Monday, February 27, 2017

Waiting for the Perfect Match

We live in an instant-gratification culture.  We want what we see, and we want it now.  It's that attitude that has fueled the Rent-A-Center market of furniture acquisition ... and so many other consumer-centric aspects of our culture.

In fact, it's exactly that attitude that has fueled this Walmart mentality we all have, because Walt's initial mission was to ensure that everyone could afford the same stuff.  It's the attitude that has cultivated our entitlement culture, our belief that we, not only, need to be able to get what we want when we want it, but that we deserve it.

I had a conversation with my sister a couple of weeks ago.  We were discussing our household furnishings.  Many years ago, she and her husband were a young, newly married, military couple with no household goods.  Apparently, there's a whole industry in military towns for just the purpose of helping these families furnish their new apartments.  Back in those days (the late 80s), for $1200 (with credit available, of course), one can get an entire household of *new* furniture.  Sounds like a good deal, until one sees the quality of the furniture.  Still.

When Deus Ex Machina and I got our first apartment, we had a few things - some bookshelves and electronics, and a couch my parents gave us.  We bought an air mattress, which we used for our bed for six months, or so, and then, we bought a bed from a second-hand furniture store (also very prevalent in those military towns). 

When we bought our house, we discovered that we didn't have enough furniture to fill the space, and so we started finding odds and ends pieces.  We bought a table from Goodwill.  It was ugly, and I never liked it.  The chairs were crappy, pasted together pieces that fell apart (with one even breaking when a friend sat in it!).  We needed a bed for the kids, and we ended up purchasing a second-hand bunkbed - a double bed on bottom and a twin bed on top - when our neighbors offered it to us in advance of their move.  It sounded like a good idea, but it didn't fit in our space.  A friend gave us her beat-up sectional couch when she was moving out West.  Everyone's old dressers ended up in our house. 

In the early days, as we furnished our new home, too much money went to the purchase of things we needed right then that were poor quality and not very attractive (money, ultimately, wasted), and we also ended up with way too many pieces of other people's cast-offs that didn't match anything else we had. 

My sister and I had a good laugh about the many ways we have furnished our homes over the years.  I told her that my design scheme was shabby-shabby in a play on the popular Shabby Chic style, but my style isn't really style at all.  It's an eclectic combining of pieces that were not found or purchased with an eye for what would work in our space, but rather selected on the fly, because we needed something right then to fill an empty space.

For the past several years, we've had to live in the mess we created.  It was at that time that we started fixing the roof, and we had to figure out how to fit a whole room's worth of furniture (and a whole closet-full of stuff we were "storing") into the other rooms of our house - rooms that were already completely furnished.   

At first, there was barely even room to move, and we still have stuff piled into corners and stacked to the ceilings in some places.

But the overall result has actually been rather positive, because we are learning how to pare things down to what we need, to what is useful to us, and to what works in the space we have.

And I'm starting to envision what will actually work better and make the best use of our space.

The ideal would be if I could afford to commission someone to come into my house and design and craft furniture tailored to our space.  See, our house is non-conforming.  What that means is that nothing is standard.  The rooms are long and narrow or there are unusual archways or the doors are placed in strange configurations.  I know a little about the history of my house, and, yeah, it actually was a thrown-together as it looks on close inspection. 

But it's fun, and it's eclectic.  We actually had a friend, who knows us to be quirky and non-conforming individuals, who asked us if we built our house ourselves.  It was meant as a compliment. 

Because our house is so unique, the art of finding furniture for it, has actually become an art, and it requires a vast amount of patience and fore-thought.

After we moved our living room/dining room around and tiled what had been a carpeted floor, I started looking for more seating options for our living room.  The problem is that it is a very narrow room.  In fact, our couch is a bit too wide for the space, but at the moment, it's what we have, and we'll keep it.

Because the room is so narrow, there isn't a lot of room for additional chairs, and I knew that it would require something specific.   I knew that it needed to have clean lines, and that it should probably have legs rather than a solid base.  After looking for months at different chair designs, I finally settled on the winged-back chair design.

And, then, I started looking.  A new, leather one (my preference) would have cost in the neighborhood of $3000.  I couldn't imagine spending that much money on a piece of furniture.  Who does that? 

I waited and watched.

Finally, someone had one for sale on a FB yard sale site.  She wanted $30 for it. 

This chair fits perfectly in my space. 

And there was an added bonus to getting this chair - in order to make it really fit, I had to move a bookshelf that was across from the couch.  I've been planning to do it for a while, but just hadn't gotten around to doing it.  Bringing the chair into the house required me to take action on my plan. 

Moving the bookshelf into the office/bedroom helped to organize and clean up the office, AND it made the living room appear less cluttered. 

I really like the new chair, but what I like even more is that I took my time finding exactly (almost exactly) what I wanted, rather than feeling like I needed to get it NOW.  There's something to be said for patience.  Apparently, it's a virtue, but it also feels good to know I waited for something I wanted, rather than impulsively purchasing the first thing that came available. 

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Confession - I am a Dance Mom

There, I said it.  It's out. 

Of course, I'm pretty sure that it wasn't a secret, especially not after my very long-winded discussion of our trip to Las Vegas for a dance competition (where we actually met and competed against some of the "real" Dance Moms cast members).

My daughters have been dancing most of their lives.  Big Little Sister signed up for her first dance class on September 11, 2001 (yep, that day).  She joined the Competition Dance Team four years later, and it didn't take long for her sisters to follow her lead.  For several years, I had three dancers on the Team.  Any time anyone wanted to complain about the fees for their one dancer, I gave them the stink eye.  

Sometimes I feel a little disingenuous dispensing advice about being frugal and self-sufficient when I realize how much money we spend allowing our daughters to continue fueling their passion for dance.  It's one of those things we started, though, before I became as interested in simple living as we have become, and, at least in the beginning, frugal living is my passion, not theirs (as dance is their passion, not mine).  We decided that we needed to figure out how to live with both of these, almost contradictory, lifestyle choices.

It's not always easy, honestly.  Costumes, tights, leotards, shoes, make-up, hair supplies ... in endless, expensive rotation.  With three dancers, it can feel like we hemorrhage a small fortune every year, and it's any wonder that we manage to keep our heads above the red line. 

We've managed to stay pretty frugal in a lot of ways with regard to our daughters' dancing.  I made  garment bags for them instead of purchasing expensive luggage (like these that are a common sight at most competitions).  We found a tri-pod clothing rack that we purchased second-hand for $5.  It works well for hanging their costumes in the dressing room backstage at competitions.  For a lot of years, we used a camera bag for their make-up and hair supplies (most of their teammates have ones like this). Our camera case, which fit everything they needed, plus a few things they didn't know they needed, until they did, was free. We hoard bobby pins like they're gold, and we've learned some tricks over time so that we can minimize the use of costly hair products (like hairspray and gel, which my daughters hate). 

This past weekend marked the beginning of our dance competition season.  The team decided on three regional competitions this year - two of which are more than an hour's drive from our home.  Living in Maine, driving is just part of what we do.  Most of the people I know commute from some rural community where housing is affordable, like Buxton or Standish, to "the city" (Portland) to work - a drive which can take as long as forty-five minutes.  In fact, many of us dance parents, willingly, drive a half hour or more, one-way, so that our children can take classes at their dance school.  So, an hour drive doesn't scare us, and most of us don't think, much, about how much it costs us to drive. 

Competition weekends are very long and stressful.  The competition starts at 4:00 PM on Friday evening.  The Friday awards' ceremony can be as late as 11:00 PM (it's been later).  The next day, dancing starts at 8:00 AM (which means dancers need to be in costume with hair and make-up done and warmed up by 8:00 AM - not that they arrive at 8:00 AM and start getting ready).  Most dancers are in multiple numbers, in the same age/skill level, and sometimes even in the same category.  We've been at dance competitions where there was not more than an hour between each of my daughters' dances for the whole day.  That can be rough.

On Saturday, dancing lasts from 8:00 AM until 3:00 PM when they have their first awards ceremony.  The second half of the day starts at 5:00 PM ending some time between darkest night and the wee hours.  It's a long day for adults.  By the end of that day, many of the kids are Zombified.  Sunday can either be another day of dancing on stage or a day of taking Master classes (which is the best reason to do competition, actually - the chance to take classes taught by professional dancers and choreographers). 

When the first day ends at 11:00 PM and the next begins at 7:30 AM, and there are three hours worth of driving in between (an hour and a half home and an hour and a half back), most parents decide to find overnight lodging.

For us, it wasn't an option.  The frugalista kicked in, and we decided that we were driving back and forth.  Gasoline is cheaper (at the moment) than staying two nights in a hotel (plus, none of our daughters' dance numbers were scheduled before 9:00 AM, and so we had a bit more time). 

Hotels are expensive, and so is food, and since we're already under a lot of pressure to remember costumes and all of the accessories, it can be almost impossible to even start thinking about what we're going to eat in the middle of those pressure-packed days.

The problem is that if we don't, we either end up eating crap (like vending machine fare) or spending a lot of money eating restaurant food.

This competition, we got smart and actually thought ahead.  We packed a grocery sack full of snacks, like apple slices with peanut butter, cheese and pepperonis, carrot sticks, protein bars, cheese crackers, clementine oranges, and bananas. 

We also made sure to get up early enough that each morning, we filled travel mugs with coffee from home, and I made everyone a breakfast sandwich, which we enjoyed on the road on the way to the competition.

I won't say that we didn't spend any money on eating out while at the competition.  We bought a second cup of coffee both Saturday and Sunday, and we had lunch at this sweet, little locally-owned hamburger joint (with my sister and her husband who were able to come to their first dance competition ... ever! and see their very talented nieces perform).

Between the savings from driving rather than lodging and only eating one meal out, we saved, in the neighborhood, of $350. 

Next time, maybe we could get really smart, and maybe pack some mason jar meals.  While most of the non-salad choices require some way to heat the food, not all of them do.  Of course, we could probably bring our electric teapot and find an outlet to plug it into so that we could heat up water for one of the noodle jars.  Even if I had to purchase a 12-pack of wide-mouth canning jars, it would be  cheaper (and healthier) than most fast-food meals, and since we are dietary-restricted (no gluten) anyway, packing our own food means we don't, accidentally, end up eating something we shouldn't, and we don't have to spend extra $$ paying someone else to prepare food for us that won't make us sick.

Dance Competitions may not be a very frugal pastime, but there are ways that us frugalistas can make things a little more kind for our wallets. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Oh, Snow!

This post is just for my friends down south. 

I spent much of my childhood in the deep south.  When I was in junior high school, we lived in Alabama.  One year, we had a pretty bad winter with about a half inch of snow and ice that pretty much immobilized the city.  The best entertainment on that "snow day" was the Orkin man who tried for an hour to get up the hill in front of my house.  He finally gave up trying, and I guess, just rescheduled. 

My family from Kentucky made fun of the Alabamans.   

In the early 1980s, my family moved to the mountains in southeastern Kentucky.  Kentucky gets a lot more snow than Alabama does.  Most of the time, the snow is big, fat, wet flakes that covers everything for a day or so, and then, it melts pretty quickly, but that day or two of snow cover can be significant - anywhere from an inch up to three or four inches - and driving is dangerous, because it's just enough of an anomaly that people don't *really* learn to drive in it, but enough of a regular occurrence that everyone thinks they know how - especially people who have 4WD (most of them). 

I don't ever remember shoveling snow when I lived in either Alabama or Kentucky.  I don't remember it ever being necessary.

In the late 1990s, I moved to Maine. 

Living in Maine, one really appreciates snow.  It's rumored that the Inuit have many words for "snow", and I can actually understand, now, how different snow is.  There's the snow with big, fat, wet flakes that is the prettiest when it's falling, but is also the absolute worst.  That kind of snow makes the roads slick, like oil, and it's heavy and wet and difficult to shovel.  It's also the kind of snow that breaks trees, because it is so wet and heavy.

Then, there's that light, powdery stuff.  It looks solid enough, but don't walk on it, unless you're a cat.  You'll sink to your knees.  And don't fall, because you won't get up, unless you roll over on your back and sit up.  Don't put your hands down and try to push yourself up, either.  My dog even got stuck trying to walk through that kind of snow.  It's surprisingly wet.  So, when you fall, expect a wet butt.  It's easiest to shovel, except when the wind blows, and then, it just settles right back where it was.  That's fun.

Snow mixed with sleet is the absolute worst.  It leaves an icy crust on the top of the snow pack.  Walking through that can cause some serious damage to one's shins.  Experience for the win!  

The most recent storm was measured in feet, not inches, for much of our state.  From reports, my town received a foot and a half of snow (okay, 15", if we must), but where I am in town, I'm pretty sure we got more than that.

My mother loves to call when we have inclement weather up here.  The other day, during the storm,  she calls and says,

"How's the weather?"

I looked out the window and reported, "It's snowing."

She asked, "How much did you get?"

Stretching my achy back from the two-hour long shoveling session I'd done earlier, I said, "I don't know.  Probably a couple of feet."

She chuckled and said that there, in Kentucky, they'd gotten 3" or so. 

I laughed.  This time of year, after having snowstorms every couple of days, 3" isn't even enough to take out the shovel.  We just stomp through it.   I'm not making fun.  It's just a different perspective.    In Alabama, the city shut down for a half inch.  Here, we have to get feet (plural) of snow to shut things down.

The last storm we had ... shut things down.  Both Deus Ex Machina and Big Little Sister had a snow day. 

Of course, a picture's worth a thousand words, right? 

I'm taking this picture from the road in front of my house.  That sign says "Herbs", and it's probably 5' tall, including the 9" of stake at the bottom. 

The dog is sitting in the road in front of my house.  I tried to get some perspective, but it's just really hard to see, from this picture, how tall the snow wall really is. 
Where's the garbage can?

 Oh, there's the top!
Found it!
The cat is on the gate, which we will not be able to open without some serious digging ... or more likely, until the spring thaw.  

These photos really don't do it justice.  Wish you all could see how magnificent it is. 

Another storm is predicted right on the heels of the last - just enough time for us to clean up a little.

It's February ... in Maine.  Keep the shovels handy and the coffee brewed.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Repurpose, Recycle, Repair

My daughter is loath to let go of her stuff.  She's even holding on to her baby teeth, which are still in her mouth.  Every time we talk about moving, she gets sad, because she was born in this house.  It's HER house, and, with the exception of perhaps a few years of travel after she turns 18, she plans to live here for the rest of her life.  Fine by me, actually.  We'll be roommates.

At first, though, I couldn't understand why she needed to hang onto everything, but then, I started preparing this post, and I realized - oops!  She gets it from me.

Back many years ago, a great-aunt passed away.  Cleaning her house was the typical story of walking into a hoarders' home - newspapers stacked everywhere, which were often used as end tables, apparently, because as they were sorting, they found dirty dishes in between the layers.  I guess it comes naturally to me, too. 

While I'm not quite the hoarder my aunt was, and I'm better at letting go than my daughter, there are still things that I keep, because I feel that they may have value. 

Most of my long-time readers (and family and friends) know that I don't do wrapping paper.  We wrap presents in all sorts of paper, including: newspapers (we actually collect the "free" papers throughout the year for various projects); magazines; and catalogs.   Most of the time the gift is just that simple - wrapped in recycled paper with no trimmings.

This year, though, I had this ball of twine, and in an effort to look more festive, we wrapped the gifts a usual, but then, put some twine around them to fancy them up (curses to you Pinterest!!).  So, the day came and went.  The paper ended up in the fire, and the twine was heading that way, but then, I thought, "Wait!" 

Yep.  Just like that.

"Wait!  I can probably reuse that!"

So, I collected it, balled it up, and kept it.  Worst case, I have twine for next year's gift giving. 

Most folks also know that we raise rabbits.  Winter is particularly difficult for us, because those bottles tend to freeze in our weather, and even if we only partially fill them, it takes a while for them to thaw - or it takes gallons of hot, running water - neither of which is optimal. 

The other issue is that those plastic bottles tend to break, and so there are many times when we need another bottle. 

The solution is to have extra bottles, but that, too, can be a problem, as they're expensive.  We pay around $15 for a water bottle replacement - which includes the plastic bottle, the nipple fixture and the little thingy to hold the bottle on the wire hutches.  Times six rabbits, that's a pretty big chunk of change.  We considered buying the extra bottles one-at-a-time when we have extra cash.  Problem is that we never seem to have the extra cash as frequently as we needed to build up the stock, and we were always being forced into buying them as an emergency (i.e. one broke and had to be replaced).

Then, Deus Ex Machina found THESE online. 

Those little spring things are awesome, by the way.  Much better than any of the other apparatus we've used for holding the bottles onto the hutch. 

We, now, have two bottles per rabbit.  One is outside with the rabbit.  The other is inside thawing.  Works great. Problem solved - at a cost of just under $3 each.  So, basically, for the cost of one replacement bottle, we replaced them all.  Score!

Then, there was the problem of my jeans.  I have this pair that I just love.  I tried finding the same pair locally, but no one carried that size and style.  So, I ordered a pair from an online vendor, but when it got here, the fit wasn't the same.  The problem is that the fabric on the thighs is so thin, now, but I only have two pairs of jeans. 

So, I fixed them. 

Hooray for iron-on patches!  The patches are on the insides of the jeans, and yes, one can (just barely) see the colored patches.  Whatever.  I like it. And they'll last for, at least, the rest of the season.  Then, I can go back to wearing skirts for the summer ... and maybe those jeans will become a skirt. 

Friday, February 10, 2017

Getting Back to the Way Things Were


A few weeks ago, after I attempted to make my own Kombucha starter, Deus Ex Machina gifted me with a new SCOBY. 

This batch of Kombucha took a little longer to ferment than I expected it would, probably because it's a little chilly in my house, but also because it was a really small SCOBY.  I probably should have read their instructions on how to start the first batch.

I've been watching it closely.  I could see a new SCOBY forming on top, which is a good indicator that things are happening the way we want them to happen when making Kombucha.

Then, life stuff happened, and I didn't get to taste-test it for a few days beyond what I thought would be the best day. 

I was pretty sure that it was spoiled, and so, even before I tasted it, I started a new batch of tea.

Then I tasted it, and Wow!  It was perfect!

It's bottled now, and sitting for a few hours on the counter with corks in the bottles, to let it ferment a little more (for effervescence).  Then, it will go into the refrigerator, and my family will enjoy it for the next week until the new batch is ready.

This getting back to the way things should be is so nice; so good for my soul.

And there's Kombucha.