Indecisive Moments #1

October 2, 2011 § Leave a comment

smith street, east bayside

Yesterday — I walked up to Mittapheap on Washington Ave., our most local international grocer, because we needed a can of black beans to complete dinner.  I also added a Fanta, which was bright red and tasted like strawberry bubble gum, to the shopping list at the last minute.  The girl checking me out answered:  “Mit-uh-pee-uhp,” when I asked her how to pronounce the name of the store.  Pronunciations are so important — growing up with a last name like Hotchkiss you begin to learn this lesson at an early age.  Also:  spellings.  I always make sure to double, triple, quadruple check spellings of peoples’ first and last names.  It’s one of the many silver linings of many childhood complications.

On the way back down the hill, I noticed the squirrels are getting sluggish.  They’re fun to watch this time of year, because they are filling themselves to the brim with acorns and have a harder time scurrying between slats in fences.  Rodents are impressive looking, it’s their round, dark lobster eyes, I think.  Little onyx globes nestled in plush fur.

The best episode of my short walk was at the very bottom of the hill, outside my door, a man walking from the direction of Kennedy Park, soaked head to toe.  It was a nice evening out, so his being entirely wet was so out of place.  Did someone hose him?  He was swinging his jacket at his side in a serpentine pattern, and the water was dripping from it in a steady stream.  I gave him a good girth (you don’t walk too close to entirely-wet people on an entirely-not-wet evening in my neighborhood) but when I crossed where his path had been the great figure eights of water drops made careless patterns on the sidewalk and road.

Indecisive moments are the record of mundane events otherwise unnoticed:  but given attention carry much more weight than their worth.  Unexpected animals, dainties hanging on a clothesline, the way light lies against houses — all of these are indecisive moments.  It should also be noted that this series of entries is inspired by Cartier-Bresson’s “decisive moment” in which more specific, compositionally meaningful and fleeting moments were recorded by a photograph.


Abandon Bank of America, Go Join Your Local Credit Union

September 30, 2011 § Leave a comment

Ok!  So I’m resuscitating this site because more and more I’ve had feelings/thoughts/wishes/violent reactions that I’d love to share on my other blogs, but to do so would be bad business or wildly inappropriate content.  Ok ok, mise en place Maine, you’re back.

Today’s vicious opinion is brought to you by the news that Bank of America plans to start charging a $5 monthly fee for debit card customers to use their cards.  Why?  Well, there is some cockamamy excuse like ‘debit transactions are replacing cash more and more’ … and this would totally hold water if they weren’t planning on excusing customers with a $1500+ balance in their account from this fee.  So obviously this debit card fee, totaling a modest (yet outrageous) $60/yr. for young people, students, the impoverished etc. is more a tax on being poor than it is an effort to save their business, otherwise they would charge it to their members across the board, no matter what their balance, if they are using a debit card.

Because seriously, even in my BEST times of earning power I have never, ever, ever EVER just had $1500 kicking around.  I wish!  This new standard totally blows TD Banknorth’s ridiculous $5 monthly fee for dipping below $100.

What needs to happen?

Well, first, let me put it bluntly that if you’re not pulling your money from big, monstrous, greedy banking systems and moving it in to a local credit union then you’re pretty much just trying to be poor.  I belong to Five County Credit Union, and all I had to do was live in Southern Maine to join — yes, they charge a whopping $30 fee when I overdraft, but the only monetary requirements to belong to their club is a $25 ‘deposit’ in my savings account, that will be returned to me if/when I liquidate my accounts… yeah, like that will ever happen –  I love them!

Or at least move your money to a state banking institution instead of a national/international one.

We need serious regulations on what kinds of fees banks are able to charge their customers.  $30 for an overdraft fee?  Why?  $5 for not having enough money?  That makes sense!  $25 for a missed credit card payment?  Why?  What is the formula for these dollar amounts?  There needs to be more transparency.

Bank of America is the same bank that ambushed me on the sidewalk my Freshman year at ART SCHOOL (Seriously?  Trolling for art students on Huntington Ave?  They are fishing for poor people they can wring money out of like a damp towel!) and gave me a shiny, new credit card that soon had a ‘limit’ of $3,000 (which then increased to $4,500 before I even had a job that paid more than $9/hr.)  Shady practices?  Preying on financially uneducated young people?  Yes.


Anyways, thank you, I’m so pissed at this news right now it’s excellent to jump on a soap box and air it out.  Bank of America is such an asshole that taking the money out of the bank and stuffing it in a hole in your mattress might actually be the best bet.  Now’s no time for inaction and apathy, people.  Go!  Join the C.U.!  And while you’re at it, why not Occupy?


June 27, 2011 § 1 Comment


Click on that picture to make it bigger.  So — I started couponing pretty aggressively again.  Why?

Two reasons:  although the State of Maine thinks I’m filling my bathtub with hundos and taking weird, unsanitary baths in all my riches and, thusly won’t grant me any EBT benefits, the truth of the matter is I’m actually not ‘doing so well.’  Clarification:  I haven’t actually ever applied for food stamps, but I know the requirements and Mama doesn’t meet ’em.  Additional clarification:  I am actually ‘doing well’ in that I have a roof over my head, generally pay rent on time, and enjoy some minimal leisure activities like dining out 1-3 times per week (on the chopping block, p.s. because of reason #2 forthcoming).  So in order to get ‘something for nothing’ I actually have to do a little work, find deals, match up coupons, and go to town.  It’s not actually that hard and I spend about an hour a week on it.

Reason #2 is that owning a house would be SUPER AWESOME (obviously there are unforeseen troubles that I’m not thinking about right now) and the first thing to do in order to get one of those house thingers is to save money, get your credit in order and then save up a down payment.  Hence stockpiling spaghetti sauce and wrangling free orange juice when you can.  By being a little forward thinking and stocking up MAJORLY on staple items (we eat pasta like it’s our jobZ) and not eating out as much (never?  Could we ever manage never??) then there will be more dollars available for me to sign over to Bank of America so they stop telling credit bureaus that I’m a dick.

Some other new developments came in to play that makes this easier.  One obvious one is that the kitchen and the table are now clean, conducive to an eat-at-home, keep-food-at-home lifestyle.  Magical!  #2 is that I found the ‘search’ feature at for their weekly flyer which allows me to just flip through the coupons I DO HAVE instead of scouring the little pictures and try to match them up.  Yes, progress.  Although that was probably there all along and I was just being a blundering fool about my deal seeking.

I plan on chronicling my adventures here at mise en place for you – not meant to be a ‘deal site’ or anything like that, but perhaps you can take my somewhat sarcastic but totally sound logic and put it to use in your own life.

Here’s last week’s story:

Shaw’s was having an awesome, 2/$5 deal on Newman’s Own Pasta and I just happened to have a little army of coupons for just that.  I don’t know why I didn’t buy more, because at $2.50 each with $1 off/1 coupons I should have used all 6 that I had.  Oh well – now I have three left and I can just jump when they’re having another nice deal.  Did not try to buy the organic because I wasn’t sure if the deal included the ‘good stuff’ because I shopped on the last night when they had taken all the stickers down from the previous week and were putting the ones up for the following morning (hint:  Shaw’s deals end on Thursday night and start on Friday morning.  I like to go on Thursday night because there are no psycho housewives dumping the entire Polar Seltzer display in the cart a la Supermarket Sweep).

I’m generally a pretty sheepish deal-getter, so when I saw that Activia was on sale (4/$10) and if you bought 4 you’d get a free thinger of Tropicana OJ I was at once excited and nervous.  OK – I eat Activia, yes, despite it’s fructose content it tastes pretty darn good and is way better for me than Dunkin’ on the way in to work.  But do I buy 16 little servings of it at a time?  Hmmm.  We love OJ – but we normally get “Simply Orange.”  Hmm again.  So when I got there I checked it out.  I had two coupons for Activia ($1 off/2, so $2 off the 4 I needed to buy) and the Tropicana checked out in the ‘doesn’t have gross stuff in it’ department.  Seeing as Thursday is payday I decided to splurge and, by all accounts, $8 for a thing of OJ and 16 breakfasts is not so bad.

I picked up some free relish and nearly-free Frank’s red hot sauce.  Word to the wise:  condiments can almost always be gotten for free with the right coupons and deals.  Shaw’s is all excited about 4th of July barbecues so the relish was marked down to $.99 and I had a $.55 off of one coupon for any Cain’s product.  Suckers!!

Don’t mind the Duncan Hines brownie mix party in the corner.  At the end of my shopping trip my blood sugar must’ve been low because I grabbed a couple of these that were going for 2/$3 for the Shaw’s deal and I had a ‘buy 2 get one free’ coupon from the manufacturer.  $1.00 each for brownie mix isn’t earth shattering but hello…. they’re brownies.  And they’re in my future.

All in all, the bill came to $40.43.  I had $8.80 off from Shaw’s savings and $8.05 off from all my little coupons.  Then $2.55 off for the free brownie mix totalling $21.03 for all the grub you see above.  That’s including Jason’s coconut water for his cold and the fact that my cats wanted to eat food this week, and that was kind of expensive and not in the plan.  Hoorah!


January 28, 2011 § Leave a comment

So this is what happened to me this morning, in this order:

-I ‘ran out’ of underwear.  (Totally my fault).

-The internet didn’t work (vis-a-vis did I remember to pay that bill??)

-I got in my car and as I pulled out noticed the top half of my side-view mirror was missing.  I seriously thing it broke off in the cold, judging by the break line on it.

-The gas light goes on about halfway to work.


I get it, universe, I get it.

How to Mise Tip #5: Oranges.

January 7, 2011 § 2 Comments

Ok, I must be on a fruit thing today.  Coincidence?  The fact that there’s no natural growing fruit within hundreds of miles?  You decide.

I just finished my iced tea with lemon (from the entry before) and it was delicious.  Although part of the way through I realized that the lemons had kind of dirty skin…so an addendum to Mise Tip #4: Lemons would be if you are going to be nice enough to offer lemon to someone definitely make sure to wash it first.

So now that my bevvie is finished I’m hungry and all I brought to work today was fruit…odd.  As I was peeling an orange I started thinking about how you can’t peel an orange in front of someone else without having to offer them a piece of the orange once you’ve gotten your fingernails all yucky from peeling it.

A lot can be said about the quantity of orange you offer someone who is watching you peel it.  A coworker offered me half of her orange yesterday – it can be truly said of her (in non-orange-related experiences) that she is generous, genuinely interested in other peoples’ stories and problems and is a funny person who I love being around.  Halfers come in three groups:  the selfless-giver of ‘the bigger half,’ the fair and balanced evens-stevens immaculate separator and, finally, the realist who understands they did the work to open the orange, they bought it, so gosh darn it they’re going to give you the slightly smaller half.

A quarter of the orange is an acceptable proportion.  It’s a light snack for the recipient and it’s a clean enough proportion that no one feels left out.  This is the portion I usually give.

Conversely, in large groups it may be necessary to dole out several portions.  This calls for the doubled-up two slices method.  You can give a part of your orange to 2-3 people and still have a third of it left for yourself!  Very generous, indeed.

Social nuances are bizarre – how on Earth do we all perceive these things, compute them and form miniscule judgments based on interactions?  Generally we gloss over details and don’t realize how these minutia group together to eventually form a whole picture.

BE WARY the orange-peeler Scrooge who offers you ‘some orange’ and hands you one, stinking, waggly piece of orange.  The One-Slicer.  The miser.  This person should just not offer in the first place because now their fingers have been on BOTH SIDES of your measly slice, instead of just on the bookends of a chunk.  They might be selfish, but they know its wrong so they relent their citrus fruit in embarrassing proportions.  If you meet a One-Slicer:  head for the hills.

Here are some more interesting things about oranges you probably don’t need to know:

-In 1st grade I had a serious aversion to oranges because we did a project around Christmas where we recreated ‘colonial times Christmas.’  This involved 7 year olds punching whole cloves in to thick, Maine-winter oranges.  Uhhh.  Child labor?  Possible allegations of torture?  My hands killed and smelled like hipster cigarettes for weeks.

-My first live-in boyfriend had a proclivity to orange-scented cleaning products.  Is this normal?

-It drives me .absolutely.bonkers. when people peel the pith off their orange.  Shut up and eat it, jerk!  First of all, the pith is kind of an acquired taste:  I find it delicious.  So the mere waste bothers me.  Count on top of it the fact that the pith contains almost as much Vitamin C in it as the flesh (I read that somewhere that looked reputable, so I believe it).  Also, when you make orange marmalade you make a sachet of the pips and the pith to extract natural pectin.  That’s a nice way to have Paddington Bear over for tea without boiling horse’s feet or any crap like that.

-‘Pip’ is possibly the best name for anything, ever.

How to Mise Tip #4: Lemons.

January 7, 2011 § Leave a comment

This concept totally sprung itself on me this morning – does that ever happen to you?  One minute you’re sleepily driving to work, blindly and sadly going to Dunkin’ Donuts because you don’t have enough money for the good coffee shop this week, then BAM!  Idea!  Observation!  Reflection…

We got these amazing little coupons at my house, about 24 of them and half of them reasonably good deals at Dunkin’ Donuts.  So, for the last few days, I’ve been throwing my hands up, admitting my fate as a member of the ‘upper-lower class income’ bracket.  Man, throwing ‘upper’ in there even sounds snooty…a recent development but I DO miss the street cred being at the poverty line ensures.  So I’ve been going to D&D.  No worries.  We used to go there sometimes when I was a kid and not a total food snob – I got the chocolate frosting-filled powdered sugar pita and Dad always got a small black decaf (ew, gross Dad) and if Dad thinks something’s alright it probably is.

I woke up this morning with a squinty, pinchy, pounding sinus headache.  So when I approached the nice lady who has been accepting my little coupons all week I felt like I was in a bubble.  I ordered a medium, unsweetened peach iced tea.  She’s asking me a question…concentrate…would you….would you like lemon with that?  POP!  Bubble broken.  Yes I would, I would very much.

Let’s be honest – lemon in water might be divisive in some crowds (to wedge, or not to wedge?) but asking customers if they want lemon in their beverage is pretty much the epitome of customer service.  Why?  Because, first of all, cutting lemons is annoying.  Lemon slices are not so bad but wedges are really quite a pain.  But we do it because there’s something about it that’s just so right, so refreshing.  Secondly, when you are a bartender or a server or working in a coffee shop, in order to add the lemon to the beverage hygienically takes a bit of skill.  At the restaurant I worked at we had tongs, but the lemons stick together and can be tricky to extract.  Then I worked in a small shop and we kept the rarely-asked-for lemons in a plastic cup and used a fork to get them out.  Had to keep them locked away!  Otherwise there would be coffee grounds all over them.  Very cumbersome.  So to ask me if I wanted a lemon, at Dunkin’ Donuts of all places – floored!

I should take this opportunity to mention that I am NOT a huge fan of the lemon-infused water option at restaurants.  This is, for lack of a nicer way to say it, the swill that results from a pitcher of water (once cool and icy) with melted, rank ice and marinated lemons that have almost developed a film over them.  That kind of water is gross.  If you love lemon so much, Restaurant, why don’t you treat it properly and just add a small slice when you pour the glass?  Or just leave it out altogether.  That would be better than drinking osmosis.

I also hear that lemon is good for  your digestion.  When I was in my early 20s and had some anxiety/intestinal/embarrassment problems my Dad recommended that I drink a glass of lemon water every morning to even out my system.  This is not medical advice, FYI, and the only reason in this world that I very strongly believe lemon water is good for you is because my Dad so.  But remember – he’s also the one that shared regular D&D trips with me and, remember, as long as Dad thinks it’s ok, it is?  So seriously, people, drink a glass of lemon water in the morning, for God’s sakes, or you’ll die!  Or at least poop your pants.

For me, now, sipping on my great big unsweetened tea (D&D has a sugar problem.  You ask for ‘1’ and they’ll usually scoop in ’10’…just add a ‘0’ behind the number of sugars you request…) with not one but TWO hunky lemon wedges, I am a happy girl.



November 17, 2010 § Leave a comment

$10.76 – Junk Food Heaven

Hello, folks.  I descended on Shaw’s this week with a $20 bill and high hopes to have at least a five and some singles coming back to me with my plan.  I knew I had to pick up red pepper and broccoli for dinner items, and while I was at it bought a sauce mix that looks kind of questionable but was only $.88 and really all ‘Szechuan’ is good, no matter how dehydrated.  The Nasoya Tofu I purchased was $2.99 and I had a $1 off coupon from the paper.  So all that din-din stuff (about two nights worth) was $5.10.

Now:  let the fun begin.  The back page of the Shaw’s flyer this week featured items you could mix and match – if you bought any combination of 10 of them they were insanely low in price.  Here’s what I did:

Starting off responsibly, I bought four cans of Progresso Soup on sale for $1.50 each.  However, if you bought ten of the mix and match items they would go down to $1 each.  I had $1 coupon off four Progresso from the Sunday paper.  Total:  $2 for 4 cans, or $.50 each.

Then, let’s be honest, the holidays are coming and there will be no one stopping me from indulging in cupcakes, brownies, cookies, cake, etc. etc.  So I felt a little less silly buying all this swag.  Observe:

I bought one package of Betty Crocker frosting (yum Coconut Caramel!) and a package of Betty Crocker Super Moist Triple Chocolate cake mix.  This will not yield the most mouth watering cake experience but it will be great for making cupcakes to bring to a holiday party.  German chocolate cake, yes oh yes.  My coupon was for $1 buying these items combined.  The frosting was on sale for $1.50 or $1.00 if you bought 10 mix and match.  The cake mix was $1.29 or $.79 if you bought 10 mix and match.  Total for these?  $.79 + $1.00 – $1.00 coupon = $.79.  Awesome.

My mom makes really quick and delicious chocolate croissants around the holidays for us to snack on while we make the big guns (buche de noel!) so I know have stockpiled 5 of these tubes.  They’re gross, I know.  But if you’ve been eating something since you were 3 it’s really hard to kick the habit.  Croissants were on sale $1.50 each or $1.00 each further reduced with mix and match.  I had a coupon for $1 off 3 packages, so $2 for 3 croissant tubes.  Thrifty.

I had some pretty high value coupons for these Sweet Moments things you’ve been looking at in your peripheral vision while you’re trying to be well-behaved in the dairy aisle.  I will test these for you.  They were $2.50 each on sale, further reduced to $2 after 10 mix and match.  I had two coupons for $1 off of 1 box, so $2 total for 2 boxes.  This might be dessert tonight.

Betty Crocker cookie mixes were a good deal because these will be easy to make with my niece without totally destroying the kitchen.  They were on sale for $2 each, further reduced to $1.50 each in the mix and match.  I had $1 off of 2 pouches coupon, so I paid $2 for two packages.

The tabasco sauce sitting amongst all the goodies was kind of impulsive.  We already have tabasco sauce but we go through it quickly seasoning chicken salad and jerk sauce so I just picked one up anyways.  The smaller size is $1.89 and I had a $.75 off coupon on one jar of tabasco.  Shaw’s doubled it so I only paid $.39 for another month of spiciness.  Ay carumba.

There’s this feeling of panic when you approach the registers at Shaw’s with a cart-full of free food.  Maybe it’s similar to how people feel when they’re about to shoplift?  Something for nothing… really?!  I always scope out what line looks the most dead, what cashier looks the most forgiving, and I keep an eye on other approaching customers so I don’t blast in front of someone with a cup of soup and a soda on their work break.

The girls who rang me out today were so funny, had lots of questions about my coupons and I told them how crazy I am but it’s ok, because I really don’t make that much money so it’s better being crazy and self-sufficient than relying on the gov’t to give me free things.  When all was said and done, the total check rang up to $40.16.  I watched as she scanned my Shaw’s card at the end of ringing everything up and the prices melted before my very eyes.  I handed over all my coupons and the max allowed 4 ‘dollar doublers’ that were in the flier this weekend and the numbers continued to dwindle until the marquee read:  $12.76.  I handed over my $20 and a $2 off ANYTHING coupon came out of the little machine with my receipt.  So I’m counting that towards an additional $2 off even though I’m not using it today.  I totalled $27.40 in Shaw’s card, coupon and dollar doubler savings, almost three times the amount I handed over in cash.

“Wow!”  the friendly cashier said as I walked away, “My mom would be proud of you!”


For more information on coupons, deals and general thriftiness subscribe to my blog and check out Broke 207 and Money Saving Maineac.

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