February already?!?

Please consider this my State of La Casa Address.

For the past several weeks months, I have thought of post-worthy topics. Then I’d become enthralled by whatever calamity struck, whether it was at work or en casa, or regarding…. politics.

Hoo boy! Whenever I speak or write of the presidential election, I shall refer to it as The Meltdown of ’16. Jill Stein’s recall attempt was bad, but I had no idea how many of my friends and family are lunatics.  I felt terribly stressed not by the election itself (I slept through the tallying), but by the subsequent denouncing, crying, gloating, and apocalyptic fantasizing.*

As luck would have it, I was distracted by work-related concerns. The latest is that the Young Human Factory is approaching a critical moment. After regular work hours, we front-line employees sat down to discuss our very limited options. Older co-workers can consider early retirement. Me? I’m less concerned with an exit-strategy than a re-enter-the-workforce strategy. I hear that there’s a program to train drone pilots for delivery services…

But on happier news, today I delivered my latest sculpture to its unsuspecting recipient. She exclaimed, “I’ve never gotten anything so beautiful from anyone!” (And to answer the question my readers will be thinking: No, I can’t sell my sculpture. I tried. Even at a gallery, interested parties balked at paying $75 – a price just covered my cost in materials and studio time.)

Meanwhile in La Casa de Tontería, I had a falling out with my Internet provider. I don’t want to name names, but its initials are A, T, and T. When I called about a loss in service (possibly due to an ice storm), the representative immediately declared my modem was bad and I could now rent a newer one for $7 plus tax per month.

Ha ha! Try pulling the other one! I called my pal the Attorney General (well, his office) and found out that the FCC doesn’t regulate providers. Drat.

When the technician came, he reinforced my belief that there’s a strange philosophy at work in that company. Customer service reps are paid evil-doers, while their co-workers work for the good of their customers. Thus is the balance maintained and the Universe doesn’t implode.

Anyway, the tech informed me that my modem was fine (although a refurbished model – what?!?) and he moved my connection to a closer box down the street (rather than in the neighboring town – WHAT?!?)  He also let me know that I still had DSL, not high-speed. I told him what I was paying, and he told me that newer customers had better rates. He suggested I cancel my service for two weeks and then offer to return for a better price.

Unfortunately, I can’t be without service that long. In the summer, I’m going to do it! In the meantime, I talked the price down $35. And that’s not even the deal that the neighbors get.


*Honestly, I laughed  at those who viewed Canada as a sort of bunker to outlive the new administration. First, Canadian immigration guidelines are much stricter regarding marketable skills and sponsorship. Second, there are less than 35 million Canadians, the minority population tends to be Asian immigrants, and pretty much no one speaks Spanish. The last time I took a long trip in Canada, the joke was “We brought our own diversity.”

Dealing with the Budgetary Crisis

No, not Congress. La crisis presupuestaria de la Casa de Tontería. To non-Spanish speakers: Need mo’ money in da House o’ Nonsense, eh? (I added the last word so Canadian and Yooper readers would understand.)

Last week, I got one bid (and another pending) to replace the driveway and the walk. The previous neighbors had trees growing right at the edge of the drive, which heaved the concrete. The husband was reluctant to cut them down until I pointed out that they would undermine his own house’s foundation.

Since they left and the bank sold the house, the decaying roots caused the cement to tip sideways, creating a dam where the downspouts pour out.  The summer has been very dry, but marked by torrential storms that made a shallow pool between our houses. Not only was the tar-like sealant washing away, but air bubbled up when even a child on a bike crossed the drive.

The walkway problem is typical for the builder, known affectionately as Jerkface MacGuyver.  Because the backfill around the foundation wasn’t properly tamped, the soil has compacted and the concrete tipped. Now the sidewalk leading to the front step tilts toward the house. As with the driveway, it pours water toward the foundation.

I had money set aside for the Garage Plan (a three-year project so well-thought out and  thus far so well-executed, government project planners would weep over their relative incompetence. Not that I’m bragging. I’m merely stating the facts with a sneer.).  Since I envisioned a new driveway leading to the garage, I felt comfortable using funds for this masonry project. I still have time to add to the Garage Fund.

Or so I thought. Continue reading

The month of low spending

One of my tormenters trendy friends pointed me to a financial guru (whose name I’ve already forgotten) who suggested that in preparation for a downsizing in income,* one should try a Month of No Spending. To which I said, “Ha! May is Mother’s Day, gardening, and two birthdays!”

But my fiend… erm, friend is very insistent on trying new things and dragging his pals along for the ride. So I did a Month of Low Spending.**

Obviously I saved more money than usual. I also observed what I considered “essential spending.” But I also saw how my spending habits reflect my mindset.***

  • Extras Just In Case. I have never turned down a deal on cleaning products, at least until this month. It’s ridiculous because I don’t need them; most grime succumbs to soapy water, a rag, and muscles.
  • Public Library vs My Library. You’d think that after purging my shelves, I’d never want to purchase another book. You’d be wrong, especially since a favorite drugdealer bookseller had a special sale on Stone Bridge Press publications. I literally destroyed one book by emptying an entire cup of coffee into it (super-absorbent, those SBP books!) but at least I didn’t have to pay a fine.
  • Good To The Last Drop. On the flip side, my frugal habits of yesteryear rose like familiar ghosts. I mended an old skirt for the final time – the fabric is literally wearing away. I added water to bottles of shampoo, soap, and make-up. I steered clear of the theatre district, favorite stores, and the Internet – the most tempting spots.

Overall, I think I have a lot of room for improvement.


*According to the Big Boss, a% reduction in pay is coming. At least 10%, but as much as 25%. Excluded in his calculations was the increase in personal cost of health care.

**But first I prepared for my friend’s challenge by paying ahead for nearly a month of cafeteria lunches in April. (It’s not cheating! It’s being clever! I got a discount!)

***What really struck me is how I’ve absorbed certain hang-ups about the proper behavior of white collar workers or people of education. A kind soul gave The Factory workers certificates for free breakfast at McDonald’s. Colleagues gave theirs away, not because they don’t eat fast food, but because McDonald’s is not on par with Panera or Starbucks.  Why not? They’re all corporations serving food-on-the-go.

 

Frugal frills

In response to my recent post about shabby chic (among other things), my friend Jenny e-mailed me a personal story about flea-marketing New Yorkers. She asked me a fun question: “What are your favorite frugal finds?”

So here they are, in no particular order:

  • Turtlenecks for extra layers of warmth (5 for $5 sale at the Salvation Army store)
  • Pork neck bones from a local butcher, perfect for soup
  • A honing steel. Judging by the deep scratches on one side, the previous owner didn’t know how to use it – not that I blame him/her, since I learned from a DVD of Chef Bill Briwa. I’ve straightened blades on a food processor and a blender, prolonging their usefulness.
  • A carafe with glass liner, a push-button on top to open the valve, and a pencil-pattern going all around it.  Its ’80s style caught my eye at a rummage sale, and I was told it works well for both hot and cold beverages. Does it ever! It’s also easy for a child to use without spilling.

Pay a lot to look cheap?

On Sunday I like to relax by reading the news, both print and online. I came across Julie Gunlock’s opinion piece that made me laugh. She thinks that upper-class folks feel uncomfortable when average people get access to something trendy: in this case, faux rusted metal trash cans and farm-to-table food.

Not being privy to their circle, I don’t know what “the elite” think.  However, shabby chic has been around for ages – at least as long as there have been starving artists and cash-strapped renters – and it’s not limited by income. Upper-class families have a tradition of keeping ancestral furniture and art in the family, so that parents might give their daughter great-great-great-grandpa’s bookcase to use in her first apartment; if it isn’t replaced by something more modern, it either becomes a beautiful antique or a shabby-chic piece.

(Then there are New England families of various incomes who personify “Yankee thrift.” Why pay standard retail price for anything?  The Boston Globe had a contest for the most frugal New Englander, and the winner was a computer-savvy former economist.) Continue reading

Cooking culture?

I just read Amanda Marcotte’s Let’s Stop Idealizing the Home-Cooked Family Dinner, which evidently courted controversy by suggesting that the benefits of home-cooking (healthier, cheaper) aren’t worth the stress. She based her column on a survey of 150 mothers and an in-depth study of 12 families.

Having read the abstract of and feature about the study – both found here – I think the controversy resulted from Marcotte’s interpretation of the data. She seemed to make a bigger case for women being influenced by “foodie” culture than the study itself did. Continue reading

Another curveball thrown at me…

Last week we met the new Big Boss, a charismatic fellow who believes in turnarounds and improving our organization from within. It’s a good thing he is so positive, because then he presented the bad news: We’re financially strapped.

It’s worse than previous Big Boss (aka Interim Big Boss) revealed last year. We agreed to two unpaid days and we’re readying ourselves for consolidation of departments, but there may be lay-offs in the future.

“Future” means this coming spring.

As you can imagine, my Big To-Do list has shifted. I’ve already put a down payment on the kitchen remodel – a move I no longer second-guess after a section of cabinet fell today – but after that, there’s a moratorium on projects.

As the Abuelita put it, “It won’t do you any good to fix up the house if you can’t afford to live in it.