Sunday, August 29, 2010

Getting On With It

Brace yourselves.  This is what my workroom looks like right now:

This room is where a lot of my life happens.  It's my sewing / knitting / crafts room.  It's the home office from which I blog, run my home "direct sales" businesses, do all the family banking and bill-paying, and conduct a fair bit of my social life.  It's my library and reading room. It's where I do all my garden planning and stash all my Christmas shopping.  It's where my "work" wardrobe lives, and where  -  when I have a job to go to  -  I get ready in the morning.  It's where my altar (not shown) resides.  And if I'm in here, chances are at least one cat is, too.

It's six feet by nine feet, plus a very small closet.

As you can see, it's gotten a little bit out of control ...

This room is going to be my number one project while Big Guy is off fishing.  I plan to:

1)  Catalogue the library, weed and purge (and donate to the local public library), re-shelve the reference books, and box up all the fiction to go to the attic for now  -  with the exception of the books I've acquired but not had time to read yet.

2)  Sort every piece of paper in the room and file, recycle, or burn (no shredder) as appropriate.

3)  Sort, purge & donate, and properly store what I'll keep of all the office and school supplies.  I have a feeling that even after I'm done I'll have a lifetime supply of pens, pencils, notebooks of all sizes, and file folders and hangers.  Right now a lot of local stores and businesses are collecting donations of school supplies, or I can take them directly to the local elementary school.

4)  Organize all of my home business supplies and stock in one place.

5)  Sort, purge, and organize all of my knitting, sewing, and craft supplies and materials.  And then finish the current pile of mending before I start any new projects!

When I'm done:

1)  I should have a lot more room to work, and a lot more time to work, since I won't be spending so much time looking for what I want and then trying to clear a space to work in.

2)  I'll be donating things that can't always be found in thrift stores, but that a lot of parents, sadly, can't afford to buy new for their back-to-school kids.

3)  I'll be saving money, because I'll no longer be running out to buy something I already have but can't find.

4)  I'll be saving more money, because I'll be making nice new clothes from materials I already have instead of shopping.

5)  I'll be making money, because I'll be able to get a lot more things made in time for the fall / winter craft fairs.

6)  I'll be making more money, because I'll be able to run my home businesses more efficiently.

7)  I'll be taking a lot of donations to the local thrift store, thereby decluttering my home and keeping stuff out of the landfill.

It won't all happen overnight.  But it will happen. 

Just wait till you see the "after" pictures!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Getting Things Done

For the first time in weeks, today I felt as though I was actually getting things done.  And it's a good feeling.

For months now I've had a "to-do" list of things that I wanted to see to around the house, but I could never seem to cross anything off.  No matter what I set out to do, it always seemed as though the universe was conspiring to prevent it.  If I got up in the morning determined to declutter a room, Big Guy would have something going on in that room.  If I wanted to shift furniture and deep-clean the living room floor, he'd pick that day to rack out on the sofa channel-surfing all day.  If I wanted to spend the day getting all the errands done, he'd suddenly disappear with the car for hours, or Daughter would need to be taken shopping or to the dentist or somewhere transit doesn't go.  If I wanted to start a sewing project, I'd find someone else's stuff all over the table ...  It was getting to be the story of my unemployed life  -  no matter what I wanted to do, someone wanted / needed something else to happen.

Until yesterday afternoon.

I've already mentioned that Daughter is working out of town, probably until mid-November.  Yesterday, Big Guy and a friend loaded up the camper and drove away for a week (at least) of fishing up the valley.  So I have the house all to myself.  For literally the first time in over thirty years, I have the house all to myself for more than twenty-four hours.  It's eerily quiet ... nobody is talking, unless you count the cats; nobody is crashing around in the kitchen or the basement or the workshop; nobody is yelling every five minutes for me to do something, or find something, or fix something, or clean something; the television hasn't been turned on all day.  And I'm loving it.

So what am I doing with all this unaccustomed peace and quiet?

Last night I was lazy; didn't do a darn thing except finish a library book and start another one while the cats took turns purring in my lap.  Bliss!

So far today I've gone online and applied for three jobs, touched up my grey roots, washed and hung up two loads of laundry, rearranged the living room and steam-cleaned the floor, got all caught up on e-mails and online surveys, and got half the pieces for Other Daughter's quilt cut out. I also gave our downstairs tenant the perfectly good mattress from our dying sofabed to augment hers, and had the city garbage truck take away the frame.  The living room looks twice as big and just as comfortable; once I find time to reassemble my Ikea armchair, I think even Big Guy will see what an improvement it is to have the old sofa gone for good.

This evening I'll be mending while I watch a lecture series on the origins of civilization.  I've always regretted having to leave college halfway through, and never having the funds to continue; and I've always looked for ways to keep studying the subjects I'm interested in, outside the framework of "formal" education.  So when Mom started getting university-level lectures, on DVD sets, with study guide books, I was delighted  -  especially since we have very similar interests.  So far I've studied my way through a series on the origins of religion, and when I finish the set I have now, I'll return them to her and borrow the set on the origins and evolution of language.

Tomorrow?  If it's nice out, I'll probably spend a good part of the day gardening and cleaning up the yard, possibly stacking firewood.  If it rains ... well, there's always that quilt.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Working The Job Market

I know, I know ... I'm still trying to get the links from the Festival of Frugality to work.  In the meantime, here's something that's been on my mind for a long time now, and I'd be happy to hear any suggestions you care to offer.

When I was first laid off, I didn't panic.  I'd been expecting it for a while, and I had my strategy firmly in place.  I was going to be optimistic but realistic; in other words, I was hoping to find another job right away, but not counting on it.  I'd acquired a lot of valuable, marketable skills and experience over the years, and while I knew how badly the economy was tanking in the States, I didn't think things were that bad here in Canada.

I was wrong.  Massively, stupendously wrong.

The first clue was finding out how long my E.I. was good for.  I'd expected the usual  -  seven or eight months of benefits (after the waiting period engendered by my severance pay).  But seventeen months????  Wow, I thought, maybe getting another job isn't going to be as easy as I counted on.

The second clue was finding out how many hundreds of other applicants there were for every job posting in my field.  And ninety-plus percent of them were younger than I am.  Much younger.  They don't have any experience, but they all seem to have diplomas; a combination that made them far more attractive to potential employers.  The diplomas meant they knew all the industry terms and buzzwords, but their youth and inexperience meant that they could be offered a much lower wage.

Okay, time to look for ways to counter that.

Training credentials added to resume?  Check.  Grey hair dyed back to my original colour?  Check.  Stated salary expectations modified in my cover letter templates?  Check.

Experience understated in my resume?  No, no, and no.  Why not?  I look at it this way  -  if an employer can get someone with my level of skills and experience for what they'd pay a relative newcomer, surely that makes me a more attractive prospect.  Doesn't it?

And sure enough, I'm getting a lot more calls and interviews ... but none of them go anywhere.  And whenever I ask  -  politely, of course!  -  if there is some particular reason I wasn't chosen, I get variations of the same answer.  They didn't believe that someone with my experience would be happy working for the salary they were offering.

So my question is:  Why can't any of these people figure out that if I wasn't prepared to be satisfied with what they were offering, I wouldn't have applied for job in the first place?


Festival Of Frugality

I'm so excited!  I just found out that my first-ever submission to the Festival of Frugality was actually accepted!  You can see it all here, hosted by Frugal For Life:

Festival of Frugality

I'm having problems making links work, but please go check out the Festival!  With thirty-five bloggers contributing, there's enough really good stuff there to keep you busy for days!  Shopping, saving, spending, food, diapers, taxes, call phones, insurance, traveling ... no matter what your situation is or what you're most interested in, you'll find something worth reading and thinking about here.

And a huge, heartfelt "Thank you!" to Dawn for hosting!

I'll be back once I figure out what I'm doing wrong with links, to talk about the Festival some more.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

When Opposites Attract - And Clash

Let me start by saying the I love the Big Guy with all my heart and have no desire to be without him in my life, ever.  We've been together for three decades, and I'm hoping for at least another three or four. Or five ...

That said  -  there are, as in any domestic partnership, times when he makes me want to pull my hair out (or his, except he doesn't have much left and I can grow more) in frustration.  Almost all of these occasions arise from how different our respective attitudes are when it comes to money and debt.

Just to be clear, in this post I use the word "debt" to mean specifically consumer debt, be it credit cards, car loans, or any other debt acquired in the course of acquiring things.  I don't include mortgages or student loans, as I consider them to be investments in one's own and one's family's future well-being.  And in the case of our neighbours to the south, I don't include debt arising from medical emergencies or chronic illness, since these are not deliberate choices.  Clear?  Okay, onward ...

I grew up in a family where both parents worked, budgets were made and followed, savings were important, and debt was something shameful to be avoided.  Charge accounts were acceptable only as long as their use was budgeted for ahead of time and they were paid in full each month.

Result:  I am very, very conscious of exactly how much money I have, where it's going, and what I'm getting for it.  I comparison shop, I wait for sales, I look for discounts, I shop at thrift stores and dollar stores, and if I can't pay for something in cash, or know I can't zero out the credit card before the end of the month, I just don't buy whatever it is.  I'll make an exception only for emergency repairs to the house, or emergency vet bills.  He tells me I "worry too much".

He grew up in a family  -  and a culture  -  where fathers worked, mothers stayed home with lots of kids (he's one of eight, and that was not considered a "big" family), and debt was just a part of life.  Everyone had debt, everyone would always have debt until the day they died, and parents who didn't have any debt were seen as "cheap bastards" who didn't want to "do right by the kids" no matter what the cost.

Result:  If he sees something he wants, he whips out the credit card.  He wants what he wants and he wants it now, and he'll "find a way" to pay the bill later.  And if he can't get what he wants even with the credit cards, he moans and growls about how he "can never have anything he needs" until I want to gag him with a rusty tire iron.

So ... I am dead set against our having any debt whatsoever apart from our mortgage, and would like to find ways to pay that off as quickly as possible.  He expects to be in debt until his dying day, finds that acceptable as "just the way things are", and doesn't understand why it's a big deal.  It bothers him, but not enough that he's willing to do anything he doesn't like doing to get it paid off.

For example:  We both smoke, I love my coffee, and he loves his cold beer at the end of a long day.  So we're kind of the same there, yes?

Well, no.

When he wants beer, he buys beer.  He doesn't care what it costs, he works hard, he deserves it, his life would suck moose teats if he couldn't even have a beer when he wanted it.  In other words, he isn't willing to give up beer, no matter what.

When I want coffee, I buy coffee  -  sometimes.  I know which brands I like and which ones I consider a waste of money; I watch and wait for sales and coupons that I can combine to get the coffee I like for the lowest possible price, and then stock up.  If I can't get what I want at a price I consider acceptable, I'll cut way back and stretch the stocks I have as far as possible, or I'll live without it for a while.

He won't even think about trying to quit smoking.  He says he knows he ought to, but he "just can't".

I'm trying to quit on my own, because our extended medical doesn't cover any programs, cessation aids, or medication, and they're not in the current budget.  Watch my sidebar for my results ...

So how do we make such wildly divergent attitudes / money "styles" work together without one of us killing the other over it?

1)  The only joint account we have is the mortgage / HELOC (joint tenancy with right of survivorship).  We each put in half of the payment every month, without fail.  That comes first.  We each throw in as much additional money as we have available, to get the HELOC paid down faster.   And we each pay half of the property taxes and insurance.

2)  We are each 100 % responsible for our own credit cards.  We each have our own chequing account and it's none of the other one's business what's in it.  He runs a huge revolving overdraft, and his credit cards ... well, let's not even go there, or I'll start frothing at the mouth.  I always have a positive balance in my chequing account, and my (one and only) credit card is always back at zero before the billing date.  The personal debt in the sidebar is the balance of a loan from my Mom for $6000.00 worth of unavoidable dental work.

3)  Since he does all the cooking, he buys all the groceries (except for the coffee).  We do make a list, go through all the fliers, look for coupons, buy bulk on sale ... well, see my earlier post on that (Variations On A Frugal Theme).  But ... if he sees something he likes that's on sale, he will just go and buy lots of it on impulse, and if he's hungry he'll go out intending to get just milk, or eggs, or whatever, and come home with bags and bags of stuff we don't need.  Even our shopping trips together are liberally seasoned with my repetitions of "We don't need that / that's not on the list, put it back."

4)  The HELOC was used to replace all the old, decaying plumbing in the house, replace the old water heater with a tankless "on-demand" one (an incredibly good decision!), replace the old roof, and put in a legal one-bedroom basement suite.  The rent from the suite is paid to me; half pays the household bills  -  gas, Hydro, the cable/internet/landline package  -  and the rest goes to pay down the HELOC. (This is not as unfair as it might sound, because even on E.I. his income is quite a bit higher than mine.)

5)  This is the sneaky one ... I have a savings account that he doesn't know about.  Because every time I've had savings that he did know about, he found a reason why they had to be gutted to cover his butt on something.  Like the snowy, icy week when  -  granted, through no fault of his own  -  he killed two transmissions in two days.

I consider that savings account to be our emergency fund.  Right now it's dreadfully low (again, watch the sidebar), and will stay low for another month, but once the year's house insurance is taken care of I'll be able to start throwing money into it again.  He won't know it's there at all until there's absolutely no other way to deal with a real emergency, because he and I define "emergency" in such different ways.  My idea of a real emergency is the roof collapsing, or not having funds to pay the property taxes.  His idea of a real emergency is not having funds to go fishing for a week,  or wanting to do something expensive but not entirely necessary to his truck.

And in case you were wondering ... yes, his personal debt is the reason I won't marry him.  It's not that the debt itself horrifies me  -  and it does  -  it's that he's more or less okay with it and sees no reason to change his lifestyle to get rid of it.  It's the way he accepts it as part of a normal life.

It doesn't have to be "just a part of life".  I wish I could make him see that.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Garden Woes

Last fall we decided that this year we were going to greatly expand our garden.  We wanted to grow more vegetables and herbs, and if possible expand on the "mini-orchard".  Well, I'm sure you've heard all the old sayings about people who make plans ...

Early in the spring, Big Guy put in a raised bed along the side fence.  The bed is two feet deep, and about thirty feet long.  He even bought what was supposed to be really good topsoil for it  -  didn't even need compost dug into it, according to the seller.  We planted peas, green beans, wax beans, zucchini, pickling cucumbers, pumpkins, and onions along the fence side, and in front of those we put in basil, chives, dill, oregano, parsley, rosemary, garlic, thyme, and sage.  As always, we filled the long planter with tomato seedlings, and the round planter got new rhubarb rootstock to replace what the squirrels killed last year.  We even got two hazelnut tree seedlings from his brother and put them in the sunny side of the front yard, near the old Gravenstien apple tree.  We fertilized the young fruit trees in the back yard (Queen Anne and Van cherries, Italian prune plums, and Bartlett pears) and the blackcurrant bush, and I sowed lavender under the front windows.  The weather was shaping up nicely and it looked like we'd have another good long growing season  -  just like the one we failed to take advantage of last year.

And then it got cold.  And it rained, and rained, and rained ... and it stayed cold.  And it rained some more.

Almost everything drowned ... and the few seedlings that didn't drown first were eaten by cold, wet, hungry squirrels.

When the sun finally came out again, we replanted everything.  Well, everything but the fruit trees  -  on which almost every single blossom had been battered to death by the rain before they could be pollinated, since the poor bees couldn't fly through all that nasty weather.  And we rounded up all the spare tomato cages and wire hangers we could find and twisted them all into frameworks to keep the local wildlife from eating our efforts again.

If  -  and it's a really big "if" at this point  -  the weather and the local fauna cooperate, we might just get a modest harvest this year, but it's not looking good.  As far as I can tell, right now we can expect a grand total of five apples, about two dozen plums, eight hazelnuts, and a liberal supply of chives.  The tomato plants have only just begun to blossom, the green beans are about six inches high, and the rhubarb looks like half a dozen spindly green sticks with palm-sized leaves at the ends.

Everything else got an inch high and gave up.  We were totally baffled, since according to all our gardening experience we'd done everything right.  It wasn't until we got talking with a neighbour who was having the same problems that we found out what's wrong ... and we are absolutely livid, especially since this late in the year there's not much we can do about it.

The neighbour had bought his topsoil from the same place we got ours.  When his second plantings died he got suspicious and had his soil tested, and discovered that it's not good topsoil at all; apparently it was "fill" from a construction project.  The supposedly reputable garden centre had found a chance to make money on the same dead, worthless dirt twice  -  first they got paid to haul it away, and then they sold it as "good" growing soil!  We were all able to get our money back, but it doesn't begin to make up for what we won't be harvesting this year.  I can't even begin to describe how disappointed we are right now.

We're planning to dig in all the compost we can muster this fall, mulch the raised bed and planters, and dig in more compost and peat moss in the spring.  With that, judicious use of Miracle Gro, and cooperative weather and bees, we might coax some good crops out of the garden next year. 

Now, if I can only figure out how to get the squirrels, raccoons, possums, and blue jays to stay out ... the wire cages by themselves just aren't doing it and we can't keep critters out of the fruit and nut trees.  But at least the chicken wire over the soil keeps the cats from using the garden ...

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Don't Just Sit There, Fix Something!

I've never been able to just sit and watch television.  Maybe it's because I learned to read before my parents got a television set, or maybe it's just a personality quirk.  Either way, the only exceptions are Friday night movie nights with my Mom and sister, Saturday night movie night with friends (and sometimes we play board games instead), and the rare times when I'm just too sick to care.  Even when there's something I've been waiting / planning to see, like a new Dr Who episode or a new Discovery Channel or History Channel documentary, I still need to be doing something while I watch it.

The result is that I get a lot of things done in front of the television ...
Knitting.  Paperwork.  Coupon clipping / organizing.  Garden planning.  Writing.  Quilting. Wrapping gifts.  Grooming the cats.  Doing beadwork / embroidery / Fimo work for the craft fairs.  Folding laundry.  Rolling coins.  Reading.

I also love to do challenging crosswords and jigsaw puzzles.

But my personal favourite  -  the in-front-of-the-idiot-box activity I get the most satisfaction from  -  is mending.

Yes, mending.  By hand.

Mending really warms my frugal soul.

Replacing zippers.  Replacing buttons.  Repairing buttonholes.  Patching jeans.  Fixing gaping seams and sagging hems.  Replacing worn-out pockets (Big Guy is really bad with pockets, for some reason). Re-hemming frayed linens.  Fixing snagged sweaters.  Altering thrift-store finds.  Even darning socks.

Last night I was asked why I bother, and it got me thinking.  Why do I bother?

First of all, I love to sew.  I always have, ever since I was a little girl  -  I think I was about five or six  -  and Mom got tired of my constant demands for more doll clothes and started teaching me to make them myself.  I was hooked from the very first lesson!

I hate waste in any form.  I just don't understand a mindset that says it's okay to throw something away that only needs a couple of buttons, or a new zipper, or a few minutes with a needle and thread to make it perfectly good again.

As strange as this will surely seem to many people, I hate shopping.  I especially loathe shopping for clothes.  I'm kind of an odd shape  -  extremely short-waisted, short-bodied, short-armed and long-legged, and also quite overweight  -  and it's unbelievably difficult to find off-the-rack clothes that fit properly.  So being able to stretch my wardrobe budget by fixing things instead of replacing them has a lot of appeal.

I feel a deep sense of accomplishment whenever I turn a basket full of unwearable garments into a neatly folded pile of clothes that are good again.  Especially when Big Guy comes to me complaining that he doesn't have any heavy work socks, or any coveralls,  and I can say "Oh, yes, you do!" and hand him half a dozen pairs of socks or a stack of coveralls with newly reinforced side seams and nice new hole-free pockets.

I'm contributing to my family's financial well-being by getting more of our money's worth from our clothes and linens.

I'm improving our living conditions by keeping our sheets and towels from getting ratty.

I'm keeping more things out of the landfill.

So the next time you're faced with an evening (or morning, or afternoon) of so-so shows, boring reruns, or that vague nagging feeling of guilt over "wasted" time ... don't just sit there, fix something!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Job Hunting Surprise

This morning I was going through my daily job-hunting routine  -  checking all the job boards, looking for possibilities on industry / company websites, checking in with all the placement and temp agencies I'm listed with  -  I spend an hour or two at this every morning, and the results have been uniformly discouraging.

Until this morning ... on the second job board I looked at, what did I find?

The company I was with until August 2009 is hiring again!  Ironically, for every department except the one I was in at this time last year.

Well, I dithered for a while, and then called a friend who still works there to get her opinion.  And she advised me to go for it.  So I did; in all I applied for five different positions.  Of course, there are pros and cons ...

The cons: 

A much lower salary than I previously enjoyed, since I'd be a "new hire".
A $151 transit pass to be bought every month.
The standard three-month "probation" before benefits kicked in.

The pros:

The salary would still be substantially more than I currently receive from E.I.
We already have medical coverage through Big Guy's union.
The fact that I'd need minimal training is a point in my favour.
I know the jobs, I know I'd enjoy the work, and I (and they) know I'm good at it.   I know the systems, I know the customers, I know the vendors, I know the procedures and company policies.
I know and get along really well with everyone I'd be working with.

The bottom line is that I'd rather go back to work there than start at the bottom at a completely new company where I'd need much more training and be getting it from total strangers. 

From my perspective  -  and I hope it turns out to be theirs as well  -  hiring me would be a win-win situation.

Wish me luck!

Sunday, August 15, 2010


You may have noticed I've added a few things on the side.

The bookshelf is because these are books I've not only enjoyed but find useful to refer back to.

The personal and financial reports are to help me hold myself more accountable, and  -  I hope  -  motivate me to do better and be more consistent in my efforts.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Variations On A Frugal Theme

I read a lot of blogs (and books) on frugal living, green living, and money management.  I like to see what other "frugalites" and "greenies" are doing and how it works for them.  Comparing their methods with mine to see which would work better for me, picking up useful new tips and sharing my own  -  I feel like I've joined a community that's so much bigger and more diverse than I imagined when I first set out!

There are two strategies that almost everyone seems to have adopted that just don't work for Big Guy and me.

The first strategy is couponing.

I have to admit, I feel more than a touch of envy when I read about how much other bloggers save by using coupons; I especially envy what they can achieve on "double coupon days", on "stacked" coupons, on coupon-plus-store-rebate/reward deals.  We can't do those things here; stores in Canada  -  or at least here in our little corner of Canada  -  just don't do things that way.  The most we can do is watch the store flyers and not use a coupon until the item it's for goes on sale.

Some of our stores do have loyalty programs, though I'm never really sure whether the "member" price is lower than the "real" price, or whether the non-member price has been jacked up a bit ... hmm, maybe more comparison shopping is in order.  I have cards for Safeway, Save-On/Price Smart, Shopper's Drug Mart, and Zeller's/The Bay.  At the grocery stores, the bottom of the receipt always shows my "member savings" and coupon savings, and as soon as I get home I put that amount of cash in my Can't Touch It jar.  (This is also where all the can & bottle deposit money I bring home goes, and all the loose change that comes into the house.)  Save-On and Price Smart give points which can be redeemed for staples like eggs, milk, bread, etc.  Safeway gives Air Miles; we've never been able to rack up enough miles to actually go anywhere, but the miles can be redeemed for small appliances, various gift cards, and so on.  I do quite a bit of gift shopping with Air Miles!  Shopper's gives points; it doesn't usually lower the prices I pay, but the points add up fairly quickly and can be used for a lot of non-food necessities such as cleaning products, paper products, and occasional OTC medications.  The Zeller's card doesn't lower prices either, but again gives points which add up fairly quickly and are redeemed for Christmas and birthday gifts.  Still, I can't help a twinge of jealousy when I read about my American counterparts bringing home free or almost-free groceries and goods!

The second strategy we don't use is full-on meal planning.

I can hear the cries of horror ... so before they get any louder, let me explain why what we do works well for us.

Big Guy does pretty much all of the cooking here; he's a much better cook than I am, because he likes to cook while I am about the most reluctant cook you'll ever meet.  (I can cook, and in fact did most of the cooking during the early years when I didn't have a full-time job outside the home.  But I really, really hate day-to-day cooking.)  He's a spontaneous cook; when it's time to start dinner, he decides what he feels like doing and that's what we have. (That's why we try never to be without a microwave, for fast safe defrosting.)  The mere suggestion that we think about planning meals a month at a time has him staggering off into the middle distance mumbling to himself ...

We buy almost everything on sale, in bulk, and almost all generics; the only exceptions are milk, eggs, fresh produce, and the odd loaf of French bread or bag of rolls  -  and even there we look for the best possible price.  We have a 24-cubic-foot chest freezer (so much cheaper to run than an upright!) and we try to keep it full.  We watch for case lot sales, we keep an inventory of the freezer and pantry contents, we garden, and we do a lot of home canning. We're always on the lookout for good deals and freebies, and we trade with neighbours and friends  -  this fall, I'll be helping a friend pick all their pears and plums in exchange for a share of the crop, and we hope to be trading tomatoes and apples to the folks across the street for green beans and cherries.  Our "big" shopping trips are, on average, once a month; we make a list of what we're running low on that's on sale, and then do the circle:  Costco, the other grocery stores, the bread outlet, the produce market, and every six months there's a trip to Bosley's for the sale priced 20-kilo sacks of guinea pig pellets and a big bale of sale priced pine shavings.  Oh, and at the produce store we'll score at least three big boxes of free fruit and vegetable "trimmings" and discards  -  mostly for the guinea pigs, but I'm not going to throw away an orange or a grapefruit just because there's a mark on the skin ... What's not edible at all will go into the compost.

Now, although we don't set a menu in stone, he often cooks with several days' meals in mind.  When he cooks a turkey, a big roast, or a ham, he's already thinking of all the meals that will come from it  -  hot and cold sandwiches, casseroles, soups, stir-fry creations, pot pies ... And he often cooks in bulk; if we're having meat loaf, he'll make three or four more for the freezer; spaghetti sauce gets made by the gallon and frozen; once a year we'll set aside a long weekend and make hundreds of perogies.

On Thursday he found a killer deal on fresh-caught sockeye salmon, so we spent all day yesterday canning salmon in our usual assembly-line fashion  -  I do all the jar prep while he cleans & cuts up the salmon, then we pack the jars together and run them through the pressure canner.  Now we have 25 pints of fishy deliciousness in the pantry, and fresh salmon to barbecue tonight, for $45 (including the cost of the new jar lids, and the power used in the canning process).  The same amount (by weight) of canned sockeye in any grocery store would cost, even on sale, at least $180.

Though I don't do the day-to-day cooking, I do like baking and canning.  I'll make six loaves of pumpkin bread or lemon pound cake and freeze them; at Christmas I bake massive heaps of shortbread cookies and trade with family members and friends for other goodies.  I'll go out back and pick enough blackberries next week for a year's worth of jam and syrup plus some to trade.  I'll take a weekend in September to make a year's worth of pickles.  We're hoping he gets to go hunting later in the fall; if he does, we'll, skin, cut, and wrap what he kills ourselves.  I kind of hope he just gets a deer or two; if he brings home a moose as well, we'll need another freezer!

The results of the way we do things?

We eat whatever we feel like eating, without spending any more than people who do the meal-planning thing.
We always  -  this part IS planned  -  have really good, healthy meals, lunches from the leftovers, and sometimes another evening meal or two (or three or four).
We always have a wide variety on hand to choose from. 
We spend less per meal than almost everyone we know.
We waste nothing and produce very little garbage, and our compost is the envy of gardeners all over the neighbourhood.  (Insert smug grin here, LOL.)
Even though we're both unemployed right now, we haven't had to make drastic changes in the way we shop or the way we eat.
If there's a major emergency  -  earthquake, long power outage, whatever  -  we will not only be able to feed ourselves, we'll be able to help friends and neighbours if they need help.  And because we have a woodstove, a propane barbecue, a wood-fired barbecue, and large stocks of firewood and canning jars, in the event of a long-lasting power outage we'd simply yank all the meats and vegetables out of the freezer and pressure-can them.

Granted, our methods work in part because we have a lot of storage space and a big freezer  -  I know that not everyone is so fortunate.  But really, for me that's what frugality is all about  -  doing the best we can with what we have, and finding the best way to make what we have work for us.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Why Do You Do That?

I get asked "Why are you doing that?" a lot lately.  My stock answer is "Because every penny counts."  But sometimes there's a lot more to it than that.

I love my family, immediate and extended, I truly do.  But I've pretty much given up trying to get across them just why I do things the way I do.  If I give an answer involving money, they accept it; if I give an answer involving the environment, I either get a blank look, or a dismissive hand-wave and some variant of "Why bother? One person can't change anything."

Well, actually, one person's changes can make a difference.

Case in point:

A few weeks ago we had a water meter installed by the city.  The meter itself is free; still, Big Guy wanted to know what the benefits would be.  Once I explained to him that the flat yearly rate for homes without a meter was about double what we'd pay if we were metered, he agreed it was a good idea.  What I didn't say was that paying for the water we use is also good for the environment because it will encourage us to use / waste less water.  Don't get me wrong; it's not that he doesn't care about the environment, because he does.  It's that he's firmly in the "one-person-can't-make-any-difference" camp, and nothing I say will change his mind.

So as soon as the water meter was installed, I changed the way I do the dishes.    I used to fill up one sink right to the top, then rinse the dishes under the tap and let all the rinse water go down the drain.  Now, I have two kitty litter pails that fit nicely into the sinks.  I fill one with the hot soapy water, wash all the dishes in it, and then use it to flush the toilet, which has the added advantage that my toilet is always clean without having to scour it with harsher chemicals.  I still rinse the dishes under a running tap, but it's running into the other pail instead of down the drain.  When it's full, it's used for watering the garden, or flushing the toilet, or washing the car, or mopping the kitchen floor, or it goes into the washer to wait for the next load of laundry.  In Big Guy's mind, I'm saving money; in mine, I'm also conserving resources and doing my little environmental bit.

Side note:   Yes, I am one of those oddballs who has never had a dishwasher and will never have one.  I find washing dishes to be both relaxing and therapeutic; it's also the one thing I know I'll get to do in peace, uninterrupted.  I do some of my best thinking while standing over a sinkful of suds.

In the same spirit, I often find myself about to do something, and stopping to try to think of a way I could do it differently and save a few pennies, or a little water, or even a little time ... because every penny, every drop of water, does count.  Instead of scooping the last serving of yogurt out of the tub into a bowl, today I ate it straight from the tub ... one less bowl to wash doesn't seem like it would make a difference, does it?  But look at it this way  -  one less bowl to wash every five days (five servings in a tub of yogurt) equals seventy-three bowls a year.   How many loads of bowls in the sink would that be?  How many gallons of wash and rinse water?  How much dish soap?  That's an amount worth saving, isn't it?  It is to me. 

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Chipping Away At Things

Every time I make plans, something happens to change, disarrange, or nullify them.  Heavy sigh.  So I've decided that instead of announcing any intentions ahead of time, I'm going to focus on what I'm actually doing and what I've managed to get done.  Take that, Raven, Coyote, Loki, and whoever else has been throwing sand in my gears!  I'm also going to stop restricting my posting to twice a week; from now on, if there's something I want to post, I'm going to post it right then.

Yesterday was a fairly lazy day compared to most Mondays.  My poor knees were still protesting the hike through the provincial park on Sunday, so I mostly did things I could do sitting down ...

I gathered all of my makeup and related items on the desk  -  for someone who doesn't wear makeup often, it was suprising how much I had  -  sorted out stage/costuming/special effects makeup & tools, and  set all that to one side to go back into my "conventions and costuming" bin.  Then I weeded through everything that was left, tossing out whatever was too old or was a shade I knew I'd never wear again.  There were a few items in the "toss" category that were still new/sealed  -  they are all now in a bag for either the local women's shelter or Dress For Success, depending on which end of town I have an errand in next.  What's left now fits nicely in one smallish basket in my top dresser drawer, and is all stuff I know I will use.

Then I did the same thing with all my hair ties, clips, headbands, and related odds and ends.  Now, instead of an entire dresser drawer where I can never find the one thing I'm looking for, there are two small baskets in the same drawer with the makeup.  That frees up an entire drawer for other things, and there's still room for one more basket, which I think will be all my nail polishes and manicure tools  -  once I put that collection through the same weeding process, that is.

I downloaded all the pictures I took yesterday ... most of them are so-so, but I was really pleased with these three:

This fellow was determined to get every last bug out of that stump no matter how close I got:

The island seems to be all sandstone and there are some interesting formations, especially at the tide line:

And the arbutus trees are all twisted and sculpted by the wind:

If I ever come into a lot of money, I'd love to invest in some really top-of-the-line camera gear and take some photography courses.  For now, I'm happy playing with my little Nikon.

Apart from that, I finished a library book, started another one, and did some mending in front of the television.

So far today I've gone through my dresser and the "casual" half of my closet, and have filled two big bags with donations for the local thrift store.  I don't know if I'll get to the "office" clothes today, but I'm pleased with the results of my weeding so far.  When I finally get to the point where I'm ready to start using my patterns-and-fabric stash, I'll have plenty of hangers for new pieces, and enough space in the closet for them too!

Of course, there are the usual everyday chores ... dishes, cat care, weeding & watering what the squirrels have left of the vegetable garden, and so on ... let's just take it as a given that those are the things that happen every day and don't need to be detailed in every post  :-) 

Monday, August 9, 2010

More Plans Gone Awry

I begin to feel as though my life is just one long series of interruptions ...

All those plans I had for Thursday, Friday, and the weekend?  The Domino Effect intervened ... again ... ::sigh::

On Thursday afternoon, our youngest daughter was offered a job in the kitchen of a tourist resort on one of the Gulf Islands.  Woot!  She was thrilled  -  the pay is good, she loves the location and has friends there, the staff housing is incredibly cheap, and it will be an impressive addition to her resume.  Most important to her was getting out of the pizza place she'd been miserable working at, and getting a chance to do some "real cooking with real food!"  Currently the job is scheduled to last until at least the end of September, but it could go longer because the current head chef is talking about leaving at the end of tourist season ... here's hoping!

Of course, that meant she had two days to do laundry, organize everything she wanted to take with her, and get all her packing done.  She had to be there by Sunday, to get her housing sorted out and get settled in before doing all the paperwork today (Monday) and starting work tomorrow (Tuesday) morning.  And she had too much stuff to carry, so that meant loading up my car to drive her there.  Which meant going on-line to reserve my car spot both ways on the very small, no-cars-without-reservations ferry for Sunday.  Which meant using my just-zeroed-out Visa to prepay the fares.  The only times I could get were going over on the 3:00 p.m. sailing and coming back on the 9:30 p.m. sailing.  No problem; that would have put me back at home by 11:15 Sunday night ... a bit later than I'd have preferred, but not too late to do my regular Sunday night post here.  Older daughter decided to come along, which was really nice; I don't get to see much of her lately, and she was really good company on the trip home. 

I actually did make it to the consignment store on Friday, to find they had nothing in my size that I liked (I don't do plaid); I'll try again in a few days.  And some cleaning did get done in the workroom, though not nearly as much as I'd hoped.  A lot of time was taken up with helping Daughter get ready to go, including several variations of "No, you are not taking my/our _________ !"  Of course, she waited until Saturday evening to bring me an armload of clothes that needed mending so she could take them with her. I didn't really mind that at all, but her timing could have been better, and I ended up hemming the last pair of chef's pants on the ferry on the way over.  (I love to sew and hate to cook, so I do everyone's mending and they do all the cooking  -  works for me!)

The trip over was good.  The ferry was on time, the rain stopped, the sun came out, and we saw our local pod of orcas playing in the strait and got a couple of good pictures!  It didn't take long to get Daughter settled in, so we had time to visit the provincial park on the island, where I got some terrific (to me, anyway) pictures of arbutus trees and odd tideline rock formations, and one very single-minded pileated woodpecker.  Then we grabbed a bite to eat at the local store, dropped our budding chef off at the staff house, and Older Daughter and I headed back to the ferry terminal.  Overall a very enjoyable day.  So far.

Remember I said we were booked on the 9:30 p.m. sailing?   Yes.  Well.

We were supposed to be there 30 minutes before sailing time, and we were.  As soon as we were through the gate and in the loading line, the terminal staff announced that the ferry was delayed (I still don't know why) and would be up to an hour late.  And then they promptly closed the one and only food stand  -  I couldn't even get a cup of coffee!  The ferry actually didn't come in until 11:15 p.m., so we got back here at 1:00 a.m., wolfed down a sandwich apiece, and went to sleep; Daughter went home this morning.

So now I'm undecided.  Do I plan out the next few days and hope nothing interferes?  Or do I just wing it, do everything in no particular order, and hope for the best?

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Random Can Be Good

It's been a really random day so far ... but in a good way!

The day started with a call out of the blue from a company I sent a resume to over a month ago.  They're looking for someone for a one-year temp contract, and would I be interested?  YES!  Well, then, did I have time do a telephone interview right now?  YES, YES!!  It went quite well, and the lady I was speaking with said that she really liked all the information I'd given her and would pass my name and resume to her head office, and I would hear back from them within a week.  A year's temping at $15 - $16 an hour is nothing to turn my nose up at.  It wouldn't include benefits or vacation time but that's okay  -  we have medical coverage through the Big Guy's union, and I can take a vacation when the year is over.

My plans for the week have pretty much gone out the window, for a number of reasons.  I've come to the conclusion that I'll actually get more done if I just "wing it" ...

For example, one of the items on my original to-do list was cleaning up my workroom so I'd actually have room to work.  Since I didn't make it to the consignment store yesterday after all (daughter needed my help with a few things), I decided to do the cleaning today instead of Thursday, do my hair, nails, eyebrows, and more wardrobe weeding tomorrow, and hit the consignment store on Friday on my way to Mom's for our weekly movie night  -  thereby saving two transit tickets, aren't I smart? 

Within five minutes of when I started in the workroom, I realized there was a lot of stuff in here that I just don't need or want any more.  So I headed to the basement to look for boxes I could put all the "donate" stuff in ... but wait!  As long as I was going downstairs anyway, I took a load of laundry with me and threw it in the washer.  While doing that, I noticed the litter box needed cleaning ... after which cat litter needed to be added to the shopping list, since I emptied the bag into the clean litter box.

The addition of cat litter makes the list long enough to justify a trip to the store (better remember to put the canvas shopping bags by the door!).  Which is next door to the library, so I'll pop in and see if the books I requested are in yet.  Oh, and the bank is across the street, so I'll take all my rolled up coins to deposit.  And the bottle depot is across the parking lot, so I'll throw that big bag of pop cans and bottles in the car ... and they also recycle dead electronics, so I can drop off the dvd player we're never going to get fixed because it was cheaper to replace it.  A block further down is the local farmers' market ... we need celery and carrots ... wonder if they have peaches at a good price?

That will put me only two blocks from the thrift store where I want to donate all this extraneous workroom clutter, so I'll fill up a couple of boxes while I wait for the washer to stop so I can put the laundry on the clothesline before I go out.  The real trick will be to drop off my donations at the back and then not go into the store; it's my favourite place to find all kinds of lovely clothes at rock-bottom prices!  I must keep reminding myself that I want to use up my fabric-and-yarn stash first.

If I were running these errands just one or two at a time, I'd be walking, but the combined weight of what I'm donating would break the bottom right out of my shopping cart, as would the weight of what I'll be bringing home.  Combining as many close-together errands as possible into just one trip in the car is the next best option in terms of gas money and the environment.  I'll just have to go for a nice long walk this evening ... and take a bag with me for the deposit containers I'm sure to find!

Monday, August 2, 2010

A Progress Report, Sort Of

It's nice to be feeling closer to human again ...

It's not so nice to still be facing almost everything I had planned to do over the weekend.

Out of everything I talked about doing, I've managed to actually do only two things; I did get the Big Guy to cut my hair after my shower yesterday, and I did make it to Pennington's today for new bras and knickers.  On sale.  Thereby spending a little more than half of what I'd budgeted, and getting more items than I'd planned to buy.  Now that's something to make a girl feel better!  I felt guilty about forgetting my canvas shopping bag, until I realized that the plastic bag the store gave me is not only sturdy enough to use for groceries over and over again, it's also just the right size for the bathroom wastebasket once it starts to wear out (the bag, not the basket).  So my guilt is somewhat alleviated by being able to get so much use out of the bag.

Big Guy is cooking a turkey tonight ( on sale for $1.19 a pound).  We love turkey, and we'll get quite a few meals out of this one:

Tonight, a standard roast turkey dinner with mashed potatoes, veggies, cranberry sauce, and stuffing.
Tomorrow, cold turkey sandwiches and a green salad.
Wednesday, turkey shepherd's pie, with the leftover veggies thrown in, topped with the leftover potatoes.
Thursday, hot turkey sandwiches with the leftover gravy, and the rest of the salad.
Friday, stir-fry and rice.
Saturday, everything edible left on the carcass will go into the soup pot, along with onions, peas, green beans, celery, carrots, fresh garlic and ginger.  At the end we'll take out at least half to freeze (in one of my re-used peanut butter jars), and then decide whether we want to add rice, potatoes, or egg noodles to the soup we'll be eating right away.

Today's shopping excursion really tired me out, so instead of cleaning this evening, I'll be parked in front of the television with a big pile of mending ... I wonder if one of the reasons I enjoy sewing so much is that I can do it sitting down?

I still need a good suit, though.  Tomorrow, after I've done my daily on-line job search and registered with some temp agencies, I'm hoping to get over to New Westminster to my favourite consignment store.  They specialize in "plus" sizes (read: fat lady), and since I spent so much less today than I planned to, I can be more flexible about prices if they have something I really like.  That's the great thing about budgeting for everything  -  every now and then there's a little more money than expected left over, that can be put toward something else. 

If there's time, I'd also like to check out a couple of used bookstores, to see if it would be worth my while taking in some of the fiction I know I'm not going to read again, to either trade or sell outright.  Who knows  -  since they all came from yard sales and thrift stores to begin with, I might even make a profit!  (I won't buy a book new unless I have a gift card and I know it's one I'll be reading or referring to again and again.)

Tomorrow evening will be "wardrobe evaluation" time.  I'll certainly hang onto a few older, beat-up items  -  jeans, sweats, t-shirts, hoodies  -  for camping and yard work, but apart from that, it's time to be ruthless!  If it doesn't suit me or it's looking worn/tired/dated or I just plain don't like it, out it goes.  If I'd have to lose more than five pounds to get into it again, out it goes.  If I have absolutely nothing it goes with ... well, you get the picture!  Maybe I'll get really brave and go through my purses and totes too ... or maybe not.

Wednesday, if nothing interferes, will be the day for nails, roots, and eyebrows; Thursday will be for cleaning up my workroom and going through patterns, fabric, and yarn.  Then I should be pretty much back on track with my original plans, albeit a few days late  -  I'll let you know.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

So Much For Plans

Thursday morning I was hit with a major IBS flare-up.  It doesn't happen often, but when it does, all I can do for a few days is curl up like a pretzel on the sofa, eating painkillers and feeling sorry for myself.  It's easing up at last, so I'm going to go have a nice long, hot shower and then see if I can't get some real sleep.  What would have been today's post will (I hope) be here some time tomorrow.