Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Randomness

Can you see me? ~Owl
I woke up today at 6:30, without help, completely awake and feeling rested. It's been a long time since that has happened. So I treated myself to a little quiet time with Julia Child's "My Life in France." Excellent book. I have a yearning to bake croissants and try beurre blanc a la Mere Michel.

Instead, I watered the garden and trimmed Delilah. Delilah is our weeping cherry tree. I find it ironic that I have to trim her long branches back each year.

I also weeded a garden bed. And found that we do, indeed, have grapes growing on our grapevine. It's quite exciting! We also have cherry tomatoes, strawberries, and radishes coming in. And lettuce.

Impromptu movie night last night to see Moms' Night Out. I took Buggie and she enjoyed the movie, but I think she enjoyed being out with the big girls even more!

I'm participating in Camp NaNoWriMo this month. It's been a long while since I've written anything and I'm looking forward to it. I haven't actually gotten any words on paper yet today, but I woke up thinking of the story I'm going to tell, feeling the nuances of the first few events and how best of open the story. I have the first line mentally written. If that's all I get down today, I'll be pleased.

I'm enjoying my new laptop very much.

Buggie is sitting across from me at the table, typing a story on our borrowed laptop. It's a story about a dragon. She's very much into dragons. She's been reading the Wings of Fire books series and is on book three. She had me order books four and five yesterday and we discovered a sixth book being released in January. She was so very excited! It's her first book series crush. I hope it is the first of many.

I finally changed the curtains, just in time for a 90+ degree day today. I feel domestic when changing curtains out.

Plans for today: write, do dishes, cook some meals, maybe sneak off to see another movie, stay cool.

Stay cool!

Monday, June 23, 2014

Creating My Own Career in Proofreading


Back in mid-May, I made a momentous decision. I gave notice at the theater where I've worked since last June and set out to start my own freelance proofreading service. 

This wasn't an overnight decision. I'd toyed with the idea of pursuing proofreading several times before, but put it on hold for many reason. Most of those reasons have since been resolved, overcome, or just forgotten, and the idea of working from home has become more and more appealing.

I know starting a venture of this nature isn't going to be quick. I've given myself a year to build a client base and I'm developing marketing strategies and setting monthly income goals to reach by the end of that year. I know I'll have to put more time and energy than I'll see return on to make this work once my I'm quit of the theater, but that hasn't dampened my enthusiasm. 

I'm excited! I'm ecstatic! When I think about my new-found career, I'm happy and cannot wait to start.

Sadly, I must move slowly until the end of July because I'm still working four days a week until then and spending the remaining three entertaining two children on summer vacation and putting the house back together. But at the end of July, I hope to hit the ground running. 

In the meantime, I've been doing small things to keep moving forward. I named my service: C. Jane Proofreading. I ran a survey to better understand what writers would expect from my services (it's still open if there is a writer who would like to take it). I built a website: www.cjanereid.com. I created and ordered business cards (see above). I took out an ad in a friend's newsletter (no bites from it, but it was a good experience trying to design an ad). I have an updated copy of the Chicago Manual of Style (my older one was two editions behind). And yes, I do refer to it often. Usage can be a slippery slope, especially when commas are involved, and I like to be certain of my recommendations. 

I'm also in the midst of finding a new-to-me laptop with which to take my services on the road. My hope is to make the local library my office for a couple days a week, and also make my porch my office, a coffee shop my office, a friend's back yard my office, the park my office . . . I love the idea of working anywhere that sounds relaxing. 

I have a couple of clients already (bless them!) who have allowed me time to do the work within the limited hours I have currently available. I'm also putting together a list of possibilities for advertising, but honestly, I believe word-of-mouth is going to be surest way this business will grow. 

I'm also excited about having time once more to pursue my own writing. It's been since January that I've done anything more than weekly writing exercises, and while those are fun, they do not get current drafts completed or rough drafts edited. 

It's a whole new world for me and I am loving it. Only five more weeks before I can focus on it full-time. I appreciate any referrals or leads anyone might like to pass along! 

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Homesteading

The boy in my gardening hat, ready to tackle the outdoors.
This is my second year with a 'real' garden, meaning in actual garden beds and not in containers. Container gardening served me for years and I was happy growing tomatoes and lettuce and radishes and herbs that way. But most of my containers have worn out and it was time to move up in the gardening world, so last year I put in three large beds plus a three smaller ones. I started pumpkins and squash and zucchini, cucumbers and tomatoes and beans, carrots and corn and radishes and some nifty blue potatoes, plus two kinds of lettuce and a bed of nasturtiums. The corn stalks grew and did nothing else but serve as climbing poles for the beans, which did do well but only in a small batch. Lots of zucchini and squash, not one pumpkin. Several good tomatoes and a few disappointing ones. Lots of cucumbers, which was a surprise, and radishes, which weren't. The carrots were stubby and misshaped but tasty. And the potatoes were awesome.

I also had way too much luck with parsley, no luck with basil, and started a rosemary and lavender.

This year, I cut back a little on the number of types but still filled all the beds. I have zucchini and cucumbers again, carrots and lettuce and radishes, four types of tomatoes, squash and peas and sunflowers. And pumpkins. Lots and lots of pumpkins. Because I have always wanted to grow pumpkins and for several years now of trying, having only gotten one single itty bitty pumpkin to show for it. So I went a bit overboard this year and am trying two different garden beds to see where they will grow, if they will.

Last year, I started my seeds using a technique I learned from a friend. You cut an opaque gallon-size milk or water jug almost in half, leaving a bit on one side to act as a hinge. Cut holes in the bottom, then fill with garden soil, add seeds, water, then close up the top. It acts as a mini greenhouse. Last year it did wonderfully and nearly all my seeds started that way.

This year I only had a couple of jugs, so I used egg cartons for the rest. And what a difference! It's hard to see from these photos, but they are the only ones I took.

 The carton on the right are pumpkin starts. The left side are lettuce starts I got from a friend.

And these are cucumber starts. I started them at the same time as the pumpkins and they are much taller, fuller, and happier. It's the ratio of seed to soil, I believe, and the fact that they stayed wetter longer, as egg cartons dry out so fast and the heavy layer of soil in the jug, when closed up, stays wet for much longer.

Another beauty about this system is the seeds start outside, so I'm not worried about them having to acclimate like the ones going from inside to outside. I also have far more space to start seeds outside than I do indoors.

I'm already saving jugs to use for next year so I have more to use.

I'm quite excited about my garden this year. My rosemary has doubled in size, as has the lavender. I planted seeds under my little dogwood sapling and hope to have bachelor buttons and California poppies in a few weeks, plus a couple of cosmos that have come back from last year. Now if I could just keep the neighborhood cats out of the beds . . .

Monday, May 12, 2014

Screen-Free Week Challenge

Someone wasn't entirely happy about being denied his daily video games.
Last week, the kids and I participated in the screen-free week challenge. I limited my activities online to email checks and the kids stayed off everything: TV, computer, video games, handheld systems, smart phones . . . I can't believe the number of ways we can access mass media. It's excessive and rather depressing.

Instead, we went outside . . . a lot. I brought up toys from the basement storage to entice them to play. We checked out books and music from the library. We played board games.

Still, it was hard, especially for the boy. He is completely in love with his video games. The first couple of days were a constant barrage of "Can I play a game? Can I play a game? Can I play a game?" I planned as many outings as I could to get him out of the house and away from those enticing game consoles.

When I had to work Wednesday, my husband got the kids outside and did some yard work and let them ride bikes. When I had to work Thursday, he took the boy out on the town. Saturday, we had an early Mother's Day celebration by attending the local plant and garden fair. But then I went to work Saturday night and a friend came over with new movies and . . . the challenge was crushed. Buggie tried to resist the lure of superhero movies, but our house is very small and there is nowhere to go where you cannot hear the TV when it is on. And Sunday, with me at work all day, all was lost.

Still, we went screen-free for over five full days and most of a sixth. For a family who is consumed by video and computer games, I call this a win. We've come to an agreement to keep the screen limited during the week because we had such fun coming up with other things to do. I'm already planning outings for us during the school day and things to do as a family in the evenings, plus a few suggestions for my husband to do with the kids when I am at work. We'll see if I can keep the momentum going!

Friday, May 9, 2014

Frugal Friday

Got a little something in my boot . . .

This week's frugal accomplishments:

The biggest was eating at home 99% of the week.
The second was getting the oven fixed. They are probably connected.
Picked up 5 free comics on Free Comic Day last Saturday.
Took the family to a movie and got in for free, since I work at the theater.
Used a gift card for treats at the movie.
Packed lunches for school and work.
Went to the Dollar Store to picked out cards to mail.
Checked a book out from the library (A Householder's Guide to the Universe).
Checked a cd out from the library (Fantasia soundtrack).
Borrowed a couple of movies from a friend.
Pulled up toys from the basement for 'new to me now' play.
Made 16 t-shirt bags for shopping.
Played several board games, including Zingo! and Star Realms.
Played outside with the kids at home and at the park several times.
Went on a bike ride with the kids.
Mended a shirt and a pair of trousers.
Got together with friends for a playdate.
Read several nights in a row to the kids at bedtime (finished reading "Mary Poppins" and started "Babe").
Downloaded a free book from Amazon.
Downloaded several free albums from Amazon: Six Degrees 2008 Amazon Free Sampler, Bar None Records Free Sampler Summer 2012, the Artist Sampler-Mishara Music: 5, and Bloodshot Records Spring Cleaning Sampler. I have a thing for samplers. Always have.

But I have to say our most ambitious accomplishment has been going screen-free this week! I'm so proud of the kids for doing so and starting us on a less-screen-addicted lifestyle. We've spent much more time together doing activities and eating meals and playing than we have a long, long while.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Zingo! Game Review


Zingo! from Thinkfun is the boy's current favorite board game. And it happens to fun for the rest of the family, too!

The game is a preschool version of bingo, with simple words and pictures in place of letters and numbers. The point of the game is to be the first to fill the card with tiles.

The rules may sound simple, but it's how the game is played that makes it special. The tiles are stored in a special case with a slide mechanism that dispenses two tiles at a time. It is easy to slide and half the fun of the game.

Sliding the case for the next pair of tiles.
After revealing two tiles, whoever's turn it is takes the tiles and matches them to the card. In our family, that means the boy, who does all the sliding, gets first pick, then divvies out the remaining to whichever family member he happens to like best. So our version of the game is quasi-cooperative.

Choosing where to place the tiles.
If a tile isn't matched to the card, it is returned to the case through a slot at the top edge, where it goes back to the top of one of two stacks inside. This is the other half of the fun of the game! It took the boy a few times to get the hang of manipulating the thin tile into the narrow slot, but now he has it down.

Putting the unneeded tile back in the case.
The cards have two sides, so once we finish one game, we put the tiles away and turn over the cards for a new game.
The happy winner!
As for educational value, we say each name on the card, matching them to their picture, and sometimes practice letter recognition. But honestly, the best part is sliding the case and then clicking the tiles back inside, which is great for gross and fine motor-control practice.

I highly recommend this game for kids 3 and up. Four to five seems to be the perfect age for it, but we've enjoyed playing it and so does our ten-year-old.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

T-Shirt Bags

The boy models the latest in t-shirt bag usage.
A few years ago, I decided to make grocery bags out of t-shirts. I loved the end product, but the actual making-of became a bit tedious. Rolling and hemming all those cut edges on stretchy t-shirt fabric was too daunting to make more than a couple at a time. The project fell into the 'someday later' phase while I continued to set aside my pick of t-shirts to one day convert to bags, which led to a heap of t-shirts taking up space in my little house. 

In "Plastic Free," Beth Terry suggested an easier way to make t-shirt bags. The result isn't as finished looking as my dutifully hemmed edges, but it is much quicker and the bags work just as well. On Monday, I set about to make as many as I could. Turns out, given the faster technique, I could make quite a few. 

Step one: cut off the sleeves of the chosen t-shirt. In this step, however, rather than cut off the seam where the sleeve meets the shirt, keep the seam in place and cut just outside of it. This creates an existing hem to support what becomes the handle of the bag. The edge is a little rough, but when you cut close enough, it still looks fine.  

Sleeves and neckline trimmed away, with the hemmed edges cut off to save for use as bands. 
Step two: cut the neck of the t-shirt off. Don't leave the seam on this one. The raw edge allows for a stretchy opening to the bag. This ends up being the roughest part of the bag, one that in my first attempts I also hemmed, which took a tedious amount of time and patience. I find I don't mind the raw look, and if later it does bother me I can always hem it then.

A homemade stretchy band! And potential crochet basket material. 
In keeping with my new-found concept of frugality, I realized that the outer seam of the sleeve and the neck-line would make great bands to take the place of rubber bands. So I trimmed off the excess fabric. And that excess fabric might transition into some sort of crocheted basket, if I can figure out how best to form a strip out of them. Or for the ones that are still circular, I could make pot holders out of them using the loom I have. I ended up throwing out very little of the t-shirts at all.

The finished handles of the bag, with the neckline unfinished and the outside of the handles using the original sleeve seams.
Step three: After the sleeves and neckline are trimmed into handle-shapes, pull the shirt inside out and line up the bottom hem. Sew across it, remembering to backstitch at the beginning and end, using a zig-zag seam. For lighter weight shirts, two seams might be advisable, but I typically use only one. Between the thicker hem at the bottom of the shirt and the zig-zag stitch, the bottom of the new bag is fairly tough.

The finished bag! Made from one of my favorite shirts (it has wings screen-printed on the back).  The shirt no longer fits, but now it has a second life as the perfect shopping bag.
And there you have a new grocery bag. I find that youth and adult small sizes make the best grocery bags, while toddler sizes are great for gift bags (kids love to use them over and over again) and larger adult sizes are good for lighter weight, over-sized items. My kids have several bags they use for overnight trips.

The best thing of all is that these bags, unlike 99% of store-bought reusable bags, are fully washable. Just toss them in with the laundry when they need it and they are ready to use again. They are also more expressive, as you get to use shirts that the family no longer wears or have outgrown, and so you are shopping using your own personal style rather than as a walking advertisement for whichever store happened to supply the reusable bag.

And as to how fast they work up . . . I made 16 in an afternoon!

Happy sewing!