Friday, July 31, 2009

I am so stingy that....(part one)

* Today I turned a tiny few stems of rhubarb (the crowns are young yet) and one slightly munted pear into a fruit crumble. The topping is some biscuits which turned out a bit more like cake than biscuits, so I whizzed them in the blender and bunged them on the crumble. It was really yummy!

Other stingy practices:

*I plant the cloves of garlic that are shooting, so that I can have more garlic. I snip the green tips for garnishes and flavour in scrambled eggs

*I use the tops of the celery for salad leaves. (One of our friends was very excited to discover that you can eat the celery leaves-they were so distressed at throwing away huge piles of them that they stopped buying celery bunches!) They are great in casseroles and soups too -slightly peppery.

*when I harvest the first broccoli flower, I leave the plant there so I can also harvest the second, smaller flowers too

*I saved some bananas in the freezer and made banana bread (Ok I will own up -the reason I had too many bananas in the first place is because when I ordered online I thought I would get 6 bananas, and what I got was 6 BAGS of bananas!). I made the bread even though I don't really like cooked bananas, just because I hate to see good food wasted. As it happens, the orange peel in the recipe I used made it quite palatable.

* I regularly make 'leftover soup" -that is I cut up all the older veggies from the bottom of the crisper drawer to make soup for our lunches during the week. That saves waste and we don't have to buy lunches from the nearby shops which saves cash too!

I plan to make this an occasional series and welcome any comments from other stingy people too!

Saturday, July 25, 2009

A time for every purpose

I have had a wonderful three month break from work, and today is the last day.

I achieved most of what I wanted to do:

*DH and I went to Melbourne together and had a wonderful holiday
* I went to sewing classes and have made 3 quilts. The latest one is pictured here -my "Christmas quilt" which I enjoyed making very much.
* the driveway project is finished-the pictures are here on this blog
* I have had lots of physiotherapy on my shoulder and it is improved -this would have been very hard to do when I was at work full time
* I have read lots of books
*I have had leisurely lunches with friends

The garden has had some work too. We set up a new raised garden bed, and have planted it with green manure which is just now coming up.

We have planted two pomegranates in the front yard.
The broccoli have begun to be harvested, the mushrooms are on the second crop and the cauliflowers are getting bigger.

All in all I have had a wonderful time! One of the most wonderful things about such a long break has been the sense of being completely relaxed and at ease. It is a sense of 'coming back to myself" -who I am when I am not "busy busy busy".

I can see how wonderful it would be to have more of this kind of life, but at the moment I am still a working girl. I am not unhappy to be going back to work. In these difficult economic times it would be churlish to complain about having a job. I know that there will be stressful times ahead, but I have had the season of rest and now is the season for work again.

One of the challenges for me in going back to work will be to keep the balance between work and life which we all aspire to keep, but struggle to actually do. One of the disciplines I have been practicing for over a year now -before my long service leave began in fact- is the practice of having one day 'off' per week.

It means being disciplined to get some work around the house done on Saturdays so we can relax on Sunday. It means being determined to save Sunday from all the challenges which come up to fill it up with stuff that does not refresh or renew us. Often it simply requires patience -yes, we could spend all Sunday doing this or that around the house or whatever, but we will choose instead to read, to nap, to drink coffee or wine, to listen to music.

It often requires a simple word which is, however, so hard to say. "NO!" We need to use this word to keep ourselves focused on the main goals of our lives so that we do not clog everything up with too many commitments and too much to do.

I am keen to keep up my quilting even when back at work and one of the ways I intend to do this is to take more classes to keep my skills growing.

I am planning at least one day of working at home each fortnight, because the office is very busy and hard to get good quality work done there.

There is one other 'tool' I have to help with this: I have a small group of friends who meet every Sunday evening to support each other in our lives. We keep each other honest about the promises we have made to ourselves, and in particular to the challenge of just taking care of ourselves by trying to have some time in every week when we are not 'over achieving".

I am sure that they will be keeping me to the promises that I have made myself about the 'time for everything" as the working life starts again.

The record of my life here on this blog is also a tool for accountability -so if you see me sliding away from the goal of 'simplicity" -you have my permission to nag me back into line!

I would be pleased to hear of any suggestions you have of things which work in creating a balanced life.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Simple way to get organised

It is tax time in our house, and probably yours too. How are you going at finding all the receipts, group certificates, bank statements and the like that you need at this time?

Our organisation suddenly shows itself as adequate or not, when we are searching for the important things.
I thought I would suggest the few things I have learned about important papers and trying to keep them organised for such times:

1. Mess is attracted to horizontal surfaces. The more horizontal surfaces there are, the more places there are to stack things.

The one thing I have learned is, to make the piles of stuff appear somewhere near where they need to be. Sometimes this means moving a table away from somewhere like the front door, if everything seems to collect there, and putting it somewhere near your filing system.

2. Have somewhere to put things and put things there often. So, have a file named "tax" and when you are going through a pile on a horizontal surface, and you come across something which looks relevant, chuck it in.

A file can be :
-a large recycled envelope in a shoe box covered with fabric or paper
-a lever arch file in which you can file things in more-or-less date order
-a filing drawer in a filing cabinet

3. Try to open mail in the vicinity of your filing system. Then you can file-as-you-go.

4. If you have to transport important things like group certificates from work to home and this is the weakest link in your filing system then:
-post it to yourself
-keep a file pocket in the car and put things in there

There are two expense types we were wishing last year that we had done better at recording.

One is medical expenses. If you are over a certain threshold you can claim a deduction. So- do you think we did something sensible like keep our receipts? No, but it doesn't matter, as the pharmacist will give us a statement of expenses on prescriptions. We tend to go to quite a lot of pharmacies -so now we are wandering around collecting statements. For tax advice about this try the tax office website.
We often make donations to charities -so where are the receipts for those? Yes we had some, but I am sure we had made more donations. The hardest ones to keep track of are those donations we make when someone calls at the door and you get a tiny slip of paper...just seems to disappear.

Last year about this time I was inspired when a friend showed me her tax filing system. She has a pocket file book (you know, plastic pockets bound by a spiral. ) She had labelled each pocket with something like "Self education expenses", "medical" etc. All the receipts go into the pockets and there is even a running total in each pocket!

I told myself that "if she can do it, I can do it!" This has worked very well for us this year. My DH is even talking about getting the paperwork off to the accountant early this year 'because you have all the stuff sorted and together!"

The system is now in a lever arch file called "Tax Records" and everything I think might be useful at tax time is just punched with a double hole punch and filed in the file, with dividers to show where to put the medical expenses or the charitable donations, and some pockets for the little annoying pieces of paper.

Any suggestions of your own to add to this list of helpful strategies to keep track of everything?

Monday, July 13, 2009

Something done-the before and after shots!

Before and after shots of the driveway. I think you will agree it was in need of a bit of work! We have been able to connect to underground power and to fix our drainage problems with a fair degree of success, so we are quite pleased with the result. Bit of tidying up to do, however!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Gratitude is a subversive act!

The whole of western society is driven by the need for you and me to keep on buying things, to keep the economy going. As most of us now have our basic needs already met, the advertising industry must convince us that we have needs still unmet and therefore must keep on buying things! Clive Hamilton's book "Affluenza" blows the whistle on how this all works. We are convinced by advertising that we are unhappy in some way and that buying some fancy new thing will make us feel better. Of course it can't do that in any long term way or we would stop buying anything else, so the advertisers have to make us unhappy again and so it goes.

In this society being grateful is the opposite-being able to celebrate what we already have-and cultivating an attitude of 'enough' is radical!

There is a very helpful post over at Notes from the Frugal Trenches which talks about this in a very helpful way.

I started today at 3am wide awake and full of negative thoughts. I am not sure why, but I was just going round and round with one bad memory after another. When I got up and spoke to my DH he said 'you know, negativity is a choice" and of course he is right. I can tell myself negative stuff or concentrate on the positive and be happy.

So I went for a walk on the beach and made a point of being grateful -for the beach which is so close to us, for the fact that I am on long service leave and can just make up my mind on the spot to walk when I need to. For my health, for my home, for my family. When you start 'counting your blessings' the list can be quite long. Physical activity always lifts my spirits too and I have been neglecting that recently. The sun shone for a while and the wind blew my cobwebs away.

I have decided that I am also going to pamper myself with a fabulous lunch -lots of green leaves from my garden and mushrooms from the mushroom box's first crop and olives and fetta and crusty bread. All this just here at home -waiting for me to make a little bit of effort. I will finish lunch with a cup of tea brewed in a pretty tea pot and served in a pretty floral cup -and with piece of cherry cake on the side!

Thank you to those who took the time to make a comment or two here recently -it is great to hear from you .

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Homemade-real, not perfect.

We can buy factory made bread -each loaf exactly the same as the next, standardised and reliable, or we can make our own bread which comes out different each time -a bit lopsided, or a bit wonky.

We can purchase factory made clothes and decorator items-clean and shiny and perfect. Why make things by hand, when it is slower and the product is a bit wonky? (unless of course you are a master craftsperson!)

I have just finished my first quilt and yes, it does look like it was my first, if you get up close to examine it. In my sewing class we discussed the struggle we all have with the contrast between what we imagined before starting the project and what our hands were able to achieve. This contrast between the perfect and the real is what often causes people to give up and just buy something instead.

The simple life is one which usually asks us to become more self-reliant -more skilled -at making things rather than buying them. Why?

  • We are trying to reduce our carbon footprint caused by shipping things thousands of kilometres.
  • We are trying to move away from the effects of the consumer mindset which says that 'there is always another one in the shops' so we regard everything as disposable.
  • We are wanting to rediscover the pleasure of making things for ourselves -the satisfaction of achieving a new skill, the home grown pleasure of keeping oneself busy with traditional tasks rather than rushing about spending money in search of new experiences.
So I have been going to quilting classes during my long service leave and struggling to learn all the tricks and techniques of this craft. I have been a learner again and occasionally dissatisfied with what I can do. I have unpicked rows of stitching. I have learned to keep going when it is not perfect. And I have finished my first quilt and my 'practice table topper' too this weekend.

This has been a very useful process and now I am ready to try something a bit more complicated and I am sure that there will be challenges in the process. However the satisfaction of completing it ' all by myself' is something that cannot be found in a packet on a shop shelf!

So-because I really like the effect-here is both of my completed projects in their home setting and I think it they look pretty good and quite real!