Saturday, 26 March 2016

Having Fun on a Budget

Another weekly column :)

If you are earning less than usual, or trying to save, you might wonder how a family can have fun without overspending. Here are some fun suggestions for a tightened budget:

  • Ladies, organize a clothing swap where friends bring some gently used clothing to trade. Not the same size? Add purses, scarves and shoes to the swap. Have everyone bring a favorite appetizer or beverage and make a nice girl’s evening out of it. The same can easily be done to swap kids clothes, toys or sports equipment.
  • Couples, do you have trusted couple-friends that would like to do a baby-sitting trade? Have a couple babysit for you and enjoy an evening out together. Then return the favour so your friends can do the same, saving both families the cost of babysitting. It is important to spend quality time together as a couple even in stressful times like these.
  • Are you treating yourself to a meal out? Instead of a main course, order soup or an appetizer to save, or share the daily special between two plates if you are not too hungry. Don’t order a drink or a side of gravy--on a meal for two these items usually add almost $10 to the bill. Even though you may be counting your dollars closely, reward great service with a tip. Wherever possible, send some positive energy into the universe and hope that it comes back to you.
  • You may be considering cancelling that gym membership or ditching the fitness classes in order to save a little money. Before you do, ask yourself what the physical activity is doing for your peace of mind. Exercise is known to be a stress reliever. If your fitness regime is what keeps you sane these days, find other areas to cut in order to keep it. It might be tempting to stop everything and hunker down to curb your spending, and that may be your reality. But try to keep a good physical routine going whether it costs or not. Get a video and exercise at home. Find a buddy to motivate you. Take yourself outside and walk as much as you can.
  • Are there crafts and hobbies that you are interested in but have never had the time? Dig out the knitting needles or paints or tools that you have forgotten about. Don’t have a hobby? What are you interested in? Put out a call on social media to see what people are getting rid of—you might be surprised what comes your way for free. Try not to invest a bunch of money in starting a new hobby, but do look for new pastimes that will enrich your life. Always check online for coupons before you plan to shop. Get your kids involved in a new pastime and make special family memories together.
  • Do you remember when people used to go visiting? Interacting through social media is not the same as the real thing. Call up a friend you haven’t seen in awhile and arrange a potluck, a drink, a play date or a walk. Introduce yourself to the neighbours.
  • If you are looking for positive ways to spend your time, take an affordable class through local learning councils or organizations. Become a volunteer at one of your community's worthy charitable organizations. Enrich your life and the lives of others and realize that a simple, community-minded life is very fulfilling.
  • Rather than planning a trip this summer, or heading to the city to shop for the weekend, plan a “stay-cation”. Look at the local attractions as though you are a tourist. Visit the museum, go swimming at the local pool, have a meal out or try to some exotic recipes at home. Yes, you may spend money but it is a far cry from what you would spend on hotels (never mind flights) if you left home.
  • If you are travelling, packing your own snacks and drinks whenever possible can save a lot. Get a hotel room with a mini-fridge and coffee maker and keep easy breakfast and lunch options on hand.
  • Spend time rather than money. Notice the difference in behaviour when you have a family games night with your kids, versus a shopping trip or the sensory overload of more extra-curricular activities. If you don’t have board games, check out second hand "thrift" stores for some gently used puzzles and games. Check out the library for activities, borrow books and read together. Borrow a DVD or tune into Netflix for a family movie night. Pop your own popcorn and turn out the lights. Create some excitement for your kids and they will learn to appreciate the one-on-one time.
Every year I take my kids to the free Children's Festival in a nearby town.
You have the option of packing your own lunch or eating at a booth there.
I do believe we had to purchase tickets for the bouncy castles,
but an otherwise affordable way to give them a "fair" experience. 

Be creative and relieve stress with some frugal fun this spring!

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

On the Subject of Storage

I do love making salsa, chutney, relish, pickles and jams. I think I made my first batch of my granny's zucchini relish in my early 20's and I've enjoyed the autumn ritual of preserving every year since.

The problem, for me, is what to do with the jars in the meantime. In our old house there was a big cabinet in the cellar that held everything I made and all the empty jars and lids as well. In this house, I'm still finding places to keep boxes of jars--so far I've resisted putting them in the attic of the garage because I dread hiking them up and down those stairs and going up there to search for jars when I want them. But it's possible that they will end up there. Ideally, I'd love a huge old wardrobe (Pinterest image below) or hoosier that could go in my craft room and hold all my canning supplies and fabric. SIGH. Another thing to save for :)

Image from Pinterest
While I'm on the subject, I really like that old bed frame in the picture, too!

In the meantime, I have a spot in the basement for stockpiled food and my canning. It is not ideal and I'm glad that kids have not knocked anything down and broken jars. This weekend we did a thorough and much overdue cleaning of the basement. Because we have a wood stove down there it gets dusty and I haven't stayed on top of it. I took a picture midway through cleaning and reorganizing.

Oy! The dust! There is a gun safe with egg cartons stacked on it. The cabinet that holds most of the
canned goods and more egg cartons (we save them for my mom who has laying hens).
To the right is a Round Up sprayer (that has a bit of vinegar in it from last year's attempts at weed control).
Next to that is the worm bin.

Across from that area, and at the bottom of the stairs, is a small fridge where we keep extra milk,
eggs, drinks and excess fruit or veg. It is so handy to have the extra space especially at Christmas!
Between that fridge and the chest freezer is a small, inadequate shelf where I keep stockpiled coffee,
soup, vinegar, flour and the like.

It feels very good to go to a nice clean and organized basement. Although I do wish for a beautiful antique to house all my odds and ends, there is nothing wrong with what I have. If the right piece comes along at the right price (and we still have an income) there is nothing stopping me from getting a nice wardrobe with shelves. But there is no rush.

I am tempted to take over the space under the stairs because it would fit all my stockpiled food and be a dark, cool place for potatoes and root vegetables this winter, but I dedicated that space to kids and toys when I painted the bat tunnel. In another year or two I might reclaim that space because, as you can see below, what I'm doing now with potatoes is not working :(.

Storing potatoes in a warm room near a window doesn't work!
I always like seeing how others store their preserves and garden harvests. Do you have space to store what comes out of your garden, and where do you keep your jars and lids when not in use? And what about all that food you've preserved?

Friday, 18 March 2016

Checking in on March Goals, and How we Saved This Week

I listed some financial goals goals for the month of March and thought that it's time to revisit them and see how we are doing. In a nutshell:

  • Write ourselves each a cheque and deposit them into each of our personal accounts (the plan is to do this every month--March will be my first). One account will be Savings (Christmas, land taxes, a few bills that are coming at us soon), the other will be vehicle and home maintenance/repair fund, kids activities fund, "slush fund". I did deposit to one account, and have a spread sheet done up to track the money--we might close the other account and we have plans to transfer the funds into investments, so an update down the road will be necessary.
    • create a spreadsheet for each of these accounts keeping track of how much money belongs to each designated fund and recording any transactions.
    • Into the kids' activities fund I will transfer their Christmas money from Grandparents in Newfoundland. We usually save the money for something big for them so this year it might be a camping trip. Likewise, birthday money from my mom is always spent on swimming lessons, and their other birthday and Christmas money goes into their own bank accounts. Once the kids activities fund gets to a certain amount I plan to make a lump transfer to each of their RESPs. The birthday and Christmas money is in the account designated for Kids Activities.
  • Repay money from vacation fund that we have "borrowed". The cash from our bottle/can recycling, along with other bits of cash that we end up with, are stashed in an envelope waiting for a summer trip of some kind. Twice now I've taken money from it when I needed cash so need to put $40 back!
  • Register the kids for swimming lessons at the pool. I was a few days late registering and we are stuck in the late spring session (when I'll wish I was home working in my yard!) doing our lesson from 5:30-6 pm. Such a hard time for us to make the half hour drive to and from town :( But I can't swim and my kids are borderline afraid of the water (although they have fun in it they won't dunk their heads). I want to keep them in lessons so they are more comfortable by summer when we do lessons at the lake). Going to town at supper time twice a week for 6 weeks is going to be a nuisance but we will have to eat early and have a snack before bed!
  • Continue to bake all of our bread, buns and sweets. My kitchen aid mixer has broke down! It's really upped my bread-baking game and I'm lost without it. Today my challenge is finding the receipt and dealing with warranty as it is just over 1 year old :(
  • Continue to put $5/week into the egg jar.
  • Continue to explore ways to make money myself, without incurring childcare costs. I plan on a bigger garden this year, and more animals which will end up in the freezer. So although not a "paying" job these are ways that I can provide for us without having to pay someone to look after my kids and do the jobs here that I normally take care of (ie housecleaning, yard work etc). My hope is to be able to sell and give away the excess which will generate a bit of income while also contributing to my community. I am also writing a weekly column and investing half of what I earn into my tax-free savings account. 
So, how did we save money this week?

  • Husband was home Sunday and we considered taking the kids and their bikes to town and letting them ride the paved paths at a local park (our yard was mostly mud and running streams). The wind was picking up and I suggested we stay home and play games, which was a good thing as we ended up having a blizzard. So we saved the cost of fuel and any possible snacks or treats that might have been purchased. I would have stopped for a few groceries while we were in town, so not going forced me to stretch things until the following week. Also, my parents' power was out so they came over for supper and we had a great visit.
  • I didn't do a "how we saved money" post last week, but gravy mixes were on for 24 cents! They are usually $1.68 (which is why I started making my own). I bought 20 of them, for a grand total of $4, when paying full price would have cost me $33.60! I do have enough gravy mix to see me into the next decade, but hey I can't pass up a good deal ;) I also don't think I can make it for that! This is a great example of how knowing the price of things can save you money.
  • This week's groceries was a bigger spend as I took advantage of some specials and stockpiled rice and a few sale items. I spent $257.04 yesterday, by far the most I've spent in a week since I started tracking my grocery budget. This puts us near our $600/month limit for the month, probably over it once I add in the extra pet food (see below). But it makes no sense to obey an arbitrary limit when it saves me money to go over once in awhile. The $600 limit is there to prevent my impulsive overspending on food, which I believe is working! The store I shop at had an in-store coupon for a free turkey with $250 purchase so that is now stowed in our freezer. I am also almost up to $70 free groceries there by using the plus card, and almost up to a $20 free grocery purchase with my air miles card. These are being saved for a large sale or Christmas, or an extended period of unemployment. 
  • I got new rubber boots for $7.49 on sale, and a new pair of lined winter mitts for $3.99 on a great clearance sale (the boots were regular about $30 and the mitts $12)
  • At the same farm supply store I bought extra cat and dog food for a few dollars less. I probably saved $5 on cat food and $4 on dog food, which is very worth it to me especially when I was already at that store (and without kids, woot! woot!) Getting large heavy bags of feed is a hassle at the best of times but especially when dragging kids along to extra stores. I hope to make it to the farm supply every month to take advantage of the lower prices.
  • I spent $50 on a small dome mini-greenhouse with a grow light. I always agonize over buying cheap gardening supplies (and believe it or not, $50 is cheap as in cheaply made, small, and possibly junk). My fear is the light burning out right away and not being able to replace it, or the plastic lid cracking etc. But in my excitement at the farm supply I justified it as 1) immediately available without ordering online and paying shipping 2)possibly no worse quality than what I would find at a fancier gardening store 3) a way to immediately begin to grow greens and herbs and cut down on my grocery bill. And it is my birthday present from Husband, as I informed him last night :)

  • I purchased all of my garden seed for 2016 (some of which will be left over for following years). I am realizing the expense of gardening (it adds up rather quickly when you are counting pennies!), but it saves us in many ways throughout the year. For one thing, it is a hobby that I practice almost daily for 5 or 6 months of the year and I do not have time or energy for shopping, facials, manicures etc that many women spend time and money on. The input cost for gardening is very low compared to some hobbies (ahem! quilting....!) Never mind that, it provides our family with local, chemical free food and teaches my kids the essential life skill that is knowing how to grow your own food. I think as their generation ages it will become an even more valuable skill. 
  • Perhaps most importantly, I met with a financial adviser yesterday. He helped me come up with a plan to invest despite the economic downturn we are experiencing. I can't commit our money to an automatic monthly withdrawal because there are months we don't/might not/ have income. At the same time, with careful budgeting, it is very important to me that we squirrel away money whenever possible. So we are setting up an investment account that I can pay into as though it were a bill payment, but I can choose when I am comfortable doing so. So simple. But without meeting to discuss it I might never have thought we could invest. 
So that's it. It feels like a week where I spent more than usual, which it was. I got tea tree oil at the health food store (my kindergarten aged son has escaped the creepy crawlies that are going around his classroom but I want an extra line of defense. Even the mention of "lice" makes my skin crawl). I got our Easter stuff and (blushing) a new bra. My last one gave up on life last year and my collection of sports bras has sufficed until yesterday when I was in town alone. It is just never going to happen that I take my two kids bra shopping :) I also bought some snacks and juice boxes for a road trip to see daddy this weekend. I've eliminated most of those types of purchases from our usual grocery bill but it is still healthier and cheaper than hitting a drive thru on the road. So how about you? How did you save money this week? And have you made any plans for your 2016 garden?

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Let's Keep It Real This Easter

Another weekly column :)

The holidays can cause stress if you don’t factor their cost into your budget. More and more, families buy gifts for their kids on special occasions—look no further than Facebook for displays of piles of toys and candy for most holidays. Many people are feeling the pressure of “keeping up” to these expectations, especially when kids compare their loot at school. It can be hard to explain to little Timmy why his friends got new bikes from the Easter bunny and he only got the usual foil-wrapped chocolate eggs. Comparison is indeed the thief of joy when there are so many ways to see what others have and are doing. Parents, if you have had to cut back on your spending and it bothers you to see how others continue to shower their family with gifts and treats, consider taking a break from social media over the holidays. Not only will you rediscover spare time and be more present and in the moment with your family, your focus will be on enjoying yourself and not worrying that you haven’t provided enough for your kids. If you are spending time together, visiting, playing, having fun and making happy memories then you are providing everything that is needed! Your kids will thank you for spending time instead of money.

Maybe you are used to making a large event out of every special occasion. Even if you are still able to do so, consider your neighbours and friends who can’t afford it this year. Where you might normally get your kids their summer sporting equipment and give it at Easter, why don’t we all wait a week and give it because it is needed and leave the holiday out of it? It’s just not fair for kids to wonder why every holiday is a competition to see who got more.

Rather than a bunch of gifts, plan a treasure hunt with clues and a few chocolate prizes, or useful things like toothpaste, socks, used books and games. Make up certificates for “one day free of chores” or “dad makes your bed for a week”. Make it fun and take the focus off “stuff”! Another idea is to explain to your kids that money is tight for many people these days. Take them to the grocery store and allow them to pick out a few items for the food bank and remind them that Easter is actually about sacrifice and giving to others.

O holding a baby chick last spring

But even if you try to keep it simple, holidays like Easter can stress the monthly budget. Are you hosting a big meal? Have you got company for the weekend? How will you feed and entertain without going overboard?

Begin by buying extra groceries in advance, watching for specials of course. A menu-plan is very helpful in making sure you have frugal meals planned and enough food on hand. Ask if your regular grocer will be selling turkeys at a reduced price or giving them away with a minimum purchase. Ask at another store, and another, until you find the best deal. Watch the flyers for other deals on meat—if you are feeding extra people this is where you can try to save the most. Call your local butcher shop and see if there are any deals to be had. The same goes for libations if you like to partake in a holiday toast. Watch the flyers and buy ahead of time. Leaving your shopping until the last minute can often mean spending much more.

If you are hosting a large group, a potluck is a great way to even out the work and expense of the gathering. Frozen or canned vegetables are often cheaper than fresh—think seasonal when filling your holiday buffet. Turnip, cabbage, carrots, and potatoes stick to the ribs and you can often buy day old bread at a reduced price to make your own stuffing. Better yet, start freezing any dry bread that you might otherwise toss out and by Easter you will have enough for your own dressing. Hunt for recipes and videos on how to prepare a holiday meal from scratch.

Don’t forget to make good use of holiday leftovers. Freeze extras for future casseroles and soups, and use that turkey or ham in lunches. You have worked hard to prepare the food, don’t let it go to waste!
Hopefully this Easter can be a holiday where families return to simple pleasures like homemade food, time together and helping others. Use Skype and Facetime to reach family at a distance and don’t forget the local aged and shut-in who need a visit over the holidays. This is an opportunity to teach children that giving, even if it is only our time, feels much better than receiving.

Monday, 14 March 2016

Teaching Kids to Handle Money

I don't spend much money on my kids. They have healthy, homemade food and a huge yard in which to explore and play. Their grandparents in Newfoundland usually send them money at Christmas and with it we have purchased a trampoline and a swing and slide set. When we go to stores my kids are taught not to grab things and not to ask for things. Our regular grocery store gives a free cookie and our water store gives out suckers. These are treats that they look forward to each week. My kids have 2 rabbits, 2 cats, a dog, and four sheep to care for. They help feed their animals but on the coldest days (and most mornings) I do the chores myself as, frankly, it is often more work getting them bundled up than it is to run out and do the feeding. Now that the weather is warmer they have been helping with more of the outside work.

The boys now clean their dishes off the table after a meal (and they always thank the cook for the meal and ask if they may be excused!) but I really want to teach them responsibility and the sense of accomplishment that comes from completing a task. It is also important to me that they learn to handle money responsibly. I realized lately that pinching pennies doesn't actually accomplish anything unless you then budget the money you have saved and keep track of where it is going. I would like my kids to figure this out for themselves before they are almost 40 with a mortgage and kids to feed!

Enter a chore list and weekly allowance. I have been told and have read that paying an allowance is the best way to teach your kids to handle money, so I'm taking a leap of faith here. I cannot express to you how counter-intuitive this is for me. My instinct is to deny them money, ever, and teach them to get used to doing without so that when they are older they will know how to deny themselves the instant gratification of "stuff" and "gadgets" and consumerism. But it does make sense to me that never trusting them to make decisions with their own money will not teach them good spending habits, nor will it give them a sense of pride and value in work and reward. So I started a little chore system a few weeks ago and I must say I'm happy with how it is going.

6 year old: clear table after meals, wipe out bathroom sink daily, put boots/shoes
in closet before bed and put all craft supplies away.

4 year old: gather all dirty laundry from bedroom and put in laundry room, sweep kitchen floor (I have to change this one before he knocks someone's teeth out), gather all mitts and toques and put in closet before bed, and tidy couch cushions before bed (they are usually piled on the floor in a fort of some kind)

With regards to teaching my kids responsibility, I confess that I mostly want a more effective means of getting them to help out. They are usually quite helpful but it sometimes comes down to shouting and threatening consequences to get them to do as they are asked. They are always, always, happier and better behaved when they have a purpose and some structure to their days. So I have hatched a plan to give them each a chore sheet to be completed every day (four simple tasks each as they are 4 and 6 years old). They can put a check mark by the task when it has been completed that day. After 7 days of completed tasks they each get 2 dollars, a loonie (a Canadian dollar coin--ridiculous name, I know!) for their piggy banks (which is being saved to eventually go into their bank accounts), and a loonie for their own spending-jar which they get to spend as they wish.

The "spending as you wish" is going to be a challenge for me. I do not want them hauling more made-in-china plastic junk into this house. But I have already made suggestions like saving to go swimming at the pool (very attainable at $3.50 each. If they do their chores nicely they can go swimming once a month!) or a movie at the theatre. I think the theatre is too loud and too expensive, but it is a great treat to go with daddy to see a new movie. So although in all my frugal tips I mention having movie nights at home, I also want to stress that saving for those occasional treats not only makes them more special but it can be part of a healthy budget. Being frugal doesn't mean being a drag!

Their decorated money jars :)

I admit that I've struggled with the decision to give my kids an allowance. I don't want to teach them that they don't have to help out unless they are being paid. I very much want them to be the type of people that pitch in whenever they can. They routinely pick up toys, help with cleaning, dusting and sometimes vacuuming. They quite often help fold clothes and they always put their own clothes away. I could have made any of these the chores that they are paid to do--my goal, really, is for them to learn that when you agree to do something for money you must do it or you don't get paid. And if you do have some money you must learn how to use it wisely. It is a win-win because now I am budgeting for their allowances rather than trips to the swimming pool etc. I budget $4/week and they must budget from there :)

I really want it to become part of my kids' routine to tidy up as they leave a room either after a meal or before bed, rather than leaving it for someone else (me!) to do! I'm finding it very pleasant to have the porches tidy and the cushions where they should be when I come down for tea after the kids are in bed. Those are tiny details that show pride in our home and make me feel more organized and on top of things. As the kids get older I will add more to their chore lists (I can't wait to have them hauling wood into the basement for me, except for the thought of how much older I will be when that happens!).

So what do you think? I am interested in opinions on this one, as I can really see it from both sides. I don't want my kids to feel entitled and be spoiled and expect money for everything they do. On the other hand, I don't want them to expect to go to the pool or theatre and not realize that it costs money and money means someone has worked for it...I'd like to know what other parents are doing as far as allowance/chores go!

Friday, 11 March 2016

Menu-Planning Saves Time and Money

Another weekly column :) 

Are you familiar with menu-planning? Planning your meals a week in advance can save you time, as well as keeping you on budget. Try this approach:

·         Take a quick inventory of your fridge, freezer and pantry: What needs used up? What have you got that can be eaten this week? What must you purchase to complete some frugal meals?

·         Consult the weekly grocery flyers: What is on special that can be incorporated into your plan? Begin a shopping list.

·          Shop ONLY for the items on your list. Unless you spot a remarkable deal that can be used in next week’s meal plan, do not be tempted to overspend.

I was given a HUGE day planner midway through 2015--I use it for all my lists.
There are gardening plans, outlines for columns, grocery lists and budgets jotted
down in this book. I also do my weekly menu-plan in this book. My plans are very flexible
and are usually meant to remind me to use perishables before they go to waste. 

Returning to the grocery store throughout the week costs more money because people typically pick up a few extras every time they shop. Get in the habit of making a list and only going once. Now that you have your week’s groceries, write up your menu-plan. Some things to consider are:
  • Have you got a busy night (or two) of the week? Plan easier meals for those nights, use a slow cooker, or cook a double portion the night before so part of your work is done. For example, an extra large pot of rice can be a side dish one night and part of a casserole the next. Put leftovers straight into a casserole dish and refrigerate so they are easier to reheat the next night. If you have meals planned in advance you can prepare by chopping the vegetables and thawing out meat a day ahead.  
  • When you make dishes like lasagna, meat sauce, chili, meatloaf or a favorite casserole, make a double batch and freeze one to avoid buying take-out on a busy night. Being prepared and cooking from scratch are great ways to reduce your grocery spending.
  • Use your menu-plan to eliminate waste in your kitchen. Turn leftovers into soups or casseroles. Pair with a quick tossed salad or veggie platter and you have a healthy, satisfying meal that might otherwise have gone to waste. Keep in mind that every meal does not need to be gourmet quality. If you are drastically trying to reduce your spending, focus on nutrition and eliminating waste.
  • When planning your menu, ask yourself if there are ways to reduce the cost of your meals. Can you bulk up the recipe with beans, lentils or seasonal vegetables? Can you use a less expensive cut of meat, marinade it and cook it longer to achieve a tender and less costly meal? There are thousands of frugal meal ideas online. Begin “pinning” and reading cookbooks or websites like
  • When writing your shopping list, notice how much you are spending on empty calories. Do you drink pop? Do you buy juice for your kids? What about cookies and crackers and chips and snacks? Focus on spending your dollars on the healthiest and most nourishing food first—have you hit your budget limit before getting to the candy aisle? What are some cheaper alternatives to your favorite snacks? Pop your own popcorn at home and save. Bake your own cookies and sweets and reduce harmful preservatives at the same time.
  • Take baby steps to avoid frustration and failure. If you are used to eating out, select ready-to-serve meals that cost less. If you are used to ready-to-serve, get some easy recipes for your favorite foods and try cooking from scratch. If you already cook from scratch, try switching up your routine. Substitute porridge for the kids’ usual high sugar cereal. Purchase frozen bags of fruit and vegetables and use smoothies to ensure you are achieving the recommended daily servings of fruit and vegetables. Notice what usually goes to waste in your fridge and stop buying it for awhile. Perhaps you were only buying it out of habit and won’t miss it.
  • In every menu-plan, have one evening where you make “breakfast for supper”. Supplement quiche, pancakes, bacon and eggs or your favorite restaurant-style breakfast with a bowl of fruit or a smoothie. These meals are quick and affordable if you watch for specials on meat (assuming that meat is your thing).  
  • Remember to include in your plan (and shopping list) only the things that you will actually eat. There is no point buying ingredients that will go to waste or never be used. Ask people who have gone through lean times what they would cook—your parents, grandparents or an elderly neighbour might have wisdom to share. At any rate, take the opportunity to connect and have a visit.

Use the grocery flyers and in store coupons to get organized and save yourself time and money. And--if at all possible—please remember to support the local food bank. There are donation bins in every grocery store.

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Mental Block

I seem to have hit the wall as far as my hobbies go. I haven't sewn in a month or more (except for today, where I have managed to cut and re-cut fabric into a variety of sizes--all of them wrong for the pattern I was attempting). I have stopped writing blog posts although I still jot down daily notes. Gardener friends are excited to get out into the dirt and I sigh that once the snow melts and the mud dries up I have acres of dog mess to pick off my lawn. I'm just being a downer.

So I thought I better break the silence and at least post some photos of the daily goings on. If I leave it too long it gets harder and harder to return.

Yard is still buried in snow

Although the yard is still frozen and under a foot or two of snow, the area facing south of our attached garage (above) is thawing quickly and soon I hope to clear out last year's growth. Perhaps I will rig up some low tunnels and start some early greens. Below, the snow has already disappeared from the south side of our house, just beside the attached garage area. This is also a great spot for some early planting. I hope to build some cold frames this spring (although I do hate to talk about "plans" on the blog before the project has begun--things do have a way of changing and then one appears to be a dud when the plan never comes to fruition!). Oh well, the cat is out of the bag--hopefully I have success starting kale, lettuce, arugula and cilantro indoors and there are cold frames to move to when they are ready :)

One of two remaining jars of maple syrup that we boiled down last year. Also notice my stained glass windows hanging in the window--love 'em! I had saved a quart for each of my sons' birthdays, but we forgot to do it at J's! So this past weekend at O's 4th birthday party I attempted to cook the syrup down into taffy and pour it onto snow for our little friends. It worked out okay but because I did it in the house (bringing a bowl of snow inside) the taffy didn't cool off as well or get as firm as it should have.

Once our company left the syrup cooled into a lovely candy/taffy that I didn't want to waste.

So I added some brown sugar, butter, vanilla and soda and poured it over freshly popped popcorn (no photo available). It was very, very tasty and if I have any syrup next Christmas I think I've happened upon my new "homemade gift" for bus driver, teachers, etc.

As I mentioned, I haven't been sewing much since completing a blanket for my new baby nephew. I think it was that I dreaded putting the binding on the quilt I made my sister-in-law for Christmas.

I just kept putting it off so yesterday I tackled it and finished it. It was a nice relief to get that off the to-do list and it inspired me to rifle through my fabric stash and put together a baby boy and a baby girl quilt so that I have one of each on hand to give away.

I very much love the colour combination I chose for a simple girl's pinwheel baby blanket. But because the Pin I'm using as inspiration is a full sized quilt with large blocks I tried to shrink it in scale and guess at dimensions that would work. The quarter inch seam fools me every time and I've ended up with some blocks smaller than others and need to cut a whole bunch more fabric. I would have been done it by now if I had searched to find a proper pattern, but if I had done that I might not have gotten around to finally posting on the blog ;) I guess everything happens for a reason :) I hope you are having a great Tuesday!

Thursday, 3 March 2016

Letter Writing

A wonderful suggestion by a bloggy-friend: why not write real words on real paper? To each other?

I used to write multiple letters (hilarious ones, if I do say so myself!) to two best friends that graduated ahead of me and left our small farming community for the big city university. It was a time before we expected a response either momentarily or same-day...a time before 140 characters dimmed the wits of an entire generation. 

What fun to check the mail! We get our mail on a country road, the one east of us while everything we do leads us west. So although only half a mile out of the way it is easy to forget to go there. Also, it is only delivered on Wednesday and Friday, so I often think there's no point picking it up until there's a good bit stored up. 

I'll say this about my return to letter writing--it's made my geeky day. I've gone and made myself a set of rules. 

I will not read my letter until the kids are most definitely asleep. No interruptions!

I will read it in the quiet, and with tea (echinacea tonight as all the short people in the house have the sniffles).

I will respond immediately, and mail the first draft, scribbles and all. This bloggy, emailing world allows us to polish and refine our every thought. It will be refreshing to blurt it all out without revising. 

In every letter I shall tell a simple, true story that is inspired by the letter I have just read. Some will be short, some might be long. I'm interested to see where these rules take me. 

What a fantastic idea this was! If any of this inspires you, please, pick up a pen and send a quick card or note to someone you would like to chat with. If you can't think of anyone, but you would like to return to writing letters, inbox me! It's a wonderful thing to do :)