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!

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Projects Update (Sort Of)

Well, the Renaissance Fair was tons of fun even with the last-minute hitches and glitches I ran into ...

The costume ended up not being what I had hoped for.  The underskirt is great, the blouse is great  -  though I'm not as happy with the lace as I thought I'd be, and will probably change it out before the next event.  The vest just didn't work at all; either a couple of pattern pieces aren't the size they say they are, or I measured myself all wrong (which is quite possible given the rush job it was).  Either way I've worked out how I can fix it without starting entirely from scratch.  The tartan overskirt didn't happen at all, due to a lack of time; when the vest was finally finished I realized there was no way I could get even a few hours' sleep and make the overskirt.  So I caught six hours of sleep and then fringed a length of the tartan fabric as a shawl, which I tied around my waist.  I'm told it looked quite good, and it was still within the "period" of the rest of the outfit, so overall I'm still quite pleased with what I did manage to do.  Since the weather was shaping up to be bright, sunny, and very warm, instead of the tartan tam I replaced the old pink ribbon on my straw hat with the dark green grosgrain left over from the vest and underskirt, and was able to keep the glare out of my face and still keep the costume looking authentic.  I'm thinking about making a new vest and overskirt from plain dark green linen or broadcloth for next year; if I match the green in the tartan, keep the tam and shawl, and put a narrow band of the tartan just above the bottom hem of the underskirt, it will all still look good together and be cooler to wear than the tartan vest and overskirt.

I really don't understand why so many women were wearing black or dark-coloured velvet gowns at the Fair; surely even during the Middle Ages and Renaissance people could obtain lighter fabrics for summer wear?  Shady areas were not overly abundant at the venue  -  it's a horse show park the rest of the year  -  and an awning of some kind over the tournament-viewing stands would have been appreciated by everyone.

Most of the pictures I took didn't turn out well  -  there are only two I like well enough to keep, one of the jousting field and one of a knight in armour on his gorgeous Percheron.  For the rest, alas, there was too much glare, too much dust in the air, and too many people walking into the frame just as I pressed the button.  But that's life at a RenFair; next time I'll try to do better.  And I've learned something else from this weekend  -  next year I'll be giving myself at least three times as long to prepare for the event!

In other areas, there's very little progress to report.  Mainly because I put everything else on hold (except housework) to work on the costume.  So today, as the umpteen loads of laundry chug away in the washer, I'll be mending.  And mending.  And mending.  And maybe catch up on a little paperwork.  But mostly mending.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Projects, Plans, And Possibilities

Projects.  Of the many currently in process, I'm starting to see actual results on a few ...

The sweater is finished.  Actually, it's been finished for some time, but I keep forgetting to charge the camera batteries.   Maybe next week  -  in fact, definitely next week, along with pics of ...

Next weekend's Renaissance Fair costume.  I have all the pieces cut out for the underskirt, blouse, hat, and most of the vest.  All that remain to cut out are the outer vest surface (the layer that shows) and the overskirt; but since they are plaid, and I'm a little obsessive about matching the plaid lines perfectly, I'll be putting the rest of the outfit together over the next three evenings, and tackling the plaid from start to finish on Friday (I have Friday off in exchange for working BC Day on Monday), when there will be lots of nice bright daylight to work by and plenty of time to get it absolutely right.

The mending pile seems to be stuck in some sort of recurring time loop.  I mend and I mend but the pile never gets any smaller.  I suspect my family of sneaking items into the middle of it when I'm not looking.

Replacing what I lost when I hard to wipe the hard drive is slow going, but I'm chipping away at it.  Most of it is re-entering and updating files from hard copies  -  bank statements, insurance inventory, and so on.  And yes, this time everything is being backed up on CDs.  My friend D (the tech wizard) thinks he may eventually be able to retrieve most of the photos I hadn't put on CDs yet.  

I've started another sweater  -  just a nice casual cotton/acrylic hoodie, simple but pretty  -  but I suspect it will end up being a birthday gift for my sister S, because it's pink.  Strawberry-ice-cream-pink, which is one of her favourite shades.  And since her birthday isn't until the fall, I might even get it finished in time!

The basement cleanup is moving along, though rather more slowly than I like.  I'm rapidly approaching the point where I will just haul everything that's not mine  -  in other words, pretty much everything that's still down there  -  out into the back yard.  Anything that's still out there a week later will go straight to either a local charity or the dump, depending on what it is, what condition it's in, and what mood I'm in by then.  Whatever it takes to get that space cleared out so that we can install the new high-efficiency furnace before it's time to turn the heat on again.

I have to confess, as much as I love the Big Guy, this is one area where he makes me want to beat him about the ears with a brick.  He talks endlessly about the things he's going to do  -  replace the furnace, clean up the back yard, replace the old single-glazed living room window, put the new box on the truck, finish painting the kitchen ... but none of it ever actually happens.  The living room window is the last one left to be replaced and it's a huge heat sink in the winter.  Combine that with an ancient, huge, loud, clunky, dreadfully inefficient furnace, and it's no wonder our winter gas bills are so high.  Before the suite in the basement was done, we only went downstairs to do laundry or get something from the freezer, so we heated the main floor with the wood stove.  But now we have a tenant, and when a tenant's rent includes heat, we need to provide said heat. Hence the new furnace. 

Thanks to a cold, wet spring that continued right through June and the first half of July, the garden I had such high hopes for is pretty much a wash.  The rhubarb is looking good, and the chives thrive, but I don't think the tomato plants are going to produce much besides leaves.  One planter of strawberries looks promising, but we'll have to figure out a way to keep the birds and squirrels out of it if we're going to get any ripe berries.

But the apple tree!  My lovely, antique Gravenstein apple tree!  It's covered with baby apples  -  the branches are already starting to sag under the weight, and they're still no bigger than golf balls.  If I can keep the local wildlife (and lowlifes) out of that tree, we'll have applesauce and dried apples all winter.  At least, that's the plan.  Meanwhile, I'm going to go baste a blouse and underskirt.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Things I Learned The Hard Way Part Three: Making Something From (Almost) Nothing

How do you define creativity?  Apart from things like composing music, creating works of art, writing ... I mean creativity in everyday life, creativity that adds something to your life.  There are creative cooks, gardeners, home decorators; there are people who can host a perfect party, or trim a perfect Christmas tree, or accessorize everything they wear with unique flair.

And then there are people like me.  People who can take something old, something worn out, something discarded, and turn it into something attractive or useful or practical.  People who don't have any money but somehow always manage to find or produce what they need.  And most of those people, like me, had to master the fine art of squeezing a loonie until the bird laid eggs.  People who've figured out, of necessity, how to turn that sow's ear into a silk purse, or a pair of slippers, or an Easter basket for a child.

When I was at my most impoverished  -  suddenly divorced, with a two-year-old  -  I discovered ways to turn other people's trash into our personal treasures.  A broken umbrella picked up from the side of the road became a colourful kite for trips to the park.  A discarded roller skate, a slightly bent freezer basket, and a couple of wire hangers combined to make a doll carriage.  A huge garbage bag of old jeans and shirts hauled home for a dollar from a yard sale?  All those clothes were carefully picked apart at the seams, and the fabric became overalls, shirts, and dresses for my daughter.  The pieces that didn't metamorphose into child or doll wardrobes went into a quilt for her bed (stuffed with clean, shredded old socks and pantyhose), stuffed fabric holiday ornaments, quilted potholders, patchwork cushion covers, stuffed toys ... not a scrap was wasted.  Zippers and buttons were traded to a seamstress friend for spools of thread; even thread trimmings all went into stuffing.  Odd half-skeins of yarn from freebie boxes at yard sales went through my corking spool to become braided bath and kitchen mats  -  unless the yarn was cotton; then it was knitted into dishcloths.  Frayed bath towels were quartered and hemmed to become kitchen towels or facecloths, and when they wore too thin to use they were shredded for toy or cushion stuffing, or layered and quilted for hot mats, oven mitts, and potholders.

Tuna cans were carefully bent and shaped into cookie cutters, or used as individual muffin or meat loaf pans  -  the perfect serving size for a small child!  The skeleton of that aforementioned broken umbrella made a great hanging drying racks for socks and other small items.  A yard-sale laundry hamper became a patchwork-covered toy box.  The lids from two large cookie tins were used for baking sheets; the bottoms made good casserole pans.

We'd make a game of it, sometimes.  What do we need?  What do we have that we could adapt or re-work into what we need?  What can we find that could turn into a good whatever-it-is?  What is this, or what was it, and what can we make with it?  A stack of outdated swatch books found next to an upholstery shop's dumpster  -  bonanza!  Tapestry shopping bags, silk patchwork pillowcases, satin Christmas ornaments and velvet stockings, a colourful harlequin costume for Hallowe'en!

The point  -  and it took me a long time to realize this  -  is that being cash-poor doesn't have to make you feel poor; penny-pinching doesn't have to feel like a chore.  There can be a lot of fun in being creative with whatever resources you have.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Things I Learned The Hard Way Part Two: Making Things Work

I've often been heard to say, "You don't know what you can do until you don't have a choice."

This applies to many, many different things ... changing a baby, changing a fuse, changing a tire; unclogging a drain or a toilet or a sump pump; putting up curtain rods, light fixtures, wallpaper, shelves; patching a pair of jeans or a sofa or a roof ...  the list is almost endless.

Today, you can find how-to videos on-line on pretty much any subject.  Stores like Home Depot give free lessons in household maintenance and repair.  There are television shows devoted entirely to home maintenance, remodeling, gardening and landscaping, and interior design.  Many public libraries and community centres have free or almost-free classes in numerous subjects from vegetable gardening to fancy lacework to self-publishing.

But it wasn't always so effortless, finding out what you needed to know.

Yes, I learned a lot of skills as a child.  My mother taught me to sew, my father taught me how to use basic hand tools, my great-aunt taught me to knit.  The most important skill they taught me, though, was how to read.  Because that meant that I could read patterns, instructions, how-to manuals, recipes, maps, yellow pages ... which meant that I could figure out how to find out how to do what I needed to do.

After I left home, there weren't many choices when something needed doing; figure it out on my own, get a library book about it, ask someone to show me how to do it, or pay someone else to do it.  And it didn't take long to realize that paying someone else to do it was, in most cases, not an option for me.  I didn't have much money  -  hardly any a lot of the time  -  so either I managed to do whatever it was for myself, or it didn't happen.

There were things nobody ever taught me that I wish they had.  For example, though Mom taught me how to use the sewing machine, I had to figure out for myself how to keep it operating properly.  And while Dad taught me how to use a plunger to unclog a toilet, he never showed me how to replace the float or the flapper valve.  And oddly enough, I was never encouraged to improvise, to use what was available instead of just heading to the hardware store.  So while people might laugh at my early attempts at DIY home repairs, some of them worked pretty well, thank you ...

I have replaced a broken flapper assembly in a toilet with a canning jar lid and a paper clip chain, and replaced a dead float ball and arm with a bent coat hanger, a plastic peanut butter jar, and a bit of modeling clay.  I've built bookcases out of discarded pallets and carefully straightened salvaged nails.  A hairpin is a quick stand-in for a broken cotter pin, and broken cabinet hinges can be replaced with a piece of a worn-out leather belt and some carpet tacks.  I've used two coat hooks to put up a curtain rod cut down from a broken broom handle, and I've used duct tape and cut-up kitchen sponges to replace a fridge gasket.

I've also learned to take advantage of the unexpected ... when a friend presented me with twenty pounds of fresh peaches that wouldn't even fit in my fridge, never mind my teeny-tiny shoebox freezer, I got a library book and some boxes of yard-sale canning jars, borrowed a stockpot, and taught myself to can fruit.  When I was given a wringer washer and a fifty-foot extension cord, I strung the cord back and forth across my little back porch and used it for a clothesline.  The washer lived on the porch, too  -  I filled it with buckets of water hauled from the kitchen sink, and led the drain hose into the storm drain at the bottom of the stairs.  My neighbours thought I was more than a little odd, but I was happy not to be feeding money into the laundromat machines any more.

My mother still doesn't understand why, even though I can now afford to pay to have things done, I still prefer to do them myself.  Maybe it's because she's never had to worry about money the way I have; she never had to choose between feeding the kids and taking the bus instead of walking, she never had to use the washroom at the corner gas station for a week until payday because there was no money for toilet paper.  I don't think she's ever set foot inside a thrift store in her life, or gone to a yard sale or a swap meet, or bought anything from the "day-old" bakery rack.

As strange as it might sound, I don't envy her that financial security.  Yes, being poor can be hard, and yes, it can mean not having a lot of the things other people take for granted.  But it's given me skills and self-awareness and pride in what I've managed to accomplish.  It's given me self-sufficiency, and survival skills, and a deep appreciation for what I do have.

Most of all, it's given me the peace of mind that comes from knowing that no matter what the future may hold, I can deal with it. 

Monday, July 4, 2011


Small changes first ...  I've removed the money and projects sections from the sidebar.  The money sections because I got to feeling that I was only doing it to pat myself on the back, which smacks of gloating or boasting (both very unbecoming).  The projects sections because, frankly, it was too discouraging.  There are just too many projects I want to tackle that can't be done because of a shortage of time and/or money, and too many that can't be started until a gazillion other things are done first.  Whenever I looked at the blog, instead of being pleased with what I have accomplished, I was disheartened by all the things I haven't.  So those sections just didn't work for me the way I'd hoped they would.

And the big change ... a major change in myself.  A change not in what I do but in how I think about it. A change in how I react to what goes on around me.  A change in how I choose to feel about, and deal with, life in general.

Up to now, when I've talked here about the green/frugal stuff that happens at home, I've said "we".

The truth is, it's mostly me.  Big Guy humours me a little; he dutifully shovels compost onto the garden and puts his newspapers in the blue box, he goes through the grocery flyers and asks me if XXX is a good price to pay for peanut butter, he takes all his beer cans to the depot to get his deposit back.

But ... although he says he "hates waste" ... he wastes so much ...

Time.  Money.  Food.  Water.  Energy, as in in gas and electricity.  Energy, as in flying into pointless rages over things that don't matter or can't be altered ... like the traffic, or the weather.  Any combination of these things.  Perhaps the most frustrating to me is his habit of buying all kinds of materials for projects that actually need to be done, and then talking endlessly about the projects without ever actually doing anything.  Case in point: the basement.  We've been talking for years about turning the unfinished part of the basement into a family room.  We have all the insulation, all the wiring/outlet supplies, all the lighting fixtures, all the shelving, flooring, wallboard, paint ... I've been chipping away at cleaning all the junk out, getting rid of what we don't have any use for any more, organizing what needs to stay, and so on.  Every time I ask him what needs to be done next, he insists that he can't do anything until "everyone gets their crap out of the way".  Guess what?  Ninety percent of all the "crap in the way" is his. I don't tell him that, though.  I just go on quietly working toward the day when I can gently point out to him that it's all his.

What scares me the most when I think of the future?

Him.  I love him like crazy, I have for almost thirty years, I always will.  But I worry that the time is coming when that love won't be enough.

He doesn't see money and debt the way I do.  I see money as a tool, to be used as wisely and efficiently as possible in order to have the life I want.  He sees it as what the world owes him to do whatever he pleases with.  When I decide I want something, I look for the best price and I save up for it.  He needs instant gratification  -  he sees something, he wants it, he buys it, he'll worry about how to pay for it "later".  I see debt as something that eats up energy and resources I'd prefer to put to better use elsewhere.  He sees it as a fact of life, something that everyone has and something that he will always have because that's just the way life is. 

Another thing that's starting to worry me arises from the dark side, if you will, of his declared hatred of waste.  He comes from a family of impulse shoppers and hoarders.  And I'm seeing the tendency developing in him.  Oh, not to the extent of some of his family, but it's there, and it's edging into problem territory ...

Our old dishes and cutlery were mostly mismatched pieces from the years before we got together.  Yes, it would be nice to have dishes that went together, to have knives & forks & spoons that all matched, but there were more important things to spend the money on.  We'd wait for a good sale on something we both really liked ...  Well, the sale happened.  We agreed on a set of silverware and bought it.  But then he went back to the sale and bought three more sets!  One more set went into the kitchen drawer, one set went into the camper, and one set he put away "for spares".  I hope we never need the "spares", because he can't remember where he stashed that third set.  Pretty much the same thing happened with the dishes; he's always had the mindset that if one of something is good, six must be six times better.  But we can't ever get rid of the old beat-up useless stuff we've replaced, because we might need it someday, we might buy a summer cabin in the woods someday, the kids might want it someday ... It's the same story with sheets, towels, lawn rakes, you name it.  If he dies first, I stand to make at least a year's worth of mortgage payments just by holding a tool auction!  As of the last count he has forty-three work shirts, eighteen pairs of sweat pants, three dresser drawers full of socks, and twenty-two plaid jackets.  Twenty-two.  Plaid.  Jackets.  Oh, and nine pairs of steel-toed work boots.  I don't think I have nine pairs of shoes unless I count in my gumboots!

So what does all this have to do with the "big change" in myself?

I've changed how I react to it, how I let it affect my actions and my feelings. I've realized that I can't change Big Guy, I can only change how I cope with the way he does things.  I can stop stressing about how he deals with money, and focus on what needs to be done that I can deal with on my own.  And I can concentrate on all the qualities I love in him, instead of the traits that frustrate or anger me.

When we make a shopping list, I keep it to what we need that's on sale, I go through my coupons, and I try to go with him so I can encourage him to stick to the list.  I can't stop him from impulse buying in the grocery store when he goes by himself, but I can make sure he eats before he shops.  I can't make him get rid of anything, but I can insist that he find a home for it where it's not going to be in the way of something we need to do or to get at.  I can't make him do things ... but I can quietly just go do them myself.

Like I said, I love him.  And I know he loves me.  But it's kind of sad, sometimes, to think of all the ways in which I'm now living my life around him instead of with him.