Walking the dog this evening, I found (not far from my house) several large sacks of beer bottles set out with the recycling. Of course I didn't leave them there...I brought them home to turn in to the store. There's almost enough to pay for a gallon of milk!
We have been "living on less" for many years now--sometimes out of strong necessity, sometimes out of choice and because of choices. Most of the years the Minou and I have been married we have lived on one income, or pretty darn close. Some years and months I have sourly struggled with it, others have gone full-force with gusto and tried to make saving into a game. And, we are a little inconsistent too--but that goes along with the making choices.
Some of you might have noticed that there are a variety of links in the "Inspiration" sidebar in several general categories. Some are bloggers sharing their creative family living ideas. A few have to do with birth business--doulas or midwives. Several are about my new passion, minimalist living. And others are related to frugal living, a recurrent theme in my life.
Just recently, I took over the family budgeting. I was a late adopter of budgeting, but it has been very helpful in keeping track and figuring out where the dollars are actually going. Now I start the month by subtracting what's budgeted from each category and "hiding" it in Quicken or alloting it to other accounts for future expenses like property taxes or life insurance that aren't paid every month. What's left to see is the food budget. And as I mentioned before, I'm trying to make living on less into a sport this summer.
For me, frugal living affords a level of freedom. I know that we're prepared to face challenges if needed, and it wouldn't be too painful to make deeper cuts if called for because I've already thought about what they would be (CAR!). This penny-pinching lifestyle is allowing Minou to pursue his dream of building up his own business and working from home, spending more time with G1 and G2, and me to work for a non-profit health organization I believe in, even though it pays significantly less than a hospital setting.
But...is it possible to carry frugal living and nonconsumerism too far? What do you think?
Which brings me to this question: What do you do (and would you do) to pinch pennies?
On my recent trip to Corvallis we stopped in the public library (which is amazing for a town this size), partly to pick up Sara's library books and partly to look at the public art there.
I love, love, love libraries. If I could go back to my early 20s and re-choose a career, I would absolutely be a (probably children's) librarian in a public library.
Sara's quilting group won a competition to create a (paid!) fabric art piece to hang above and soften the computer area. Here it is, interpreting the local weather and seasons. It's a tryptich, and these pictures really don't do it justice.
Weather & Seasons
a cloudy day
There were all kinds of amazing public art there, including fun things in the children's area like a life-sized Puss-In-Boots.
Also a very, very interesting glass piece, impossible to describe, but representing the forest. Check these out!
And we can't forget Alley Art:
Can you read the spraypainted sign to the right of the poem and photograph?
It says "IM ART TOO".
What is your favorite piece of public art?
Or what career would you choose if you could be anything?
Several years ago, I had a conversation that I won't forget. I was talking with a group of moms after school at the boys' elementary school. As background, it was a French-immersion public school situated in the wooded lowland hills of our city. Because it was an alternative school, meaning there was a lottery system for entry, there was no school bussing. Families were on their own for transportation, and it was several miles at least from the downtown center. A city bus ran nearby, but with a healthy hike to reach the school from the bus stop.
On this warm afternoon, a mom I didn't know arrived by bicycle to pick up her children and joined the group. Being an aspiring bike commuter, I began quizzing her about where she lived, the length of her commute, how she managed it, etc. What I found out surprised me. As it turned out, she was newly divorced and had undergone many large lifestyle changes in the recent past, out of both necessity and choice. She had moved with her kids to a new home at least 10 miles from the school, in a completely different part of the city. She had also returned to the workforce. Not wanting her kids to have to change schools, they had worked out a new arrangement that involved solo commuting for her two children, a boy and a girl in the third and fifth grade (around ages 8 and 10). They got themselves up and out the door by themselves and biked about 5 miles together by themselves to the downtown bus stop, where they caught the city bus that would take them almost to their school, loading their bikes onto the bus by themselves. After school, their mom picked them up by bike and they made the trip home in reverse but together.
That these kids were capable, responsible, smart, and stuck together as a cohesive family unit was amazingly evident. What astonished me was that their mom, an intelligent and caring woman, felt comfortable to let them do this at the ages of 10 and 8. Our smallish city is relatively safe. Crime statistics are low. However, the perception of risk "out there" to our children is continually magnified. By watching TV and reading the front page of the paper, we can convince ourselves that the world is a very dangerous place. I am still a little leery (for my older kids) of the downtown bus stop where these children changed buses alone. It is a hangout of many hanger-outers. Once I witnessed a police drug-bust scene from the window of the public library next door.
"How can you do that?" I asked her, teetering between admiration and judgment and trying to appear diplomatic. "Feel comfortable, I mean, to trust your kids to be so independent at this age? And trust the world? I mean, it's great, that you are all getting exercise, being environmentally conscious, teaching life skills..." I trailed off. The question lingered "But how?"
She seemed amused and a little impatient with my question. "Well," she answered, "I came to a point, after everything had changed, when I decided that it was time I had to Act As If. That I had to act as if the world I live in is the world I really want to live in. That I have to create that world myself. The one I want to live in. I trust my kids, and I believe that the world we live in is safe for them."
Wow! I have thought about this conversation for several years now. I know that this mom was not naive. She had done many trial runs with her kids prior to starting this commuting plan. They knew who to go to if they needed help and had safety plans in place. She was not trying to wish a different world into existence, but she was actively trying to create one through her intentions and actions.
A trip to Corvallis this weekend made me realize how lucky and blessed I am.
Lucky....to live in Oregon. Behold the beauty of a city park mere minutes from downtown.
Blessed...with good friends who are amazing, kind, open individuals with whom I can talk to about anything and feel acceptance and interest, not judgement. The good friend of many years I went to visit, Sara, is one of these special friends. She is warm, funny, beautiful, talented, and generous. I had a great time. Hugs and thank you, Sara! I love you!
A post over at bluebirdbaby the other day asked those who keep chickens to show their coops.
We had wanted and talked about having chickens for a number of years, but were never ready at the right time (one story of our lives). The biggest stumbling block was a coop. We always lacked time and money for the coop project when it was the right time to get the chicks. FInally, last year, we decided to leap, not to wait any longer--once we had the chickens, we would be compelled to make them a coop. And so it was.
I am a proud chicken keeper, and I love our Ladies. Have I ever told you their names?
They are Buffy, Orpy, Bianca Castafiore (my favorite), Petunia, Specklelina, Speckleluna, Greybeard, Blackbeard, Chiquita, and Martha Poultry (naughtily named after the boys' former elementary school prinicpal). We got so many because we just couldn't choose. We visited the feed store with all the fluffy little chicks and wanted one of this variety, one of that variety...and then two of each variety so they wouldn't be lonely...pretty soon there were twelve. One turned out to be a rooster and went to live on my friend Cindy's farm, and one died mysteriously early on.
First, as tiny little peepers, they lived in the bathtub with a heatlamp.
When they began to peck at each other and appear stressed by crowding, we moved them to a temporary cage built by Minou, which still resides now in the chickenyard waiting to be dismantled or donated to another chickenkeeper:
They stayed in this for quite a while while Minou the architect designed a beautiful coop for them. He worked on it with a lot of assistance from G1. I'm ashamed to admit that I, who wanted the chickens most, did little of the actual building, though I did a lot of setting fence poles for their yard. After the basic structure was done, our friend D., also an architect, said that he should have designed it with a "Coopola" on top. Alas, no.
Here is the almost-finished-but-not-yet-fully-sided coop.
You can just see the treehouse, built by G1 and G2 at the bottom of the large fenced chickenyard, in the background. Inside we use straw for their bedding and I change it semi-weekly. They have a hanging feeder in the coop and water outside. We had to enlarge their yard after the first summer because they picked it clean, down to the muddy ground! Now they have quite a bit of space, about 1/3 of our 1/3 acre yard, to roam and scratch. They love to eat leftovers, particularly bread, rice, and spaghetti. They also like fruit and pumpkin innards.
It was so exciting when we got our first eggs, tiny and often with double yolks. Now we usually get 6-8 per day, big and lovely with brown, white, pinkish-tan, and pale green shells. Their yolks are bright yellow and the eggs are so flavorful.
The chickens are very low-maintenance. When it gets dark, they put themselves to bed in the coop, and I go latch the door for the night to keep them safe from predators. In fact, it's time to do that now. Goodnight!
...No, not that kind! Though I must admit I've been struggling a little this week with an undercurrent of the emotional kind, pulling at my ankles like an outgoing ocean tide as I wish for more news from my boys in Spain. I hope to see them via Skype this weekend when they are back home to M1's. In the meantime, I'm employing my "Act As If" philosophy (more on that later).
But here below is an antidote to melancholy. Can you see them? The first almost-blue blueberries!
I couldn't resist; I ate one. Not quite ready, but an unmistakable taste of summer.
When it is just me and a meal, I love One Bowl dining. It's so simple. Less fuss, fewer dishes to wash, frugal (usually), and somehow very satisfying to have all your sustenance gathered together.
Here was my dinner tonight. I started with a little olive oil in the cast iron frying pan, then added chopped red bell pepper and celery, diced garlic, two large handfuls of baby kale leaves from the garden, and some pieces of chicken breast. Drizzled with soy sauce, it was delicious. I didn't feel like the leftover quinoa, opting instead for a slice of cinnamon walnut whole-wheat bread (baked last night) as dessert.
The basic premise is easily adapted for vegetarians. Olive oil, vegetables of your choice, and a protein source of some kind (nuts, tofu, or tempeh would be good). Add a whole grain and seasoning as desired.
Remember when I alluded a while back to some major garden projects? There are plenty more in sight, but I'm happy to say that one is almost accomplished: the creation of a new and bigger garden bed. Using...Urbanite! Last fall, I scored some to build the beds with. In case you're not familiar with that term (I wasn't), it refers to the flat, broken-up pieces of concrete that can be salvaged after sidewalks and driveways are torn up. It makes very good retaining walls, as long as they are under 4 feet. It's important to angle the blocks properly for stability (I had 11 stitches last fall after pulling one backward onto my shin--ouch!). I love the repurposing of materials that might otherwise end up in the dump, and a well-made urbanite wall looks really nice. The trick is to have larger slabs for the top, so that you can sit on the wall.
I liberated the scraggly lavender bushes, buried under weeds, in the existing bed. Then I started enlarging it by building up a layer of wall, dumping down fill dirt, adding another layer of blocks, more dirt, etc. Finally, good compost on top. I'm thinking this area may become a garlic bed in September.
Most of these chunks came from a neighbor who had a bunch in his backyard. Minou and I borrowed a truck and spent an (ahem) semi-enjoyable afternoon hauling it home. We heard about the available urbanite from other neighbors who had a pile in their driveway that sat there for a long time. It then sat in our driveway for months before I finally started the project (we said no to a number of people who asked if they could have it). As I think I've said before, projects do seem to take us a while. In fact, it's one of Minou's mantras. But that's okay. As long as I keep an intention clear in my mind, I know that someday I'll get to it.
Helping with the project by spreading good cheer... a happy boy and his happy dog.
Happy second day of summer!
Last night was the Summer Solstice, the longest day and shortest night of the year. In the photo below, it's almost 9:45 pm. The sky was gorgeous, streaked with deep rose.
The view was taken looking down the hill from our lovely neighbors K. & S.. They invited everyone up to their back porch to eat lemon pound cake and drink gin & tonics, a collaborative affair. I brought the gin, they made fruit salad and purchased tonic, another K. made the cake). And because K. is British, of course we also had to have tea. This event was thrown together hastily the night before but it was representative of the spirit of friendship and sharing that reigns in this neck of the woods. I love it! And realize how lucky we are.
"After all," K, said, "If tragedy ever strikes, it's your doorbells I'm going to be ringing in the middle of the night!"
I hope that tragedy never comes, but in the meantime I'm so glad to be able to have the kind of friends living nearby who like to celebrate the seasons and trade vegetables, cups of coffee, and catfood, as needed.
K. & S. described their meeting in Geneva and a few of their round-the-world engagement adventures...involving an air lift to the Nepalese British consulate
K's amazing lemon poundcake
K. the baker with her family
I came home with a sunflower seed in a pot and two garden-grown spaghetti squash that have been stored in a root cellar all winter...still good!
I baked them and had one for dinner tonight.
How about you? Do you have neighbors? Are they friendly?
I have been sorting, sorting, sorting papers over here.
It's a little overwhelming but at the same time feels really good.
On an old neighborhood calendar, I found this little poem.
I'm not sure who wrote it, but I thought I'd share it with you!
Can you read it? It says:
" I love the little joys
the smell of rain,
the sound of brooks,
the taste of crispy
toast and jam,
The sight of rows
of books. "
Kitchen pickings are growing slim. Here's the real challenge: cultivating gratitude for having food rather than being grouchy about lack of variety or desired items. I have bought only apples and milk so far, but there are almost 2 weeks left in the month. Protein was becoming a problem (lentils are...lentils) but I cheated a little and cleared some salmon patties and frozen chicken breasts out of my mom's freezer (she said that she wanted to empty her freezer too--just helping!). I still have bell peppers and celery. And lots and lots of rice and tea. I'm feeling nervous at the prospect of running out of coffee. Here is one habit that I am very attached to. I do love coffee, but I don't like feeling like I must have it.
By the way, you knew that I was kidding about using up all the wine and stout
I have heard about digitalizing as a space-saving measure for quite a while, but never tried it. Just today I decided to give it a whirl. I have quite a few past materials from programs of study that I just can't bring myself to toss. (I might need them someday! I know, I know...). Minou had warned me that using our scanner, part of a combination printer/copier/scanner machine, was slow going since the feeder doesn't work. Well, he was right. I'm proud of myself for figuring out how to do it. I can see that it will be useful. But oh my, it took me an hour standing over the scanner to digitalize one manila folder of notes and articles.
starry kale starts
Still! In other news, I am delighted to report that the pumpkin seeds I had given up on have finally sprouted. It took them almost 4 weeks, but they look great. Also the sunflower starts are growing nicely, my new blueberries have lots of new growth (I pinched off all their buds this year), and the kale and lettuce starts are flourishing. Yesterday we had a soft, gentle rain all day after a week of spotty sun, so I planted the winter garden. I put in overwinter beets, collards, swiss chard, and acorn squash. The ground was easy to work and they had a good watering. More to come...
Finally, I'd like to apologize for the recent photo quality. Not that it was ever sublime (unlike this beautiful blog), but when I first started the blog I was using a digital camera that my mom loaned me. I haven't been able to find the rechargable batteries for several weeks (time to organize...), so I've been using Minou's I-Phone camera. I have noticed a definate increase in blurriness. Hopefully soon to be remedied! I think I might have an idea where to look...