Coffee heat rising

w00t! Frugality works better

I just cleaned 1,860 square feet of flooring without using more than a microtherm of natural gas to heat a pail of water…in one hour flat! Not only that, but laydeez and gents, that floor is CLEAN!

One idea for the Month of (not-so-)Extreme Frugality was to sweep the floors—which are tile throughout the house—with a broom, not with the big Panasonic vacuum cleaner or the little Eureka vac-broom. Then to carry through with the remaining two routine steps of floor-cleansing: dust-mopping and wet-mopping.

Dog hair, for those of you who have never had the privilege of living with a dog that thinks it’s a sheep, gathers on hard floors in balls and piles up in dunes. Unlike sand, though, dog dunes drift on the breeze, especially the breeze from a vacuum cleaner motor. So, absent a very practiced technique, vacuuming the hair-strewn floor usually causes the dog dunes to go airborne, floating up the walls and drifting in disintegrating clouds across the room, to settle behind doors and sofas at some later time.

Not so with a straw broom.

Brushing up the wads of dog hair and the small stones, leaves, and skiffs of dirt the dog and the humans tracked in proved to be very easy and very fast. And less back-breaking than usual: though I did have to bend down to sweep mounds into the dust pan, I didn’t have to yank out and re-plug a stubborn electrical cord in every room, hold the cord off the floor and dodge around it, or struggle with attachments. So there actually was less bending and wrestling than with a vacuum cleaner, and because the broom refrained from blowing dog hair into the air, it worked more efficiently. Plus a broom weighs far less than a vacuum cleaner or even an electric broom.

Normally it takes 45 minutes or so to vacuum the whole house, and by the time that’s done, I’m tired. Brooming the floor took a fraction of that time. By the time I finished dust-mopping (which has to be done after vacuuming, too, because the vacuum doesn’t lift the fine pieces of dirt, and the dog hair resettles onto the floor), I had hardly broken a sweat! Wet-mopping an entire houseful of tile is never fun, but it’s a lot less miserable when you don’t start the job already pooped out.

I started around 3:30, spent some time chatting on the phone with the pool dude, and finished at 4:30 sharp, still feeling reasonably fresh despite the warmth of the season’s first summerish day.

This seconds my opinion of installing hard floors as one of my most cost-effective renovations. Not only are they easier to clean than carpets and way cheaper in the long run (because they never have to be professionally cleaned or replaced), in day-to-day use they’re cheaper, too: you can clean the entire house without ever using any electric power!

If Anna H. Banana were not having a little stench issue in her old age, I wouldn’t have had to use hot water for mopping, either. So, those of us who can restrain ourselves from taking in pets could, in theory, keep a house floored entirely in tile, concrete, or wood clean and sanitary without ever expending a watt, an ohm, or a therm.


The plan to use candles instead of electric lights as a feature in the Month of (not-so-)Extreme Frugality requires me to get out the candle-holders. Among the motley crew is an old pair of silver-plate candle-holders that date back so far I think they were a wedding gift.

Badly tarnished, they suffered considerably the last time I used them because I left them out on the patio table, where the ambient smog ate into their silver coating. They’re not what you’d call precious heirlooms.

I’d heard that ashes can be used as a silver cleaner. Well, I wasn’t about to try the stuff left in the fireplace on the Cristofle. But these little guys looked like perfect guinea pigs.

So I retrieved a few spoonsful of ashes from the last time I burned old receipts in the fireplace and mixed in enough water to make a paste.

Lo! It works! In fact, it may work better than commercial silver polish. Here’s a before and after with the ashes. Some light marring of the surface remained, which I suspected might be the ash mix’s fault.

However, when I cleaned the other piece with Wright’s silver polish, similar discoloration remained on that candle-holder. So it looks like the smog pitted or discolored the surface. Whatever the cause, it’s not the ashes. The Wright’s was no faster or easier than the ash mixture, and it didn’t work as effectively on the part that holds the candle, where dirt had combined with wax to form a near-impermeable layer.

The piece on the left was cleaned with Wright’s; the piece on the right, with ashes.

So there you are: free silver cleaner. Before I throw out the ashes in the fireplace, I think I’ll collect a few trowels-full in a Ziplock bag for future use.

Comments left at iWeb site:


Great idea!

Now what can I burn…?Ah, there’s Husband’s comic books…

Wednesday, April 23, 2008 – 09:35 AM

Michel Savoie

Impressive!! Thanks for the tip! I’d never heard of that one before

Friday, April 25, 2008 – 01:03 PM


Well that is something. It looks great!

Saturday, April 26, 2008 – 02:00 PM


What a wonderful tip. I must try that. I have used the ashes from our stove on theicy road by our house. It’s works great for that too.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008 – 03:42 PM

Trees and the frugalist

The orange harvest is about consumed. I think two more oranges are left, out of my reach-tomorrow morning I’ll have to drag the step stool into the back yard and retrieve those. Arizona sweets, the two trees each bore at least a couple hundred fruits this winter, ripe in February and sweet as candy. For the past three months, I’ve been eating a half-dozen a day.

What a wonderful bounty!

I can’t imagine ever having a house without at least one fruit tree. My last shack had two Arizona sweets, a grapefruit, and a fig tree. This one, in addition to the two orange trees, has an amazing Mexican lime (pictured at right) that just now is covered in fruit and two young Meyer lemons, both of which blossomed in gay profusion this spring.

Manny, the current owner of SDXB’s former abode, has added plums and peaches to the existing grapefruit, orange, and tangerine trees. He insists he can get these to thrive here, and indeed, one of my colleagues has managed to grow edible peaches, apricots and plums in our scorching Valley of the Sun.

How frugal is a backyard fruit tree? I don’t know. The fig certainly was frugal enough: nothing much had to be done to it to make it bear. Citrus, though it’s fairly drought-hardy, needs plenty of deep watering and three doses of fertilizer each year to produce juicy, sweet fruit. If the tree bears a lot of fruit in a season, probably it’s a savings over buying that many oranges or grapefruit. And at 99 cents apiece, a lemon tree doesn’t have to make many lemons to be pay for itself. Lemon trees are notoriously fecund. At the grocery store, 99 cents a Meyer lemon does not purchase!

My water bill last month was $102. The lowest bill of the year, when hardly any water runs on the landscaping, is $70. The base rate is around $60. So all of the landscaping, including flowers and the pool, is costing around $32. Let’s guess the trees cost about $20 of that. Say the oranges bore 200 fruits this year. That’s a conservative guess; in fact, 6 oranges consumed per day x 3 months = 540 oranges, and I gave a bunch of them to friends in addition to the half-dozen I ate every day. But for the sake of easy math, let’s figure $20 ÷ 200 oranges = 10 cents apiece, roughly, per month, over about six months: 60 cents apiece.

That doesn’t figure in the fact that the water also goes on the lemons, the lime, the tomatoes, and the herbs. Still, the savings is probably not great…unless you figure that each orange tree actually bore about 270 oranges…. I was too busy picking and eating to count.

Tree-ripened fruit is so wonderful and so much better than grocery store produce, I’m actually dreading having to fall back on cardboard strawberries and barely ripe watermelons. Clearly, though, if the fruit falls on the ground and spoils or gets eaten by birds, it’s no bargain, neither water nor fertilizer being free. You have to have a way to preserve them.

Some people preserve citrus juice by freezing it in ice cube trays and storing the solid cubes in plastic freezer bags. You can make marmalade out of just about any citrus, and lemons lend themselves to lemon butter. Soft-skinned fruit can be canned or turned into jam, jelly, or butters. It’s a lot of work and I’m not sure I’d want to do it. That’s why I’m glad I live where citrus grows.

SDXB discovered that if you have a certain number of fruit trees on your lot-say, your house was built in an old grapefruit orchard, as many now centrally located 1950s Phoenix tract houses were-and you sell some of the produce, your lot qualifies as a farm and you qualify for an agricultural subsidy. You not only get a bunch of not-quite-free fruit, but you get a break on your taxes. Now that’s frugal!

Figs in Brandy

Wash a bunch of fresh, ripe figs. Prick them in a few places with a fork. Place them in a French canning jar with its rubber gasket in place. Cover with inexpensive brandy. If desired, add a little cinnamon or nutmeg. Store in the refrigerator.

Serve over ice cream.

Lemon Cream

Grate the zest of three lemons and then squeeze and collect the lemon juice. Next, beat five eggs plus five egg yolks until they are light and fluffy; then slowly beat in a cup of sugar, beating until the mixture is thick and pale yellow. In a large mixing bowl, whip four cups of heavy cream. In the top of a double boiler, pour the lemon juice over one tablespoon of gelatin. Allow the gelatin to soften and then stir over hot water until the gelatin dissolves. Stir the lemon-gelatin into the eggs, and then fold in the heavy cream. Chill in individual glasses or dishes and serve with whipped cream.

Lemon Curd

  • 2 yolks of extra large eggs
  • 2 extra large whole eggs
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 ½ Tablespoons minced lemon zest
  • 1/3 cup lemon juice
  • 2 ½ Tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

In a saucepan (about a quart size), whisk the ingredients together. Stir over medium low heat until the mixture coats a metal spoon, about 8 minutes. Pour the lemon curd into a bowl or French canning jar, cover, and store in the refrigerator. This can be spread on good bread or coffee cake, or served over ice cream.

This recipe can be doubled, tripled, or even quadrupled. Larger amounts require somewhat longer cooking, up to about 20 minutes. Of course, it can be made (to excellent effect) with Meyer lemons.

Meyer Lemon Marmalade

Thinly slice about six Meyer lemons, discarding the seeds and ends. You should have about three cups of sliced lemon. Place these in a bowl and cover with water. Let stand overnight.

Then bring the lemons and water to a boil and boil them uncovered for 10 minutes. Again allow to stand overnight.

Measure the lemon-water mixture and add an equal amount of sugar. Bring this mixture to a boil, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Then lower the heat but cook rapidly for about 45 minutes, until the marmalade sheets off a spoon. Pour the hot marmalade into hot, sterilized canning jars and seal the lids. This makes about six cups.

Drunken Orange Slices

Peel one or more ripe, fine oranges. Slice horizontally into quarter-inch-thick slices. Layer in a wide stoneware serving bowl or enameled pan, and cover the fruit slices with Grand Marnier or brandy. Chill for several hours, or let stand at room temperature for an hour or so and serve. Makes a great dessert as it is or served over ice cream.

Amber Marmalade

Take three oranges, three lemons, and one grapefruit. Halve these and seed them; then slice them very thinly. Measure the amount of fruit this produces, and place the fruit in a large nonreactive bowl or pan. Add three cups of water for each cup of fruit, and let soak for 12 hours.

Then place the fruit and its water into an enameled pot. Boil it for 20 minutes, and again let it set for 12 hours.

Sterilize some canning jars and lids.

Again measure what you have. For each cup of fruit and juice, add three-quarters cup sugar. Cook this combination in small batches, no more than five cupfuls at a time, until the fruit is clear and the syrup falls off a spoon in a sheet. Remove it from the pot, let it cool a few minutes, stirring. Pack the marmalade in the sterilized canning jars, seal them, and store them in a cool place.

Lime Marmalade

Thinly slice limes to make about one quart. Add 1 ½ quarts water and let stand overnight. In a nonreactive pot, cook the limes slowly for 2 or 2 ½ hours, until they are tender.

Measure the lime and juice. Add 2/3 as much sugar. Bring the mixture to a boil; turn down the heat and cook rapidly until the marmalade sheets off a spoon, 30 to 60 minutes. Pack the marmalade in hot sterilized jars, seal them, and store in a cool place.


Cut about five pounds of white-fleshed fish filets, such as halibut or sole, into small pieces. Place in a glass or stoneware bowl. Add three minced onions, 2 cups lime juice, and 1 Tablespoon olive oil. Stir together; be sure the fish is covered with lime juice at all times. Add some minced hot peppers. Cover tightly and marinate in the refrigerator for one to three days.

Jicama con limas

Chill a jicama in the refrigerator. Wash it, peel it, quarter it, and cut it into quarter- or eighth-inch-thick slices, or into slender sticks. Squeeze fresh lime juice all over it. Sprinkle with salt and eat as a snack.

Quite Possibly the Highest and Best Use of Limes

Quarter a Mexican or key lime. Open a bottle of pale beer, preferably Triple-X or Corona. Squeeze the lime into the open bottle and then push the lime quarter down the neck into the beer. Consume. Repeat.

Five ways to fight inflation at the grocery store

With real inflation at around 12 percent (more about which later, when I feel like thinking), we’ve all noticed grocery prices have reached orbit somewhere close to the moon. Here are a few ways, beyond the obvious advice to use coupons and shop for sales, to save money on real food (as opposed to packaged stuff containing artificial chemicals, stabilizers, flavors, and various “enhancers” whose names you can’t pronounce).

  • Serve smaller portions of meat. A porterhouse steak, for example, contains three servings: the tenderloin equals one serving, and the sirloin strip side can be cut into two pieces. A ribeye steak similarly can be cut into three smaller servings. Make a full dinner by adding a serving of rice, pasta, or beans; a serving of green, yellow, or orange vegetable; and a serving of salad. All these items taken together are enough to satisfy any appetite.
  • Learn to butcher meat yourself. Some years ago I stumbled upon Merle Ellis’s Cutting Up in the Kitchen, a user-friendly guide to DIY butchering large pieces of meat and fowl. A whole chicken, a whole turkey, or an entire set of beef ribs is invariably cheaper than neat packages of prepared servings. Turns out that it’s pretty easy to reduce a large chunk of meat or fowl to meal-sized portions, given a sharp knife and a few minutes of your time. This saves a surprising amount on your meat bill.
  • Plan one or two vegetarian days into your weekly menu. Most people enjoy beans, which are easy to fix and incredibly cheap. A dish of polenta or pasta topped with tomatoes, garlic, herbs, and parmesan cheese is satisfying and cheap. Got a half a loaf of French bread that’s starting to go a bit stale? Run it under the tap, wet it with cold water, wring it out, cut it into cubes, add some cut-up tomatoes, garlic, little green onions, a few herbs, a bit of olive oil, and a dash of lemon juice or vinegar and voila! Italian soul food.
  • Use your slow cooker to make a stew or roast that will last for several meals. Pot roast, chicken, or beans cook wonderfully in a slow cooker. The key to making meat or chicken taste like stovetop is to brown it before putting it into the cooker.
  • Buy veggies and fruits at ethnic markets or farmer’s markets. In my part of the country, farmer’s markets are no bargain, but bloggers in other regions report they find good buys at these outdoor events. However, even though prices at ethnic markets have shot up, they’re still cheaper than mainstream supermarkets. Check out these stores for good buys on basic vegetables and fruits, and while you’re there, explore the offerings in herbs and spices.

Twelve ways to save money on your dog

DCP_13631. Adopt an adult dog.

A grown-up that has already learned to live with humans will save you on furniture and landscaping repair, carpet cleaning, and training. And someone else has paid for spaying or neutering.

2. Choose a breed that is not on the homeowner insurer’s list of breeds that trigger higher premiums.

Avoid German shepherds, Rottweilers, pit bulls, doberman pinschers, chows, huskies, and other dogs with a reputation for unpredictability.

3. Learn to obedience-train your dog in low-cost community classes. Practice obedience training frequently, so the dog will come when called and stop when ordered.

These skills may save your dog from costly accidents or animal attacks, to say nothing of making your own life a lot more pleasant.

4. Keep your dog secured inside a yard with a sturdy, escape-proof fence (not on a tie-out!). When walking outside the yard with your dog, keep the dog on a leash at all times.

This keeps your dog safe from accidents and fights with other dogs and helps protect you and passers-by from dog bites. And that keeps your wallet safe from veterinarians’ and lawyers’ bites.

5. Exercise your dog regularly.

6. Restrict immunizations to those that are absolutely necessary.

Some shots given once a year are really needed only once every two or three years.

7. Learn to give shots yourself.

Vaccines can be purchased at feed stores and online.

8. If you live in an area where there are no mosquitoes, don’t give your dog heartworm meds. If you can’t avoid the monthly worming treatment, purchase Heartgard at Costco, where it’s much cheaper than at most veterinary offices.

9. Read the labels on dog food.

Do not feed your dog corn or corn products: at best, they’re indigestible; many dogs are allergic to corn. Dogs often manifest allergies as ear infections, a direct route for cash to flow from your wallet to your veterinarian’s pocket.

Note what’s in premium dog food and then look for similar formulas in less expensive varieties. For example, Trader Joe’s lamb and rice dog kibble is similar to much pricier premium brands. Also, feed and tack stores often sell premium kibbles at a significant discount from the prices in pet stores.

10. Learn to groom the dog yourself.

Invest in clippers for dogs that need fancy trim jobs and a Dremel to file down heavy claws.

11. Keep your dog’s teeth clean with dental-cleaning dog chews or by brushing the teeth.

12. Abstain from cosmetic surgery such as docking ears, which is cruel and unnecessary.

Freedom’s just another word…

Continuing the project to declutter every room in the house, so rudely interrupted by my job, today I attacked the office and cleaned off all the work surfaces, the bookcase, and the file cabinet, built new hanging files for the various projects that have been stashed in mounds here and there, and tossed or shredded whole trashcanfuls of miscellaneous pieces of paper with old notes on them. Interesting. I’d forgotten the desktop is made of wood.

I’m determined to put away or throw away every dust-catcher that does not have some real, useful reason to occupy a surface. No junk on the surfaces! The goal is to be able to dust without having to pick up and wipe off any more pieces of junk than absolutely necessary. This is part of the stress reduction scheme: simplify housecleaning.

As I was tossing large quantities of paper, outdated reminders, and meaningless keepsakes, it struck me once again that a desire to be free of clutter is characteristic of a frugal mind-or even a miserly one.

My father, who could at times raise frugality to a high art, loathed having junk around him. When we left Saudi Arabia, where I grew up, we took almost nothing with us but our clothes-he never allowed us to buy anything of value while we were there, on the theory that Americans could be evacuated at any time and all the elaborate European and Asian furnishings our compatriots filled their homes with would have to be left behind. Each time we moved (and I realized one day that my mother had moved house on average of once every two years during their 32-year marriage), we threw stuff away. We never carried anything with us that we didn’t really need. I guess he set an early example of voluntary simplicity: a simplicity motivated by a determined bent for frugality, not to say tight-fistedness. He didn’t want to own anything we didn’t need and he didn’t want to pay to move it.

Onward to the two hall closets, repository of two years’ worth of free sample toothpaste from the dentist, the lifetime supply of Costco AA batteries, and several jars of pills of unknown age and provenance.

These closets are like archaeological digs, filled with strange artifacts. Lessons from the remote past:

  • Never buy jackets from catalogs. Out with the pumpkin-colored wool jacket that I’ve kept for years because it looked so good in the Land’s End catalog it ought to look good on me. The truth is–and has always been!–that the thing never fit right, it doesn’t keep me warm, and it’s just plug-ugly.
  • Never buy things out of desperation. Out with the hideous red car coat from The Limited, purchased in an attempt to remedy the Land’s End fiasco. What was I thinking? I hate double-breasted coats!
  • Refrain from sleeping on the ground. Out with the man’s waterproof windbreaker acquired during the three long months spent hiking, bumming rides, and camping in the outback of Canada and Alaska.
  • Don’t get silly about men. Rescued: The clothes hangers that SDXB,* incredibly, smeared with black marker, lest they be confused with mine and he lose those handy pieces of blue and pink plastic when he moved out of my house.

The three-foot-tall “To Donate” box is chuckablock full. It will take half the weekend to haul all the valuables to St. Vincent’s or Deseret Industries. Somebody out there will be happy to get those coats, with the weather nipping down to the 20s. But the gift to me is greater: freedom from junk!

*SDXB: Semi-demi ex-boyfriend, aka “The Emperor of Cheap”