Thursday, October 16, 2014

Volunteering Up Close and Personal, the End of the World is Not Yet Here, and other Thurday Thoughts

For many retirees, volunteering of some sort is a regular part of their retirement lifestyle.  This is unsurprising, since statistic after statistic has shown that volunteering can improve quality of life, and even extend longevity.  It often takes us multiple tries to find the volunteer gig that works for us as individuals.  In your search, it's worth noting that one other thing is true-the happiest volunteers are those who interact on a personal level with their volunteer subjects.  Whether it's reading to children, teaching English to immigrants, any number of other volunteer activities, the reward is in the interaction.  This is not to say that other types of volunteer work (volunteering, cutting and pasting and cooking for example) are not needed in large ways. Just that in order to get the deepest reward, people also need to interact, on some level.

In my own retirement I am finding that to be true in spades, as they say. I do number of volunteer activities, many of which are even done at home.  Quilts and blankets for preemies or Habitat for Humanity subjects is a perfect example. However, my most rewarding activity is working with residential homeless women. I may have mentioned that as part of this volunteer gig we interact with the women. In other words, we bring a meal, and an activity.  We sit and eat WITH these women, and dance, craft or game WITH them, rather than to or for them. Other folks from my church walk with the women twice a week, some lead with a prayer group-our days are full.  

The advantages of this type of volunteering are numerous.  First, we get to relate to this fairly small group of women (25) on a regular basis. Second, we are enabled to see what THEY want and need, rather than what we believe that they want and need, or think they should want. There is a huge difference between the first one and the later two.  Since these our women who are chronically homeless and now  learning how to live in a structured environment and be on their own, it's very important that they can express, and we can understand what is required to move forward.

So while I volunteer in any other ways, my primary volunteering will continue to be getting as close to one on one as I am able.  Meanwhile, in other thoughts on this Thursday:

  •  This is not the End of The World As We Know it. In this country, you have a higher possibility of getting shingles, the fly, pneumonia, or dying from alcohol or cigarette related illness.  Is Ebola a concern and do we have t find better ways to deal with it? Yes. Does the CDC need to get their act together and take a lead?  Absolutely. Do I think further steps should be taken? Of course.  Do I believe in stocking water, food and medicines for emergencies? Yes, but as much for being stuck at home during the flu or a blizzard as for a pandemic. Preparation is just good sense.  Although I watch and read Fox TV rarely, I encourage everyone to read the rant here.  As the man says, the fear mongering around us is "counterproductive"  Some day there may be a pandemic.  I've watched Contagion. If that time comes, you need to relax, be prepared and do what you are told. Meanwhile, everyone should take a breath-a big one-and think about what would have if they had to stay in their homes for a month because of a pandemic.
  • Syd has a wonderful blog post today about letting go. When I read this, I wanted to say "Yes!! This!!".  The best part of retirement (in my opinion) is freedom-freedom of time primarily. Like Syd, I have long lists of what I WANT to do and what I SHOULD do. While I have not eliminated things from that list, as she has, I have no compunction about ignoring something on this list, and if it doesn't get done one day, I don't necessarily feel the need to add it onto the next day.  As long as I do a certain amount of healthy and challenging things, other things can fall by the side without guilt. Retirement should, I feel, be done at it's own pace. Now, if you sleep till noon for a full week or find yourself sitting in front of the TV twelve hours, or your yard has taken over the house, then it MAY be time to consider a to do list.  Meanwhile, to paraphrase the movie Pirates of the Caribbean, the list is just really a guide, after all. 
  • Soups are one of the most frugal things about fall. Here in Colorado we are as they say in the between.  The weather is  as well. Yesterday the high was mid eighties, today the high will be 72. However the nights have gone to the high thirties meaning the heat comes on in the morning until the house settles at 70.  Outside this means that my crab apple tree is still green, but the leaf vines that cover my house are red and gold. As the weather cools we eat a lot of soups. Soups are easy, you can substitute as need and with bread and salad they make a whole meal with ease. So far we have had homemade minestrone, a copycat Olive Garden creamy Tuscan soup, and broccoli cheese soup. I'll try and share a few of these recipes in my next frugal food post.
  • Studies have shown that learning new things is an important way to keep our brain sharp. This is especially true when we learn new hands on type skills, not just "book learning". I was not aware until recently just how many ways there are to learn hands on skills on the web.  While it's nice to have group classroom instruction for some things, learning online lets you go at your own pace. In my case my current projects have to do with drawing with colored pencils and learning to use my camera phone well.  Between utube, free online classes and tutorials, I'm definitely learning as I go.
 And now, it's time for me to ignore that list of mine and go sit by the window with my newest kindle download for awhile.  Retirement, anyone?

Sunday, October 5, 2014

My $200 Grocery Budget (More or Less)

Normally I don’t put two “frugal specific” posts  back to back on this blog, and in fact, I have been writing for the past week on the things we can to do remain healthy and safe through the cold season.  That said, three people asked me for specifics about my grocery costs and how I do it.  I always aim to please, so here is a hopefully down and dirty explanation of the grocery life of this frugal retiree. Below is a list of the four primary things I do to keep my grocery costs down.

Before I begin, we should probably make sure that we are comparing apples to apples, if you will. I feed three people for approximately $200 per month.  I do not cook on the weekends, someone else does (there are exceptions, but in general the working housemate likes to cook on the weekend).  That person buys the food for those dinners, usually what she feels like cooking. She also purchases her own wine (I’ve given it up for chances to spend calories elsewhere)  So I guess you could say that out of 28 days, I buy all the food for twenty days, plus breakfast and snack stuff for the other days. If she was not cooking, I would probably need to eat out more often, but I prefer to save that for special occasions and travel food. My husband cooked on the weekends and holidays for the entirety of our marriage, which may be one of the reasons I have not had the urge other spouses might to run away from the kitchen on Friday or Saturday night.

This budget ONLY includes food. It does not include dog food, paper products or other things that one sometimes buys in a grocery store. This budget does not include eating out (which generally comes once a month, twice at most).  Holiday and extremely special birthday meals are in a separate holiday/entertainment category, although I use many basic pantry items as well. My organic purchases consist of the dangerous and dirty options, cage free eggs when on sale.

 My goal for next year is to be part of a CSA and begin buying free range chicken and meat as I can afford it. That will increase our costs. Finally, my 200 is an average. In the summer my meat costs are higher because I purchase grill meats, and in the winter this Texas girl needs strawberries, in season or not. While I wish we ate more organic, I believe that by cooking from scratch and eating primarily fruits and vegetables we are ahead in the long run.

To give you all a small idea as to what we eat:  In the past week we have had the following for dinner in terms of proteins:  shoulder lamb shops, a small pork tenderloin in rosemary maple marinade, large rosemary garlic chicken drum sticks cooked in the slow cooker and homemade minestrone with homemade popovers. Our sides vary depending on what is on season and on hand.  We had mashed potatoes, salad and vegetable with the lamb chops, and fruit and wheat popovers with the soup, just for example. Our breakfasts include oatmeal, cheerios cereal, eggs and toast, bagels and low fat cream cheese and waffles on weekdays. Except for me (picky, picky) lunches are leftovers. We always have fruit on hand and vegetables for snacking. We drink milk, soda, juice, coffee and water. These meals also yielded leftovers for both Friday and Saturday.

Now that this is all clear as mud………………….

1.  We eat everything, for the most part. We don’t just eat boneless skinless chicken breasts. We also eat drumsticks and bone in thighs, for example. I cook them skin on and people have the option of removing skin afterwards. My doctor says this is healthy. We eat pork and ham, lamb, ground meats, sausages and brats. We also eat a variety of fish and on occasion seafood. Our diet is does not eliminate much, and allows most things in moderation. What used to be a dash diet has changed a tiny bit to be more Mediterranean. In other words, we allow healthy fats and most proteins, piles of fruits and vegetables, and limit but don’t eliminate carbs and wheat products (although I do attempt to make baked goods at least half whole wheat). We are not paleo, we do use regular flour and sugar (albeit I attempt to add whole wheat and brown when I can).

2.  I cannot say often enough or loud enough that we do not make a grocery list and shop from it. This should probably be number one, actually. We buy loss leaders each week in terms of protein and staples, and the only things we buy regularly each week are some dairy products, in season produce, and fresh bread as needed.  I choose what we will have from what we have on hand.  The shoulder chops mentioned above for example were 2.99 a pound. I bought enough for three meals. Shoulder shops are not rib chops but they are extremely tasty and can be cooked a variety of ways, including in the skillet like a steak and served with mint. So this week I purchased the meat above, drumsticks and thighs for 88 cents a pound and that was the only meat. I always buy at least two of loss leader proteins, one for the freezer. For those who wonder how I decide the best price, I have a website to refer to and I have been shopping long enough that I have a top price that I will pay in my head. Since my primary store is King Sooper (a Kroger store) perhaps I will start sharing every week or so what I buy and how I plan to use it-let me know what you think. I could add it at the bottom of another post.

3. I cook from scratch and have a pantry.  Before you run screaming from the screen, this is not as hard as it seems. I am a happy, active retiree with a life who has better things to do most of the time than slave in the kitchen all day.  However, when I DO cook, I at least double anything freezable.  At the beginning of last week, we had blueberry pancakes and bacon with fruit for dinner. I made a batch of pancakes as large as one of those Tupperware bowls. The waffle iron was on the kitchen table, so as we sat and talked, I waffled. Those waffles are now between pieces of waxed paper in large freezer bags, ready for gigantor to have for breakfast.  Everyone’s definition of what constitutes a convenience item differs.  My freezer has ice cream and frozen vegetables (often more nutrients than less than fresh). Everything else is either frozen loss leader grocery items or homemade and frozen items. My pantry includes everything from canned tomatoes and boxed broth to ever seasoning on earth and three kinds of oil, to various pastas and both white and brown rice.  In other words, my scratch tomato sauce will be from tomatoes in a can and tomato paste, not from the garden. That is my “from scratch” level”.  However, I make my own flavored rice and pilaf, not from a box. And almost every store bought baked good makes me go ew.  I am not a gourmet cook. Many of my meals are thrown the slow cooker in the morning and remembered at dinner time.

4.  I do take advantages of coupons and deals. I am not a coupon queen and do not allow this to take up my precious time. I have a website that shows printable coupon deals that match grocery stores in my area, and available Catalina deals (the ones that print out at the grocery store or Target), as well as gift card target deals. Visiting this website takes me about half an hour a week and reaps results.  While this is a paper item, this week Kroger stores are giving a two dollar coupon on your next purchase when you buy Ziploc brand bags. and there is a one dollar coupon available to print on two.  This makes Ziploc bags much cheaper than generic bags and worth purchasing if they are something you will use (I use them for freezing AND for storage of small items such as sewing supplies).  Again, this is a non-food item but there are in fact many food Catalina's available. There are also many Target red cards that make sense when you look at the final cost. Are there many meat and vegetable coupons? Not really. But by getting broth, canned tomatoes, and sugar at less than half the price of generic using coupons, that cash is freed up for the proverbial good stuff. Coupons shoppers know, by the way that the smallest container is the cheapest when using coupons. Better to use three one dollar coupons on the small container of mustard than use one dollar on the family size-even taking recycling into consideration.

That’s it. Those are the four primary things I do to keep my food costs low. If you read this far, you understand the basics of what I do, although I could describe many of them in more detail., and may in a further post. This part of the article is the meat (no pun intended) of the article on my retirement food strategy. If you don't read any further, you have gotten at least eighty percent of what I do, if not more.

What I would add as an addendum are three things:  First, it’s not a deal if you don’t eat it. I buy the things I buy because we eat them. If you only eat chicken breasts, then you’ll want to buy more at the lowest price than I do, for example. 

Second, you need to know what the lowest price is, and the flyer is no indication.  You have to find a way to figure out what the lowest price is, and how often you can get it at that price (so you know how much to buy). You can start making a list and comparing it twice, or you can find a good website that lists grocery deals for the week and rates them somehow (as well as telling you that there are coupons). My website rates with five being an absolute run out and buy it price. When I scan her list, if it is not a four, I don’t even stop to see what it is. I consider myself financially savvy, but let someone else do this chore.

Third, the fewer options you have, the more you will need to stock up. Most things go to their lowest price in my location every four months.  HOWEVER, I am within couple miles of an Albertson’s, a King Soopers, a Safeway and a Sprouts.  If I only had one store, or only time to hit a single store a week, then I would stock up a larger amount, to keep me until the next sale.

I am not an expert. These are our prices, at this particular time. Prices may go up, sales may get worse, I may decide I need more wine and chocolate, who knows. Even at three hundred dollars a month, we would still be considered a thrifty household who ate well.  For now, this budget works for me!!

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Smart Women Do Not Pay Full Price-Getting Things for (Mostly) Much Less

Although I miss the fall leaves spectacle that was part of my life in Virginia, Colorado does have the most beautiful Aspen groves.  Catching the right weekend to see the trees in full color is always a crap shoot. This past weekend, we headed to the front range to see what we could find.  On the first part of our trip, it was easy to see that we were a weekend late. Orange and gold are interspersed with gray and brown. Still, we had a lovely time and the rest of the party hiked up the mountain while I attempted to take pictures in less than sunlight conditions. Rather than turn around, we made a circle, and found some better views just a bit south on the return trip (forewarned, these are taken by camera phone).  It was bumper to bumper much of the day, I think everyone in Colorado had the exact same idea. Aspens are connected underneath the ground, so when a tree dies, so goes the grove.

The first part of the title above was the motto of a local Connecticut retail store years ago, and is one I have taken to heart. Rather than the big box discount store of today, this store was a small Dress Barn style clothing and accessory store, one that had a nice ambiance, traditional clothing-and deep discount pricing.

In retirement especially, I have realized that in fact, I rarely spend "retail prices" for much of anything, and looking at my receipts for the past months, most of the time I spend much, much less than the average price.  My first motto is still " Free is best", but when things are not free, my goal is to see how cheaply I can get them.  This has become easier than one might think.

Now, when I say "cheap" I do not mean "junk".  As a rule I'm not likely to buy an eight dollar blouse at Walmart, eat mainly junk food, or buy something that will fall apart. And there are surely parts of my life where I have to pay full cost, up front.  Removal of the large tree branch felled by snow in the middle of my drive way and the street is a perfect example.  In the face of immediacy, I called around, got the person who could come the fastest and accepted life for what it was.

MOST of the time though, I am spending much less and getting much more in retirement. I allow two hundred dollars for monthly basic groceries for two single women and a six foot six college student for five days a week, and we eat well. The past two oil change/oil filter/tire rotations have been twenty dollars apiece. I recently got said gigantor student three quality long sleeved heavy t-shirts for less than twenty dollars. All done with very little of the traditional "coupon cutting" from the Sunday paper.

I was always able to wait for sales and find deals, but I seem to have taken this to a new level in retirement.  As a retiree with a lifetime of stuff, I have fewer immediate needs than when I was a young mom with working children, or a wife of a corporate guy who had to travel and entertain.  Many of my personal requirements are either "replacement" purchases than I can plan ahead for, or "wants" that are not necessarily immediate.

The best part of retirement, for me at least, has always been flexibility. I don't have to wait and shop on the weekends or evenings.  This means that I can unashamedly take advantage of "senior" days at places like the Clark shoes outlet.  And since my days are free I have time to explore and take advantage of discounts.  This doesn't mean that I spend my retirement days searching and coupon cutting, heaven knows.  It does mean that many days I spend some time checking emails from stores that I shop at or that my children go to (I have a separate email address), as well as keeping an eye on sales and options.

Tomorrow, I'm meeting with my quilting group. I plan to make quilted gift card sized bags with ribbon handles to sell, use myself for family and give as gifts. Pictures to follow.  Before I go, I'll have my coffee on the patio and take my morning walk (I used to walk in the evenings, but Colorado has decided to have Texas and Virginia style evening thunder showers). 

 I'll lunch at the Old Mill Brewery with a twenty five dollar gift certificate that I purchased for three dollars during a special deal. I've realized that it's time to break down and buy some heavy socks. I have a $5.00 of $25.00 coupon as well as a coupon for 30% off my clothing purchase. I'm going to try some knee high socks and see what I think.  I also need some craft items for my homeless women-they'll be decorating sugar cookies and their own pumpkins.  Michael's stores have all their Halloween decorations and embellishment at thirty percent off. I have a coupon for twenty percent off everything, even sale items.  At fifty five percent off, I can afford to donate to this important cause.

Dinner tomorrow is lemon oregano chicken in the slow cooker with huge drumsticks purchased at the loss leader price of 70 cents a pound (a family pack for now, and one put into the freezer). I need to take my next free Craftsy lesson on drawing with colored pencils, and I have a free book downloaded to my kindle.

Saturday morning, I have decided to break down and go see Gone Girl-although I can't imagine hating Ben Affleck as much as I hated his book character, and even knowing they may have changed the ending. I'll attend in the morning using my senior discount price, and use my earned movie rewards card to have movie popcorn and soda, even knowing I'll have to walk twice as long after I leave the theater. 

Getting stuff for much less in still only one part of a frugal retirement.  Much of my life style is still free or almost free-library books instead of purchased books, free concerts, free entrance to community theater through volunteering, Netflix or on Demand instead of movies, walking instead of a gym membership and more. But it's nice to know, especially as the holidays and then spring travel approaches, that full price can be a think of the past with a little bit of effort and some good timing.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Changing of the Seasons

I enjoy living in a four season climate most of the time. I really appreciate the change in seasons, and much of the time Denver has a pretty mild climate overall, with lots of sun year around.  I enjoy the season to season changes.

Right now it's still warm in Denver. Weather will be in the mid to high eighties during the day through the weekend, and next week the highs are scheduled to be high seventy to eighty some degrees.  Even so, it's getting cooler at night, meaning that a few leaves have started to fall here and there. Plants and flowers are still in bloom, although a few have been brought inside to protect from the cool night air. Bees and flies abound! As we move to October the nights will get cooler with average temps dropping to as low as sixty degrees.

This means that I need to start preparing for cooler weather, even though things are warm as can be for the moment. I'm trying to make my frugal fall planning list and check it twice!

For example, I never had to have a serious robe in Dallas, and it's on my list to get one, and soon.  While most days in Denver are warm and sunny in the afternoon, thee mornings are sunny and cool.  If I've said it once, I've said a hundred  times how much I enjoy relaxing and reading in them morning on the patio, and a nice robe will let me do that almost until Christmas. I might have moved to a slightly cooler climate, but I'm determined to enjoy my yard as many days as possible. Slow riser that I am, I appreciate my hour or so outside with nature.

 I need to check my insurance and get that flu vaccine in the next few weeks.  I won't jump into the flu vaccine debate, except to say that the vaccine does not cause the flu and say that for me, it has kept me from having the flu every year I have had it. Readers may remember that last year my sister had the flu for a full week, and my son had it so badly that he had to go to the hospital. I was in close proximity to both, and except for a stuffy nose, remained healthy. The CDC suggests getting the shot  by October and most insurance providers pay the full fee for people sixty and older.

I'm also stocking up, in the cold and sniffle preparation department.  While I will get a flu shot, sniffles and sore throats can still arise, as can the occasional migraine headache (due to some serious barometric changes in the fall). My college student especially has serious issues with barometric changes (as well as changes in altitude.  A week visit to Texas gave him four days of head trauma after our return). Since these are things that are on sale now, I am stocking up on Kleenex (one area i have not yet moved to cloth), cough syrup, and some of the other basics.

I'm  having fun experimenting with making my own home remedies,  as much for the fact I prefer them as the fact that they are frugal.  This appeared in my feed this morning-sliced lemon covered by honey and refrigerated-you just need a spoon to add to hot tea-and in my case a teaspoon of rum our bourbon. Yes, I know you cannot cure a cold, but you can make it more comfortable. This recipe calls for a little ginger as well.

Lemon, Honey and Ginger Soother for Colds and Sore Throats

On the home front, I'm reminding myself it's time to replace the old air filter, and double check all the alarms. When it comes to servicing the furnace, I tend to think every two years or so are fine, as long as filters and alarms are maintained. I also want to do a gutter cleaning and pull out all the fall tools such as leaf rakes and make sure I have easy access.  Most importantly I need to get the fireplace cleaned!  I already have cured wood thanks to a huge tree branch that was felled by heavy snow, and I'm looking forward to the fireplace.  Wood fires may not necessarily help the heating costs, but I love them, and we are waiting on the decision to move to gas. I would love to hear thoughts from anyone who has changed out a wood fireplace to gas!

This morning I pulled out a couple extra quilts and I am knitting a large blanket for my living room. It may be 87 today, but it got down to fifty three last night.  I've also put extra covering on my beds.  I also pulled out the fall colored table covering and most of my fall decorations so that I can wash them and get ready. For me fall is still bright rather than dark so I can use the yellows, greens and golds at almost anytime. And, since I almost always have my house decorating for something, I'm slowly "autumnizing" my mantle and decor.

Everyone in this house has been asking for soups, and I keep saying "soups are not summer food unless they are cold". Now I can justifiably pull out the slow cooker and make home made soups and breads (together fast, frugal, healthy and easy). Soups are one of those things that are almost always frugal, even the tastiest ones with the "expensive" ingredients, especially if you make your own broth.  I have clam chowder, baked potato, and broccoli and cheese soups on my short list. I also found another one of those restaurant copycat style dishes, this one for slow cooker broccoli and beef. I'll let you know how it turns out.

  Last but not least, I'm preparing my own little living room corner. After all, it's football season. That and the new TV season mean I'll be spending more time in the living room and want things to do with my hands.  I know have the living room set up with blankets and pillows, books and crossword puzzles, and knitting and sewing.  While I'm not addicted to television, and I use my DVR liberally and often, there are certain shows such as The Blacklist, The Bridge, True Detective, Gracepoint and more, that will keep me busy in the evenings on occasion. I'm now ready-and have even joined a Fantasy Football group!

Oh, and while I never thought I, liberal left winger that I am would live to say it, there is at least one advantage to living in a solid state, even if it's red. The political commercials in this swing state are constant, and have been since February (not because of a primary mind you) and only gotten worse since the end of August.  I cannot imagine what I would do without the advantage of a DVR!

Do you prepare and plan for fall?  Do you just take it as it comes?  What about winter?

This weekend I'm off to celebrate my birthday with as many retirement and birthday freebies as I can, take a trip to the botanical gardens, and enjoy a retirement day of quilting and sewing.  Happy retirement weekend, all!


Friday, September 19, 2014

The Accidental Do It Yourselfer

As I sit down to write today, there is a large bowl of concord grapes sitting on my kitchen table.  Tomorrow, those grapes will be turned into either grape syrup or grape juice, depending on mood or energy.  I realize that this is typical of most of my "do it myself" adventures. They come together because of with serendipity, accidental experimentation, immediate need or for other reasons. 

My retirement lifestyle includes a fair amount of  "DIY" or "from scratch" activities.  Most of these DIY projects are done because of a desire to spend less money and have a high quality result.  I also do it myself because I want to be creative or I want an immediate result without shopping or leaving the house.  I put candy in canning jars, tied ribbons and placed whatever colored candles I had in the jars. I had instant centerpieces for my fall dinner group that were also cheaper than almost anything I could buy. Most of the time,  my DIY projects are both creative and save me money.

I can do it myself in retirement because I have time, time that was not available while working or with kids at home.  At the same time, I other things I might be rather doing in retirement.  With some exceptions, I don't want my DIY to keep me from my nature walk, knitting or book groups, lunch with friends, or classes.  I still want the financial and creative results, so I allow my DIY to affect life in a "casual" or "accidental way".

spiced whole crabapples

Take the crab apples that are forming on my trees in the front and back yard for example.  I rarely "can" in the sense of "putting up for the winter".  I'm unlikely for the most part to go out and get a bushel of apples and make sauce or can them.  On the other hand, by gathering a large bowl of so of apples from low hanging tree branches, I'm likely to make crab apple pie filling or spiced whole crab apples for gifts, as well as using apples on pork or in apple sauce. The concord grapes rescued are probably not enough for jelly even if I was in the mood.  They will become either the juice mentioned above, or pancake syrup.  Recently I found a delicious recipe for a slow cooker tomato meat sauce.  All I did was throw things from the pantry and freezer into the cooker. At the end of the day we ate, and then froze the rest in serving containers. So while I would not necessarily make sauce from scratch on a regular basis, this casual method gave me spaghetti sauce, filling for lasagna and more-at a cheaper price than generic canned sauce.

A while back I was looking for some flavored butter for meats and such that went beyond the traditional "garlic butter". I was looking for a simple herb blend that I might put on steaks or grilled meats for Sunday dinner.  My perusals took me to this website, where I found not just herb butter ideas, but a whole variety of compound butters. For starters I plan to make three or four of the herb butter recipe, putting one in the fridge and the other three in the freezer to put away for Christmas gifts (and link to in my book about making your own Christmas gifts). By doing this once every week or so with the other recipes, I end up with easy gifts for gourmet family members (and it goes without saying that the butter is bought on sale B1G1 sale and that I'll only make the cognac or cointreau recipes if I know I'll drink or have use for the rest of the bottle)

While the above examples are about food, the same attitude drives most of my make it yourself ideas. If there is a fourth driving factor in making it myself (above money, creativity and high quality) it is that much of what is available in the stores are blah, or low quality, items that fall apart easily.  Recently I've decided to go with cloth napkins and use paper only for the gackiest of messes (if that is even a word).  Since I was out and about, I did check the store bought options-and came home to see what I could do. I ended up making two sets of eight napkins in less than two hours-one to use now and one in Christmas fabrics to use or give on the holidays.  I had fabric on hand, but had I purchased this fabric at three dollars a yard I would have made twelve reversible napkins for six dollars.

  I'll insert here that to be both creative and save money by doing it yourself, you do need to have certain items on hand, depending on your interests and skills.  I don't advise anyone to hoard, as such.  But I regularly buy jars with lids and pretty bottles at thrift stores to use for spur of the moment gifting and have a cache of small wicker baskets.  I regularly use those fifty percent off Joann coupons on things like pretty pieces of paper and ribbon, and I have good tools. I save items that can be reused, such as fabrics, ribbons, paper scraps, wood scraps and other things.  As does my son the woodworker, who always has some extra wood lying around as well as other materials.  In my kitchen I have backups of flour, sugar and the like, so if I am in the mood to make cookies, I can make more than just for tonight, and freeze the rest. You get my drift. Oh, and when I save things, almost always unless items are specifically for one holiday, they are stored by color.  Red can be for Valentines, Christmas or the 4th of July, depending on how it is used.

Obviously, there are labor intensive do it yourself tasks that I do.  Painting my walls or a piece of furniture  takes a full day, as did cleaning out this old fireplace in order to make it a plant stand and then a fire pit. On the other hand, the wood for the fireplace was cut while hauling away the tree branch that fell last spring, an accidental situation if there ever was one.  I'll assign two or three full days to the Christmas baking that will yield me cash as well as gift baskets galore. Fall cleaning requires cleaning the gutters of leaves and the front door of dog nose smears.

For the most part though I prefer to do my do it myself tasks in a casual manner, in free time here and there, when the mood strikes or when I can duplicate or double a current project or recipe.  I've also been known to keep the most boring tasks (cutting coupons or hemming napkins) for when I am watching The Blacklist or in my intensive Tuesday night class (more about that later).

I know that many people prefer to be more structured and schedule these kinds of things. A putterer at heart, I am also of the casual housework persuasion rather than having a two hour cleaning session-things get done as needed or as they fit into everything else.  It's what works for me, in my lifestyle.

And now, as I prepare to go to my very intense volunteer gig (feeding homeless women), I'm also making my homemade dog food for the week. A purely health endeavor as even good canned dog food tends to be dirt cheap.

And so it goes.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Saying Goodbye

When my husband and I first met, it was in Denver. He was on active duty in the army. I met him in the late fall and we dated, with me eventually introducing him to my then four year old daughter.  Before we met, he had already been scheduled to be transferred to Japan, of all places, right after Christmas. So we dated during that time, and said good bye-and then wrote every day and spoke on the phone at least once a week.  Those were, after all, the days before email, texting and cell phones.

Scheduled to be in Japan for one year, at the six month mark John took a thirty day leave and returned to Colorado.  After three month of dating and six months of long distance contact, we decided to get married-immediately, during that leave.  My mother flew in from Germany (my father could not make it), and a small wedding was created in about seven days, after which my husband returned to Japan for another six months

My future mother and father is law were also unable to make the wedding-they lived across the country, we were marrying in just a couple days, and they still had dependent kids at home. They gave us a generous wedding gift.  More importantly, they invited me and my four year old daughter to come to live with them for the next six months-in their home, sight unseen.  Let me simply say that the older I get, the more I realize how great a leap this step was. Not only were they getting a daughter in law, they were also getting a four year old child in the bargain. These were empty nesters, almost ready for retirement and happy to be where they were in life.

That time was worth it's weight in gold. One one level, it was filled with normal "getting to know you" difficulties. We were different people doing different things, and I was another woman in my mother in law's kitchen. My mother in law (and sister in laws as well), were what we used to call "rules girls".  I tend to live outside of the box. On another level, it was a chance to know each other on a level that rarely happens between people who become connected by marriage, at least so quickly. More importantly, from the day my daughter entered their home, they welcomed her as their first granddaughter-and continued that relationship in the same way after welcoming three of their own biological grandchildren as well.

After my husband returned from Japan, we moved to Washington, and for the rest of our marriage lived on the other side of the continent or overseas while my in laws (and their other son and daughters) stayed close to home.  They all saw each other regularly, while we traveled on Christmas or during summer vacations.  Still we remained as close as possible, and when my husband died, rather than moving to my first choice of Colorado, we returned to Texas.  This was a chance both for my children to learn more about their grandparents, and for them to hear about their father. My in-laws are the kind of people who regularly included him, and reminisces about him in regular conversation-the good and the bad. For example, my son learned that his father and a friend climbed onto the middle school roof, got stuck and could not get down, as the various other misdeeds of a too active and too smart kid in the school system (some folks think these kinds of things should not be shared-I disagree heartily, by the way.  There are no perfect people and kids should see their parents as human and imperfect).

In their mid to upper eighties, my in-laws were active.  Every year until the year before last, my mother in law would say "Next year it's up to someone else", and then the following year announce that Christmas was at her house, and no, she did not need any help.  Two years ago at Thanksgiving my father in law said "Oh, I have something to show you in the garage", and presented me with a Triumph spitfire, completely taken apart in the garage.  He then announced that tomorrow he was taking out the engine (at which point the grandson, son and son in-laws all looked at each other and knew what hey were doing the next day). They had a very happy marriage and retirement.

In the last couple of years my mother in law had a very hard time and her quality of life had gone down in the extreme.  She had fallen and broken her arm in two places, gone to rehab for three months and then gone home.  She lost her balance and hit her head and split it open-when her daughter was with her-and the same situation happened.  She was tied to her chair, losing her balance and often in pain and discomfort.  She had signed an order not to resuscitate, but of course there is little one can do when all the circumstances are not life threatening but just miserable. She was scheduled to move to an assisted living facility last Tuesday, and died during the night before.

Having just returned from her funeral, I can say that it was a celebration of her life.  After saying goodbye, the extended family went to her favorite restaurant, where we toasted my mother in law and remembered her life. Few tears were shed, and we will remember her well.

And today, one week later, my father in law is having one heart valve repaired and one replaced-as he promised my mother in law he would..............

Monday, September 8, 2014

Sharing a Home In Retirement-One Year Later

It's been almost a year since I moved into my current home.  As readers will remember, I sold my home in Texas and moved to be close to family in Colorado. My original intention was to downsize to an apartment or condo, and I planned and sold according.  Once I got here however, I realized that renting was as expensive as owning in Denver, and that should I downsize that much I would end up walking my dogs at five am! 

 After some discussion, my sister and I decided to look for a place together.  She was looking to lower her expenses and get more of a yard, so it seemed like a good fix. On one level it was a leap of faith. While I had stayed with my sister for up to three weeks at a time when visiting Denver this was another step entirely.  On another level we knew we would each have our own space and were not afraid of discussing specifics. The end result was that we moved forward into a house and a yard/

Almost one year later, am here to say that this move is a success. I said previously in this blog that I probably would not have shared a home with anyone but my sister. I still feel that way, but now think that with the proper amount of privacy and understanding it could work for other people.  While there are many variables in home sharing, these are the primary reasons I think it works for us.

This is OUR place, in that we moved in together more or less (I moved in approximately a two months before my sister sold her house and made the final move, but she was in and out before then). I still feel strongly that when one person has a house and a second moves in, the level of control and ownership are not the same. I know too many people who fall into the "my house and you are just visiting" mode of home sharing. The things we have done, we have done together in terms of making this place ours.

When I moved in, I addressed our shared living spaces in one way. When my sister moved in, we realized jointly that we would have to make changes (hence the "fireplace room" which has small dining table and two large comfortable chairs in front of the fireplace, with a separate plant and TV room).  We've slowly been painting the shared rooms, agreeing and experimenting as we go.  Had I say, moved in with her, these kind of things would not have happened.

We have enough space to ensure privacy and individual interests-and I mean beyond each having our own bed and bath.  This house is big enough to give us both beds, baths and studio office space while still having shared kitchen and two living spaces as well as yard.  If my bedroom were my only private space, I would have to turn it into a sitting room even if it meant a single bed. We can be completely separate if needed.

Third, for the most part we have differing things of ultimate importance in terms of home issues, and are generally both laid back enough to give preference to the person who cares the most. I NEED the home at seventy four in the winter. Our compromise is to turn off vents in the basement for my sister (who does not) and allow for keeping windows open as needed for her even if the cost is a little more. My sister is of the "never let the water run while loading the dishwasher persuasion" and because she cares so much is willing to do the dishes. Neither of us are type A people, and we both agree that the person who is bothered the most or cares the most gets preference and/or is the one that gets to handle that responsibility. The fact that one say, cleans the kitchen different than the other bothers neither of us a whit.  

Fourth, we have both shared and individual interest. I have absolutely no interest in planting and gardening. While I enjoy the results of my backyard and appreciate when I am shown specific plants, I am not likely to spend many weekends in the yard, as she does. At the same time we both enjoy travel, similar movies and TV, quilting, cooking and entertaining and our dogs.  Neither is offended if one goes to her space to read, for example. We have together time and separate time. I have more out of the house commitments and activities, partly because of church and partly because of personality.  She joins in those or stays home as she chooses.

We have an easy financial relationship.  We both pay "rent" separately.  The house utilities are in my name and once a month I am given a check for those. When it comes to food, I cook mostly during the week, and she cooks on the weekend.  There is no official division of groceries as such. She tends to buy large pieces of meat and cook large meals on the weekend. I tend to cook slow cooker and casual meals during the week and it all works out.

Right now, we have different schedules. My sister has probably at least three more years of work, whereas I am an early retiree who works part time from home.  Will we have changes when she is at home full time?  Probably, but so do other kinds of couples and living relationships.

Finally, this is not a lifetime commitment. Originally this was a five year commitment amongst everyone.  After that time, who knows?

Certainly sharing a home is not for everyone, and at some point I will still downsize more. However my current living situation affords us 2600 square foot of living space, a large yard, a nice neighborhood and less than a thousand dollars a month in total housing costs (rent, cable, utilities, water and insurance), companionship and freedom. Considering my previous mortgage for an equally large house was 1400 dollars alone, this was a smart five year commitment for all parties.  My goal was to re-adjust my living costs, my lifestyle to some point and my retirement priorities and I have done all three-with ease.

And now, it's time for me to choose which of about six "brick reds" we will use on the space over our fireplace.