Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Anyway Project, One Small Change, and frugality in general



Along with the goals I’m working towards for the upcoming holidays listed in yesterday’s post for One Small Change, I’m working towards restructuring my lifestyle to be less focused on the influences of “modern” life by following Sharon Astyk’s The Anyway Project. My interpretation of this project is how you value things, how you let objects draw from your monetary and emotional reserves, and what you are willing to forego to reach a happy balance, all while considering what your actions do to the resources on the planet. (Pretty deep, and maybe off-target from the Project’s intentions, but that is my personal reading of it.) This month was spent just scratching the surface of what needs to be adjusted. Having seven areas for improvement seemed like an easy task. Daily commitments however, such as work, have an impact on this. This is where I stand after one month.

Domestic Infrastructure:
Additions are slowly being made to my small kitchen "pantry". I search the store flyers for storable items when I prepare my grocery list. Rest assured, I do not drive around to all the stores. I pick the one that will give me the best deal for that week and shop carefully, no impulse buys. After all, saving two dollars is a moot point when the trade off is four dollars in extra gas. (Please note that since I live in a city, where there are many grocery stores near me. It is almost silly that Stop and Shop has a store one-half mile from me heading either north or west!) Also, since one of my goals is to drive less, I combine stops into one trip or forego the item.

Household Economy:
I’ve updated my old budget spreadsheet. Limits have been set in all categories and I’ve determined how much to set aside each month for emergencies. I've scheduled an automatic transfer from my paycheck into a short-term savings account to build a reserve for property taxes.
I reviewed the allocations in my 401K. One fund wasn’t living up to expectations, so I researched the other funds and found a suitable replacement. (Something that needed to be done, anyway.)

Resource Consumption:
Regarding my drafty windows – I’ve seen a few online photos from folks who have restyled drop cloths into draperies. Considering their weight (thickness) and blocking drafts, I think this will fit my needs and my budget. I just need an inexpensive rod to hold the weight. Also, this week the plastic will go on my bedroom window after the forecasted unusual 60+ degree Wednesday.
Energy, in general - folks who have been reading my posts may remember that I have extensively cut back on energy usage, eliminating a television and the cable provider, using power cords on appliances, and replaced very old appliances, among other things.
Driving – for the next three weeks I’m tracking exactly how many miles I drive, and where (or why). I’m also asking myself “Do I really need to go there?” for each trip.

Cottage Industry and Subsistence:
I’ve gathered all the vintage items that I want to sell and I’m trying to source a consignment shop in this area.

Family and Community:
A nearby town is hosting a holiday evening on Dec 3rd, and I've asked a co-worker to join me. Also, the company holiday gathering is later in December.
I’ll be watching for the continuing ed flyers for the evening classes that start in January.

Outside Work:
Find ways to improve my workflow/workload – asked supervisor if a temporary worker in another office could help with a current project.

Time and Happiness:
Maybe something in the continuing ed classes?

There is much more to be done. Being much less dependent on that paycheck and being prepared for emergencies means starting now.






Monday, November 29, 2010

One Small Change (for the holidays) update

Today's One Small Change post will partner nicely with tomorrow's post regarding updates on my following of The Anyway Project. But, rather than get a step ahead, here's what I've worked on this month for my One Small Change of holiday gifts with minimal waste of resources.

My homemade vanilla is coloring nicely. The two bottles are gifts that will be delivered in January.

I completed one knitted gift. (Only one this year.)

A furry friend will be getting homemade doggie biscuits from a recipe that I found online.

The candy recipes that I will be making two weeks from now have been finalized. (All baking and cooking is scheduled close enough to "gifting" time so everything will be as fresh as possible.)

I have made deposits into educational savings accounts.

Some will be receiving restaurant certificates and movie passes.

And, for the practical gift, maybe some (store bought) union suits or great wool socks.


Be sure to stop over at Hip Mountain Mama's One Small Change site to see what everyone has been doing! Newcomers are always welcome to join in!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Permanent

I so wanted to drop the comment moderation. As a blog visitor, it is more pleasant to have a comment appear when written. As a blog host, it is a constant concern that a comment is waiting moderation. None the less, it seems that I have to enable comment moderation permanently as a spam blocker. Considering we are working in a free medium to share our thoughts, it is but a small bump in the road.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Aftermath

I've eaten more turkey and stuffing leftovers, taken a few naps, and watched the eager early shoppers on this morning's news programs. Frequent yawning is about all the activity I can manage, although I might make a cup of tea and do some reading tonight. I've definitely had too much food and not enough activity this Thanksgiving.

Around 2 o'clock this afternoon I wandered into a few stores, even though the only item on my list was a pack of coffee filters. It was shocking to see the mess left behind by those early bird shoppers. After seeing clothing lying on the floor, display racks in the middle of what once were aisles, and toys taken out of boxes, I'm glad I wasn't around when the madness was at its peak.

Tomorrow I'll get up, shake myself awake, and bake some cookies. The break is over and it's time to get things back to normal. There are cards to write and presents to finish. I just hope I don't need to go into another store this weekend ;)

Have a wonderful weekend!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Eureka!

"Is this it?" I asked as I handed it to her. She raised her glasses with one hand and squinted her 91+ year old eyes to see what she held in the other hand. "Yes. Yes. That's it. Where was it?" "It was right where you said it was, except across the street. Now that no one is mowing anymore, I saw it."

Heaven knows that in my time on this earth and growing up in that town, I've been on that road hundreds, if not thousands, of times. And all that time, this plant was growing there, defiantly withstanding lawn mowers each summer. Now that the mowing has ceased for yet another winter, the low spreading leaves of the Common Mallow were easy to spot as I drove by.

Success! This was my greatest triumph. So often I feel like I'm racing against the clock, trying to solve mysteries for my mother and myself while she is still with us.

The plant from her memories still exists, as it did 60 years ago when my grandmother made cold remedies from it. I carefully placed the leaf in my mother's Woman's Home Companion Cook Book (1946), which she had given to me several years ago.






Elusive, still, is the sweet cicely and the "bread and butter" tree she speaks of, whose leaves she would stack in threes and chew, as one would a sandwich. Perhaps that discovery is for another day.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Taking time to be thankful

Taking time during the most hectic part of the year to reflect on people we take for granted.



The people who operate shelters for the homeless

Those who give their time to work at "kitchens" to feed the less fortunate

Anyone who organizes food drives, and all who contribute

Workers helping handicapped patients, regardless if the infirmity is physical or mental

Families who will take in a child in trouble

Regular folk who take time from their busy schedule to help build or rehab housing

Moms and Dads who lead scout troops

Anyone who donates their time to 4H

Folks working/running large farms, for the hard work they do to put food on our table

Folks running small farms organically, whether certified or not, because they believe in it

Our troops and national guard, all of them, wherever they are

Parents who help at their childrens' schools

School crossing guards who make sure our children get to school safely

All the volunteers who stand out by the red kettle in the cold, wet, snowy weather to ring the bell and thank US for our donation



I'm sure you can think of ones I haven't listed. This year please keep them all in your thoughts when you give thanks.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Monday, November 15, 2010

Flour, oil, and water

By now you know that I love to experiment in the kitchen. I get a kick out of tossing in a handful of seeds into bread that I 'm kneading. By making my own granola, I can avoid sweeteners. And trying a simple, new recipe can make me smile. So Sunday night I took some flour, oil, and water and followed the instructions in The Garden of Earthly Delights Cookbook by Shea MacKenzie to make tortillas. I'm sure a lot of you are really good at making them but it's something that I had never thought to try, what with relatively inexpensive ones in the refrigerated case at the grocery stores.




I loved how the bubbles formed as these were cooking on the cast iron skillet. And the flour gave off that wonderful "nutty" aroma.

I made half the recipe which gave me 12 tortillas, each 8- to 10-inches across. 11 of them are already in the freezer. The last one is going to wrap a scrambled egg for my breakfast.

Play with your food! Have some fun :)

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Step by step by step

It was a long week, coming home from work in the dark after turning the clocks back last Sunday. It's taking time to reset my internal clock after being on my own schedule while I was homebound. (It only seems like each day has less than 24 hours.) But I've made use of the evening hours by going through my checkbook entries for 2010 to set up next year’s spreadsheet for my budget. I've used this particular one in the past with great success and have confidence in being able to follow it again.

After doing my arm exercises for the day and sitting with the ice pack on my shoulder, I work on my plans for the holidays. I’ve flagged some candy recipes to make for gift packages this year. These are from an older book that I have used before, Homemade Candy by the Food Editors of Farm Journal, from 1970. The directions are clear and inviting. Their homemade marshmallow recipe is sooooo good.

I also completed the first present for the holidays. But I'm not telling who the recipient will be in case word gets out ;)



My in-process vanilla is starting to turn dark. These will be hand-delivered in January, once they've been packaged in pretty jars.



I’ve also started checking grocery store flyers online for filling my mini-pantry. I won’t waste gas by driving from store to store, but will judge the sales each week to see where I can save the most, based on my personal needs/use. I’m planning on a six month supply of non-perishables, including canned goods and bulk bin items that I regularly use (nuts, grains, etc.) Luckily, one of the stores near my workplace has the best buys this week. I’ll drop by before work on Monday, and fill the car at a gas station with lower prices while I’m there.

And, perhaps the most important duty of all, I replaced the battery in my smoke alarm. Have you?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Anyway Project

Back in the sixties we were told that modern living through technology would make our lives better by easing workloads and giving us more "free" time, yet today we are scurrying more and enjoying less. It seems that we are on the proverbial hamster wheel, trying to keep up from day to day. By sitting at a workstation all day we now need to schedule time for exercise, something that would have amused our parents and grandparents. For those of us who grew up before answering machines, being "connected" 24/7 is physically and mentally draining. Taping television programs that we might miss only creates another taxing obligation on our time, for having to watch them in the future when we should be doing something else. Welcome to modern living through technology.

Like so many others, I have looked for ways to reduce my spending, my use of resources, and my commitments so that I could enjoy a less hectic lifestyle. Over the years I have tried "no spending" time frames and challenges to use less. I have budgeted. It works, up to a point.

Last week the little light bulb (CFL, of course) went on in my head when I read Sharon Astyk's post about the Anyway Project. The title referring to the way we should live, anyway. (Love the logic in that.) Her post from this past Tuesday goes on to explain the different aspects of the project. It puts it all together. Through her project, everything I've tried to do piecemeal gets connected as a whole including a few areas that I had not explored, such as Community. After reading her posts and the reader comments a few times I've developed my own list of goals to make my life more sustainable. In joining this group (I’m not thinking of it as a challenge), I am setting goals to accomplish in each of the following categories.

Domestic Infrastructure:
Since I don’t have the luxury of a pantry room, I will create a list of basic provisions (dried beans, etc) and purchase what I can store in the kitchen cupboard that I emptied during last years “clear out”. The stored foods will be the basics for meal planning, hoping to return to the food storage, meal-planning lifestyle from years back.

Household Economy:
A few years ago I found an amazing excel budget spreadsheet online, which I tweaked to fit my needs. It worked great for the year that I used it, showing me all my spending habits and where I needed to make changes. I will pull up the old copy and update it for my current needs.

Resource Consumption:
First, I need to reduce unnecessary short driving trips.
Second, I need to address the drafty windows in my condo. Last winter I used the plastic that is applied indoors with a hair dryer. I can combine this with window quilts, which other participants mentioned.

Cottage Industry and Subsistence:
I need to find an outlet for the vintage items that I have accumulated, possibly through eBay or etsy. Then explore a possible cottage industry to supplement my primary income.

Family and Community:
I tend to become an indoor person during the winter months, but need to find group activities for the next few months. I’ll research events held at the public libraries near me for this.

Outside Work:
I have an intense and demanding job, which can cause stress and the need for “decompression” time. I’d like to find ways to improve my workflow/workload.

Time and Happiness:
I’d like to find time for relaxation (possibly yoga?) to even out my lifestyle, and return to a regular exercise routine.


I may have to fine tune these, or provide more detail. You may want to follow along or even join in. Here’s the link to Sharon’s blog. Right now I’m off to look for and update that old excel spreadsheet.



Please take time on Thursday, November 11th, to remember our veterans!
Thank you.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Even chocolate mistakes

....can be good!





Oh, how we wander across the interwebs! During yesterdays trip through the 'net I stumbled upon a recipe for Cocoa No Knead Bread posted on Juls' Kitchen. Her descriptive writing was too much for my willpower, so I set out to bake one.


Her recipe is not in my accustomed U.S. measurements, so I used one of my favorite sites, onlineconversion.com. We were warned about the coming metric system in Home Ec class back in the sixties but that knowledge has fallen by the wayside. So, with a little online help I guesstimated the weights, volumes, and oven temperature.


My second setback was not having enough flour. I substituted half with whole wheat flour. It was a gamble, I know, but I really wanted to try this bread after reading about it. I also goofed by not pre-mixing the dry ingredients before adding the wet ones (thus, the swirl effect in the bread.)


End result: Mmmmmm! I don't know whether to dab on some butter or run out for a jar of marshmallow topping. But even plain - it goes good with a cup of tea.


Stretch your culinary limits! It doesn't have to be fois gras.


After this one is gone, I'll be trying one of the Banana breads that Mug suggested the other day. Bananas are on my grocery list.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Everybody's doing it

Yes, I'm a little late to the party, but I'm doing it, too! Inspired by so many bloggers (especially Rob), I started a batch of vanilla.






I picked up Madagascar beans from Penzys today and used vodka that was already on hand. This batch won't be ready until sometime in February, which is fine because it won't be delivered to the giftees until later in January*. I'll hand deliver it along with details for letting it mature and how to use the beans for vanilla sugar. Their participation in the process will be part of the "gift" ;)

I hope your holiday gifting plans are well underway. As with everything else, planning is the key to avoid wastefulness!



* I'll be travelling up north for a very late holiday celebration due to work commitments and health. I'm sure I'll enjoy the drive much more by waiting a few extra weeks. But I'll be sending some homemade goodies up there in December ;)

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

envy

I had never used anything like this yarn, which I found over a year ago at a second hand store. My projects were always utilitarian, made from old fashioned worsted, because my skills don't justify the expense of fancier yarns. But the cost of this soft blue wool was reasonable enough to take a chance, and the six small skeins would probably be enough to make a nice scarf. But the yarn sat in a storage tote while I knitted and crocheted with worsted again last year.




Last week I decided to stop making excuses and just use it. I had bookmarked a pretty scarf made by the Selfish Seamstress, which she appropriately called the "envy scarf". The directions seemed straightforward, so I cast on and started knitting....and knitting....and...






It takes me a little more concentration to use this type of yarn and the lacy effect is not as pronounced as it would be with a plain yarn, but I really like the "nubby" texture. I've got about 12 inches done and with another 30 or so to go, I'll have a gift ready for the holidays. Shhhh, don't tell!


P.S. My November and December goals for Hip Mountain Mama's One Small Change Challenge are to make this a handmade holiday season, while keeping my use of resources down to a minimum. I'll be upcycling as much as possible!