Archive for the ‘contentment’ Category

Boxed In

I don’t know how many of you are still out there but I promised myself I would try and reach as many of you as I can. Time is short. Some have already fallen to exhaustion and will be woken with shrill cries, demands for tribute submerged in a haze of carbohydrates and sugars. The frenzy of wrappings, colours, people and conversation may make it impossible to think clearly. You are being conditioned my friends.
How do I know? Because last year that was me and I vowed to share my story so others do not have to make the same mistakes.
You can call me Deb because that is my actual name. It seems like only a year ago I was celebrating, unwrapping yet another low fat cookbook, which was starting to make me a little sensitive, and hitting the hot cocoa pretty hard. I was feeling no pain, except for the damage to my self esteem, and was relaxed. I was too relaxed. As I sat at the table, under the pile of newspapers I saw the edge of something glossy. Why was there no music in a minor chord to warn me of the danger? I’m always the one at a movie to notice the music when someone heads for the basement door or walks into the woods in high heels. No. There was no warning for me. I pulled the sheet towards me and there written in thick black oozing blood, I mean ink, were the numbers. It said 70% off everything (with the illegible writing saying that it did not apply to anything that you wanted, that you had to ask a clerk to help you find, non-toxic, non GMO, in your size or in style).
I started to shake and quickly check the time. It is only 20 hours until the Boxing Day sales started and I knew I needed to be in that line. Where was the sale? It didn’t matter. Did you not hear that it was 70% off? I’d never been to Hank’s House of Hinges but they were giving out free organic ragweed blend knitted scarves with every $200 purchase. How is that not a deal? I don’t remember that day well but if you come to my home you may notice that everything moves well. Too well.
It is too late for me to unplate the damage but it doesn’t have to happen to you. It doesn’t matter the discount. Defend yourself by making a list before you look at the flyers and if you do not have anything on the list get rid of the flyers without looking at them. Yes I know they compel you to look. In history there has been the dreaded three, the basilisk, Medusa and the Boxing Day flyers. The peril is too great. I have purged the house of these papers. The inbox. No. I must empty the inbox. Why do I hear music? Nooooo.

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Let There be Peas on Earth and in the Stir Fry

I will admit that there can be a rather chilly detente that occurs in my refrigerator.  There are certain shelves that see a fairly brisk rotation of items. These spaces are the accepted free trade region.  To the sides are the condiments that are the story keepers, the elders of the fridge that rarely cede their spots to newcomers.  In the crisper I do my best not to let the denizens liquify but how much parsley do I really need?  Oh sure I could freeze it but as long as it is visible I can tell myself I am going to make a fresh and healthy soup.  It is a green leafy badge of clean eating superiority.

So what has this all got to do with being penny pinched?  I admit that some days I am intimidated by my fridge.  I open it and see random supplies and am not sure what to do.  I might see one dish for a meal but I get a little sketchy on how to make it reflect the food rainbow.  I’ve been told a handful of M & Ms does nothing to meet the requirements of the bottom of the food pyramid.  Elitists.

That being said I realize I will never balance my food budget or dietary needs without some help. I had gotten into the habit of buying new food because I didn’t know how to use up what I had.  This is where I found this helpful tool on allrecipes.com.  I had been looking for the perfect cornmeal muffin recipe and I noticed that one of the search engines was to list the ingredients I wanted and also the ones I did not want.  This opened up a lot of possibilities.  I decided to haul everything out of my fridge.  Green Peace launched a formal complaint as the contents of the veggie crisper were being considered as a part of a self sustaining eco system but I prevailed.  I found recipes that would use up the scraps of cooked chicken, 1/2c. of green beans, red pepper paste and pearl onions.  I began to make headway into hostile territory and dismantle the peculiarly stacked architecture of tupperware, take out boxes and ziploc bags. (In my defence there was really only one takeout box but the visual image was too cool not to use).

I also found that Pinterest became a great place to store recipes that worked for me with veggies where I was lacking a bit of imagination.Translation: I sometimes need encouragement to not settle for just meat and potatoes.  The photos help.

This new year coming up I am setting Friday as ifits day.  If it is in the fridge then that is what’s for dinner.  If it is still there the next week it is time to shuffle it off to that great compost pile.  My goal is for a couple of empty shelves because I learned to use what I already had.  Now to go back into negotiation with my tartar sauce who is staging a sit in.  Wish me luck.

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The Gift of Red

This blog is primarily about frugal living. That being said, the ability to spend less than we make is a many tentacled wonder. Some of my worst spending decisions come when I am tired, stressed and depressed. Most of the year I can glide by with canning, crafting, thrift shopping and humour. At this time of year the days are shorter, the seasonal affective shut down code is punched, and I feel the need to make it “the most wonderful time of the year”. (I will now have that ear worm playing in my head all day). I start to droop. I hit the drive thru or buy the packaged food. I sleep more, indulge more and spend more.  My ability to make wise financial decisions in compromised.
My emotional well being hits my bottom line.  
I realize that most of us intuitively know this but how does this help?  Knowing and dealing are very different. I will share one positive perspective that does help. There is a verse in the bible that says, “Put on the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness”. No matter what your beliefs there is truth  here.  Gratitude.  It is a key to taking control of your perspective.
You know the things that weigh you down but what about the things that buoy you up?
I was recently invited to take part in the 100 days of gratitude challenge. What if you kept a gratitude journal? Write down 5 things for which you are grateful. During the day think of different things to write. This will keep your mind on your blessings. Share these with chosen friends and family. Blog them or Facebook them or another outlet of your choosing. You need to dwell on them, express them and share them. It will shift your focus and give you a fighting chance.
I have a great deal for which I am grateful so I will start with the colour red. All my life I believed I could never wear red. I was told it did not suit me. A few years ago I met a man who saw me differently. As we walked through a local market he picked up a red scarf and said it would be beautiful on me. I started to object but he put it on me and said it was perfect and bought it for me. There were no mirrors except for his eyes. I felt timid at first but I wore the scarf every day. Eventually I started adding the colour into my wardrobe and felt joyous. He had given me the gift of the colour red and I am grateful.
I wish you all a season clad in the garments of praise.

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Going back into the Closet, the Honest Truth

Fashion trends make my eye twitch.  How can you trust people who repeatedly tell you that the only way you dare leave the house is if you wear neon plaid and then a few months later tell you that you don’t dare leave the house if you wear neon plaid.  These people are unstable, undependable and are in the business of making us continually neurotic about our appearance.

I know this because as an artist I do check on the colour trends that are forecast for upcoming seasons to see if my jewelry designs work with the random insanity.  I then go and work on whatever appeals to me, generally metallics, textures, pieces of metal, sculptural elements  and pieces with a story.  I don’t go to shopping malls, read fashion magazines or have any respect for people that pay the price of a car for a purse. Whether it is $20 or $2000 a pen exploding inside of it will still ruin the lining and a moist cough drop will still sent it to the back of the closet.

OK.  So what has that got to do with anything?  We are talking about saving money. Here is my weakness.  I love to travel.  It is what I save my money for and when I am very careful I spend less traveling than living at home (almost, well sort of.)  I find really good deals on flights, accomodations and food.  So far so good but right now I am packing for a wonderful trip with my mom.  We will spend a week in Istanbul, I’ll be using airmiles Best Western cards for accomodations. Great.  We will then be doing a one week cruise from Istanbul to Athens that included free airfare and the whole thing came out cheaper than airfare (I will be so unimpressed if I find out we are really galley help on a Greek fishing boat). Double great.  I will get a chance to introduce my mom to one of the most important people in my life and many other friends, triple great, and they have all seen all of my clothes before. Oh. Ha!  I don’t care.  I’m sure they don’t remember what I wore, even though they are the same outfits I wore in several of the photos I took on my last few trips.  Yup, that one sparkly camisole, certainly made the rounds (in a nice girl way of course).  Yes I have worn these boots there three times. This coat is starting to look like Indiana Jones’ after the fight scenes.  I’m sure they won’t notice.  People in large European cities aren’t too aware of fashion right?  I don’t care about that sort of thing right?  Why is my suitcase inching away from my choices?  Why is my suitcase looking like it was on the Titanic?

All right this is petty but part of my spending before a trip involved a military campaign of getting the hair cut and coloured, feet done, makeup bought fresh, a few new tops, maybe a dress (or two if it was summer) and a bathing suit.  The bathing suit is always problematic because when I buy them I see myself rising from the waves like a spandex clad Venus on a half shell in glistening splendor.  When the photos get downloaded  I see a German opera singer squished into a salami wrapper.  There is no going back and pretending once the photos see the light of day (which they rarely do).  This year, at this time of reckoning it is time to stop avoiding the closet. As Dorothy learned in Oz, everything I really need is right in my own (closet) backyard.  Part of the fun of a trip is buying new things in the hope of being a brand new me, but until I am completely at ease with the me that didn’t suddenly lose 20 lbs. before the trip, then I’m not decluttering the most cluttered room I have, my own closet of anxieties.  Yes marketing and media have had a hand in that but intentional living gives me the freedom to wear brown if “the” trend is lilac.  I have to face my own ego and fantasy cravings and find satisfaction by returning to the closet. Now where is that neon plaid bathing suit? (Don’t visualize.)

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.

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.