Friday, January 27, 2017

Fermenting

I allowed myself to take a break from fermenting.  It wasn't a thought-out, necessary or conscious decision to take a break, but more like I was too involved in other stuff to bother with it.  I allowed myself to get too distracted away from the things that really mattered to me.  That's a really bad way to take a break from something that's both fulfilling and important. 

I, at least, did manage to make sour pickles this year.  Most of them have been eaten.  They were good.  But I'm wholly disappointed in myself that I haven't made an effort to ferment more and that some of the things we have fermented we didn't tend properly.

We've started a couple of batches of hard cider (using bought sweet cider from local producers).  Unfortunately, we didn't get it bottled, and we allowed it to go to vinegar in the bucket.  Not a total waste ... but really, kind of a waste. 

I had intended, for the last year or more, to make sauerkraut, which is both healthful and delicious.  Instead, we (eventually) used up the cabbage for other stuff (soup or stir-fry, mostly).  It's good that it wasn't wasted, but a wasted opportunity isn't all that much better than wasted food. 

Yes, I am kicking myself.

As part of my getting myself back on the right path, I decided to make sauerkraut.

I bought a couple of cabbages from the store a few weeks ago.  We used most of it in meals, but I resolved that I was going to make some sauerkraut.  The cabbages went into the crisper drawer, and I reminded myself, every now and again, that they were there, and that I needed to do something with them.  Then, one night, while cutting cabbage for stir-fry, instead of putting what I hadn't used for the meal back into the crisper drawer in the refrigerator, I sliced it, salted it and put it into a quart-sized canning jar. 

I tasted it today.  It was a bit saltier than I like, but it's good.  The cabbage is still firm and crispy - just the way sauerkraut should be.  It's in the refrigerator, and it's only enough for a couple of meals, but it will be nice with some Bratwurst cooked on the grill or open fire while we boiling maple syrup (it's that time ...!).

I've also been trying to grow a SCOBY.  In the past, I've enjoyed making and drinking Kombucha, which is a fermented tea drink, but a few years ago, I got busy doing other stuff, and I allowed my SCOBY to die.  I had a bottle of Kombucha in my refrigerator with just a bit of liquid and a clump of what looked like it might be the snot-like mother.  I also had some mother from a bottle I'd purchased from the grocery store.  I put these in a jar with some fresh sweet tea, and I've been letting it grow. 

Today, Deus Ex Machina says, "I ordered something for you."

It's tax time, and he was ordering our tax prep software and some charging cords for the cellphones.

"What?"  I asked. "Or is it a surprise and I just need to wait 'til it gets here."

He smiled, maybe thinking whether he would tell me or not.

"I ordered you a new SCOBY." 

It will take a couple of days for it to get here.  I could have Kombucha by next weekend. 

We're always monitoring our budget, and we're careful not to buy things on a whim.  This purchase was not that.  This purchase was for something that will benefit us, and something that has been on the wish list for a while. 

Being frugal, especially in these times where the middle class is shrinking, at the same time that the cost of everything is ballooning, is absolutely the smart thing to do. 

But making purchases to facilitate our return to our path, getting back to making sauerkraut, getting back to making Kombucha, getting back to doing those things that fulfilled us, that's worth the investment.



 

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Treating Ourselves



When it comes to budgeting, eating out has been my Achilles' Heel.  It's not that I don't like to cook - I do.  I LOVE to cook, but ....

There's always a but, right?

I'm not one of those excuse makers.  I strongly feel that if one wants to do something, one can.  It's just a matter of adjusting expectations/needs/wants.

A few years ago, I went to the doctor for a check-up.  I was trying to establish care with a new physician, because when one gets sick, one needs to have a "regular" doctor.  The quick care places don't really do anything more than trauma care with referrals to other specialists and/or back to one's regular doctor.  The logic (if one can call it that) behind having a regular doctor is that one will have established a relationship with this physician, but it doesn't always work that way.  Sometimes the regular doctor moves, or the insurance carrier changes and the regular doctor isn't in that network, or the doctor belongs in a practice, and the chances are as good as not that when one goes to see one's regular doctor one will end up seeing one of the physician's partners.  If one is like me, one rarely even goes to see one's doctor.  It's hard to establish a relationship with someone one sees only once every three or four years.

I digress.

So, I went to the doctor, and when I was weighed, I expressed concern about my weight gain.  We discussed it, and I mentioned that I suspected a large part of my problem was that I tended to eat dinner - my primary meal of the day - late in the evening.  The doctor asked if I could change that.

To be fair, I wasn't asking for advice on how to lose weight.  I know what I need to do.  I was just explaining why I thought I'd been gaining. 

Anyway, I suppose I could have changed the habit of eating so late in the day, but it would mean that we would not be able to have dinner as a family at least two nights per week ... or that I would have to no longer allow my daughters to participate in dance classes late in the evening. 

The problem is that dance starts at 3:00 in the afternoon - too early for dinner - and isn't finished until 8:00 - too late for dinner. 

And that schedule is also what got us when it came to breaking the eating out habit.  It's super easy to decide to pick-up Take-Out on the way home from picking them up after dance.

One way we've combatted the issue is that one of us stays home and makes dinner while the other drives out to the Centre to pick-up our dancing queens. 

Unfortunately, that doesn't always work.  Sometimes there are other evening events - like volunteering or Yoga - that keep us out late (sometimes we have to decide which frugal act is more important - saving gasoline with fewer trips out or eating at home).  And with a couple of take-out places, sort of, on the way home and cellphones, it's easy to order pizza on the road, which is ready when we get there, and we can sit down to eat almost as soon as we walk through the door at home. 

Only, it doesn't always work that way, either, and the reality is that we have eaten a lot of cold take-out.  And I realized that I could probably start something simple as soon as we walk in the door, that can cook while we're doing all of the chores that have to happen before we can settle down to eat, and we'd have a more wholesome, and hot, meal than we do when we succumb to the take-out temptation.

Take-out seems easier, also, because most of the food we have in our house seems to require some time-consuming prep.  When we transitioned to mostly local foods, most of the easy-to-prepare foods went out of our diets.  There aren't a lot of open-the-can/heat-and-eat options in my kitchen. 

And then, the whole gluten-free thing happened.  No more quick-and-easy grilled cheese sandwiches.  Forget about the frozen pizzas (in fact the premade GF frozen pizzas at the grocery store - which aren't very good - cost the same as the take-out GF pizza).  Five-minute couscous with leftover chicken - not happening. 

We, of course, have options, but most of those options take a bit more thought and a bit more time to prepare.

What isn't an option is eating out - especially as gluten-free locavores.

Being a locavore means that our goal is to eat food that was grown/raised as close to where we live as possible.  That means that most prepared food at the grocery store isn't an option anyway.  Before we transitioned to GF, we'd already eliminated most prepared foods from our diet. 

We still allowed ourselves to eat out, though, IF we went to a locally-owned restaurant.  When we had to change our diet to gluten-free, eating out became more difficult.  What we found was that even when we ordered something that we thought was GF, there were occasions when we'd feel poorly after we ate.  Then, we found out that what we thought was GF food, too often, wasn't.  For instance, we were super excited to find that a local restaurant has a GF pizza crust option.  It's not a great pizza crust, but beggars can't be choosers, right?  We ate the pizza thinking it was safe.  Then, we found out that their cheese is not GF. 

What the ...?  What? 

Wait.  I've made cheese.  It has milk, rennet and salt.  That is all.  No wheat.  No gluten. 

Apparently, the cheese mixture (Wait.  They don't grate their own cheese??) they use at that pizza place has added wheat flour.  My guess is to make the cheese brown better and make it crispier, but I just don't get why they adulterate such a wonderful food like cheese, which is perfection in and of itself. 

But worse, we order GF pizza crust, which would imply that we have an issue with gluten, which all wheat products contain.  One would think that the person, from whom we are ordering, would let us know this little-known fact about their cheese.  They didn't.  And we wondered, for a long time, why their pizza made us feel so ... sick. 

The problem with eating out is that we, simply, can not know where the food comes from or how it is prepared, and when one is trying very hard to make conscious choices about one's food, eating out is no longer an option.

So, what do we do?

1.  Have a few go-to meal options that can be prepared quickly:
  • Tacos/Nachos are fast and easy.  Just brown and season ground meat, chop up a few vegetables, and grate some cheese.  It's ready to eat in less than 20 minutes. 
  • Wraps (with GF tortillas) take about ten minutes, if I spend time slicing pickles, olives and tomatoes *but this is usually a seasonal option, because lettuce and tomatoes don't grow here during the winter.
  • Soup.  I often have some quart jars of pressure-canned broth in the pantry.  Saute some onions, garlic, and/or mushrooms, add some leftover chicken, drop in some dehydrated rice, and add some frozen vegetables and/or dehydrated greens - and it's a meal.  Takes about 20 minutes, tops.
  • Eggs.  This also is seasonal and depends on how much our chickens have been laying.  We scramble them or make a crustless quiche.  If we do quiche, I'll also make roasted potatoes.  Including prep time, it takes about forty-five minutes for a quiche with roasted potatoes.
  • Stir-fry.  Chop up some vegetables, throw in some leftover meat, cook up a pan of rice, et voila!  Dinner.  Super easy.  Takes about a half hour.
  • Pancakes/crepes.  My daughters call it dinner-for-breakfast.  I don't like pancakes, personally.  My daughters love them.  So, I make pancakes for them, and then, after I've made their pancakes, I thin the batter and make crepes for myself, which I fill with cottage cheese and some jam.  Right now, it's blueberry jam, which is absolutely delicious! 
2.  Know what's in the pantry.  We have a fairly well-stocked pantry.  Over the years we've narrowed our meal choices to those things we know we want to eat.  We eat a lot of roasted things and soup during the winter.  We eat a lot of salad and grilled things during the summer.  My pantry reflects the season, and I usually have whatever it is I'm planning for dinner on hand.  Options are one of the things that keeps us from heading to the take-out place, because I can usually make whatever it is that my family is craving. 

3.  Learn to appreciate GOOD food.  It seems like a no-brainer, and it is, but I think most people don't really get it - or they think that the restaurant food (because of the price or ... something) is much better than what they can make at home.  The fact is that much of what we get in most casual dining restaurants is boxed stuff anyway, and with very few exceptions, my rendition of that meal is better than what we get in the restaurant.  My hamburgers are juicier and tastier (because I season them) than most hamburger joints.  Also, the meat I use is either locally raised beef or venison.  Better for us, much more delicious.  When one starts with wholesome, fresher ingredients, the outcome is always better. 

4.  Add dessert.  On the really wacky nights when I'm just wiped out, and I can't even think enough to compose a meal, I'll grab some leftover meat from the fridge, add BBQ sauce and add raw carrots, pickles or olives, sliced cheese, or even potato chips on the plate as a side.  Then, I'll whip together a super quick apple crisp and throw it in the oven while we're eating.  It's finished cooking when we finish the "main course."  The dessert is sweet and warm, and fills our bellies the rest of the way. 

The best thing we did for ourselves was to realize that the restaurant food is not faster, more convenient, nor tastier than what we cook here at home.  It's not a treat, not in any definition of the word "treat", to eat out rather than eating at home.  We've conditioned ourselves through some kind of brainwashing marketing campaign that we should prefer eating out, that those restaurants are doing us some huge favor by taking the burden of cooking for ourselves off our shoulders.  We "treat" ourselves to restaurant food, but really, the only "treat" to eating out is that someone else does the dishes (unless our take-out meal requires the use of plates ... then, there's no treat).

But when we really consider what we're getting, especially if we have dietary quirks, allergies, or preferences, it's not a treat.

It's not a treat to poison our bodies with GMO food, or factory-farmed meat, or wheat, or tomato sauce from a BPA-lined can.  When we get food from a restaurant, we don't know, for certain, that what we're getting has been chosen with the same level of scrutiny required of the food we bring into our homes.  Some restaurants blatantly and proudly advertise their crappy food - like the restaurant that brazenly exclaims that it uses Smithfield meats (we NEVER eat at that establishment), like it's a good thing, or the restaurant that charges $2.59 for a kid-sized bowl of Kraft Mac&Cheese (and, yes, their menu does say that it's Kraft Mac&Cheese, which we can purchase at the grocery for about a dollar for a whole box!).  It astonishes me that they don't even pretend they make it themselves.  And parents buy this bowl of stuff they could make at home for about fifty cents. 

Taking all of that into consideration, it seems a little silly, then, to think that eating out is a treat - or even a remotely better option - than eating in.

When it comes to frugal food:

Oven-roasted chicken served with baked potato and a salad (made at home): total cost for my family of 5, including beverages:  $14.81.  Total savings over eating out for a similar (if not comparable) meal at a casual dining facility:  $85.19

Feeding my body wholesome, organically-raised food: Priceless.


Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Speaking of Technology


Some of my readers will remember the movie Forrest Gump starring Tom Hanks as the slow-witted, but wise and loveable title character, who always seemed to be in the right place, at the right time, and beautifully and profoundly touched people's lives.

There's a scene with Forrest and his friend, Bubba, in which Bubba begins counting off the ways that he has eaten shrimp.

I'm like that with potatoes. 

My grandmother grew a lot of potatoes.  The crop was stored under the house (what everyone else would call a "cellar" or "basement", but since it wasn't closed in for a good many years, it couldn't properly have been called either of those) in a big bin.  I don't think I've ever seen so many potatoes in one spot. 

Granny's favorite potato dish was fried potatoes.  She used a big iron skillet and probably lard.  Hers were always the perfect size, perfect thickness, and perfect crispness.  I've never learned to fry potatoes quite like my granny did, and so I don't. 

But I do love preparing them in many other ways.  One of my favorite ways for winter is to wrap them in foil and put them in the woodstove - yes, where the fire is.  As long as they are not touching any burning logs, they will cook, rather than getting scorched.  It's such an easy, low-energy way to cook them.

I also like to slice them into quarters and put them in a pan with just a little water (just enough to keep them from burning to the bottom of the pan), and then, cover the pan and put it on the back of the woodstove.  They have, roughly, the same texture and consistency as a baked potato.  It's easy, because there's no peeling involved. 

For a quick and easy, one-pot lunch, I like to cut the potato into cubes and put the potato and a couple of eggs in water and boil them both together.  A little butter and salt & pepper, and it's a delicious, nutritious meal. 
 
My family prefers roasted potatoes.  New potatoes are best to use as roasted potatoes, because the skins are still pretty soft.  I just clean the potatoes, cut them into pieces with the skin on, toss with some olive oil, and bake at 350° until they're brown. 

In a very Bubba-esque recitation, there are also: scalloped potatoes, potatoes and cheese (like mac & cheese without the mac), mashed potatoes, whipped potatoes, potatoes au gratin, potato chips, potato soup .... 

Potatoes can also be combined with flour for pasta (gnocchi) and bread. 

Or made into flour. 

I hear that in some places, potatoes are mashed and fermented, and then, distilled.  I think it's called Vodka ;).

Potatoes are a very versatile food.  Also, a fact my daughter likes to remind me is that one can survive - nutrition-wise - on just potatoes and milk (or potatoes and beer, provided one gets enough water to stay hydrated). 

I'm still working out how to best grow potatoes for the highest yield on my quarter acre.  So far, a raised bed has given the biggest yield, but since my goal is to raise all of the potatoes we will eat, and keeping my grandmother's huge bin in mind, the 30 lbs we got from the raised bed isn't even close to enough.  So, I keep trying.

Then, of course, after all of that talk about technology in a recent post, I see this link on my Facebook page today.  It's to a website that features instructions and a video on building a battery out of potatoes.

As if potatoes weren't valuable enough, now I need to grow enough to power light bulbs?

I, personally, prefer to eat my potatoes, but heck, if I could charge my cellphone with a potato?!  Not such a bad thing.

Here's the link to the video on how to make a battery out of a potato.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Embracing Technology


In one of the reviews on Amazon of my book, Surviving the Apocalypse in the Suburbs: the Thrivalist's Guide to Life Without Oil, I was accused of being a luddite.  I won't lie.  I had to look up that word.  When I did, I thought, maybe I am.

But also *not*! 

By definition a luddite is a person opposed to increased industrialization or new technology.

So, yes, I am opposed to increased industrialization, because we are discovering that industrialization is damaging us as creatures of the Earth. We have removed ourselves from the ebb and flow of nature, and there is evidence to support that this detachment from our true selves has done more harm than good.

So, yes.  I am fully in support of the denouncing the belief that more technology, more industrialization, is better.  The question is better for whom, but the answer is almost never for the masses.  More technology, more industrialization, is always better for the people who are developing and owning these technologies, than it is for the general public.  Even in this country, the use of coal to further our climb up the mountain to Peak Industry, resulted in environmental disasters and abject poverty.  Since all of that misery happened deep in the hollows of the Appalachian Mountains, most people never saw it, and so never had to be worried all that much about how their lives of luxury were affecting their fellow countrymen.  Now, we don't even see it at all, because it's happening in places with names most of us can't even pronounce correctly.

That said, I will allow that some technologies have benefitted us, as a culture (although perhaps not as sentient beings).  As a culture, having a system of sanitary disposal of waste has much improved our lives, although I don't think we are really using the best technologies available for this purpose.  The average US household uses 100 gallons of water per day per person.  A quarter of that is from flushing toilets.  If we were to transition to a composting toilet combined with a methane digester, we could kill the proverbial two birds with one stone.  We could practice sanitary waste disposal, by composting our excrement, inside a methane digester that would produce gas for cooking, heating water and/or producing electricity.  By doing so, we could eliminate the need to frack natural gas and mine coal.  We could, literally, power the world with our shit.  And the residuals of methane production are clean water and compost - for use in the garden.  If we have pets (like cats that use a litter box) or farm animals, we could produce even more methane by adding their wastes to the digester. 

I love technology, when it's beneficial and necessary across the board without resulting in collateral damage.  Like methane digesters, which get rid of something we don't want and produce something we can use, without destroying large swaths of natural habitats.  That's exactly the kind of technology we should be trying to promote.

In the Amazon review, the reason given for labeling me a luddite was actually quite funny.  The reviewer said that I was a luddite because I said that Deus Ex Machina preferred to hand-split wood rather than using a gas-powered wood splitter.  Deus Ex Machina and I were accused of working harder, not smarter.  (!)

I had to wonder if the reviewer had actually read and understood the premise of the book. 

Surviving the Apocalypse in the Suburbs: the Thrivalist's Guide to Life Without Oil describes a future in which using a gas-powered splitter would no longer be possible - because gasoline would be either prohibitively expensive or no longer available.  My discussion about Deus Ex Machina preferring hand-splitting to using a wood splitter was to comment on the fact that many of us are physically ill-prepared to transition to a handmade lifestyle.  At best, we just can't split the wood, because we're too weak.  At worst, we don't have the knowledge (and make no mistake, there really is a skill to it).  Either way, if we can't split wood, we will be cold.

By knowing how to and being able to split wood by hand, Deus Ex Machina has conditioned his body in the event that this something happens.  In fact, we do use a splitter, when it's available and the best option at that moment, but most of the splitting is done by hand.  It's a chore he enjoys.  My mother-in-law likes to hand wash dishes, and so she chooses not to have a dishwasher.  That does not make her a luddite anymore than it makes us luddites.  Preferring to do some things by hand is not the equivalent of hating technology.

But back to that. 

Living in our culture demands that we do, actually, embrace certain technologies.  When I had my home-based business, I quickly realized that I needed a phone (a listing in the Yellow Pages was my cheapest and best option for advertising my business in those days).  I also needed Fax capabilities.  I needed to be able to connect to the Internet, because I needed email.

As my business took off, I expanded my knowledge base, and I started learning some very basic web design techniques.  Today, having a business requires having a website.  No one even knows how to use the yellow pages anymore. 

Being a home-based entrepreneur, I (by necessity) embraced technology.  Having access to the Internet is what allowed me to be a Virtual Assistant, and my tagline was "I can do anything from my home office that I could do at your location ... except file!"  I worked with my clients through the Internet, via email, and by Fax and phone.  There was a time, even, when my clients were scattered across the continent.  I had clients in California, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Kentucky, and all over the State of Maine.  I worked from home in front of this little screen and managed to do their work without ever visiting their offices. 

These days, as an author in a very niche subject, I am dependent on this technology to spread information about what I do.   My book publisher is in Canada ... on the other side of Canada (the West coast.  I'm on the East coast).  I've never been to their offices.  I've been on radio shows and pod casts all over the US and in the UK and Australia.  Thanks to technology.

Because my income stream is/was dependent on the Internet, and most of what I did was secretarial in nature, I needed to maintain certain equipment, and I really needed a reliable and cost-effective  phone and Internet Service Provider. 

With regard to landline service and Internet service when I started my business at the end of the 20th Century, we were really limited.  One phone company serviced my whole area.  Any other "providers" were really subletters of those companies.  There's an ISP in this area that is really just piggy-backing on Fairpoint's lines.  In the early days of high-speed Internet, there were two choices: broadband cable with its static IP address, and DSL with its dynamic (i.e. changing) IP address.  Dynamic IP addresses were less vulnerable to cyberattacks in those days.  I chose DSL. 

Until last summer, that's what I had. 

I dissolved my business in the Spring 2016.

I disconnected the landline in the Summer 2016.

Before we cut the cord, though, we did a lot of research into what our best option would be.  First, we tried getting an Internet-only connection through a local ISP that provided a DSL connection.  Cutting the phone and having only an Internet connection with our previous provider would have cost a $50 installation fee, plus almost as much per month as we were paying for a phone with call-waiting, voicemail, free regional calling, and a separate ring for the Fax and the Internet connection.  WTH?  How is it cheaper for them to provide EXTRA services? 

The company we called said that we could have them come in and connect the new modem for $50 for the service call, or we could just plug in the new box when it arrived by ourselves.  We opted to plug-and-play ourselves and save $50 and the bother of having some stranger person come into my bedroom/office.  I mean, how hard could it be?  Deus Ex Machina is an engineer with a degree from an Ivy League college.  He's a smart guy. 

The new modem arrived with no installation instructions.  We called the company.  They said "just plug it in."  It didn't work.  We called again.  They told us it was a "level 2" problem.  Their "level 2" help desk closes at 5:00.  Deus Ex Machina, the one they needed to talk to about what to do, doesn't get home until 5:30.  They suggested a $50 service call. 

See where this is going?  They *said* it could be a DIY installation, but provided no instructions and no support.  I was starting to feel scammed.  

After two weeks of wrangling back and forth, and four days with no internet at all, we decided to move completely away from a wired Internet into the Brave New World of mobile hotspots.

At first, we purchased a hotspot device through a cellphone company.  It's actually pretty cool, and  one of the selling points, for us, was that we could take it with us.  So, in the rare, but real, occasion when we were traveling and staying in a hotel that charged extra for Wi-Fi in our rooms, we could have our own Wi-Fi with our hotspot and pay no extra.  Save money?  Twist my arm.  

It also used a lot less electricity than the router and modem that we used when we had the wired Internet - because those electronics were always plugged in.  The hotspot device only needed to be plugged in to charge it (like a cellphone). 

Unfortunately, the hotspot wasn't optimal for my family, because it did not provide unlimited Internet access.  I mean, it did, but the access went from smoking hot to dial-up speed once we'd used up the whatever-number-of-high-speed-gigs we were allowed per billing period.  It took us about four days to use up our gigs.  So, we spent the rest of the month with a sloth-speed Internet connection. 

We started making some adjustments to how we used the Internet, which has, actually, turned out to be a positive (probably a post for a different day).  

Then, our cellphone provider offered this amazing deal.  We could get an individual hotspot on each of our cellphones, and that's where we are now.  We each already had our own laptops.  Part of our transition from landline to cellphone was ensuring that everyone had a cellphone.  Now, we have our own cellphones and our own laptops, and we can connect our own laptops to our own personal hotspots. 

So, here's the breakdown:

We were paying  around $80/month for the landline/Internet (*if we made no long-distance calls* - long-distance service cost $5/month, plus $0.10/minute for each call. With several out-of-state relatives and out-of-region clients, it could get pricey).  Our cellphone account for four phones cost us around $140/month.  Our monthly output for phones and the Internet was $220. 

We cut the landline/Internet and then added another phone to our cellphone account ($20).  The addition of a hotspot on each phone increased our cellphone bill by another $40/month.  We're now paying around $200 for the total package - phone and high-speed Internet.  We could save an extra $20 if we had automatic payment.  We haven't decided to save that extra $20, yet, because I just don't like automatic payments.  Too much can go wrong.

We've embraced technology as a wonderful luxury to have.  We like being able to connect to the Internet and keep in touch with our relatives who live "away."  My mother, now, has a smartphone, and she's been sending me texts.  My daughter-in-law plays Words with Friends with me.  It's wonderful to be able to connect to them. 

The thing is, though, that I acknowledge that these technologies - most modern technologies - are luxuries.  The cellphones, the Internet, our cars, the gas-powered woodsplitter, the snow blower, flush toilets, electricity ... all of those things can be done (and have been done) by other means.  We can communicate via letter.  We can get information by going to the library or by reading newspapers and books.  We can be entertained by any number of methods that don't require electronics (games, live plays, live music, etc.).  We can walk instead of driving.  We can hand-split wood.  We can remove snow with a shovel (which, in itself, is a "technology"), or we can allow nature to remove the snow at her leisure, and just stay put until it's gone.  We can use composting toilets (i.e. a bucket with sawdust and a lid, which is emptied outside into a pile that will "cook" the pathogens out of the contents and make it usable in the garden).  We can light our homes using candles ... or just go to bed when the sun goes down (not a bad thing, actually).

We live luxurious lives these days, and I don't think most people understand that we are living like the royalty of yore.  Even the poorest of us in these rich nations have MORE than the aristocracy back before the Industrial Revolution.

Understanding that fact, and recognizing that it probably won't last, and that I should be ready to do without it, does not make me a luddite.  It makes me a realist ... and it also makes me incredibly thankful for the luxury my modern life affords me.

Gratitude, if we all practiced it, could be the greatest gift all of this technology gives us.       



Friday, January 20, 2017

Making Money versus Saving Money

A few years ago, I thought I wanted to be an independent bookseller on Amazon.  I even read this book about how to sell books on Amazon.  I'm sure there are people who do it and are able to make a living from it.  I'm not one of those people.

I've tried to be an eBay seller, too.  I had some great items, which I sold at a profit.  My problem with both Amazon and eBay is a lack of inventory, and I lack inventory, because I lack the space to store it.  Also, I lack the capital to build an inventory that I may have to store for a long time.  That is, I have to purchase the whatever it is, and then, if it doesn't sell quickly enough, I'm out that money. 

I'm sure there are a lot of people who do okay with both Amazon and eBay as sellers, but I think most people have my experience.  It sounds good, on paper.  The reality is that, while I made a couple of dollars, once one adds in the time spent both buying and selling the item, shipping, seller fees, and the general nuisance of dealing with it, there was no profit.  My experience with online selling is that the ones who make money with those markets are the people who own the portals. 

In the fall 2015, I finally convinced Deus Ex Machina that it was time for me to dissolve my home-based office service.  It had been almost 20 years since I started, and as my daughters got older and their schedules more full, I was finding it increasingly more difficult to give my clients the service they deserved and had come to expect. 

The problem was that we had come to depend on that income, and I assured Deus Ex Machina that when I quit my job, I would be able to find a way to recoup, at least part of, my income.

My first project was to rent a table at a local indoor flea market.  Unlike online selling, all of my customers were local folks (or tourists), and so there was no shipping charge.  It was almost completely passive.    The facility was open seven days a week from 9:00 to 5:00.  They did all of the work, mostly.  All I had to do was maintain my table - make sure my items were appropriately labeled with my vendor number, an item description, and the price I wished to receive.  The cashiers there don't haggle with the customers, and so people can buy what I have to sell at the price I'm asking, or they can move on.  There was even a website with weekly reporting of what I had sold.  Checks were issued weekly.  Heck, I didn't even have to pay my table fee, if I earned enough from sales.  They just take my table rent out of what I'd sold the previous month. 

So, we had all of these really cool things I'd collected over the years from who knows where.  My house was a stuff magnet: old tools, cast iron extras, books, antique-looking (not real antiques, though) stuff, toys, and all sorts of glass items.  It was a hodgepodge of eclectic clutter.  Even if we didn't make much (enough to cover the table rental), I reasoned, getting the clutter out of our house would be a huge bonus. 

So, I signed the contract and set up my table (the more expensive one that I didn't want squeezed back in a corner, but that was the only one they (said they) had available at the time).  The first month I earned back my table rental fee, plus about $60.  The second month I didn't do quite as well, but I was still making more than the table cost.

Most of the really eclectic, cool, collector-type stuff went pretty fast (wooden clam basket and rake; picnic baskets; some glass jars; a child's tea set).  The high-end collector's items (like the authentic hand-painted Steinbach Nutcrackers) sat on the table, being mishandled by potential buyers, who looked at the price tag, looked at the shabby surroundings of the flea market and passed. 

It's curious to me that the people who go to places like that don't really understand the whole principle of putting things back the way they found them.   

The third and fourth months, I was super busy with other projects.  Getting there before 5:00 PM proved to be extremely difficult.  In that sixty-day period, I only checked my table once. 

Summer wound down, and I found myself with a bit more time.  At the beginning of the fifth month, I stopped by and found that I had a deficit. I owed them money - and it was a substantial sum - more than I had earned in the entire time that I'd had my table.  I hadn't sold much of anything in those two months, and so I didn't meet the table rent.  Then, I discovered something I'd overlooked when I signed the contract.  There was a $25 late fee for table rents not paid on time.  Two months worth of table fees, plus a late fee.  That's what I owed.  I was a little afraid to tell Deus Ex Machina. 

We're still married.  That's good. 

I gave my thirty-day notice, and in October, I boxed up what was left on the table, collected my final check (a whopping $6), tucked my tail and went home.

One time, about fifteen years ago, I tried to have a yard sale.  I realized then, even though I keep forgetting, that I have no idea what other people want to buy.  Mostly it's never the kinds of things I have for sale. 

What I do better at than selling is not spending.  I don't rush out and buy a thing the first time I identify that I might need it.  I look for another solution, first, and sometimes discover that we didn't need it after all. 

I cook at home, which saves quite a lot.  A meal out for our family, if we eat at the restaurant - and we're not talking a high-end place here, but just a casual dining restaurant where people wear cut-off jeans and throw peanut shells on the floor - is more than $100 (which is a whole week's worth of groceries, even if we buy all organic and local!).  Our cheapest option is take-out from someplace like Chipotle, and that's still almost $50, for the five of us, without beverages. 

If I were going to make this a #FrugalTip, it would be advice to stay-at-home parents - concentrate, first, on not spending, and then, if there's a lot of time and energy left over, maybe finding some easy, passive ways to earn a few dollars is worthwhile, but unless one is a really savvy consumer with a large storage area and some extra capital to invest in the "business", do something other than reselling.

For the record, I do earn some cash still.  I'm a certified teacher and work as an advisor to the homeschool community.  I earn some money doing that.  I'm also a Notary Public.  I can earn some money notarizing documents and solemnizing marriages.  And, occasionally, I sell a piece of writing.

Mostly, though, I don't earn money, I look for ways to not depend on it.

And if I had to choose one that's better for me, it would be the latter.  Making money is easy.  Keeping it? That's tougher.  Not needing it is the Holy Grail.


*******************************
 
I walked into the craft store last summer, and I saw this display of stuff. 






I won't say what my first thought was, but it centered on a disbelief that people paid, you know, like, REAL money for this stuff.  I love the look of the stuff, but ... not enough to pay any money for it.  In another section of the store, there are these plastic jars filled with odds and ends, scrap pieces of paper with cute sayings, mismatched game pieces, pieces of twine.  It looks like someone's junk drawer in a jar.  I still haven't figured out what it's for or why someone would buy it.  If the jar were glass, maybe I'd buy it just for the jar ... probably not, though.

Then, as I whipped out my phone to take pictures, I thought, if I were more crafty, I could make this stuff for my flea market table.  I'm not crafty, but those who are, please take note.  I'm sure you can do better than these cheap, mostly plastic and fake wood, replicas made in China.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Fighting the Good Fight

In 1984, I was in high school (yep.  Just dated myself).  It's significant, because the required reading list included the book, 1984 by George Orwell.

For those who don't know (not any of you, right?), 1984 depicts a dystopian future in which the government controls every aspect of people's lives, even moving into their living spaces via television (or some two-way version of it - computers with web cams, perhaps?  Or cellphones with cameras and microphones??  Are you shuddering, yet?), where they could spy on every movement. 

Winston, our protagonist, has learned to even control his facial expression, because there is a crime called "Facecrime", in which a person can be convicted and "vaporized" simply by having the wrong facial expression at the wrong time.  Winston works in an office at a job where he is responsible for, essentially, changing history.  



The three-fold party slogan is:  War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, and Ignorance is Strength. 

At the time that Orwell wrote 1984, the scenario was a little ridiculous, but he could see how it could become a reality.  He was staunchly anti-communist in his writings, and he feared the extreme application of those principals, which could be too easily implemented by someone with too much self-interest who was given too much sway over every day lives.

Today, we can't move in public without being recorded.  Airports.  Shopping Centers.  ATMs.  Drive-thru windows in restaurants.  Roadway intersections.  Highways.  Sidewalks.  Many private businesses now have video recording equipment, full color, pictures as clear as a carefully filmed and edited multi-million dollar movie.  That 1970s television show that told us to "Smile!  You're on Candid Camera!" has become our reality.  We are always on candid camera.

One would think that it would be enough to keep us from acting like assholes, because, well, someone is going to see your childish outburst at the grocery store.  It's going to be on film.  How long before someone makes a living from collecting video footage and turning it into a real-life Candid Camera reality TV show the simply features idiots caught on film doing idiot things? 

Who knows?  The next "Idiot" could be you.  Keep your face neutral.  Don't pick your nose.  Don't pull your panties out of your butt-crack.  Big Brother is always watching. 

So far we all believe it's for security reasons, and perhaps, there are enough examples of the "bad person" being caught on screen to justify this constant surveillance.  Personally, I find it a bit disconcerting.  I have a sticker over the camera lens on my laptop.  Sounds can go through, but not video.  I don't have a location finder set-up on my phone.  Google is not tracking me through my cellphone - at least not with my permission. 

Maybe it makes me paranoid, but having read 1984 thirty-two years ago, and then, watched, over the last  three decades as too much of what Orwell described has come true, I'm wary.  I'm watching.

I'm watching us all become completely complacent.

In the story, Winston, who is the anti-historian, recalls an event that happened yesterday, that was retold (the complete opposite) the next day, and no one questioned.  Indeed, no one even seemed to remember.  Later, in a speech during "Hate Week", the speaker is handed a slip of paper and without even stopping what he's saying, suddenly, he names a new enemy.  No one even bats an eye.  They go from hating the Eurasians to hating the East Asians in a split-second, never even acknowledging that something has changed. 

But, then, if they did remember, what could they do?  To disagree with the Party means certain death.  The Party is never wrong, and when they are, they alter the history so that they are right. 

So, Winston and his comrades muddled through life, always fearful that they might fall under the scrutiny of the Thought Police and found guilty, resulting in vaporization.  As my daughter used to say "The. Yend!"

But then, our Winston does the unthinkable.  He fights back in a way that is utterly and completely subversive, and yet, so passively non-threatening, but a complete and total threat to the way of life that his government demands.  He thinks - something other than the government tells him to think.  And he starts keeping a diary. 

There was a song I heard once.  The part that always sticks in my head went something like:  "Do you love me?  Will give me all you have to give?  Your heart, your mind, each word you say, and every thought you think each day?  Do you love me ... enough?" 

Those lyrics describe exactly what the government in the novel 1984 demands of its citizenry.  Every act.  Every word.  Every thought. 

I'm terrified by that prospect, and I already know that if it ever comes to that, I'll be one of the first to go.  I'm a subversive.  Deus Ex Machina and I are not super consumers.  I don't have a full-time, wage-earning job - so that we can afford more of the American Way of Life (that is non-negotiable, so says our leaders).  I stay home, where we homeschool, but not for religious reasons.  As such, we have failed to indoctrinate our daughters as patriotic consumers (you know, contributing to the GDP by shopping) and as religious zealots.

There are a lot of things we don't do, or that we do differently than is normal, and for those things, I would be marked, because I don't follow the herd - as it were. 

That, though, is how we really protest.  Big waves draw more attention, it's true.  The tsunami that hit the coast of Japan several years ago destroyed a nuclear power plant.  That was a pretty big deal. 

But small waves can also create incredible, long-lasting and spectacular change.





I see too many little traces of Big Brother in our world.  Too many little nuances of wresting of control from our fingertips.  Little snatches of power by our government - around the world, and not just here in the US. 

In the story, 1984, Julia (Winston's girlfriend - which is a total subversive act) doesn't believe in big, grandiose actions.  She says that they have to rebel, in secret, with private little acts.  These things chip away at the very fabric of the fa├žade of control.  I'm inclined to agree with her, that those little things which give us control, also give us power.  We can only change ourselves, right? 

So, I think about these things, and I wonder what little acts we can perform in our own lives that subvert the control that our government is continually imposing on us. 

What should we be doing, then? 

Taking control.

Grow our own food.  This is, actually, a fairly big subversive act in some places, where it is actually illegal to have certain types and certain heights of plants growing in one's yard.  One thing that I've learned over the years, though, is that food sometimes doesn't look like food.  The other day, my neighbor stopped to ask me about those HUGE yellow flowers I have growing in my yard.  The flowers aren't big, but the plants are.  They grow to 10' or more and then, in the fall have a tiny yellow flower at the top of that Jack-worthy stalk.  "It's Jerusalem artichoke," I told her, and quickly, added, "Also called sunchokes", when she nodded and said, "Artichoke."  I wanted to clarify that it's not the same plant as that green bulb we love, also called artichoke.  It grows in waste areas.  Wildlife love it (especially the birds).  It's a perennial.  It's edible.  Growing food that no one knows is food is pretty sneaky.

What about raising our own meat?  This, too, has become a subversive act.  Keeping farm animals in city and suburban lots has become against the law.  But we could keep some animals that look like pets.  Rabbits are the most well-known for small-space meat production.  There are also guinea pigs, quail, and certain types of fish that can be raised indoors in large aquariums (or in someone's backyard pool-turned-pond).  Snakes and frogs are also edible.  Just sayin'. 

Foraging is another of those subversive acts.  People have been arrested for picking dandelion greens.  Really?  We do a lot of "high-speed foraging", where we'll see something we know is edible (like blueberries or apples) growing wild in a waste area, and we'll stop, jump out of the car, pick as much as we can in five minutes or less, and then jump back in the car and take off again. 

I read an article the other day about a proposal to do away with the cash economy.  The rationale is the ease with which debit card or credit card transactions occur.  But, really, who benefits when we use a credit card or an ATM?  The merchant doesn't benefit from accepting credit cards.  Ask them.  Vendors incur a fee every time you use that card.  Most vendors absorb the fee, or pass it on to the customer in the form of higher prices.  Some businesses will give "cash discounts", that is, charge less for the same product or service for people using cash. 

So, who benefits from card transactions?  Why the banks, of course?   If we really want to get hyper-subversive, we can start a cash-only lifestyle.  If enough of us are still using cash, the transition to plastic currency can't happen.

The one, big thing, that Orwell points out in this novel is that the past has been erased, and the Party is continually changing the facts of what happened.  I actually see this happening today.  We forget so easily that it was warm that winter or that the price of gasoline has been steadily increasing since 2008.  Telling our stories, writing our stories, knowing history, reading books ... indeed, hoarding books ... is a subversive act that we can not afford to not engage in. 

Finally, just stepping outside, or at least moving to the fringes, of the consumer economy is the ultimate in subversion.  Refuse to purchase things one neither needs nor wants.  When possible, fix or reuse it, rather than buying a new one.  Do without it, if it's something one doesn't absolutely need.

Living intentionally is the ultimate in subversion.  If we're paying attention to what we're doing rather than just blindly following where others are trying to lead us, we can't be controlled.

And a citizenry that cannot be controlled is very dangerous.  Indeed. 


Monday, January 16, 2017

The Quiet Riot!

I miss the good old days - pre-Facebook - when bloggers got together and moved the world.  We were always doing projects and challenging each other to do more, to live better, to be better stewards.

Crunchy Chicken challenged us to "Freeze your buns off" - which was a winter-long challenge to lower our heating bills, and, more importantly, reduce our use of fossil fuels.  It was about that time that my family transitioned to using a woodstove as our sole heat source.  We didn't need to turn down our thermostat here at Chez Brown, because there's no thermostat on the woodstove.  When one is standing right next to the woodstove, depending on the type of wood we've put in it and some other stuff, the temperature ranges from the depths of Hell to summer in Hawaii.  The rest of the house is somewhere between summer in Maine and Antarctica.

We were challenged to eliminate plastic.  Many of us went through our homes and tossed out that old Tupperware our mothers hoarded like gold.  Nearly everything in my cabinets is either breakable or made of metal. 

I have amassed a huge collection of glass canning jars.  I have every size of canning jar available from the tiniest of jelly jars (perfect for bringing condiments, like salad dressing, for lunch) to gallon-sized jars.  I use the big ones for storing dried goods, like sugar, flour, and rice.  I also use them for fermenting - pickles, sauerkraut, Kombucha.  The half-gallon sized ones are great for making batches of sweet tea, smaller fermenting projects, getting raw milk, and storing dried goods.  The quarts fit perfectly in Deus Ex Machina's lunch box - filled with leftover soup.  I love the "salad in a jar" craze that I've seen around the Internet - and yes, it does work pretty nicely in a wide-mouth quart-sized jar.  We have a size of jar that's between a pint and a quart that is the perfect size for a to-go cup.  I have some lids that I've drilled holes in to fit a reusable straw.  Pints are great for juice glasses.  And did you know that the mason jars are measuring cups?  A quart jar is four cups.  A pint is two cups.  There are lines on all of the jars for measuring in milliliters, ounces and cups.  Why clutter one's kitchen with extra (usually plastic) measuring cups when canning jars do just as well? 

And, of course, nothing beats canning jars for storing food.  I have canning jars all over my kitchen.


Back in those days, we were challenged to eat local, and I joined the Dark Days of Winter eat local challenge, where once a week, during Maine's long winters, I had to prepare a meal comprised entirely of food I had sourced locally (we were allowed to exclude certain food items, like oils or sweeteners, if we chose).  My family was featured in a newspaper article for our all local Thanksgiving Dinner.  Eventually, eating local was just the way we ate. 

In the beginning of the eat local challenges, it really was a challenge to find local foods, but eventually, they heard us.  The big chain grocery store, which is, now, owned by an international conglomerate (but used to be locally owned), has a special sign throughout their store to show shoppers the products that are "Close to Home."  There are a lot of them - potato chips from Fox Family Farms; Buckwheat flour and Ployes from the Bouchard family in Fort Kent;  Maine Root and Eli's sodas (both made with sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup); lots of seasonal produce; cheese from Pineland; butter from Kate's.  There was even a cleaning supplies manufacturer selling her stuff at Hannaford for a while. 


I know it was a direct response to people like me, people who wanted local foods.

Which proves what Margaret Mead so famously said, Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.

WE changed the world, in a very small, very profound way.  We changed the way people eat, by forcing a HUGE chain store to source more local foods - AND to let us know which foods were local. 

I believe WE can do more. 

My friend and fellow blogger, Jo, is restarting her own Riot For Austerity


By way of explanation, the riot For Austerity was a project that was conceived by two bloggers, Miranda Edel and Sharon Astyk.  Back in those days, we were still hearing about global warming, or later more accurately dubbed, "climate change."  Scientists knew that we were very close to the point at which humans could no longer reverse what was happening, and if we hoped to change the trend, we needed to ACT NOW! 

In response to those reports, Sharon and Miranda (and thousands of their followers) implemented this Riot for Austerity, the goal being to reduce one's foot print to 10% of what is normal for our Western world.  That is, if the average American uses 900 kWh per month of electricity, our goal would be to reduce our usage to 100 kWh of electricity per month.  I have mine down to a consistent 400 kWh/month.  We never, really, got it down much further.

It's worthwhile to note, though, that, as a country, the US has actually reduced its own usage over the past decade.  Back when I first joined the Riot, the average American was using 1200 kWh per month (which made my 400 kWh monthly usage look a lot more impressive :)).

According to this graph, we've also reduced the number of miles we travel as a nation. 

So, maybe, the Rioters helped effect positive change, just like the locavores did.

It's not enough, though.  Climate change is full upon us now.  I saw a headline recently that said every state in the continental US (except Florida) currently has snow on the ground.  I know that there are a lot of states with widely varying topographies.  Hawaii, for instance, is usually considered warm and tropical, but they regularly have snowfall on their mountain peaks.  New Mexico, also considered very warm, has areas where snowfall is a normal winter event.  But most of Texas is pretty flat (I lived in the Central Texas military town of Killeen).  My friend still lives in the Houston area.  She's been talking about the cold and snow.  They've been plagued with nutty weather over the past few years. 

Changes in weather patterns (more rain where it was mostly dry, too dry in normally wet areas); bigger, more bad-ass storms; coastal flooding; extremes in temperatures - these are all things that the scientists were warning us about a decade ago, when Sharon and Miranda conceived of this project.  If they had been successful in getting the rest of the world, instead of just a few thousand of us, to join, who knows where we'd be.

Perhaps the iconic marsh-level Italian restaurant might not be trying to sell their restaurant.  Maybe it's because they've been in business for three decades and the owners want to retire now.  Maybe it's because the owners have sickened of the too frequent flooding, and they're looking at a future that will include the annual flood-forced loss of business so that they can clean up the saturated first floor after the big spring storm surges.  I've lived here for twenty years, and I've been watching that marsh get higher every high tide.  I imagine that those restaurant owners have also been seeing the encroaching waters.

It's too late, from most of what we know, to change the climate disruption.  It's not too late to figure out how we're going to live in this new world.

Learning to live on 90% less (or even some percentage in between - like my 33% of average for electricity usage), isn't a bad idea.

As part of my "getting myself back on track", I'm going to be looking at my numbers and seeing where I can further reduce.  At very least, I want to live consciously, again, and not just mechanically going through my days.  So, if it's dinner time, and we want cheese on our mac, but we're out of cheese, we'll do something else.  Driving twelve miles (round trip) just to go to the store for a hunk of cheese is not an option. 

There's more though.  One neat, little perk about lowering our carbon footprint that the rabid Rioters don't, necessarily, mention (not because they don't know or don't care, but because their focus is elsewhere).  Using less = spending less.  Right?  I use less electricity, and so I have a lower electric bill.  I drive less, and so my car-related bills are less (fewer repairs, less spent on gasoline).  I buy fewer items at the store (the "consumer goods" category of the Riot), and so I save a lot of money. 

For the frugal-minded, living more lightly on the earth means saving a lot of cash.  The less we spend, the less we need to earn, which means the less we need to work, which means the more time we have to do other stuff - like garden, knit/sew, and cook, which leads to a less stressful life and healthier life habits, which means fewer doctor visits and less need for medication, which means spending less money.

See where we're going here?

It's a complete win/win, and back when I was actively practicing the lower-impact life, I was happier.

So, let's get back to it.  Let's riot!  Who's in?

Friday, January 13, 2017

Going Back

I've already blogged more in the first two weeks of this January than I had for the whole month of the past four Januarys.

I hope this is indicative of the way the rest of the year will go.

Blogging is good for my peace of mind.  It's contemplative, unlike other social media, which is fast-paced and instant.  I can spend hours drafting a blog post.  FB is two sentences, tapped out hastily ... and occasionally thoughtlessly.  Facebook and Twitter foster an impulsiveness that is dangerous and unhealthy.

It's funny how my personal use of social media reflected, so aptly, how I've been living my life.  Too much.  Too quick. 

Blogging is a lot like the movements it helped to spur in the early part of the 21st Century.  Things like urban/suburban homesteading, slow/local foods, and homemade for the holidays - were all topics that started with someone blogging.  They promote a slower-paced lifestyle - one that requires us to take time and think, make conscious choices, really live in our moment, rather than rushing to the next thing.  

Blogging is also more personal.  Occasionally, I'd have people who commented on my blog posts who were unkind, but mostly (and maybe I'm romanticizing it), people were civil, because we really got to know each other.  We came to blogs and stayed with bloggers who were like-minded.  We supported our blog-friends.  We stood up for them when they were attacked by trolls.

People tend to either be too personal on FB (I had a really bad bowel movement today) or very impersonal (here's another cat picture ... of a cat I don't own nor have ever met).  The "like" button is a substitute for really engaging.  It's too easy.  Just hit the button.  "Like."  That's all we need to say about that, right? 

When they do respond, it's often in the moment without any regard to what the reader of that statement might feel.  I've found FB to be an incredibly hostile environment - especially my "friends'" walls.  These are places where I, too often, find myself an unwelcome visitor - not because my friends don't want me there (they do, or they wouldn't have accepted or sent a "friend request") - but because they have friends (who are not my "friends", because they've never met me, and who only see this one, short sentence I have written TO MY FRIEND, but to which they feel a strong need to respond - I've been guilty of this also), who don't hesitate to bash something I've said.  Most of the time, I'm supporting the comment made by the person whose wall it is. 

Worse is when I post a comment, and one of my friends wants to argue with me on my wall, and then, because I don't back down and acquiesce to his/her opinion, that person decides to unfriend me.  True story.

At first, on FB, I was very excited to share my opinions - all of the time, with everyone.  I've grown very gun-shy.  I post a lot less.  My newsfeed is mostly real news, and I don't see a lot of stuff my "friends" post, because I've set my wall to see articles by actual news sites first (local television stations, CNN, BBC news, Yahoo news, Mother Earth news, etc.).  That way, I don't get in trouble by posting a comment that attempts to debunk the fake news article about the fallacy of climate change that my very conservative "friend" posted.  Or comment on the anti-homeschooling article or comment by someone who is not a parent, a pediatric specialist, nor an educator - but, of course, knows everything there is to know about child development and learning.

I haven't degenerated into a cat-picture Facebook user, but I'm pretty close.  Instead of cats, I find that book posts are safe and less likely to generate negative feedback.  Or I vague-book a lot.  Then, I delete those posts, because next year when Facebook wants me to share my "memory", I will have no idea what THAT was all about ;). 

So, I'm back on Blogger, which just feels ... right!  Fewer commercials.  Less intrusion (like the ever present concern that we're being tracked).  More of the ability to be as anonymous or as exposed as WE choose.  More quiet, contemplative moments. 

I'm looking forward to reconnecting with those people who found this space useful and relevant, and restarting our dialogue of living a more simple, if not easier, lifestyle.  Let's face it, heating with a woodstove is not easier than flipping a switch on the thermostat, but knowing how to make my house warm without the magic and mystery of outside inputs (especially, when those outside inputs fail us - like during power outages) is a more simple way of connecting to this world.

I'm really looking forward to renewing my relationship with my land (all one quarter acres of it :)) and setting up the hammock my family gave me as a gift this Christmas.  Of sugaring.  Of making soap.  Of repurposing that pile of old shirts (maybe into a quilt-top comforter cover).   

And of returning to the awesome dialogues we used to have here in the blogosphere before so many of us turned to FB and Twitter.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Repurposed End Table (#FrugalTips)

 
Seems like there was this time period that lasted a couple of years during which anytime anyone had some extra thing for which they were seeking a new home, that thing would find its way into my house.  Not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, I never said no.  I ended up with a lot of interesting stuff
 
My daughters were pretty passionate about fish keeping during this time (especially Big Little Sister who wanted to be a Marine Biologist), and one of the gifted items during the period was a lovely hexagonal fish tank with a wooden base. 
 
At one time, Big Little Sister had three fish tanks in her room.  Little Fire Faery had one.  They loved fish.  Big Little Sister spent countless hours researching tropical breeds and their habitat requirements.  So, we had this tank, but from her research, she realized that it wouldn't work for any of the fish she wanted to own.  It was too deep and too small for the shallow-water, wide-range fish she wanted.  We never set-up the tank in our house.
 
Instead, we offered it to a friend who was starting a new business - for his waiting area - but he moved offices and didn't need it in his new space.  So, it sat at our house, while we tried to figure out what to do with it.  Then, in a freak accident - too common here at Chez Brown - the tank bottom shattered.  We had to discard it. 
 
But we kept the base.  Because it was a fish tank base, it didn't have a top or bottom.  The "cabinet" is really just ornamental.  Some small things could fit inside, like a filter, but it's bottomless, so whatever is stored in there sits directly on the ground.  There are no shelves.  Essentially, it's a stop-sign shaped wooden tube. 
 
I didn't know what to do with it.  We moved it around from place to place, room to room, corner to corner.  It was, kind of, in the way.  We couldn't use it as a table, because it had no top, and I just kept looking at it and thinking I needed to get rid of it or figure out a way to use it.  
 
Then, somehow, we ended up with this piece of scrap plywood.  I have no idea where it came from - some silly project leftover, I'm sure.  But there it was.  This heavy, unfinished, rough, square piece of plywood.  It fit on the top.  Not evenly, of course (nothing's ever that simple, is it?).  I looked at it for a couple of months, with that piece of plywood on it, knowing that it could work as an end table.  It would just require some modifications.
 
So, I held the plywood in place, and traced the shape of the base into it.  Then, I asked Deus Ex Machina to cut it for me.  I sanded it, painted it black, and using finishing nails and wood glue, I affixed it to the top of the fish tank base.
 
Et voila!  It's an end table with some tiny storage.  We have ski boots in the storage space.  It fits nicely next to the door-side of our couch.
 
I'm not one of those Pinterest people.  I'm not terribly creative or skilled at furniture refinishing, and I'm not entirely sure that I like the way it looks, but it works for the purpose I have given it. 
 
Better, though, was that I took something that was really just clutter and turned it into something usable.  It's a really nice feeling. 
 
 

 
 
 

Also, when I was young and poor, I wish I'd had the ability to do things like this ... instead of heading over to the furniture store and financing a bunch of pretty, new, shiny stuff I couldn't afford.  This project cost about $5 for paint.  The rest was free.

Not bad for this born-again Frugalista.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Darn Socks (#FrugalTips)

 
You are all going to think that I just like expensive things.  That's not true ... exactly.  What I like is quality stuff - stuff that lasts - and what I've found is that there is absolute truth to the saying, "You get what you pay for."   If one buys cheap stuff, that's what one gets.
 
My favorite socks are 100% (or as close to 100 as I can get) Merino wool socks.  They're expensive, but they are warm, and while they don't last, they are amazing foot covers on cold, winter days in Maine, because they keep my feet not only warm, but also dry - which is actually a pretty important part of the whole staying "warm" thing. 
 
So, when the dogs come in the house, tracking snow down the hallways and all over, which leaves little puddles all over the place, which, of course, I step in, my feet don't get wet.  The wool just wicks that wet and keeps it away from my skin, and those socks dry really fast, even on my feet, in the desert-dry air of my wood-heated house. 
 
Merino wool socks cost a lot of money.  I can wear a pair for about a season before the hole is too big to keep wearing them. 
 
After a couple of years of buying three or so new pairs every season, I had a drawer-full of holey socks, and I figured it was time I did something about it.   
 
I learned to darn.
 
It's actually quite easy.  My first attempts weren't actual darning, at all.  Basically, using an embroidery needle and some yarn, I sewed a patch.  I started by sewing around the edge of the hole, and then, working my way around the hole, I added layers until the hole was completely filled in.  It worked, mostly. 
 
Then, I watched a video on YouTube about how to actually darn a sock.  Basically, it's a weaving process.  Sew across the hole in one direction, and then, from the other direction, weave the yarn through the first cross.
 
Et viola!  A fixed sock.
 
 
 
 
 
I could, probably, find a yarn that more closely matches the original sock color ... but then, how would anyone be able to admire my skill and frugality?
 
 
P.S.  I don't own a darning "mushroom".  I actually use an orange.  I used to use a plastic Poke-Ball, but I've since lost it.  Anything round will work. 

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Neilsen Ratings

 
Postcard I received in the mail.

 
 



Well, apparently, someone hasn't been reading my blog.  If they had, they would know that we haven't had cable since 2009, and we got rid of our television six years ago

Yep.  Actually, I was surprised when I realized how long it had been. 

Once, someone tried to take up a collection to buy us a television, thinking that we didn't have one, because we couldn't afford one. 

A friend had to let them know that our being TV-free was a lifestyle choice, not an economic one.

======================================
 
Did I ever tell you about the time some telemarketer called my house and wanted to ask me a few questions?  In exchange, he promised to give me a Walmart gift card.

"I don't shop at Walmart."

"There isn't a Walmart near you?"

"There are several Walmart stores near me.  I can think of three that are less than a 20 minute drive.  I just don't shop at Walmart."

There was a moment of silence while he took that in. 



Friday, January 6, 2017

Comforter Cover (#FrugalTips)

For many years, Deus Ex Machina and I didn't "buy" each other gifts - not for Christmas or birthdays.  We gave gifts, but we made a pact with each other that the gifts had to be handmade, bartered, or otherwise procured without spending money.

Back then, I had a Paperback Swap account (back when it was really free-ish), and one year, I found him a couple of books on the swap.   I also have an account at Bullmoose, which is a local chain music store.  A few years ago, they branched into books (hooray!), and they buy and sell music CDs, DVDs, games, and books. 

I can resell books, DVDs and CDs, and I have the option of taking cash or getting store credit.  I usually take store credits, which I save up all year, and that's how I "buy" presents for my family.  I also get points for every dollar I spend, and I can use these points to get percentages off my purchases.  Between the points and credits, I saved a bunch this year.

I've also made him pajama pants and boxers out of old sheets.  I don't think he minded matching the bed. 

A few years ago, though, we broke the no gifts pact and decided to make an actual purchase. 

When we first purchased our house, we bought an inexpensive down comforter.  Our room was cold.  We loved that down comforter, pretty much, to death.  We used it for many years.  Then, one day, one of my daughters was sitting on my bed using some scissors.  My beloved comforter got a hole.  It started shedding feathers.  I repaired the hole, but then, it got another hole, because, well, it was getting old.  Then, little holes started to just happen all over, and we were, eventually, just sleeping under two pieces of thin cloth with the odd clump of feathers here or there. 

We decided to spend the money and get a new, high quality comforter.  It was expensive.  Worth it.  But expensive. 

And the one we wanted only came in one color.  White.

I guess most people don't have big dogs who like to sleep on their beds. 

It didn't stay white for long.

Dry cleaning this very expensive comforter is costly, and I can't afford to do it very often.  With four  dirty-dirty dogs sleeping on my comforter every day, it needs to be cleaned a lot more often than I can afford.

It didn't take me too long, after we bought the white comforter, to realize that we needed a comforter cover.  For the size we need, those can be pretty pricey, too.  The ones at L.L. Bean are almost $100 for King sized.

So, I did what I do best.  I innovated.

Sheets are an interesting thing.  They come in pairs - one for underneath the sleeper and one for on top of the sleeper.  Only thing is, the bottom one often wears out way before the top one.  I'm not one of those people who care a lot about everything on my bed matching, and so it's not an issue to use different top sheets with mismatched bottom sheets, but I do have a lot more top sheets than bottom sheets, and really, I only need a couple of each. 

Using two matching (ish) top sheets that were missing bottoms, I made my own comforter cover.  It was just a very simple matter of sewing the two sheets together on three sides.  To keep the comforter inside its cover, I sewed some strips of scrap cloth on the inside to use as ties. 

It took thirty minutes to sew.  It works perfectly.  It might have cost me $10, including the electricity to run the sewing machine.




And washing the cover is a lot easier (and cheaper) than dry cleaning the WHOLE comforter. 

I might need to make another one ;). 

Frugal Tip:    Repurpose something old into something new. 

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Eat All the Things

... that's the advice I received today.

I'm not against "Eat the Larder" challenges, which encourage us to eat what we have rather than going to the grocery store and buying more.  In fact, we should always be eating from the larder and restocking as necessary.  I think (and I'm guilty) too often we go to the store and just buy what looks good, which means a lot of people probably have a lot of food that will, eventually, expire and be discarded.  That's not my reality.

It's not a secret, and many frugalistas will tell us, that the BEST way to save money at the grocery store is not to clip coupons and definitely not to buy the cheapest, but rather to make a list.  Go through the larder, see what's missing, and get that.

And that's all.

I have a well-stocked larder.  In fact, it's so well-stocked, that I was able to make dinner for eleven people on Christmas Eve without having to buy anything.  We did go to the store - for beverages, but it was purely a luxury choice.  I could have fed the whole crew, and we could have had sweet tea or coffee, and no one had to spend a penny.

We had Mexican Chicken soup, and I had everything I needed to make it and garnish it (with cheese and sour cream) here at my house already.  There are just certain things that I always have on hand.  Stuff to make soup is at the top of the storage list.

My larder is stocked, because I purchase a lot of stuff in bulk in season, or I raise things that end up in the larder or in the freezer.  There's a point to my stocking up.  Winters are long in Maine, and there's not a lot of local food during the winter.  If I want to eat locally produced foods, I have to buy it in season and store it.

So, yeah, my larder is pretty full.

But eat all the things?

Yeah ... about that.

See, it's January, and we have, at least, three more months of deep freeze here in Maine, and then, at least two before we can really start the garden, and it's going to be July before we begin our harvest of anything more than the first greens, peas and radishes. 

If I "eat all the things now", we'll get hungry later, when we're waiting for the harvest.  Sure, I can go to the grocery store and buy not local and not seasonal food (and I do) ... but if the point is to save money, my eating all of the things is definitely counter-intuitive to that goal.

So, I will eat all of the things, but not because I'm trying to empty my larder.  It will be because that's what those things are for.  I don't save much money on food.  We probably save some by growing our own, but money savings is not the ultimate goal of our choice to grow some of our own food. 

Or maybe it is, but we don't reap that savings in lowered food costs.  We actually reap that savings in health costs.  I've lived almost a half-century.  I don't take any medications.  None.  I understand that's rare at my age.  I attribute it to a good diet. 

Skimping on food costs, therefore, seems a little silly, if the food is not quality and we end up spending that saved money on doctor bills. 

Plus, I like good food. 

So, I'll eat all of the things in time to put up next year's harvest.  But I probably won't clear a lot of space in my larder during this challenge.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

More Frugal Than the Frugal Challenge

What happens when you join a "frugal" challenge, but you find that you're actually MORE frugal than the Frugalista?

To wit:  Today's recommendation is to calculate the savings from cutting out a recurring expense and investing it, rather than spending the money for this thing. 

The example?  Cable television.

Ha! Ha ... ha! 

Not only do I *not* have cable television, but I also don't have a television.  Back when I did have a television, I was paying $12/month, for "Lifeline" cable, which amounted to, basically, PBS and the major network stations. 

If, as the miser suggests, I had invested that $12 instead of absorbing it into our household budget, after four years (which is how long it's been since we had a television) I'd have $495 in savings.  After thirty years of diligently saving that $144 per year, at 7% interest, I would have a whopping  $13458. 

Her example was a $75 per month cable bill (or $900/year), and investing THAT amount for thirty years.  The final number in her scenario looks a lot more impressive than my reality.

I don't disagree with her point, which is that we often claim that we can't save or that we don't have any money, when there are things for which we pay that we could very easily do without.  It's about making choices.  I chose, many years ago, to be a stay-at-home Mom, and with that choice came certain sacrifices.

We sacrificed cable, because paying for it didn't make sense when we weren't benefitting from it. 

What this frugal expert really means to tell us is that it's about choice, not sacrifice, and that being frugal doesn't mean we can't enjoy our lives.  I don't have cable, but I still do a lot of "watching."  We have a Netflix account (although it has been on the chopping block for a number of years.  We just have to make the cut), and we borrow DVDs from the library.  That's plenty enough watching for any person.  In short, we really haven't given up anything.

I can think of one thing I could, probably should, cut.  It's Coffee Shop coffee.  I spend about $8/week getting coffee for me and my daughters.  With her challenge in mind - to find something to cut - if we decide to cut that thing, in 15 years at 7% interest, by saving $8 week, I could have almost $10,000 in the bank.  It's not enough to retire on, but if I were really frugal in retirement, it would be enough to live for a year (if my house were paid off and I didn't have a car payment).

While I don't disagree that having a few grand in the bank would be nice in my golden years, I'm not an investment-minded person.  I believe in "investing" in real things - my home, my children, my community - and those kinds of things don't add up to 7% interest per year on dollars. 

The other problem I have with following this frugal advice is that I don't, actually, trust the economy to be healthy enough to keep my investments safe for my future.  I could end up like one of those Enron people - losing everything in the blink of an eye.  So, if I choose to sacrifice my weekly coffee with my daughters and save the $8, maybe fourteen years and eleven months from now the economy completely crashes or the businesses in which I'm invested go bust, and instead of having $9,991 in the bank, I have no money ... and have not had coffee with my daughters in fourteen years. 

I don't know which would be more sad. 

For the record, we did have an investment portfolio a few years ago.  We lost a lot of money.  I'm a little gun shy now.

I read James Howard Kunstler's Forecast for 2017.  It's bleak.  But then, Mr. Kunstler's blog posts aren't, typically, of the uplifting variety.  It's not all doom and gloom, but it is reality as he sees it (his World Made By Hand series is pretty hopeful, actually.  There's a fair share of gloom and sad stuff that happens, but overall, he believes in the adaptability of the human spirit). 

If he's right, any investments I make today, will be worth nothing in the future, because the future of our global economy is questionable.  The whole thing, according to Kunstler, looks like it might just teeter over the edge and fall into the abyss - and soon.  Read it for yourself.  But the gist is that we've run out of resources, and most of us have been living on credit and accruing debt. 

And, now, we have a President-elect who shifts money around like sands shifting on the beach as the tide comes in.  A few years ago, he lost a sum of money that could have supported my entire community for decades.   I live in a community with million-dollar beach houses.  He could have purchased the entire town with the money he lost.  Dissolved into thin air ... like water vapor on a cold morning.    

I'm not terribly optimistic about investing money.  I don't have millions - or thousands ... or even hundreds - of dollars to invest, but what I do have is the ability to create what I need to survive in my own little space. 

Teddy Roosevelt, famously advised us to "Do what you can with what you have where you are."  I've lived by that mantra for many years. 

I may not be building a bank account, but I am building ... something. 

I guess the future will tell us which was more valuable.