Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Art of Living Well

It's always fascinated me how some people appear to be comfortably well off while others are struggling but it turns out that they are bringing in similar salaries. How can that be? Credit cards may be an answer, or a second income but a lot of it is attitude. Another big plus is resourcefulness and the ability to handle money.

It's also amazing to me how one can be as poor as a church mouse and still have wonderful things happen. At least that's what happened to me this last weekend. My youngest daughter sent me an airplane ticket to come visit her in Las Vegas. The journey is wonderful, 40 minute flights out of the nearest airports, both of which happened right on time and without incident.

Once there I was wined and dined in lavish style, taken boating on Lake Mead and jet skiing for the first time ever! My daughter and her partner totally spoiled me. It's also amazing that my children give me money to help out. I never in a million years expected that would ever happen. The first time they did, I didn't know what to do about it. But then I figured, what the heck since I was generous with them for many years.

I really want to become independent again though and stay that way as long as possible. I want to not only get by on my own but to learn to live well on my own.

Sunday, September 13, 2009


Last week we were housesitting at my brothers and he isn't a baker. There were no ingredients, so I was forced to resort to a box muffin mix. But this Sunday we are back home and therefore, back in business.

I decided to make the first recipe I spotted when opening my The Joy of Muffins: The International Muffin Cook Book. It was Irish Jam Muffins. This was a departure for me as I don't usually cook with buttermilk or lemon. OMG they were SO GOOD!!! You actually bake the jelly into them and top 'em off with a sprinkle of powdered sugar. I was glad I followed the recipe closely as they turned out so fine and high quality.

Here it is:

1 1/2 cops flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp soda
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp grated lemon rind
1 egg
4 tbsp. butter, melted
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 tsp lemon extract
1 cup raspberry or blueberry jam
confectioners sugar

Mix together flour, baking powder, soda, sugar and grated lemon rind in a large bowl. Whick egg with melted butter, buttermilk and lemon extract. Make a well in dry ingredients and quickly add liquid ingredients. Fill greased muffin tins one-half full. Add two spoons of jam and cover with batter. Bake until done, remove from tins after five minutes and sprinkle tops with confectioner's sugar. Bake at 400 degrees, 15-20 minutes. Makes 12 muffins.

You have to understand that this took maybe 5-10 minutes in the kitchen to make and baked up really fast. There's no reason to make boxed muffins when you can throw homemade ones together from scratch so quickly and easily.

It actually made 9 nice, large muffins for us. I had one of those thingys that you grate lemons or oranges on to get a fine rind, can't remember what they're called. I was tempted to use vanilla extract since I didn't have lemon extract. Instead I just squeezed the lemon into the batter. Mmm, mmm, mmm...delicate, delicioso but be careful. That jam is really hot inside those muffins when they first come out of the oven!

I would have loved to use some black raspberry jam that my brother had at his house and was selling at the store for $5. But it would have been a frivolous purchase as I already had 3 kinds of jelly/jams at home. What I did was make 3 of the muffins with orange marmalade, 3 with prune jam, and 3 with strawberry jelly. I ate one of the orange marmalade ones and it was SO perfect. I'm not normally a big citrus fan but this made up into a light and satisfying product.

Monday, September 7, 2009


It's Labor Day ... 3 day weekends unnerve me. I've become much more of a routine-oriented person in my old age and not being at work on a Monday morning just feels wrong somehow. It's nice to catch up on your sleep though!

Yesterday morning we had blueberry muffins and this morning corn muffins. No recipes to share as these were from mixes. Since Jeanne and I are housesitting, we don't have access to all the ingredients we'd need to make home made muffins.

Jeanne lost her job this week. We had JUST been celebrating that her store had released a list of employees ranking based on secret shopping scores, meeting daily sales quotas, credit card aps, etc. and Jeanne was ranked number 1. Within the week she'd been called into the office and told that her job was discontinued. It was "nothing personal" and mostly based on seniority. Since J was one of the last hired, she is the first to be let go. sigh. At first I thought we'd get by OK if she gets unemployment, but then I realized that she really has to kick butt and get a job NOW since this area is so seasonal. Her goal is to get back into the grocery store industry as she did so well in that field before.

But none of the above is what I had intended to blog about today. What I want to write about is addictions. I once spent a few days with friends who were going through rough times financially. They had little in the way of groceries but a refrigerator full of beer! Go figure. Our downfall is soda. No matter how poor we were this summer, we still managed to have fresh two liters of soda in the house at all times. Not as expensive as some addictions, but still troublesome.

I can't imagine what this is doing for our bodies. It's time to go cold turkey but I don't believe in giving things up, I believe in making exchanges. Instead of reaching for the coke, I'll drink sparkling water or iced tea. Oddly enough, sparkling water is more expensive than soda, especially in restaurants.

Another example of exchanges instead of sacrifice - I used to have a shopping addiction. That was my hobby and a fun way to spend weekends while raising 3 daughters. If bored, we'd pile in the car and head to the mall. When I realized that my finances were taking a downward turn, I stopped shopping at department stores and instead shopped at places like Ross and Marshalls. Then I downgraded to thrift stores and garage sales. It was fun to head out on a Saturday morning with a 10 dollar bill and see all the stuff I could find to buy with that, every bit as satisfying as department store finds. Since I'm not a packrat, this led to my holding a lot of garage sales of stuff I'd accumulated in my travels. That became an important end of the month boost to our finances for years, before the advent of ebay and craigslist.
I'm a different person now. I don't gather as much, I mostly reduce my belongings and see how little I really need to get by. I think I'll start a company - the Simplification Organization. It's time to use my years of garage sale experience to help others!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Sunday Morning Special

At the thrift store yesterday I found a little spiral-bound book entitled The Joy of Muffins. This fits right in to my never-ending pursuit of ways to keep Jeanne away from fast food. One of her favorite things to do on weekends is take the dog to the dog park early in the morning before I wake up and return with ... ta dah ... donuts and unneeded $5 expense.

So I proclaimed that Sunday mornings are now Muffin Mornings, I'll try out a new recipe from my cookbook every week. I went through and marked the recipes that looked the most appealing. This morning I broke in the book by making Swedish Breakfast Muffins. I chose this recipe because I already had all the ingredients in the house.

This, the book says, is a 150 year old recipe and was surprisingly easy to make. The first muffins I think I've ever made from scratch. Here's the recipe:

2 cups flour
4 tsp baking powder
4 Tbsp. sugar
pinch salt
1 egg
1 cup milk
2 tbsp. oil (or butter melted)

As I'm writing this, I'm just now reading that there are actually directions for mixing up the muffins ... I just threw all the ingredients into a bowl and mixed. They turned out fine. But for the purists out there, here are the exact instructions.

Mix dry together in large bowl. Whisk together egg milk and oil (or butter) and pour into a well in center of dry ingredients. Mix lightly and quickly together. Spoon into greased muffin cups and bake until done. Serve hot with butter and maple syrup. Bake at 375 degrees 20 to 25 minutes.

They said it would make 12 muffins. It made 7 large muffins for us. I served them with butter and strawberry jam. Jeanne felt that the texture was almost like a corn muffin. To me they tasted like a scone. I like that it didn't call for that much sugar.

At the thrift shop I had also seen two silk blouses that looked like they'd fit. I didn't buy them because they were $4 each, but I checked my account last night and found that I'd already been paid! I didn't think it would show up until tomorrow - the last working day of the month. So I went back to the store today and tried on those two silk blouses, one peach and one lavendar. They fit perfectly and were in top condition. I also found a nice pair of black capris and some cute, black shorts - a big splurge! When I went to pay, I discovered that all clothing was half off today! I got 4 top quality pieces for $8. Woo Hoo!

This thrift shop that I haunt (I try to check it every weekend) is my favorite because it's Revivals - all proceeds go to support AIDS research and treatment. It's also a consignment shop and I had fallen in love with a painting I'd been keeping my eye on. This painting was going for $195. This visit I was going to ask about it, could I work out time payments or put it on layaway or negotiate with it's owners if it was on consignment. Luckily when I got there today it was gone. *Phew* that was close. This is why I don't tour art galleries. I always fall in love with something unaffordable and never forget about it and suffer greatly that I can't own it. Champagne tastes on a beer budget, that's me.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Julie and Julia

Yesterday Jeanne & I decided to go out and celebrate my new job. We had to choose being going to Sizzler for a steak dinner or going to the movies (we couldn’t afford both.) I’ve been dying to see "Julie and Julia", so the movies won!

It was great fun, we actually splurged on the expensive Hot Popcorn, (which was cold) and two large sodas. Mid movie Jeanne excused herself and came back with another surprise – a box of candy. Life was good.

The movie was good too. I hadn't read Julie’s blog about cooking her way through Julia Child’s 'Mastering the Art of French Cooking' but I had read her book. It was extremely entertaining. Meryl Streep played an affectionate, coquettish Julia Child and it was well written – the way the two women’s live’s mirrored each other.

You had to wonder how Julie afforded all those expensive ingredients. I know that eventually she put a paypal link on her blog so that supporters could contribute but what did she do until then?

A friend and I tried to blog and cook our way through Rachel Ray’s 365 No Repeats back in 2005. We made it through a month and then our families revolted and refused to eat any more of the weird, tex-mex type food. There’s a cute scene in the movie where Julie, Julia and their husbands are all reaching for the bicarb of soda to help digest the rich food. I could identify!

It is also every bloggers dream to break into the publishing world with their blog. It’s such a direct way to success and every writer’s dream … to have the publisher come to you. Every time you try to read some book about how to get your writing published, it’s always so convoluted … literary agents, editors, publishing houses, vanity publishing. I gave up a long time ago and shoved both my plays, my screenplay and my novel back into the drawer where they will probably always stay. My screenplay is coming back to life though in my mind and I want to do more work on it.

A New Job

I am way excited as I have gotten a promotion! I've been testing and interviewing with my school district for over year. As you know, I badly need a 12 month, better paying job. I lucked out and snagged one of the 2 twelve month jobs up for grabs this fall! It's about 5 steps up the pay scale ... How much my pay checks will actually be remain to be seen.

I started the job last week. It's a doozy, I've more than tripled my work load working at a high school with over 3,000 students. But I intend to learn it all and become the foremost authority in my field.

Now I'm waiting to see if J gets hired by the same school district. We should know within the next couple of weeks as the para educators are put into place for the upcoming school year. If she does, that will help us out financially enough that we should be pretty comfortable.

The trick will be to manage our money well while continuing to live within our means. My biggest goal is to pay off our bills, mostly we just have some minor medical bills of J's to catch up on. We don't have any other debt that I know of. I also need to start paying back my retirement and building it up so that I can retire in 10 years with a nice pension.

Our other two goals are to buy a second car and move to a nicer place that isn't roach infested and has a washer and dryer. Hopefully those two things can wait until we have passed our 6 month probation periods.

Stay tuned as the next few months should be interesting.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Summer Woes

It's been a long hot summer. Energy bills here in the desert are ridiculous. We're paying $200 a month to keep cool a 700 sq. ft. apartment with no washer & dryer. That's what we get for living in the So Cal Edison part of the Coachella Valley.

Needless to say, we've been patronizing the 99 cent store all summer. What a great place! I had to get some saline nasal spray according to my doctor and was able to find it there. I was also able to find large bottles of my fiber pills there. This stuff normally sells for $14.99. Needless to say, I stocked up on several bottles as you never know if they are still going to be there the next time you go shopping.

When we lived in Las Vegas, my partner Kate became infatuated with the 99 cent store. We weren't allowed to tell anyone, as she is from Cambridge Massachusetts and a bit of a snop. I didn't understand the attraction but there's a big one in the middle of town and it's amazing what you can find in there! Everything from cleaning supplies, pharmaceuticals, toiletries and food~!

Friday, June 26, 2009

At The Villa Of Reduced Circumstances

I work for the public school system, so I am now off for the summer. It's terrifying because I'll get a 3 week pay check at the end of June, NO CHECK AT ALL FOR 8 weeks and then will get a partial (2 week) check at the end of August.

I've job hunted, ran an ad under Work Wanted on Craigslist, mentioned it on Facebook, got on the county TAC (temp) list, the school district summer help list, applied at stores online etc. No jobs have popped up. I'm willing to do absolutely anything for $10 an hour. I'm not applying for local temp agencies though. I signed up for 5 of them last summer and to this day have not ever gotten a single call from any of them.

So I guess there's nothing to do but to "grab a bottle and hunker down till dawn" (to quote Karen on an episode of Will & Grace.) I do have some interesting activities planned for the summer though and lots of time to blog, so I'll be posting more often.

I'm trying desperately to get a 12 month job with the school district, have tested and interviewed and am now on half a dozen hiring lists. I expect a break in that area this fall. Our air conditioning died out about a week ago and we got by, here at our home in the desert which we affectionally call The Villa of Reduced Circumstances (with a nod to Alexander McCall Smith), for 4 days before the landlord fixed it. Even though we were enjoying triple degree temps, I was good natured from beginning to end of the ordeal. What else can you do? He brought us a room a/c and we stayed in the living room throughout.
I've known this summer was coming and am really mad at myself for not stockpiling food. I managed to keep the bills paid throughout the year but I'm trying to have faith that God will provide some of the other stuff.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Not So Expensive Repairs

Ah life, it’s always something. If it isn’t one thing, it’s another.

We recently hit a patch of mechanical malfunctions - first the car died dead, then the computer, then our cell phone, then both of our phone outlets.

In the past this would have thrown me into a complete tailspin. Now I just shrug and deal, without any unnecessary expenditure of angst.

The car problems, a blown transmission, were against all odds covered by special warranty.

The computer repair cost $175 and it still sounds like a wheezing old geezer. I think that a new tower is in our future. Hopefully not our immediate future. We HAVE to coast through this summer in survival mode.

The cell phone was a lost cause. We received another donation of a used phone and had it hooked up to our account. I keep swearing to myself that I won’t keep it and won’t renew my contract, but a cell phone sure does come in handy sometimes. PLUS I hate using public phones, if you can even find one these days. For some reason I keep getting outrageous cell phone bills and I really do need to close the account before the summer pinch.

We were talked through our phone outlet problems by the good people at our cable company. So without too much fuss and bother we are back up and running at 100%.

Speaking of repairs, daughter J and I had our hay fever/spring allergies both clear up recently. Once we could smell, we discovered that the living room furniture we’d gotten from my brother’s condo reeked of cigarette smoke. We need to deal with that AND get Jeanne some properly fitted work clothing ... again, things that will have to wait until fall.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Beauty Pageants For Children

Beauty pageants for kids, a lot of people seem to think they are plain evil but I’m here to testify that they can be a really fun family activity, If you don’t believe me, read Delta Burke’s autobiography “Delta Style.”

When my oldest two daughters were little, I put them in dancing lessons – for grace and energy and something to do in the community. They would dance in shows several weekends each year, wear several different special costumes and we’d do their hair and make up.

We moved away from that area by the time my youngest daughter Mindy was old enough for dancing school and our new community didn’t have one. So she participated in pageants and cheerleading and it was all pretty much the same thing - family fun on the weekends that involved costumes and performing, with hair and makeup being done.

It takes major bucks though. It usually starts by spotting an ad in the local paper for a little local pageant. It doesn’t cost that much, you buy a dress, they compete, there are plenty of trophys and ribbons and the occasional crown tossed around and *voila* you are hooked! If your child is a winner, you are expected to enter them in the national pageant and that’s where it gets expensive. There’s the travel expenses of course, the entry fee, buying a page in the program, staying at the host hotel for a certain number of nights, fees for all the little sub categories, several changes of outfits – some that aren’t even worn on stage. It costs as much as a family vacation.

You can’t do things in halves either - the clothes have to be pageant quality. And several outfits are needed, such as interview, talent, swimsuit, evening gown, western wear, etc.

Mindy loved doing them and after grad school she came home to stay with me for a few weeks. I was living in Las Vegas then. She found out about a beauty pageant being held in town and thought she’d like to do it for old time’s sake while she was still young enough to qualify. The pageant folks were excited because they needed more entries in the older girl category but insisted that she’d have to book a hotel room for 3 nights in order to enter. We could afford the entry fee and she had the clothes but that hotel room put it right out of our range.

Oh well, I’m glad we were able to pull it off while she was growing up. And let me tell you, if a kid doesn’t want to do it … whatever “it” is (dance, cheerleading, pageants, piano lessons, sports … whatever) no force on earth can get them to do it. Several factors in the universe have to come in to play for a child to succeed at an activity - willingness on child's part, parental support, expendable income, talent/brains/beauty, it can never be just something the parent's want.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Jon & Kate Plus 8 - The Final Season?

If you watched the March 23rd episode, J&K seemed to be about to address the rumours about their marital woes at the end of the season finale. Instead it was about the problems the couple are experiencing dealing with fame. Kate is handling it great (who knew?) and Jon is not dealing with it so well. I have my doubts about that. It can't be nice going out in public with 8 little kids you are trying to keep track of while people are undoubtedly calling them by names and reaching for them. But Kate says she loves it, so there you go.
I think it's probably the money she loves. Rumours of them earning in the mid to high 5 figures for each episode would certainly make the situation more bearable for me!
We've all watched this couple morph into very different people than they were 3 years ago. Their body language on the interview couch has been dismal for weeks now. They give love seats a bad name - sitting side by side, but never touching.

Jon is pretty difficult to read but he doesn't seem to be enjoying his kids as much as he used to. The episodes of him holding down the fort while Kate is away on business trips are pretty grim as evidenced by the recent “walk through the woods” (a.k. in fandom as the "Forced Deathmarch") that he dragged the kids out on. There was clearly no joy in mudville. He no longer seems to enjoy playing with the 'tups.

I think it was first obvious that things had changed with Kate during the puppy-buying episode. There were no family meals, the kids were eating while Jon & Kate each stood off at the side. Kate unveiled her new mod look when she stepped out of the van - long black coat, high heeled boots, etc. Not very mumsy like. Then she kept bellowing about how she had picked out "her" puppies. Also while she was chatting afterwards with the dog breeder, I remember thinking "Is she really flirting with him? Right in front of Jon???"

Could America's favorite family really be breaking up? Jon is probably secure in the knowledge that everyone who watches the show will understand why he left that shrew of a wife. What he isn’t counting on would be the backlash – people love those kids and don’t want to see them go through a divorce plus he'd be leaving Kate with 8 kids, aged 8 and under and that could make her more sympathetic.

Kate is not someone I’d want to divorce. And you can’t help feeling for those kids. How would they cope when Daddy is no longer “a part of their daily lives”? What do you think?

Monday, February 9, 2009


I love crockpots. I love finding an unappetizing piece of meat in the “Manager’s Special” section at the grocery store, throw it in the crockpot, add some seasoning or rub or sauce or marinade, plug it in and turn it on low and there you go. Last night I threw a pkg of chicken thighs in with a bottle of sesame ginger dressing. I cooked some frozen veggies with chicken stock in the 2nd crockpot and had rice going in the rice cooker. It made an excellent dinner with enough left over for Tupperware containers for 3 work lunches. Also, it's easy to blow a fuse on our stove top if you get too many burners going at once, but the crockpots don't do that.

I bought my sister-in-law Jennifer a crockpot once and she wanted recipes. I explained to her that you throw in a piece of meat, a can of soup and *voila* 8 hours later you have dinner, not to mention the fun of being at work all day knowing that your dinner will be hot and ready for you when you get home.

She only looked perturbed (she’s from Connecticut, what can I say …) and promptly went out and bought herself a crockpot cookbook. Was Martha Stewart from Connecticut? I suspect so.

I found a wonderful blog that I heartily recommend It’s a years worth of crockpot recipes and fun facts and really captures the pioneer spirit that a true crockpotter must have.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Steve Martin

My Big Splurge ...

It’s been a while since I bought a Starbucks coffee, so I was pleased to see that they have these new little green swirly stick things that stick in the hole in the lid so that it doesn’t slosh around in the car. It’s really cool.

My cup had printed on it

The Way I See It #112

which was a quote by Steve Martin Comedian and writer.

He wrote: If you’ve got a dollar and you spend twenty-nine cents on a loaf of bread, you’ve got seventy-one cents left. But if you’ve got seventeen grand and you spend twenty-nine cents on a loaf of bread, you’ve still got seventeen grand. There’s a math lesson for you.

The Way I See It, Steve Martin hasn’t bought a loaf of bread in a very long time.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Barry Manilow

Back when I was young and well off…well, doing better than I am now … I used to do Barry Manilow. Well, I didn’t exactly DO him but you know what I mean. I was definitely a world class Fanilow. I traveled around the country going to see him. I went to conventions, concerts, etc. I didn’t keep track but I would estimate that I probably saw at least a 100 concerts and that’s a conservative estimate.

It was good clean fun during my family raising years. When the kids went to their Dad’s for vacation, off my friends and I would go. This went on from 1980 through the mid-90’s. Then concert tickets went into the triple digits and I dug in my heels and refused to pay those prices. I read a quote in a financial book “The more you feed an addiction, the stronger it becomes.” This was my addiction and I went off of it cold turkey.

To my surprise, I found that I missed the other fans more than I missed Barry. I mean how many times can you pay big bucks to see Barry Manilow sing "I Write the Songs", you know? I was always mindful of whether I was getting enough bang for my buck during my heyday and I’m glad I stopped before my addiction became just a mindless habit.

Would I like to have the money back I spent on my hobby? Not for the concerts, each show was a delight but yes, I wish I hadn’t spent so much on travel, conventions, fan clubs, dressing room decorating, photo taking, etc. Some of it was just plain stupid. But I don’t regret those days or the life long friendships that resulted.

Amazingly, the friendships continue. I have friends all over the United States and Europe and my youngest daughter (who inherited my wanderlust) has taken advantage of these connections to couch surf her way around the world.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Big Love

We sprung for HBO & Showtime and somehow hit it so that we are paying less now for the same package we had two years ago.

I am in love with HBO and Showtime On Demand! You can click on Series or Movies and watch whatever you want whenever you want.

I was able to catch up on all last seasons Lword episodes and just caught the first episode of Season 3 on Big Love. OMG I love that show! They managed to pretty much show the entire ensemble of actors. It looks like everyone is back to reprise their roles. Even the oldest Henrickson daughter who played Meryl Streep’s daughter in Mamma Mia is back. And a stellar ensemble of actors it is.

The show is a series about a polygamist family trying to live a mainstream life and blend in with their friends and neighbors. They keep getting called back to Juniper Creek though, a traditional polygamist compound a two hour drive away from their Utah neighborhood. A strange concept for a dramatic series but definitely timely and highly entertaining!

One of the most interesting characters is the Henrickson ‘Sister Wife’ #2 Nicky Grant. Being the compound patriarch Roman Grant's daughter and born & raised in Juniper Creek, she’s really straddling both worlds while battling her own addictions of shopping & gambling.

So in the opener last night they showed a snippet from seasons past of the elder Roman Grant saying something romantic to the young girl slated to be his next wife. It jarringly reminded me of Hugh Hefner interacting with The Girls Next Door.

It looks like there might be a Wife #4 for ole’ Bill Henrickson. The woman he’s been haphazardly courting finally bedded him and that convinced her to give polygamy a try. I swear this show makes everyone want to give polygamy a try! At least polygamists hold on to the old wives instead of giving them the heave ho when they are ready for something new and different.

The financial obligations of maintaining such huge families would be horrendous, of course but if you think about it there would be a lot of able bodied adults to bring home paychecks.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Prepaid VISA Cards

For Christmas I was given a couple of prepaid VISA cards. I found that I could order stuff online and pay for it with these cards, rather than my debit card. The advantage to this is tremendous.

Frequently when you order something and pay with your VISA, you are somehow giving the company permission to send you more product periodically and for them to thus help themselves to another chunk of money out of your account without warning. I had this happen to me several times, which is why I now go over my bank statements with a fine tooth comb.

One of the offenders was Lauren Bacall cosmetics. They send you all kinds of shit monthly once you’ve ordered their main item, the round makeup set compact (which in all fairness I have to add is a great product!)

Other companies that have continued to dip into my bank account once I’ve ordered from them are travel clubs, magazine subscriptions, gourmet food orders, credit report agencies, etc. It’s very insidious and sneaky, many many times even after reading the fine print I didn’t realize that this was an ongoing thing that I was agreeing to.

One of the ways they get you is to offer you something amazing … a free airplane ticket for trying their travel club, for example. You can cancel within 30 days without having to give back the ticket … that sort of thing. I stumbled into that by opening a bank account once. The travel club was presented as a “free service” that came with the account.

By paying for anything you order online with a prepaid VISA card, you aren’t allowing anyone access to your bank account or line of credit. All you are risking is the $100 (or whatever amount) that you used to buy the card initially. From now on, I intend to buy a $100 VISA card when I get paid once a month and use it for all online ordering.

Another thing I do is to once a year destroy my old ATM debit VISA card and order a new one with a new account number. Even going over my statements carefully, you can miss things plus it helps to clean out the cobwebs and avoid identity theft.

Another way to use prepaid cards is as a budgeting tool, especially for those of us who are paid once a month. Rather than keep envelopes of cash in your purse - it's too easy to grab from envelopes for impulse buying - instead I'll put $20 on my Starbucks card, buy a gas card to the station I frequent most often, buy a Trader Joe's card to use throughout the month. It's the same thing as buying prepaid cell phones. When the card is used up, no more luxury items until next month.

My friend Breann has a $500 limit on a visa card. Once that card is used up, that's it. That's her spending money for the month. A clever idea I haven't tried yet.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Buying Tires

I’m not very knowledgeable about buying tires. In fact, I dread anything to do with auto-related purchases. I always feel taken advantage of since I’m a single woman. Also, I used to buy a new car every couple of years back in my wealthy past so no new tires were needed, but those days are gone forever. I now have a Saturn Vue that I’ve been driving since the summer of 2003.

I drove on the original set of tires that came with the car for 3 and a half years and finally got new tires in December of 2006. They were a size larger than the car originally came with and it felt a lot sturdier to have those larger tires on. The new tires lasted just about exactly 2 years. Lately they’ve been dying one by one. So last September I bought one new tire and in October I bought a second new tire. I crossed my fingers and hoped we could get through the holidays without having to buy the final 2 tires.

In November I had a coupon for an oil change at Ramon Tires in Rancho Mirage. They told me that I had 2 good tires and two bad tires (duh). Unfortunately one of the new tires was the wrong size!!! This led to a lot of panic with trying to figure out who sold me the wrong sized tire and why didn’t they know any better. They warned me about how evil it was to have two different sized tires on my car (“like walking with one high heel and one sneaker on”) and how it would throw everything out of alignment.

Since my boyfriend Phil was visiting after Christmas I took him with me back to Ramon Tires and asked how cheaply I could get out of this mess. They gave me a quote for 4 new tires at the price of $749.!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 4 new tires when I already had, at their admission, 2 perfect practically new ones!

I came to the conclusion that having a man along was having it's ups and downs. Clearly I must look like a wealthy snowbird (a visiting tourist) but now I also looked like I had a husband and price was no object. Phil told me that he didn’t think it was that big a deal to have two different sized tires. If one was taller than they other, perhaps they could let a little air out of one tire so it was the same size as the other? I like how he thinks!

I went by COSTCO and looked at their tires. Phil pointed out that they only carried high end tires … specifically Michelins, which I couldn’t afford. A friend advised me to get out of Palm Desert and buy my tires in the less affluent areas of the Coachella Valley, like Cathedral City or Indio.

So I dropped Phil off at the golf course and went to Discount Tires in Cathedral City (my usual haunt) and the guy there said that the 2 good tires were exactly the same size. They were just different brands so the numbers were different but they translated to the same size. Hah, take THAT Ramon Tires!

He quoted me a really good price for 2 more tires and we had a deal! By the time Phil finished his 18 holes I was driving around with 4 good tires!!!!!!! *phew* Now I don’t have to go through this again for another couple of years.

Lesson learned - buy all 4 tires at once, a matched set.

Monday, January 12, 2009

At The Movies

There is something about recessions/depressions that makes people go to the movies even more often. Escapism for the price of a movie ticket, I guess. I know I’ve been to a ton of movies this holiday season, way more than usual. Also, we are a little more comfortable these days because we have paid off our moving expenses (utility deposits, security deposits, etc.) and are now paying our true rent.

So this weekend I took my 16 year old granddaughter Rachel to the Palm Springs Film Festival. You can get a “six pack” of tickets for $50 and that got us into 3 films. Luckily all 3 films turned out to be really good. Saturday morning we went to see “The Witch Of The West Is Dead.” Shirley Maclaine’s daughter Sashi Parker played the elderly grandmother in a Japanese film and it was fun seeing her speak most of her dialogue in Japanese. It was also fun to see her in the audience looking very young and glamorous and ungrandmotherly. Aren’t actors amazing people?

Saturday afternoon we saw “The Black Balloon”, an Australian film about a family with the oldest boy being autistic. It was a wonderful story about how the younger brother both loved and hated his brother and dealt with how his life was turned upside down on a daily basis because of his brother’s condition. Rachel really identified with this film as she has two little autistic girls who frequently come to visit and was able to spot their different kinds of behaviors in the austistic onscreen performance of actor Luke Ford.

The third that we saw at noon on Sunday was “Tales from the Script” about screenwriters experiences having their scripts made into movies. I was worried that she might find this one too boring but she’s a prolific writer (just like her grandma!) and was really in to it.

All in all it was a great weekend visit, one of our best ever! Usually we have to go buy special Rachel food but now her palate has matured and she’s also into eating healthy, so no special food was needed.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Reality TV

We spend a lot on our cable bill. I just can't bring myself to go back to basic cable, plus we don't go out much so ... what to do but pay up and enjoy ourselves? Over the last couple of years, daughter J & I have become addicted to Reality TV. One of our favorite shows is Jon and Kate Plus 8. Like the rest of America, we just love those kids.

Monday night we stayed up late to watch the start of the new season. At least it appeared to be the first show of the new season, but it looked old because of Kate’s hair which was short and red. She’s been growing it out lately, based on recent booksigning photos and those photos sure didn't match how she looked on this show. The network must have a ton of old footage that can be made into episodes but are limited by having to keep the kids around the same age and trying to match the parents evolving looks.

This episode was about making soup at home. I watched it carefully and don’t believe I heard Kate use her favorite word “organic” even once. She & Jon described some of the ingredients in her soups – broccoli & cheese in one and beef with an assortment of veggies in another. Once again I was amazed me at what sophisticated and adventurous palates her 8 kids have. When my 3 were growing up, they never cared for cheese-based soups or the squash or root vegetables that she named. She had two huge lobster-style pots on her stove and were cooking both soups at once which had to have taken forever! I also wondered at how many meals she’d be able to get out of that batch, since there are 10 in the family – she claimed that she’d be able to get 5 or 6 lunches out of it if she included grilled cheese sandwiches. This definitely made it worth all that effort!

Kudos to Kate in this episode for keeping her cool when her stovetop exploded and she had to get a entirely new stove. Trust me, non-working appliances are a biggie in the Mom stress-o-meter level counter. It was always the one thing that threw me as a single parent - the one hassle I couldn’t just shrug off even back when money wasn't so hard to come by.

The kids were jumping on a Little Tyke inflatable bouncy toy. I saw something like that at Sam’s Club recently and thought it would be a great thing for the Gosselins to have since they have so many kids of the same age. Lunch time brought about the oddest part of the episode - watching six 4 year old children sitting in high chairs and wearing bibs ... all righty then!

During lunch they announced that they would be moving soon. Kudos to little Alexis, the oldest of the septuplets, for figuring out how to get her own bedroom. Evidentally she’s “disruptive” and so sleeps on her own and was informed that this arrangement would continue in the new house. Yup, she scored a major coup in that family!

the 99 Cent Store

Cool things I’ve found at the 99 cent store:

Kitchen sponges with the scrubber on one side

Fat Free Half and Half (for my coffee)

Super fresh produce

The best Italian meatballs ever

Plastic food storage containers

Holiday decorations

Office supplies



Vanilla frosting

A full color coffee table book about celebrity marriages (half of which were already kaput…)

Pizzas & Pizza rolls

Cute socks

Revlon Makeup

Tooth whitening kit

Sugar free candy

Sparkling water

Dog treats

Hair ties and clips

Self-tanning lotion

Pregnancy Testing Kit (!)
Joke gifts

The 99 Cent Store Rocks!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!