Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Live from the Eternal City

I'm sitting in my hotel room outside of Rome and it's noon. We bucked up for a day of internet service so that my Hubby can do some work from our room. It will probably get reimbursed by his company so the 18 euro won't come out of our pocket. The current exchange rate puts the dollar at .60 cents so spending every Euro is like spending $1.40.

Today it's chilly and drizzling but the last two days have been sunny and only mildly chilly. It's off season so the sites aren't that crowded and it's easy to get around by walking or hopping into a cab. I highly recommend late February for a trip to Rome if you aren't a fan of glaring sunlight and heat.

People dress very well here. Most women wear low heeled or flat calf length boots in brown or black. Leather jackets and shoes seem to be the norm. The clothes are close fitting and tailored looking. Black is the most popular with brown and other earth tones following close behind. And almost no one is overweight here despite the fact that there are pastry shops and gelaterias selling their delicious wares on every corner.

The food has been pretty good although I have to say that we haven't ventured into any expensive restaurants or looked at ratings. There is no free water. If you want water you have to pay for a bottle of it and the going rate is 2.50-4 euro for a 1/2 liter. I paid 4 euro for a tiny bottle of Coke before I figured out that I should share water with my hubby. There are no refills much to my hydration junkie hubby's annoyance. We each bought bottles of water and have been refilling them whenever we get the chance. The water here is mostly potable so that helps the wallet.

There is a distinct lack of public toilets. But, when you do see one they are very distinctly marked, "Toilettes". And there is always a line so when you see a public toilet you should just get in it. Even if you don't have to go you probably will by the time it's your turn. I have not seen a pay toilet but I do think they are around. None of the public toilets I went into by the Colloseum, the Visitor Center, or the Vatican had seats on them. But, luckily there was paper and soap.
Our personal hotel room bathroom has a bidet and a toilet seat. Very nice. If you want more info and/or pictures of Italian toilets you can google "the toilets of Italy." Blogger isnt' letting me put a link in.

We've have one or two more days of sight seeing (with some business meetings thrown in for the hubby) and then we get home.
The amount to see and do here is overwhelming. There are ancient ruins all over the city. The best thing we've done is to make a trip to the Vatican Museum to see the Sistine Chapel. It is an overwhelming thing made slightly stressful by the amount of people crammed into the room staring upwards in awe and guards frequently shouting at people not to take pictures. Quite franky it made me nauseous as much as I wanted to lay on the cold marble floor and admire it's beauty. Now I can say that I've seen the real thing and yes, it is indeed something to behold but I'd rather admire it from a post card and not get sick turning my head upside down. The museum's sheer amount of antiquities, paitings, carvings, jewelry, marble statues, etc is just incredible. It really puts into perspective how very impermanent we are when our possessions- even our woven clothes- last longer than we could ever hope or want to.

Today we went to the Crypt of Capuchin monks below the Santa Maria della Concezione Catholic Church.. Housed in the crypt are the bones of over 4,000 monks and three children that were royal family members of one of the Popes. Most of the bones are used as decoration covering the walls and ceiling of the crypt rooms. It's creepy and it made me a bit sad really. In the last crypt there is a placard that says "What you are now we used to be, what we are now you will be." But, I seriously hope that my bones are used as some macabre decoration 400 years from now.

I think I'll end there for today. Later I might get a chance to post up some pictures. I'm having a wonderful time but I will be so glad to get home.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Schlumpadinka- That'sMe!

I'm taking a short break during my cleaning spree (in-laws are due tonight) to watch a bit of tivo'd Oprah.

Most of my good clothes are packed already and the slightly more decent comfy pants are in the wash. Today I am wearing stained, ill-fitting sweat pants and a stained shirt that just hasn't made the rag bag yet. And yes, today I'm wearing no make up (that's packed too). I admit that I'm having more and more days where I feel dressed up if I got a decent shower in.
I hadn't planned on going anywhere today but my boy child is sick so we went to the doctor, the grocery store (for his prescription and a few last minute groceries) and a last minute drop off at the dry cleaner.

I am tired and my lack of energy is compromising my slightly lofty goals of having a well scrubbed and de-cluttered house and making cupcakes for preschool tomorrow. Instead I'll settle for having the bathrooms cleaned up, the dishes out of the sink and the guest room bed ready for sleep. My MIL will just have to forgive me. And that box of cake mix that I got for .50 cents after Valentines will just have to wait for another occasion. Preschoolers like Little Debbie too.

At least I'll look good in Rome and I'll get to catch up on some much needed sleep.
I bought a 2.00 (on clearance) red blazer from the Goodwill that had awful brass buttons that screamed 80's. Instead of buying a card of buttons, I found another sale blazer that had buttons I liked for 2.00. I took it to the dry cleaner today so I can wear it on our trip. My 2.00 blazer will end up costing me 10.00 when I pick it up but, I think I'll get a lot of wear out of it.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Conversion Fees, Sim Cards, ETC.

Did you know that Discover card is not accepted in Italy?

I don't know if I'll be posting much in the near future. I've got a ton to do before my in-laws get here tomorrow. Yes, they are staying here while we're gone. And they have a big dog.

See you soon! arrivederci

Monday, February 18, 2008

Birthday Excess and a Balancing Act

I haven't quite figured out a nice balancing act between the normal suburban birthday party bash with it's glut of plastic excess and a nice and simple birthday with a homemade cake and a few humble presents.

Again this year we had a big birthday party. The kids received lots of new shiny presents and we gorged on cake and soft drinks. Then we sent everyone off to the pool to play. It worked well.

But, today is a large contrast to yesterday. Today is Big Girl's actual birthday and she's getting one new toy and two Goodwill toys for a total of $16. Instead of a new cake we're going to have leftover party cake. Our party tonight consists of a visit from the our Parents as Teachers lady. For dinner we're having curly pasta with red sauce because that's what the birthday girl requested. It's very low key but somehow more satisfying than yesterday's birthday carnage.
Don't get me wrong. I am ever thankful that we can both afford to have a nice birthday party and that we have friends who willingly give of their time and money to celebrate with us. But, I'm just wondering where the happy medium is.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Something I can't get at a restaurant

Right now I'm listening to the soulful music of Mr. James Brown (who had soul and was superbad in case you didn't know). My small family enjoying a no frills breakfast of scrambled eggs, yogurt, orange slices and a little doughnut each- and bouncing up and down in their chairs to James Brown with such glee is a memory I hope I keep forever.

Happy Saturday! Much to do.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

The Parenting Files: When the student surpasses the teacher

Today the kids and I had a big grocery shopping trip with coupons today. I had a long list to knock out and Big Girl was a willing helper until her little legs started to get tired. She asked me what was taking so long this time. I told her that I was trying to save our family money and using coupons took more time.

She pointed to the full cart and said in an annoyed and tired voice, "How are you going to save money if you keep putting stuff in the cart?"

Not that I planned it this way but....

I love that Valentine's Day stuff goes on clearance right before my daughter's birthday. Any leftover sprinkles, candies, doilies, tights, toys, and cake mixes get scooped up for a song and used as party favors, Easter basket fillers and other stuff. If you find a generic box of chocolates (like Whitmans) they would make a great Father's day gift.

I bought this dress last year for $2 at Target after Valentine's day. She wore it yesterday to her Valentine's Day party at preschool. She was not in the mood to smile for the camera

Big Girl decorated our brownies with sprinkles I bought for .25 cents last year at Target. The mix was a low-fat Betty Crocker that was on sale for .89 cents at the grocery this morning. The low-fat is a good buy because because it only needs one egg and 1 tbsp. of oil.

**The brownies came out very moist and tasty. Not a hint of anything low fat to them.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008


It's a high of 32 degrees today. I'm longing for spring. I'm tired of ice, snow, mittens. I'm fighting the urge to turn the thermostat up. So much for the Freeze Yer Buns Challenge.

Celebrating Valentines Day Aldi Style

Valentines day in our house is pretty low key. The first year we tried to go out to dinner on the big night it was impossible to find a restaurant that wasn't packed. We ended up getting pizzas at the worlds nastiest Pizza Hut just because we were so hungry.

At Aldis I bought a 2.99 bouquet of roses, a package of frozen eggplant parmesan, and a package of frozen stuffed shells. We stockpiled sparkling cider after Christmas. I'll add a salad, some garlic bread and maybe a dessert and we're all done.

No sitter. No fancy meal out. No stress.

Target had fancy candy bars in exotic flavors like cardamom and gingerbread for .50 cents after Christmas. That's my Valentines gift to my Sweetie.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Product Review: Garnier Fructis Curl Shaping Spray Gel

Now that I'm on a personal product buying hiatus for the rest of the year or until I run out of products I am trying 'new' stuff that has been lost in my bathroom cabinets. This shaping spray is probably from a Walgreens freebie that I had stockpiled.

For my lazy sorta bobbed hair style this works great. I have just enough wave in my hair to make curling the ends under a pain without a curling iron or blow dryer. I very seldom use a blow dryer much less the curling iron. This gel is strong enough that I put it on after I comb my wet hair and it holds my 'do in place without feeling too gluey. The smell is pleasant without being too strong or overwhelming.

I would definitely buy this product again.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Recycling Thomas

I did a major splurge ($15) on a fleece blanket for my Thomas the Train loving boy. The nice paper wrapper was too good to throw in the recycling bin just yet. I know two little boys turning 2 this month so I'm making my own cards.

A Clean Sink Saves Money

Ok, this is totally a Flylady thing but it's true. When my sink/kitchen is in chaos I don't feel like making dinner. When the counters are cleaned and the sink is clean and shiny I -want- to cook for my family.

I'm so glad that I no longer have Pizza Hut's phone number memorized.

We're having cheese (boca)burgers with grilled onions, salad, and herb stuffing.

And now I've got two lovely loads of fresh laundry to fold. While I'm doing that I think I'll listen to Meredith's podcast interviews. I've been using my homemade laundry detergent and I feel so much more connected to this chore. Is that silly?

Hair bows and such part 2

Since buying hair bows on Etsy I've been thinking of frugal ways to acquire more. And I have tried mostly unsuccessfully to make my own bows. One fell apart the first time she wore it and the other is just sorta sad looking. Big Girl wears a hair bow almost everyday since I'm growing her bangs out. And I fall back on our one white bow more often than I want to when I don't have a coordinating color.

This weekend I found two Vidal Sassoon bows in navy blue for $1.00 apiece at Big Lots. That's a good deal when you price them on Etsy and Ebay. And I needed navy blue for the upcoming school uniforms in the fall.

This morning I found these cute hair clips at Dollar General for $1.00 apiece. I think we're all set until my crafty sister-in-law sends the bows I requested for Big Girl's birthday. I love getting useful non-clutter gifts. It's the best thing next to getting homemade (and lovely) crafted items. SIL usually sells her bows for top dollar at craft shows and the second hand boutique she works for.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

What's for Dinner: Fritata-ish Concoction from Leftover Bits

Yes, it's not visually appealing but my refrigerator is bare of leftovers tonight. It looked much better after cooking. A cup of mashed potatoes, a cup of corn and peas, two eggs, some flour and some veggie sausage served quite nicely as a quickie dinner. A few sliced tomatoes (leftovers), heat and serve rolls (from a 49 cent clearance bag- leftovers), three pieces of homemade pizza (leftovers), and the straggling remains of sponge cake completed our leftover buffet.
Delicious? Not really. Cheap? Most certainly. Satisfying? Completely.

Refrigerator Recycling: Muffins

A big spill of juicy leftover corn and an abundance of mystery containers precipitated a refrigerator clean out. Leftover soy milk, applesauce, and dehydrated mango bits that were rejected by the kids now have a new life as muffins.
I like the Universal Muffin Recipe from the Complete Tightwad Gazette.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Thrifted Treasures

I found a Vera Bradley Messenger bag just like this one (the picture is from the Vera Bradley website) for 3.00 at Goodwill today. Unfortunately someone had written the price in sharpie on the underneath of one of the plastic closures. It's not readily visible but does reduce the sale value and so I'm so tempted to keep it.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

A Fanny Farmer Favorite: Cheap Sponge Cake

I've been craving cake. I did find one big bag of restaurant cake mix in the pantry from Big Lots (on clearance for .75) but I am going to save it to make birthday cakes for the kids.

This Fanny Farmer Recipe is cheap, quick and easy.

Cheap Sponge Cake

Yolks 3 eggs
11/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon hot water
Whites 3 eggs
1 cup flour
2 teaspoons vinegar

Beat yolks of eggs until thick and lemon-colored, add sugar gradually, and continue beating; then add water, flour mixed and sifted with baking powder and salt, whites of eggs beaten until stiff, and vinegar. Bake thirty-five minutes in a moderate oven, in a buttered and floured cake pan.

I added a little vanilla extract. Next time I will take this out after 28 minutes as it is a little tough. Would be delicious served with fruit and whipped cream.

Unscheduled Outage

For some reason my little cul de sac and the street across from us have had electrical outages for the last two days. The electricity would come on for a few hours and then off again for another eight to ten hours. We finally got around to using our fireplace. Here's what I've learned in two days without electricity:

* Although it's harder not having the tv to distract the kids during key times like the morning rush and 'crappy' hour (3:30- Daddy gets home) we did just fine.

* There's a good reason to have the damper open most of the way. My previously pristine white fireplace is smoke blackened. For a positive spin- I get to test out my cleaning supplies and see which one is best for removing that smoky gunk.

* You can bond over a 'firelog' fire and faux smores made with marshmallow creme. I think that was the best part of the whole thing. The joyful look on my daughters face when she was biting into a smore by her very own fireplace was priceless. She looked like she'd won the lottery. That warmed my heart better than any fire.

* I now have a valid reason to keep/buy all those candles. We had plenty of light to see by.

* My husband is very territorial with the fireplace. Every time I went near it he grunted like an annoyed caveman and told me to leave it alone more or less.

* We need a new air mattress.

* My daughter loves! having a sleepover in the living room and cried when the electricity came back on because she thought her fun was over.

* I think my son could be ready for a toddler bed. He did an excellent job of staying on his little pull out couch bed.

* I miss cooking and vacuuming.

* Dryer lint is an excellent fire starter. I think I'll always keep a baggie of it with my fire logs.

* The last two nights we've eaten at Taco Bell for $5.00 and another local Mexican restaurant for $28.00. Taco Bell food is pretty good and husband and I are both tired of spending lots of money for substandard food.

I have to go now. My coffee pot is full of hot water for cocoa. I haven't had cocoa for two days. Yum!

Monday, February 4, 2008

Fancy Pants.

Since Meredith's panty post I've been thinking about ways to take care of myself. With a marriage of eleven years to my beloved who's seen me on my worst days and the addition of two busy children, my looks have taken a backseat. I'm determined to make use of the girly stuff I've been collecting and wear those nice underthings I've got stored in the cobwebby depths of my dresser- hidden way below the stained, holey, yet oh so comfy flannel and t-shirts I normally don at bedtime.

I had to chuckle when I saw the Walgreens sale add for these bags o' undies. Nothing says romance, elegance, and sexiness like 'bag o' undies.'


The Money Step.

I recently finished Jeff Yeager's Ultimate Cheapskate book. While I was reading it I didn't find anything particularly new or challenging in it. Perhaps that's the reason I'm still thinking about it- the simplistic message is just that- simple. Don't spend money. Things don't make you happy. Do things for yourself.
It's so weird how our Grandparents generation took these simple ideas for granted. How far off track have we come in just two generations?

Now doing things our grandparents used to do is seen as antiquated and crazy. Why bake bread when you can just go buy a loaf for 2.50? Why drive a 20 year old beater car when you can lease a new one for just $250 a month? How much of our lives are we giving away for the sake of ease and 'lifestyle'?

I'm guilty of this too. I've only recently started really thinking of how many money steps I take for ease, convenience and dare I say it- vanity.

Just last night I was in two different grocery stores with a handful of cash and my husbands credit card trying to decide how much stuff to buy in case I couldn't use his card. It changed my shopping- not being able to completely rely on that little piece of plastic. At Trader Joes, I didn't buy the frozen tiramisu, the green tea yogurt, or the sparkling lemonade that I was tempted to buy. Instead I stuck to my mental list of what we were out of. Then I dropped into Save-A-Lot for a few things that were still on my list. Their credit card machines weren't working. So, instead of the twenty dollars of unnecessary stuff that I would have gotten- I walked out spending a little over $5.00 and finishing my grocery shopping for the week for $40.00. How much would I have spent with my credit card- all the while thinking I would get a little money back?

Am I truly frugal or do I just like to bargain hunt? What is it that keeps me from truly skipping the money step?

Hubby took this picture of the kids and I yesterday at the St. Louis zoo. Big Girl had completed her Clean Toy Room Reward Chart and she picked the Mardi Gras Parade at the zoo for her reward. We had a great time. There was free face painting, craft activities, a short zydeco concert (to which both kids had a great time exuberantly dancing) and because of the chilly weather it was pleasantly uncrowded. We spent good quality time together as a family. I thought we were having a great frugal family time. Then we sat down to eat our cafeteria lunch of one free kids meal (we're zoo members and both kids have February birthdays) and one purchased pizza/soft drink meal. I think we spent $8.00 on lunch for the four of us. Hubby turned to me in the middle of eating and said, "I'm not feeling very frugal. The people next to us packed their lunch." And I looked up to see a young family with their cooler full of water in recycled bottles, sandwiches and apples. It hadn't even occurred to me to bring a lunch. I thought we were doing well by using a coupon for the kids to share one meal and paying for one for the adults to share. I wondered just how much better their own packed meal tasted than ours.

How much more enjoyable would my life be if I took the harder road of skipping the money step more often?