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Blog Posts on My Frugal Life:

Still Bargains to Be Had!
Thursday, December 22, 2011 | By pamphyila

Usually I have done all my Xmas shopping BEFORE Thanksgiving - but due to the fact we were unemployed last summer & beyond, I was behind....

So - I have been knitting fingerless gloves - or mitts.  I downloaded the easier knitting pattern I could find - FREE off the internet - & have been knitting away through my stash.  I even had to get MORE yarn from storage - which gives me a chance to go over my stash - Whew!  It IS large.  But yarn is so expensive, that when I see it for $1 or 2 a skein, I BUY it.  Hubby really has NO idea how much yarn is - especially if it's wool - & I wanted to make most of the mitts out of wool...At a pair of mitts per ball/skein or so - that would be $5-6 & I have knitted a LOT of them - 8?  That would be $40-48 retail (for materials) & I didn't pay 1/2 that! (And I picked up $1 hardback books at Dollar Tree to go along with them....)

Bargains do make me an impulse buyer, I admit....I picked up a cashmere/wool sweater in a lovely teal with a Saks label at a Goodwill in Santa Monica - It was pilled, but I knew I could fix that - & with some scouring with a special little de-pilling tool I have had for years, it's now very nice! (& for $6)...I also bought a wool felt hat for $1.98 (similar hats were in the Anthropolgie store nearby for $48-100!)

Hubby & I also stopped into McCabe's music store on the way to Santa Monica - & there in the bargain rack were all sorts of heavily discounted Xmas & religious music books - marked mostly $1 each & some for $2 - I calculate that we bought over $100 worth of music (per back label retail value) for less than $10!

We are recycling our gift bags & hubby dug up the gift wrap from last year - We are always very thrifty vis a vis wrapping.  I dug up the wooden African figurines I had bought for colleague over the last year & gave him a grouping in the recycled tissue & Santa gift bag from a gift hubby has received!  They were for his collection & he loved it!

We also have taken out our Xmas CD collection for the holidays.  A few years ago there were a slew of Xmas CDs at the 99 Cent Store & we stocked up.  So now, we have an extensive library of them - even Xmas Reggae! 

Playing Xmas music at a local church with a buddy of mine - so we have been playing & rehearsing.  Also, with my actress hat on - I have been cast in a project to be shot in January - so,in my own way, I have been busy!  

Treated myself to some skin care items with $10 discount from Amazon & $10 from Serious Skincare...which, I suppose paid for the shipping....I so rarely PAY for skincare items that I get sticker shock, & these were on the $20 or so, on the low end, too....But one has to break down every once in a while when all the freebies, etc., run out! 

We have to pay hubby's tuition for the renewal of his credential, too.  He did get into a pilot program through UCLA & it's $3000 instead of $6000 - but we still have to fork over chunks of $1500!  Had to put it on a new credit card (which has ruinous interest rates) - & we are pledged to pay it off FAST. On the bright side, we did have some money stashed for this purpose.....but credit cards DO come in handy sometimes....& since the cut in tuition is so great, we still come out ahead....

Oh, did I say that my friend & I went down to the Music Center at noon to hear highlights from Mozart's opera Cosi Fan Tutti sung by young singers? It was FREE. We even found a cheap parking space (a miracle downtown!) Such a lovely program! (That's almost the only way we get to hear such live music these days....)

And I am still getting my freebies (yesterday it was a sample of coffee) and magazines & I am reading my free subscription to the Wall St. Journal....(I like the liberal arts features.....)

So all is well here with us.  And I hope, with you, too....

Happy Holidays! Happy Winter Solstice! etc.

 

 

 

 

   

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Gift Baskets
Tuesday, December 28, 2010 | By amseibel

I've always thought it would be fun to make unusual gift baskets for friends and family for Christmas.  This year I actually got around to making three.  It all came about one day when I was browsing through the Goodwill store. 

First I found a couple of really nice baskets - in good shape and with handles.  They were 99¢ each.  Then I found a pair of beautiful blue and green glass margarita glasses for 99¢ each.  Suddenly I had an idea.  A margarita basket!!

Next I came across a really nice white ceramic soup mug.  Then a cute ceramic popcorn cannister.  I also found two cute plastic old-time looking popcorn "bags" made of hard plastic.  Unfortunately they were cracked so I didn't get them.

Later I was at Target and found perfect hard plastic popcorn "bags" in the dollar spot.  I was set.

The margarita basket turned out to be the most expensive - but my daughter and son-in-law loved it.  I ended up using a basket that I had - the ones I bought were too small.  Then I bought tequila (the expensive part), margarita mix and margarita salt.  I lined the basket with a 70 year old small serape that I had been planning to give them anyway, tucked in the goodies (and glasses) and wrapped the whole thing in clear cellophane wrapping paper.  It looked really nice and I'm sure they will enjoy it.

One of my husband's cousins - who is disabled and lives alone - got the soup basket.  I bought three large cans of soup and some gourmet crackers and put them in the basket along with the mug.  The popcorn basket went to another cousin.  Since I figured she would prefer microwave popcorn, I bought a box and placed the packets inside the jar. Then I added a small bottle of popcorn cheese flavoring and butter flavored popcorn oil.  Including the two popcorn "bags" it looked really cute and I'm sure she will like it (she is out of town for the holidays).

I can't wait until my next trip to the thrift stores - who knows what kind of baskets they will get next year...

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Frugal Family Fun: Christmas Road Trip Basket
Tuesday, December 28, 2010 | By begonia

When we go to see the bald eagles in January and February or when doing Christmas outings, we’ve found that it saves money to bring your own treats. Most frugal people bring snacks with them when they travel or go on outings, but we like to make it a bit more special.

I brought a special refreshment basket with when we went on our Christmas road trip to the Pabst Mansion in Milwaukee with friends and family.  (Read my Dec. 12 blog.) I took a nice big basket with handles and filled it with International Coffees, flavored cocoas, peppermint candies, teas and honey, ceramic Christmas mugs (and plastic spoons!), printed holiday napkins. We also brought along a pump jug of hot water.  Sometimes we brew a pot of good strong coffee and bring it in a thermos, too. If a bakery is on the itinerary, I don’t bake. Otherwise, the basket may include cookies or muffins. Whatever the drink or baked good is, it just has to be something that everyone will enjoy.

Sometimes we pull over at an overlook and enjoy the scenery along with the refreshments. Other times, we have a snack as we drive along. In warmer weather, we might stop at a park or wayside.

Try putting together a special basket for your next family outing. It will be a source of good memories for your whole family. Begonia

   

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Frugal Family Fun: Christmas Light Tour
Thursday, December 23, 2010 | By begonia

We started doing Christmas light tours when our boys were young. One year there were an exceptional number of people decorating their homes and yards in our little town. The boys were antsy for Christmas to come, and it was Christmas Eve Eve (December 23). We wanted to do something especially “Christmassy,” and it was our last crack at seeing the sights and lights before going out of town for Christmas Eve to visit relatives.

We stopped at McDonalds and bought shakes and then started driving around town and enjoying the decorations on houses. Many people tend to leave the living room drapes open so that anyone going by on the street can admire their Christmas trees. One of the Lutheran churches puts on a live Nativity each year, and we all make a point of driving by to see it and honk the horn and wave.

We all have our favorite areas of town and over the years have worked out a route that takes us to these places and to houses that year after year put out the best and brightest decorations. Our grown children still look forward to getting a shake and taking the tour once again whenever they can make it home for Christmas! Begonia

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Frugal Family Fun: Christmas Movie Nights at Home
Wednesday, December 22, 2010 | By begonia

I was torn between listing this blog under FFF or Holiday Traditions because it is so cheap—I mean Frugal!—and yet it has been a tradition in our family for almost 20 years.  Every week we watch a favorite Christmas movie together.

We have gotten these movies as 99 cent rentals from the gas station (now we have Redbox), borrowed from the library, or been loaned them by friends.  As the years went by, I slowly began to acquire our favorites from garage and book sales; as gifts; or as they were retired from movie rental stores.

The first movie of the holiday season is always Ernest Saves Christmas. We watch it as we decorate the family tree in the family room. (It is also one of the best Ernest movies.) A Christmas Story makes me want to cover my living room coffee table with tidbits filled with cookies and fudge, eat sweets, and stare at the Christmas tree. (My living room tree is decorated with 30s, 40s, and 50s decorations, glass bead garland, and bubble lights.) It inspires me to bake and make candy!

I have a basket devoted to the Christmas film and TV genre filled to overflowing with our collection:

Some are old favorites: The Bishop’s Wife (with Cary Grant at his most handsome AND David Niven); Holiday Inn and its sequel White Christmas; Little Women (the 1949 and the 1994 versions); Miracle on 34th Street (with Maureen O’Hara and Natalie Wood); It’s a Wonderful Life; A Christmas Carol (with Alistair Sims); and Little Lord Fauntleroy (with Freddie Bartholomew) a story that includes Christmas—OK, I’ll admit that I watch it mostly because I just love Freddie.  

Others are children’s classics that I grew up with: Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman I and II, A Charlie Brown Christmas, and Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas. These were shows that were shown on television once a year when I was a kid and I never missed them. I watched for commercials advertising their coming and made sure I had dibs on the TV (most households only had one on our block) set for the time they would be on. We all knew we had only one chance a year to watch them, and it was serious holiday business, indeed! My boys came along during the era of VHS. Their favorites are also in the basket and include The Muppet Christmas Carol, and Muppet Family Christmas.

Some of the best my best Christmas memories are attached to Chicagoland children’s shows that only broadcasted certain shorts during the holiday season:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xaUBpsn4QjQ&feature=related  Here Comes Suzie Snowflake

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JDM6Bbt9WDY&NR=1  Hardrock and Coco and Joe

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TU3SKtJbNu8&feature=related  Frosty the Snowman

(I don’t have these in my collection yet, but I’m working on it—for now they can be viewed on Youtube!)

Others were TV episodes I have recorded or on VHS: Little House on the Prairie: The Christmas They Never Forgot, Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends: Thomas’ Christmas Party and Other Favorite Stories, The Twilight Zone: Night of the Meek, Red Green Christmas Specials, and Burt Wolf’s Christmas at the Biltmore.

We do have a few newer movies in the collection (and it continues to grow) like The Polar Express and Family Man, which is a favorite of my husband’s (sort of a combined remake of It’s a Wonderful Life and Groundhog Day with less humor and a harder edge.) I’d like to add the most recent A Christmas Carol to our collection soon. (It is the most like the book, thanks to modern animation, if you overlook the crazy, way-too-long Disneyesque hearse chase, which I will click through when I watch it). Take Peace: A Corgi Cottage Christmas with Tasha Tudor is my favorite recently produced Christmas classic. (I am slowly collecting all of Tasha’s Christmas books as well. She illustrated The Night Before Christmas at least four times—they are delightful, and I love her cats and owls.)

No Christmas season would be complete without at least one viewing of Santa Claus Conquers the Martians! I found my copy in a giant cardboard discount bin at a big box computer store some years ago. I love how they spray painted and glued together scuba gear and old football helmets (worn backward) to create the Martians’ headgear.  The DVD also features a collection of really dreadful shorts that I skip over to watch the1950s and 1960s toy commercials interspersed throughout the disc.

If you don’t already have this holiday tradition at your house, make some popcorn, dim the lights, and watch a favorite Christmas movie together tonight and start a new family tradition. Begonia

   

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Christmas Traditions: Gingerbread Houses
Wednesday, December 22, 2010 | By begonia

As a family we try to do seasonal things together that don’t cost a lot of money. That way we can do them each year whether the economy (or cash flow) is good or bad and continue to build a store of good memories in ourselves and our children.

One of the things we started doing a few years ago was to visit the historic District One School House in our town to view the entries in the annual gingerbread house contest. This activity costs us $1 per person and then we go out for a treat afterward and do a little Christmas shopping downtown.

Entries fall into several categories. For the entry fee, you can vote for your favorite. There is a silent auction of Christmas items from local merchants, and a special money gingerbread house is raffled off to raise funds for restoration of the school. Children can decorate a gingerbread cookie to take home or eat right there, and Christmas cookies are for sale as well.

We enjoy discussing the relative merits of the entries and seeing who won the rosettes each year. We also like to see the progress that has been made in restoring the building. Some years we walk downtown and back and others like this year, when the wind chill was 0°F and below, we drive even though it is only a half mile walk.

Perhaps you have something like this in your town. Feel free to comment and add your pictures to mine. The more the merrier, especially at Christmas time! Begonia

 

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Holiday Traditions: A Visit to the Wisconsin State Capitol Christmas tree
Tuesday, December 21, 2010 | By begonia

Every family has holiday traditions. Our traditions include a yearly visit to the state capitol to see the Christmas tree erected in the rotunda. (It always seems like the coldest day as we walk up the windy street to the capitol after parking and feeding the meter!) The tree is always huge and beautifully decorated! They have to bundle it very tightly to get it through the entrance doors, and sometimes they break it in the process and have to mend it a little before they can decorate it!

This year’s tree was, as usual, huge and beautifully decorated with ornaments made by the state’s school children. One year we came early in the month and caught them decorating the tree. They already had most of the lights on and were in the process of putting on the thousands of handmade ornaments. The tree was ringed with scaffolding and the train wasn’t set up yet.

On the years when we viewed the tree on a weekend, there has always been some kind of musical event in progress. One year it was carolers and brass quintets.  Another year it was a huge gathering of tuba players (over 70!) all playing Christmas carols at an impossibly low register. (I plugged my ears to better hear the melody!) They and their instruments were decorated with stuffed reindeer antlers, shiny noses, and lights. This year a couple was getting married and a lone violinist was playing, among other classical pieces, Pachelbel’s Cannon in D.

The interior of the rotunda where the tree is displayed is dimly lit, so the impact of the multicolored LED lights covering the tree when approaching via the long entrance hall is rich and startling. (Sorry, my pictures don't do it justice.) The base of the tree has a train running around it. People’s voices echo as they talk to each other and their children, but it is never too difficult to hear the music, and there is always the low whirring sound of the large train circling the tree. The children are fascinated by the train and the size of the tree. I always like to study the ornaments. It is obvious that kids of all ages have made them. I hope some of their parents brought them in to see their creations displayed on this great tree. Begonia

   

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Xmas Activities
Friday, December 17, 2010 | By pamphyila

Last week was taken up with digging out my Mrs. Claus costume for my appearance with my hubby at the 45th Annual Xmas Celebrations at Channel Islands Harbor, where we have our boat.   This year we had a tent, so I bought some decorations for it, so it wouldn't be so stark - at the Dollar Tree! and 2 elf hats, so we could put them on the kids when they had their pix taken with Santa. (Oh, & I had a few auditions, too - that can take up a day...)

We always have such a good time with the kids - Hubby is a wonderful Santa!  (And we make some extra holiday $, too!)

Then some friends of ours came up to see the Boat Parade.  It was so mild that we were quite comfortable all sitting on the deck of the boat to see the lighted boats as they came by. That's my idea of gratis holiday celebration.  They kids played in a pile of "snow" from a local ice-making plant  - & had free pix taken with Santa! And we adults had the boat parade.  All very festive!

Hubby used some of the cards I had on hand to send to his family - & I have been sending ecards - Altho I have to admit that I do like real paper cards to put around the house.

We have so MUCH Xmas music we have collected over the years! At least a dozen CDs! And there are lots of FREE Xmas music downloads - Check out www.freestufftimes.com for the addresses...

I don't know how much wrapping paper I have, so I have been collecting colorful pages from the newspaper and magazines and ads to spiff up my packages.  Reused my padded bags for sending Xmas presents (I save them over the year - as NEW ones are expensive...& bags can really re-used several times.) 

Put a scent card into an Xmas card because it was pretty & just festive.  I save the scent strips & usually make potpourri out of them by cutting them in strips and putting in a small basket...

Saw a pattern for making bows out of magazine strips - was it at marthastewart.com?  They have great diy ideas there. Also recycle the paper, etc. from presents we get, as we open them!

Did you know that you can IRON paper & ribbon & tissue paper?  Just put it on a very LOW setting & iron soem of the creases out & refresh the drimmings.

In the last minute we have also been hired to make an appearance as Santa & Mrs. Claus at the holiday party at the clinic of hubby's company - For years I did Xmas music & had a caroling quarter & have made $ doing that at Xmas - We entertained at a party last year....As  usual performing is never the problem - it's finding the gigs!

Have to motivate myself to make some kniffty knitter HATS for presents - It was too warm - but has gotten chilly again - so....

Are you all having a great time yet?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Xmas Activities
Friday, December 17, 2010 | By pamphyila

Last week was taken up with digging out my Mrs. Claus costume for my appearance with my hubby at the 45th Annual Xmas Celebrations at Channel Islands Harbor, where we have our boat.   This year we had a tent, so I bought some decorations for it, so it wouldn't be so stark - at the Dollar Tree! and 2 elf hats, so we could put them on the kids when they had their pix taken with Santa. (Oh, & I had a few auditions, too - that can take up a day...)

We always have such a good time with the kids - Hubby is a wonderful Santa!  (And we make some extra holiday $, too!)

Then some friends of ours came up to see the Boat Parade.  It was so mild that we were quite comfortable all sitting on the deck of the boat to see the lighted boats as they came by. That's my idea of gratis holiday celebration.  They kids played in a pile of "snow" from a local ice-making plant  - & had free pix taken with Santa! And we adults had the boat parade.  All very festive!

Hubby used some of the cards I had on hand to send to his family - & I have been sending ecards - Altho I have to admit that I do like real paper cards to put around the house.

We have so MUCH Xmas music we have collected over the years! At least a dozen CDs! And there are lots of FREE Xmas music downloads - Check out www.freestufftimes.com for the addresses...

I don't know how much wrapping paper I have, so I have been collecting colorful pages from the newspaper and magazines and ads to spiff up my packages.  Reused my padded bags for sending Xmas presents (I save them over the year - as NEW ones are expensive...& bags can really re-used several times.) 

Put a scent card into an Xmas card because it was pretty & just festive.  I save the scent strips & usually make potpourri out of them by cutting them in strips and putting in a small basket...

Saw a pattern for making bows out of magazine strips - was it at marthastewart.com?  They have great diy ideas there. Also recycle the paper, etc. from presents we get, as we open them!

Did you know that you can IRON paper & ribbon & tissue paper?  Just put it on a very LOW setting & iron soem of the creases out & refresh the drimmings.

In the last minute we have also been hired to make an appearance as Santa & Mrs. Claus at the holiday party at the clinic of hubby's company - For years I did Xmas music & had a caroling quarter & have made $ doing that at Xmas - We entertained at a party last year....As  usual performing is never the problem - it's finding the gigs!

Have to motivate myself to make some kniffty knitter HATS for presents - It was too warm - but has gotten chilly again - so....

Are you all having a great time yet?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Christmas Day Trips: Wisconsin Governor's Mansion and the Pabst Mansion
Sunday, December 12, 2010 | By begonia

We went to a couple of festive places this past week. The first was the Wisconsin Governor’s Mansion on Lake Monona, and the other was the Pabst Mansion in Milwaukee.

My daughter and a good friend were the first people through the holiday display at the Governor’s mansion. (http://jessicadoyle.wi.gov/section.asp?linkid=440&locid=71) It was a bright freezing day in the teens Fahrenheit, and we walked briskly up to the front door as soon as the gate was opened. I pulled the door open, stuck my head in, and asked if we could come in because it was freezing outside!

The governor’s mansion was conservatively decorated. There was a tree in the dining room with ornaments from each county and another in the room next to it where the state’s First Lady Jessica Doyle was shaking hands. I was a bit surprised to be at the head of the receiving line—the poor woman had to introduce herself! There were a couple of trees in the living room area covered with Wisconsin products ornaments , another In the den/library, and then one in a sun room on the way out with ornaments representing nonprofit groups. It was a nice bright house, and it really felt like a family home in an upscale residential neighborhood with some extra big public rooms for entertaining.

There were nice lake views from every room on that side of the house. I saw geese, ducks, and a pair of big white swans feeding in the water. It could have been any wealthy person’s home on a nice lakeside, estate-size lot. (I can’t believe the incoming Governor is talking about selling it! Where are we going to entertain visitors to our state—in a well-insulated Morton pole shed or some tacky hotel banquet room?)

I’m a museum and historical site nut. The Pabst Mansion was grand! (http://www.pabstmansion.com/) This is one mansion I’ve always wanted to visit during the Christmas season. They had the music room filled with a collection of nutcrackers, and there were Christmas trees decorated like the family had enjoyed them during the early part of the twentieth century—totally covered with tinsel and old ornaments. One of the upstairs bedrooms had one of the neatest doll houses I’ve seen, complete with an attic full of bedsprings and trunks and a cellar with a boiler room and an old guy cracking crabs on newspaper for dinner! It had been the bedroom of a granddaughter they adopted and raised.  

The Pabst family had the mansion built in the Flemish Renaissance Revival style. Capt. Frederick Pabst only lived there for four or five years before his death in 1904. The family sold the mansion in 1908 to the  archdiocese of Milwaukee. The new owners painted most of the wood and fancy plastered ceilings above the first floor WHITE. They did leave the woodwork on the main floor alone, and the original colors and fixtures are still in place on the upper floors, though under several layers of paint. The upper floors are not totally renovated because a lot of the donations and grant money have been put into conserving the foundation and exterior of the building. The main floor rooms and the stairwells and the main hall on the second floor are all finished, and the master suite is the next area in line for attention.

One of the best things about the house was the guy who had it built: Capt. Frederick Pabst. You can judge rich people by how well they treat the servants. The servant dining room and butler’s pantry were much nicer than even than those I’ve seen in a Vanderbilt mansion. Frederick Pabst was by all accounts a really decent, generous, and kind human being.  What greater legacy can we leave behind than a good name and reputation? Begonia

  

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