Everything is Perfect in the Universe…

21 04 2009

We left for work this morning with Chinese takeout leftovers in the refrigerator and an unopened fortune cookie on the counter top.

When we aren’t thinking about work we are usually working to improve our simple lot (in the trailer park and in life as a whole).  A while back I mentioned that we were putting it out to the Universe for free tile. Mismatched, broken, scraps of any kind, we want it.  Since it looks like we are here for a while, we have been chipping away at all of the improvements that will make our stay more pleasant. That’s mostly what this whole blog is about.

We want the tile because our concrete pad is gouged and cracked. The more we fix up everything else the more this ugly thing sticks out like a sore thumb. We have decided to cover it in a tile mosaic. AJ replied to a recent post for free tile on craigslist.org, but never got an answer. Next, he ran the route of all the local flooring stores asking them to call if they ever had scrap or leftovers. The prospects didn’t look promising, as they all told him they rarely get anything like that.

Yet today was destined to be one of those special days, brimming with abundance and generosity. AJ’s phone rang while we were working. It was one of the flooring stores calling to tell him that there was some tile beside the building for us to have. We finished our work in excitement and anticipation for the gift we were about to pick up.

Funny thing, we didn’t even have to wait that long for the goodness to begin. We provide profit enhancement services for bars and restaurants. Since we are in the business of helping the owners curb their losses, we only occasionally find ourselves on the receiving end of free booze. However, today was one of those rare days, too. Our client had gotten three free bottles of sparkling wine from his purveyor. Claiming to have no use for them (although he could have easily used them for a promotion), he gifted them to us. I told him we would celebrate thrice. One bottle for our anniversary, one bottle for AJ’s birthday and one bottle to celebrate free champagne!

$48.00 worth of Codorníu Pinot Noir Sparkling Wine. Free to us.

Free-Sparkling-Wine

We finished up our work and headed towards home. The flooring store was on the way, so we stopped in to have a look at the free tile.

There it is: JST Flooring in Sebastian, Florida.

JST-Store

The tile was stacked by the door, just as Mickie had promised.

Free-Tile

Mickie (they guy who called us) wasn’t there, but Kathy Kragh (the president) showered us with the kind of treatment one would expect when purchasing marble floors for a mansion. I was reminded of a quote by Malcom Forbes:

“You can easily judge the character of others by how they treat those who can do nothing for them or to them”

Kathy explained that they had gotten new samples for the show room and that the old ones had been destined for the dumpster. Fortunately for us (not for them), the dumpster people had not brought a new one; therefore, the tile had been stacked there the entire weekend. Upon seeing our jubilation at receiving this great gift Kathy mentioned that she had something else for us in the back, too. We followed her to the warehouse where she presented the most beautiful aqua blue and turquoise glass tiles. She explained that she shares these with school children who do mosaic projects. I felt like a kid on Christmas because we have been planning to resurface our counter top and tile the back splash with  glass tile. This was quite a bonus!

But it didn’t end there. On the way to the warehouse we stopped to look at a pile of discarded carpet pad, to temporarily replace some missing floor insulation in the Mercedes. This weekend AJ went shopping for something to serve the purpose until he can find an official replacement piece. Home Depot only sold it in large quantities, and we needed but a small piece. No sooner did we express interest in the carpet pad than Kathy insisted upon giving us a fresh piece instead of the discards; pointing out that there were potentially unlimited varieties of contamination in used carpet pad.

Thrilled with our good fortune, we headed home to get the truck and a few pounds of shrimp to show our appreciation for their generosity. Today we are three steps closer to having a more beautiful existence.

Once we returned home with our bounty, we sorted the free tile and found some nice pieces of Travertine marble mixed in with the other tile samples. I felt as though they belonged inside, although I wasn’t sure where. I brought them in and looked around. We have a tiny metal and glass end table which I have always hated because it has such a small surface. I placed a piece of large marble tile on top of the table and another, smaller piece on the lower section. The unfortunate little table has been instantly transformed into a much more beautiful and functional piece of furniture. This was an unexpected surprise, and a solution I hadn’t even considered until I was standing there with Travertine in hand. The third piece went under my potted orchid to solve a problem with water staining the carpet. Trifecta!

Travertine and glass tile.

travertine-and-glass

AJ cuts and installs the carpet pad.

AJcutpad

Prepad

Carpet-Pad

Carpet-in

Thanks Kathy and Mickie!

If you are in the market for any type of flooring, I suggest you drive right past the big box stores and head to a local gem where great service and quality still prevail.

JST Flooring is located at 915 US Highway 1 in Sebastian, FL

Phone: (772) 589-6818

Tell them that the Trailer Park Queen sent you!

Disclaimer: The freebies that we got were really a bit of a fluke, as they were switching out floor room samples and we happened to be in the right place at the right time. Do go with intention to buy and to be glad you did. Although they wouldn’t remember us, we did use them a few years back for a construction job and got wonderful service!

Although this seemed like more than enough abundance for one day, there was still more to come.

Our friend and neighbor, Ron, called to tell us that he had a fish for us. Ron and his wonderful wife Vicki live across the road from us on the lagoon. Once a commercial fisherman, Ron hasn’t lost his knack for catching pompano and other tasty fish. AJ went to visit and returned with a beautiful pompano that looked as though it had just been pulled from the water.

Pompano

AJ filleted the fish, seasoned it with olive oil, fresh garden dill and a dash of MSG-free seasoning salt. He wrapped it in a new banana leaf and splashed it with some wine given to us by our neighbor Carrie.

Pompano-Raw

Carrie won’t let us do anything for us without paying or giving wine. We refuse the money, so we are always in the wine. AJ mowed her grass this weekend, and this is what she gave him. It tastes wonderful and was perfect on the fish.

Rex-Goliath

Next, the fish went into the smoker, cooked with charcoal for approximately 40 minutes.

Fish-in-Smoker

Wow! The pompano was scrumptious! So fresh, moist and tender. Hands down, the best pompano I have ever eaten.

Thanks Ron!

Pompano Done

Oh, and that fortune cookie…I finally got around to opening it.

Fortune-Cookie

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Living Lean

13 04 2009

I know I promised to stay away until Tuesday. I would like to apologize to all three of my readers for continuing to ramble on about nothing in particular:)

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts I have never been privy to wealth or luxury. Even when I made decent money I preferred to wear vintage clothing and stock my home with thrift store and garage sale finds. For a period in the early to mid 1990s this was an acceptable if not admirable approach. The trends of frugality predictably correlate with periods of economic distress. Although frugality waned during the recent time of economic “prosperity” I see a resurgence on the horizon.

Growing up poor endowed me with a wealth of skills and advantages, many of which I am only just beginning to appreciate. Once you realize that not having Adidas brand shoes or Gloria Vanderbilt jeans will not kill you, a certain feeling of liberation takes over. I won’t deny that I have suffered a lot of shame and embarrassment, especially when I didn’t have the money to repay others who had treated me with hospitality of gifts; but have recently come into a greater understanding of how we became a nation of conspicuous consumers.

I’m going to tell you right now that if you were planning to read the rest of this post and (I wish) other posts in my blog I’d suggest you stop and dedicate your time to reading this article, instead: The Gospel of Consumption by Jeffrey Kaplan

Are you still here? OK, I hope you checked out that article because it describes my philosophy and understanding of consumerism better than I will ever do.

In my quest to “Question Everything” I have uncovered some nasty truths about the things we are being sold. Most of them we don’t need at all and many are actually poisoning us. The question I always ask is “How did we get by before X was invented?”. Granted, many modern discoveries have drastically improved our quality of life. Penicillin comes to mind. But for just about every product or food we think we must use there is a natural and healthy alternative. For the longest time I resisted even thinking about these things, because giving up what I was used to seemed like so much trouble. Funny how being broke helps change one’s perspective.

My Aunt Melanie & Uncle Pete were way ahead of the curve on this subject and have been giving things like natural cleaners and homemade, organic spice mixes for Christmas for many years. Although I am a bit slow on the uptake I am gradually coming around. I believe the key to this is to take small steps. Giving up everything can be a bit of a shock, and it is too easy to revert to the old habits.

To give you some examples I will share the changes I have made in my life, as well as the underlying motivators.

  • No more deodorant. This you might find most shocking, but bear with me. Deodorant is toxic. Check out this article for a brief and easy to understand explanation of what is in deodorant and how it is linked to cancer. Now, I’m guessing you are thinking “I can’t give up deodorant and antiperspirant, I sweat too much.” Well, I used to sweat too much too; and it seemed like no amount of deodorant could stem the tide. Remarkably, after a few weeks of eschewing antiperspirant I realized that I didn’t sweat much at all any more, and when I did it evaporated rapidly. This makes perfect sense. When you fight against your body’s natural activities, it will try that much harder to compensate. Once I stopped forcing my body to sweat it stopped sweating excessively on its own. Of course there is the risk of being stinky. In a society where smelling chemically fresh is of social importance I don’t recommend letting yourself go stinky; although I have known plenty of people who use deodorant and still get a bit of funk every now and then. I try to keep clean and splash my armpits with alcohol once in a while, but since I stopped using deodorant I don’t seem to have any complaints (and I do believe that AJ would say something).

  • No more toothpaste. The safety of fluoride is one of the greatest lies peddled to the masses. If you find yourself thinking our government is trustworthy then just ask why they allow aluminum manufacturers to dispose of their toxic waste in our drinking water and oral hygiene products. The FDA and the corporations involved are quite aware of how toxic this manufacturing byproduct is, yet they have managed to pass it off not only as safe, but as good for you! Don’t take my word for it, research it on your own. I don’t use toothpaste with fluoride. Right now I brush my teeth with a brush dipped in non-fluoride mouthwash and baking soda. Unfortunately, baking soda is also loaded with aluminum, and as soon as I can get some I plan to switch to aluminum free baking soda such as Bob’s Red Mill. One thing at a time.

  • Organic food as much as possible. I heard an anecdote about an organic produce salesman who made his point by holding up a tomato, spraying it with Raid, wiping it off and then asking “Would you buy this?”. The obvious answer is “no”, but the truth is we do it all the time. We like our produce colorful and blemish free, but that perfection comes with a toxic price tag. Ideally, I would never eat commercially grown produce again; however I am doing the best I can by growing as much as my garden will supply and choosing organic whenever I am able.

  • More natural cleaning, personal care and pest killing products. Most of what I used to use around the house has been replaced with baking soda, vinegar, alcohol, olive oil and boric acid. I still use Dawn dish soap, but dilute it heavily with water. I also cut my regular laundry detergent with Borax. Last year we had an intrusion of roaches and ants. Expensive bug killers seemed to have no effect. Then I bought an inexpensive container of boric acid powder, and within a few days of using it there were no roaches to be seen. The ants are a constant battle, but the boric acid has made a drastic improvement.

  • Cutting out most processed food and condiments. My rule of thumb in the kitchen is to ask myself “Can I make this myself from better ingredients?” or “Can I do without it?”. If I answer “Yes” to either question I try to eliminate the processed product with its chemicals, chance of contamination and heavy packaging from my shopping list.

  • Composting. This one is a work in progress. I envy the serious composters who really have a good composting system. Tomorrow promises to be a good day for my pathetic compost heap. I rescued a bag of leaves from a neighbor who raked today; and we should have enough leftover topsoil to give the heap a jump start. One of these days I also plan to pick up some free horse manure and add that in, too.

  • Barter and Free sharing. I belong to a group called freecycle.org. This is a great one for picking up all sorts of things you can use, as well as for passing along things you might otherwise send to the landfill. Today I joined a local community called Fruit Swap of Brevard. This looks like a promising opportunity to trade some of my surplus garden produce for things I am not able to grow here. And don’t forget craigslist.org. They have a barter and free sections where you can find all sorts of interesting things. I plan to look into a local bartering network to trade some things I have sitting around. But again, one thing at a time.

There are certainly more examples, such as how I can’t pass a dumpster or pile of discards without checking for interesting stuff, or how I do my damndest not to drink bottled water; but I think this is enough for one post. The best part about living lean is the challenge of finding creative solutions. I have always gotten a thrill out of getting something for free or making something from scratch. I challenge each of you to inventory your own life and see if there is something you can do to cut costs, waste and pollution. You might surprise yourself.

And P.S. If I start to stink, please let me know. I’ll do the same for you:)