How I’m Reading 100 Books in 2015

This post contains affiliate links. They are for educational purposes, because you should check your books out from your library. But if you did buy something from Amazon, I would get a tiny cut.

I have always been a fast reader, the kind who needs more than one Agatha Christie novel if it’s going to be a long flight. In 2010, the last full year before I became a mother, I read 85 books, according to my LibraryThing page, and only half of those, tops, were manuals on childbirth, infant care, or breastfeeding. That was a light year–2009 I read 113.

Then the babies started to arrive and I enrolled in library school. I did my best to keep up with reading. I curled up with Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child and Adventures in Tandem Nursing; I held a sleeping baby on one arm and The Murder Room on the other; I listened to State of Wonder on my iPod during four a.m. feedings. Still, I read only 46 books in 2011, and in 2012, the year Big Brother was 1 and Little Brother was a newborn, a paltry 31. That’s probably a respectable number as far as averages, but look at it this way: Reading is the recreational activity that I love more than any other, and my reading had dropped by a full two-thirds.

Family portrait by Big Brother. I'm the one with the book in hand, of course.

Family portrait by Big Brother. I’m the one with the book in hand, of course.

I became irritable and depressed and simply did not feel like myself. I resolved to do better. I read an article near the end of 2012 about a man who had successfully resolved to average one book per day that year–365 books. That wasn’t realistic for me, but I figured I could manage 75 in 2013. I finished my goal ahead of schedule and clocked in at 82 for the year. Last year, I dunno what happened, but I was back down to 48 for 2014.

This year, I have so far read 97 books and should easily break a hundred. And no, that does not count picture books I’ve read to the children. “But, Mrs. FP,” you say, “You have two preschool-age children and a part-time job and you serve nutritious, made-from-scratch meals. How do you have time to read?” Here are my secrets for averaging about two books a week:

I use every scrap of time.

If we watch TV, I read during the commercials. If I get in bed a few minutes before Mr. FP, I read a few pages. If I arrive at the preschool door two minutes before they open it, I read a page. I read while I’m eating; sometimes I even read while I’m cooking. I often have an ebook going on my smartphone as well as a paper book to better maximize; sometimes it’s easier to read on my phone, sometimes I want paper.

I let my children amuse themselves.

I’m not saying I never play with them, and goodness knows I spend half our waking hours reading to them. But much of the day, I let them do their own thing, together or separately. Now, most of THAT time, I’m in the kitchen or doing laundry. Still leaves a bit of time for my books, especially at the playground. Sometimes lunch is served at 2:15 pm because I wanted to finish my book and they were playing happily in the park.

It helps that I made two of them. Once Little Brother turned two, all of a sudden they could really entertain each other.

I consume less of other media.

I follow exactly three television shows (and two of them are short-season shows). Lots of other good ones out there, but I let other people watch them. Movies? As soon as I finish folding the laundry, I just get restless and want my book back. News? I scan the headlines in Feedly, but I don’t read much about things I can’t change.

Confession: I read a lot of (but not only) short books.

Sure, I took my time wading through the annotated Pioneer Girl, and when my sister sent me The Thorn Birds for my birthday, I read the whole damn thing. (I told her next year, just send me a hammer and I’ll break my toes with it and enjoy it just as much.) But I read a lot of what librarians call “genre fiction.” You know what genre fiction is. It looks like this:

These Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes novels are pretty fun with a smart heroine.

These Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes novels are pretty fun with a smart, independent heroine.

Or this:

Yep, there is sex in this book.

Yep, there is sex in this book.

I also tore through a ten-volume graphic novel series (Y: The Last Man). Makes the books add up in a hurry. It’s not just they’re short, it’s that they’re fun and I’m always anxious to get back to them. I’ll read a few in a row, then maybe something with modest literary pretensions.

All of this is to say, I love reading and it makes me happy, so I make it a priority and sometimes let other things slide. What does that for you? Do you read?

If you’re curious what the 97 books are, click here to see a Google doc of this year’s reading with reviews of some of the books. I maintain a LibraryThing page with over 900 entries, but I like to keep a list on my own hard drive as well..


What Would Ma Ingalls Buy? My Fall Shopping Critique

The Amazon links in this post are affiliate links, which support the blog at no cost to you. Other links are just FYI and do not earn me any money.

Earlier this year, I decided that Big Brother was ready to try chapter books for read-aloud. On an impulse, I decided to start with one of my childhood favorites, Little House in the Big Woods.

He LOVED it. When we finished, I asked if he wanted something different, maybe with a boy in it. Nope. “More Laura and Mary.” So it was on to Little House on the Prairie, and then On the Banks of Plum Creek, in which we have recently been traumatized by an actual, historical plague of locusts.

If you aren’t familiar with the Little House books, they are semi-autobiographical novels about the author’s experiences as a pioneer girl in the second half of the nineteenth century. (Caroline Ingalls, or “Ma,” was a real person, but for my purposes, I am talking about the fictionalized character.) Wilder goes into great detail about topics ranging from cheese making to log cabin building to travelling by covered wagon. When they move to a new place, which is often, they leave behind all their furniture (homemade) and load up the covered wagon. When they arrive, they build a new house, build some furniture, and there they are. Their sole decorative possession is Ma’s china shepherdess; you know they’re settled in a new place when the shepherdess is installed on a shelf.

Reading these books has made me feel lazy, wasteful, and generally useless. I can’t make cheese! I don’t make all my clothes! I own more than two dresses and several pairs of shoes! I complained that there weren’t enough Starbucks in Kansas!

I’m not saying Ma Ingalls had it better than me–she would probably change places with me without hesitation. But there is something appealing about the simplicity, and I have found myself asking, when I buy something, “What would Ma think?”

I seem to have been on a bit of a shopping spree this fall, with an unusual number of brand-new purchases, so let’s let Ma Ingalls critique my acquisitions.

Raingear for me

Why buy: I take my children to school by bicycle. Got soaked the first time it rained–three times. All my pants are cotton and I owned no waterproof jacket, so I had to change after drop off, after mid-morning pickup (Little Brother), and again after afternoon pickup.

Why new: I am hard to fit and need special sizes. My rain pants (which I will also wear for playing in the snow, over sweats) are youth size 18 (I got these LL Bean ones and the jacket, also from LL Bean, is petite. I needed to be able to try it on and return it if it didn’t fit. Plus, now I get a lifetime guarantee!

What would Ma think? Well, she pretty much never buys anything for herself and would be puzzled as to why I now own seven coats. (In my defense, three of them date back to the 90s). On the other hand, I’m sure she would approve of protecting my other clothes with the appropriate outerwear. Staying dry is just better.

Kids’ uniforms and school supplies

Why buy: Well, the school said I had to. They gave me quite a list, and they won’t even let three-year-olds in the door without uniforms (school-purchased short-sleeve shirts with undershirts and pants in prescribed colors).

Why new: Obviously, I can’t buy used construction paper. I was able to get a couple pairs of pants for Little Brother second-hand, but after two thrift stores and one consignment sale, I still couldn’t find long-sleeved undershirts or the remaining 6 pairs of pants. Had to buy new. I asked on NextDoor for used uniform shirts but struck out, so I had to buy them, too. (You can image how I felt paying ten dollars for one polo when I usually get them at Goodwill for $1.99.)

Then I splurged and bought them school sweatshirts, too, mostly because all the other kids had them.

Big Brother is especially delighted with his sweatshirt and the front pocket.

Big Brother is especially delighted with his sweatshirt and the front pocket.

What would Ma think? A former schoolteacher, she made sacrifices to send her children to school and I’m sure she would approve of the school expense. She would probably be puzzled as to why my kids start school at age three instead of age seven and why they need four sets of uniforms–her girls had one school dress each. That was in the back of my mind when I purchased just four uniforms, which commits me to every-other-day washing (one uniform on the child, one at school in case of accident, and two in the washing machine). Many children have six!

A Crock-Pot

Why buy: My existing slow cooker, which came out of Grandma’s FP’s laundry closet circa 2010, had two main drawbacks: It was not programmable (had just 4 cook time settings) and even at its longest settings, could not produce really soft beans. I wanted to be able to make recipes that call for shorter cooking times and I liked my beans fully cooked, thank you.

Old and new lined up on the counter. I can't actually bring myself to get rid of the old one, which is now in the basement.

Old and new lined up on the counter. I can’t actually bring myself to get rid of the old one, which is now in the basement.

Why new: Well, I use a slow cooker several times a week. I wanted something to meet my exacting specifications. Also, they were on sale at Costco and I do like to enjoy a lifetime guarantee.

What would Ma think? First of all, I’m sure she would think that a slow cooker is a brilliant invention. It lets me work as a librarian (and she valued education, remember) while still looking after my family. She would, however, have kept using the old crock until Pa bought her a new one, like when he bought her a new cookstove for their new house in On the Banks of Plum Creek.


More room on the bottom for chicken breasts! I should also be able to comfortably cook a full two pounds of beans, not the measly one and a half I’ve been limited to.


I can set it for any amount of time I want, and it even counts down!

I’ve never been as self-effacing as Ma and my husband knows that–he tends to assume that if I haven’t bought it for myself, then I don’t really want it. I really wanted it, so I bought it.

There are other things I’ve been considering purchasing this fall, like yoga pants. Then I think of Ma Ingalls. Would I get as much joy out of yoga pants as Ma got when Pa bought her some pretty calico to make a new apron? No. So I decided not to buy them. By the same token, I mended my pajama pants rather than replaced them and decided to keep wearing my old fleece. I want a black or gray fitted one; what I own dates back to perhaps 2005 and is rather large and a cream color that always looks dirty. But… it’s still warm. And if I don’t want to wear it, I can wear one of my six other coats.

What are you buying or not buying this fall? And who else loves Laura?

Why I’m Not Embarrassed by My Car

One of my coworkers got a brand-new car this week. Some kind of SUV. I forget what kind, not being into cars, but it was very shiny and silver. He had the back end open and several other young men were standing around it drooling.

I walked right by it and got into my car, the Auto Paragon, if you will. It looks like this:


It is easily the junkiest-looking car in the library parking lot at any given time, staff or customer.

The Auto Paragon is a 1999 Honda Accord. I bought it certified used in 2004, and it was my first real grown-up car. We did not have the whole ten thousand dollars, so we put down the five we could spare and took out a three-year loan with payments of $193 per month.*

You may have noticed it has some, ah, cosmetic issues. Some of these are entirely my fault. Dent in the truck lid? That’s from when I backed up into a flat bed truck. (Had to shell out $175 to replace the tail light and reattach the bumper, but did not bother paying to have the dent removed.) Hey, it was flat. Very hard to see in the rearview.

Dent in the hood? Not sure where that come from. I think I hit an unusually tall curb blocker too hard.


The biggie, of course, is the detached bumper. I got rear-ended on my way to work a few months ago. But Mrs. FP, you say, didn’t the other driver’s insurance pay for the repair? Well, yes. But it turns out that to fix the bumper would have cost $700, and before I scheduled the repair, they just mailed me a check. Well, once I had seven hundred dollars in my bank account, I preferred to, well, keep it rather than pay it out on my car. (I did make sure that it was not dangerous. The bumper is not loose, just low, and it is apparently not an important safety feature.)

It also has mechanical issues. Evidently it needs a new axle, but I can’t tell. And the check engine light is on. I was told that it is giving a code for an exhaust leak (did not fix because not due for emissions inspection this year) and for the transmission. Also the transmission fluid was so filthy it looked like engine oil, and I am informed this is a bad thing. Transmission may be fine, may not be Dave the mechanic said I could drive it as is as long as I don’t go anywhere remote. Fortunately, my route to work is along well-lit, well-traveled city streets.

Despite its manifest problems, I still consider my car a luxury and extravagance. There’s a bus stop half a block from our house, and we can bike. Yet we have not one, but TWO cars! One for each of us! We never have to share of take turns or coordinate or anything. It’s paid for. It drives. I never have to wait at the bus stop in the rain. It even has a radio for my entertainment AND climate control!

So why do we even have two cars? Well, for one thing, the bus takes a lot longer than driving and our daycare charges by the hour. We have two little kids and preschool schedules to keep up with. Next year, both the boys may be in full-day school, and we can reevaluate whether we still find the car worthwhile (assuming I can keep the Auto Paragon limping along until then).

It would be easy to convince myself, first of all, that my car is a necessity, and second, that it must be replaced. Certainly that’s what standard American behavior would indicate. But I refuse to kid myself that my car is anything other than a luxury.

Are you a one-car family? Have you ever tooled around in a suspect vehicle?

*Note that we no longer take out car loans. Our recent car purchase for Mr. FP was (a) significantly less than the ten thousand I paid back then and (b) cash.

How I’m Learning Spanish for Free

I never gave much thought to learning another language. My attempt to take French in high school (and then to pass a translation exam years later in grad school) proved that while I can develop a reasonable reading knowledge easily enough, I have no ear at all.

Then I moved to Colorado and became a public librarian. A lot of the people coming into the library asking for our help? They don’t speak English. So I started working on it in my spare time at work and at home.

Then I successfully lobbied to get my own storytime. At my branch, all our storytimes are bilingual. That’s right, friends, after the equivalent of about two months of high school Spanish, I was reading picture books in English and Spanish.

Also singing. All right, let’s do “Cinco Ratoncitos!” Everyone ready?

Fortunately, I have come a long way since my early storytimes, when I tried to read Donde Viven los Monstruos (that’s Where the Wild Things Are in Spanish) and made a complete ass of myself. I can’t converse in Spanish yet, but I understand a lot more and can pronounce it much more convincingly. I know I can, because Latina moms only laugh when the story is supposed to be funny.

(Yes, Spanish is totally phonetic. But some of those long words trip up an unpracticed tongue. And I can’t roll my Rs.)

Shelling out for Rosetta Stone (though I hear it’s great) or other paid programs was not an option I considered. I’ve been using a variety of freely available and free-to-customers library resources (and only scratching the surface of what’s available).

Free resources–This is one that I use almost every day in ten or twenty minute bursts. Duolingo gives you English and Spanish words, phrases, and sentences to translate. You can use it with or without audio (there is also a microphone option, but I couldn’t get it to work). The no-audio version is nice if you are, for instance, sitting at a public service desk and just want to get a little vocabulary practice in between customers.–This is a dictionary, not a learning tool per se, but I have found it very helpful for pronunciation.  The site offers easy-to-use audio pronunciation, which has been invaluable for me when I come across an unfamiliar dipthong or whatnot. Another nice feature is that you can look up a form of a verb (if you are not sure of the infinitive) and be taken to the right infinitive. And it has easy-to-read conjugation tables.–I use this for verb drills. Being an adult wanting to learn to communicate and not a fifteen-year-old girl studying for a quiz, I wasn’t focusing too much on memorizing verb conjugations. Eventually, though, I felt like I was getting confused by verbs and started spending some time working on them through this excellent site. Click on a kind of verb, it will give you a brief lesson and then make you a short quiz on it. Handy!

Extras en Espanol–This is a faux sitcom with Spanish-speaking characters who talk slowly using small words. Two pretty Spanish roommates are surprised to find out that their pen pal, “Sam from America,” is an awkward but extremely attractive guy. Add their greaser friend Pablo from across the hall and let the hijinks ensue. It’s actually reasonably entertaining. There doesn’t seem to be a comprehensive source for these, but I just Google the episode I want and watch it on YouTube.

Combination Free and Library

Destinos: An Introduction to Spanish–This is entertainingly out of date; it seems to have been made up as a college-level course back in the early 90s. It’s a faux telenovela about an elderly Spanish-Mexican, Don Fernando, who finds out that his first wife, whom he believed dead, may have actually survived the Spanish Civil War and born his child. His brother hires a young female Mexican-American lawyer to investigate. She has awesome shoulder pads. Worth watching for that alone. The way it is designed, you do some preparation, then watch an episode, then do a variety of reading comprehension and vocabulary exercises. (There are no grammar exercises in the hardback textbook; I do not have the Workbook and Study Guide.)

The original video episodes are available for free online here. They won’t, however, make much sense unless you also have the accompanying textbook and preferably also the audio CDs. Happily, I was able to get these from my library. Since they are so old, I can renew them over and over again as no one else has requested them. (Yeah, yeah, yeah, I’m abusing my librarian privilege by overriding the renewal limit. But what’s the fun of being a librarian if you can’t do that sometimes?)

Been carrying this back and forth between work and home, like being back in high school.

Been carrying this back and forth between work and home, like being back in high school.

If your library doesn’t have it, the textbook is currently available in the Amazon Marketplace for forty-seven cents plus shipping. Since this is designed as a college course, it’s pretty time-consuming and where I have been devoting most of my energies. Because I’m a very strong reader but a terrible listener, I’ve been working hard on Spanish listening.

Other Library Resources

Spanish children’s books–Reading picture books in Spanish has been good practice for me. I particularly like bilingual nonfiction; it has straightforward sentence structure and the translation is right there!

Mango–This is an online language learning tool that many libraries make available to their cardholders. I was already doing Duolingo, so I haven’t tried Mango.

eAudiobooks–My library has a selection of eAudiobooks available (and a few CD books). I haven’t used these mostly just because I don’t have an iPod jack in my car. Also, Overdrive resources can be harder to renew than physical books and it’s impervious to my librarian mojo, so I didn’t want to get into something and then lose access to it.

Conversation table–Some library branches have a conversation table for people learning Spanish. I haven’t tried this because I already work two evenings a week; I’m not going to go to a different library at six o’clock on one of my evenings off.

Using free and library resources to learn a language is totally possible. It does requires some flexibility; you won’t have your very own book, but you can switch back and forth between multiple methods.

Have you learned another language? What method did you use?

My Frugal Parenting Fails

By now, you have probably long since guessed that the title of this blog is half-aspirational, half-ironic, as I am not at all paragon-like. I believe, however, that adults can grow and learn new tricks, so I get more and more paragon-like every day.

Or sometimes I fail spectacularly. Sometimes I learn something, sometimes I just have to move on. This week, enjoy a postmortem of my frugality-related parenting failures.

Natural Childbirth

Since I had excellent insurance, my two unplanned surgical births did not cost me anything out of pocket. (I maintain that no woman in labor should be wondering what her epidural is going to cost. That’s just cruel.) However, there were costs in terms of new clothing (larger underpants and nighties instead of PJs–thanks, Grandma FP) and, when Little Brother arrived, extra childcare; Big Brother was only 16 months old and I was not able to care for him.

Grandpa FP had to put Big Brother in his car seat. Apparently this was not acceptable.

Grandpa FP had to put Big Brother in his car seat. Apparently this was not acceptable.

This was not my fault, so it’s only a “fail” in the sense that I tried to make things go differently. Seriously, I read all the books and tried all the things, I just had giant-headed babies stuck at awkward angles. Fortunately, I had upgraded my insurance to cover any unanticipated birth costs. Sometimes, no matter how many books you read and how good your intentions, you can’t beat nature.

Birth Control

Unplanned babies are more expensive. Especially close together ones, because then you need doubles of a lot of things (play yards, baby carriers, etc.). Oops. This one was totally our fault.

The wages of carelessness. This is me in my second trimester of pregnancy, making up a oack n play with an eleven-month-old baby on my back.

The wages of carelessness. This is me in my second trimester of pregnancy, making up a pack n play with an eleven-month-old baby on my back.

Exclusive Breastfeeding


I got glass bottles for Little Brother so I could wash them in the dishwasher guilt-free. The narrow tops were hard to put the formula in. I still find the bottles handy in the kitchen for measuring and whatnot.

Everyone talks about how much money you save breastfeeding. Both my kids had formula. Both times, I ran into problems after six or eight months, the first time because I had gotten pregnant again and the second time… I dunno. I was mysteriously ill all that winter, was doing an internship, couldn’t pump more than an ounce, on and on.

I mitigated the cost by using store brand formula. All formula are pretty much the same nutritionally. In my experience, Parent’s Choice (Walmart) is hard to dissolve and Kirkland’s (at Costco, the best deal I’m aware of) is kind of foamy, but they both, you know, feed babies. I also kept cost down by switching from formula to gallons of whole milk as soon as baby’s birthday passed (which not everyone does).

The lesson here is that sometimes, you can’t do everything you want. I might have been able to keep breastfeeding if I had postponed my internship and just kept that baby strapped to my chest all winter, but that’s not what I chose.

Stroller Minimalism

Some people swear you don’t need a stroller at all because you can just use a baby carrier. (Those people apparently have never walked to a library or farmer’s market.) But since I owned a great baby carrier, I should just have needed one stroller, right?

Well, at one time I owned four. One jogging stroller, one cheap lightweight stroller, one nicer lightweight stroller, one double Sit n Stand. And I still wasn’t totally happy! Sometimes I wished I had an umbrella stroller, or a Snap n Go, or a side-by-side double, or a double jogger.

We still own two strollers (a single and a Sit n Stand) but haven't used them in months. Probably Craigslist time.

We still own two strollers (a single and a Sit n Stand) but haven’t used them in months. Probably Craigslist time.

If I were starting over again, I would probably still want three strollers: a jogging stroller for rough city sidewalks, an umbrella stroller or nice lightweight one for convenience after six months, and a Snap n Go for the first few months.

Early Potty Training/Elimination Communication/Exclusive Cloth Use

I did blog a while ago about how much money I have saved by an early switch to underpants. That is not, however, the same thing as actual potty training. Both my kids had frequent accidents until well past three and on towards three and a half—I just did a lot of laundry. Had I been able to get them to stop wetting themselves, I could have saved some money on utilities. I definitely wasn’t one of those people who have tiny diaper-free babies, although my hat goes off to those observant parents who make this work.

Have trained boys to put anything they pee on into this purple basket for pre-rinsing.

Have trained boys to put anything they pee on into this purple basket for pre-rinsing.

I did cloth diaper. But I used a lot of disposables for day care, vacations, babysitters, trips out of the house, etc. And while I fought the good fight (see this post on what I used to swaddle Big Brother in), I have long since given up on overnight cloth. Little Brother is still wetting and sometimes soiling at night. I tried two pairs of cloth training pants with a cover, but he kept getting his sheets wet. I could have kept using diapers at night, I guess, but I really wanted to be done with all diapers once we started using undies during the day. I just shell out for disposable training pants for nighttime. You know what’s great about disposables? You do not have to put on dishwashing gloves and rinse them in the damned toilet. Just drop them in an old bread bag and move on.

Under the boys' sink. I usually buy just a small package in hopes he will start to stay dry, but the nice name brand Pull-Ups were on sale at Costco this month.

Under the boys’ sink. I usually buy just a small package in hopes he will start to stay dry, but the nice name brand Pull-Ups were on sale at Costco this month.

This one was largely a matter of priorities. Sure, I could have found a way to make cloth work all the time, and I might have saved some money doing it, but I have found the quality-of-life factors to outweigh the cost.

I’m noticing a common theme to all of these–the results I got were generally proportional to my efforts. What I’m getting better at is choosing better where to spend those efforts in the first place. We are past the baby years now, but the general awareness of my skills and priorities as a parent is helping me choose what to worry about. (If I had to start over with a new baby, I’m sure I would do better in some of those areas, but others–most notably natural childbirth and exclusive breastfeeding–I wouldn’t even attempt.)

What have you learned from your frugal failures, parenting-related or otherwise? Or feel free to tell me in the comments how you avoided all these problems!

Mending Time: Adult Pants Problems

Okay, I gave you a break for a while from sewing posts after I finished my interminable skirt project, but sewing is BACK.

I posted a while back about my never-ending quest to mend the knees of the boys’ pants. New rule: They wear shorts any morning with no frost. (We’ve had some upper-forties mornings and I sent them out in fleeces and shorts. They have not complained.) I mentioned that some of the pants were not salvageable and that I kept them to cut up for patches.

And with those patches, I did some adult pants mending projects. Since Mr. FP and I neither grow nor (as Big Brother seems to) walk on our knees over sandpaper, our problems were different. His work khakis were frayed at the hem, and my jeans were worn at the inside thigh to the extent that I worried they would give up the ghost altogether at some awkward moment. Since I hate shopping, hemming new pants (I’m 4’11”), and spending money on clothes, it offends me to throw away garments with only one weakness. Mending time!

Frayed pants hem in front and back.

Frayed pants hem in front and back.

Wearing thin in a crucial area.

Wearing thin in a crucial area.

First, the frayed hem. Now, the easiest thing to do would have been to pick out the hem and make them half an inch shorter, but understandably, he liked his pants the length they were. So I used this helpful online tutorial. The basic steps involved were:

  1. Picking out the hem and ironing it flat.
  2. Patching the ripped area. I used an old pair of toddler khakis, but the color is not important as it will not be seen. First, you attach the patch with a little Stitch Witchery, then you zigzag stitch it in place.
  3. Re-hemming the pants. You will need to turn the patched area under, but just a smidge. The pants wound up only about 1/4 inch shorter.
Hem picked out, ready for repair. This step can be completed at the playground!

Hem picked out, ready for repair. This step can be completed at the playground!

The patched hem will naturally be stiffer, and it does not hold a crease as well. I found that going very easy on the Stitch Witchery will reduce the stiffness a bit. Mr. FP is a pretty picky individual, and he has not complained about the stiffer hem. I think he has long since forgotten I patched them at all! I made this repair several months ago, and it is holding up extremely well. The rest of the pants are still in excellent condition, so I was psyched to be able to save them.

This is what the finished repair looks like on the inside.

This is what the finished repair looks like on the inside.

Next up: inner thigh repair. It is not surprising that the inner thigh is worn, considering that I wear these pants for short bike rides. One blog I consulted suggested just tucking a little bias tape into the seam, where the worst fraying is, but I knew better. If there’s one thing I learned from trying to patch the boys’ pants, it’s that with patches, you go big or go home.

So I cut a patch from Big Brother’s old jeans. Again, this is an internal patch and won’t be seen, but I figured that denim would be a good choice as it would be a similar weight. I cut the patch large enough to cover the whole frayed area and pinned it in place.


The tutorial I consulted advised that I NOT finish the edge of the patch before sewing it in place, as that would make it too bulky. Instead, when I sewed it down, I used a zigzag, finishing and attaching in one step. (It looks like the author did it with a straight stitch, which would show less on the outside but provide less fray protection.) The tutorial was written by a lady who wears size 26 jeans; mine are size 6 “skinny” leg, which makes it trickier, but by no means impossible, to wrangle them on the sewing machine. I’m improving: I have not accidentally sewed together a pants leg in several months.

I added an extra line of stitching next to the inner thigh seam in order to secure that area, and I was all set, confident that my pants would not let me down at an awkward moment.


Inside view of repair after a few washings.


Outside view of patched area. Hard to see the stitching even if you’re looking right at it, but I hear that really classy people use a blind stitch.

Several months later, I noticed a new threadbare area. I secured this by zigzag stitching back and forth over it before it could run any larger. Meanwhile, the other leg is getting more and more worn, so I patched it, too.


Before second repair.


After repair. I might even go back and do a few more rows.

(MOM: I can hear you suggesting that maybe I should buy new jeans. I assure you, I have already done so. I have nice shiny new work jeans and am keeping these for biking and whatnot, so as to preserve my work jeans.)

Do you mend your favorite clothes? How do you keep your clothes lasting longer?

Surviving a Children’s Consignment Sale

Even if you get all your baby clothes free, there comes a time when the hand-me-downs dry up and you have to buy your kids some clothes. Yard sales, Craigslist, and Goodwill are the cheapest options, but time-consuming because of limited selection (you have to go so many places), while new stores are obviously ridiculously expensive.

For me, those big semi-annual children’s consignment sales are a good balance. A decent sized one will have enough selection that you can get a lot of what you need for the season, and it’s possible to find some good deals.

But… it’s taken me five years to get the hang of the damn things. In hopes of sparing someone else a few traumatic experiences, here are my rules for survival:

1. Know the setup.

These sales are generally held in enormous warehouse spaces. They are cavernous. For people like me who do not consider shopping a recreational activity, this can be disheartening. Buck up. You can survive it for ninety minutes.

Also understand how these things are run. They are largely staffed by volunteers who gave up a few hours of their time in exchange for getting into the sale early, favorable rates on their own consignments, or other perks. They are kindly, but no almost nothing. Then there are a couple of women actually running the thing; they are elusive, but accessible in a pinch.

Unlike a traditional consignment store, at these sales, prices are set by the consignor, not the person running it. These people are also in charge of placing their own merchandise. Some people have an inflated idea what their kids’ old clothes are worth. Have a working knowledge of retail prices and if someone wants more than 50%, except in unusual cases, put it back and go on to the next thing.


I have been consignment sales in several states, and they all use the same kind of tagging software. Be ready for safety pins. Lots of 'em.

I have been to consignment sales in several states, and they all use the same kind of tagging software. Be ready for safety pins. Lots of ’em.


2. Know your kids’ sizes.

It’s not enough to know that your kid is 3 and should be in 3T. Little Brother is three and a half; he can still wear some of his 24 month pants (since he does not wear diapers anymore), while some 3T clothes are too narrow for him. Big Brother, too, is short and stocky; I have to be careful lest I buy him pants that are too tight and too long.

I have been known to attend sales with a dressmaker’s measuring tape around my neck, but, well, I lost it. So this time, I took a piece of string sized for each child and held it up to each pair of pants I considered. I was able to weed out a couple with tiny waists.

Proving that these pants are similar in size to some that I know fit Little Brother.

Proving that these pants are similar in size to some that I know fit Little Brother.

3. Make a list.

Start by inventorying your kids’ existing wardrobes. What still fits from last year? What hand-me-downs have they grown into? Yes, make them try stuff on. What are the gaps?

Then make a list of what you need–how many shirts and pairs of pants, and, when helpful, some idea of color. You probably don’t want to accidentally wind up with four pairs of nearly identical navy pants, for instance, or you might want black to go with a particular shirt. Nor do you want to wind up like me some years, with four pairs of pajamas but only four long-sleeved daytime shirts for one kid.

Little Brother's list. His is shorter because he gets hand-me-downs. Big Brother, for instance, also needed a light jacket and some PJs.

Little Brother’s list. His is shorter because he gets hand-me-downs. Big Brother, for instance, also needed a light jacket and some PJs.

4. Choose your time.

Many sales have a half-price last day that can be great if you need a bunch of clothes (all the good strollers and whatnot will be long gone) and aren’t that picky. Otherwise, after the beginning of the sale, generally the crowds and selection dwindle together. If you need some very specific items, gird your loins and go early. If you are worried about having a panic attack in the baby bathtub section (TIP: You don’t actually need one of these; you have a sink right?), go later. I chose to go on day 2 (Friday) of a four-day sale. Reasonable selection, smaller crowds, and they had sent me a ten-dollar-off coupon good for just that day.

5. Secure your children.

I have tried various methods for this:

  • Carrying a baby on my front or back. This is extremely uncomfortable for shopping racks above shoulder-level. Don’t.
  • Baby in a stroller. OK, but once he finishes the Cheerios you put in his cupholder, he’ll be ready to leave.
  • Sharing kid duties with another mom. OK, but trying to keep them from destroying the toys was stressful, and I felt rushed when the other mom was watching my tots.
  • Leaving them at home with Dad. Obviously the ideal solution, but due to the timing of the sales, not always possible.
  • Distracting them with my cell phone. This one was largely a winner, although it only worked because Big Brother was at school. I pre-downloaded a Duplo train game and it kept Little Brother engaged.

6. Be prepared for error.

You will buy at least one thing that doesn’t fit, is dirtier than you realized, has a hole you didn’t see, whatever. It’s okay. If you’ve done it right otherwise, you’ve still saved money. Donate it to Goodwill and move on with your life.


Little Brother picked out this great astronaut costume, but it is quite small (he is squeezed into it with great effort). I held it up to him at the sale, but apparently didn’t look closely enough. That was the fail for this trip.

7. Finish your list.

You will not find everything you need at one sale. If your area has multiples, go to another. When I have had a selection of sales, I have sometimes gone to half-price day of the first sale for bargains, and then the first day of the second sale to finish my list. Otherwise, fill in gaps from permanent consignment stores, online shopping (I have found some good deals on eBay), or whatever department store near you has the best sales. I still need uniform-appropriate pants for both kids, so I’ll try eBay and Schoola, and if I still don’t find them, I’ll just grab some at Walmart. Target if I’m feeling fancy.

Do you go to consignment sales? How do you save money on kids’ clothes?


How I Moved 3000 Pounds of Mulch, Saved $300, and Lost Three Pounds

Our house came with an extravagant children’s play area. (Extravagant to the point of danger–it is really too large for the space, such that a tot could hit his head on the fence, but that’s a problem beyond the scope of this post.)

It was, when we moved in, reasonably well-covered with rubber mulch. And then our children started playing on it.

Within six months of rough play and, ahem, inadequate maintenance, it was a crazy mess. There were giant holes in the landscape fabric and bare dirt was visible in many places.

Something must be done!

Something must be done!

I was really leery of taking on this project. I didn’t really know what would be involved. What would I find under the mulch? What supplies did I need to fix the problem? What were the giant metal staple-things the kids pulled up? Could I move all that mulch without injuring myself? But there was nothing for it but to get to work. And I had to finish the job as quickly as possible, because it put our backyard playground out of commission and, well, that’s bad!

Now, I HATE rubber mulch. I hate it a lot. It’s gross, and I feel like I have to pick it out of the grass piece by piece because it won’t decompose for like five hundred years, so my first thought was to replace the rubber mulch with actual wood mulch. I thought that the whole project, including mulch, landscape fabric, staples, and tools, would cost a couple hundred dollars, or less, because you can have a virtually infinite amount of wood mulch delivered to your house for $75.

Then I realized two things:

Damn, that's a lot of mulch.

Damn, that’s a lot of mulch. Several cubic yards.

  1. I had a truly massive amount of rubber mulch.
  2. You have to use special playground mulch for playgrounds, and this is really expensive.

So I revised my plan. Fortunately, Grandpa FP taught me that you have to be prepared for anything when you look under or behind. New plan: Keep the nasty rubber mulch, but move all of it so I could replace the landscape fabric bit by bit. I actually opted to spot-replace the landscape fabric rather than pull it all up, for two key reasons:

  1. My garage already had enough landscape fabric, left by previous owners, for a patch job. Probably not enough to replace every bit. And you know how I hate buying things.
  2. As I mentioned, there is a whole lotta mulch. By spot-replacing, I did not have to move it all at once. I could move part, do the fabric, and move it back.
Fabric replacement in progress. I wish I was one of those people who is super-organized with their tools.

Fabric replacement in progress. I wish I was one of those people who is super-organized with their tools. Little Brother was surprisingly helpful with the rubber mallet (both fetching it and banging in the staples).

The latter point was particularly important because I had to essentially sweep up the mulch. After I moved as much as possible with my snow shovel (seemed the best tool for the job), there would be a lot left that needed to be removed from the ground more carefully. So I wanted to get the fabric back down ASAP so I wouldn’t have to keep sweeping the same areas!

Fabric replacement complete. Let the raking begin!

Fabric replacement complete. Let the raking begin!

It would have cost about $300 to get wood playground mulch, so that’s money I saved by keeping what I had. I often make do with non-ideal hand-me-downs in order to keep more money in my bank account. Total cost was about $40: $25 for two boxes of landscape staples (I used a whole lot of these because it seemed like inadequate stapleage was part of why the fabric was coming apart) and $15 for a landscape rake. I used this for finishing the project, but will also find it helpful for doing a better job in the future of maintaining level mulch, to prevent further wear and tear on the fabric.

Ahhh, that's better. Time to get out the broom and dustpan again and sweep the sidewalk...

Ahhh, that’s better. Big Brother is helping level out the mulch. Time to get out the broom and dustpan again and sweep the sidewalk…

With all the exercise of shoveling mulch, I lost three pounds that week as an added bonus!

What projects have you taken on lately? Or what money have you decided NOT to spend?

Thinking Outside the [Shoe] Box. And the Envelope.

I’m always on the lookout for objects, tasks, and habits in my life that could be optimized. So when I began to feel the nip of fall in the morning air, and wanted to put slippers on my feet, I knew something had to change.

See, Mr. FP has, in the nearly sixteen years that I have known him, owned exactly two pairs of slippers, and the second is still going strong. They are leather-soled LL Bean moccasins that I believe I bought him in the early aughts.

Meanwhile, I have owned more like eight pairs. The problem is virtually all women’s slippers have hard plastic soles. Once the padding wear down, which in my experience takes like three days, you’re walking around on the hard bottoms, and they become extremely uncomfortable. What’s a girl to do?

That’s when I thought of looking for boy’s slippers. See, boys’ sizes go up to 6, and they run about two sizes smaller than women’s sizes. So any woman with feet size 8 or smaller has the option of shopping in the boys’ department for shoes, especially if her feet are, like mine, on the wide side.

Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I’ve never owned LL Bean women’s slippers, so it’s possible that their rubber soles are softer and their padding lasts longer, and they would have given me my money back if I was displeased. However, women’s slippers start at $39.95 for fleece with a rubber sole.

These boys’ fleece slippers with a nice suede sole–no rubber, yay!–cost me $19.95.

I was spending that much on slippers every year or two. So if these last me even just three seasons, I will have saved twenty bucks. And if they don’t last three seasons, well, I will ask LL Bean for my money back, and will still have saved twenty bucks.

My toes reposing happily on the front porch.

My toes reposing happily during my morning coffe-on-the-porch time. Preschool is a great invention.

Next optimization: Banking. Roughly every two weeks, I receive a paper paycheck for my trivia editing job that I must deposit at a bank. Quaint, isn’t it?

Now, Mr. FP and I remain devoted users of Virginia Credit Union for basic checking. We’ve moved a lot, and we just don’t like the trouble of finding a new bank. We’re used to this one, and the checking is really and truly free. Plus you can use any ATM gratis. So I was taking these checks, filling out a deposit slip (if I had any–when I ran out, I would use old tear-off pages from a trivia-question-a-day calendar), putting it in an envelope, and putting a stamp and return address label on the envelope. Super inefficient, plus the cost of the stamps and envelopes.

Yep, I made address labels just for my bank. That's how much I mailed to them.

Yep, I made address labels just for my bank. That’s how much I mailed to them.

Then I realized I could download the Ally banking app. Now I just have to take a picture of the check, and it goes right to our cash savings (which we’re trying to build up anyway).

Have I told you guys how much I love Ally? It’s easy to use, they pay a full one percent interest, and they just gave me and a bunch of other people twenty dollar Amazon gift cards in celebration of their one millionth customer.

This e-deposit is only saving me like thirteen dollars a year, but, as Grandpa FP would say, thirteen bucks is better than a nail in the foot. Sorry, USPS.

What minor things have you streamlined lately?

Apparently You Can Microwave Oatmeal

Oatmeal: It is ridiculously cheap, nutritious, and the kids love it. (I can take it or leave it myself, but they will eat it for any meal of the day.) It keeps forever, so I can have a virtually limitless supply in my pantry. So far, an ideal food.

The problem was that it is a pain to cook rolled oats. Takes several minutes on the stove, and who wants to heat their house up like that during the summer?

Now, there are directions on the box for making oatmeal in the microwave. I tried this years ago and it exploded all over my microwave. I filed microwave oatmeal under “fail” and moved on mentally. I made it on the stovetop or not at all.

When we visited Grandma FP this summer, I returned from vacation (thanks, Mom!) and was surprised to find that she had been feeding Big Brother boatloads of oatmeal. My mom’s house is usually more the kind of establishment where one finds packets of instant oatmeal and those pre-shaped cookies that you just separate and bake. While I have known Grandma FP (who is, incidentally, four feet ten inches tall) to rent a drum sander and refinish wood floors, I can’t picture her standing at the stove stirring oatmeal.

Evidently the oatmeal had entered the house for a cookie-making project and she wanted to use it up by feeding it to my tots. So she first tried the microwave and had the same experience I did. Oatmeal city.

But she was not as easily deterred as me and pressed on, experimenting with trial and error until she had it down pat. Evidently the secret is to use a container that holds about 4 times as much water as you are using. So a single serving of oatmeal (half a cup of oats to one cup water) can be comfortably prepared in a one-quart Pyrex measuring cup, should you have such a thing.

Turns out the directions SAY to use a one-quart dish. I don't think that was on the box I used when I painted my microwave with oatmeal.

Turns out the directions SAY to use a one-quart dish. I don’t think that was on the box I used when I painted my microwave with oatmeal.

I do not, so at my house I just use a large stoneware or Pyrex serving bowl. (I have found that I can make up to three servings this way–I’m not kidding, the dudes dig oatmeal.) After it’s cooked, I add a dab of maple syrup and plenty of cinnamon, or perhaps peanut butter and honey, and if it is thick enough, I add a little milk to help it cool off.


For some reason, I have three of these fancy serving bowls. I use them for… microwaving things.


Friends, what a revelation! No more standing at the stove stirring! Electricity savings! More importantly, oatmeal has entered our very short list of “emergency child meals” alongside frozen chicken nuggets and cold cheese sandwiches. Fewer chicken nuggets down their gullets = win for health. It’s easy enough that a babysitter can prepare it, fast enough to whip up for lunch even when I pick up Little Brother at 11 and have to be at work at 1:15. When I get a thermos for Big Brother, I’ll be able to pack it in his school lunch. 

I know lots of food snobs look down on their microwave. For me, it is an essential part of my efforts to eat almost exclusively home-prepared food. 

Do you get much use out of your microwave? What are your fallback meals?


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