Archive for December, 2008

In which I remember how much I’ve forgotten…

After our return home from the annual Thanksgiving visit with our relatives to the South, my oldest son announced that only cold water was coming out of the kitchen faucet. I blithely assured him that he just needed to let the water run, as it was freezing outside, and all the cold water needed to run through the pipes before the hot could come out. Then I went on bustling about, attending to unpacking, sorting mail, and keeping toddlers out of trouble. Five minutes later, I passed through the kitchen on my way to the laundry room and saw my oldest son still standing at the sink with one finger in the running water. He gave me a glum look. “Mom, there’s NO hot water in these pipes!”

redswitchHmmm…. Now my brain kicked into gear. “Did you check to see if anyone flipped the switch, sweetie?” (Our trailer has a glowing red switch to turn off the water heater when we’re away — conveniently located in plain sight at toddler-height on the wall of the laundry room.) Son #1 shook his head, and I took a few steps toward the laundry room. He was right. The switch was on. I stepped into the utility closet and squeezed into the back corner behind the winter coats to get to the water heater. It felt cool to the touch. Oh, dear. The manual lay on top of the heater, so I flipped through it to see if there was some kind of reset button I could push. Next to a diagram of the innards of the water heater was a paragraph that read something like this:

ALWAYS SHUT OFF POWER SUPPLY TO HEATER BEFORE ATTEMPTING ANY REPAIRS. With power supply disconnected, use Phillips head screwdriver to remove cover from access panel on side of heater, TAKING CARE NOT TO TOUCH ANY METAL PORTIONS OF THE INTERIOR PANEL WITH THE SCREWDRIVER. [Side note: Umm… the entire heater is metal, thank you very much.] With cover removed, locate white, red, and yellow wiring AND DO NOT TOUCH UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES. Locate recessed red reset toggle switch behind wiring and use narrow wooden dowel to depress switch, TAKING CARE NOT TO TOUCH THE SWITCH WITH ANY METAL OBJECT OR FINGERS. After depressing switch, replace panel cover, MAKING SURE YOU DO NOT DISTURB ANY WIRING IN THE PROCESS. Restore power supply to heater WITH CAUTION, then step back and wait until you hear the element turn on to begin the heating process. If element does not turn on, call a repairman, and DO NOT ATTEMPT ANY REPAIRS YOURSELF.

waterheaterOkay, so that’s my paranoid rendition of what the instructions sounded like — but it’s pretty close. There was no way I was going into what sounded like Bomb Disarmament for Dummies, so I skipped to the last step and called our handy-dandy landlord, who seems to be able to fix anything just by looking at it quizzically.  He took one look at the cold tank and announced, “It’s dead. Sorry. It’s ten years old. It was time for it to go.”

Well, that was that. There’d be no hot water that night or most of the next day. We piled all the dirty dishes into the sink and filled it with cold, soapy water. There’s nothing quite so icky as the feeling of slimy dinner dishes in cold water. But it couldn’t be helped, so we just piled ’em in both sides and left ’em to soak. The children were absolutely thrilled to skip their bath that night–not one of our children likes taking a bath in the wintertime– and I was actually delighted to skip the wrestling match and let them climb into clean pajamas and snuggle into their beds. I felt so bad for our landlord, who would have to take a day off his own work to get our hot water supply back. I washed my face with cold water (brrrrr!) and went to bed hoping the new water heater installation would be quick, easy, and painless.

Some dreams don’t come true. After removing the decrepit old water heater, our landlord discovered that it had been leaking into the surrounding flooring. A light bulb came on in my head as I recalled having to move three cardboard boxes of books that we’d found wet in the utility closet. At the time, we thought a child had spilled water in the closet and just didn’t want to ‘fess up. But, nope, the culprit was the old water heater. In fact, not only had it eaten up our boxes (and several books), but it had destroyed part of the linoleum and begun to eat away at the plywood subfloor beneath. Oh, it wasn’t pretty. It was one of those “simple” jobs that keeps getting more complicated as you go on…and on, and on…

newheaterDid I mention that the water had to be turned off all day? We ate off paper plates for breakfast and lunch and reminded little people not to flush. Our sweet landlady invited us all to supper, and we ended up staying and visiting until about 9:30 that night. By the time we got home, our landlord was still in the utility closet with his helper, replacing the subflooring. But it wasn’t long before everything was back in place, and–bonus of bonuses–he’d installed a larger hot water heater! This would mean we could run two baths and do the dishes at night! He warned me not to run the hot water until the glue had dried on the pipe fittings, so I shut my eyes and walked past the sink pile yet again. I looked forward to loading the dishwasher in the morning — and putting filthy children into hot baths the next evening!

The first thing my oldest son did in the morning was turn on the hot water in the kitchen. “It’s really hot, Mom!” he grinned as steam began rising from the slimy sink pile. Ahh… simple pleasures. We gleefully opened the dishwasher to prepare for loading, and I flipped on our countertop tea kettle to boil some water for my morning cup of tea. And that’s when the second lightbulb went on in my head.

teaspotI suddenly recalled all the Little House on the Prairie stories and all my grandma’s stories about doing dishes and laundry during the Great Depression. I smacked my forehead, staring into the sinkful of dirty dishes. My son looked startled and asked me what was the matter. I pointed at the kettle and said, “We could have done all the dishes!” He looked puzzled. I explained that we’d had hot water at our fingertips the entire time — I just couldn’t see it for looking. He shot up an eyebrow and shook his head, wondering if his mother’s sanity had indeed finally departed. I started giggling and pulled out both sink drains, watching the chilly, slimy water gurgle down the drain. Then I showed him how simple it would have been to boil a kettle of water and pour it into the sink, adding some cold water to prevent scalding, then wash the dishes by hand with dish soap. His mouth formed a large “O” as his light bulb went on, too. “Mom! That’s how Laura Ingalls and her family took baths, too! Remember? They boiled water on the wood stove, then put it into a wooden tub!” Now we were running on all burners. It was great.

So I started looking at everything around the house differently. What if I had to do without_____? (Fill in the blank — electricity, central heat and air, an outdoor garbage can). Then I began remembering how much I’ve forgotten — or have taken for granted in recent years. Like having an outdoor burn pile for the paper trash and other combustibles. Like using vinegar and water to clean windows and cut grease (instead of buying that fancy degreaser stuff). Like putting table scraps in a compost pile instead of chucking them in the trash. And I’m realizing that it’s all too easy to forget things when we are comfortable and “rich.” Yet how much we lose when we let go of these do-it-yourself skills. I’m reminded of the old Depression Era adage:

Use it up, wear it out,
Make it do, or do without.

I really want to start applying this good advice on a daily basis as we look for more ways to save, be frugal, make do with what we have, and get rid of what we don’t need. It is so freeing to stop depending on “convenience” — but it does mean we need to relearn some old skills that we’ve lost or forgotten.  It’s fun to start looking around with new eyes!

newfloor3And the first thing I thought of was the leftover sticky tile I had after I’d finished the children’s bathroom. I’ve still got about 40 square feet left. Since our landlord had to rip out the ruined linoleum, my utility room floor is screaming for sticky tile! When I’m feeling very motivated (and when I have a couple of hours free), I’m going to pull out all the storage boxes and the dresser and “tile” the closet floor. I’d never planned to bother with it, as it’s not a floor you’d normally see, but I’m so glad now that I bought more than enough vinyl tile for the kitchen and bath. Providential!

And this isn’t the first time that a flooring crisis has resulted in an unexpected blessing. Next time I’ll share the thrilling adventures of Mr. Rat and the Nighttime Visit! Until then, I’ll be enjoying my dishwasher and feeling thankful for hot showers. 😉

In the bleak midwinter…


When the chill days of winter arrive, I’ve always recalled and savored the lines from Shakespeare’s sonnet 73:

That time of year thou may’st in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold;
Bare ruin’d choirs where late the sweet birds sang.

“Bare ruin’d choirs” — the phrase sent delicious shivers through me when I first read that sonnet, and it still evokes the grey, quiet feelings of this time of year. I thought of those words again today, looking through my kitchen window into a gloomy winter’s sky.

102_00321It has been one of those days when everyone wants to huddle inside, get the fire going, and read books. Which is fine by me. I love days like this. But today we decided the best way to keep off the chill and gloom was to decorate the house for Christmas, break out the Christmas music, and sip some egg nog. 😉

102_0021We had quite an adventure yesterday finding a tree. At first we’d thought the woods behind the house would oblige us with a small cedar, but the trees were decidedly too prickly for little fingers, so we gave up on that idea. I figured we’d easily find a local tree lot and just get something small for the living room, but, long story short, there wasn’t a tree lot anywhere to be found in an hour’s worth of driving and three small towns! Unbelieveable. So we headed down another road where we’d seen a tree lot on our way to get the milk at the dairy on Tuesday. Why I didn’t just stop on Tuesday and get a tree while I was at it is beyond me! When we finally reached the lot, it was already closed. Don’t tree lots usually stay open after 4pm?

At this point, the children were rather antsy and not wanting to sit in the van any more, so we headed over to the gigantic nearby Wal-Mart (sigh), which–sure enough–had live trees outside of the garden center. We picked a cute, plump little spruce (soft needles) that smelled faintly citrus. By then, rain had started spritzing down, so our tree had a shimmering mist added to its charms. Amid cheers and squeals of delight, we hauled the tree back home and squeezed it through the door. By the time my oldest sons had wrestled it into the tree stand, they were too exhausted (and covered with greenery and sap) to do more, so we saved decorating for today.

breadornamentWe had no trouble finding the ornaments, as we now have so few boxes in storage (wheee!). The children quickly pounced on their favorites, and everyone had an opinion of what should go where.  We have a neat little set of ornaments that functions as a sort of miniature advent calendar. Each ornament has a picture representing what we’re celebrating–the coming of Christ–and contains a description of His attributes.  This one here shows a loaf of bread. When you open it, there’s a story inside about how Christ is the Bread of Life. Each ornament contains a story, and we will be reading a different one each day over the next two weeks. The children enjoyed placing (and re-placing) ornaments on the tree, then stood back to admire everything all lit up. My oldest son was horrified when I told him that, before electricity, people used to put real, lit candles on their Christmas trees. He said our trailer would burn down for sure if we did that–LOL!


102_00021After finishing the tree, we created a simple wreath for the front door, and I gave my girls the leftover ribbons to decorate their room with. My four-year-old came out ten minutes later sporting two stuffed animals with new bows around their necks. My older daughter led me by the hand and showed off her own decorations, which included her pajamas neatly folded into a “present” and tied with a bow — and two bows on either end of her bed. Ah, girls! The boys all wanted to head out into the woods and cut down some boughs to decorate the mantel and front deck railings, but the wind had really started to pick up, and the rain was coming down again, so we decided to put that off ’til another day.

I’m now sitting in a quiet house, the only sound the ticking of the clock and the click of my keyboard. All my “mice” are snug in their beds, and I’m enjoying the warmth of the Christmas lights and some soft Christmas carols playing in the background. This is one of my favorite seasons, and we’re going to enjoy staying snug inside our little cottage while the winds blow outside.

In the kitchen, the tea kettle is calling me for a nightly cup of Earl Grey, so I’ll head in there and fix it by the warm light of the countertop lamp (one of my all-time favorite thrift store finds!). I hope wherever you are, you’re enjoying the season and finding time to reflect. When I look outside at those “bare, ruin’d choirs,” I’m all the more thankful for a place to be at home with my family–a place to focus on what’s really important. The economy may look grimmer by the day, but we can hold on to what really lasts–and what Wall Street can’t take away–can’t we? Gather them in close–family, friends, neighbors–and tell them how much they mean to you. These are the riches God gives us all.


Dave Ramsey’s doing it again — Everything’s $10!

Dave Ramsey did this great sale back on Labor Day weekend, and he’s doing it again through December 18. If you want the best, most down-to-earth, practical tools for getting, staying, and living debt-free, get Dave’s Total Money Makeover book or order his audio CDs.  I don’t get any kind of kick-back for recommending Financial Freedom products; I just want to encourage you to read, listen to, and learn from their resources.

Total Money Makeover

If you’re like me, you may have grown up in a frugal household but without ever learning how to budget, save long-term, or invest.  When I was a newlywed, I prided myself on being able to live on very little, but I quickly found out that I had a lot to learn when it came to thinking long-term.

Crystal over at has shared her family’s financial goals and also recommends Dave Ramsey’s excellent materials. Crystal’s story is incredibly inspiring. If a young wife and mom can keep the home and run a small business while her husband finishes law school–and still manage to save money–then so can you!

If you’ve never heard of Dave Ramsey, spend some time on his site and check his radio show archive. 60 Minutes also did a special on him recently that you can watch in segments online (if I can find my link I’ll post it!). Dave and his wife, Sharon, tell the story of how they came out of complete bankruptcy and financial ruin and learned to manage money and save carefully for the long haul. It’s good stuff!


Scrimping for Christmas gifts? Here’s some help!

I just found out about an amazing rebate deal from the folks at Vision Forum. They carry more high-quality children’s toys, books, and videos than you can shake a stick at (make that gifts for the whole family–but the kid stuff is what I’ve drooled over these past few weeks!).

I thought I’d put myself on their email list, but I must have done it wrong, because I didn’t hear about this rebate deal until I stumbled across someone else’s blog last night and saw the banner. So I’m putting one up here for you. Click away! The rebates are good through December 11 and are really substantial. My husband’s grandfather sent us a check last week with explicit instructions to spend it only on Christmas gifts. Needless to say, after all the budget-crunching and scrimping I’d been doing, this was like giving me license to eat my heart out in a chocolate shop! Gotta admit I blew most of it at Vision Forum for the children. 😉 Enjoy!

About the Queen…

Amanda Livenwell is the pen name of a stay-at-home mom who shares the adventure of living large on one income in, yes, a double-wide trailer! Join our family as we say goodbye to suburbia, trim down, and start saving to build our own home. We're going to talk about doing it yourself, living beautifully on less, making do or doing without, and counting it all joy in the process. We'll cover prep-work and painting, refacing kitchen cabinets, flooring on the cheap, tiling over laminate, upholstering furniture, and just rolling up our sleeves in general. If you love home improvement, this is the place for you. Let's get cracking!

Favorite Frugal Helps!

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Dave Ramsey will help you break the chains of debt and run to freedom!

What Inspires Me Most!

"She seeks wool and flax, and willingly works with her hands. She girds herself with strength, and strengthens her arms. She perceives that her merchandise is good, and her lamp does not go out by night. She stretches out her hands to the distaff, and her hand holds the spindle. She watches over the ways of her household, and does not eat the bread of idleness." ~ Proverbs 31:13, 17-19, 27

"Do you see a man who excels in his work? He will stand before kings;he will not stand before unknown men." ~ Proverbs 22:29

"The soul of a lazy man desires, and has nothing; but the soul of the diligent shall be made rich." ~ Proverbs 13:4

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