Monday, December 24, 2012

Taking A Pause

Image Credit: M. Gustafson Gervasi, 2012

The sign says it all - Whoa!  I am taking a pause in my frugal blogging.  Thanks to all who have followed.  I may or may not be back in the future here, or on another site on a related topic.  In the meantime, I still post on matters related to my legal practice at Gustafson Legal Blog.  Enjoy the remaining days of 2012, and may be your new year be wonderful.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

New Holiday Song Nomination!

When one thinks of traditional holiday songs titles such as Frosty The Snow Man, Jingle Bells, and Silent Night spring to mind.  All three are favorites of mine, and now very clearly my daughter (at two and a half she can sing any of those straight through -- music makes her happy).  But this past Sunday, as I sat at Prairie UU for a service on making the holidays simple, a favorite song of mine was included.  And I wondered, why isn't this associated with the holidays?

'Tis a Gift to Be Simple:
'Tis a gift to be simple, 'tis a gift to be free, 'tis a gift to come down where we ought to be, and when we find ourselves in the place just right, 'twill be in the valley of love and delight.  When true simplicity is gained, to bow and to bend we shan't be ashamed.  To turn, turn will be our delight, 'till by turning, turning we come 'round right.

According to the music book, these words were penned in the 18th century by Joseph Bracket.  My thanks go out to Joe.  Your song inspires me today, in the year 2012, I am a 39 year-old mother of two young children, balancing the demands of parenthood, marriage, and a legal practice.  And it, the song itself, is going to be a gift to my daughter and myself.

Found on Amazon Prime, I purchased that UU song book this summer when we bought a spinet piano for our home.  And I told the folks at church that I will practice, and later in 2013 hope to be able to play this very song for the congregation.  I'm Type A, so having a goal like this will work. I will bring playing the piano back into my life, and the gift to my daughter will be time with Mama at the piano, practicing.  Adding another song to her list, one I will lean on heavily during the holidays to offset, just a wee bit, the buy more mentality screaming at us from billboards, newspapers, radio ads, and internet ads.

M. Gustafson Gervasi, 2012, our daughter this past summer trying out the piano for the first time.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Look! The Garbage Truck is Here Kids!!!!

It's Friday, and in our lives that means TRASH day.  And when you have little ones, that can be a great day. Huge entertainment for free.  At least it was, the kids are getting bigger and their interesting is wanning.  But, it never fails.  My husband and I hear the growl of an approaching truck, look out the window and there it is -- a blue behemoth here to truck our garbage and recyclables away.  At some point we will come around and remember the kids are past the awe phase, but for now we exclaim!

But we can learn new habits.  In fact, just a few weeks ago I discovered the Clean Bin Project Blog, and a recent post talked about "trucking air".  Those huge recycle trucks are carrying a lot of air in those empty plastic containers.  An easy fix is available, just stomp 'em!  Yes, by crushing the plastic containers that cart around air we can fill those trucks with more material before a trip to the drop-off center is required.  And so now we stomp.  This is something that has gone over really well with the kids.  I want them to destroy something -- cool!

And yesterday we saw these trucks at their drop-off center.  We had two strings of holiday lights that no longer work.  And I remembered that the City of Madison will recycle them for Madison residents.  Off we went to the recycling center.  We circled around a bit, but there it was along a wall among the discarded TVs and appliances, a bin market "holiday lights".  In ours went, and we were off to the arboretum for some "hiking".  If you are a resident of the City of Madison and you have holiday lights that no longer work, consider a trip to the Recycling Center.  Toss them in, keep them out of the dump, and make the cost of our waste a bit less.  Note, the Center is at the end of Badger Rd., entrance on the left, go through the gates and look for the building behind the huge sand heap.  In the middle of the appliance drop off you will find a bin for deposits.

And if you don't live in Madison, consider stomping your recyclables.  Get out the air, and we can all save on trips to the drop-off center.  Thanks for reading, and I'll be back with more on the upside of frugal living.


Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Perfect Frugal Gift For a Child


Just as I was reaching for my hat, I heard my cell phone chime.  Very little time remained with the nanny here, and I desperately wanted to take a quick walk around the block, near the woods, to ease the transition from lawyer to mama.  A home office is great, but has no commute in which to decompress.  Where was I, oh yes, the phone ringing.  I glanced at the caller ID and picked up, already knowing the caller's question.

Me: Hi Mom, what store are you at?
Mother: How do you know I'm shopping?
Me: You are on your cell phone, you only use that when you are in a store and need my opinion on something for the kids.
Mother: Hmmm, well I'm at Kohl's and they have Green Bay Packer sweatshirts on sale, but only 2T and 4T.  You said she wanted anything green.....?
Me: Pass on it.  2T is going to be too small too soon, and 4T not  wearable for another year or more.  Seriously mom, don't waste a lot of time shopping.  The kids have all they need, and nearly most of what they want.  Just come and hang out with them.
Mother:  Okay, okay.  Sorry to interrupt your work time.
Me: I was just headed for a short walk, I'll call you later.  

Are you searching for a frugal gift for a child this holiday season?  If so, look no farther than yourself.  We live in an age where stuff is affordable.  If families cannot afford Target or Toys R Us there is the vast world of second hand (SAVERS, Craigslist, garage sales).  And most people with kids have most likely experienced the "drop off", parents with older children dropping bags of clothes and toys off, happy to clear the clutter out of their home.  Stuff is cheap, stuff is plentiful.  Kids are drowning in stuff.  The one thing my kids need is time with loved one, those that make up their village.  My guess is my kids are not the only ones.

Entering our fifth year of parenting my husband know this all too well.  Thanks to the 4Ds they have very little adult influence beyond the two of us and the amazing child care providers we've hired.  Yes the 4Ds: death, disease, distance, and sadly disinterest.  No one was asked if they wanted to be a grandparent, the title was tossed upon them.  And sadly, it is not always welcome.  And with age comes diseases, and death.  My son was just over one when my dad died, and my daughter was not in existence.  For a variety of reasons, the baby boomer generation has played a small role in the kids lives, never every changing a diaper.  There is a void, that is clear.

My children are growing up in a time when needs and wants, of the tangible sort, are relatively easy to obtain.  But the intangible, the stories of where a person was when the learned JFK had died, watching Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, or hearing Elvis for the first time, those are scarce in our home.  I know this is not the case for everyone.  We live in the Midwest, where people flock to be with family.  Multi-generational Sunday dinners a common.  Grandparents fight over who will babysit on Friday night.  Sure, that may bring with it unsolicited advice on potty training or appropriate bedtime stories, but they are getting an experience.  One not available on a shelf.

Instead of rushing to a store to buy a kid a bunch of stuff, pick out a great puzzle, board game or book.  Maybe one you enjoyed as a child.  Just one item.  And then promise yourself you will do the puzzle, play the game, or read the book to the child on multiple occasions.  The object is a vehicle for the gift of your time and love.

Writing this I am reminded of the line from Dr. Seuss' The Grinch -- " Maybe Christmas..doesn't come from a store.  Maybe Christmas....perhaps....means something more".  Marketers will shutter at this post.  Politicians will tell you to support the economy, local businesses, urge you to shop!  I urge you to pause and ask what our children really need for the holidays this year.

Thanks for reading, and I'll be back tomorrow with more on the upside of frugal living.  It's good for your wallet, the planet, and your health.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

$100 Christmas -- That Sounds Nice!

My husband and I worked out our schedule for the weekend today.  Which times we'd have as a family, which individual, which would he work.  And I had one request, that either with or without the kids (they can be a challenge to get going in the AM), I wanted to attended services at Prairie UU this Sunday.  The topic is keeping the winter holidays simple -- the working title is a $100 Christmas.  Ahhh, just what I need.  Reinforcement that I am not alone, and possible inspiration on how to make ours just a little bit less chaotic.

How do you keep your holidays simple?  What have you cut out? Added?  Is this a goal?

One trick I picked up this year was homemade tree ornaments.  The kids whipped up a batch today with our nanny, whom I think of as our own private pre-school teacher.  While I love the idea of homemade ornaments, I know all to well that I am not the adult to supervise said production.  I can read Dr. Seuss for hours, color until the cows come home, but crafts are not my thing.  Thankfully we have Katie!  Today they made cut out ornaments, tomorrow they will paint them, and Friday I'll help them figure out which ones we'll give and which ones we'll keep for our tree.  The recipe arrived in a newsletter from another UU church in Madison, where we also belong (long story).  Here it is:
Salt Dough Ornaments [come back tomorrow or Friday for photos of the finished product]
  • 4 cups flour
  • 1 cup salt
  • 1.5 cups hot water
  • 1 teaspoon vegetable oil
Combine salt and flour, then add water until dough is elastic.  Add oil, knead.  Once it is in a good condition, flatten and use holiday cookie cutters to make festive shapes.  Bake at 200 degrees for 20-30 minutes.  Poke a hole for adding a ribbon or yarn, then decorate.
Note: this made a huge batch.  So much that each child had nearly a dozen ornaments, plus another round of dough.  The plan is to make balls, flatten, and put a palm print of each child for his/her room.

And there you have one very simply approach to keeping the winter holidays simple.  Gentle on the earth, our pocket book, and our health by limiting stress and anxiety.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Keeping It Simple

"Hurry up and eat breakfast kids, it's Waldorf day" -- Me in the kitchen this morning.

"Waldorf, really?  Oh no."  -- Not my kids, but my husband.  He can't put his finger on it exactly, but he knows that the one morning a week when I take both kids to playgroup at the Madison Waldorf School I tend to be....stressed.

The morning progressed.  My husband went off to work.  It looked like we just may make it there on time.  Even though my son had not eaten much for breakfast, a dangerous mix for him.  No protein and lots of kids equals meltdown in T minus ten and counting.  My daughter, normally happy and easy going was fussy and uncooperative.  Yet I ignored these signs and pushed forward.  Then I glanced at the coffee pot, it read 9am, and the group starts at 9am.  Then I realized I had a dirty diaper to deal with.  Poof -- I walked away from my driven Type A disciplined path.  The plan to go to playgroup, with homemade corn muffins, faded away.  Off came my coat. Diaper changed, and we settled into a cozy morning at home.

Simplicity parenting is a big thing in the Waldorf community.  And that is what I did today.  Less was far more in the course of our day.  My son eagerly helped me with laundry and a few chores; he is attempting to earn money for a toy I'd rather not buy.  And then we headed to our backyard.  They climbed in the compost bin, perched themselves on the hay bales, and poked pumpkins that are decomposing.  Simple, outdoors, no fossil fuels used.  Just what we needed.

And it got me to thinking about the knee jerk plan I have to sign the kids up for another semester of Waldorf playgroup.  The cost is equivalent or a bit more than one airline ticket to DC.  We want to travel there in the Spring.  Why do I feel compelled to rush them out the door to go and play?  If I had a very relaxed scheduled it might be a nice option.  But I don't.  No, after a morning of play -- yes, the parent attends this playgroup.  I then drive us home, cook lunch and prep dinner before morphing in the role of attorney at 1pm.  I then spend 6 to 7 hours counseling clients on illness, death and taxes.  Simplicity parenting, yeah I could use some of that.

Frugality is not just about the expenditure of money, but time as well.  When I push myself too far, my energy falls.  My productivity falls.  Time is finite, so I want to spend it wisely.  And when I don't, you can usually see the fall out in my spending habits.  Drive-thru coffees for an afternoon boost. Take out meals to save time in the kitchen.  More money spent on gasoline.  And it goes on.

When you examine a frugal life, don't forget to think about how you spend your time as well.  It was a very frugal day in our home.  And my commute to work was via foot today.  Something I would have skipped had I rushed about to playgroup this morning.  Yes, I'm glad I veered from the agenda in my planner.  The group is wonderful, but that does not mean it is wonderful for our little family, right now, today.

Thanks for reading and I'll be back with more on frugal living.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Want to Support Small, Local Businesses? Pay With Cash

M. Gustafson Gervasi, 2011, Official Wisconsin Holiday Tree at State Capitol 

We are in the heart of the holiday shopping season for 2012, and the message is coming from all levels of government -- Shop local!  Yes, from the President of the United States buying books at a local bookstore in Virginia to the Dane County Executive, one cannot escape the message that buying local helps small business and local government coffers.

As a business owner, I offer a twist to this call for action -- shop local, pay in cash!  Case in point, my 7am appointment at a locally owned car repair shop.  Yes, you read that correctly.  At 7am this morning I was seated in the cozy waiting are of The Car Care Clinic.  The every 6 month oil change became an immediate need when I noticed the left headlight was out on my Honda.  So, 7am it was, done before starting my normal hours at the office on a Monday.  And here is why I urge those interested in supporting local businesses to do so by not only shopping locally, but paying in cash.

Clerk:  Mama, your car is ready to go.  Oil change, headlight, and a new filter....comes to $72.31.

Me: Here you go, and I should have the exact change too.

Clerk:  [glances at my last name] Do both you and your husband operate in cash?  [note, my husband had his car in on the previous Saturday.  We share a last name and a preference for paying in cash]

Me:  Yes, we are both business owners and realize how much the credit card companies take off of a transaction.

Clerk:  Well bless you.  With all the random fees and things, I pay $1200 a month just to accept credit cards!!! [turns out the clerk was in fact an owner].  And I have no choice.  Too many people live off their cards, only way they can get buy.

So we chatted a bit, exchanged information about my business, etc.  As I drove to my office I told myself that today I would blog about this.  So many people want to support local businesses, which I think is great.  And I challenge you to take it one step further.  Before shopping, think ahead and go to your bank or credit union and get cash.  You'll stick to your budget, think before spending, and befriend a clerk/owner.

Give it a try and send me some feedback!  Thanks for reading, and I'll be back with more on the upside of frugal living.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Soup From Leftover Spaghetti Squash

At the end of the week I made a first, roasted spaghetti squash.  I had high hopes, but it fizzled with both my kids and husband.  So what to do with the 3/4s that remained?  Soup!  I reviewed a few on-line recipes and then work on pure inspiration.  It was a hit with my husband, but not so much with the kids.  Here was my off-the-cuff recipe:

  • saute onions and garlic in olive oil for a few minutes;
  • toss in leftover squash and saute for a few more minutes;
  • add on container of broth (I used chicken);
  • add spices -- cumin and curry salt
  • simmer for 1.5 hours
  • add a few tablespoons of whole milk
  • blend with immersion blender
Easy, healthy, and a great way to use up a veggie that fizzled.  I loathe tossing out food, and am always looking for ways to inject more veggies into our diet.  How about you?

Enjoy your Sunday evening, and thanks for reading.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Trek for Holiday Gifts

And we find ourselves at the first Saturday of December.  My guess is that a large portion of America made a trek to the mall today to acquire holiday gifts.  Not in this frugal home.  Nope.  The kids spent the morning and part of the afternoon building forts in the living room, coloring, and watching a show on PBS.  We decided it was time to put on some layers and head outside to pick up a key element of a holiday gift we'd planned.

Pine cones were needed.  And lucky for us there is a huge City Park two blocks from home.  They piled into our trusted bike trailer / stroller, I put on the rain flap and opened the garage door to discover....rain.  Quite heavy in fact.  Having been stuck inside all morning, we plunged ahead.  Well I guess that was me who plunged.  They were nestled inside, under a blank, with a thermos of milk and pretzel sticks.  We arrived at our park in a matter of minutes.  I did the gathering, wanting to keep the mud to a minimum.  I took the long way home to increase our time outside and the small amount of cardio that comes from pushing two tots in a stroller.

We stashed the pine cones on the kitchen counter to dry.  In a few days well roll them in cheap peanut butter and then bird seed.  Once they dry again, we'll attach some yarn.  And voila, homemade bird feeders from my mother as well as my brother and his wife.  Something simple to allow them to enjoy the winter weather, and give the kids a sense of gift giving.

No trek to the mall for us.  And on a day when it rained in Wisconsin instead of snowed, with a forecast near 60 tomorrow, I felt even better about the decision.  Rain on December 1st?  Sure, it has happened before I assume. But we had an historically hot summer, a really warm fall, and now a mild winter.  Not running the car seemed like a gift in itself.

Thanks for reading, and I'd love inspiration on other ways to celebrate the season of giving without the standard mall excursions.

M. Gustafson Gervasi, Dec. 2010 -- This is what our City Park (Garner) looked like two years ago on 12-21-10.  
I doubt it will look like this this year if the weather pattern holds.  
Yes, I actually find myself missing a traditional Wisconsin winter.  How about you?