Coffee heat rising

Less clutter = less stress!

Freeing the house of kitsch and clutter worked! In the time it took to draw a bath, I managed to dust the entire four-bedroom house, including picture frames, mirrors, and light fixtures. Since the bathrooms were already cleaned, all that’s left of the dratted weekly housecleaning is to vacuum and mop 1680 square feet of tile, scrub the grease off the stovetop, and shine up the kitchen counters with vinegar.

This is great stress control when I’m looking forward to several hours of dumbing down my (already finished and posted!) syllabus and assignments to accommodate twice as many students as I agreed to teach this spring. That task will absorb time I’d planned to use on something more entertaining. Or at least more useful.

A$k and ye shall re¢eive

Great galloping zot!

To get me to take on those two bloated, maxed-out sections of Writing for the Professions, the university is going to pay me for four courses. That’s fourteen thousand dollah, for a spring-semester net of seven grand.

While it’s peanuts for the institution (a full-time lecturer would earn between $22,500 and $25,000, plus benefits, to teach the same courseload), for me it means I will meet my 2008 savings goal without having to take a second job during the fall semester. And fourteen percent of that 14 grand will go into my 403b, adding almost $2,000 to this year’s retirement savings.

If the spring overload doesn’t kill me and I decide to take on two sections (normal-sized, we hope) in the fall anyway, by December 7, 2008, I will have exceeded half my three-year $25,000 savings goal.

My daddy always said the squeaky wheel gets the grease. Guess he was right.

2008 financial goal thwarted at birth

In a New Year’s Day post, Mrs. Micah described her 2008 financial goals and asked readers about theirs. I responded by remarking that I hoped to put $10,000 a year in savings over the next two and a half years to pay off a small second mortgage used for house renovation. The plan was to set aside $250 a month out of my current salary and do the same with the $3,500 a semester I expected to net from teaching two online sections of a required service course for one of the Great Desert University’s satellite campuses.

Yesterday, they e-mailed a contract for the two classes, urging me to sign it immediately and fax it back forthwith. Understand, for unknown reasons (of the sort that feed paranoia) I haven’t been able to enter the university’s site that allows faculty to view their course rosters. So, this morning a colleague and I accessed it through her password. And what should I discover? Every section except the two I’m slated to teach is capped at 20 students. Mine are capped at FORTY! And both are full. I’ve already had students on the phone begging for overrides.

In other words, GDU expects I will teach the equivalent of four sections–EIGHTY STUDENTS in a WRITING COURSE (if it looks like I’m shouting, it’s because I am)–and accept pay for two sections.


I’ve e-mailed the interim vice president asking to be paid for four sections. He of course will turn that request down. But it doesn’t matter. Even if he agreed to it, I can’t pack 80 students into my spare moments around a full-time job, nor will I try.

If you are an employer and you wonder why young college graduates applying to work at your business can’t write a competent cover letter, to say nothing of any other kind of business document, this is why. Writing courses at universities and community colleges are traditionally taught by part-timers who are shamelessly exploited. Most cobble together four to six sections by running around from campus to campus; it is physically impossible to do a decent job of teaching writing to more than 15 or 20 students in a course, and an instructor certainly should not be teaching more than two writing-intensive sections at a time.

Well, in the new destressification regime, my foot is firmly put down about this kind of treatment. Better to take a little longer (make that “a lot longer”) to accrue the funds to pay off the loan than to put myself through the overwork, anger, and grief that will result from allowing GDU to take advantage of me like that.

Revised 2008 financial goal: Save $3,000 and put it all in the Roth IRA. Snowflake the loan principal with freelance income, extra savings from penny-pinching, and windfalls.

Frugal Crafts Friday: How to make a cozy heating pad cover

As part of the decluttering in progress, I’ve done a few repairs & improvements to various possessions. This one worked especially well.

Heating pads these days come with cheesy fabric covers onto which the manufacturer has slapped a shiny synthetic patch bearing the “do not do this at home” message. In the course of protecting you from yourself, said patches get hot enough to burn your skin-though possibly not before the cover itself falls apart. With two straight seams and eight back-&-forth sewing machine tacks, you can make a much happier cover that will last the lifetime of the heating pad.

You need

  • A length of “fleece”-type fabric long enough and wide enough to fold over the heating pad lengthwise
  • About 48 inches of ribbon (fabric, not the paper kind made for wrapping presents)
  • A spool of thread
  • A sewing machine or a sewing needle
  • A pair of scissors
  • A package of straight pins

The soft, felt-like fabric known as “fleece” does not ravel, so it doesn’t have to be hemmed. Because it’s extremely comfy, it’s perfect for a heating pad cover. Find this stuff at a fabric store or a fully stocked craft shop, such as JoAnn’s. About ½ yard will do.

Remove the old cover. Spread your new fabric on a table or bed. Lay the heating pad down on the fabric so that the fabric fits lengthwise; the cord should come off one cut end of the fabric. Fold the piece of fabric over the top of the heating pad to form a simple envelope, with the cord sticking out one end. Push one long edge of the pad up against the fold. Carefully pin the two layers together down the other long edge and along the edge opposite the cord. Pay attention! Do not stick a pin into the pad! The line of pins should be about an inch away from the edge of the pad.

You will sew a seam just inside this L-shaped line of pins, leaving enough room to drop the heating pad back into the envelope after it is sewn together. It’s OK for the pad to be fairly roomy-don’t feel the cover has to fit the pad tightly.

Remove the heating pad. Trim any extra fabric to within about two inches of the pins.

Take the ribbon and cut it into eight six-inch pieces. Set them aside.

If you have a sewing machine, thread it–any color will do. Run one straight seam along the long open edge and one along the pinned-together short edge. Remove the pins as you proceed, being careful not to hit a pin with the machine’s needle.

If you are sewing with needle and thread, thread the needle, tie a knot in one end, and stitch a plain, straight seam down the two pinned-together edges. The stitches do not have to be tiny but should be close enough together to hold the fabric together firmly.

Trim the extra fabric to about ¼ or ½ inch from the seams. Turn the cover rightside out, so the sewn seam is on the inside. Place the heating pad inside the cover.

Now take four pieces of ribbon and place them along the top open edge, where you would like to tie them to hold the cover closed. One should be fairly close to the cord, to hold it snugly. Pin these in place, again being careful not to poke a pin into the heating pad.

Remove the pad and pin the other four pieces of ribbon along the other open edge, directly across from the pieces you have already pinned in place.

Set your sewing machine for a zig-zag stitch as short as you can make it and still have your needle move forward. Stitch each ribbon in place by running a zig-zag back and forth six or eight times.

Or using a needle and thread, stitch each ribbon firmly in place by stitching a square box at the end where the ribbon connects to the fabric.

If you’ve used grosgrain ribbon (which ravels), tie off the loose with a single tight knot.

Now place the heating pad in its new cover and tie the four sets of ribbons together to secure the cover to the pad.

Store the rest of the fabric for future projects. You can use it to make a coat for your dog, to turn decorative tiles into coasters, and for any other project that would ordinarily use felt.

Pay off the loan vs. stash the cash

About $23,900 is owing on the second mortgage on my home, which I took out at 6.1% to renovate the investment house. I could pay the principal down at the rate of $250 a month plus about $3,500 a semester from a side job, or I could put that money into savings so it would be available to pay off the loan when I retire. Or, if I decide to sell my house (which is otherwise paid for), that amount would refill my pocket after the amount owing on the second is engrossed from the proceeds of the sale.

I figure this will allow me to pay off the mortgage in about two and a half years, or, over the same period, to accrue $25,000 in an interest-bearing account. Either way, the amount put into some kind of investment instrument–real estate or mutual fund–will be about the same.

Which is better? I agonize, I wring my dainty hands:

Item. The payment is very low–less than $170 a month.

Item. Despite the sagging real estate market, neither my house nor the investment house is losing much, because they are both in fairly “hot” central-city neighborhoods. Neither has dropped in value below what we paid; in fact, each has apparently risen somewhat. One is holding its value at about $50,000 to $70,000 more than its 2004 purchase price. The other is within walking distance to but out of earshot from a brand-new light rail route. In comparable cities, housing values have jumped along light rail lines. Barring a major recession, it’s unlikely either house will depreciate significantly.

Item. A major recession is not beyond the realm of possibility. In that case, property values certainly could drop, or worse, my son or I could lose our jobs. If that happened, it would be better to have $25,000 in liquid savings, not tied up in a house I may be unable to sell or even, if I’m unemployed, borrow against.

Item. My son and I plan to sell or rent the investment house in three to five years.

Item. Assuming things go well, I plan to retire in about three years. At that time I will have to decide whether to keep my house, which has much to recommend it, or to move someplace smaller and more economical to operate. If I decide to stay, I could use the $25,000 cash savings to pay off the loan or, at an 8% return, to cover the mortgage payments. If I decide to sell, about $23,000 will disappear from my profit on the house. But the cash savings will make up for it. Either way, it looks like a wash. In three years, I either have 23 grand put back into the house or I have 25 grand invested in a mutual fund.

Personally, I hate having a debt hanging over my head, and I hate paying interest. Even though the payment is low, if it runs the entire life of the loan I’ll end up paying twice as much as I borrowed. Of course, that won’t happen, because the investment house will be sold long before thirty years are up and I’ll pay off the renovation loan with the proceeds. Still, it’s a psychological burden. On the other hand, with the economy unsettled it may be better to stash the money in liquid instruments. Or convert it all to gold bullion and bury it in the backyard.
So: which is better? Keep the money liquid or put it back into real estate by paying off the loan?

Frugal Household Hints: Stovetop cleaner

With everyone getting ready for New Year’s Eve entertaining (or maybe just taking advantage of a day off to clean up after the Christmas and Hanukkah festivities), this seems like a good time to launch a weekly feature: household hints for the tightwad. So, let’s start with this one:

Liquid stovetop cleaner made for glass-topped stoves has many other uses.

  • Windows and mirrors. Smear a thin coating over the glass, allow to dry, and rub clean with a soft rag. Gets all the grease, toothpaste splatters, and dog kisses-much better than blue window cleaners.
  • Gas stoves. Perfect for cleaning the shiny metal surface of a gas stovetop. Don’t get the paste into the little burner holes.
  • Teakettles. Cleans and polishes a teakettle that’s collected grease while sitting on or near a stovetop.
  • Kitchen and bathroom tiles. Does an incredible job of cleaning and polishing tile. Another tip: Try a Mr. Clean “Magic Eraser” on the grout.
  • Hazy drinking glasses. Polishes the stubborn deposit left by a poorly functioning dishwasher.
  • Tableware. Polishes stainless steel knives, forks, and spoons. I have used a tiny bit of it on silver with no harm, but I wouldn’t make it a habit.
  • Self-cleaning oven’s door. Works to remove the last bits of grease and haze from the inside of an oven door after the self-cleaning cycle has run and the oven is cool.

Voilà! One product does the work of glass cleaner, tile cleaner, and metal polish. And IMHO it works a lot better on glass and tile than anything else, especially when you’re dealing with that little skim of grease that settles on everything in a kitchen.
Have you found anything else to do with the stuff? Please share!