Thursday, July 31, 2008

Eating Humble Pie

Here at Chez Necessity, I keep track of all the money we spend. I use Quicken, and it arranges all the entries into different categories, such as gas, groceries, clothes, etc. I started keeping track of expenses (all of them - if I put a quarter in the meter, I need to enter it) about 10 years ago, and it is certainly an eye opener. I began writing down everything I spent in a little notebook (this was a real pain, and Quicken is SO much nicer) because I kept looking at all these ATM withdrawal slips and had absolutely no idea what we had spent the cash on. I would recommend that everybody try it for a couple of months, if only to see where all the money goes.

Another good thing about Quicken is that it lets you compare this month's spending with the prior month, or the same month last year, or pretty much in any combination you want. This helps keep us in line, and allows me to analyze where I might be able to cut back a bit. As everyone's pocketbook knows, I am definitely seeing large increases in both gas and food. Food is partly our doing, as I've switched to more and more organic products (including milk, which almost physically pains me every time I pour out a glass) and our farm share started in June. I was fretting over the grocery bill (we're up to about $85 a week for our family of four) and I came across this link about what the rest of the world eats. A little perspective is always a useful thing.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Now You See It, Now You Don't

Sort of. After some very unpleasant person hit my car and vamoosed in the parking lot of Trader Joe's, we were left with an unsightly dent in our poor little car, affectionately named Tiny Shiny. We were kicking around whether to take it to a body shop, but lately in the spirit of both wanting to send our kids to college and not being destitute in our old age I have been trying to be a little more handy; I've done some basic things around the house (caulking, painting, drywall taping) and changed my own oil long ago when I actually had a driveway, but had never tackled anything dealing with the outside of a car.

So, I toddled myself over to the automotive store to pick up some rubbing compound and touch-up paint. One would think this would be an easy trip, but one would be wrong. Apparently I needed some sort of code regarding the paint color, as well as knowing whether or not I had a clear coat (I do, but didn't know that at the time). Then, when I read the directions for the rubbing compound, there were multiple warning about it ruining the paint on the car, which was surprisingly not what I was going for. Hmmm.....more research needed to be done.

Luckily, Google is my friend, and I found out all the answers I needed, such as I do have a clear coat, I can get a paint pen from the dealer, and rubbing compound will be ok as long as I don't get overzealous in my rubbing of said compound.

Off to the dealer, back to the automotive store, where I also now needed to purchase sandpaper to take off the rust that had started to form on the dent, and I was in business. Sadly, being me, these items sat unused in my car until yesterday, when I finally decided that I was mentally ready.

Half and hour later, and the car went from this:

to this:
Still a dent, but definitely an improvement, if I do say so myself.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Unfinished Business

I've been rather MIA lately, as I've been finishing up with my student teachers. This entails driving all over Westchester (and Connecticut!), doing observations of lessons, writing reports about said lessons, and this week I've been doing my comprehensive evaluations.

They are now almost finished (one left!), and my brain is starting to be able to process other thoughts. This is lucky, because we are leaving on vacation on Saturday, and I need to begin the process of making sure that we have clean clothes, food to eat, etc. for a week. We are going to Cape Cod, where we have gone for the last several years. At first we were against the idea of going to the same place every year, but it is such a wonderful place, and there is something to be said for knowing the area, restaurants, attractions, etc. We really enjoy it, and so do the kids, and we are all looking forward to it.

That said, in planning some things we would like to do, I remembered a yarn store we stopped at last year, Ladybug Knitting. It was a nice little shop, and the kids each picked out a skein of yarn for me to make something small that would remind them of their vacation. Big Trouble picked out just about the most expensive yarn in the shop (hand dyed ArtYarns merino) and I made him a hat. He wore it all winter, and happily told everyone he ran into that his mom had made it for him. Very endearing.

Miss Serious picked out some Louet merino fingering weight. and when we were discussing going back to the yarn store, I realized that I hadn't made anything out of it. So, I dug around, pulled it out, wound it up, and started a sock for her:

The colors are great, and it's very soft (a definite requirement for anything that Miss Serious allows to touch her skin). Unfortunately, I only got one skein, so I think the socks will be quite short (you know, there's nothing more practical than ankle length wool socks....).

When I am making something the kids want, they are quite the little taskmasters. Before I started knitting, I used to cross stitch. Once I took up knitting, my unfinished projects all got put aside, never to see the light of day again. Except for one. I have made cross stitch Christmas stockings for The Professor and Miss Serious, and I began one for Big Trouble when he was born. Every year at Christmas we put up the stockings, and Big Trouble hasn't seemed to care that he has a plain, knit stocking while they have beautiful cross stitched ones with their names on them.

This year he noticed. Thus, I dug out the stocking, which will eventually look like this:

Unfortunately, at the moment it looks like this:

He asks for visual updates daily, and keeps commenting on how much he is looking forward to Christmas. He says this is not for the presents, but to see his stocking hanging up. Something tells me I won't be able to get away with a half-finished stocking this year....

Thursday, July 24, 2008

So How Much For Thinner Thighs These Days?

Well, at Marshall's, about $12.99, as I discovered yesterday. My brother is getting married at the end of the summer; this announcement in my younger days would have set me eagerly out to the store looking for a snazzy dress. These days, in an effort to both downsize and save my pennies, I try to avoid such activities, so I wandered over to my closet and pulled out some of the more likely suspects to try on. I don't attend fancy functions often, so the dresses that I've purchased for said functions have hardly been worn. Unfortunately, these dresses were purchased by a younger, childless (and thus thinner) me.

I have one that I really like, and would work for the wedding, but my thighs and backside were really trying to talk me out of it. As previously mentioned, I am a big fan of infomercials, and have been seeing ones for "shaping garments" lately. Hmmmmm....I could use some shaping. So, I toddled off to my local Target and attempted to try some on. Apparently this is not allowed at Target, and you're just supposed to be able to visualize through your powers of ESP what they'll look like, so I put them back and continued on to Marshall's. Anything seems to go at Marshall's, so I tried on and came home with these:

They look startlingly like bicycle shorts, but do a surprisingly good job. They're about as comfortable as wearing bicycle shorts under a dress possibly can be, and seemed to do the trick.

I must admit to being awestruck in the "shaping garments" section, one which I had not ventured into before. Apparently you can tuck, squeeze, or enhance pretty much anything you want. I was sorry I hadn't brought my camera, because the pants with buttocks implants were fabulous (obviously not for me, but for some poor soul with tiny buttocks) and rather indescribable with mere words. I wonder if the inventors of spandex knew what the ramifications of all their hard work would be?

Tuesday, July 22, 2008


Yes, it is once again hot, and I haven't posted in a while because my fingers keep sliding off the keyboard, and my brain doesn't seem capable of coming up with two successive, coherent thoughts in a row. I can handle it for about 3 days, and then I start getting irritated. I like summer, and I like warm weather. What I do not like, however, is sweating in my sleep. It somehow doesn't lend itself to pleasant dreams or restful slumber, and I am looking forward to this particular wave of heat to break SOON. The weather keeps swearing that tomorrow will be better, and then I get to tomorrow, and they push it off yet another day. What a tease.

I've been supervising student teachers this summer, and I'm amazed how many summer school programs are not air conditioned. We've chosen to forgo it in our house, but these poor kids (who really don't want to be in school in the summer anyway) are just wilting by 9:15. Let's all give out a big shout to the powers that be that it's time for a little coolin'.

Friday, July 18, 2008


Even though it's hot, this post is not about cool bodies of water. It's about color, and the strange things that it does. I'm a sucker for beautifully dyed yarn, but generally keep my purchases of this magnificent, incredibly expensive stuff to socks, because my wallet can't take it in anything but small doses. It works out okay, because I get my color fix for a price that doesn't cause heart palpitations, and socks give you a lot of bang for your knitting buck.

Last year at Rhinebeck I purchased some beautiful Silky Socks from The Adirondack Yarn Company. The colors were those of a peacock, and I couldn't resist. The yarn is beautiful, and I had visions of a beautiful, variegated sock. What I got was this:

The cuff is exactly what I was looking for, with the colors sort of intermingling. Unfortunately, the stockinette section becomes large pools of color; sometimes I like this effect, but with these particular colors it doesn't work for me. I kept gamely on, even turning the heel and getting halfway down the foot, but I finally decided that if I wasn't going to love the finished product, it was sort of like throwing good knitting after bad. So I ripped back (The Professor is always visibly distressed when I do this) to the cuff, and am trying it with a ribbing pattern. I think that will stretch colors out a little more. We shall see.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

It's Done...Mostly

Well, I finally finished the Katharine Hepburn sweater from Lace Style, and though I'm happy to be done, I can't say I'm thrilled with the finished product. It was a beautifully written pattern, and enjoyable to knit (although I think I unknit almost as many stitches as I knit, due to brain malfunctions). The pattern called for merino, but I saw one knit up in the Knitpicks catalogue in Shine, so I thought I'd try that, because they had a color I loved, at a great price and it's machine washable. (I noticed when I went back to make the link that the sweater was shown flat and not on a model - hmmmm.) While I still love the color, I know why the pattern wasn't knit in cotton - the finished product is HEAVY! Here's an odd picture of it drying:

As the fabric has a lot of lacework, this causes it to be dragged down a bit. I think I'll sew some seam binding (or ribbon - wouldn't it be great if I actually had either of those things?) into the shoulder seams to help it be more stable. Here's a close-up of the lacework and cables (the color seems to be closest to this picture - how can 3 pictures of the same thing look so vastly different?):

And, sadly, this is a picture of me wearing it. The Professor was sitting down when he took this, so it has a slightly odd (and DOWDY!) perspective:

The sleeves are supposed to be 3/4 length, but because of the weight issue, they hang almost to my wrists. Almost, as in it looks like I made it too short. I'm hoping that stabilizing the seams will help, and of course it still needs buttons.

I really liked knitting this, and may go back someday and knit it in wool - it was a big disappointment, once it was all together, to see how the cotton behaved, but I guess this is how we learn. I think that it is also helping me get over my cheapie-ness when it comes to yarn. If I'm going to spend that many hours making a sweater, I should just suck it up and spend the bucks, and then I can have something beautiful that can be worn for a long time. The hard part will be remembering that when I'm standing in the yarn store saying "You mean it will cost how much?"

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Who Knew?

I really like books about saving money, but as I also like actually saving money, I check them out of the library and rarely purchase them. The one exception to this is The Tightwad Gazette series by Amy Dacyczyn. These books are a compilation of a newsletter that she wrote out of her home as well as letters from readers. Most of the articles and letters are interesting and useful, and some are downright off the wall, like making children's toys out of bread tabs and melting the tiny bit of deodorant left in the dispenser in the microwave so that it can be melded with other remnants to make a new deodorant.

Years ago I read about how she replaces an egg in baking with a heaping tablespoon of soy flour and a tablespoon of water. I wasn't terribly interested in this fact, as eggs were dirt cheap at the time, and I didn't have children eating at a rather astonishing rate. I've been reading more and more (I think I really need to just stop reading!) about the treatment of chickens on egg farms, so I've been trying to buy organic and cage-free eggs. This is excruciatingly painful for me, as it makes my eggs now cost about 33 cents apiece.

So, in the spirit of experimentation I toddled on over to my local health food store and purchased some organic soy flour. I used it in place of the egg in the muffins I made this morning, and lo and behold it worked beautifully! Everyone scarfed them down, and as the soy flour only cost 3 cents, I think it was a success. Now I have to figure out how to invest that 30 cents.....

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Politically Incorrect

When The Professor and I were first married, we knew that we would never be millionaires; we were both training to be teachers (he on the college level and me on the elementary level) and had to watch our pennies. Here we are almost 13 years later, and still pinching away. I've been musing on the fact that being frugal and trying to save money is seen as such a negative in this country (maybe it's just the areas of it I've lived in, but that has been my experience). I spent a lot of years trying to get those around me to see the benefits of frugality, sometimes with success and sometimes not.

I've discovered a fascinating fact, however. Even though frugality seems to be politically incorrect, being green is seen as EXTREMELY politically correct. Therefore, even though I tried unsuccessfully for years to get The Professor to wash and reuse Ziploc bags, it was only when it became an issue of being green that it was ok. (FYI, if you ever mention to a group of people that you have washed and reused a ziploc bag, do not admit it's because they cost 11 cents apiece - it is because you are being green; you will see those looks of disdain change to appreciation faster than you can say global warming).

The nice thing is that the majority of the things that we try to do to save money also happen to save energy, materials, etc.; things like having no AC, or walking more and driving less. There are certain things that are definitely MORE expensive, like buying local and organic foods, but I'm pretty sure that in the long run, our health will benefit, which will end up being the more frugal choice.

I like to think of it all as killing two birds with one stone, but of course I will only be mentioning one of the birds out loud - the green one.

Saturday, July 5, 2008


We have started getting our deliveries from our CSA, Roxbury Farm, and we are enjoying it immensely. We began doing it last year, and although it was painful for me, I bit the bullet and paid the $$. The price as far as CSA's go is very good, and I need to keep remembering that the vegetables are organic, fresh, and local. We go every Wednesday and pick up our share of vegetables and fruit - in the beginning of the summer it's a lot of leafy greens, and now we're getting cucumbers, zucchini, cabbage, herbs, and......strawberries!

The Professor worked at the pickup site that day, and got to bring home the extra quart that was left over, so we were doubly blessed. Of course, when I have delicious strawberries in the house, we must have strawberry shortcake.

For those of you that haven't made it, there are just a couple of hints - when you chop the strawberries, chop them with something kind of dull - I use an old cookie cutter - as it produces more juice. Sprinkle some sugar over the berries, and let sit at room temperature.

Then the biscuits - you need them warm, so either bake them right before you need them, or slice them and pop them in the toaster oven. The secret (don't know if this is from my grandmother or mother) is to butter the biscuits. Then dump generous amounts of strawberries and juice on top of them, and some freshly whipped cream. They are just heaven (even though the kids only want juice, none of those pieces) and everyone, especially The Professor was very thankful for summer.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Oh, You Mean They're Supposed to Match?

I'm still plugging away on the Katharine Hepburn sweater from Lace Style. I've done the back, and just finished the 2nd front. I must admit, that unfortunately I get bored easily. This is why I enjoy knitting for children - short arms, short bodies. You get the satisfaction of a finished product long before you want to stick your knitting needles in your eyes. In my excitement about finishing the 2nd half of the front, I may have miscalculated:

Maybe I could make this into a new fashion statement.....