Saturday, March 29, 2008

Lazy Saturday

5 Things That Make a Lazy Saturday Wonderful:

*sleeping in, after a long Friday evening. (We had an exhibit opening to go to, at the Rocky Mountain Quilt Museum. Sue and James Crouse's wonderful quilts were on show...they've just been recently acquired by RMQM.)

*Bright sunny skies, with spring just coming in!

*Steak and Eggs Farmer Fry. Easy, fast and makes maximum use of restaurant leftovers. Start your frying pan with a lacing of olive oil, then throw in half of a chopped onion, 1-3 baked potatoes, a handful of cubed steak, and a handful of chopped bacon. (You can get by without the bacon -- but only about an inch thickness sawed off the pound package will do, though.) Mushrooms, chopped broccoli , peppers or other leftover veggies are good, too. Let everything gently fry together until the bacon is cooked, then crack open two eggs on top. Turn the heat off, then stir until the eggs are cooked. Serve with hot coffee. YUM.

*Popcorn. A classic b&w TV western. (Today's it's "Colorado Territory" with Joel McCrea.) Your sweetie snuggled on your shoulder for his afternoon nap.

*And time not only to catch up, but rest up!


A Missouri friend, Carolyn Peterson, called yesterday with her money childhood memory. She has fond memories of her grandma giving her a nickle tied in the corner of a handkerchief, for putting in the offering plate Sunday at church.

What's your favorite money childhood memory?

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Money Childhood Memories

While the hambone is simmering in navy bean soup (it's the Michigan coming out in me), I ran across these interesting posts:

What are some of your childhood memories of money?

A few for me:

*Watching my brother pick up yet another dime or nickel from the ground...I rarely seemed to find any. Worrying that I was going to lose the grimy pennies or nickel clutched in the fuzz at the bottom of my pocket. Admiring the shiny plastic coin purse or wallet I got for my birthday, and feeling pride at the dollar bills stashed inside.

*Selling corn and raspberries out by the road to passing motorists, with a few homemade potholders of my own on the table, as well.

*Picking fruit -- especially blueberries and strawberries. We couldn't afford the little plastic boxes at the supermarket, but standing in the sun, popping a warm berry in your mouth, was a pleasure not to be bought at the store. My grandma in a feedsack apron, scarf wrapped around her head, looking like the pictures of European peasants I saw in books. (Europe was an incredible faroff place to this Michigan farmgirl.) Buckets of berries, poured carefully into quart boxes. Then home to make jam, with the sweetness permeating the kitchen air -- and 'foam' scraped off to eat on a cracker. Jars lined up on the table, with a hazy skim of wax protecting the fruit.

*Starting work at the hardware store, age 15. I worked there 5 days a week -- no Sunday or Thursday -- all through high school, and some college breaks and summers. I was so excited: instead of the 75 cents I was paid for babysitting, I would get a munificent $1.50 an hour!
(Daughters yawn at this...they get $5-6 hourly for one kid babysitting.)

*Having a bowl of clam chowder one snowy day during lunch break from the hardware store -- and tipping the waitress $5. (Left a thank you note, too. She WAS great, even to a snot-nosed high schooler like me.) Watching the farmers come into Cnossen's for coffee and a doughnut, then across the street to pick up a part at the hardware store. Running across the street at breaktime to the bakery for a large, warm oatmeal cookie. (A huge splurge I didn't dare to attempt much -- cost perhaps 50 cents!)

*Buying my mom an angel candle that cost a whole TEN DOLLARS for Christmas. I cannot even now tell you how much that sum represented back then. (Must have been about 8th grade.)

*Spending a day shopping 'downtown' (the la-dee-dah spot in Grand Rapids) with Mom, cousins and Aunt Maxine. We'd head straight to Wurzburg's, have a chef salad at their lunchroom, then analyze the dresses before going down to the bargains in the basement. (To this day, I still associate chef salads and Wurzburg's -- long out of business -- with careless, prodigal luxury.) After a few more stops to check clothes styles, we'd go to the fabric store and pick out a pattern and fabric as close to the store models as we could get. My mom sewed beautifully -- she often did tailoring for other people, including suits and wedding gowns. Excepting cousins' hand-me-downs, I don't think I had a storebought dress until I was a junior in high school.

*Saving half my money for college. No matter what, even though this was a far-off dream back in the late 60s and 70s. Ten percent for tithing, the rest was mine for whatever was needed. (I tried very hard not to ask my folks for cash -- that's what jobs were for, although I did get 50 cents a week in allowance through middle school. Again, it's difficult to express HOW MUCH that 50 cents represented.)

*Grad school at the University of Michigan. Living on canned spaghetti, invites to the local commune from a fellow English Lit buddy, or the $1.35 fried rice special at a local Chinese restaurant in Ann Arbor. (Where, incidentally, I met a tall North Carolinian named Dave one day!) My home was the attic of a gracious, ivy-over-brick 'mansion.' I lived there, and got breakfast in return for keeping the house clean and looking after their 12-year-old daughter. (Lunch too, if I came home and walked the dog.) He was the chairman of the Classics department, she was a lawyer -- and the oldest daughter of the British novelist Evelyn Waugh. Boy, the books I read that year!

*Our first (student) apartment as a married couple -- $115 a month. Even that amount was hard to come up with, and I was working full-time! We ate a lot of ramen (especially a brand called Sapporo Ichiban, which was 25 lavish cents), chicken noodle soup and peanut butter sandwiches back then. I threw a surprise birthday party for Dave our first year -- invited 11 or 12 people. I didn't think of our place being small until then. It was so crowded that no one literally had room to sit down. (My bro-in-law spent the evening lying underneath the dining room table!)

Writing these down, I suddenly realized -- a lot of my money-related childhood memories also have something to do with food! Weird...

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Happy Easter!

"The Lord is risen!"

"He is risen, indeed!"

Hope you all had a very happy (and restful) Easter. I love the day, for what it represents. I do. But when you sing on a worship team for your church, Easter is ZANY. Besides the usual work last week, Dave and I both had 3 hours of practice on Thursday, 3 hours Saturday, and nearly 2 hours Sunday morning -- before we both sang/played for both services at church -- extra-long, new stuff (except 2 songs) each time...and special music, as well. By the time the sermon rolled around on second service, nearly everybody on Worship Team was beat -- not to mention hoarse.

Our girlies (and Angel's boyfriend Keith) came for dinner, along with friend Constance. Then Dave and I tiptoed off for our usual Sunday nap -- which turned out to be a 3-hour marathon.

Dave said, "Maybe next year we should celebrate all our holidays a week late!"

The appraisal reports are nearly all finished now. (Whew) One more to go, and I hope to finish that tomorrow morning. Then it's finish up some final niggling stuff for the Crazy Quilts book...and go out to lunch at New Saigon, this great Vietnamese place in Denver. (Love those egg rolls, made of crispy, crackly skin and wrapped in lettuce, mint, cilantro and bean sprouts. Crisp, hot and crunchy meets cool and amazing combo, with cool mint on the periphery.)

I am SO looking forward to finally starting to catch up.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Good Friday

"They sang a new hymn: "Worthy are you to receive the scroll and to break open its seals, for you were slain and with your blood you purchased for God those from every tribe and tongue, people and nation. You made them a kingdom and priests for our God, and they will reign on earth.

"I looked again and heard the voices of many angels...and they cried out in a loud voice: "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches, wisdom and strength, honor and glory and blessing.

"Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, everything in the universe, cry out: "To the one who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor, glory and might, forever and ever."
Revelation 5: 9-10, 13

Your sacrifice for me, Lord...and I sure didn't deserve it. But you did it anyways -- for me. For everyone.
Thank you.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Keeping Your Head Above Water

I have been paddling like crazy this week...

A huge batch of appraisal reports to do. Everyone and their sister needs this info -- especially for donating purposes. The IRS now requires appraisals done by a certified appraiser -- great for extra opportunities, hard because they require reports and forms done NOW.

I'm grateful for the work. Really. But there are other balls to keep in the air, too.

Ah well.

Stayed up until 3 a.m. getting two reports to sign and stamp them, get them off in Ye Olde Mail, then finish up the OTHER two reports that are waiting. If the Post Office loses them, I think I will quietly have a heart attack.

Then it's time to start work on our taxes, too. See the swirl of water? The bubbles coming quietly up?

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Nancy Kirk & the Monday Minute - Revisited

Nancy Kirk, of the Kirk Collection, is a good and treasured friend. She wrote the foreward to my new book CRAZY QUILTS (which you can see on the Brickworks website, ). I've admired Nan for more than a decade; she is a terrific appraiser and quilt restorer. I share many interests with her, including our love of writing and quilt history.

Nan is the force behind the best Crazy quilt gathering in the world -- the Crazy Quilt Society retreat, held July 11-13 in Omaha, NE. You can find out more about it here:

I'm headed there in July, not only to teach with with some sterling colleagues, but to participate in the auction, the get-togethers, and the unbridled zaniness of the Prom Dress Swap. Don't miss it, if you're a Crazy-lover, too!

And don't miss the Kirk Collection, purveyor of great books (including e-books) and videos on quilt history and restoration -- as well as Nancy's newest book, coming in March: THE BIG LITTLE BOOK OF THANK YOU NOTES . Stop by at

Why am I bringing Nancy up? Because every Monday, she writes a thoughtful essay on what she notices in the world. I've enjoyed these 'Monday Minutes,' and you can, too -- just sign up at the Kirk Collection site.

This week's Monday Minute (the March 17 version) seemed especially good:


I keep three special files in my filing cabinet, to capture those special ideas and names that I want to be able to retrieve in the future. Not everything fits neatly into my basic alphabetical filing system. Sometimes, I just need a place to put things that don't quite fit. If I get a good idea, or hear a good idea, it could be lost forever if I tried to file it by subject - because if I don't need the idea right away, it's easy for me to forget it. If I put it under "Saving Time on the Computer" I'm unlikely to ever search all the way to the S section to find it a few months from now.

But if I put it in my "Good Ideas" folder, I have one central place for all those ideas that float by quickly and could be gone forever if I don't write it down and then remember where I put it. I don't always check the folder on a regular basis - I have many more good ideas than I can ever put to use, but if I am trying to make a major decision or a change in my life, I can go to my Good Ideas folder and see if any of my past good ideas are better than my current good idea. It's a quick way to judge the relative merits of my latest burst of inspiration.

I also keep a "Good Quotes" folder. I don't use it to replace Bartlett's Famous Quotations. I don't write down every well-spoken phrase I hear. But sometimes - maybe five or six times a year, I hear something extraordinary that I want to be sure I can find again in the future. I write it on a piece of paper, hopefully with the source, and drop it into my Good Quotes folder. My criteria is that the quote has to be inspiring, life changing or one that changes the way I think about the world. I don't go back and review these great quotes very often, but if I find myself in a time of doubt or circling the edge of depression, it's a fine non-pharmaceutical antidote.

My last special folder is "Good People". Sometimes you meet someone, way outside your circle of acquaintance or influence, but who impresses you for some reason. Sometimes I meet someone without ever laying eyes on them - on the internet, in a book, on television. They don't know me, obviously, but I'm aware of their presence on earth and I want to be able to find them again at some time in the future.

Sometimes I want to remember a person because they might be a perfect fit for a job in my field in the future and I want to be able to find them again. Sometimes I want to be able to consult with someone in the future. Sometimes I'm hoping this could be a friendship down the road. Sometimes I just want to be aware that this person is making a difference in the world because they inspire me to do better and try harder.

I often hear people complaining about how their newspapers, television news and internet portals are filled with negative news. First of all, it's important to remember that we call it news because it is not ordinary life. Most of us were not in car accidents today, most were not affected by a shooting, most of us did not commit crimes today.

On the other hand, most would probably not read a front page headline that said something like "Bob Smith went to work on time today, came home to his wife and did not hit his kids." But there are times when we aren't reading the headlines. We are living the everyday lives that don't make headlines, and they are highlighted by good ideas, good quotes and good people.

Try making three folders and keep track of them. Then sometime later - maybe at year's end, pull them out and delight yourself.

This is Nancy Kirk with your Monday Minute.

Thanks, Nan. See you in July!

Monday, March 17, 2008

Begorra...It Be St. Paddy's Day!

and a Happy St. Patrick's Day to you...

I'm Irish, on me mother's side. Maybe a tablespoon full...but it's there. So we'll celebrate with corned beef and cabbage, and wearin' o' the green. Husband refuses to do so, saying that first, he's not Irish, and second, he's not Catholic -- Protestants wear orange. He had a black flannel plaid shirt on this morning, so I told him he must be one of those Black Irish!

I always think of our cousins, Tim and Joanie, on this day, as well. They've been missionaries in Galway, Ireland for nearly a decade -- and every year, we try to come up with some plan to get us there to see them!

Seriously, I love this wild, adventuresome culture. There are a lot of relatives -- these on the Cumings side, which yes, is also Scotch -- that are writers. They're also preachers and missionaries and business owners and leaders. Almost to a person, they sing well, and have been active in drama (especially personal ones!) They have many things to say...and many ways to say them. They are not shy about expressing themselves, in general.

Older Cousin Deb feels that the Irish in us may have something to do with the writing, singing and drama genes in our family. She thinks it may be connected with the Irish gift for "kenning."

Who knows, she may be right. In the meantime, I'll haul out my recipes for colcannon (a cabbage/potatoes dish), get out the Quiet Man video (maybe the best American Irish movie ever, love that John Wayne)...and check the back of the closet for a clean sweater.

Erin go bragh!

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Coffee Review: Joffrey's Jamaican Me Crazy

Disclaimer note here: I got this coffee sample free in the mail, but am not being paid to write this review.

Joffrey's Coffee (see ) has just started up a club, and yours truly was one of the bloggers to join. Their first sample arrived last week -- Jamaican Me Crazy.

Love the name! But the coffee won't be making a long-term stop in our household. We like our coffee strong and dark, first and foremost: the coffee should speak, then any other flavors.

JMC is a mild Arabica coffee. It has an aroma and aftertaste of toffee. The latter seemed reminiscent of the caramelized-sugar aftertaste often found when using Mexican coffee beans.

If you prefer a lighter flavored coffee, you'd enjoy this one. Stronger coffee buffs might want to abstain -- I tried using more for a stronger pot, but it just got bitter.

So not bad -- but not for us.

Seven Signs of Spring

* Asparagus and strawberries are on sale at the grocery store

* Daffodils are out -- blooming on the dining room table, and popping out of the ground!

* The sun angle has floods the southern side of the house in the morning, instead of the afternoon. (Something about how our windows were installed.)

* It's time to plant spinach and peas. (Thank you, St. Patrick's Day.)

* We're both antsy as all getout. "Spring fever" is a reality in the Brick household. Mostly expressed in the need to TRAVEL.

* All the t-shirts and tank tops newly resurrected from the back of the closet reveal pasty skin and jiggly arms! (sigh)

And the winner:

* Smells. The house -- musty or 'foody.' The couch, our winter refuge -- stale. Everywhere -- stale. The boys -- full of doggy aromas. I'd love to air out and/or wash everything, including the dogs. but it's snowing like crazy outside. (Another sign of the season.)

Ah, spring.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Part 2: Smartest Purchases

Looks more like winter outside today...but the daffodils are up and poking toward the sun.

Here are some of our smarter purchases over the years:

*Things we saved for. The leather couch that took two years of my freelance income. The armoire and antique highboy that still look gorgeous after decades of use. They weren't cheap (even though we got a good price). We made do for years with crates and a crappy couch until we could afford something better. (Our bed is still just a mattress and springs -- but someday I'll get that mahogany sleigh bed I've admired!)
The window seat, with cozy shelving on both sides that framed in a mountain view -- built in by the best handyguy in Castle Rock, Ken Knopp. The outside patio, where we say good morning to Pike's Peak, and a curving walk, poured by the best concrete guy in Castle Rock, Tom Madrid.
All of these items took time and patience to save for. Every one of them is more than worth it.

*Things we bought on a '12 months free' agreement -- and paid off in 11 1/2 months. Our "doctor's choice" mattress, which made all the difference between back pain and none, was purchased on this plan. Every month I set aside more than 1/12 of the price...and two weeks before the deadline, I wrote a check. This worked so well that we just got a second laptop (at a GREAT price!) using the same plan. Caution: set aside more than you need to, early on. Not only will you have the total price earlier, but the overflow acts as extra savings for emergencies.

*Purchases we researched before we bought. Rentals --and houses -- that we committed to only after we'd looked at 20 or 30 others first. (Our first home purchase -- $10,000 under the asking price, which was reduced to begin with -- came only after we'd seen at least 70 others.)
The mattress was researched. Ditto the computers. Vehicles. Vacations. (Cases in point: last year's Caribbean cruise, celebrating our 25th anniversary, was 12 nights -- $595. The Mexican vacation the year before that was for a week: approx. $700 for both of us, including airfare.)
You can get anything -- anything -- higher quality at a lower price, if you only search.

*Higher quality -- purchased 'almost new.' The Peruvian alpaca sweater...$3 at our local thrift shop. (The imported cashmere sweater was a bit more...$7.) My nicest clothes -- best quality, high-end labels -- come from thrift shops. Daughter Angel found a pair of Italian leather pumps fresh from the runway -- at a thrift shop. (Price: $4.)
Appliances are a lot more reasonable if someone else breaks them in. Our refrigerator, washer and dryer, chipper/shredder...we could afford a much better brand if they were gently used.
We do the same with cars. (Once we research them!) Our favorite: the Jeep Cherokee. We've had three vehicles, all purchased secondhand for much-cheaper-than-usual prices. And all extremely reliable in all kinds of weather. (Now if they'd only be more mpg-efficient!)

*If we buy it retail, we buy it on sale. Or wholesale. Or direct from the source. There are very few exceptions to this in the Brick household. Fabric? Purchased by the bolt. Appliques? By the box. If it's apples, we get a bushel or two from an orchard on the Western Slope. (They store great in the garage and the refrigerator crisper.) A bushel of tomatoes gets canned or frozen for winter chili and spaghetti sauce.

Which brings up another guideline: the price is often better if you buy more at once. Case lots are cheaper than individual cans. I just bought two cases of canned crab meat...for 91 cents a can! (The next best price was approx. $3.50 each.)

*Or we make it, grow it, sew it, repair it or cook it ourselves. My garden produced all the green beans we could eat -- including wintertime, thanks to the freezer. My dad built bookshelves, and Dave replaced our faulty thermostat. (Not only saving on repairs, but making our whole heating system more efficient.) Dave changes the oil in our cars. I fix ripped sleeves and buttons, bake cakes, stitch Christmas presents. Doing it yourself saves a lot.

And our smartest purchases?

*Getting an advanced degree. It took time. Worked our butts off in jobs and loans to pay for it. But our M.A.s -- Dave's in engineering, mine in literature -- have opened a lot of doors.
Certification and advanced training have paid off, as well. Things like this not only help you work better -- they help your work BE better.

*Buying a house -- for less. Putting the biggest downpayment (which we had saved, partly because we paid the lowest rent we could find). Getting a low interest rate because we had an excellent credit score.

and finally -- a few simple rules:

*Pay your bills. On time.
*Never spend more than you pay. (Don't do it, even if you CAN afford it!)

But best of all is

Faith in God.

Love for your family. Your community.

A good name.

An honest reputation.

These are the things I most value in life.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Learning From Stupidity

Debt Kid is hosting a "share your dumbest purchase ever" contest -- take a look!

I don't care about the "ds-lite" Debt Kid is offering, but I did enjoy the idea. Readers' comments got me to thinking about our dumbest (and smartest) purchases. So here goes...


*Appliances. When we were first married, we tended to buy our appliances -- coffeemaker, blowdryer and such -- new. What were we thinking, when you can find perfectly good pieces at the thrift shop, Craigslist, or on sale? Fortunately, we soon wised up.
Dave's best find in this was an imported espresso/coffee maker at the local thrift shop for $10. In spite of having all the proper accessories, it didn't work properly. No problem -- Dave is a genius at fixing things. Another ten bucks for a part, and it worked like new. Best Girlfriend stopped by for coffee, and stared at the machine: "you got one, too?" Turns out her son bought her the same coffeemaker -- for nearly $150! (Maybe this should be in the smarter department!)

*Clothes -- new. See the comment above. (And later on in the smarter department, too.)

*Refinancing -- only a few months before we paid the house off. We ended up with a lower interest rate, true. But we also paid fees, and the whole process required time and energy better used elsewhere. In the long run, we didn't save money -- we lost it.

*Too many fancy foods. We could have done just as better using these as an occasional treat, even if they were on 'sale.' Artichoke hearts and shrimp were wonderful -- but they should have been a treat, not a privilege.

*Going out to eat. Read the previous paragraph? Ditto.

*Buying 'bargains' instead of investing in higher quality. Quilts, clothes, embellishments like lace, buttons and so on, fabrics -- especially hand-dyeds, BEFORE I learned to find them more reasonably priced, or make them myself.
After a number of hard lessons, I realized this: money invested in a well-made piece will keep its value and last far longer than the same amount used to purchase four or five 'bargains.' (The only exception: a well-made unusual quilt sold at a bargain...that I can restore!)

And the top two winners in stupidity:

*Not arguing harder for our daughters to attend community college for the first few years. Both went to a much more expensive state college. Both came out of their first year with no discernible improvement for having gone to State U instead. (In spite of their initial rude remarks about Community U, both have gone or are going there now. Lesson learned) Guess whose pockets furnished the extra hundreds (no, thousands) of dollars needed for attending State U?

*Buying a larger home. Husband and I fell in love with the open, spacious feel of our current place. (We live on a hill with hundred-mile views in three directions, and a wooded bluff in the fourth.) The house was twice, no triple the size on a larger lot. It had a fireplace. A master closet.
And it was a bargain by Colorado standards.

But our much-smaller house had a much smaller mortgage. It also had wonderful views, a fenced backyard with deck, fruit trees and a productive herb garden. We could have remained there quite comfortably, even though we didn't have as much room as the Big House.

The owners of Big House insisted on the sale going through, regardless of whether we sold Small House or not. (We referred to them as "Ma and Pa Kettle" for their rabbit hutch in the garage, school bus full of tomato plants and multiple barking dogs.) Ma & Pa were most anxious to leave -- it turned out they were being chased by their debts. (We found this out the hard way during the next few years when irate bill collectors would show up on our doorstep and INSIST that we were them.)

We did it. We went through with the purchase. We wanted that house.

The upshot?

Ma and Pa Kettle finally moved out -- only because we were moving IN. We literally passed each other, carrying boxes. Their stuff ended up in piles on the lawn, the littlest kids peering out the schoolbus windows. (We had to wait a week before the rabbits followed their reluctant owners.) I found misc. left-behind items for months, but Ma and Pa refused to give us a forwarding address. (I understood when the first process server showed up.)

Ma & Pa 'forgot' to mention that tree roots in the backyard not only clogged the sewer system, but were literally tearing up the concrete walk. They didn't point out that the same tree's leaves helped clog an outside drain and flood the downstairs library during heavy rainstorms. (We finally cut the tree down, broke out the old concrete, and repoured a new walk. All expensive.)

Ma & Pa neglected to tell us that the house's wiring was not only antiquated -- but half of it was backwards. (It was a miracle everything hadn't shot up in flames long ago.) They didn't mention the leaky spots, the holes in the siding that let in mice, the cheap & shoddy 'improvements' they'd made that would have to be torn out and redone properly.

Thankfully, we had a wonderful friend who was also a genius at home inspection. He noticed things, and we submitted a lower price -- the difference which was finally 'eaten' by the desperate realtor listing the property!

We knew the carpet was old. Big House's siding was an awful blue that made me cringe. Doors and windows would need to be replaced upstairs, and repainting done from stem to stern. (What we didn't realize was how long that process would take...and how much it would cost.)

And Small House? We cleaned it up as best we could with limited funds and put it on the market, where it waited...and waited. And waited. Any number of would-be buyers traipsed through, but no one made an offer for more than three months. We couldn't afford both mortgages, so I took an extra job doing layout and editing for a local newspaper. (That was fun...trying to take care of the house, my normal work,the kids...AND the second job.)

We finally sold Small House, for a reasonable-but-not-great profit to an investor who tried to keep all of the furniture we'd put in the house for show. Plus the deck furniture. Plus a gorgeous 1890s Ocean Waves quilt top I'd had displayed in the stairwell. (He managed to weasel out with the deck furniture and the quilt top -- darn him.) I gratefully left the extra job. And over the next decade, I learned another lesson: extra space only means it gets filled up faster!

Big House has appreciated in value...thanks in great part to our hard work. But it has taken much more energy and effort to keep clean and tidied up. It has a widening maw for even more improvements.

And within only a year or two, it swallowed a huge percentage of our funds. If I had known our total income was going to shrink by two-thirds, I would have never gone along with Big House's purchase. (Husband was in "love," me in "like.")

It came out all right in the end -- but there were some seriously iffy moments in between.

Next time: Our Smartest Purchases!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Growing up Poor...Can Life Change?

this blog got me to thinking...

The major question -- if you grow up poor, are you stuck being poor the rest of your life?

I know the answer to that from experience...

Grandpa and Grandma Cumings were the children of farmers -- and farmers themselves. They both worked second jobs because of the Great Depression -- he was the local mailman, and she had a booth at the local farmers market. (Which took her all morning to drive to -- after she'd already been up, fed the chickens, took care of the babies, and walked a quarter-mile up the road to take care of her in-laws.)

They had 8 children: "2 and a half-dozen," as Grandpa used to joke. None of the kids had any money for college, so they took jobs and loans. And they all went. My uncles and aunt ran an equipment company, built swimming pools and homes for the community. They were teachers, counselors, pastors, missionaries, nurses. (Ironically enough, none became farmers -- though Mom married one, and they ended up buying the family homestead.)

Not long after Grandma's youngest child (my mom) left, Grandpa had a stroke. He lived for months as an invalid before dying and leaving Grandma socked in with debt. She didn't whine or give up or demand money from her children. Instead, she worked as a housekeeper, and her skills were so valued that her employers even took her to Florida on their winter months there. Grandma sold things during tight spots. She pinched her available pennies until they screamed, partly by having a garden, partly by careful purchases. Not only that, but she taught her daughters (and daughters-in-law, and grandchildren) to knit and darn and mend and can and hook rugs and embroider and make bread.

And yet she was one of the most generous women I ever knew. She opened her home to every out-of-town relative, traveler and missionary that came through town, and her table was famous for its homemade goodies (especially her apple pie). Her children visited frequently, and her youngest daughter checked on her every few days, kids in tow. (Who frequently made a pitstop at Grandma's cookie jar for hermits.)

My parents were farmers -- my dad from a long line of DeVries fieldsmen that began their work by the dikes of Holland, and emigrated to South Dakota for the land. Dad never went to school past the 8th grade. (Mom had a year of college, plus some nursing school under her belt.)

By scrimping every way they could, including living in Grandma's house while she was in Florida, Dad and Mom managed to save enough for a downpayment on the old Cumings farm. The price: a hefty $10,000. It may not sound like much now, but the mortgage payment took anywhere from 25-50% of their income then. (My dad, like many other farmers, took another full-time job to help pay the bills. He did it for the next 20 or so years.)

They had two kids, who outgrew clothes and haircuts and piano lessons, musical instruments and sports. The family only had a television while Grandma was in Florida...and they could borrow her set. (It stayed this way until the daughter was in 4th grade.) They had no savings of account, and their vacations were spent camping or visiting relatives across the country. (Gas was cheap then.)

Both kids wore hand-me-downs, and worked all through high school to save for college. (She worked at the hardware store, him at the same tractor business his dad was service manager for.) Both wore the clothes Mom, a fine seamstress who did professional tailoring, made for them. Christmas and birthdays brought some presents, homemade cake -- and going out to eat! (A rare luxury until high school years for the kids.)

Both went on to college -- both graduated, and one went on to graduate school. (Breaking the 'fine' tradition of my cousins that only the boys finished college -- the girls would go for a 'year or two to meet a nice boy.' And God forbid even thinking about a Master's!) Both kids took multiple jobs and scraped and skimped...and the folks helped with the tuition, as well.

So what did my parents (and grandparents) teach me? To save and scrimp, and find the best bargains. That a good reputation and name were a rare and valuable thing. That there was no price high enough to pay for your honesty. They believed in education -- that books from the library were free, and no one could make you stop learning. (This came especially from my dad, a voracious reader even today, who was bound and determined that both his children were going to college, no matter what.)

They also believed in self-reliance, in being able to bake your own cake -- and clean a house. (Well, I don't do this as often as I should...:) Change your own oil. Build what you need to. Grow your own vegetables, and put them up for the winter. Pay your bills on time, even if it means you live on beans to do it. They taught me the value of faith in my Creator. They taught me love and patience and believing in people.

And of course, how to pinch my available pennies until they screamed!

The outcome of this? My brother and his wife started a business, and bought two more. Built their own house. All in extremely frugal fashion.

And Dave and me? A full pantry, plenty of clothes. No debts, not even for an auto loan. House completely paid for. A business started, and paid for. Girls in college -- and helped with that too (even though they also have had jobs and loans to get by).

And this on an income that, for the past six years or so, has been EXTREMELY modest. (Think going from an engineer's income to a bus driver's -- at 2/3 to 3/4 cut in pay.)
It's a God thing. And a great deal of gratitude to the ancestors that taught me to stretch a pot roast into 4 or 5 give freely from an open and loving heart.

I feel like the richest girl in town.

Monday, March 10, 2008

More From Obama's Side (then I really will shut up about all this)

"With all due respect, I've won twice as many states as Sen. Clinton, I've won more of the popular vote than Sen. Clinton. I have more delegates than Sen. Clinton. So I don't know how somebody who's in second place is offering the vice presidency to the person who is in first place. I mean, I'm just wondering, cause if I was in second place, I could understand it. But I'm in first place right now...

"There's a second point. This is an interesting point. I want you guys to follow me on this. President Bill Clinton back in 1992 when he was asked about his selection for vice president, he said the only criteria, the most important critieria for vice president ... (was if) he or she would be ready to be the commander in chief. That was his criteria." Obama said that HRC's campaign has spent the last two or three weeks challenging his credentials to be commander in chief. "If I'm not ready, how is it that you think I should be such a great vice president. Do you understand that?"
"You can't say he's not ready on day one unless he's willing to be your vice president, then he's ready on day one."

Don't believe me? This setting has a YouTube soundbite with Obama actually saying this...

Politics and Mondays Make Strange Bedfellows

Monday again. Clothes need washing. Reports need doing. Orders need shipping. (And both staffers have this week off -- the stinkers.)

Now that Brazil is looming ever closer (late May), both Dave and I would really, really, REALLY like to go someplace warm. Maybe Mexico? There are some great bargains out there, especially with charter stuff like Apple Vacations. ( ) Some amazing cruise prices. (People must really be cutting down on this sort of thing lately, because the prices are good.)

But no $$. No time. So I read novels about warm places (thank you, Clive Cussler -- thank you, Inca Gold). And look at the pile of Stuff To Do. And wish somehow it was warm enough out to go and plant Something. Colorado is deceptive this way -- we've had warm days for weeks, but they've also been interspersed with snow and ice. I'll take a chance with spinach and peas around St. Patrick's Day. As long as I keep them covered, they've grown well, even at our home altitude -- approx. 6250 ft, about a thousand feet higher (and 30 growing days less) than Denver.

I don't understand what Hillary Clinton is thinking. Or Bill either, for that matter. She's currently the Almost Winner -- at least using Bozo the Clown's famous words. Barring a huge change, she's going to stay that way until the national convention.

And she has the cojones to suggest that a combined ticket would be just the thing, with herself as the presidential candidate, and Obama as VP? ('Because, after all, the people of Ohio think I should be President.' And of course, we Coloradoans are such hicks, in our cowboy boots and "yee haw" mentality, are just too stupid to think for ourselves. Just like everyone else west of the Mississippi. Instead, we'll instantly follow the lead on whatever our buddies from Ohio suggest. Yeah, right.) I honestly would have thought someone was making the "combined ticket" comments up -- but Hillary said it not only during an interview, but also during a speech. And her husband's comments were right behind her.

Wake up, Hillary. You've shown no end of contempt for what you deride as Obama's lack of experience, naivete, etc...and now you want him to be your back-up person? Not only that -- asking #1 to be your #2...when you're currently #2 yourself?

I just don't get it. Hillary, you're many things, but foolish is not one of them. Why would Obama be interested? (He says he isn't -- and the voting public will have to choose.)

Which advisor did you listen to for this brilliant political move?

Or, as Dave said today, maybe it wasn't politics talking. Maybe it was desperation.

Monday, March 3, 2008

More ways to save...and an ode to coffee

One of the very best sites I've ever visited in search of freebies, samples and great coupons --

Honestly, if you've got five minutes to check a blog every day -- this is the one to visit. The specials change almost daily, and I've already saved a pocketful of cash. You will, too.

One of the things that has gotten me through the past (not always easy) months is coffee. Yup. That first cup, dark and rich. We're just finishing up Trader Joe's Bay Blend -- fantastic -- dark but surprisingly mellow. Then it will be back to the staple, Boyers' Rocky Mountain Thunder. You can't use a really heaped tablespoon -- like we generally do -- or it can be bitter. But made in the drip pot then enhanced with a swirl of

I like it best in the early morning, when Dave has left for work and the house is quiet. The sun comes up gently, turning everything, including the mountains that are our daily view for three directions, pink. Then the sky turns its bright blue and the mountains settle down into their usual blankets of white.
The coffee gently steams...time for another warming swallow, and the paper. Contentment.

Life goes on

Two of my piano students showed up today with sunburns from playing outside Saturday. (Yes, it was that warm.) So what do we have Sunday? A foot of snow and near-blizzard conditions! In fact, second service was almost cancelled because people were having trouble getting up and down the (small) hill that leads to the church.
Yes sirree. Welcome to Colorado, the land of change.

Today -- nice again. Tomorrow -- storms clouds moving in. Wednesday: another big snow forecast. Guess it's a good thing that I have a ton of paperwork to get done this week, among other things.

I wish I could go to Dee Stark's memorial service in less than a week. Just can't -- I have commitments here, no time to fly to New York. I did not know her family -- just her. I will write a note to her mom, though...Dee had slipped on the ice, fallen, and bruised herself. She died of an embolism -- a blood clot that moved through her body, maybe caused by the fall. At least she was found as if she'd fallen asleep -- and never woke up. At least it was a peaceful end.

A buddy at Quilter's Newsletter mentioned that Sara Dillow had also died in February. Sara was on staff at the International Quilt Study Center in Lincoln, NE...but also an amazing collector who was extremely generous in sharing her quilts. She helped her guild...she helped the quilting world in general. Another amazing person who died far too young.

Sara's obituary is here:

I'm grateful they were here to enrich our world.