Archive for September, 2012

Sept.29th Growing my Pantry

Today was one of the wonderful fall days here in Langley. There were a lot of community events like the Artists Studio Tours, prepping for next week’s Cranberry Festival and the one I staked out, the Apple festival.  The weather has stayed warm and sunny and I gently persuaded my 14 year old to join me “Get in the car.  We are going to celebrate apples. It’s a family bonding time. One day you will remember this fondly.  By the end of this you will be able to tell the difference between damage done by a cutworm moth or just plain scabs. Imagine! I bet none of your friends can do that.”  In awe of the implications my son chose not to make eye contact and put on his earphones. I think he needed a minute to prepare himself.  I didn’t want to overwhelm him by talking about the tour of the historic apple orchard and that it was on the heritage site of what was intended to be the capital of British Columbia.  It is on the banks of the Fraser River at the Derby Reach historical park. It’s where they used to have signs saying, “stay back from unstable cliffs” until too many people went behind the signs to see what was unstable and had accidents.  There would be people in Voyageur dress and the chance to get your picture taken milking a wooden cow cut out.  I had to be careful not to speed.

You may wonder what this all has to do with pinching pennies and eating from your pantry.  Did I mention that the event was free?  In all seriousness I was looking for some real information about apples.  One of my greatest joys in my yard are my two apple trees.  They are grafted hybrids and different limbs can yield different species of apples.  There is nothing like twisting a fresh apple off of my own tree, washing and eating it.  It is the ultimate in organic, healthy eating, eating locally and saving your budget.  In the same vein I planted 6 blueberry plants a few years ago but they have given up in dispair.  I was hoping that I could learn how to nuture my garden.

As soon as we arrived it felt like a movie.  There were fiddlers, people in period costumes, and tents filled with visitors in their khakis, sweaters and hiking shoes.  The first tent had varieties of heritage apple slices to sample.  Each apple was labelled for its name, taste and useage. Some were for eating, or baking or storage, or even cider.  There were the tours and we got to taste apple pears, Northern spy and just missed out on Banana apples.

The find of the day was the tent with the trees for sale.  My heart started pounding.  These were heritage trees that had been grafted and carefully grown and were for sale.  Even better than that, the staff was there to explain how to plant, prune and feed the trees.  I learned that I could prune in the middle of summer. A vigorous trimming was completely all right.  Then I saw the handout.  “How to care for your blueberries”.  I learned that just about everything I’d done to my plants guaranteed a lack lustre harvest.  Could it be that I had a glimmer of gardening hope?

In the end I talked to the man at the last tent and realized that the cutworm moth and scabs had both come to visit and there was not a lot I could do but leaf curl, HA!  Your day is numbered.

I left with one golden plum tree and one golden russet apple tree.  I went to a free event and spent $70.

Thoughts:  It is great to try and grow your own food but it needs knowledge to make it work.  Putting some focus on producing fruit for my family and friends feels wonderful and helps stretch the staples in my pantry.  It will be a while before this is a reality but attending more events where I can educate myself opens up more opportunites to take control of what I can offer.  Information sets you up for success.

Time to gather some apples so I can make some strudel.  Hhm maybe some apple butter would be good too.

Sleeping with the Enemy

This last week has been a nasty kind of hectic and left me bone weary.  This is usually the worst time for me to try and eat healthy and look after myself.  Money usually streams through my fingers and it all goes to food or the rough equivalent.  I know when I am exhausted and stressed I eat solely from the four basic food groups: drive thru, delivery, frozen and Pepsi.

I have had a shower that refuses to shut off on request, a backed up sink with a belligerent blockage, the tenant’s kitchen tap burst and his bathroom tap could not even rinse his toothbrush.  I had to bring paperwork to Canada Government Services, complete a type of audit for Revenue Canada and more forms for yet another branch of Federal Government.  The toughest part was that my lupus was flaring and created a titanium strength fatigue along with a wisp of the blues.  Each morning I felt like I’d just pulled two all nighters and couldn’t focus. Even dressing/getting ready can take up to an hour.  Sometimes just lifting the pots and pans were too much and I’d sleep for 14 hours at a stretch or more. This would usually be the perfect storm for bad eating.

 What came next was a surprise.  After spending Monday racing from place to place it was already 2:00 pm and I hadn’t eaten lunch.  I thought about the foods available at the local drive throughs and something happened.  I realized I didn’t want them.  I thought about what was in the fridge at home and my brain started putting together a meal. In fact it was a far superior meal to what I could have bought.  All during the drive home I expected that at the last minute I would think of something I would prefer but it didn’t happen.  I  found myself pulling into my driveway and going inside.  Now for the non-addicted ( as in addiction being used as a term to cover lazy and unhealthy behaviour that I routinely choose) this is normal.  For an exhausted stress bunny this was exceptional.  I found this pattern repeating itself for several days.  OK I did breakdown and get a small hamburger and fries at McDonalds at 10 pm one night but I had just met with my ex-husband’s new wife for the first time.  (She turned out to not only be beautiful but an amazingly nice and authentic woman.  I even forgave her for being so slender. )

I know I’m not out of the woods with stress eating but I think I am slowly turning my pantry into my go-to place for food.

Thursday- $5.34 spent on 4 litres of 1% milk for Josh.  Lunch was naan bread with sauce, cheese and Italian seasonings.  Dinner was lazy beef stroganoff on egg noodles with red peppers and a side of carrots.  Cinnamon buns for dessert.

Even though I’m getting to the end of the month and the end of the “Eat Your Pantry” challenge from the Year of Less I know I need a lot more practice before this becomes a permanent habit.  I still have a lot of goals yet to attain and I need the accountability so we will see where I can bring this to and be happy even if I am penny pinched. 🙂

thanks, Deb

Beware the Evil Eye

For anyone who knows me they know that my favourite place away from home is Turkey.  One of the most iconic sights in Turkey is the nazar, the ward against the evil eye.  These are put throughout the houses, worn as jewelry, cemented into the streets and even pinned to baby’s diapers.  There is a whole set of cultural rules around compliments and warding against the evil eye.  When I was first there I was puzzled by the mothers’ reactions when I would admire their babies or tell them that their child was lovely. They would look at me with horror and their eyes made it clear that I was completely out of line. Here in Canada saying nice things to a woman about her children is often the way to open conversation and to show your friendliness and good intent.  In Turkey it slammed doors shut.  What I learned is that people learned to try and guard against envy and it was said that if someone complimented  something you have that they possibly coveted it and wished harm on the owner.  Giving a compliment has to quickly be followed with “Mashallah” meaning “God protect”.  Even then the fear is that you might be dishonest in your declaration. The idea is to keep from inspiring envy so that people would not wish to take your possessions or wish harm on you. The eye is to bounce back any evil intent. Supposely if the eye shatters it has done its job.

You might wonder what this has to do with a frugal lifestyle but I think it outlines a flaw in our culture’s thinking.  We are taught to admire and flaunt our cars, clothes, houses, careers and children.  Provoking envy is seen as a way of establishing where you are on the societal ladder. How many of us cringe at the Christmas letter that is really a list of why there family is better and more successful than yours.  It creates a divide between friends, family, and neighbours. It creates an artificial urgency to acquire “stuff” of greater and greater expense in order to establish personal worth.  There are whole television networks dedicated to ridiculing outmoded decor and wardrobes. Functional and servicable are not good enough.  We create neuroses, dispair, insecurities, chronic debt, alienation, anger, and covetousness because we glory in the envy of others.

In terms of seeking to live a humble and manageable life you are not only bringing peace to your own life but you take the pressure off of others.  In celebrating simplicity a handspun and handknit scarf takes on a place of honour in our wardrobe. The designer? Someone who loves you.  Is it in the latest colour palette of the season? It perfectly sets off your smile.   Guarding against envy may be seen as a way of avoiding evil intent that may be created in the hearts of others, but it is also a gift to those around us to take off the pressure of the demands of society.

Instead of a fancy dinner in a swanky new restaurant have a simple potluck that allows everyone to shine for the important things.  It is a switch from being ashamed of having a boxy out of date car to knowing that you are safe from poisoning your relationship with your neighbours due to envy.  I now carry a nazar on my purse. I don’t think it will ward off curses but it will remind me to avoid provoking envy by the choices I make and the way I live my life. My champagne coloured Dodge caravan will never be an item of admiration and for that I am truly thankful.

Living a simple and contented life that acknowledges that it has enough can be life changing beyond your own home. Enjoy.

Baby steps in the Right Direction

One of the games I remember really clearly from my childhood was  a barrel of monkeys.  I remember the feeling of trying to hook each monkey and how it became more and more difficult the longer the chain became. In trying to save money I took on a challenge to eat what I had. That hooked the next monkey of dealing with meal planning, which joined to the issues around eating out, which dealt with emotional eating (though I still maintain that 90% of my eating is emotional), which hit the anxiety triggers and eating response, perfectionism, healthy eating and healthy living. Whoo.  I’m exhausted and there are still monkeys in the barrel.  Who knew that a surplus of chickpeas and chicken thighs would set off such a chain reaction?

One of the areas that was lacking in my life was exercise. I’ve spent the last two years bouncing between different surgeries and finally I’ve started getting out. This weekend my son and I tried out the Sepentine Fen.  It is only about 4 kilometers but it felt like a whole new place of freedom.

Not only was I outside enjoying a windy, semi cloudy fall day but I felt no pressure to stop for a treat on the way home. One of my eating out triggers is, well, being out. I realized I didn’t need to hit the drive through. I didn’t feel panicky or ripped off. There was nothing at the store that was a need.  My wallet stayed closed that day and I just felt grateful.  Constant spending is a prison.

There are still a lot of stressors like a tax audit, and four other sets of paperwork that require obscure bits of info. originally scribed on papyrus, but I don’t need to deal with it by medicating with food, at least for today.

Today I am free to celebrate having enough.

Spending for Saturday = 0 Benefits = priceless.

Sept.21rst Christmas Tacos

I’ll admit it.  I tend to overthink things.  When I decide on something I want to get started now and work until it is finished.  “Hhm. To get in shape I need to be active for at least an hour a day.  That is 7 hours a week, 28 hours in a month, so if I work out for 12 days in a row I’ll be good for the year.”  OK I exaggerate a bit but not much.  I have learned to beware the zeal with which I approach new projects in favour of creating plans that have a bit more staying power.

With trying to do the “Eat Your Pantry” challenge from the Year Of Less blog I quickly spread out from saving money to making sure I hand made everything.  That came with a huge amount of left overs, as there are only two of us, many hours searching for recipes that used what I had,  and massive amounts of pots and pans to wash.   I quickly learned that not every night could be new culinary creations.  One night as I looked over a table brimming with hand pickled veggies, crockpot chicken, and a specialty salad with fresh made dressing I asked Josh what his favourite part was.  Without looking up he said, “The rice.”  The rice.  The stuff I measured out into a steamer. The plain white rice.  The counter was littered with every measuring cup and spoon, pots, bowls, knives and cutting boards I owned.  I’d be washing up an hour at least and he liked the rice. I got the message.

To be honest I should have got the message many years ago, almost eight years ago to be exact.  It was six days before Christmas that the three of us were moving into our new house.  There was little time to put up a tree, unload and get ready for the holidays.  In the middle of appliances that were not working and a phone line that didn’t get hooked up I realized it was Christmas eve and there was no way I was going to be able to put on a proper traditional Christmas dinner.  I reached into one of the bins and came up with a package of taco fixings.  I decided to chop up a red and green pepper and presented them to our son.  “Here we go sweetie. Christmas tacos!”  He was six and munched happily as I felt like a complete con artist.  I promised myself that the next year would make up for it.

The next year I did thing up in style with an actual table cloth, candles, candied yams, mashed potatoes and gravy, cranberry sauce, corn and of course the turkey.  We sat down at the table and my son looked at everything and hung his head.  “Josh, what’s wrong?”.  He looked up at me, his eyes filling, “Mom, where are the Christmas Tacos?  I’ve been looking forward to them all day,  It’s just not Christmas without them.”  I quickly promised we’d have some the next day and he perked up and we had a good dinner.  I had no idea that he’s remembered that and that making a memory didn’t need all the crazy making activity. Since then it has become one of our traditions.   The times that I’m the most stressed are a direct reflection on my expectations.  It is not just the work that causes the stress but the expectation I have of what I must create in order to for me to call it a success. Sometimes I am a royal pain in my own backside.

Sometimes simple is enough.  Sometimes simple is just better.  This thanksgiving I will be alone for the first time.  I thought about trying to create a big traditional dinner. Maybe I’ll just invite some people over for Thanksgiving tacos. Red and orange peppers make it perfect for Thanksgiving right?

May you all be richly blessed this thanksgiving and dwell on all that makes you truly grateful.

When “to be” is the Only Option

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve canned  corn relish and made blackberry jam from hand picked blackberries.  I’ve created balanced homemade meals and avoided fast food (pretty much), started to organize my closets (You didn’t seriously think I got that done yet did you?), started to reduce my pantry and freezer stock, cancelled online daily deal subscriptions, avoided flyers and searching for airmiles deals, as well as sifting through paperwork, art supplies and filling donation boxes.  As I finished up washing yet another stack of handwashed pots and pans generated from apples studel made with apples from my own tree I was struck with the strength of my feelings.  I’m tired!!!!  There was a reason I ate out, ignored the filing and did not hand make my own shampoo and deodorant (and trust me folks, crystals do nothing to reduce the stink even if you think your aura is cleaner.  I’m just saying.)

Today my joints are swollen, my face is puffy and I can’t follow the plot line of America’s Next Top Model.  In other words it is time to rest, and let the world take care of itself.  Today I will ignore the dog toys, eat ifits (if it is in the fridge you can have it) and just enjoy my home.  We work so hard to create an environment for everyone but ourselves.  It is hard to realize that I have limitations but there is wisdom in knowing yourself, testing the boundaries and accepting when you have gone as far as you can.  Today is the day to let my home look after me rather than the other way around. Today I will enjoy snippets of summer that still exist in my garden. Today I will just be and be content.

Every Day I’m Shuffling

Have you ever had one of those moments when you get a shock and you go white, then flush, and then feel like you are going to pass out?

I never thought that that would happen just trying to get organized.  Today I decided to conquer the dreaded filing pile.  Yes I know you should do it at the end of each day and there would not be a stack that looks like a cartoon in-box.  OK so I have bank statements, receipts, recipes (cheese scones?  Oh yum.), Josh’s report card from last year, Bella’s vet appointment update and my car insurance papers.  No wait. My what?  Yup.  I had renewed the car’s insurance, brought the papers in the house and put them on the mini pile on the island in the kitchen.  These are the things to deal with today. Or at least in the morning. Or the next afternoon because in the morning is carpool, banking and lab work.  Or tomorrow evening because I have to get dinner ready and clean away things as I need to scrub down the kitchen.  Etc., Etc.,….. Until the mini pile joins all the other mini pile in the office which will be promptly filed.

The insurance was purchased July 10th.  That meant that for over two months I’ve been driving around with my insurance papers in a rat’s nest or folders and paid bills.  If I’d been pulled over I would have not had any clue where to find my registration.  Please feel free to winch right here.  I justify it by saying that I couldn’t just pop the papers in the glovebox as you are always warned not to leave the paperwork with all your vital information in the car.  All I needed to do was bring it all in to the house, remove the one paper with top secret info. and return the rest of the package to the car.  Simple and quick.  I was going to do it right after the groceries were put away, the dog let out, the oven turned on, the dishwasher emptied, the meal started, I checked my e-mails, facebook and the TV listings for the evening in case something urgently needed to be programmed for the PVR, etc.

I’ll admit that I know that I need to allot a certain amount of time at the end of each day for paperwork.  I think the only way for me to actually do it is to set a specific time.  I don’t want to but realizing how I dodged a bullet in terms of a large traffic ticket I’ve been scared straight.

My life as a cautionary tale, Deb

Sept.18th A Potential Problem

Over the last couple of weeks there has been a new show on called “Collection Intervention”.  It is a spin off of “Hoarders”.  To be honest I find all of these shows uncomfortable because you are mostly dealing with people with mental illnesses.  They have intermingled their identities with their possessions.  For some these items not only represent their memories but are seen as their only access to feelings of happiness.  When we look at the piles of garbage we gag and wonder how they live in the filth.  For many of them the do not see or smell the rubbish. They see potential.  Often when the organizer picks up some item the owner quickly snatches it back saying something like, “Leave that!  I’m going to use that! I can make something with that.  I have plans for that if only someone would make a space for me to work.  I know what I’m doing so leave my stuff alone.”  It is so sad to see them in this trap.  The allure of the pile is that each item in their mind has potential.  Each piece of rusted metal, patterned paper, old drapes, glossy magazine, arts calendar and storage can be made into something wonderful.

I have to admit that though my home is not a labyrinth of decaying boxes I can be just as trapped in my efforts to declutter because of an item’s potential.  I enjoy designing and creating rugs. Wool is the queen of materials, old Pendleton skirts and suits that will felt up when washed in hot water, are the best materials. However, there is nothing like an old worn out t-shirt for creating strips of bright colour. Having as many colours as possible gives limitless possibilities. Short of 100% cotton, I use most everything.  No old clothing needs to hit the garbage.  Therein lies the problem.  There is no way I can hook quick enough or give the time needed to create with all this fabric.  Bit by bit bins and bags overflow. But the potential.  Finally you have to do the math.  If you think of the square footage in your house and the amount of space dedicated to these “potential” materials you can calculate the portion of your mortgage you pay each month to store these items.

Unfortunately for me it doesn’t stop at textiles.  There are claying and jewelry materials that take up three storage towers and two drawers in my kitchen.  I started with the kitchen as this would keep all of my supplies out of site.  Things have expanded over an entire folding table as well.  Four shelves of books and magazines take up my study and three bins store dyeing supplies.

The task:  Catalogue what I have and decide what potential can realistically be realized within a reasonable time frame, what needs a moratorium of purchases and what needs immediate eviction.  This will take time and even the inventory will need a schedule and a deadline.

The reward: I will not get a surprise camera crew to the house with sobbing friends and family begging me to get help.  I will no longer have the negative energy of an unwritten and unfulfilled “to do” list.  I will have more space and a clearer focus as to what I want to do and what I enjoy doing.

I still won’t say no to a wonderful wool skirt but my potential pile has one month to be “realized” or released.

If you imagine it you can make it BUT potential is not your personal obligation.  Simply put, love it and live it or lose it.

May you all make peace with the demands of potential, Deb

Crafters in Sheep’s Clothing

You see the rich colours and glossy pictures as the magazine sits up on the rack.  It promises tips and techniques.  You know that this will be the one to have the project that will launch a new mindstorm of creativity. One of your favourite artists has an article that showcases her newest products.

 You proudly march it up to the cash knowing that you are saving so much by being a “do it yourselfer” or have you?

You stop by the craft store and there is a demo. for  something you had thought about trying and they even have a coupon for the supplies. They offering classes to learn the technique and some of them are free! Of course you need to buy all the material from the store first.  Yes if you thought about it $50 in supplies is a little steep to learn Tiborean lattice woven ashtrays but just think, when you get home you can make dozens.  Sure you need to buy a lathe and wood curling specialized vise grips from Tibora but hey, it could happen.

I love to learn new things. Papier mache, crochet, sculpting, acrylic abstract, beading, wire work, sculpture, basketry, mosaics can all use basic materials and tools but each has an industry behind it that is constantly at you to buy more and more products to create the latest thing.  A quick tour through any arts and crafts store will have you going down endless rows of colourful, exciting, shiny papers, inks, stamps, glues, findings, yarns, patterns, stains, and every possible accessory.

Once I’d get home with my precious magazine I would find that it was primarily advertising and that the articles were primarily advertising.  The projects were designed to showcase things you don’t have and will need to purchase.  Crocheting magazines feature yarns you don’t have.  They don’t say you can’t use what you own but we all know that if you do you will are just not a serious artist and can’t expect to achieve the results promised to the faithful who have bought the “in crowd” yarn.

Lesson:  To combine a frugal lifestyle with a leaning toward handmade you need to be “clever as a serpent and wise as a dove”.  You have to see the crafting industry for what it is, an industry.  They are there to sell.  One of the beauties of the internet is that if you are discerning you can learn basic techniques.  Be aware of your own weaknesses.  A few days ago a saw a link to homemade rugs.  It got my heart racing. I immediately wanted to jump in and try it.  Sure I would need yards of a fabric I didn’t own and a backing that was suspect for durability but,… No.  I had to calm down.  Like a bar to a drinker, I need to avoid new materials and techniques while I’ve got bins of materials waiting to be transformed.  Single use materials are not a good investment.  No new workshops for now.  I’m swearing off (unless it is Maureen Carlson as the teacher. Learning from her is on my bucket list.)  I need to deal with my excess of stuff and stop looking for new distractions.

In the blog “The Year of Less” September is the month to “Eat My Pantry”.  I think October with be the month to “Craft from my Closet”.  Be careful out there gentle crafter. There are wolves  in artist’s clothing.

Sincerely, Deb

(photo was taken at Van. fan expo. and is not meant to represent this woman as anything but a really fun person)

Sept. 15th Here there be dragons

I’ll admit it.  I’m finding that decluttering, saving money, simplifying, and trying to make things by hand do not all play nicely together

Doing it yourself can end up being much more expensive than buying a finished product.  Is saving money more important than shopping for local produce?  Is it better to thin out the wardrobe to live simply or keep the old clothes to save money?  That last question assumes that the clothes you let go of will ever see the light of day but who knows.  The gingham taffeta bridesmaid’s dress with the football player shoulder pads might one day be a big fashion hit, besides, it was stinking expensive. Those Hammer pants in leopard print could be adorable throw pillows. Maybe. OK lets skip that one, but it shows the problem. To declutter you get rid of the pants. If you are saving money you find a way to repurpose them.  To make something of them you will need to buy interfacing, thread, trim, a pillow form and any other embellishments.  You have made use of them and done it yourself but it cost you money to do it.  It also does nothing to simplify your space as you have just added another object.  Did you need another pillow?  Does it go with anything you have?

This whole process will hit rough waters without a clear destination.

I want to save money.  I want to eat healthy foods.  I need to simplify my possessions.  During this journey I ran into a few cross currents.  How can I let go of my crafting books as they hold the information as to how to make many items I might one day want.  I am a huge information junkie.  I used to say that I was an info. junkie but if you say it out loud you realize that that does not sound nice!  I become an avid hunter and gatherer when it comes to back issues of Rug Hooking Magazine, Polymer clay books, crocheting patterns, and material on mosaics, beading, wire jewelry and basketry.  I have done all of these crafts and tend to flit back and forth.  All of these crafts require tools and materials.  Did I mention mult-media sculpture?  I am proud of being able to create and sometimes even sell.  Art is a form of communication and these things are often our words and our language.  My desire to repurpose, to be able to make whatever I want has me huddled protectively over these possessions and it requires a plan so that these artistic impulses do not lead me in the opposite direction of my goals.  Tomorrow I will share an unexpected sandbar related to crafting.

In terms of my established goals I brought another two bags to the thrift store, left a full bag for the food back drive, picked a few end of season blackberries and had a great lunch of perogies, farmers sausage, onions and peppers.  Today was the day I let myself replenish some fruit for the week, and then bought myself dinner.  I didn’t need to.  I gave into an “I want that ” moment.  My trigger?  Doing errands by myself when I knew my son wasn’t coming home tonight. My need to reward myself with food is still strong and I’ve got a long way to go. I also gave into the nursery (plants not babies) that is closing out and bought a number of pretty plants for the front of the house.  I didn’t need but wanted pops of colour for the front.  I want to feel like I’m winning my own war of independence by not letting my divorce make me sad and invisible. See my bright and beautiful gerberas and know that I am still a woman to be reckoned with! 🙂

In trying to get your life together you need clear goals to help you navigate these uncharted waters because here there be dragons,

With dirt under her nails and Chinese food in her belly,  sincerely, Deb