Lifestyles of the Destitute and Obscure

dazzling and interesting on a shoestring

Tag Archives: libraries

Fancy Cafes are Overrated

sideboard.pasteriesI’m a working mom who stays home with the kiddos for part of the day because now they are all in school. Seventy percent of my paycheck goes to preschool but at least eighty percent of my sanity is intact.

So while the twins are at preschool, I’m working. I had fanciful visions of going to the local chic café, ordering a cappuccino and a scone and working on my laptop… until I nearly froze in their rustic hardwood floor and vaulted ceiling eating area and spent $8 that I didn’t really have. That was nearly satisfying until I couldn’t send an email because the wifi was so blasted ineffective. Back to the warm, quiet and free library.   So now I work off-line in the car with a pre-packed snack, my favorite coffee brewed strong enough to resemble used motor oil and a lovely wool blanket that kept me warm in Colorado and still snuggles my daughter. It even doubles as a picnic blanket in the spring and summer. A fine investment if I do say so myself.

So goodbye dreams of fancy workspaces; the best one is my trusty minivan and the good ol’ fashioned public library.
I make better scones and when I can one day afford my own espresso machine, I can put my six years of barista skills to work and make a better cappuccino. Who needs hardwood floors and antique forks?

To make your own workspace that much cozier, take one of these scones with you and I promise that your cubicle, car or park bench will feel more like a chic suburban café.my.nepenthe.

Orange Oat Scone Recipe bogarted from the book, My Nepenthe: Bohemian Tales of Food, Family, and Big Sur which they borrowed from Stars Bakery in San Francisco (now loooong gone). And so the karmic circle of baked goods passes this recipe along to you.


3 cups flour

½ cup turbinado sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 cup (2 sticks) cold butter, cut into small pieces

2 cups whole oats

zest of 1 orange (or ½ teaspoon of dried orange rind)

¾ cup heavy cream or buttermilk

¼ cup coarse sugar or turbinado sugar for sprinkling on top


Preheat the oven 350 degrees Fahrenheit and line a baking sheet with parchment.

Combine the flour, turbinado sugar, baking powder, and baking soda in the bowl of a food processor. (I use a battered medium sized bowl and a 25 year-old pastry cutter and that seems to work just fine. Also, you can measure out these dry ingredients and set them aside easily if suddenly you find you need to run a carpool or referee a sibling squabble. You can do this really quick and then finish up the mixing and baking when you have a little more time.)

Add the butter piece by piece, pulsing until pearl size. If you’re using a bowl and a pastry cutter, then cut the butter until the flour and butter mixture is fairly uniform and mealy and the butter pieces are very small. Transfer the dough to a bowl if you used the food processor and stir in the oats and orange zest.

Stir in the cream or buttermilk until just moistened. (I ‘make’ buttermilk by measuring out my milk and then adding 1-2 tablespoons of white vinegar. Let it sit for about 5 minutes and then voilà, you have buttermilk.)

Bring the dough together with your hands and gently pat into an 8-inch round. Cut into triangle shapes and transfer to the prepared baking sheet, separating them so they do not touch. Sprinkle the tops with course sugar. Bake for 12-15 minutes, until lightly golden brown. I always rotate my baking sheet about 2/3 of the way through because my oven is crappy and I want to make sure all the items get baked evenly.

**There are a number of variations and substitutions, including switching the orange for lemon zest and then adding 2-3 Tablespoons of poppy seeds. You can also add 1 cup of dried currants, raisins, cranberries, cherries or blueberries as you bring the dough together. Seriously, the possibilities are endless.

Note: Check out the cookbook from your local public library and ooh and ahh over the photographs of the bohemian ‘60’s and ‘70’s (there’s even a belly dancer!) and all the wonderful, whimsical décor. It is a lovely cookbook as well as a collection of history and style.


Times are lean.

I don’t know where the money is going to come from to cover the cost of the $50 humidifier.  I don’t know why it is that Comcast decided to wait until now to charge us for the month of July and thus double our internet bill.  I don’t know how I’m going to pay rent and buy enough food for my family without continuing to drain our ever-dwindling ‘emergency’ savings.  Though perhaps the brink of starvation would be an emergency.  Fortunately we’re not there yet.
I find myself hoping that my co-worker in dance will continue to have knee problems that keep her out of the restaurant and myself in business.  I don’t wish her ill, per se— it’s just that I need the money.
We’re eating lots of beans and rice.  And soup— frozen from more prosperous times.  I’m using the internet double-time to make it double-worth-it.  My knitting projects consist of scraps leftover from previous blankets and scarves.  I intend to use my child’s free Halloween candy for meals… okay, not really, but I wish they had been handing out fresh fruit and vegetables or maybe a loaf of bread and ½ dozen eggs at the mall.
I feel fortunate to be able to pull random things from a bag of donated Gymboree seconds, and it looks like my child will have enough shirts and socks to get through the winter.  I’m not sure where we’ll get the money for a winter coat.  Fortunately, it’s still warm outside and California winters are usually pretty mild.  My husband and I desperately need socks (and socks from here would be nice, but that may be in a richer, though probably no less obscure time… if you have the money, ahem, these socks rock… but I digress)   but again, the continued warmth means we’re still in sandals most of the time.
So what am I doing besides rockin’ it like Bon Jovi and ‘Livin’ on a Prayer’?
Soup works, despite the warm weather.  We walk most places and I use the library’s snail-pace internet for school when I can’t spring for the $1.80 that a cup of Peet’s coffee and an hour of wi-fi will get me.
I discovered H&M for kids, which is not only inexpensive and less cheap than Target, but also not made in China.  Which means I can still have my standards when I’m poor.  We managed a preschooler’s birthday party on about $100, including food and cupcakes for kids and adults alike.  I nixed the goody-bag idea because most of that crap is from China and breaks about an hour after it gets home.  Then it sits around the house for three months before it gets put into the trash and on to the landfill.  So I sent them home with a balloon (minimal waste, though admittedly momentary fun) and a self-decorated pumpkin (edible if you choose, but definitely compostable).
We will entertain on rainy days with videos from the library and homemade play-dough—see recipe below.  The last of the home improvement and decorating ideas have been put on hold, but before we put up storage shelves in the kitchen, we have to make sure water doesn’t drip down the inside of the wall during the rain… again.  So I guess it’s a blessing that we didn’t get those shelves up before last month’s momentary deluge.
I’ve entering the big, bad, wild world of ebay (anybody want a nearly new fluffy green bathrobe?), and managed to sell a few Anthropologie items from my days of being a stylish employee, and maybe a few more.  That money will hopefully put a dent, or at the very least a scratch, in my rising credit card bill.  That said, my credit card debt is nothing like the national average, and I console myself with this thought and at the same time practice iron-clad self-control to keep it from getting there.
Next, there will be serious research into scholarships for poor and stylish library students, as well as the great cesspool of paperwork that entails getting on the waiting list for subsidized housing.

Barring all that, perhaps we’ll camp out in the city square and take up residence at one of the Occupy Wall Street protests.
Anybody got a tent we can borrow?

Homemade Play-Dough
(good, cheap fun to make and play with, and if it goes in their mouths, at least you know what they’re eating)

1cup flour
½ cup salt
2 teaspoons cream of tartar (it’s in the spice section, in case you didn’t know)
1 Tablespoon oil (use the cheapest kind you’ve got—this ain’t gourmet cooking)
1cup water
food coloring of your choice

Mix all your ingredients together in a metal bowl (see directions below as to why it needs to be metal) and add the food coloring a little bit at a time to get the desired color, noting that when it cools, the color will be darker.
Now fashion yourself a double boiler with a saucepan filled about 3-4 inches with water, your metal mixing bowl tucked on top so it gets nice and warm, and a trusty spoon.
Heat on medium and stir the mixture frequently until the mixture really begins to stick to the bowl and balls up as you stir.  It’ll get a little bit tricky, but stir for another minute, and then scrape the play-dough out onto a piece of wax paper and let cool.
It’ll be a little sticky for the first round of creating, but when you’re done, wrap it tightly in plastic cling wrap and tuck it in the fridge.  Next time around, it’ll be cool and smooth and perfect for imaginative little minds… as well as your kids.
Hangin’ in there, over and out,
Ms. D

How the destitute go to school

Disclaimer: For those of you regular readers, please note that this post is part of a school assignment– yes, yours truly is going back to school to get her Masters of Library and Informational Science (MLIS) online.  That’s right, I can go to school, get a snazzy degree to be the next hot, local librarian and never have to leave the house.  Is that a good thing?  I’m not quite sure, but at least I don’t have to pay for the gas to get there.  So, read along as I discuss a couple groovy little lectures on TEAMWORK!!
There is no ‘i’ in team.  I remember reading a poster with this mantra some where in a work environment, and having a good giggle over its cheeziness, and then tossing the phrase about with my co-workers anytime we wanted to remind someone to hustle, buck up, shape up or generally laugh.  It may have been said mostly in jest, but there was a kernel of friendly nudging in there that, at the very least, boosted morale.
In Dr. Haycock’s lecture (I know, I giggled the first time I heard the name, too, but the guy is apparently a guru in the library world) he makes it very clear that doing team assignments is essential training for the workplace, and it’s more than just grinding through the assignment the professor gives you, trying to ignore the idiots who do nothing, grit your teeth and do all the work and hope for the best.  Unless you’re blogging in a vacuum (wait, is that me?) then you’re going to have to learn to work on a team.  Even parenting is learning how to work on a team.  And the way Dr. Haycock (in his charming Canuck accent) described the ground rules and consequences of setting up a team, it can be a lot like raising a child.
The other lecture by a Ms. Enid Irwin (and how can you not love a librarian named ‘Enid’?) said that many of her former students got internships and jobs because of their great teamwork skills learned through the program.  Here’s hoping I’m that gal.  Though I do wonder if maybe I’m the one she describes as having a bad attitude (as in how much I hated working in an all-female-gossipy-as-hell retail situation) or maybe I’m the clown Dr. Haycock describes– the one who’s always joking and trying to make people laugh because I feel it’s the only thing I have to contribute.  But what I really want to be– in school, in life– is the editor, the one with worthy skills to offer.  I also want to be that maternal encourager who checks in every now and then to see how the team is doing– are you hanging in there?  Have you got too much on your plate?  Is there something else you would like to offer?
And then Ms. Enid brings up the ‘p’ word– PLANNING.  Oh, boy.  I try, I plan, I control-freak, I meltdown.  But really, life takes planning, because it is like another famous workplace adage, ‘If you fail to plan, then you plan to fail.’  (Or my mother’s favorite response to passive-agressive meltdowns– ‘Poor planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on mine.’  So take that.)  I bought a notebook today in hopes that I might be better organized, as organization is the cuddly buddy of planning.
So now, I shall sally forth, read what seems like 500 hours of reading for my other class, turn in this bloggy assignment and go on with my chipper attitude, my Destitute and Obscure skills of planning and organization (cause isn’t that what good style and frugality are all about?) and my Darwinian will to survive this next adventure called ‘graduate level education.’
Wish me luck, an extra 8 hours in the day, a well-behaved child and a generous helping of sanity!
I’M OFF TO SCHOOL!!!  (well, at least I’m gonna sit down here on the couch and open my laptop)
Ms. D

How the obscure utilize and love their local library

I have a college education.  I am poor.  These two descriptions didn’t use to exist together very often, but thanks to the new economy and a healthy dose of artistic temperament they fit together in my life quite neatly.  During my college years, I used to take pride in putting together funk-ily furnished apartments, dressing in thrift store finds (it was the 90’s after all) and reading all the beatnik-era classics I could get my hands on.
One of my favorite forms of decorating has been to find an old book case, cover it in some ethnic, vintage fabric, plop a trailing plant on top and then fill it with ALL my books and a few nifty albums.  It looks great, and it’s functional—where else would I put my hordes of books?  In stacks on the floor?
Heavens, no!
But these days, I certainly can’t buy all the books I want to read, even when they’re used books (a kind with a history), so that’s why my home away from home is the Public Library.
My county library rocks, and I’m not just saying that because I work there, um, as a volunteer.  Nor am I saying it because come fall, I will be starting my educational career to become the new hot librarian in my town (Ahem, that is a worthy aspiration, no?)
No, I’m saying it because I love to read, I love the services the public library provides for free, and because the best way to be less obscure, or even less stupid when you’re poor, is to read.
Read and learn and get yourself educated.

I, personally, am a card-carrying member of the Contra Costa County Library system— found easily at, as well as the physical edifices in Walnut Creek, Danville, El Cerrito, Antioch, Pittsburg, and all over Contra Costa County.  In the Bay Area, Alameda County has its own library system and Berkeley is an entity all unto itself—no surprise there.  I hear that the Rancho Cucamonga Library in So. Cal “rocks” as well.  That is, by the way, a direct quote—thanks, Aletha.
My favorite part about the library being online is that it can be a lot like shopping, only it won’t cost you a thing.  Unless of course you are naughty and don’t turn your books in on time.  The good news is that you can also renew online, which is super handy.  You can also pay your fines online and thus avoid that stern look from the librarian—you know the one, where she stares over the top of the glasses perched on her nose and hanging from a chain around her neck.  (I can’t wait to get me a pair of cat-eye glasses, complete with ornate chain—a graduation present when I finish school.)
Here’s how you to make it really work for you: if you know of a title or author, or movie title, (yes, they’ve got movies, too, and I only had to wait about two weeks for a copy of Eclipse to come in… but don’t tell anyone that I wasted two hours of my precious time watching it.  My time, but not my money.) just enter it into the search field, let the system work its magic and then, voila, you just enter in your library card number and your last name and tell them when and where you want to pick it up.  It couldn’t be easier, and it enables bibliophiles with kleptomaniacal tendencies to collect books, magazines, movies and cds (formerly know as books on tape) on all manner of subjects.
Currently checked out on my account:

  • Real Food for Mother and Baby by Nina Planck
  • the documentary, Grey Gardens
  • Mercy Watson to the Rescue by Kate DiCamillo (an illustrated children’s chapter book with a darling little pig on the cover—advanced research)
  • The Pebble First Guides to Songbirds and Horses
  • Dance Anatomy
  • The Female Brain by Louann Brizendine, M.D.
  • The New Frugality by Chris Farrell
  • The Disciple Miracle by Dr. Linda Pearson
  • James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
  • Rechenka’s Eggs by Patricia Palacco.
  • Curious George by Margaret and H.A. Rey
  • Food, Inc.

All of which broaden my knowledge of various aspects of my life, Grey Gardens not withstanding, unless I plan to become a reclusive and eccentric old woman who feeds feral cats and raccoons.  At this rate, it could happen.
The other nifty thing about libraries is the free stuff and cool, free events.  I’ve picked up a few old tour books for free, a nifty decorating book for a mere dollar, and taken my child to the weekly kid’s story time (with the ever-so-patient and animated Mrs. B), and to see a Chinese New Year celebration.

Contra Costa also has free coupons available with a library card.
Your public library—you can’t beat the price or selection, for you or your child, and you can’t beat the cool people that work there.  Let me know how much you love your public library and your librarian.

Ciao and happy reading!

ps. I always love a good reading recommendation…