Late in the second week of December my husband and I went Christmas shopping and while we were out we picked up one of those boxed Christmas plants. Now, most years I buy one of those, a red amaryllis like the one shown above, for my mother. Mom has a green thumb and her amaryllis always grows fast and tall and blooms beautifully – lately they have been growing too fast and too tall and toppling over just about the time they start blooming, but they still look lovely and Mom still likes them. This year, however, I got a tiny poinsettia for Mom. Then I decided to get a different plant and to get it for me – I got the box with paperwhite bulbs.
We don’t have experience with paperwhite flowers. I’d seen some of the paperwhites blooming away on the pages of gardening catalogs and the covers of the boxes in stores. They looked like tiny white daffodils with abbreviated trumpets – quite charming, just what I wanted. For once I actually followed through and planted the bulbs within 24 hours of bringing the box home. I kept the bulbs moist and they started to grow.
The paperwhites grew fast. Everyone in the house was enjoying watching these plants grow. They started growing an inch a day! Now and then someone would say – “Have you been watching those plants on the windowsill? They’re growing like crazy!” We all felt a little more cheerful watching those bulbs grow. Then this week they were growing more like an inch and a half a day! Buds started forming and we knew they would bloom soon.
On Monday, the first bloom opened! Hurray! It was so pretty. The plant is up on the kitchen windowsill, almost a foot and a half tall, and the blossoms are about to get lost in the valance, they are up there so high. But they are pretty and make us all feel more cheerful because it is good to see something growing so willingly when it is cold and dark outdoors.
Now, I am not a good housekeeper so when I noticed an odd smell in the kitchen I got busy and washed out some dishes that need hand-washed – the things that tend to pile up when lazy people have a dishwasher. Later in the day I noticed that the odd smell still hadn’t left, so I put some baking soda down the sink and ran the garbage disposal. Then my husband started cleaning, too. We discussed the odd smell. He suspected there might be a dead mouse under the kitchen sink. I greeted this idea with appropriate disgust and cleaned a bit more. Still, when we examined things more closely the smell definitely wasn’t coming from under the sink either.
Then… the resident son-in-law said, “Have you smelled those flowers? Have kind of an odd scent to them.” I smelled the flowers. Odd is putting it mildly. I had my husband smell them – he really didn’t appreciate me for not warning him. Honestly folks, paperwhites are beautiful flowers and will cheer you up on dark winter days, but if you decide to grow them put them in a room with a lot of ventilation – a LOT. If you don’t mind the smell, it is an inexpensive way to cheer up your winter. However, the scent is enough to make me miss geraniums – and I used to hate the scent of geraniums.
I kept the box for the instructions. The picture on the box shows each paperwhite stalk with a lot of blossoms on it. I’m not sure we will survive if this one blooms that much! I’m thinking I need to look for a growing kit for freesias because I know I like the scent of those flowers.
Great info on getting an amaryllis to bloom, the first time, and for years to come. It is the source of the photo of the amaryllis.
This site teaches you how to force paperwhite bulbs to bloom and is the source of the paperwhite photo I have posted.
Site telling about an effort to commemorate the War of 1812, the establishment of Canada as a country, and making the red geranium the official symbol of that war. It is the source of the photo of the red geraniums.
I have to tell you that from the time I decided to make this a blog post and include some photos I have learned a whole lot about the plants I mentioned. Even something as simple as sharing my experience with growing a plant in my window has made me research and expand my knowledge. I found it to be fun and informative, and only frustrating because I closed sites too quickly and had to search them out again so I could share the links with you. Now I’m going to have to get busy and learn to use my Paperwhite Kindle… which I already know is going to take me some time and several helpers.
What do you do to keep from getting depressed during the winter months? Do those things ever backfire on you? Please post a comment and share your experiences with me. I’d like to know more about you.
What did you do the last time you were frugal? Did you count toilet paper squares and limit yourself to just three or four? Did you refuse to print out any photos so you wouldn’t waste the ink (that was drying up in your printer) or the photo paper (that you had already bought) so no one got to see the adorable pictures of your babies until they were a year older than that? Did you buy canned goods by the case? Did you cook all your meals at home?
When I am being frugal, I do that last one more than anything else. In the autumn of 2011 my husband and I decided to really stock up and ended up with a pantry full of canned goods including a case of sliced, canned carrots. We had never bought canned carrots before. I didn’t have any recipes that called for canned carrots. Neither my husband nor I cared for the taste of canned carrots all by themselves on the plate. It is tough to be frugal cooking food that you don’t actually want to eat.
I had to become creatively frugal. If you’ve ever made five meals from one baked chicken, you know a thing or two about cooking in a creatively frugal manner. The first step was discovering that if we drained and rinsed the carrots several times we were happier with the taste. Then, we needed to experiment with recipes. My mother had taught me how to make hamburger stew many years ago but I always made it with fresh carrots and potatoes. If I was going to use canned carrots, I decided to try canned potatoes as well. Wow! I discovered that you can make a good hamburger stew in record time if you use canned (and rinsed) carrots, canned green beans, and canned potatoes mixed in with the browned ground beef. Chop in a few celery leaves and add a small can of tomato sauce and your usual herbs and seasonings (minced garlic, dried onions, Italian Seasoning mix, salt, pepper) and you have a very tasty meal in far less than half an hour. I also started using rinsed canned carrots in casseroles, soups, and my pasta-tuna salad. I’m thinking I may take it full-circle and make some gluten-free carrot cake using my rinsed canned carrots.
My frugal side always shows itself during the month or so before Christmas. I keep thinking that I should be able to make more of the Christmas gifts that we give. So I start knitting. Knitting would be fine if I didn’t get almost done with the project and run out of that color of yarn and have to go back to the store for another skein – so I can use 15 feet of that yarn and look at that left-over skein for a month or two, fretting because the project wasn’t truly frugal unless I can come up with another use for that yarn.
As it gets closer and closer to Christmas my brain gets an odd twist to it and I start remembering odd bits of Christmas ornaments and projects that we did when I was a child. I remember that we made bubble bath using Epsom salts and a little of our mother’s favorite perfume – but I can’t remember the exact formula. I know that you can either use a large can wrapped with yarn to hold Christmas cards or fold the pages of a Reader’s Digest and spray-paint it gold to make… something oddly shaped and golden.
With my brain twisting and straining to be ever more creative I begin eyeing the cardboard tubes from the center of my toilet paper, positive that with the right imaginative flare I could turn it into a very exciting gift. Note, I wrote ‘flare’ not ‘flair’ because by this time, my brain is burning some odd genetic fuel that got its start in the Great Depression and was preached to me by my maternal grandmother. I am fairly certain that if they had only had toilet paper back when she was young my grandmother would have invented 200 really amazing gift ideas to be made using those cardboard tubes.
I have actually, over the years used the center from rolls of toilet paper to make Little-Drummer-Boy drum ornaments for our tree. As you can see from the photo above, I have also placed a cardboard roll in a used knee-high nylon with some scented bath salts and hung it from our toilet paper holder as a cheap room-deodorizer. More recently I have filled a shoebox with these empty tubes all standing on end, stuffed them with rolled up papers (torn pages from catalogs or old word-search books), and then poured melted wax over them to make fire-starters for our wood-stove. A couple of years ago I used them for starting plants – put some newspaper in the bottom of a small box, fill the box with the empty tubes, pour potting soil into each tube, tuck a seed into the soil, water them, and keep them in a warm sunny place until you can plant your seedlings in the garden – empty paper cups from fast-food places works for this as well. I keep looking at that picture, wondering if I could paint those empty tubes that I have stacked on top of the toilet paper and make a cardboard cannon out of them – maybe for an Independence day decoration?
I have saved the little cardboard boxes that some of our Halloween candy comes in, turned the boxes inside out and glued them back together, and wrapped them in netting tied with a bow and called that a Christmas tree ornament. The Christmas we had a puppy and a kitten living at our house I even made all of our ornaments from felt because the tree kept getting knocked over and I didn’t want to keep cleaning up glass from broken “real” ornaments. First I made ornaments from homemade play-dough – they looked so nice the puppy ate them and then was sick all over the living room from the salt in the dough – then I made the ornaments out of felt because the dog wasn’t interested in eating felt and I was really tired of cleaning the floor.
That brings me to a thought that is perhaps the core of my personal frugality – laziness. I can be frugal as long as it is as easy as spending money. If my dinner can be on the table faster at home than if I were to go out – then I will make that hamburger stew with canned vegetables. If making my own unbreakable ornaments saves me from cleaning up (or stepping on) broken glass then hand me the felt, the scissors, and some glue! And sometimes what I am saved is the effort of guilt – I don’t have to feel as guilty for eating all those Milk Duds from the candy bowl if I used the boxes they came in to make Christmas ornaments!
So, what have your odd moments of frugality saved you? I do hope you will tell me. Maybe I will learn something.
Part Two – The Temporarily Frugal Life coming up next.
More than thirty years ago now my husband and I had a December wedding. I’ve finally begun to notice that a lot of my friends also had December weddings. So, maybe this is a good time to talk about giving gifts that aren’t for Christmas this time of year.
What are good wedding gifts for a couple who gets married just before Christmas? One of our gifts that we are still thankful for on an almost daily basis is a simple crock for holding kitchen utensils. It isn’t imaginative, but it is extremely handy and got us started right away on a habit of having things that we use frequently right out where we can find them easily! My maid of honor got us this gift, though she signed the card as coming from her parents and the rest of the family, but I know her parents were traveling home from Alaska just before my wedding and wouldn’t have had time to shop, so I know this great gift idea came from Cyndi.
Another unimaginative extremely useful gift was towels. We were college students, we had one, maybe two towels each – we needed those boring things! In my experience newlyweds take a lot of showers. We also got sheets. I can tell you exactly who got us those sheets – Muriel Martin – and I remember it because I hadn’t given bed-sheets a single thought while I was making my wedding preparations. I didn’t even know what size mattress we had on our bed! That was a great gift, as was the gift certificate from my sister-in-law at Christmas which we used to buy more sheets – newlyweds change the sheets a lot, too.
I also really appreciated candle holders and candles because I was a romantic bride who wanted to make candlelight dinners for my husband. That can be a dangerous pastime without the correct equipment. I tried making some of my own, which was not my most brilliant idea, so I was grateful for the proper candle-holders we were given.
One thing we were NOT given that we really wanted and felt like we needed was a clock. When you have one you think of it as just an average wall clock. When you don’t have a clock your eyes get frustrated searching the walls for the time and you quickly begin to believe that a basic, everyday wall clock is essential to getting to college classes on time. When my aunt asked us a couple of months after the wedding what we hadn’t gotten that we needed “a clock” was my first and only response.
What newlyweds don’t need is casserole dishes. That was especially true in my case because between my mother-in-law and my grandmother I wasn’t allowed to take food to any potluck until the military moved my husband and I to a base a thousand miles from home! We got about six casserole dishes as wedding gifts. I still have too many casserole dishes – even after raising four daughters and moving around a lot with the military. Those casserole dishes don’t break as easily as you might think.
Newlyweds also don’t need electric can-openers. No one does. That is my one “green” pet-peeve, and it’s mostly because I don’t like listening to the electric motor whine. It always seemed to me that it was actually faster to use a wall-mounted hand can-opener than to use my electric opener – all I really liked was the magnet on my electric can-opener, and the newer wall-mounted hand cranked openers come from the store with magnets already attached.
My last gift idea for December newlyweds is gift cards for boringly useful things – like a tank of gas when they get back from their honeymoon and have no money to make it to the end of the month, or maybe for a dry-cleaning service to have the tuxes or wedding gown professionally cleaned and stored, or for books at their college bookstore, or extra minutes on their cell-phone plan.
There is no shame in giving a boring gift as long as it is useful. We certainly got our share of lovely and/or imaginative gifts, but most of those I can’t remember who gave them to us, or I can’t remember using them for more than one or two times. For example, we got the cutest, tiniest cut-glass salt and pepper shakers I have ever seen – still, we have only used them once. We also got silver napkin rings in the shape of roses – I think we’ve used those twice.
For wedding gifts this December I ask you to be memorably boring and get gifts that your bride and groom will use and use and will happily never have to admit to their mothers-in-law that they lacked the foresight to have on hand.