Sunday, January 31, 2010

Frugal Fixes

Looking for a cheap fix for my torn jeans, I hit Wal-mart last night for some iron-on patches. I'm hoping they'll work on the interior of the jeans, and not look too funny. Exterior patching is definitely not an option for work!

While I was there, I stocked up on a few staples---soy sauce, whole wheat bread, and a four pound bag of oranges. I've got to beat this cold, so I'm really laying on the vitamin C.

My car is fixed, and I'm only $113 poorer. Rather than having them run a test on the battery and alternator (which would have run about $100), I had them simply replace our old battery. Given that it had over 200,000 miles on it, a new one was definitely not out of the question. A new battery ($75) and an oil change ($30) later, and my car was back in business! I had to pay for the repair four different ways (with two Wal-mart gift cards, one cell phone rebate debit card, and a credit card), but the cashier didn't look at me too strangely. Ah, to be on a budget.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Dumpster Diving

I'm worried about my kid. He comes to school so hungry. He's always begging the other children for their food, and the other day I caught him taking food out of the garbage can. It was still inside a baggy, thank goodness. I don't know what I would have done otherwise.

I talked with his teacher, and she is just as concerned as I am. We'll probably talk to the school counselor and see what needs to be done. I can't stand the thought of this kid being so hungry.

It's time to hit the store. I still have $20 left for Food Benefits for this month, and I can't think of a better cause.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Frugal Environmental Goals

This year, my two goals are to get my use of handkerchiefs and cloth wipes down to a science. I would also like to walk or bike to school a few days a week. I recently bought a pair of rollerblades from the local thrift store (just $2!), so I have a whole menu of options. My car's revolt will add another incentive to walk to school.

This past year I focused on recycling and using cloth bags for groceries. A lot of stores in my town give a discount to cloth bag users (anywhere from three to five cents per bag), and some donate a small amount to charity when you use a cloth bag. I also began to use a drying rack for my clothes, and cloth pads during my period. Overall, it was a very successful year---so much so that I was left searching frantically for my (nonexistent) cloth bags in stores when I went home at Christmas. What a difference a few months make!

I recently transitioned from plastic Tupperware to glass mason jars, and am feeling really good about the switch. No more lingering food smells (somehow orange scents never come out of the plastic!). No more worries about toxic chemicals leaking into the food when I'm too lazy to heat my food on another set of dishes and just toss it in the microwave. I'm psyched!

What are your green goals for this year?

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Crummy Performance Evaluation

I just got my first performance evaluation as a reading tutor with AmeriCorps. Not so great. Though nothing was unsatisfactory, about half the marks were satisfactory, and the rest were good. Not a single excellent! Given how hard I've been working and the number of extra tasks I've taken on, it was a bit of a burn to have my mark for "Seeks additional responsibilities" to be only a good! I single-handedly started the pen-pal program at the school, began tutoring our kindergarten kids who had received no tutoring prior to this, and sponsored a lunchtime homework help club. How is that only a good?

I'm burned out. If all my work can only merit a good, what does that say? I haven't felt truly well in months. It's been going from one bit of scheduling craziness to the next, and I still haven't been able to fight off the bronchitis/sinus troubles/double ear infections. I'm so tired!

At least it's making a difference for the kids. My first grader is now sounding out simple words, and she didn't even know half of the alphabet at the beginning of the year. My kindergarteners are learning a new word a day, and my English Language Learner is breezing through simple stories!

If nothing else, at least I'll know I made a difference, performance evaluations notwithstanding.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

I Can Smell Again!

I am one happy girl. Not only is my sense of smell back (after nearly three months of crazy sicknesses), but I actually have money in my checking account! True, it will probably be used to pay for a new starter for the car, but I can put that off for awhile. Living in town has its advantages---I'm only a mile from school, the library, and the grocery store. Add a pair of $2 thrift store roller blades to the mix, and I'm set to go.

Maybe I should be a little worried about all of these hills, though. I still don't know how to brake. I'll probably end up rollerblading up the hills and walking down them. Not a bad combination.

I'm even more psyched about a long, leisurely day off tomorrow. The past week has been a little intense, so 24 hours of pure relaxation is a definite plus.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Don't You Just Love Kids?

Yesterday, my hilarious second grade group and I were reading Amelia Bedelia. We got to the part where she was instructed to dust the furniture (which, of course, to her means add dust). She finds some dusting powder, and dusts away. Since this is not the 1950s, I asked my students to clarify what dusting powder is. Surprisingly, one girl knew! Her response?

"Dusting powder is like make-up. My mom uses this because she works in a bank and she has to dress up. Also, she has to cover her zits."

Way to be tactful! Luckily, I was able to rein in my laughter. It did leave me wondering, though. What exactly are they telling their parents about me?

Monday, January 18, 2010

Fistfight on the Greyhound

I began my Greyhound trip at 9 a.m. on January 2nd. It was -20, which made life a little interesting, considering that the door was held shut with a bungee cord. Things were going along just fine after a quick seat change (one guy just kept staring at me with scary intensity). I honestly thought that the trip might be fairly normal. Silly me.

I lucked out on the next bus change, as I got a seat all to myself pretty close to the bus driver. I spent the day reading and playing Sudoku. I finally drifted off to sleep at 12:30 a.m., but burst into consciousness as a scuffle broke out in the back of the bus.

The bus driver raced to pull the bus off onto the side of the slippery highway. We were literally in the middle of nowhere, and the fight showed no signs of abating. She came to the back of the bus, ordering the men to stop fighting. A minute later, they finally stopped punching each other. She made the instigator sit in the seat ahead of me, and forcefully told the men that if they fought again, she would call the police.

Turns out that the guy sleep talks (in a mixture of English, Spanish, and gibberish). I spent the night listening to a series of violent exchanges with himself. He also yelled in his sleep. It wasn't exactly a restful night!

Early the next morning, we stopped at a little rest area in Montana. Coming out of the most foul restroom I have ever witnessed, I was graced with the vision of yet another fight, which unfortunately blocked the entrance to the bus. When they finally moved a little, I climbed back aboard to wait for the cops to show up.

They took statements, and we all had to fill out incident reports, which took another hour. No one wanted to press charges, so the instigator was taken away to the hospital for some mental help.

At our next major break, one of the men who tried to break up the fight finally got looked at by the EMTs. He was taken out on a stretcher.

Who says riding the Greyhound is dull?

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Sinus Infection, Double Ear Infection, Bronchitis: Will It Ever End?

This has been a long two months. There hasn't been a single day when I've felt completely well. It started with bronchitis and an ear infection in November (the worst cough I have ever had in my life), and then mutated into a sinus infection and a double ear infection in December. Given how crazy sick I've been for this long, I desperately want to get a swine flu vaccine---but they don't give those to sick people!

I'm on my last two days of antibiotics, and my fever's raging and my ear's hurting again. I've tried the sleep it off cure (I took Thursday off and slept all day, and didn't get out of bed until 3 p.m. today), but it's not working. I've been pounding the fluids, which helps a little. I wish I had a microwave for some heat packs---my landlady is avidly anti-microwave. Maybe I'll buy one at the thrift store and hide it in my room!

Monday, January 11, 2010


Today did not end well. I should have realized the very minute that I heard the word "poop" that gloves were in order. Somehow I just didn't think that I would need them to untie the shoes of a kindergartener so he could change his (poopy) clothes. I was wrong.

It was everywhere: on his shoes, on the floor, even in the nurse's office. It was a veriable poop extravaganza!

Gallons of hot, soapy water and innumerable squirts of hand sanitizer later, I was finally breathing easy. Gone are the days of simply crinkling up your nose and blase-ly washing your hands. Now we worry about Hepatitis and AIDS and every other disease under the sun.

Oh, poop!

It's Cold Outside!

This is a post from December 4th. You'll now be happy to know that we have heat (set at 55 degrees, but heat is heat), and I now have a quilt that I scrunched up very small and fit into my carry-on.

It snowed today. It's the beginning of December, and we still have no heat. The debates have been intense: just how cold does it have to be before we turn the heat on? Will one of us actually end up sleeping in her car to avoid paying the gas bill if we do turn the furnace on?

In the end, after a solid three weeks of daily debates as to how cold it had to be to worry about pipes freezing, we turned on the heat. Initially it was only to 50 degrees, but eventually a few good cold spells wore my roommates down. Now we're at a cozy 55 degrees. Totally bearable if you have a secret stock of quilts or long underwear. Is it any wonder I checked a bag with two quilts, long underwear, and many layers?

Sunday, January 10, 2010


Guatemala impacted me in more ways than I imagined. Many of the ways were good---I now love to listen to Spanish music, and eagerly translate parent-teacher conferences at my new school. Other ways were not so good---I have trouble falling asleep at night.

Guatemala taught me to fear the night. Night was when evil happened---gunshots in the street, broken windows, and men wandering the street toward the local house of prostitution. Needless to say, you didn't go out at night.

I'm still glad I went to Guatemala. I may have come back with a few scars, but I also returned with a new knowledge of our world. My worldview was unalterably changed. I no longer view the US as a place of all things good---learning how your country sponsored a faction that wiped out entire indigenous villages will do that to you. I met many kind people, and learned more than I ever thought possible about the Mayan religion.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

What Food Banks Need Most

MSN Money ran a great article on needed items at the food shelf. Here is a selection:

1)Proteins. Canned meats such as tuna, chicken or fish are high in protein and low in saturated fat. Peanut butter is rich in protein and high in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated oils, the "good fats." These are among the most expensive foods -- too expensive for food banks to buy large quantities.
2) Soups and stews. They are filling, particularly the "chunky" soups, and contain liquid for hydration. In addition, soups can be filled with protein and vegetables.
3) Rice and pasta. "They're really staples," Nowak says. In addition, grain-based foods, such as pasta, are a good source of fiber and complex carbohydrates.
4) Cereal, including oatmeal. Breakfast cereals can be an additional source of protein, and most cereals today include a variety of vitamins and minerals.
5) Canned vegetables, including tomatoes and tomato sauce. Studies indicate that canned vegetables have about the same nutritional value as fresh vegetables.
6) Canned or dried beans and peas. A staple of diets as early as 6700 B.C., beans are a low-fat source of protein and fiber.
7) Canned fruits. Only a small amount of vitamin C is lost in the canning process, making these a healthy choice.
8) Fruit juice (canned, plastic or boxed). Make sure it's 100% juice.
9) Prepared box mixes such as macaroni and cheese or Hamburger Helper.
10) Shelf-stable milk. This includes dehydrated milk, canned evaporated milk and instant breakfasts.

Of course, these are just a few of the many options to donate to the food shelves. So check out a few of the loss-leaders at your local grocery store, and donate away!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

I'm Free!

I need to work on actually being contact-able. Yet somehow I feel so much less shackled when the cell phone is on vibrate, tucked away in my purse in case of emergency and nothing else. When the only way of really getting ahold of me is to e-mail (meaning you only do it if it is really important). Maybe I'm antisocial. Who knows?

I hate being buzzed. I loath knowing that my peace can be interrupted at any moment for frivolities. I want to feel free.

Unfortunately, this means that every time I open my cell phone, I am bombarded by up to a dozen messages (including some text messages from an unknown stranger). Not only is this aggravating, but it starts to counteract my peaceful feelings. Somehow a compromise is in order.
Any suggestions?

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Adam, or a Treatise on the Public School System

So, I'm probably not cut out for public schools. I can't stand the bureaucracy and the limitations. I hate seeing children come into Kindergarten full of enthusiasm and questions, only to have that squelched down by rules and regulations.

This is not to say that there are not some incredible public school teachers. I have the priviledge of bouncing around from class to class and witnessing the high points of many lessons, and the truly remarkable interactions between a great teacher and her students.

It's just that I also see the children who fall through the cracks---the Kindergartener who is already labeled as a troublemaker, but is really suffering from ADHD. Until the highest need children are sorted, he won't even get a glimpse of the school psychologist. It will be two months before he's seen, and then another month of meetings and paperwork if the parents will even entertain the idea that something is wrong with their child. Leave in another month for doctor's visits, and it's already spring. Most of his first year in school will be spent going to or coming from the office, or being taught how to sit still in his seat and follow along with the class. He'll miss out on a vital first year, but his parents won't hold him back. He'll go through the school system always a year behind, forever trying to catch up. Funds are so short that we won't see him in the tutoring room until it's way to late for a simple fix.

It makes me sad to see these kids. It's like they're falling through a sieve, and you can only catch so many. How do you choose between the sweet but troubled little boy who can somehow scrape by for now and the child with autism? Do you choose the boy who is walking in no man's land of uncontainable impulses whose diagnosis will take months, or serve the boy with the severe, easily diagnosed problem?

The boy with autism has a fierce parental advocate, the other has reluctant parents. Guess who'll be served first?

It shouldn't be that way. Every child deserves a decent education, but they're not getting it. It's not that we don't try; it's just that the problem is so big that we don't see a way out from it. It all feels so insurmountable sometimes. All you can do is offer a little hope here and there, a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Food Stamps/EBT

I am now the first person in my family to ever receive food stamps, as my dad so kindly reminded me just before my interview with the Department of Social and Human Services. It's quite an honor, I tell you.

Working with AmeriCorps, my living allowance falls just under the poverty line (a little under $950 a month, after taxes). To me, it feels like a lot of money, compared to a student budget ($15 a week for groceries, and selling plasma for gas money.) But then I look at my debts ($25,000 for school, then another $25,000 my parents took out for me to cover the rest), and I realize I'm in trouble. This is going to take a long time to pay back. Hello, reality.

So I went to a community agency to start the application process. The lady was very nice, and didn't make me feel awkward at all. This agency received funding from the government in part by referring qualified individuals for food stamps and housing assistance.

The next step was an interview at the DSHS, a formidable building with a huge line of people waiting to be served. There was a timed computer sign-in, which counted down the number of seconds you had left to key in your data on a dilapitated touch screen before the machine would start over. Then you had a good half hour wait for your name to be called for the first time. A lady at the reception area would speak to you for maybe a minute, clarifying whether you needed food stamps or medical benefits, before you were relegated to your comfy seat and a another lengthy wait. When your name is finally called (in an hour, if you were lucky), you were led into a cubicle at the rear of the building and mined for data. Woe to you if you forgot to bring a rent statement or second form of ID! Tomorrow you get to start the process all over again.

Finally, after being asked if you are a fleeing felon, you are led back to the dreaded waiting area. This time, you are a number. Thirty minutes and four numbers later, you just might be called to receive an EBT card with food benefits. For me, it was worth it---nearly $200 a month in food benefits! The first month I actually ran out, as I was setting up a new pantry, and didn't even have a container of salt to my name. Those spices really add up!

Within two months, though, two hundred dollars seemed like way too much money to ever spend in a month. I began donating some super cheap sale items to the local food bank. The rest gets rolled over. There is no way I will ever spend it all!

Saturday, January 2, 2010

The Cloth Wipe Challenge (TMI alert!)

In all fairness to our more squeamish readers, this is a post about cloth wipes. Anyone with an intensely queasy stomach, feel free to skip this post. For those that I haven't scared off, don't worry; this isn't too graphic.

I've spent the past few days rereading the details of Crunchy Chicken's Cloth Wipe Challenge, and have decided to attempt it. Since the official challenge dates have passed, I'm going to set my own challenge, and replace my Seventh Generation toilet paper with cloth wipes. Being frugal, I recycled some of my old, undonate-able t-shirts into 5 x 5 cloth wipes.

Not only are these much more comfortable than scratchy toilet paper, but they are also much better for the environment. Crunchy Chicken writes on her blog:

According to Charmin, consumers on average use 8.6 sheets per trip to the bathroom. That's a total of 57 sheets per day and an annual total of 20,805 sheets. There are 230 million adults in the U.S., each averaging a roll and a half per week. Since each roll of toilet paper averages about .5 a pound of paper, that's about 40 pounds of TP per year. That equals 4.6 million tons of TP used each year. And that's just from adults. To take the calculation even further, if all U.S. adults used only Charmin toilet paper or the like (aka "virgin fiber" with 0% recycled content or post-consumer waste), the environmental cost is approximately (not including the issues with Dioxin):

78.2 million trees
1.35 million tons of air pollution
32 trillion gallons of water
2.1 trillion gallons of oil
18.75 trillion Kilowatt hours of energy

That's a pretty hefty amount, for something that's just flushed down the toilet! For me the solution is simple: cloth wipes.

I know I probably lost a few of you out there, squeamishly protesting that there is absolutely no way that you would ever use cloth wipes. But hold on: cloth wipes really aren't all that bad.

They're soft. Really, which would you rather use: scratchy toilet paper (made from wood, mind you), or soft flannel wipes?

They're environmentally friendly. Less water is contaminated using cloth wipes than in making toilet paper, which is used once, and tossed down the drain. Plus, how can forty fewer pounds of paper making their way into our sewage system be a bad thing?

They're inexpensive. Sure, you can buy cloth wipes. There are a lot of cute ones made out there, such as the ones from Wallypop or Etsy. But you can also make your own. Grab a few old t-shirts and give them a second life. Flannel fabric remnants are also a great choice, and can be had for very little at Joann's Fabrics or other fabric stores.

So what are you waiting for? Give cloth wipes a try!