Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Cheap stuff at Pier 1

Pier 1 is touting its cleverly named "Pier 1 Sale" with items up to 50 percent off. The last time I walked into a Pier 1, I did not find even one thing I faintly desired, which is unheard of for a home dec store. And their website is not what it used to be. (In fact, it is buggy right now with an annoying Flash intro.) If you can bushwhack your way into the home page, you'll find some nice accent tables, including this cheapie for $30. I like the criss-cross legs and the fact that it folds up. (Too bad it's not silver.)

Foo dogs for $5 a piece also caught my eye. Doesn't every bookshelf need a set of foo dogs - if for no other reason than it's fun to say 'foo dogs'? (e.g. Pity the foo dogs.)

Frugerati - you heard it here first

The folks over at slate.com posted a story on frugality websites and blogs, the difference between being frugal and being cheap, and why being a snob will hurt you during a recession.

That's the disappointing thing about the Internet - you think you're slightly original and then you find out there is an entire online community dedicated to your individual quirk. I used to think I was the only person who obsessed over what chairs to put with a Docksta table (and who recognized it as a Saarinen knockoff), until I stumbled on apartmenttherapy.com. It turns out there are about a million of us.

Now, with the economy in the toilet, everybody is frugal. So, just for the record, I've decided this is not a frugality blog.
  • First of all, frugal is such an ewww word. It has a ring of deprivation to it.

  • Cost-savings tips are boring. (Pay off your credit card. Cook lentils. Zzzzzz.)

  • I am a snob. I just happen to be a broke snob.

So, what is Bromeliad Living if it's not a frugality blog? It's about the stuff I've enjoyed on other people's blogs:

  • amusing commentary

  • aesthetically pleasing do-it-yourself projects

  • pretty pictures

  • good deals

  • pretty pictures

  • useful information

It's about enjoying beautiful things and fun experiences independent of income. It's equal parts frugality and elitism.

It's the beginning of. . . the frugerati.

Ha, finally my own digital niche. Go ahead, Google it. It ain't out there.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Hands off that craft kit

According to The New York Times, craft stores had higher sales this year because people were trying to save money by making homemade gifts. This is a bad idea for a number of reasons:

1. You and your glue gun cannot beat out East Asia on price.

2. Crafting is a lot like auditioning for American Idol or wearing a thong to the beach - one of those things that many try but few can pull off with dignity. Unless you graduated from art school or are part of that .2% of the human population with real talent, your craft will be ugly. Trust me on this. It will also tend to be of a useless nature.

3. Ugly crafts are only appreciated when given by children. (Valerie, if you ever happen to read this - You know that seashell topiary I gave you? Get rid of it. I don't know what I was thinking.)

4. Because craft supply people know all about point 2, they try to make crafts that even an idiot could do. Don't you feel silly punching fancy holes in paper? Making a little house out of foam? You should.

If you really want something cheap and sustainable, give a pre-owned gift. My mother is the queen of second-hand gifts, which is why there's an Ann Taylor cashmere sweater hanging in my closet, my friends receive vintage jewelry, and my baby cousins get new-to-them toys and books every week. Nobody sniffs at the lavender Goodwill tag she sometimes forgets to peel off the bottom. The gifts are higher quality than we cheap people would normally buy and often one of a kind. If we don't like them, we give them to somebody else.

The creativity comes in sifting out the right item for the right person, which means digging through a lot of junk, a craft of its own. If you're new to this, here are a few tips to get you started:

  • Never pass up a free or extremely cheap basket. Baskets are great for corraling a bunch of small interesting things that aren't enough for a gift on their own. Don't buy a new basket. America is filled with baskets.

  • Never pass up a decent picture frame. Rip out the ugly picture that's in it and order a flattering print of your friend, her kids, her dog, house or whatever. If you must glue something to it, make it easy to pick off.

  • Save shower gift sets. They make great regifted gifts for the purpose of regifting. Nobody actually uses a shower set. They put it in a drawer for when they need a gift.

  • It must be clean and undamaged. Bonus points if it still has the tags. Double bonus points if the tag says Bloomingdales.

My big fat Hovet mirror

After six months of searching, I now possess an IKEA Hovet mirror. The thing is huge, more than six feet tall. It's like a doorway into another dimension. I don't know how IKEA chooses the names for their products, but I think "hovet" must be Swedish for "dramatically large decorative item that will completely transform your space with its presence." I expect hovet to work its way into the lexicon of English decorator lingo.

"Jarrod, I love your gold-leafed Ming wall divider."

"Thank you. I think it lends real hovetas to my pied-a-terre."

Have you ever done the you know you are cheap when . . . question. You know you are cheap when . . . you won't shop IKEA unless it's half off. The Hovet mirror is only $99 full price, less than a third of the cost of any other huge leaning wall mirror. But I held out for a $50 one on craigslist.org. I even had an RSS feed going for 'Hovet.' Thanks to three local IKEA locations, there's a Hovet for sale every two or three weeks around here, so I could be picky and only bother with one in Brooklyn or Queens.

Here's the romantic back story - while I'm E-mailing someone in Williamsburg about her Hovet, Tom is sneaking out to Sunset Park to pick up a Hovet mirror that he found. He even told the woman not to respond to my query ab0ut the mirror. She was an extremely willing co-conspirator. He dragged it home by himself on a snowy icy night, propped it up in the hallway of our building and pretended to be locked out of the room.

Love my honey. Love my mirror. I think I will go gaze lovingly at both for awhile.

IKEA Hemnes table on sale in Brooklyn

The Hemnes table is marked down from $129.99 to $79.99 for the IKEA Winter Sale in Brooklyn from December 26 to January 19. (Comes in black, yellow, blue and white.) Still too much for girlfriend, who would like to figure out how to make one from cardboard.

The Syntes dinnerware set is marked down from $24.99 to $19.99. (You could almost throw them out as you go instead of washing them.) Comes in black, blue and white.

Different IKEA stores have different sale items. The Brooklyn store had more than most.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Rock me Amedeo

Here's my most recent extremely easy art hack.

I had a traditional silver frame my mom picked up at Goodwill for $4. It originally held a mirror, which broke in transit (sorry mom). It took awhile, but I finally found the right replacement, a drawing of a female head by Amedeo Modigliani.

I printed it out to the size of my frame and - here's the hard part - taped it to a window and traced it on piece of paper.

Here it is.

I like how the spiral pattern in the frame echoes her braids. Tom thinks it's a little weird, but I love it. What more beautiful thing could you make with a piece of office paper and a pencil?

Poor Amedeo died at 35, broke and obscure while his rival Pablo Picasso went on to design greeting cards for Ikea. I have two Picasso hacks in my bedroom, also of women's heads. Out of respect, I moved the Amedeo to the kitchen.

Love those magic words "no iron"

Just arrived - Tom's wrinkle-free no-iron Geoffrey Beene shirts, which he got for $10 each via slickdeals.net (normally $45 each.) Now, if only we can find him a $10 suit.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Brooklyn Bridge in the snow

We got our first real snow on Friday. Here's the Brooklyn Bridge at noon. You'll never see it this empty during the middle of the day unless there's a snowstorm. I saw two bicyclists and five tourists. I was the only runner.

Going Dutch in Amsterdam

The Dutch are known for being pragmatic, straightforward and - best of all - cheap. Here's a breakdown of our expenses for the two of us for four days in Amsterdam:

$0 Airfare
$45 Transportation to and from airports
$111 Food
$185 Hotels
$90 Museums
$27 Leggings
Total: $459 USD

Here's what the same trip would have cost us without the free airfare and hotel discounts:

$3260 Airfare
$1023 Hotels
Total: $4,556

Our free trip was a staggering one-tenth the cost of regular price, all courtesy of the world wide web. (See this post for details about how we won.)

Of course, our "free" trip still ended up costing us almost five hundred bucks that we weren't planning on. We could have spent the weekend in Brooklyn eating pasta and watching What Not to Wear and paid ourselves $460 for staying home. But there's more to life than being cheap. There is an unquantifiable value that comes from enriching our lives via travel. So glad we got to see the Heineken brewery.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Fly the OpenSkies

Here was the raison d'etre for our trip to Holland - two free Premium+ tickets from OpenSkies, a subsidiary of British Airways, from New York to Amsterdam. Tom won the tickets on flyertalk.com ('the world's most popular frequent flyer community.') All those nights of pecking away on the laptop paid off again big time, superceding our Last Great Cheap Adventure (New York to Cyprus in first class with stops in Rome and Milan for $33.)

Our contact at OpenSkies got us access to the British Airways Terrace Lounge at JFK. Fortunately we brought a printout of the E-mail since the JFK ticket agent seemed to catch a whiff of Budget Traveler emanating from the Mr. & Mrs. C.

Here are the "Prem+" seats with individual entertainment systems.

Here are the fully reclining "Biz" class cabin seats.

We were the only two people in our Premium+ cabin. We had enough room to host our own rave.

OpenSkies served prosciutto salad and chicken on the way out, lamb with ratatouille on the return.

Home again. Breukelen and Lange Eylandt below.

How to navigate Amsterdam like Henry Hudson

Yes, Henry Hudson was English, but he was being paid by the Dutch when he stumbled on New York Harbor. But then again, they hired him to find China. So,you may not want to navigate like Henry Hudson after all. Either way, Amsterdam is easy to get to and get around in.

From Schipol Airport, follow the signs to the Arrival Hall. You'll go through customs and then spill out into the main airport area. Here you'll find escalators down to the train platforms and electronic kiosks for buying tickets. We don't have a PIN for our credit card so could not use the kiosks. The live ticket agent said travelers will be required to use the kiosks after February 2009. Our tickets were 4 .50 euros a person. A Holland travel planner and interactive kiosk demo is available here.

There is only one platform with two tracks. The trains to Amsterdam run on both tracks. Getting luggage down to the train via the escalators is no problem but getting big luggage up on the train could be a struggle.

The ride to Amsterdam's Central Station takes about 15 minutes. Trams are available in front of the station. Walking from the train to Dam Square takes about 10 minutes.

From Dam Square, Vondel Park is about another 20 minutes on foot. You can walk anywhere in the city in a half hour or less. We never used the trams. Too cheap and already packing extra carbs.

Amsterdam Flower Market

There wasn't a lot blooming in the Bloemenmarkt in the dead of winter. Bulbs were available but the selection that was certified and allowed in the USA and Canada was small.

Big selection of interesting cactus, venus fly traps, and other plants, but not practical for a souvenir.

We tried to picture Ralph and Marion with some of this sprouting next to the frog pond.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Comfort carbs in Amsterdam

First stop, the Prius Heerlijk breakfast joint across from Central Station. Love the portion size on the cappuccinos.

Oh-so-yummy Dutch pancakes or pannekoek, which are like French crepes only the size of hub caps. This is apple, cinnamon ice cream and whipped cream at The Pancake Bakery, just down the street from the Anne Frank House.

This is deer and poached pears. Also yummy. You can get almost anything on a pancake, including fried chicken.

Tom does this at home.

Dutch food tends to be stick-to-your-ribs fare, which was great in December. Here is a ham, egg and Gruyere cheese sandwich at The American Cafe, which is where Mati Hari had her wedding reception. I'll bet the guests were stuffed.

Here is a dark bread sandwich with cheese and croquettes, which are little fried things. Not sure of the contents. I guessed potatoes, Tom guessed fish.

For real flavor, the Dutch go Indonesian. (Indonesia was a Dutch colony.) We had an incredible spread at Long Pura. This is a rice table, or rijsttafel. You sample a half a dozen different small goodies over rice. The rice itself was amazing, light and lemony and steamed in a banana leaf. It was a meal in itself.

Beautiful presentation. I wanted to eat the carrot flower in the middle but it got taken away.
The waiter said a flower behind one ear means you are married and a flower behind the other ear means you are in love (I forget which ear was which). If you eat the flowers, it means you are in love with food. OK, I made that up. But I did eat the lemongrass, which was apparently intended for decoration. For the record, it tastes lemony.

We skipped the hotel buffet breakfasts. They ran 20-30 euros a person.

Here's our 7 eruo all-you-can-eat breakfast, picked up at an Albert's grocery store off Dam square and eaten in our deluxe apartment. You can take the girl out of the budget hotel but you can't take the budget out of the girl.

Our Heineken Experience

The next day of our Amsterdam trip, we cheered ourselves up with a tour of the Heineken brewery. Tickets were a bit steep at 15 euros per person, but the place was warm, which was becoming increasingly important.

The tour was fun and educational. We got to sample hops and barley, and we brewed our own wort, which looked and tasted like something you'd spend a lot of money on at a health food store.

After our first sample of the real thing, we were lured into singing Dutch folk songs and E-mailing the results to our friends. So much for drinking responsibly.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Anne Frank House

Our first museum stop in Amsterdam was the Anne Frank House, which was both solemn and inspiring. (Photo source: vandegrift.com and annefrank.org)

Eight people hid for two years in the back part of the house until they were betrayed to the Nazis in 1944. Otto Frank, Anne's father and the lone survivor, wanted the secret annex to remain as the Nazi's left it - stripped of furniture. I think the emptiness makes the experience all the more powerful.

Anne pasted pictures of movie stars and royalty in her room, which are still there.

Anne started the diary when she was 13, and, like many people, I read it as a teenager. Touring as an adult, I felt a wave of motherly protection toward young Anne. Such a stupid waste of a beautiful young life. At the same time, Anne inspires. Trapped in a dark room with nothing but a pen and paper, a mere child defeated the Nazis.

As I lay me down to sleep - with a free upgrade

Using coupons, priceline and points, we spent three nights in Amsterdam in three- to five-star hotels for about $180 USD.

Our first stop was the Hotel Nadia, a bed-and-breakfast we booked through hotelclub.net with a $50 off coupon. We chose it because Trip Advisor reviewers raved about it. There was not one complaint, which I think is a statistical impossibility.

Here's the stairwell, typical for an older Dutch building.

The staff allowed us to check in early. We waited for a few minutes in the breakfast room. Breakfasts were fairly simple - bread, cheese, yogurt, and most importantly, strong coffee.

Our room was so small, you practically fall on the bed when you walk in the door. It reminded us of our second and third apartments. Very cozy.

We got upgraded to a room with a balcony.

Our favorite feature of the room. Love how the light scatters from the pendant lamp.

We spent our second night for the same price in the five-start NL Grand Hotel Krasnapolsky, right on Dam Square.

The hotel was overbooked, so we got upgraded to an apartment in a nearby canal house. This is more square-footage than we have at home. Plenty of space to dance a happy upgrade jig. I'm sure it would normally cost hundreds of dollars just to flush the toilet in a place like this.

We used all the pods for the espresso maker.


The third night we stayed at the five-star Hotel Pulitzer, which we got with Starwood points. The hotel is a renovation of 25 adjoining canal houses. Great bed, nice hardwood floor and unique painted tiles in the bathroom.

Interestingly, Killian van Rensselaer, a board member of the Dutch West India Company, owned one of the canal houses, and the villages of Rensselaer and Rensselaerswijck in upstate New York are named after him, dooming generations of Americans to a 16-syllable address.

Of course, New Amsterdam, our home base, has plenty of Dutch place names like Harlem, Brooklyn, Hobokoen, Jamaica and Long Island, the last of which is still pronounced by the natives pretty much exactly as the Dutch spelled it (Lange Eylandt).