Saturday, April 5, 2014

Frugal Friday

Hand-embroidered handkerchiefs found at our local antique market.
I'm a day late with my weekly frugal accomplishment, but then again, last week I didn't get around to it at all. Because last week was not a good frugal week for us, as we had an unexpected death in the family that necessitated an emergency flight to Texas and that was far from cheap. And then with one parent gone and the other working most of the time, there was lots of quick food from drive-thrus as our quick meals at home were curtail by a busted oven. I tried to keep it from getting too out-of-control and we did fairly well, but still, not very frugal.

This week was better, partly because I'm trying to be better about working around our busted oven.

This week's frugal accomplishments:

Sourcing a part to fix the oven rather than buying a new oven (I love my oven!).

Shopped out local antique market for a birthday gift for a friend and scored a few new hand-embroidered handkerchiefs for under $5.00. I was down to one (I tend to give them away, so I need to stock up again).

Cooked a few meals using the stove top and the microwave.

Buggie needed a shirt for school and we found one in a local secondhand shop.

I went to Michael's for a few craft items and found most of them on sale AND used a 20% off the entire purchase coupon AND used what was left on a Christmas gift card.

I purchased a couple of used books and a couple of new books on sale and used a gift card to do so. Two of the books were through our local independent bookstore.

I put together a crafty pack out of items we had at home for the kids to use for Spring Break.

I taught Buggie how to play Battleship Command: Pirates of the Caribbean, a game we've had for years and only played once. She beat me. Twice.

And that's it! I'm hoping we can get the oven working next week, because one of the books I got has recipes I'm dying to try.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Frugal Friday

Hand-embroidered tea towel I found at a yard sale last year. I have a hand-embroidered table runner I found at another yard sale. I'm always on the look out for hand-embroidered linens while thrift shopping. I appreciate the time and care that went into them.
Frugal accomplishments for this week:

Gave two hand-me-downs as birthday gifts to a family who appreciates thriftiness as much as I do. The kids loved them.

Made homemade biscuits buns to go with homemade Sloppy Joes. They both turned out magnificent!

I made bacon and eggs to go with the left over biscuits the next morning.

Found two more birthday gifts on discount.

Bought two balls of yarn with an awesome cloche hat pattern on sale.

Made a mix CD for Buggie to listen to in the car out of songs we already had on the computer. We all ended up loving the mix and listen to it while driving.

I made a simmer pot out of spices from my cabinet to combat late-winter staleness in the air at home. Loved it!

We walked to school one morning, though not be intention (the cars wouldn't start). It was a great experience, one we will be repeating at least once a week and hopefully building up to twice a week or more.

I traded three books I had copies of for a much needed mocha. It was a great trade. Thank you, Caren!

I made full-sized biscuits from scratch. They also turned out great.

I brought up toys from the basement for the boy to play with--I keep a couple bins down there and circulate toys when the current ones are no longer played with. He's been happily content with them for a couple days now.

I checked a book out of the library. "In the Shadow of Blackbirds" is by a local author. The book, so far, is fascinating! Just my type of read. I foresee purchasing a copy later to support a local author and have a copy to keep.

And to top off the week, I won $32.00 while playing LRC (Left Right Center) when I subbed at my mom's monthly Bunco group. I thinking about using the extra windfall to help pay for a zoo membership for the family, as they are running a $10.00 off special right now. If I pair the money with the money I'll make from a crochet contracting gig I'm finishing this week, it won't cost us anything from our normal budget!

I'm actually starting to think more mindfully about frugality and non-consumerism. It's a nice mind-shift.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Inspiration via Research

Just a small sampling of my research books
Researching a novel, or researching any writing topic, is a weird, strange, and magical activity. Take this evening. I have a book, the only definitive book on Charles Martel (grandfather to Charlemagne) that I'd come across, that I'd been hesitating to page through. I wasn't sure why I was hesitating until at last I could no longer procrastinate: the book is due on Wednesday and cannot be checked out again. So last night I made a cup of tea after the kids were in bed and forced myself to sit down in front of the book.

And I paged. I marked paragraphs here and there. When Charles was born. A single paragraph about his mother. Commentary on his stepmother. His father's death. His rise to power.

What am I looking for? Therein lay the heart of my hesitation. I wasn't sure what I was looking for. That is, I knew what I needed to find--specifically for my novel, I needed to know when Charles Martel might have acquired my novel's namesake: the Trinket Box. It needed to be eventful. It needed to come from a meaningful source, something I could link to the box's history so that the timeline would be unbroken, and be able to pass forward through Charles' son and on to his grandson.

Throughout the book I saw comments about Charles coming to power but nothing about his childhood and early adulthood. About how powerful his stepmother was and how he was constantly passed over for his stepmother's relatives. And then how he married a woman equally powerful, and how his children from previous relationships were being passed over in her favor until after his death they forced their hand against his widow, as he did against his own father's widow--

Inspiration, when it strikes, is a physical and mental wallop. It both freezes me in place and makes me want to jump up and down, shouting with sheer joy and delight.

Inspiration through research is like a magical connecting of dots that form a picture you didn't know existed, using dots you didn't know were there. It's an incredible feeling, and one that makes the slogging through minutia worth every moment. And it's why research is so vital to a story like the one I'm telling. I need those dots to see the picture to lead me to the next dots. The background, the colorful stories, the 'this is how they lived' information is helpful and useful to the writing process, but it is to the plot that research truly contributes for me.

I don't know if other writers experience this. I'm not sure how other writers use or conduct their research. This is the way I've always conducted my research, since early on in my university days. There are good research days and bad ones. A good one is like what happened last night when I made a connection between a page about a third of the way through the book with a page near the end of the book. A bad day would be the day a vital book on the subject of my proposed Masters thesis proved to have already covered everything I meant to write. I think I lost two months of work that semester, wandering lost and forlorn through the history and literature aisles in the library as I tried to pick up the pieces of my thesis. In the end, however, even those blistering tragedies of research can lead to something better. My next thesis idea, the one I eventually wrote, turned out to be much more focused, much stronger, and led to a lifelong passion.

Much like my research on Charlemagne led me to his grandfather, which has led me straight to another piece of the story's plot and filled in yet another spot in the box's timeline.

Can you see me jumping up and down with sheer joy?

Friday, March 14, 2014

Frugal Friday

Kiwi-approved fleece blankets
This week's frugal achievements:

I finished two more no-sew fleece blankets out of the sale fleece I purchased. Kiwi loves them, so I found one of ours for her to use in her favorite outdoor viewing spot (the top of our freezer chest) as these will be for gifts.

I crocheted a market bag (using the pattern written by my friend Laurinda and published in Crochet 1-2-3 magazine, issue 5). I used left-over cotton yarn. My plan is to make four or five more and use them in stead of plastic bags for produce. They weigh next to nothing, so they shouldn't add to the cost of the produce. And they are washable!


Market Bag
It will hold several pounds of apples!
I found more cotton yarn to use for making more bags and have it all set aside ready to crochet.

I finished making the tassels to go on the homemade bookmarks I made before Christmas. I still have several more to finish, but I plan to keep most of those. These are to give away to friends and family.

Homemade bookmarks
I cooked at home several times this week, going from what we had in our pantry instead of running out to shop. I made grilled cheese with cheddar sliced off a pound hunk of cheese and served it with my favorite boxed tomato soup. We also had spaghetti (the kids like it with just noodles with some olive oil and Parmesan cheese) and a couple of dinners made from frozen meals.

This morning was my best frugal cooking day. I was casting about for something to make and realized I had all the fixings for mini quiche which would use up some of the eggs that needed cooking and the last of the ricotta I had gotten for making skillet lasagna a couple weeks ago. I made 24 mini quiches and they will last us a few days as breakfast and between-meal snacks.

I also opted to make homemade sweet tea to replace the carton sweet tea I'd been buying at the grocery store. TC and Buggie both love sweet tea and this makes it a healthier (where I control the sugar content) and more frugal treat.

I checked a book out of the library to read.

I've donated several bags of unnecessary, outgrown, outworn, or unwanted things during this week's 40 Bags in 40 Days goals. The best was when the boy went through his books. He got rid of about half of them, all ones he has outgrown but I'd been hanging on to because I'd had many of them since Buggie was a toddler. It was hard to give them away, but now he has more room on his shelves and can find the books he enjoys easier. He actually sat and looked through books for almost 30 minutes, something he hasn't done in a while.

I played a game of chess with Buggie before bedtime one evening, after sharing some of our favorite songs on YouTube. I won, but she captured several of my pieces and we both enjoyed ourselves.

I've taken the boy outside several days this week in the mild late winter weather for him to play. We also had a playdate at a friend's house earlier this week.

And that's all that comes to mind. I'm pleased with my progress, especially all the craftiness I achieved. I'm also pleased at how keeping this record is making me more aware of times when I might not be frugal, like the times I opted not to get drive-thru fast food or drinks, or the times I didn't go into stores where I know I splurge, or not renting a movie through On Demand for $6.00, which is nearly what we pay for a month of Netflix (I watched movies on Netflix instead). I feel as though I'm making good progress!

And now, a recipe:

Carissa's Crustless Mini Quiches

5 eggs
1 c milk
1/2 c cottage cheese or ricotta cheese
1-2 c shredded mozzarella
1 t garlic powder
1/2 t salt and pepper
favorite combination of left over veggies (I like a mix of any of the following: tomatoes, mushrooms, onions or chives, baby letuce, broccoli, cauliflower, and any color peppers. Precooked squash would be good, too)

Mix everything together, starting with the eggs and milk and adding the rest of the ingredients, stirring well between each addition. Using a mini muffin tray (I recommend Demarle--absolutely no sticking), fill each cup and bake at 375 degrees for 20-25 minutes until set and slightly brown on top. Let cool before serving (mini quiche will puff up during cooking and then deflate while cooling).

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Back in the Writing Saddle


I wrote yesterday. I hadn't planned on it. I'd planned on working through one of my research books. But I woke up with a short story idea, and I almost never have short story ideas. So after settling my son in for too much video-game playing, I sat back at the typewriter and wrote an 8-page short story.

This is the first new writing I've done in a year and a half. It felt great. I wasn't particularly fast with the words, but I didn't stumble either. I wrote quite steadily from beginning to end.

Three things I noticed while writing:

I knew where I wanted the story to end up and while I wasn't always entirely sure how to get there, when it came time to move the story onward, I didn't struggle with it. I just let it flow and followed the character. It felt very natural.

It's been a long time since I used my typewriter. You get spoiled on a computer where a few keystrokes erase a misspelled or miswritten word. On the typewriter, even with built-in correction tape, it matters what you type because it takes longer to go back. I usually just backspace and 'x' out wrong words or let them stand if they aren't too painful. I grew more precise, however, as I progressed, and that is one of the reasons I like using a typewriter for first drafts. I'm mindful of word choice and mindful of keystrokes.

I know how I want to edit the story. The first draft didn't come out the way I envisioned the story; few first drafts do. With this story, I have a vision of the final product and I can see how to get there. The first draft, however, gave me even more story than I bargained for, with a subtle use a backstory that I hadn't anticipated. I won't know how strong the first draft is for a while. I'll let it rest for a week or two, make a few notes to use for the edits, and then work on the rewrite after the memory of the the first writing fades.

Whether this story turns into something usable or not, it was completely worth the effort., It was so nice to think in plot and character and description again!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Decluttering

Yard Sale, circa 2009
I'm an avid declutterer. Unfortunately, I tend to decorate like a Victorian, with the walls covered with pictures and decorations and lots of furniture lining the room. Couple this tendency with a very small house shared by four people and the clutter builds up fast.

Every year, our possessions undergo a purge. The level of this purge varies. One year, I cleaned off nearly every surface of trinkets and knick-knacks. Another year I just cleaned out the closets and dressers of clothes that no longer fit and called it good.

This year, I'm participating in an activity called 40 Bags in 40 Days that I found on the White House Black Shutters website. The rules are simple. Fill a bag every day starting March 5th and ending on April 19th (this happens to coincide with Lent). You get Sunday off. They have a handy sheet to track your progress.

It's a simple way to cull through the accumulation of stuff. I've gotten the kids involved, too, to varying degrees of success. The boy is happy to part with items he no longer wants--sometimes too happy, like the big toy truck he just got for his birthday. Buggie, on the other hand, is madly in love with absolutely everything she owns and much of what isn't hers, too, and can only part with a few items at a time. Between her few items, the boy's mad dash to fill the bag, and my own purging, it is proving easy to fill a bag a day.

I've started with the problem areas, like the kids crafts, their stuffed animals (I swear they breed when I'm not looking), and the places where tchotchke builds up. Once the obvious areas are sorted, I'll move in to the deeper crevasses, like the closets and the basement.

After 40 days, I'm hoping to have cleared out quite a bit of stuff we no longer need or enjoy. And then, I'll be adhering as closely as I can to inspiration of the Non-Consumer Advocate and truly question our purchases. It takes a huge mental shift, but I'm ready for it. I'm so tired of all the accumulated junk, the hordes of garbage we throw away, and the focus on nouns instead of verbs. I'd rather be out walking than sitting at home with a video game, or spend money on a trip to a discovery center than on yet another toy that will just gather dust or have to be picked up every time I need to vacuum.

Getting the family onboard, however, might take some creative thinking.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Text Tuesday: Writing Routine

Lord Soth says "Write!"
I've been dreaming in plots again. That's usually a sign that I need to be writing. I haven't written for some time as I've been deep into finishing the research for my Trinket Box rewrites. But it occurred to me that I really should start warming up those writing muscles now, and set a routine into place, for when it is time to start those rewrites. 

Now I just have to figure out how to do that. Nancy Kelley had a great post about the writing process that I found very inspiring. For me, as a mother of one older and one younger child and in a household with vastly and ever-changing work schedules, creating any sort of routine has been a challenge. But I'm ready to do so. 

Morning is usually my best time to write. I'm a morning person and it used to be that most of my family was not. That's changed with new jobs, before-school activities, and a preschooler who likes to get up whenever he hears someone else up. 

I've never contemplated staying up late to write until now, but it might just be the thing to do. My job has prepared me to be up until well after 11:30 (I'm actually writing this blog post at 12:30 am on a Sunday, having gotten home from work just a little while ago). 

It would take planning, as I'd have to strategically chose the days to coincide with those days I'm not getting up early with my daughter, but that would give me a couple weekdays evenings to work. And there are those weekend evenings when I'm not closing. Or when I am and I'm wide awake when I get home. Could be nice spending the quiet hour closing thinking about what I'm going to write.  

And there is time in the afternoon during my son's quiet time. I could split that time between chores and research and writing. 

Mostly, I have to accept that at this stage in my life, I'm not going to have hours to devote to writing each day. But I could have an hour easily if I plan for it. I could do quite a bit with an hour. Whole worlds could rise and fall in an hour several days a week. 

I can feel my characters trembling with fear even now.