the tip of her tail had been frostbitten and fell off. From that point on, her ears were octagonal and she was quite a funny-looking cat!

Blackie died of kidney failure at the age of 10, and Nelson became an only cat. By that time, I honestly couldn't remember what it was like NOT to have her. Life marched on, we moved, had another baby, and Nelson marched right along with us.

When she reached 14, we noticed Nelson was slowing down, and for the first time getting a little pudgy. When she grew lethargic and started to hide from us, we took her to the vet. The news was bad. She wasn't fat--she had a malignant tumor the size of a grapefruit in her belly. If we didn't have it removed, it would rupture and kill her within a few days. If we did have it removed, one of the other nodules near it would grow to that size and do the same thing, but in the meantime she'd have her life back. They suggested euthanizing her, because the surgery would cost nearly $1,000 and she'd need a blood transfusion before she'd be healthy enough for surgery.

My husband and I didn't need to discuss it. Occasionally in the past, I'd wondered to myself if we really needed to be frugal. I'd hear my friends say "what's money for, if not to spend it?" and I'd wonder if they were right. But that day, as I stood there in my clearance-rack jeans and freecycle shoes, it all came together. I reached into my thrift-store purse and gave my cat her life back. I didn't even blink. THAT'S what money is for, and I'll never regret it.

Nelson returned home from her surgery and was herself again--jumping into cabinets and causing mischeif, sneaking around outside after birds and of course, occupying any lap that happened to look empty.

Another tumor did take over, far too quickly for us. As she grew sicker, we knew we should think about euthanizing her, but we couldn't--not when she still had life left. On her last night, when we knew it was time, my husband still couldn't do it. He stayed up with her all night, and in the morning went to the vet only because I insisted. Nelson knew it would be too hard for him. She died in his arms before the vet arrived to administer the shot. It was her gift back to him for all he'd done for her.

Monday, March 2, 2009

More Freecycle bounty

I saw a post today on Freecycle offering a bag of clothes the next size up from what my daughter wears. Since I know she will grow before the end of the year and we won't be buying anything new, this provided a great opportunity for me to stock up in anticipation of need. That way, I'm not in a bind when she hits her next growth spurt. I always wait a little after a good item is posted before I ask for it, since someone may need it more than I do and I'd like to give them a chance to get it. Luckily for me, the original person it had been promised to never showed up to get it, and the giver was glad to let me take it off her hands. She lived only a few blocks away, so in a span of 5 minutes I was able to go out and get my daughter a whole new wardrobe!

My daughter wasn't home when I arrived with the goodies, so I arranged everything like a store and surprised her when she got home. She was thrilled!! She "shopped" carefully, deciding what she loved and what didn't suit her, what fit now and what she'll save to grow into. A small pile was separated out to bring to her cousins. The brown dress was the hit of the day, and she changed into it to eat dinner. She was also especially excited about the bathrobe. She's been asking for one since I finally gave away her 3-sizes-too-small former robe, and it just hasn't been easy to come by used. What a bonus to find one in the freecycle bag, looking brand new!

What a lovely surprise on an otherwise routine Monday!