Blog: Living Cheap in Kansas

How to live on less, save on just about everything and be green too!

Cheap at Work
Friday, March 25, 2011

A few months ago I was asked to be part of a group at the County department in which I work which is doing disaster recovery planning.  Our name for it is COOP (or Contingency Of Operations Plan).  As part of the IT (computer) group, it was my responsibility to come up with a plan to have computers and phones prepared and stored offsite in case our office building is destroyed or damaged to the point that no one can get back in and get any equipment of supplies.  Considering that I had no budget for this, it was going to be a challenge.  However, being the curb shopper and lucky scrounge I am, it wasn't that difficult.

First I sent out an e-mail to all the other IT people in all the County departments to see if they had any computers and monitors they were planning on getting rid of.  An IT guy from a department just down the hall replied that he had a few PC's we could have.  A co-worker and I grabbed a cart and hot-footed it over to see what he had available.  We found several PC's and were about to leave with them when I noticed several boxes of what appeared at first glance to be laptops.  I asked about them.  "Oh," he said, "they are some tablet computers we had for a project a few years ago, but they were slow and no one liked them so we aren't using them anymore.".  My eyes lit up - "Ooh, can we take one and test it ?" I said.  "Sure.  he replied.  "We have docking stations, cases, extra battery chargers and even car chargers."    So Bob & I grabbed a couple with docking stations and power cords and headed back.   Needless to say, once we completely cleaned off the hard drives and reinstalled Windows and the applications we would need, they ran beautifully.  They had dual-core processors and 2GB of RAM!  Even have them running on the internal wireless network.  We took all 24 tablets and almost all the accessories (except the hard cases which we really didn't need).  Then a few days later I contacted the warehouse where County offices sent equipment they didn't want anymore and came up with plenty of keyboards and mice to go along with them.  Now all I need are phones (VoIP and expensive), network cables and power strips.  Still got a couple of weeks though so who knows...

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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

After years of wanting one, I finally got a Seal-A-Meal for Christmas.   It was a bargain - my husband found it on clearance at Walmart for around $50.  But when he got to the checkout, it rang up for $39...

Last night I got to test it out.

The only "gotcha" with the process is the cost of the bags.  I got two 20 foot rolls of bags at Walmart for $20 - kind of pricey for me, but I figure I can save enough on food to more than pay the difference.  But I'll be watching the thrift stores and outlets for cheap bags in the future.

On Monday, we stopped at Sam's to pick up a couple of items I needed and found that they had their fresh (never frozen) turkey's on sale for 58¢ a pound.  We picked up one that cost around $11.  I immediately took it home, seasoned it up and popped it into my electric roaster (another after Christmas  bargain purchase ($15) from a few years ago  that I absolutely love).  After it was done, I drained the excess liquid and took it, still in the roaster liner, out to the garage to cool overnight.  (When it is freezing outside, my garage stays at around 35 degrees so I use it a lot in the winter to keep food cold for short periods.) Then last night, we dismembered the turkey and SAM'ed it.  Since it is just the two of us, we put about 10 oz of meat (1/2 white, 1/2 dark) in each bag.  I think we have about 15 bags.

While I was at WM buying the bags, I stopped at the supermarket across the street where hamburger meat was on sale for $1.69 lb.  Got three large packages and divided it into 8oz. portions and froze that too. 

We'll be eating turkey & hamburger for quite a while...

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Gift Baskets
Tuesday, December 28, 2010

I've always thought it would be fun to make unusual gift baskets for friends and family for Christmas.  This year I actually got around to making three.  It all came about one day when I was browsing through the Goodwill store. 

First I found a couple of really nice baskets - in good shape and with handles.  They were 99¢ each.  Then I found a pair of beautiful blue and green glass margarita glasses for 99¢ each.  Suddenly I had an idea.  A margarita basket!!

Next I came across a really nice white ceramic soup mug.  Then a cute ceramic popcorn cannister.  I also found two cute plastic old-time looking popcorn "bags" made of hard plastic.  Unfortunately they were cracked so I didn't get them.

Later I was at Target and found perfect hard plastic popcorn "bags" in the dollar spot.  I was set.

The margarita basket turned out to be the most expensive - but my daughter and son-in-law loved it.  I ended up using a basket that I had - the ones I bought were too small.  Then I bought tequila (the expensive part), margarita mix and margarita salt.  I lined the basket with a 70 year old small serape that I had been planning to give them anyway, tucked in the goodies (and glasses) and wrapped the whole thing in clear cellophane wrapping paper.  It looked really nice and I'm sure they will enjoy it.

One of my husband's cousins - who is disabled and lives alone - got the soup basket.  I bought three large cans of soup and some gourmet crackers and put them in the basket along with the mug.  The popcorn basket went to another cousin.  Since I figured she would prefer microwave popcorn, I bought a box and placed the packets inside the jar. Then I added a small bottle of popcorn cheese flavoring and butter flavored popcorn oil.  Including the two popcorn "bags" it looked really cute and I'm sure she will like it (she is out of town for the holidays).

I can't wait until my next trip to the thrift stores - who knows what kind of baskets they will get next year...

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Frozen Mocha Frappe
Sunday, August 01, 2010

Do you love the mocha frappe's from McDonald's?  I've figured out how to make them - not only cheaper, but with about 1/6 the calories of the original (560 calories for a 16oz!!).  You'll need to plan ahead and you'll need a few tools - but you probably already have them.  You'll need some ice cube trays, a coffee maker and a blender.  The day before, make about 1/2 a pot of REALLY strong coffee.  Let cool and then put in the ice cube trays and freeze overnight.  To make the frappe, you'll need 6 of the coffee cubes,  1 cup skim milk, 2T chocolate syrup and 2 packets of your favorite no calorie sweetner. Put all of this in the blender and blend until smooth.  Pour into TWO 16oz cups and add 1/4 cup light whipped topping and a swirl of chocolate syrup.  Yummo!  (costs about 50¢ to make and only 100 calories per 16oz serving!!!)

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Back to the Curb
Thursday, June 10, 2010

There is an old saying that goes something like this:  "All things come to those who wait".  In 60 years of being financially challenged, I've learned that waiting often proves to be the most frugal way to obtain what you need.

We have decided to remove the old privacy fence and gates from the sides of our house and replace them with an open picket fence and attractive gates.  We will leave the rest of the fence around the back yard because the neighbors have attached their fences to it and most of the neighbors have dogs.

We had checked pricing for fence pickets (we are using the existing posts,  rails and hardware) and discovered that the about 10' of fence and two 40" gates would end up costing at least a couple hundred dollars.  We considered ripping the existing 6" pickets to 4", but decided to wait.

Well, yesterday evening we were on our way to the community garden (we have two plots) when we noticed that a house down the street had a huge pile of white picket fencing at the curb.  They had taken down the fence around their back yard and put it out for the trash.  Most of it was in good shape - just needs a fresh cost of paint.

We put 75 of the pickets in the van and now all I need to do is go to the Household Hazardous Recycling center for free paint.  Now if I can find somebody who is throwing out some perfectly good deck boards...

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The Girls from Japan
Thursday, June 10, 2010

We have two cats.  Actually they belong to my middle daughter (Marisa) who currently lives in England with her husband Chris (who is in the Navy) and their two daughters.  Their two cats, Momma Kitty and Tiki, live with us.

These are well traveled cats, both returning with Chris & Marisa when they moved back to the States from Japan a little over four years ago.  MK is a Japanese Bobtail and Tiki is just an average Domestic Shorthair.  Both were adopted in Japan and then spent three years in Nevada before coming to Kansas.  Chris & Marisa send me $35 a month for "cat support".

Although I've always been a "cat person", I was hesitant to take on pets - having been happily petless for several years.

We've had the "girls" since last summer.  They seem to be happy - living in a quiet house and being able to go outside when the weather is nice.  We have a fenced backyard - not that it keeps them in - but they love the bushes, grass and birds.  MK particularly likes sleeping in the deck chairs in the sunshine.  Tiki is the traveler.  She actually likes to snooze on the neighbor's deck.  Our neighbor has a cat which looks almost exactly like Tiki and their little girl (age 3) has a hard time understanding how their kitty can be inside and outside at the same time.

Both cats have some idiosyncrasies however.  Momma Kitty likes to carry socks around.  Since my husband isn't particularly good about putting his dirty socks in the hamper, he gets to retrieve them from the living room, the basement and generally all over the house - haven't found any outside yet.  Tiki is our alarm clock.  We tell her what time we want to get up and she hops into bed a few minutes before and starts meowing and poking us with her cold nose.  Works every time...

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Mr. Froggy went a'courtin
Monday, June 07, 2010

One last about a month ago I was home alone. I had the north window open and  began hearing a gruff "brummph" coming from outside.  After going to investigate, I discovered that we had a new visitor to our little stone circled tub pond - a bull frog.

Now to make a long story short, we were planning on digging up the flower garden and small round tub and replacing the tub with a larger molded pond and adding a small waterfall and reworking all the perrenials that live around it.  That was the plan.

Then we went to Hawaii for ten days to visit our grandson, daughter and son-in-law (he is stationed at Scofield Barracks - soon to be deployed to Iraq).

It was a nice trip.  Well a few days after we returned, I went to check out the tub and see if I could drain it to get ready to rework the flower garden.

You guessed it.  We have a tub of tadpoles.  Hundreds of the little critters were merrily swimming around.  I guess the flower garden and waterfall will have to wait...

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The Secret to The best Cinnamon Rolls
Sunday, February 28, 2010

For years i have struggled to make really good yeast bread.  I've tried recipe after recipe and it always came out bad.  Then a few weeks ago I stumbled onto a recipe for dinner rolls that had possibilities.  I made a batch but rather than using it for dinner rolls, I turned it into cinnamon rolls - and they turned out great.  Light, soft and tender with just the right taste.  I've made them three times now and I swear, everytime they are just a little better.  The secret?  Self-Rising flour!  Yep, along with the yeast, the recipe called for SRF.  While the rolls are easy to make (no real kneading), it takes a while, with rising and all.  But I'm posting the recipe on the site.  Enjoy!!!


Makes about 20 rolls

Mix 1 T (or 1 packet) yeast with 1T sugar and 2T room temp water in a small bowl and set aside
Beat 1 egg in a small bowl and set aside
Scald ½ cup milk
Place milk in medium bowl with ½ cup hot water and ¼ cup (or ½ stick) butter and 1/3 cup sugar.  Mix well and cool to lukewarm
Stir in yeast and egg
Add 3 cups SELF-RISING flour and mix with spoon (I don’t always use quite all the flour – it should be a heavy batter, not too stiff)
Cover and allow to rise for one hour at room temp
Stir dough to flatten

At this point, you can cover and refrigerate overnight.  If you do this, give the rolls an additional 15 minutes to rise the next day.

Either butter or spray with non-stick spray your hands and a 12x18” cutting board or you can roll out on counter and use flour
Dump dough onto board, knead a few times and using your fingers,  press the dough out to completely cover board.  The dough should be less than ½” thick

Sprinkle the following on the dough

¼ cup melted butter, 2/3 cup sugar, 1 or 2 T cinnamon, and ½ cup chopped pecans (adjust all of these to taste).  Pat slightly so the toppings will stick to dough.  Optional:  Drizzle with about ¼ cup honey

Roll the dough from the wide end and press closed.  Cut into 3/4” thick slices and place in sprayed 12X12” pan.  The rolls should barely NOT be touching.

Brush tops with melted butter.

Cover and let rise 45 minutes to 1 hour until about doubled in size

Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees

Bake for 15 minutes.  Keep an eye on them, they brown quickly.  If the tops brown too soon, cover with a sheet of foil until the rolls are done.

Glaze:  2 cups powdered sugar mixed with 2T HOT water, 2T cream, 1T melted butter and 1t vanilla.  Glaze as soon as the rolls come out of the oven.




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Giving Uncle Sam his Due - Painlessly
Friday, January 22, 2010

I love to do my taxes.  Yep, you heard me, in fact I usually start working on them before I have all the W2's.  And I do it all for free.  I always get money back and usually file by the end of January - or as soon as the W2's come in.

Being a Geek, I prefer doing anything I can online.  So when I heard about's free web-based tax software, I had to try it out.  In previous years I had purchased the cheapest copy of Tax Cut and used it.  But free is better than cheap.

It was great.  In spite of nagging you to purchase at least the "Basic" version for $14.95, you can do your federal tax and e-file completely without charge.  If you want to purchase their state version, it's about $20.  I'm lucky though, my state has free filing on their website - many states do.

In less than thirty minutes I had filed my federal taxes and told them to deposit it to my credit union savings account (so I wouldn't fritter it away).  Then I took my Form 1040 and hopped on the state of Kansas website and entered the information for my state taxes and e-filed them.  Total time spent - about 45 minutes.

Five days later my state refund was in my account.  In another five days, the federal refund joined it.

My three daughters do their family's taxes too - the same way.  In fact, they enjoy it as much as I do.

 Everytime someone tells me they spent money on an accountant or a tax service for doing the very same thing, I get a little sick to my stomach.  If they only knew how easy (and fun!) it is.

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The Ants go Marching Two by Two...
Sunday, January 17, 2010

Sugar ants can be such pesky little buggers (pun intended).  It doesn't seem to matter how clean you keep the house, they always find their way in.  In fact, I used to get them in February in the upstairs bathroom!  I'm still not sure how they got there or where they came from.

By spring and summer they would be everywhere.  After picking up bug spray at the local recycling center (for free) and finding that it only worked temporarily, I actually (yikes!)purchased some and tried it.  Same results.  They went away for a few days and then returned.  Even spraying outside didn't help.  They always came back.  My neighbors had resorted to expensive exterminators, but since they had to come back every month or so, it probably wasn't working much better.

Then one day at work, I was complaining to my co-worker Tony about the ants.  "Well", he said, "You aren't using the right stuff.  There is an easy way to get rid of them cheap."

He proceeded to tell me about the Borax method.  One mixes borax with something sweet (jelly, syrup, honey) and put it outside where the ants are.  They take it back to all their friends (and the queen) and they have a really enjoyable last meal together.

I "googled" it and sure enough, it was all over the Internet.  That very day, I made a stop at the supermarket across the street and picked up a box of 20 Mule Team Borax.

I went home, mixed one part borax with two parts honey, mixed in a few drops of water and headed outside.  Everywhere I saw the ants marching along, I put a few drops.  I went around the whole yard but really didn't use more than a couple of tablespoons.

Then I waited.  By the next day, the ants were GONE.  There WERE a few left outside, stumbling rather than marching along.  So I gave them another treat.

By the weekend, my yard (and house) were completely clear of ants.  All last summer, they didn't come back.

Now Joe & Vanessa had a major ant problem in their front yard.  In fact, there were so many sugar ants that they had killed a small tree.  Their extermination methods (rather like mine) had not worked.  So I offered to come over and see if I could get rid of the ants.

I mixed up a new batch and we went over and I put it around the yard.  I didn't put any in the back yard since their dogs were out and I didn't want them getting into the borax.

A few days later we went back.  The ants were gone.  I gave Joe some borax so he could treat the back yard.  The ants haven't come back.

This is how I see it.  Commercial products and exterminators aren't going to actually get rid of the ants.  If they did, then they would be out of work...

For around $3 I got rid of the ants.  I still have plenty of borax left in case a new colony moves in this spring.  I guess I'll wait and see what happens in February...

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You Don't have to go Broke to get Married - Part 1
Sunday, January 17, 2010

As noted in previous posts, We have three daughters.  They are all married.  We put on three weddings.  We did them all on a tight budget.  In doing so, I've learned a few things about weddings.  The most important is that you can put on a lovely shindig without breaking the bank.  Here is how we did it.

The first - Vanessa:  Although it's been almost 15 years, Vanessa's wedding was the biggest and the most frugal of them all.  Since my Son-in-law Joe comes from a large family (youngest of seven) This was going to be a big wedding - between 200 & 250 guests.  We did it all for about $3,500.  This includes the invitations, church, the priest, the hall, the decorations, the flowers, the cake, the pictures, the DJ, the bartender (with wine and beer), the flowers, the clothing and the food.

V&J announced on Halloween that they were getting married on February 3rd.  Not a long time to plan such a big wedding.  But with a combination of planning and luck, it all came together.

They planned the wedding for a Friday night - it was the only time they could get the church and the priest.

Next, the dress.  At that time Penny's Outlet store sold wedding dresses.  It was the first place we went.  Now, Vanessa is short, so we knew that whatever we bought would have to be shortened.  We looked for something that had a fancy top and simple skirt. 

The first dress she tried on had a beautiful beaded top and a plain white satin skirt.  It fit perfectly and cost $199.  After trying on several others we decided to purchase it.  The store personnel assured us the it could be returned if it hadn't been worn.  We wanted to check out some other options.

We visited several other stores and she tried on numerous dresses.  Nothing even came close to the first dress.  Since her M-I-L and I both sew we took the dress and planned the remodel.  For about $50 (from a store that was going out of business and had everything 50% off) we purchased some heavy netting - the type used to make trains for gowns, some lace medallions, some lace edging and some beading.  We trimmed the satin skirt shorter in the front and curved in the back.  Then we added the netting, sewed the lace medallions down the back, covered the seam with lace and beading and trimmed the edges.  When we finished, the dress had a six foot train with beaded lace cut-outs.  It was absolutely gorgeous!

Since it was the dead of winter in Kansas, Vanessa decided to use silk flowers instead of fresh.  Once again, she, her bridesmaids, her M-I-L and I created the arrangements, corsages, boutonnieres, and other floral decorations.  Her M-I-L worked for Walmart at the time and found glass bowls to decorate the tables on clearance for 50¢ each. She also found white wired Christmas lights for about $1.00 per string.    I used Michael's sales & coupons to pick up ribbon and those flat glass things and candles to put in the bowls.  I think she rented the tablecloths from the hall. Her colors were dark green, burgundy and gold.  We picked up the rest of the decorations for at least 50% off around and after Christmas.  I believe the only thing we paid full price for was the big burgundy rose in the center of her bouquet - around $5!

As for the bridesmaids' dresses, she chose black velvet tops with burgundy and green plaid satin skirts - using a simple pattern.  We found the patterns for 99¢ each and the fabric at Joann's for 50% off.  There were four bridesmaids - we made the dresses for about $25 each.  Then she found coordinating shoes at an outlet store at the mall for $7 a pair - in just the right sizes for all the girls.

For the two flower girls we found similar dresses at Sears for $10 each with velvet tops but a different skirt.  We removed the skirts and replaced them with skirts made from the left-over bridesmaid dress fabric.

At the time, Vanessa worked for a photography studio.  So not only did she get their top of the line wedding photo package at cost, but by knowing the invitation people, cake lady, the DJ's, the bartenders and the people who rented the hall, she got everything else for about 30% off.  Her grandparents said they would pay for the cake - around $250.

Now the food.  How do you feed 200 people on a small budget?  Well, we did it.  Our plan was to have meat & cheese trays, vege  & fruit trays, rolls, baked beans, potato salad, pasta salad and coleslaw.

Near my work with one of those places that sold salvage food items.  I had purchased food for the family from there for years and knew that their quality was good.  Right after Christmas they marked all their deli meats (unsliced) down to $1.49 per pound.  I bought two each of the turkey and ham items and one of corned beef.  They also had ten pound cheese blocks for $1.99 per pound.  Bought two cheddar and one of Swiss.  We put the meat in her M-I-L's freezer and stored the cheese in the fridge at her house also.

We were able to order the small egg rolls from a company that only sold to other companies for $1.00 a dozen.  My son-in-law managed a soccer store and was able to purchase them and have them shipped to the store for a "party".  Planned those to come in the day before.  The rest of the items we bought at Sam's or Aldi's. We bought bowls, serving utensils and trays at the local party store - on sale after Christmas.

A friend of her in-laws owned a small pizza restaurant.  He said that we could come in and use his big slicer to slice the meats and cheeses. So that is what we did - just a couple of days before the wedding.

The whole family got together the day before the wedding to prepare the food.  We sliced the rolls and prepared the meat & cheese and vege and fruit trays.  They were wrapped in plastic wrap and tucked into her M-I-L's spare fridge.  We also made the pasta salad.

The best man's sister owned a catering business.  As a wedding gift to the couple, she and her two teenage children came in and setup and served the food.  Afterwards we did the clean-up.

It was quite an event.  Everything came off perfectly.   Even the weather cooperated - it was about 50 degrees and sunny (unusual for Kansas in February!!)

Luck? Planning?  Maybe a little of both. 


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Daughter # 1 - Vanessa
Sunday, January 10, 2010

Of our three daughters - only the oldest and youngest have followed in our "cheap" footsteps.  This is the story of Vanessa.  Being the oldest, she learned my philosophy early - live cheap, live good.  When she was thirteen, I worked for a local city in the clerk's office.  She got a summer job working in the snack bar of the swimming pool which was located behind the city hall.  She did that until she was old enough to take life guard training and become a life guard - at sixteen.  She pinched her pennies carefully.  She knew my policy on cars - she had to  save up half what she needed to pay for the car and have a part-time job so that she could support the car.  Then I would pay the other half.  After working and saving, she had found a 1962 Corvair that a fellow was selling for $300 - not a lot of money, but this was in the mid-eighties.  She had what she needed, except it was back-to-school time and the pool was closing so she wouldn't have a job.

She had applied at the Penney's Outlet store a few miles from our house and on this particular day, had an interview.  She knew that without the job, the car would be gone. So off she went. She went to the interview, got the job and returned to my work to tell me.  I took off early and we went to look at the car.  Now a fellow I worked with collected Corvair's.  He had put her in touch with a mechanic who specialized in Corvairs.  When we went to look at the car, she asked if she could take the car to the mechanic.  The owner agreed and she took it over.  The mechanic found about $80 worth of work that needed to be done. Returning with the car, she talked the owner into splitting the cost of repairs with her and bought the car for $260.

She drive that car for over a year - but a trip to Topeka and back (after I told her not to) blew the engine.  But it still ran and she sold it to one of the guys at her school for $200.

While working at Penney's, she met the young man who would eventually become her husband.  And years later, when they wanted to purchase a new Jeep, managed to play two salesmen at two Jeep dealerships off each other until they got the price they wanted.

Today, nearly fifteen years later, she still is a cheapskate.  They have three kids (two teenagers) and a lovely home - their second.  They doubled the money on their first house in five years and got a great bargain on the second house because the previous owners had been transferred and were desperate to sell.  As a well-paid programmer/analyst with a large financial company, she still shops for groceries at Aldi's, hands down clothes through the kids and uses Priceline for hotels and flights.  In fact she managed to get four free nights at a Disney World hotel and they all went this last fall.  Her husband manages a soccer store and they get athletic shoes for them and the kids at cost as well as the kid's  soccer uniforms.  Joe frequently gets free tickets to professional soccer games. They all went to the Monster Truck Rally last night using free tickets.

I taught her well.

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Shopping at the Curb...
Saturday, January 09, 2010

I always say that my favorite place to shop for furniture is at the curb.  Well, that and flea markets and thrift stores. In fact, I only have three pieces of furniture in my house that were purchased new - the sofa and recliner in the basement family room and the display case in my living room.  A couple of items did come from antique stores, but the rest arrived in pitiful condition with need of restoration.  Even the kitchen island came from Habitat Restore!  This is the story of my living room sofa and chairs which came from the Goodwill store.  

For many years I had wanted a Chippendale camel back sofa.  But they weren't available in stores and besides, that would have been too easy - and no doubt way out of my budget.  So I continued to look.

Then one Monday morning on my way to work, I stopped by the local Goodwill store to drop off some bags of clothing.  They weren't open yet, so I went to the back parking lot where they had a drop-off spot.  Sitting in the middle of the parking lot was my sofa!!!  Filthy and covered in blue fabric, it had no seat cushion.  I got out of the car and checked it for stability - it was solid.

I asked the two guys who worked there and were unloading a truck if they knew anything about it - when it would be available for sale.  One replied that it wouldn't - it would be thrown away because it had no cushion.  My eyes lit up - well, I asked "may I have it?"

"Sure" he replied, "but we have to have the lot cleared in 45 minutes so you'll have to get it out of here by then."  UhOh...

Now, I drive a Hyundai Elantra...wonderful car - love it - but it really wouldn't work to transport a sofa.  First I called my husband (who drives a van), but he couldn't leave work.  Then I called my co-worker Tony (who often rides a motorcycle to work) and asked (hopefully) "did you bring the truck today?"   Now Tony knows me pretty  well - after all, we had worked together for many years.  "Yeah, why?"  he asked.

"I need a really BIG favor." I said - and told him the story and (being a "junker" himself)  he agreed to come and pick up the sofa.  Then I spotted a couple of channelback chairs over to one side and asked about them.  The guy replied that I could have them for $10 (for the pair).  By then the store had opened and I went inside to pay for the chairs.

Tony arrived and we loaded the sofa and chairs into his truck and he delivered them to my house that afternoon.  Then they sat in the garage for a couple of years.

At that time, I still had one adult daughter and her dog and two cats living at home.  So I refused to do anything with the furniture until we were petless and childless...  So I waited.

It too another two years to track down the fabric I wanted for the couch (heavy cotton black and tan tavern check) and spend six months on a waiting list for the upholsterer but the day finally came. While I waited, I stripped and refinished the wooden legs (with supplies I got at the local recycling center for free).  Then  $600 later (including fabric and labor) it returned - just like I wanted.  I call it my free $600 couch.  The chairs took a while longer.  Determined to do them myself, I took a week-long upholstery workshop from the local extension office.  It was great fun, a lot of work and well worth the $75 and the week of vacation I took from work.  But I only got one of the chairs done.  My plans to complete the other chair on my own never happened, so the next year I took the workshop again.  Finally, they were all done!

It was all worth it.  If you do a search on for Chippendale camel back sofa, one that looks just like mine (but is unupholstered) is over $2000!!!


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Saturday, January 09, 2010

We love blackberries - in jam, in pies and cobblers and just to eat.  Well, four years ago this coming spring I decided to purchase some blackberry plants and put them along the north fence in our smallish backyard.  I selected a thornless variety called Triple Crown from Gurneys and ordered six plants.  Well, the day before we were to leave for California on vacation, they arrived.  I stuck them in the ground and left town for two weeks. 

Only one survived.  But it grew.  It shot up quickly to the fence, where I attached it with plastic ties screwed to the wooden fence.  Then it grew some more - this time along the ground where it took root...and took root, and took root.  So I cut the little plants free from the original and spread them along the fence.  By the end of the first summer I had eight plants - spread along the fence.  The plant had actually bloomed, but I pinched the blooms so the energy to go toward growing the plant.

By the end of the next summer it had spread to cover twenty-four feet of six foot tall fence.  I got enough blackberries to can four PINTS of jam. To keep the birds from eating the berries I purchased green nylon net from JoAnn's  to cover the vines and attached it with twisty-ties.

By last summer it had covered forty-eight feet of fence and was moving into the front yard as well as the neighbor's.  Once again we covered the vines with nylon netting.  As the berries ripened we picked them and put them in zip top bags and froze them.  By the time I made jam I had enough for 14 pints plus two gallon bags of berries left.  I used one bag to make a large cobbler when the (adult) kids came over and the other bag is still in the freezer.

I sure hope this nasty winter weather doesn't hurt the vines.  We've had over a foot of snow and it has been below 10 degrees for the last week.


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Free Stuff for Computers
Friday, January 08, 2010

Since I work with computers every day, I've found some really great free software available on the Internet for such things as virus protection, spyware and malware cleaners, word processing, spreadsheets, drawing software, browsers and e-mail.  You have to be REALLY careful on the Internet.  Just because something says "free" doesn't mean it actually is.  Many times it will say "free download".  You can download it for free, but if you actually want to use it, you'll have to pay.  All too often, once you have downloaded and installed something, it is next to impossible to get rid of it.   Sometimes they are actually malware that will install and then nag with popups until you purchase the software.  BE VERY CAREFUL WHEN DOWNLOADING ANYTHING!!

So here is a list of stuff that is actually free to download and use. 

Virus Protection:  My favorite is Avast.  Download from .  This is free for home use.  Once you download and install it, you will need to register it at the website.  Then they e-mail a license number that you enter into the software.  You will need to re-register about once a year, but there is no charge.  It works great and does daily free updates. 

Spyware Prevention/Removal:  My favorite is still Spybot Search and Destroy.  It can be downloaded from  Do be very careful when downloading.  There are a lot of look-a-likes out there that are really malware.  This does take some configuring - you need to immunize your computer and set up frequent scans.  They have other good products as well.

Another one is SuperAntiSpyware.  Located at, this product does a great job of cleaning off spyware and malware.

Check out  for a product that can be used to really clean and speed up your computer.  Ccleaner (formerly known as Crap Cleaner) removed temporary and unused files and registry entries that are no longer being used.  You can also use it to remove software that Windows refuses to uninstall.  When you run the registry cleaner, you'll need to run it about three times to get all the junk.

Need to do a presentation, or have word processing or spreadsheet functionality that is compatible with Microsoft Office but don't have $$$ to spend?  Check out  Free open source software that provides word processing, spreadsheet, presentation, graphics and database functionality.  Moreover, it can open and edit and save Microsoft Office (up to 2007) files. 

Firefox is a great browser alternative to Internet Explorer.  Available from  it provides more functionality that IE has even considered.  It is much more secure and protected against malware and spyware invasions.   Their Thunderbird e-mail product provides a great local e-mail client as well.

More to come...



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What I do
Thursday, January 07, 2010

In real life I'm a computer tech at the local wastewater department.  I get paid to be a geek.  I work with two other self-professed geeks - worked with them for over 18 years.  We get along great  - most of the time.   We are part of the local county government and as such, money is tight.  However, a few years ago I figured out that since other county departments seemed to spend a lot of money on computer equipment and replace it rather quickly, I would acquire their castoffs  (for free) that were still in great shape and had a least a couple of years of life left.  They were delighted that we would come and pick them up - they didn't have to clean off the hard drives and take them to surplus. We took all they had and then used the best ones to replace older machines and saved spares in case we had to repair them.  We could always fix one faster with spare parts rather than waiting for a tech to come on a warranty repair.  Granted, then we had to take stuff to surplus, but it was worth it.  Over the past few years, I've acquired flat panel monitors and printers as well as computers.  Sometimes we would buy a few sticks of memory to add to the computers, but overall we saved (the county) a LOT of money.

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Olathe, Kansas USA
About Me:

I've been a cheapskate just about all my life. In doing so I've learned to do just about everything. I can sew, paint, hang wallpaper, install tile and flooring, pull and replace toilets, sinks, garbage disposals and faucets. Remove and replace ceiling fixtures and fans, replace outlets and switches, I've installed windows (both on houses and on computers!), I can rehab almost anything from furniture (repair, reupholster and refinish) to computers (I built my husband a good laptop using three broken ones that I got for free)! I've taken cheap to a whole new level!

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