Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Musical Blogs

I used to have a blog called Slowish Food that I put on hiatus when I got pregnant and couldn't stand to think or write about food that wasn't unhealthy, heavy in carbs, and spoonable.

But with Sylvia getting older (almost six months, she is!) and me starting to get a teensy bit of my groove back, I'm realizing that I like writing about food better than I like writing about saving money. So I'm putting Amateur Tightwad on hold and heading back to Slowish Food to see what I can whip up in the kitchen.

I hope you'll join me!


Saturday, August 9, 2008

Opinion: Should Kids be Shielded from Frugality?

Something came up at work recently that I've been mulling over since. I work in publishing, and recently my group did some research on frugal/back to the land resources -- blogs, books, magazines, etc. My colleague who was heading up the research told me some of the things she'd found, and then said that some of the frugal blogs went "way overboard," and that the people writing the blogs needed to be careful what they wrote about and the way it could reflect on their kids. The example she gave was a mom who ended one post relaying how her son headed out the door in his yard sale pants; my co-worker's concern was that kids are cruel, and that Yard Sale Pants Boy's classmates could tease him mercilessly about his second-hand clothes.

This came, I'll admit, the same day I'd called Phil on my way taking the kids to daycare to tell him to check out an oak student's desk our neighbors were throwing out, and maybe trash-pick it for one of the kids. (He did. It's in the garage waiting for me to make some light repairs.)

I didn't grow up on yard sale clothes, but that was more because my mom simply didn't have the time to frequent yard sales. I didn't have a problem with yard-sale clothes. In college, I clothed myself half in Paul Harris and Casual Corner, and half in vintage treasures we found at Goodwill and the Salvation Army. This was what we did; back in the late 80s there was a certain cache to pairing jeans (likely, acid-wash) with vintage Ward Cleaver sweaters and garish rhinestone brooches.

My kids are young, but they've already accompanied me to yard sales. They know that we've received hand-me-downs from friends, and they know that we've passed along things we can no longer use to other friends. They know that a good portion of their school clothes come from garage sales frequented by my mom, who now is retired and enjoys the thrill of the hunt.

I can't help but wonder why it's okay to have costly vintage and antique furniture, which is at its root second-hand, but not okay to have cheaper second-hand items. I think of a vintage clothing store I visited in New York City that included a roped-off section of vintage Levi's, some going for $500 and more. What makes those jeans desirable, but 50-cent yard-sale jeans that a six-year-old outgrew embarrassing?

I feel strongly that one of the greatest gifts Phil's and my parents gave us was showing by example how to live well within and below our means. Based on what we saw every day for 18 years growing up, this is normal to us. Consequently, we're not desperately in hock supporting a lifestyle that's out of sync with our income.

So what do you think? Did you grow up believing second-hand and frugal were problems? Do you shield frugal purchases from older kids or try to teach them confidence and making money choices? Where is the line drawn between responsible and embarrassing? Does this line even exist outside of the perception of others?

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Quick Tip: Green Bathtub Scrub

I'm currently addicted to Recipezaar, where you can find a recipe for anything. Zucchini bread? 279 recipes. Mushroom risotto? 65 recipes. Suckling pig? 3 recipes.

You can also find recipes for things like body scrub, homemade deodorant (no, I haven't tried, but Amy at Angry Chicken did), and green cleaners.

Faced with a tub desperately in need of cleaning, I found and just tried this recipe, and it works great:

1 cup baking soda
1/2 cup pure castille soap
A couple drops essential oil, if you want

Just add the soap to the baking soda and stir around until it's all mixed in; it'll look like frosting. I used castille soap from Trader Joe's, which is peppermint scented and about $2.99 for a 16-oz. bottle, so I didn't bother spiffing it up any more with fragrance. Then I slathered the mix in my grimy tub, went out and did some gardening for 40 minutes or so, came back and scrubbed it all out, and took a shower in my clean tub, likely befouling it again.

This likely isn't cheaper than the Soft Scrub I generally use and bought in bulk at Costco, but I'm more comfortable with it ending up in my drinking water, and it smells a lot better.

Happy scrubbing!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Like a Fish on the Hook

Something I might include the next time I'm asked to meme something about myself: Generally, I hate staged kid photos. Generally, I must emphasize. A local studio we took Max to several times, in fact, specializes in those ultra-stylized kids-as-adults photos I have despised for years. The toddler in a suit, complete with ruffled tie and open briefcase. The seven-year-old in a leather jacket sitting on a fake motorcycle. The girls-as-fairies setups. Or, my personal favorite, the Tom Sawyer wannabe sitting at the mirrored fishing pond. Any time we took Max to the studio, we would iterate over and over, "We just want him to look like a nice boy" or the photographer would be hauling out old newsroom typewriters or live monkeys to pose him with.

So when I saw a sign at Tommy and Sylvia's daycare announcing that a photographer would be there would be doing old-timey sepia photos, I rolled my eyes and forgot the date. I didn't take any special pains to get the kids photo-ready that day, since I didn't even know what day the photographer was coming. But a bit after the photos were taken, someone was there at the center with piles of proofs, and because I always like looking at pictures of my kids, I agreed to take a peek.

And despite the salesperson's what-do-I-have-to-do-to-get-you-in-this-full-package pitch, which usually sends me running the other way, I was hooked. I don't know how it happened, but suddenly I became one of those moms who couldn't write a triple-digit check fast enough to obtain staged photos of her kids in unnatural settings. Phil even got in on the act, meeting me after work at the daycare so we could pick out the perfect poses. Then we agreed to buy the full set of electronic photos so that we could do things like post them on blogs.

Photos of, say, Tommy just weeks before admitting he had a problem at Gamblers Anonymous:

Or Sylvia in a little number we like to call "Random Feet":

Or Tommy sleeping off a drunk while Sylvia suspiciously eyes the creepy man offstage:

Or Tommy reprising his role as George M. Cohan in an off-Broadway production of Yankee Doodle Dandy:

Or, no joke, Tommy playing hooky at the ole fishin' hole:

While I keep trying to give myself a mental tongue-lashing for this somewhat expensive and unbudgeted purchase, my heart's not really in it. Every time I look at this picture in my office I smile, so I suppose not all impulse purchases are without merit:

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Two Blogs, Seven Kids

I just have two fun blogs to share today. And blog reading is free, right?

It was just about a year ago that Phil and I were completely taken aback by the realization that we were very unexpectedly expecting a third. And I remember the panic and the "how can we swing it?" moments that accompanied this rather regular and almost mundane pregnancy.

A couple of my co-workers have been far more surprised by their maternal news, and both have blogs to document the fun.

Christine, a co-worker, was surprised about three years ago to find that her normal pregnancy was actually going to be triplets. She now has three adorable, sassy two-year-old girls and documents the fun at Trio. Christine is a great writer, and her blog really celebrates the fun of the girls, rather than just the endless work.

But this week, Christine was trumped. Another co-worker, Suzy, came by and started the conversation with, "Guess what?"

Now back when Max was born, Suzy and some co-workers had bought him a mobile sporting pastel safari animals and playing John Lennon's "Imagine." Suzy's a big Beatles fan, and I knew she and her husband were wanting to start a family one day, so after Tommy was past mobile age, I brought it back to Suzy, assuming she'd need it eventually. When she heard I was pregnant with Sylvia, she brought it back to me. So when she came by and said, "Guess what?" I figured she was pregnant and started calculating how soon she'd need the mobile.

And she is pregnant. With quadruplets.

I'm still breaking in a cold sweat typing this, but she's completely chill about it, and even started a blog to document the pregnancy. Check it out at Four-by-two.

(While I don't want to say anything so predictable as "Don't drink the water!," I might add that Christine and Suzy work for the same part of my company, and there are probably no more than 30 employees in that division, which make the odds of having many children at once pretty sobering.)

If you'd like to get an armchair view of the world of multiples, check out their blogs. Me, I'm no longer feeling so put-upon that I had one, single baby unexpectedly.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The Recycle Diaries

Ask not why I've been a sluggish poster. I'm typing one-handed right now with a baby on my lap. A baby who just got three vaccines. A snuggly baby who hasn't wanted to do anything but be held and gazed upon for a month. I'm not complaining, but blogging does become difficult.

Somewhere in the last week or so I joined Freecycle.org. If you're not familiar with this, it's a network of Yahoo! groups around the country with the purpose of keeping usable but no longer wanted items out of the landfills and heading toward someone who can use them. Here's how it works:

If you have something to offer or you're looking for something, you send an e-mail to the group indicating "Offer" or "Wanted." You include what the item is and what part of town you live in. If you want something and you're willing to go anywhere in town to get it, you include "willing to travel" in the header. These e-mails go to everyone in the group either as single e-mails (which can get cumbersome) or, as I've opted, as a digest in groups of 25.

Last weekend I got rid of a ton of stuff I found while clearing out the closets in Sylvie's room pre-painting. I also got a bag of trophies for Max, who's obsessed with trophies and awards, whether or not he actually earned them. He's now made an awards display on his bookshelf that includes his chess club participation medals alongside a 4H sewing trophy from 1994.

The Indianapolis Freecycle group has about 15,000 members, so it's fairly active. I've had takers within minutes for everything I've offered. (Amazingly, I was the only one who wanted the bag of old 4H trophies, though.) I've liked everyone who's come to pick up items, and I've just ignored responses to my offerings that seemed silly or greedy. Like, for example, when I offered a never-used crib bumper pad and comforter, and someone wrote back, "Does this include the crib?" Uh, yeah, I thought I'd just throw in a crib with the bumper pad and not bother to mention it.

Anyhoo, if you have items to get rid of and want to know they'll end up with someone who can really use them, or if you'd like to see what you might get for free in your neighborhood, check out Freecycle.org.

Meanwhile, in other recycle news, I've been pining for a sturdy dining room table to replace our current vintage Heywood Wakefield number, which our family size and rowdiness has outgrown. In my head, I was picturing my friend Betsy's table, which has sturdy support on all four corners, is big enough to have a smallish dinner party, and is good-looking but not so pristine that you're afraid to do crafts on it. I hadn't found the right table, and was eyeing a $2,000 job online. So when Betsy, who lives out of state, told me about renovating her kitchen and, in the bargain, getting a new table, I asked, sadly, what she had done with her old table. She said she was going to put it on Craig's List but it was currently sitting in her basement. So I'm getting the beloved table from her. Betsy and her husband were Phil's friends from college, and he took me to meet them when he and I were "just friends" fifteen years ago, where we ate Betsy's homemade waffles and Jon's grilled steak on that table. Years later, I learned to make jewelry on that table. Max and Tommy have cavorted with Jon and Betsy's kids around that table. It's seen a lot of my life, and I love that it'll be there for more, and that Betsy can visit with it when she's in town.

Finally, here's why I'm wishing away Sylvia's baby and toddler years:

Photo from www.annamariahorner.blogspot.com

I saw this great sundress on the blog of designer Anna Maria Horner. If you can't tell, it's made from a small amount of new fabric paired with a vintage embroidered pillowcase -- the kind young ladies embroidered and crocheted for their dowries decades ago. (The post, with additional pictures, is here.) Anna Maria includes instructions for this clever reuse here. By my calculations, I have about four years to hunt up some great vintage linens before Sylvia will be pillowcase-sundress sized.

What have you kept out of a landfill lately?

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Fun for Nothin' Challenge

I've been a fan of Meg McElwee's for a bit. Meg is a Montessori teacher who just came back to the States after a teaching assignment in Mexico. Her blog, formerly Montessori by Hand and now Sew Liberated, chronicled her life in Mexico, her interactions with the kids, and the ways that she integrated the Montessori philosophy into the classroom. Max is in a magnet Montessori school, so it was fun reading about the program from a teacher's perspective.

Meg also is a fabulous pattern designer. While I was on maternity leave, I made this baby carrier for Sylvia, which is now just awaiting her ability to hold up her head:

And I bought this pattern when I was feeling maternal but longing for the days when I would again have a waist; I plan to make it when the baby fat's off:

Meg just put out a Fun for Nothin' Challenge, asking families to chronicle the creative ways that they have fun with their kids without spending money. You can read about it, in her words, here or by clicking on the Fun for Nothin' icon at the side of my blog. The accompanying Flickr site already contains tons of pictures of kids doing what kids should be doing: running, playing, exploring, creating -- and all without licensed plastic toys or battery-powered handhelds. Check it out.