Frugality Lessons from the Masters

Frugality Lessons from the Masters

Frugality Thriftiness Penny-pinching Never-spend-a-nickel-if you-can-keep-it-in-your-pocket is a defining trait of my mother’s branch of the family. The trait once again came into sharp focus when Mom, the man of steel and I spent the night with Mom’s sister and husband on the way to a reunion for their side of the fam.

One of their daughters, my cousin, also spent the night. Her father reminded us there would be a $5 charge per car to get into Split Rock State Park where the reunion would be held.

“But, Uncle Jim,” I teased, “isn’t there a plan in place for all of us to meet outside the gate, have one vehicle get the sticker, and then use that vehicle to ferry everyone into the park carload by carload?”

His daughter chimed in, “That’s what you would have done when we were kids.”

Uncle Jim looked like he was considering the idea, and Aunt Donna said, “We could fit quite a few people in the back of the truck.”

Their daughter and I chuckled at this proof that the frugality thriftiness penny-pinching never-spend-a-nickel-if you-can-keep-it-in-your-pocket behavior we had observed throughout our childhoods remains strong.

The next morning, I went downstairs to shower. In the basement bathroom, that shower stood as a silent and colorful witness of our parents’ frugality thriftiness penny-pinching never-spend-a-nickel-if you-can-keep-it-in-your-pocket lifestyles.


Our mothers purchased the ceramic tiles during Crazy Daze in the 1960s for a ridiculously low price. The two women spent the better part of a morning digging through boxes of tile remnants, snatching every complete sheet, then selecting incomplete sheets until they thought they had enough to tile their entire basement showers. Once home, they arranged and rearranged the tiled sheets until they were satisfied with the crazy quilt patterns they’d devised.


After my shower, I went upstairs and grabbed my camera. “For some pictures of the shower tiles,” I explained to my cousin who’s four years my junior. “I want to record this evidence of frugality thriftiness penny-pinching never-spend-a-nickel-if you-can-keep-it-in-your-pocket. Do you remember when our moms bought those tiles?”

She nodded. “Remember how they spent what seemed like hours digging through the boxes at the store and arranging patterns when they got home?”


We grinned at one another full of the memory of our mothers, younger than we are now, stretching their hard earned money to cover their concrete block basement showers with colorful tiles while we smirked and rolled our eyes.

Her father interrupted our conversation. “Ready to go?”

My rellies climbed into their truck. The man of steel, Mom, and I got into our car. “We’ll meet you when we get there,” I said. “We need to get gas along the way. Where’s the cheapest place?”

“Rock Rapids.” My aunt responded in the blink of an eye.

She was right, of course.

Camp Dorothy on the Wild Side

Camp Dorothy on the Wild Side


Camp Dorothy’s namesake, the camp’s activity director, and the man of steel are home safe and sound after a camp weekend that was on the wild side. Just how wild was it? So wild that someone didn’t notice the absence of Wheel of Fortune. So wild that in 48 short hours, the camp’s namesake managed to:

  • Eat wilted lettuce and fresh strawberries.
  • Beat the camp director and the man of steel playing SkipBo.
  • Tour the newly remodeled church she attended during the years she lived in Le Mars.
  • Enjoy supper with her sister, brother-in-law, and niece.
  • Sleep through two separate storm warnings.
  • Count windmills from Le Mars to Spit Rock State Park until the flooded fields caught her attention instead.
  • Observe firsthand the damage at Luverne, Minnesota caused when the dam at Blue Mound State Park burst after a night of heavy rain.
  • Spend three hours receiving hugs from nieces and nephews, eating delicious picnic food, and having her photo taken in a pink top hat and purple feather boa. (The activity director apologizes for forgetting to grab her own camera to record the moment and for not asking the photo booth operator to email the image in time for this post!)
  • Watch a 1950 home movie of a trip to the Black Hills by the camp’s namesake (at about the age of the above photo), her parents, and her younger sister that contained an abundance of footage of people emerging from outhouses.
  • Confess she took the footage of her father snoring in the back seat of their car during the trip.
  • See the love in her nephews’ and nieces’ eyes when they hugged her good-bye.
  • Work on crossword puzzles during the 5 hour trip home.
  • Say she’d had a wonderful day.
  • Head straight to bed upon return to the activity director and man of steel’s home.

Camp Dorothy on the wild side wraps up later this morning, when the activity director takes the camp namesake to Hickory Park for lunch (yum!), a doctor’s appointment (yuck!), and then home to her very own bed. (Ahh!)

Fresh Summer Salsa

Fresh Summer Salsa


Our CSA is providing a bountiful supply of tomatoes, onions, and peppers. So many, in fact, that finding ways to use them has been a weekly challenge. Thankfully, shortly before Mom gave up housekeeping, she gave me this recipe for fresh summer salsa which uses oodles of the veggies taking over the kitchen.

It is a winner, as was proved at our recent Labor Day Family Reunion. The crowd chowed down a double batch of salsa and two bags of chips in less than an hour, and people begged for the recipe.

To keep you from begging, it’s posted here, along with a few tips. First, you can change the amounts of vegetables to suit your taste. (For example, I find 1 jalapeno per double batch is plenty.) Second, I chop the tomatoes first and put them in a strainer to drain out excess liquid while chopping everything else. Otherwise the salsa can be pretty runny. With those tips in mind, have at it!

Fresh Summer Salsa

2 cups peeled, chopped tomatoes        2 cloves garlic, minced
½ cup onion, chopped fine                    ¼ cup green pepper, chopped
1  jalapeno pepper, chopped                 1 banana pepper, chopped
¼ cup cilantro, chopped                        2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon salt

Mix ingredients together in a bowl. Put 2/3 cup of the vegetable mixture in the blender until it reaches the consistency you like. Put the blended vegetables back into the bowl and stir well. Refrigerate at least two hours before serving to allow the flavors to meld.

Three Food Number Thoughts for Thursday

Three Food Number Thoughts for Thursday

For the past few weeks, I’ve been cooking for family events. The amount of food prepared and consumed led to these three thoughts for Thursday:

  1. At our Labor Day reunion, 17 people ate 3 watermelons, 2 quarts of salsa, and 2 bags of chips in 7 hours. (And those were just the side dishes.) I keep forgetting how much a gathering of Hesses can eat when 8 family members are in their twenties.
  2. However, 1 1/2 bags of marshmallows, 2 boxes of graham crackers, and 12 chocolate bars are more than enough for 2 nights of s’mores around the campfire.
  3. In the past three weeks, I’ve prepared and frozen 11 meals for the parents-to-be. Which makes me wonder if the mother-to-be nesting tendency extends to grandmothers-to-be, also. Have any grandparents out there experienced the same phenomenon? What kind of nesting did you do?


Grandma’s House

Grandma’s House

This past weekend, we had our annual Hess Cousins’ Reunion in Pipestone, Minnesota. We also celebrated Mom’s upcoming 80th birthday, but since she might not like having her age broadcast on a blog, I’m not going to mention it.

Anyway, we went a few days early and visited with some of Mom’s siblings and sibling-in-laws. We drove past my aunts and uncles’ former farmsteads and stayed at one of them with my cousin and his family. We drove past the Pipestone Monument where we used to spend summer afternoons. (Admission was free.) We drove past the Dairy King we never got to visit. (It was too expensive. We drove past Hank’s Grocery Store, but didn’t stop to see if they still stock the Uncle Sam’s Cereal. (The label said it was full of bran fiber, but the taste convinced me it was corrugated cardboard.) Grandma used to send us to the store for  the cereal when she ran out or couldn’t stand having us underfoot anymore.

Then we drove by Grandma’s (and Grandpa’s, too) old house. She hasn’t lived there since the mid-1980s, but to me it’s still Grandma Hess’s house. The paint’s brown now instead of the 1950’s beige I remember. The picket fence is gone. Grandma’s flower beds are gone, too. The house is the right size, but the yard is a whole lot smaller than I remember. In a few years, the house will be gone, too. The hospital, which is across the street, owns the house and plans to build a helicopter pad on the site of my grandma’s house.

Getting a picture of the place was a top priority during the trip. I want a tangible memory of Grandma’s house – something to look at while i remember sitting on the aluminum chairs in the back yard, eating sugar bread she made for our snacks, while I conjure up the smell of the pajama drawer we pawed through when we stayed overnight unexpectedly, while I picture the basement fruit room full of cobwebs and shelf after shelf of her home canned fruits and vegetables.

Now I have a new top priority. I’m not anticipating any grandchildren in the near future, but I want to clean out a dresser drawer and stock it with kids’ pajamas. I have fond memories of Grandma’s house. And I want to pass them on.