Friday, August 15, 2014

Frugal Friday


I haven't written a Frugal Friday post in awhile, mainly because we weren't being so frugal. I've recommitted to living frugally, however, and we've made some wonderful progress in the past few weeks.

Our first move was to cut all eating out. It's been difficult, as I'm still readjusting to meal-planning weekly and cooking daily, but I'm proud to say that we've resisted well.

Our second move was to take all the grocery budget out of the bank and leave the debit card at home. This has been amazingly useful. I'm loath to spend grocery money on unnecessary purchases.

At home, I've continued to declutter and downsize and also to incorporate fun storage solutions. One I've wanted to try for some time uses jars to store snacks. I've been collecting jars all summer.

Jars of snacks, ready to grab. 
I pulled out all the snacks that would work well in the jars. I filled the jars, labeled the ones that weren't obvious, and arranged them on my now-spacious bookcase, which has stood empty since I culled mercilessly through our books. I also saved berry baskets from the berries I bought at our local farmer's market this summer to hold larger snacks. I have a variety of nuts and dried fruits, granola bars, and crackers in easy reach for the whole family. I also have chocolate chips to add into homemade trail mix, but I keep the chocolate in the pantry so it isn't as easily accessible. It is, however, also stored in jars.

The latest cucumber harvest.
I harvested a dozen cucumbers this week. I gave some to our neighbor and the rest are waiting to be eaten or pickled. I'm hoping to can next week. Seems like a lot of cucumbers, doesn't it?

Play 'find the cucumber.' There are three in this photo.
There's more to harvest. I must have four to six nearly ready.

Two zucchini coming along.
I also have more zucchini coming. Unfortunately, only one of my zucchini plants (out of six) is producing. Or maybe that is fortune. I don't have zucchini coming out my ears and have been able to use what I harvest before the next one is ready.

Two pumpkins.
My great joy is my pumpkins, though. After many years of trying, I finally have some growing!

Two more pumpkins.
And two more pumpkins. 
Each week I've discovered a new one. Yesterday, my count was at six, though one is in the neighbor's yard and I'll gladly gift it to them.

Surprise! There is one more pumpkin.
Then today I found this one. The actual plant is behind the zucchini plant in the upper right corner. The pumpkin vine grew around two zucchini plants, then across the front to end up producing this cute little pumpkin on the opposite side from where it started. The vine itself must be six to seven feet long. Industrious little thing, isn't it?

The cucumbers have taken over the garden!
Here is why I have so many cucumbers. I may have over-planted.

Bite-sized goodness.
I have several variety of tomatoes. I can't remember what these are called, but they are the smallest tomatoes I've ever seen. And they pack quite a burst of flavor--like eating a miniaturized beefsteak.

Mutant cherry tomato plants.
These are my Sweet Million plants. The three of them took over this bed. They stand taller than my four-year-old and as wide as our bench swing and are bursting with ripe tomatoes. They are sweet and bountiful, just as their name implied. It's like eating candy. Healthy candy.

Grapes!
Magnificently, I also have several small bunches grapes this year. I planted the grape vine as a cutting from a friend's vine seven years ago. Then I thought it had died. Two years later, I found one single vine shooting upward and have urged it along each year since. This year it has taken over the entire side of our porch and blossomed several bunches of grapes. They are just now turning purple. I can't wait to try them!

Our other frugal accomplishments:
* Movie night on bargain Tuesday to see "Guardians of the Galaxy," which was awesome.
* Baking zucchini bread and stuffed zucchini using our zucchini and ingredients from the freezer and pantry.
* Using our refillable water bottles and taking them out with us so we won't be tempted to buy bottled water (frugal and eco-friendly).
* Packing Buggie's lunch each day of drama camp. Great practice for the start of school.
* Packing snacks for me and the kids when out on playdates and park visits.
* Purchasing discounted tickets to the county fair in July to attempt last week.
* Purchasing a discounted yearly zoo membership.
* Sold back two boxes of books to a local used bookstore from the books I culled and received over $30 in credit.
* A friend gave me a couple yards of two different fabrics in exchange for some zucchini and cucumbers.
* My husband makes his coffee at home before work each day and takes it with him. He also discovered that his workplace offers fruit-infused water, so he takes a water bottle with him, too.

It's been a good month so far. My plans for the rest of the month include a couple of crochet projects, a couple of sewing projects, thrift shopping, and as many park trips as we can fit in before school begins!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

O Captain! My Captain!


I'm usually saddened to hear of the death of a celebrity, even one whose work is unknown to me. I can't help but think of the person's friends and family and the grief they face, having faced it myself. But I'm rarely moved to tears.

Yesterday's new of the death of Robin Williams was different.

I didn't know him personally. Of course, don't we tend to think we know celebrities we admire? They put so much of themselves into their work, bringing to life characters and personas with such vividness that it is deceptively easy to fool ourselves into thinking we know the real person. I didn't know any more about Robin Williams than the next fan, and while I enjoyed his work, he wouldn't have my first thought when asked to name my favorite actor or comedian.

My sorrow comes from the fact that I could never thank Robin Williams enough for how two of his movies helped me during times when I needed help and didn't know where to find it.

I could break down the movies and the events, spill parts of my life into this and make it all about me, but that isn't my point. My point is that I'm sad and I'm grieving his loss. I'm sad for the grief his friends and family are facing.

But I'm so thankful, so very thankful, to him for those movies and for sharing his gift of joy and irony and laughter. I wish I could have told him what it meant to me. I will always remember him kindly for it and smile when I think of him.

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.