About Me

Life is learning. Life is change. Life is good. Life doesn't have to cost a lot. I want to make my life greener, healthier, and thriftier. And I want to enjoy doing it!

Monday, January 31, 2011

An Eclectic Lifestyle

My dictionary defines "eclectic" as "choosing or accepting from various or diverse sources".

"Eclectic" defines us perfectly ...

Last year we saved up and bought our first piece of new store-bought furniture in over twenty years  -  our elderly sofa finally died and we replaced it with a lovely cushy comfy mushroom-coloured one  -  with, of course, washable covers on all the cushions.  The rest of our furniture is a collection of "rescued" pieces from when my parents sold their house, pieces that we each had when we met, Ikea bookshelves, and yard-sale acquisitions and donations from friends who were moving, downsizing, or upgrading.  Our huge entertainment centre / china cabinet was built by Big Guy and a friend from lumber they salvaged when a local store was torn down; that's also where all the fluorescent fixtures in the basement and workshop came from.  Oh, and the microwave cabinet and two kitchen chairs are dumpster finds that Big Guy refinished.

Our sheets, towels, and assorted "soft" furnishings  -  pillows and so on  -  are likewise a mixture of old, newish, freebies, and hand-made by me.  Some day they might all match, but if they don't I won't lose any sleep over it.  The collection reflects our thrifty values and habits.  Cotton towels and face cloths are used until they're starting to look worn or frayed ... from the house they go to the camper until they're really ragged, then they come back into the house as cleaning rags or to the garage/workshop as shop rags; when they're too worn and ragged even for that, I shred them for the compost.  I haven't bought a dishcloth in over twenty years; why should I when I can get a ball of cotton yard at a thrift store for a dollar, and knit anywhere from one to two dozen dishcloths from that?  Though I did buy new fabric for the living room drapes  -  on sale from a remnant rack!

The kitchen, naturally, follows the same pattern.  Our dishes match  -  well, most of them  -  only because I found a treasure trove of Denby stoneware at a local thrift store, in shades of blue I really love.  The serving pieces are a mix of old family pieces and dollar-store dinnerware.  The cutlery all matches, for a wonder (he found a killer sale), and there's a big mug full of extra mis-matched teaspoons for coffee, dishing up cat food, lunch bag use, and so on.  Cooking and serving utensils live in a collection of big stoneware bean crocks I rescued from my parents' basement  -  Mom was going to throw them out.

"Eclectic" can also be used to describe the things we do ... some people have described us as "full of contradictions".  I suppose they mean the contrast between the modern twenty-first century stuff and the "old-fashioned" skills most folks don't seem to value much any more.

I'm on the computer every day.  I do all our banking, bill-paying, and money management on-line.  I participate in a couple of social networks and a weekly on-line role-playing game (no, not WOW).  I read, I research, I shop.  I read the news and check the weather forecast.  I watch television episodes and movies and lecture series, and listen to music.  I hunt down patterns and craft instructions.  I reserve library books.  I correspond via e-mail with distant friends and relatives.  And, of course, I blog.

I have a cell phone, an mp3 player, and a digital camera.

I have a sewing machine that does everything but change the baby, and I have a serger.  But ... I also have an ancient treadle sewing machine that I keep in good working order.

I knit  -  which is becoming popular again, by the way.  I've just started learning to knit socks.

I sew  -  clothing for myself and the family, drapes, slipcovers, pillowcases, small things such as oven mitts and table linens (for us and for craft fairs).  I also mend, which is something most of the people I know don't bother with any more  -  they either pay someone else to do it, or they just toss the garment.  I have a standard price list of what I charge for simple repairs such as replacing buttons or zippers, hemming, repairing split seams, patching, and so on.  And I darn socks.

We recently replaced our old inefficient hot water tank with an in-line, electronic-ignition tankless water heater ... and we heat the workshop and the main floor of the house with wood stoves.  Both of which we got free.  And as soon as we installed them Big Guy befriended a couple of tree-removal companies, so we get all our wood free.  We don't pay for firewood, and they don't pay dump fees or add to the landfill.  Win-win.

I'm currently saving up to replace our old washing machine (when it finally dies) with a front-loader.  I'll save water, soap, and electricity, and our clothes will last longer.  Especially since everything will still get hung up to dry on either the outdoor or basement clotheslines.

Now that I think of it, there are a lot of things we do that some people think of as old-fashioned, eccentric, or "just hobbies" ...

We make our own jams, jellies, pickles and relishes.  We have shelves in the basement full of home-canned fruit, fish, and tomatoes, and home-dehydrated herbs, soup veggies, raisins, prunes, apples, tomatoes, and jerky. 

I refuse to have a dishwasher.  Instead, the dishpan of soapy water gets used to flush the toilet, so I almost never have to scrub it.  The pail of rinse water gets used to water the houseplants and the vegetable and tomato planters.  Or to wash the car, or scrub the bathtub and sink, or wash the floors, or gets poured into the washing machine when doing laundry.

Worn-out clothing turns into patchwork quilts, potholders, table runners, braided mats, and shopping bags.

Economical?  Frugal?  Thrifty?  Absolutely.  Downright cheap?  Possibly.

Financially and environmentally responsible?  You betcha!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Changing It Up

The past sixteen months were a time of profound changes here.

I lost my job.
My Mom injured her back and then got sick.
My Dad died.
Our "baby" J graduated from culinary school.
I got a new job that I like much better than the old one.
Big Guy's sister-in-law died.
I started one home-based business and ditched another one that just wasn't working for me.

There was also time for a lot of introspection and reflection  -  a reassessment of myself and my life, if you will.  And I made some discoveries, and some decisions, and some changes.

I no longer go into a tizzy if my house isn't spotless when friends come over.  They come to see us, not to inspect the baseboards.
I no longer go to bed fretting over the things that didn't get done.  They'll get done tomorrow.  Or the next day.  Or never.
Every day I find something to appreciate about Big Guy, and something to thank him for.  And I really mean it.
Being thin doesn't matter, and weight is just a number on a scale. Being healthier, feeling good, having the energy to do what I want to do  -  that's what matters.
Everyone needs "down time"  -  to relax, recharge the mental batteries, or just let go of things that aren't important enough to waste time stewing over.  I no longer feel guilty about "wasting" time if I sit at the computer and just play games or surf the net for a little while.  And I'm a lot less cranky.

Those were big attitude changes for me  -  changes that made me feel better about life and about myself.

We've made some changes in the way things get done around here, too.

We're being choosier when we shop  -  we're more carefully seeking out items with less packaging, and with packaging that's completely recyclable, and more locally-produced food.  If we can't find what we need that meets those criteria, then we look for something else that does, that will fit the need.  For instance, if we want a cucumber but the only ones in the store are imported and/or shrink-wrapped  -  we get locally-grown zucchini instead.

We're more often asking "Do we really need that?"  It's surprising how often the answer is "No".  And right along with that goes "Do we really need a new _____ ?"  More often than not, again, the answer is "No, we can fix this one."

We're wasting even less food  -  Big Guy does almost all the cooking, and he's slowly learning that he doesn't need to cook the huge quantities he used to for every meal.  Now he cooks either just enough for the one meal, or enough extra to fit into planned second meals (either work lunches, or dinner the next day).  Sometimes we'll spend a weekend cooking in bulk, and freezing the results in one-meal portions.  And we never shop without a list any more.

We're much better at remembering to take the reusable shopping bags everywhere, now that we have enough of them to keep some by the door, some in the car, some in the truck, and a couple in my purse.  The coupon folder now lives in my purse as well, instead of in a desk drawer.

And  -  this one was huge in terms of attitudes  -  I finally managed to show him that we don't need to spend a lot of money, or have a huge pile of presents under the tree, to have a really good Christmas.  I think he finally, really understands what I meant all these years when I kept saying "It's not about things.  It's about the people we love."

Saturday, January 22, 2011

New Year, New Goal

Well, not exactly a new goal ... actually the resurrection of a project that never quite got off the ground last year.

Those of you who are familiar with my old blog, My Life After Layoff , might remember my plans to de-clutter and organize my workroom (you can see the "before" pics here ).  Right now it's a disaster ... bags, boxes, and loose piles of fabric, yarn, books, clothes, craft supplies, patterns, sewing machines, dress form, ironing board, computer stuff, fishing rods & tackle (don't ask) ... the room itself is seven feet by ten, and it seems like almost everything I do is done in here.  Or would be, if I had space to do it ...

Well, life got in the way, as it so often does, and nothing in here has changed.  Yet

I was making progress.  Really I was.  But then ...

My computer died; actually, a component of the power source failed and took out part of my motherboard in the process  -  the part that says "Why yes, you do have hard drives, and here they are."  That happened mid-September, and I was without a computer of my own until late November.  It's my very good fortune to have a dear friend who is also a tech wizard, and he was able to slave my main hard drive to (daughter) J's computer long enough for me to copy the files I really needed (job-hunting can be difficult without access to one's resume).  

On reflection, I must admit that the biggest hindrance to the timely completion of the project was a stroke of amazing good luck  -  a former colleague called me out of the blue and offered me a job!  Naturally, I accepted with grace and gratitude.  And then did the "Happy Dance" on the downtown sidewalk outside Dressew (which is where I happened to be when my phone rang), followed by a celebratory shopping spree at their 99-cents-a-ball yarn sale (I got some gorgeous stuff, too  -  Nashua Cilantro and Schachenmayr Nomotta Punto for 99 cents?  A dozen pattern books for 99 cents each?  Heaven, I tell you!).  And after thirteen months without work, a call on a Thursday afternoon asking "Can you start on Monday morning?" merited some celebration!  I believe my response was something along the lines of "If you want, I can find a way to start yesterday! "

Get-up-in-the-morning-and-work-on-the-room turned into get-up-and-go-to-work and work-on-the-room-on-the-weekend.  Good.

Work-on-the-room-on-the-weekend turned into do-something-about-that-damned-attic-so-there's-somewhere-to-put-things and do-the-laundry-and-housework-all-at-once-instead-of-staggered-through-the-week and yell-at-the-people-who-had-all-week-to-do-their-laundry-and-chose-Saturday-and-I-am-not-going-to-work-on-Monday-without-clean-underwear and well, you get the picture.  Frustrating.

Time constraints, attic temperatures, and family life being what they are, the attic turned into a much bigger project than I had foreseen, but I finally finished just in time for

ChristmasBaking.  Cleaning.  Decorating.  Gift making / shopping / hiding / wrapping.  And the Big Guy picked December as the perfect time to paint the kitchen and replace the stove ... The coldest week on record for the last umpty-dozen years, doors and windows wide open (therefore also the coldest week on record in the house) and no way to cook.  Uber frustrating.

Well.  Upward and onward.

The holiday dust has settled, the pine needles have all been swept up (well, all the ones I could find), and it's time to finish what I started in here.

Step one:  weed the bookshelves.  Difficult, that.  Done.
Step two:  weed the yarn and fabric stashes.  Even more difficult, and involving some lip-quivering, but ... Done.
Step three:  hit the dollar store for zip-close bags to store yarn and fabric, with the patterns I intend to use tucked into the bags.  Mostly done.
Step four:  inventory all the knitting needles and related gear so that I know what I have and what I need.  Done.  
Step five:  weed the craft supplies and office supplies, then hit the dollar store again for clear plastic bins / boxes to store the keepers in.  Weeding is done, dollar store trip will be later today.
Step six:  go through the small Alp of mending and sort by type of repair needed, then swing by the local fabric store for any necessary supplies not already on hand (like the new zipper for my fleece-lined hoodie).  Partially done.  In a perfect world, this would be followed by
Step seven:  Do all the mending.  In a perfect world ...

At this point, someone is sure to be wondering what all that shopping and all those plastic bags, boxes, and bins have to do with making my life "greener, healthier, and thriftier".  Well, life is full of trade-offs and compromises, and that's one of mine; an investment in plastic now will save me money, time, and stress.  Fabric and yarn won't be ruined by exposure to dirt, dust, bugs, or mildew (it's happened before).  Craft supplies won't get lost, broken, or damaged.  I won't tear my hair out trying to find things I know are "in here somewhere", nor will I spend money duplicating what I already have.  And having all those projects visible means I'll be far more likely to actually do them, which in turn means a better wardrobe for me and nice gifts for others, all without spending more money on materials. And ... I only buy plastics that are on my city's acceptable-for-recycling list, which is what will happen in the unlikely event that I no longer have a use for them and can't find someone else who needs them.

I don't usually make New Year's resolutions  -  mainly because I know how unlikely it is that I'll keep them  -  but this year I've made a few and I think they're going to work.

1)  I will work with what I have.

2)  I will finish what I start.

3)  I will step up my efforts to reduce, re-use, and recycle.  

Remember I said last week that blogging keeps me accountable?  Well, putting that together with resolutions 1 and 2, every time I start a project I will post it in the sidebar, along with the start and finish dates.  If I get really ambitious, I might even put up pictures.  Yes, including "after" pictures of my workroom ... if only in the hope that someone, somewhere, will check out the "befores", compare them to the "afters", and say "Wow! Great job!"


Saturday, January 15, 2011

Glad To Be Back

Happy New Year!

Yes, I know it's the 15th of January, not the 1st. Hey, at least I got here before Easter ... around here, these days, that's something of an accomplishment.

A lot has happened since I put my old blog on "pause".  (You can see it here.)

I turned 55 and got a new job for my birthday.  Actually, I started the day before my birthday, but "got a job for my birthday" has a nice ring to it.  And after being unemployed for over a year, it did feel like a gift from the universe!
I really, really like this job.  And I really, really like the people I'm working with  -  with only one exception, I've worked with all these people before, and we all like each other, get along very well, and work together very well.  It's all good.

Did you make any resolutions this year?  I didn't  -  at least, I didn't make any new ones.  My goals are still the same  -  to be more frugal, to make my lifestyle healthier, to make my home greener.  We'll see how things go.

Frugality  -  thrift, penny-pinching, tightwaddery, cheap living, or whatever you want to call it  -  is going to be more and more important as time goes on.  The Big Guy turns 60 in a couple of weeks, and he's talking about early retirement.  Frankly, right now the only difference it would make would be that regular monthly CPP cheque.  He's been out of work now for as long as I was before I got my new job in October, and regarding expenses vs. income, things are starting to get a little worrisome.

Greener living  -  well, I learned a lot over the last year and a half.  What really surprised me wasn't that we saved money by going greener, but how much we saved. 

Healthier living  -  baby steps, baby steps.  Some changes will save money, some won't, some will cost a little more but be worth it.

Blogging will help me in all three areas.  It keeps me focused, it keeps me motivated, it keeps me accountable.  And some days, it keeps my head from exploding.