Saturday, 29 March 2008

Pantry and Menu Lists

As I mentioned earlier I read a lot of weblogs from SAHMs and they seem to treasure sharing their weekly menus; this seems to be a big help for them. I gather they use this menu to do their weekly shopping. I shopped this way when I still relied heavily on recipes and found it to be quite expensive. These days I keep a pantry stocked of ingredients I know how to make into meals, as advised by my Tightwad Gazette newsletters. My pantry list here in England is slightly different to what I used in the US, but having a starting point was helpful for me, so I'll share my pantry list with you:

Frozen peas
Instant mashed potatoes
Bell peppers
Swede (turnip)
Tinned tomatoes
Others as in season

UHT skimmed milk
Dry/powdered milk

Hot chocolate
Diet tonic / lemonade / cola

Mandarin oranges (tinned)
Fruit cocktail (tinned)
Pineapple (tinned)
Others as in season

White flour, plain
Strong white flour
Strong wholemeal (wheat) flour

Vegetable oil
Olive oil
Baking powder
Baking soda
Yeast (machine and hand)
Sunflower seeds
Raisins / Currants
Soy flour
Food colourings

Garlic bulbs


Peanut butter
Dried beans
Tinned beans
Tinned kidney beans

Meats / Poultry
Ground beef
Bacon / sausages
Corned beef

Canned tuna
Canned salmon
Frozen miscellaneous white fish

Pasta shapes (Bill hates spaghetti)

Bouillon cubes (all flavours)
Soy sauce
Worcestershire sauce
Tomato paste / puree
Herbs & spices

We buy other items when they are on sale or for a special occasion, but these are the ingredients I try to always have around. I do a big shop at a green market once a month for fresh vegetables, which we prefer. When those begin to run out, we fill in with frozen and tinned veg until the next shop. I aim to keep topped up on other items from stores within walking distance. When this doesn't keep up, I use the car and stock up from several sources.

Then, being spoiled for choice with all this bounty and wanting to eat healthily and with variety, I drew up a rota for protein choices over 10 days. This aimed to eat red meat once a week or less, eat fish twice a week, have more vegetarian meals, low fat, etc. The 10-day rota I developed is:

Beans - Poultry - Fish - Beans - Cheese - Fish - Veggie - Meat - Beans - Eggs

Side dishes or casserole ingredients usually include a starch or grain (eg potatoes, rice, pasta, couscous) and vegetables. To make it easier to cook with dried beans, I'll soak and cook these up in advance, usually in the crockpot, and freeze portions for future use. I don't usually serve individual vegetables but instead fill a steamer basket with combinations of red, yellow, green and white vegetables. I do occasionally make a pie or cake, but if I do desserts at all they are most likely to be sliced or pureed fruit with or without whipped cream.

For each of these protein/main courses, I know one or two dead easy recipes. When we get bored with those, I look through my recipe books or use The ingredient search on that website allows you to specify what you want to include and exclude from a recipe, which is brilliant.

We don't slavishly follow this list and of course many dishes include more than one source of protein, eg quiche or chili with beans. I like my system because I have something to look at for ideas. Then I just dig around in the cupboards or freezer to see what sort of fish or beans surface first. The race to eat the fruit and veg before it goes off makes us easily get a healthy number of servings; if all else fails I cook and freeze the surplus in soups or casseroles rather than throw it away.

Over the past 6 months, we have averaged just under £100 a month for our food. This has fed Bill and me and includes Thanksgiving dinner for 10, Christmas dinner for 6 and a few dinner parties for 4-6 people.

Friday, 21 March 2008

Happy Birthday to Bill!

Bill’s 60th birthday was last Friday (a Good Friday to have a birthday on…). He woke up at 6 am, excited as a kid on Christmas morning. He doesn't normally make a big deal of his birthdays and when I asked what was so special about this one, he said it was because he would be gettting some money (a pension) and a free bus pass. I told him he still had to go downstairs and get my coffee even though it was his birthday and that gave me time to put up his ‘card’ and his presents. (Yes, I know I seriously need to work on my photography).

As it was a 4-day weekend here in the UK, he'd invited all his children down to a B&B in the Yorkshire Dales. Simon and Helen, plus her boyfriend Martin came from Manchester and Sarah came down from Edinburgh. As it turned out, his sister, Jane, was able to join us from Sydney.

He and the 'kids' went for their planned walk (hiking over hill and dale) in spite of the snow. It snowed even more the next day. This was cause for great excitement and much picture taking as snow is a rarity for us 'townies'. It was lovely wet snow, perfect for snowballs.

I’d tell you more about the B&B in Kettlewell (the village where they filmed Calendar Girls), but although it was a lovely old inn, it was cold and the food was only mediocre. The landlord seemed more inclined to argue than to fix the problems, so I really can’t recommend the place. In spite of that, a good time was had by all and we promised to get together our respective locations more often.

(Thank you, Simon, for sharing your pictures) -- the good ones are his.

Thursday, 20 March 2008

Hair and My Homeland

I mentioned that I had to renew my passport recently. It expires the 24th of March, which means it was actually 10 years ago when Bill and I decided to have a long weekend in Paris for his 50th birthday. We went to the Hard Rock Cafe for dinner and I lost my passport (out of my back pocket, would you believe, served me right). The whole process of getting an emergency passport was a riot and I'll have to tell you about that sometime.

This time it wasn't such a riot, in fact it was rather traumatic and I learned a lot about what not to do in the period leading up to passport renewal time, so I thought I'd share my hard earned wisdom.

1. Don't change your hair colour to a shade of red you're not sure about yet; particularly don't try a new colouring product the day before you have your photograph taken -- the photo you have to live with for the next 10 years.

2. Don't write an embarrassed and thus slightly flippant email to the US Embassy in London asking advice about what hair colour to put on the application, explaining about the history of your hair and its real colour; they'll give you a textbook answer. They are after all only bureaucrats and why should they care if immigration officials deny you entry to any country and you end up like Tom Hanks in The Terminal?

3. Don't have your hair cut at the local beauty college even if it is only £6 and the first time you went it was about the best haircut you ever had and took a luxurious 3 hours. The next time you go you may get the worst cut ever seen (hint: when the girl's hands start shaking she's in unfamiliar territory).

4. Don't go have your picture made on the windiest, wettest day so that your hair looks a bit mangled in addition to being a strange colour and cut.

5. Don't slob around wearing any old thing for so long that you nearly forget how to put together a colour coordinated outfit for the photo.

6. Don't use sunscreen so religiously that cosmetics companies don't manufacture make-up in a colour sufficiently pale to look natural with your peculiar shade of red, wind-arranged hair; or perhaps the real point is don't go live in a country where you learn to be grateful for daylight, never mind actual sunshine.

7. Don't gain more weight than you're prepared to state on your weblog entry so that you don't really recognise yourself in photographs any longer (or don't wish to).

8. Don't look at the digital images when the girl asks if you are satisfied with your picture; you never will be, there is no such thing and she's too young and daft to know that.

In fact, the people I've talked to who have renewed their passports are so universally shocked at what 10 years has done to them, I'd recommend that you don't get a passport at all. Just stay in your country of origin; it's much easier that way.

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Lifelong Learning

One of the many great things about having lots of free time and broadband at home is being able to look up those niggling little questions that cross my mind, not to mention resolve real life problems, eg

What countries are in the
G8? What does one do with shark meat? What ever happened to Beth (an old friend from high school)? Just what do scientologists believe? What is a recession and should I be worried? What does this word (foulard, redact, fugly) mean?

Is the Internet wonderful, or what?

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

Check These Out

Because of my interest in frugality and, well, let’s call it a vicarious curiosity about domesticity, I've ended up reading and linking to blogs written by SAHM (stay-at-home-moms) who are home schooling their numerous children and who put Bible quotes in the title of their weblogs. They talk about wearing only dresses to be more feminine and to remind them who wears the pants (meaning of course, trousers, not underwear) in the family. I find what they write fascinating, but I did begin to wonder if I could ever go home to the US again.

However, through a series of links I can’t remember, I did find a weblog with swear words in it and felt a lot better. In fact, I wish I had the nerve to put some swear words in this, but I figure I’ll err on the side of decency for the time being. Some of my family from Oklahoma might visit this and they barely speak to me as it is. With that by way of intro, let me tell you about a few of the funny, irreverent (that means with swear words) blogs I’ve found:

I don't know what
Hashai means, but it's a look at the life of a young Louisiana woman married to Chairman Chao -- what she calls her husband; I take it he's of Chinese ethnicity -- and living (for a while) in Texas. She doesn’t write her much any more (last entry May 2007) but the archives are fun. Read with a Southern Drawl: "Just somebody come over here and kill me" … "I swear on a stack of dead daddies" … "How is it already January 6, people? I haven’t even had time to make the resolutions I plan to break, yet" ….

From Hashai I found
Dooce. Apparently, if you write in your weblog about work and then get sacked for it, you've been 'dooced', and this is what happened to Heather, but it turns out to have been a really good thing after all. Anyhow, she was raised Morman and is rebelling against that big style, though she now lives in Salt Lake City, where I lived for a while and plan to return one day. She’s now winning national / international? awards and is supporting her family on the income from her blog. Read her 12 March entry about how she’s having the last laugh.

I don’t know what’s more hilarious: the entries, the comments or the adverts. I think this isn’t just about
Stuff White People Like, so much as describing what I refer to here in the UK as Desperately Middle Class. I’ve not read all the entries on this one yet but so far I have to admit to about 20% of the first 53 (does this mean I’m only 20% white or 20% middle class? Actually, I think it means I’m 80% frugal…).

At this point, I think what I’ve worked is that if I want to make money off a weblog, I'll need to get some dogs/cats/children to photograph and adore/parody, and then I'll have decide on a Bible verse or get to swearing.

Monday, 17 March 2008

Tired of Being Old

You'll probably just want to skip over this one; I'm just going to sit down and have a good whinge, OK?

First of all I strained my back when I did my big shop last Wednesday. I'm pretty sure I shouldn't have wrestled the 12-pack of 1 litre milk boxes from the shelf to the trolley, the conveyer belt, the boot of my car, the kitchen. I should have dealt with a few boxes at at time, I know. Also, UK shopping trolleys are different to those in the US: you can go in every direction with all 4 wheels, not just the 2 front ones. Whilst this may sound like great fun, it just means that it's harder to control and nearly impossible once the weight of the groceries approaches your body weight. I always feel a tug in my lower back when I try to control a full cart from behind instead of giving in and dragging it or walking along side.

Then, of course, I wanted to keep my commitment to running 4 days a week. This isn't quite as insane as it might sound, as the last time I talked with a doctor who specialised in sports injuries his advice was to keep moving if I could. So I have. Mind I left it late yesterday and so was perhaps even more tired.

I passed a couple walking 4-5 dogs and though they reeled the dogs in and I made it around them fine, it must have broken my concentration and I tripped. I managed to stagger across to a patch of ground instead of smacking the concrete, but I went down all the same on one knee and my wrists and then pretty much the rest of me. I remember wishing the ground were a bit softer and at the same time being glad it wasn't muddier than it was.

The man came back to see if I was alright. He wouldn't believe me until I pulled myself upright. I was so surprised to have fallen and so impressed with his concern and his decency that I forgot to be quite as embarrassed as I normally am when I do this sort of thing. I made myself continue the general motion of running thinking I wanted to be home soon and keep warm and maybe it wasn't that bad. In truth it wasn't, but I grizzled for a moment all the same. If I thought I had a hitch in my getalong when I set out, on my return I was an advert for taking ones zimmer frame along to the gym.

I didn't sleep well, but I did feel better this morning. I am very stiff, though, and clumsy. I'm aware that being clumsy makes one more accident-prone and so I'm not moving more than I have to, which makes me stiff... OK, OK, I'll stop now.

But I am going for a run tonight.

Thursday, 13 March 2008

Couture Sewing

Spent this morning working on an item from Bill's wishlist for his birthday: having his jeans mended. I can't remember the last time I did this sort of thing.

I fiddled with the machine and gave up, pinned and un-pinned the patches, took off my glasses so I could really see, started over to align the grain in the patch with that in the jeans. I began to wonder why Bill didn't just ask for a new pair. As I stitched, I thought it's probably because (a) he wanted to have an item on his wishlist that didn't cost anything; (b) he likes his broken in jeans and wants to keep them; (c) he's good about going along with my frugal agenda.

Anyhow, I finally got the first pair done without shedding too much blood. I was fairly pleased with the inside, which is useless, but of course the outside still looks patched and I don't have the skills to make it otherwise. All the same, I liked it well enough to photograph and post.

How sad is that?

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

We Never Had It So Good

This is a book by David Williams that I'm reading at lunchtimes. It was a leaving present to Bill, but when I learned it was about growing up in Ashington (a coal mining village in the North East of England) in the 1950's I was curious, having grown up in the '50's myself. I identified a lot with Bill Bryson's Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid in which he describes his childhood in Iowa. This Ashington book seems to have a lot of parallels, probably it's just in the innocence of that time.

Sunshine & Shadows

In every home I've ever had, I've loved watching the shadows.

Tuesday, 11 March 2008

The Quiet (Lazy) Life

Someone I used to work with asked me the other day what I did with all my time. He couldn’t believe I hadn’t dived right into doing consultancy work, lecturing at local universities, etc. I don’t think he appreciated how angry I was when I left work. [Rant deleted]

So, what do I do with myself these days? Bill has a new job just now, the first 9-5 M-F he’s had since I’ve known him. That means the alarm goes off at 6:15 (and again at 6:30). I don’t really mind, as I’m often awake just before then now that the sun rises earlier. I do doze a bit though, until he brings me a cup of coffee before leaving at 6:45.

I should say now that were it possible I would just about live my whole life in bed. Propped up with lots of pillows and lots of coffee (and sometimes toast or an oatmeal smoothie) I can happily while away hours reading a book, some magazines, playing or writing on my laptop or writing in my notebook (mostly
lists). Now that I can practically do that all the time, it does seem less of a luxury. Since I have to get up for more coffee and to feed myself, I’m usually up sooner than I was at weekends in the past. There’s no really set pattern. Some days I’m opening the kitchen curtains at 7:30, others not until 10:00.

I’ve semi-adopted the
Flylady approach. I get dressed, usually in jeans, a long-sleeved t-shirt, a wool sweater and trainers/sneakers. [I finally worked out why Flylady insists on lace-up shoes: they’re harder to kick off and slump down onto a couch with a book]. I dress warmly as the heat comes on just long enough for Bill to get up and out and I leave turning it back on for as long as possible. I make the bed [for probably the longest number of consecutive days in my entire life] and tidy the bedroom, then the bathroom and then the kitchen. If I haven’t already had breakfast, I generally do that before the bathroom and the bedroom [Is this fascinating stuff, or what?] I usually sometimes do a load of laundry each morning; make sure we have either bread (we make our own) or muffins for Bill’s breakfast and figure out what we will have for dinner that evening.

I have a list of deadlines that I’m working on. Right now the next ones are to be ready for Bill’s birthday, have the house decent for his sister’s arrival from Australia and have my back garden plan completed, all roughly due about the same time. After that is getting US taxes filed. Before this there were things like renewing car insurance and my passport. I tackle the deadlines when the morning chores are done. If the deadlines are well on their way, I might spend the morning majority of the day reading blogs. Blogs are the best time-waster since Freecell and are completely addictive; I crave the next post from my favourite blogs like I used to crave cigarettes.

Sometime between 11 and 1 I get hungry for lunch. On a good day, I will go down and make a pot of veggie soup, chopping some of whatever is on hand plus a tin of tomatoes and a sprinkling of some kind of spices. On a bad day, ‘lunch’ is more a series of trips to the kitchen lured by cheese and crackers, leftover sausages or a guilty rustling up of fried potatoes and onions.

After lunch I sometimes do the Flylady un-cluttering routine for either the prescribed 15 minutes or longer if I get carried away, which is surprisingly easy. I may sit down and write about an idea I had for this blog or write a nice long email to a friend. If the weather looks good or I have a touch of cabin fever I might walk to the library. If it’s not a running club day and I am sufficiently recovered can actually walk again, I might go for a brief jog around the park or on the beach to top up my
quota for the week (so far so good).

I try not to go food shopping too often, as we have been working on consuming the vast stores of food we already own. Now that we’ve come through the Millennium, had no earthquakes or tornadoes locally and we are out of pandemic flu season, my survivalist instinct is ebbing slightly and one can almost see the back of some of my cupboards. Bill and I don’t always agree about the dates on packaging, but that’s less of an issue now that I’m the chief cook. I figure what he doesn’t know (probably) won’t hurt him.

However, if there are good deals in the ‘sales’ flyers or we are getting low on something important like hot chocolate or marmalade, I will go shopping. I usually walk to one of two stores, each being about a two mile round trip, and take my backpack. If it’s time for a big shop, about once every 4-5 weeks, then I’ll take my car and stock up at several locations.

I do what Bill calls 'cookery' when I'm in the mood. In our house this means new kinds of foods that generally create lots of washing up but which hopefully are worth it. So far these have included things like blackberry pie, blackberry and apple crisp, carrot cake, cabbage rolls, homemade tortillas, spicy shark steaks, salmon puff and a broccoli and Stilton puff (all bar the last were declared successes).

On a running club night, dinner is either a peanut butter sandwich or a couple of muffins and some milk; refuelling soon after running aids recovery and I like something in my tummy before going to the pub where the food is over-priced and mostly disgusting. [This has turned out to be largely about food! May explain why I'm not losing weight...] Those nights we usually get home about 9 and I’m pretty much ready for bed. I’ll have a cup of warm milk and read for a while before turning out the lights.

Other nights we’ll have dinner around 7, wash dishes together and then go watch one of a series of videos we’ve collected. My taste and Bill’s are pretty much opposite (my favourite movie would be something like Braveheart; his is probably American Werewolf in London) but we’ve discovered we both like science fantasy (Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Van Helsing) and pre-war detectives (Mrs Bradley, Peter Wimsey, Albert Campion) with the odd other film here and there, ie Cold Comfort Farm.

Before we got into videos we usually sat in the front room by the fire and read or I might do some needlework. I think we should do a bit more of that rather than keep buying new videos at the current rate. I’d also like to go for a walk after dinner like we used to; we don't take near enough advantage of living in a pretty area. I'm sure we'll do more of that as daylight lengthens.

Other interests I've spent from some to a great deal of time with include sewing and crafts, genealogy research (for both historical and living family members), crochet, reading and a little bit of gardening.

This is only Bill’s second week in the new job, so we’ve not yet reaped the benefits for our weekend social life. My weekends are of course much the same as my week days except that I spend less time on the Internet as Bill likes to play Spider on this computer.

A lazy lifestyle? You bet. Solitary? That, too. Quiet? Absolutely. This is me-time and I make no apologies. I may become more sociable, more involved in future, I may pick up some sort of income generating work, I may become more industrious around the house and garden.

Or I may not.

Monday, 10 March 2008

Free Food

This is the first gardening project I tackled this year, about the first week of February. I paired a bunch of the trays that mushrooms come in, stabbed holes in the top tray and put a couple of spacers (corks, bottle lids, slices off of toilet paper rolls) in the bottom tray to permit drainage. Thinking that it might be easier to separate the plants from the start, I used egg cartons filled with peat and planted one seed in each egg compartment. When I ran out of egg cartons before trays or seeds, I used slices of toilet paper rolls and then strips from the egg carton lids, stapled together in a ring. I ran out of trays before I ran out of seeds (saved from store bought red and yellow bell peppers).

So far, 43 of the 63 seeds have sprouted. I've no idea what I will do with them all. I can manage maybe 8-10 on the front porch, the only place warm and sunny enough to support pepper plants properly. I will probably scatter some around the house as they are very handsome even without bearing fruit that ranks as a 'superfood' due to its high vitamin C content. Pepper plants are tough; two survived well into winter in far from ideal conditions in my diningroom last winter. I only got a few miniature peppers from them but, as they were totally abused to give preference to some tomato plants (equally unrewarding), I thought I should give it a better effort and see what happens.

Peppers are great in salads, stir fries, on homemade pizzas and stuffed. When I was growing up, Mom always put green bell peppers in her salads; red, yellow or orange ones were considered too expensive then, but of course now those are my favourites. The last year or two I was at work, pepper strips were a routine part of my lunch (along with carrots and celery); the guys said it was like sharing an office with a rabbit.

Sunday, 9 March 2008

Little Old List-maker, Me

I’m a list-maker. Most people are, but I’m a bit more compulsive than some. I make lists about my plans: things to do today, deadlines to meet this month, goals for the year; big projects I want to tackle one day, minute instructions for myself. Christmas gift lists and wish lists, packing lists, grocery lists, American shopping lists, vacation places to consider, recipes and crafts to try, exercise plans, guest lists, cleaning chores, ‘super foods’ I want to eat more.

I make lists about my past: ‘done’ lists, cities and countries visited, cars, homes, offices, men, jobs, dogs, classes toward a degree, debts paid, races and race times, the major events and accomplishments of the past year, what I ate yesterday.

I make lists to keep track and to pay attention: what the freezer and the pantry contain, what foods are currently in season, websites and weblogs I visit often. I list what I don’t like about me and what I do, the roles and responsibilities I have and how I’m doing with those. I make gratitude lists to keep my perspective and happy lists to make sure I have enough fun (making lists is on my happy list!) As a teen I remember once making a ‘List of Things to Worry About’; it must have been a stressful time.

My lists occasionally become inventories, databases or projects. Lists of stamps, coins, albums, DVDs, books and Christmas ornaments (with dates ranging from 1944 to present) morph into calculations of my net worth or background research for posting items on Ebay. My pantry list has become a database of food prices. My electronic address book is a database with spreadsheets for the UK, the US and Oklahoma, email addresses and birthdays (does the Data Protection Act apply to my address book?). I compare a list of items I want to frame with a list of the picture frames I found in the attic; sewing pattern requirements with fabric in my stash. I list the characteristics I require when looking for a new house, car or freezer; what I want in my next job.

Sometimes these lists are to help me get more done, other times just to procrastinate doing anything. Writing a list still makes me feel a little more in control, which is usually comforting, whether or not it’s entirely true. My lists are my way of reflecting about my previous choices, about the course of my life and how different that is to what I thought it would be. They also help me to keep going, seeing all that I have done in the past gives me more confidence to persevere. Virtually every one of my dreams, schemes or intentions begins life in a list.

Friday, 7 March 2008


In school I always liked my English classes best. Three teachers particularly stick in my mind. Mrs. Gleichman made us prepare a speech and deliver it in front of the class in the 9th Grade. When she moved away to another city, I remember we bought her a Tom Jones album. Mr. Hunter had us write weekly essays which I enjoyed and found easy. I got rather cocky about it though: I wrote a last minute essay for a popular girl in my class and she got the better grade. Mrs. Lee impressed me by knowing how my German surname was pronounced. She taught the summer school class I took in order to graduate high school a year early. She let those of us at the top of the class go early whilst the others did extra work to catch up. I can tell you that a summer day is best enjoyed in such circumstances.

I was offered a scholarship at university by my English professor. I didn’t take it as I thought at the time English majors only taught English, and that didn’t appeal. Expressing my ideas on paper has always, however, necessary for my inner peace. The physical act of writing words is pleasing, particularly with coloured paper and (fine line) pens. More recently seeing words appear on the computer screen (with interesting fonts and coloured backgrounds) is nearly as satisfying. Very girly, I know.

I often share descriptions of my vacations around the world and I try to write at least an annual Christmas letter to family and friends. I never write a short email if I can help it. Many of my friends compliment my writing; others correct my grammar and spelling. I’m happy with either; I write principally for myself.

Monday, 3 March 2008

Not Rubber After All

A little over a year ago the two guys I worked with bought me a plant for my 50th birthday, which I thought was very sweet of them. I did think however that this was an interesting choice considering it was well known that I have a black thumb. In fact, there is definitely a Darwinian thing with me and plants. They'd already watched several die a slow, painful death usually because I water them too much to make up for not having watered them at all. I hate ugly plants, so I tend to chop off the brown bits which is probably equally as cruel.

As this was a gift and its home was the office, I took special care to water it only a little and at hopefully appropriate intervals. It was flowering when I got it, but didn't ever flower again until now. I thought I was doing good that the leaves stayed green and healthy-looking though I harboured some suspicion about why. Pleased to have confirmation that it's real.

Saturday, 1 March 2008

Frugality ... without Fear

Most of you who know me know I'm a bit of a nut when it comes to money, particularly not spending money. I'm extremely grateful to Amy Dacyczyn, the editor of a newsletter Tightwad Gazette. The last few weeks I've been looking at a lot of frugality-orientated blogs and there's not much out there that she didn't already cover in the six or so years she published (before retiring at 30-something). They published a book, The Complete Tightwad Gazette; used copies can be found on Amazon and Ebay. I've not looked in my local library as I still have my treasured newsletters.

I stumbled onto her newsletter at a time when I was struggling to make ends meet on my secretary's salary. I had recently married my second husband and a surprise 20-month-old son turned out to be part of the deal. My husband's work was seasonal. He spent money as soon as it came to him. I discovered that daycare and diapers were expensive.

My dad had recently died leaving several thousand dollars of debt on credit cards with ridiculous interest rates; if I wanted to keep the house his parents had left, I had to pay those debts. Both he and his parents had died without a will and though I was obviously the only heir, I had to pay a lawyer to handle the probate for me. I was in the process of working on a Master's degree and I had tuition fees and books to pay for.

I had a sense of panic every time I went to the grocery store and every time I sat down to pay bills. There weren't any quick fixes, but Amy's newsletters gave me a lot of hope and they were fun. I credit her with teaching me how to cook, how to shop and most of all how to spend money consciously. In a surprisingly short period of time, I was living comfortably within my means and the panic was removed.

I think a lot of people shy away from the idea of being frugal because they feel it means they'll have a dull, hard life and that being thrifty equates with having to do without all the things they enjoy. I found it to be completely the opposite: once I quit spending money on things that didn't matter that much to me, I had the money I needed to buy the things I really wanted.

I don't always make smart decisions and I'm certainly not the Black Belt Tightwad she is, but she gave me the knowledge to have a different approach to spending and I should warn you that I will be sharing more about that here in future!