Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Going slowly.

I was watching a documentary on Amish teenagers recently, and something that one of them said really struck me. It was about how hard it was to be in a horse-drawn buggy and to see cars zipping past them so quickly, going fast from one place to the next.

My first reaction was, "How lucky the person in the buggy is."

Right now, I don't have a car, and I rely on public transportation to get from point A to point B when my own legs can't take me there for whatever reason. Public transportation costs money, and so I can only take it when I have a bus pass or when I have spare change.

This means that my outings are usually carefully planned to kill as many birds with as few stones, so to speak. While some days it might just be nice to go to the library to get a new book to read, and then worry about nothing else, I have to consider whether or not I can do that on my bus pass. Would it be easier to wait a week and get a new book then, and while I'm at it I can pick up a few groceries and give the rent cheque to the landlord? Or would it be better to do that in three trips?

If a car, I could get quickly to as many places as I want, but what would I do when I got there?

I noticed that when it became harder for me to go places, even by bus, my trips became more carefully planned, and I wasted less over all. In times past, I would buy groceries with the intent of eating them, but sometimes I just wouldn't get around to it before the apples turned spotty or the milk went off. But it was okay, I could just hop on the bus and go buy some more.

Now, I consider things more carefully, waste less, and enjoy the trip more, because I have to go a little more slowly and don't have steady access to a convenience that a lot of people take for granted. I think that perhaps when we start to take one thing in our lives for granted, it becomes easier to start taking the things connected to it for granted. I take the bus to get food, therefore I take for granted my easy access to food. When you give yourself a little challenge, a little struggle, you appreciate the gain all the more.

I've noticed that too when it comes to cooking. I used to eat plenty of microwave dinners, plastic food in plastic trays that got zapped to be heated. They filled me up somewhat, but didn't leave me satisfied, not really. But if I cook a meal, take my time with the preparation and let myself enjoy the act of working for it, the final meal tastes so much better and is more of a satisfying experience.

There are times when convenience stops being quite so convenient.

Monday, December 28, 2009


Tonight, I heard that somebody I used to work with died. Complications from a struggle with H1N1, his obituary said. He was only two years older than I am.

It's strange, but part of me feels like I should be feeling worse. I didn't know the man very well, but I did know him. A year ago, we worked together. He sat a few seats down from me. He was a funny man. A little weird, but funny. I know he was fired for carving his name into a filing cabinet. I know he was overweight and that walking up and down two flights of stairs numerous times, five days a week, was helping him shed pounds like crazy. I knew he liked computers.

But we went our seperate ways when he left the company, and I didn't think much of him until today, when I found out about his death.

His passing didn't leave a big hole in my life, but it left holes in somebody's life, and that's something to be considered. He wasn't a perfect person -- nobody is! -- but he is no less worthy of remembering, and no less worthy of being mourned.

Tonight, I send out prayers of healing and comfort to his family, and a wish that his soul goes speedily to the afterlife of his choosing.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Turkey soup? No, more like turkey porridge.

Cooking is a learning experience. Even when you know how to do something, there's always room for improvement, experimentation, and finding new ways of doing things that will perhaps work better next time.

Yesterday contained one such example for me. I decided to make turkey soup from the leftover turkey bones from my Yule supper. Not a hard thing to do. Throw the bones and skin in a pot, cover with water, put the pot on the stove, and let it bubble away for about four hours or so. That part worked out just fine, and left the kitchen wonderfully warm. (The kitchen is in the back area of the apartment, which isn't connected to the heating vents, so it's always cold in there in the winter.)

After fishing out the bones and skin and fat, it was time to put in the rest of the meat and the chopped vegetables. I was running low on variety for veggies, so in went carrots and potatoes only. Enough to be filling, but I admit I would have liked to add turnip and onion too, if we'd had any, and Rachel suggested peas also. But we make do with what we have.

After that had been cooking for a while, Rachel asked if I'd put any rice in the soup. I said I hadn't, but it was a good idea. So back to the kitchen I go to add some rice to the mix. I didn't know how much to add, mind, and I seem to have this interesting tendency to add more rice than there needs to be.

Yesterday was no different.

When when the rice had fully cooked, it had absorbed almost every bit of the broth in the pot! What I was left with wasn't so much a turkey and vegetable soup so much as a rice porridge with turkey and vegetables in it! Not quite what I'd had in mind!

But it tasted fine just the same, and that's the important thing so far as I'm concerned. It was also much more filling than soup on its own likely would have been, so I'm definitely not complaining at that!

I have another turkey carcass in the freezer from my mother's Christmas dinner, and when I use that to make another batch of soup (which will be as soon as I get some more containers, since all of our Tupperware ones are now filled with turkey porridge), I'll use considerably less rice. Perhaps no rice at all! And I'll make sure to get turnip and onion and peas to go in the mix.

Even when I don't quite get it right, I'm learning something, and to be honest I'm enjoying myself while I'm doing so. Sometimes I fret over having spent too much time in the day not doing "productive" things. If I've cooked something, I feel better later, since I spent time making things for Rachel and I to eat. If you can't call that productive, I don't know what you can!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Planning for next year already?

I know I am. Except for the people who give gifts for New Year, the gifting season has pretty much ended, and one of the first thoughts on my mind is what I'm going to do for next year.

A bit early to be planning so far ahead? Piffle! I, like many other people, have this unfortunate habit of leaving my handmade stuff to the last minute. Evidenced this year by the fact that I didn't get to make everything I wanted for people, and have had to informed a couple that their present will be a little bit late. So starting to plan early may not be such a bad idea.

Especially because I'm been branching out more in terms of what I make. I got a beading loom for Yule, so beaded bookmarks or bracelets are certainly on the table. I've been experimenting with small amounts of weaving lately, and have recently found instructions on how to fingerweave belts.

There are my usual Celtic knotwork embroidered bookmarks to pass around or to trade for other crafts that I can't come by so easily, also, the way I did this year to get Rachel some personalized stationery.

I'm all for making cookies and fudge and other little edible treats, too. This year I want to try making jam, so it could well be that small containers of homemade jam or jelly will find their way into gift bags for friends and family.

Handmade gift bags, of course. I wrap my presents in fabric these days, and let recipients know that if they can't think of a use for it then I'll gladly take it back and use it again myself, but they're welcome to keep it if they're the crafty types. Most, I've found, keep it anyway, even if they likely won't use it. So I think homemade giftbags will be the way of things next year, since a bag can be reused in all sorts of ways, and adds another layer to the gifts.

Does anybody else start planning and making ideas for next year's holidays right after the current holiday ends? For those who do, do you still fall into my trap and forget until it's too late to do and to give everything you wanted?

Thursday, December 24, 2009

A Christmas eve alone.

Not that I mind spending Christmas eve alone. Given that I don't celebrate Christmas in a religious, or even really secular way, today and tomorrow are pretty much like any other days of the year to me. I've already had my festivities, and I don't need two.

That being said, mind, I am going to my mother's apartment tomorrow for a turkey dinner and some good old-fashioned together time, the kind I haven't enjoyed in probably the better part of a decade now.

But I must admit, I am a bit lonely. Rachel has gone to spend the night with her parents, a tradition in her family so that everyone can be there bright and early on Christmas morning. I was invited to go along too, but really, I've never been fond of crowds, and with Rachel's brother and his growing family coming along too, things would likely have been a bit too much for me to find enjoyable.

I wouldn't mind being alone so much, if I wasn't so very bored right now! I wanted to do some cooking, but the yeast is dead so I can't bake any bread, and the pot I was going to make turkey soup stock in has some sort of horrible grease in it that resists scrubbing, so that idea's out for now. I might end up removing that grease tonight, but likely by then it will be too late to make the stock before I get tired and go to bed.

I'd be knitting right now, but I've been doing so much of that lately that the tips of my fingers are starting to feel numb! Let it never be said that I don't do a lot of knitting! Fortunately I'm almost 3/4 of the way done the squares for the blanket, and then all that remains will be sewing them up. I do wish I could have finished it before the holidays really started, but the intended recipients don't seem to mind getting it a little late, thankfully.

Maybe I'll make myself a nice cup of herbal tea, to coothe my numb fingers and bring a little bit of energy back into myself. There's no sense in moping around when I could be doing something productive, after all.

A Merry Christmas, to whomever celebrates it!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Kitchen experimentation!

Yesterday I experimented with some leftovers and made a rather tasty turkey hash. It's simple to make, and is pretty yummy too. So I figured I'd post a recipe here, for any readers who want it and just in case some day I forget it.

Turkey hash
Serving for 1 person
  • 1 potato
  • leftover pieces of turkey
  • Butter or margarine
  • Water
  • Tasty spices

    1. Peel the potato, then dice it, lots of little pieces.
    2. Take some leftover little scraps of turkey, about a small handful, and rip it or cut it up into small pieces too. White or dark meat, whichever you prefer. (I used a mix of both.)
    3. Heat a frying pan on medium heat, and add a teaspoon of butter or margarine to the pan. Cooking spray may work well too, but I find using butter or margarine adds a little extra flavour.
    4. When it's hot enough, put the potato-and-turkey mix into the pan.
    5. When the mix starts to stick to the bottom of the pan a little, pour a little bit of water in, about enough to make it a millimetre or two high.
    6. Keep mixing the mixture around with a spatula, so that it doesn't burn or stick. Do this until all (or at least most) of the liquid is gone.
    7. Add your spices. I used Lowry's Seasoning Salt and a dash of No-Salt Herb and Garlic seasoning. Mix this all into the potatoes and turkey.
    8. Put on a plate and eat!

  • Quick and easy. The cooking takes less than 10 minutes. Really, dicing the potatoes took longer to do, and the meal was well worth it. I have enough leftover potato that I think I'll make myself another serving for lunch!

    Tuesday, December 22, 2009

    Freebies and samples and giveaways, oh my!

    Progressive Pioneer is giving people the chance to win a set of essential oils! 9 oils, $150 value, and a chance to try them out for free. Can't complain about that!

    This is one of the things I've come to love about reading frugal/simple living blogs. People are all about giveaways, chances to try things out for free, passing on the good word. And not just passing on the word that large companies are offering free samples, either. I've seen a lot of blogs that have giveaways for crafts, foods, all kinds of things that are made by the blogger themselves. There seems to be a big "share and share alike" attitude running through, making a community out of people who haven't ever met each other but who all have similar goals.

    It's a very encouraging feeling.

    I'm definitely a fan of getting things for free, even if those things are small. Free-Samples.ca is pretty decent, sending me email newsletters with links to offers and free sample giveaways. FreeSamplesCanada.net and SamplesGalore.ca aren't bad either. Even if the samples are small, every little bit helps. Whether it's a single-use pouch of moisturizing cream or a box of hot chocolate mix, if it's something I'll use I'll sign up and send away for it. This habit I learned from my parents, who stocked a fair number of treats and other niceties we wouldn't normally buy, all through free samples.

    I'm also a member of Swagbucks, which I have come to love. In a nutshell, it's a search engine, almost as good as Google.com, that gives you a chance to win points whenever you search for something. You save up the points and enchange them for prizes. You can get anything from magazine subscriptions to giftcards, and even get $5 deposited right into your PayPal account! For any referrals you get under your account name, the site will also match point for point what those people earn, up to 100 points. Not too shabby a way to get rewarded just for searching stuff online!

    And every link on here except for the Swagbucks link is not going to benefit me by some referral bonus. I'm passing along these links for the benefit of people (especially Canadians) who want to take advantage of a few free offers.

    Do you have any freebie sites that you recommend?

    Monday, December 21, 2009

    Blessed Yule.

    The day that has the fewest hours of daylight in a year. For months I look forward to Yule. I celebrate it much the same way that people celebrate Christmas. I get together with friends and family, have a good home-cooked meal, exchange presents, and have a grand old time.

    We celebrated Yule yesterday, Rachel and I. We went to a friend's house, where we were kindly given use of the kitchen to prepare the meal. It was the first time I cooked a turkey pretty much by myself, and it was quite an experience. Laura, our host, gave me pointers, for which I'm very grateful, and also taught me a good recipe for sausage stuffing which I plan to use again as soon as I get some sausage and something to stuff it all into!

    I've also got the skin and bones from the turkey in the freezer, and I expect we'll be eating soup for many days now. Over half the meat came home with us, too, which I'm going to try to stretch as far as possible. I may ve going to my mother's place on Christmas for another turkey dinner, but there's no harm in making food stretch while I have it. It saves money and cuts down on waste, and those are going to be increasingly important themes in my life.

    We also have a tradition of acquiring some sort of Yule log. Not a real log, since we can't exactly light it on fire and keep it going for many days of festivities, but we have our symbolism. In years past, it's been an ice cream log cake, with candles. This year it was a small homemade carrot cake with candles stuck in. I think the Yule log might be my favourite tradition, really. The meal is always good, but I look forward to seeing the log so much. Not eating it, but just seeing it.

    I recieved some wonderful gifts, too. A kit with wax for crafting, and a bead loom. The loom needs a little tweaking, since the grooves aren't deep enough to keep the threads from popping out every time I breathe, and the instructions are far from clear, but once I figure it out I expect that I'll be making plenty of beaded bracelets and the like!

    All tied in with this is the knowledge that this is a season of death, of hibernation, and of privation. It's the start of a hard time, both in the past and for us today. Cold winds, snow, ice, and with me having no job at the moment and money running a little thin, it isn't exactly a happy situation.

    But through all that is the knowledge that despite it all, we had enough to pull together to have a good meal and to be with friends. Even in the darkness, there's plenty of light, and the days are only going to get longer and brighter from here. It was a heartening thought.

    May all your days be brighter from here on out, too!

    Saturday, December 19, 2009

    Meat with meaning.

    I like meat. I like the taste of it, I like the texture, I like the energy it gives me.

    I also know very well where it comes from. This bothers me, as it bothers most people who think of animals as something more than just pretty fuzzy things to look at. I'm aware that the majority of the meat I eat, possibly every single mouthful of it, has been raised in conditions that no human would consent themselves to living in, conditions that are appalling.

    For a long time, I've struggled with how to handle this. Liking meat the way I do, I don't entirely want to give it up and become a vegetarian. I envy the people who have the strength to do this, but it's strength I lack, and I'm not 100% sure I could stick to my guns about it anyway, given how I like it. But I've been doing a lot of thinking about it lately, and I've come to a decision that appeases my conscience a little and still allows me to eat meat.

    First of all, I, like many other people, have a spiritual side, and believe that animals have souls. Thus when I eat meat, an animal has given its life so that I might gain strength from it. This is something to be thankful for, appreciateive of, and I'm making the vow to show that appreciation by saying a prayer of thanks whenever I eat meat. The animal may never have known sunshine or fresh air, but it was no less a living breathing creature for it, and I'm grateful for what it has given me, albeit unwillingly given.

    Second, I am changing the circumstances under which I will allow myself to eat meat. From now on, when I have meat in my diet it will be meat that I worked for. Which means that I spent time preparing it, cooking it, doing actual labour.

    In this way I feel like I've done something to earn my meal. I didn't just go to a fast food joint and order a burger. That's meaningless meat. Yes, I worked to earn the money to buy the burger, but what did I do to deserve the life that was given up so that I can have a meal? If I take the time to personally prepare the meat, then I'll have actually done something to remind myself, "Hey, this was one alive, and I should be thankful for it and treat it with care in its preparation."

    This will also mean I'll likely end up being more choosy about the meat that I do eat, and will buy meat that will be healthier for me. I'll be thinking about it more, after all.

    The grocery store I shop at is slowly getting more organic meat in stock, and I expect I'll end up taking advantage of that. It won't be a perfect solution, but it will be a few steps closer.

    Thinking this way, I'll also be less likely to allow myself to waste anything. Why throw away the skin and bones just because I'm not going to ingest them? They can still be used to make stock. The animal's sacrifice can go a little further and provide food for me even longer.

    So no more fast food burgers. No more luncheon meat sandwiches. No more sticks of jerky as a snack from the corner store. No more meaningless meat. This isn't going to be easy to live by, but I'll be better for it in the end.

    And, I like to think, so will the essence of the animals.

    Friday, December 18, 2009

    Domestic day.

    Since Yule dinner is going to be this Sunday, I have a lot of cleaning up to do today. Dishes need washing, some food needs to be prepared in advance, a kitchen to be rearranged so that it comfortably seats 3 instead of just 2. And all of this (or at least most of it) has to be done by about 6:45 tonight, since that's when Rachel will be home from work and we'll be getting ready to go to a show that my parents bought us tickets for.

    Hectic day!

    So here I sit with my hair covered with a nice cotton wrap (I'm the flavour of pagan who covers her head, you see, out of respect and rememberance of my deities), trying to decide whether I should wash some dishes and then bake bread and then wash dishes again, or bake bread then wash a large load of dishes. One's more efficient, but it also means I do a lot of dishes in one stretch, which I don't much like doing.

    Maybe I'll be good to myself first and have a bit of a snack and drink my tea before I begin. Another 15 minutes probably won't hurt anything, especially considering I didn't get a chance to eat breakfast before I ran out the door for job orientation this morning. I ought to fuel my body before I tackle all this housework.

    Not just fuel my body. Take care of my body. For too long now I've let this vessel I call myself turn into something weak and flabby, and I don't like it. Nothing will change it but me, and I'm going to be living in it for the rest of my life, so I really ought to take better care of the thing before it's too late. I already have health problems that stronly affect my life, and I don't want to make things worse for myself if I can help it.

    If I have the time today after baking bread, making chicken soup, and cleaning, I think I'll also make some johnnycakes. I've been dying to try them ever since I found a recipe over a year ago, and even if Rachel doesn't like them, I expect I will, so they won't go to waste.

    And that's enough blathering from me. Time to drink my tea and get to work!

    ~ Ria, that happy heathen.

    Wednesday, December 16, 2009

    2010, and what I want from it.

    There was a post recently on Living the Frugal Life about goals for 2010 that really made me think about just what I want to get out of the coming year. A lot of my goals are long-term, things that don't have definite endings and will probably take more than a year to complete them to my satisfaction, but there's something to be said for making resolutions like that. A calendar year is an easy way to mark a period of time, to look forward to and to look back on, and to give one ample time to work on various projects and goals.

    So with that in mind, here's what I want out of the year 2010.

    Clean my apartment - I've been saying for years that this place is cluttered and a mess, and it's true. Things are still packed in boxes from when we first moved here, because we have nowhere else to put them. I want to declutter, I want to get rid of the things we no longer want and no longer use. Too much mess is sucking the positive energy from this place, and Rachel and I have been through a hard enough year this year. Next year, we should invite more positive energy in, give ourselves some comfortable and clean breathing space.

    Start my Rubbermaid garden - I don't have any land to call my own, but the apartment I live in does have a porch right out front. Dirt is cheap, and with a few Rubbermaid tote bins (or any kind of bin, really), I could start a small garden. I'm thinking of sticking mostly to herbs, since I can grow a decent number of those in a small space, but I might try for tomatoes, just to see if I can. Maybe squash if I'm feeling very adventurous.

    Have more food in storage - I don't have the equipment to can things at the moment, but my oven can dehydrate apple slices as well as anyone else's over. If I invest some money in some good storage containers, I can stock up on rice, beans, flours, sugar, and salt when they're cheap, and then perhaps if another situation comes up where I lose my job and find myself very strapped for cash, food won't be as much of an issue.

    Cook/bake more - This one's self-explanatory, really. If I cook more meals instead of ordering out or just eating some microwave meal, I get to understand food better, and I get to save money while I'm at it. I'm trying to reduce the waste from my household, and reducing food waste will be a big step. Everything from candying citurs peel to making soup stock from bones and skin to trying all kinds of different bread recipes. There's something very satisfying about making ones own meals. Also, I have another entry planned for this blog regarding my feeling on eating meat, which will come in a few days.

    Exercise - Exercise is hard to get around here in the winter, since snow and ice cover the streets and the wind is often bitterly cold. But when weather permits, I want to be sure that I walk for at least half an hour, three times a week.

    Barter instead of buy - Where and when I can, I'd like to do more bartering. Whether this means an exchange of crafts come the holidays or maybe a good meal gets exchanged for washing and drying a load of laundry, it doesn't really matter. But I want to stop thinking of money as the be-all and end-all of life, and to prove to myself that I can get things that I don't have in exchange for what I already have.

    Go gathering - Around here, there are plenty of places where free food can be gathered. Rhubarb grows in wild patches, as do blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries. Wild rose bushes along the sides of roads yield plenty of rose hips that just rot on the plant because nobody ever picks them. We have pine trees aplenty, so I want to try gathering pine nuts. Chestnuts litter some streets in the fall, and just get kicked aside, unused. Crabapples, I hear, make a nice jelly, and everyone always complains that there are too many crabapple trees in this city. I'm sure there are plants that I haven't even considered looking for that are growing in abundance and not being used, too.

    Make butter - I haven't made butter in years, and last time I did it was using a churn made from a yogurt container and a dash made from popsicle sticks, all for a craft project. I'd like to try it again. Even if I don't end up using this for all my butter, I'd still like to give it a try.

    Pickles! - Rachel likes cucumber pickles. If I grow tomatoes this year, I can pickle the green ones that don't make it before the frosts. We all enjoy watermelon, and I can pickle the rind so as not to waste it when I don't have to.

    Make two blankets - I've got a large fabric and yarn stash that ought to be used up, and we always like and need blankets around here. A knit one and a quilted one are good goals to have for the coming year.

    That about covers it, really. It may not seem like much to people who are used to living a more sustainable life than me, and who have done it for much longer, but I have to start out somewhere, and I'm looking forward to seeing how much of these things I can do, and how much better my life gets because of it all.

    Monday, December 14, 2009

    My greatest weakness.

    I admit it, I love grocery shopping. I love leaving a place where the cupboards aren't well stocked and coming back with good food to stock them. I love the rich feeling of knowing that I have variety for my meals once more. I love looking at all the different foods in the grocery store and figuring out what meals might be tasty with this ingredient, or that one.

    I love coming back and knowing I've gotten a good deal on something. Take today. a 15 lb bag of russet potatoes was less than $5, which is pretty much the everyday price at the store I shop at. Those potatoes will be added to the chicken broth I got (almost a litre for less than $3, and I could have gotten it for less than $2 if I wanted 50% more sodium in it) along with pieces of leftover chicken and some carrots that were still in the fridge to make a nice soup. I would have gotten turnip, which was on sale for $0.59 a pound, but they didn't have any left.

    The potatoes will also go quite nicely with the ham I got to make ham and potato soup with. The ham was $1.99 a pound, and I got about $5 worth. Not much, but plenty to add flavour and substance to the soup.

    More potatoes will go nicely with the squash I bought ($0.69 per pound) and the frozen turkey for Yule dinner. Whatever's left will probably go in with the turkey stock I plan to make from the leftover bones and skin once Yule is over.

    Clementines have finally made it in stock, which Rachel loves. I got a small crate of those for $5. Not sure how much that crate weighs, to be honest, but $5 isn't a bad deal when you consider the vitamin C we'll be getting from them. And since I found a delicious-sounding recipe for candied citrus peel the other day, I'll use the peels to make a treat for us both, too.

    I bought a small sack of organic flour for bread, for $5. The same price could have gotten me more flour, if I'd gone with the ultra-processed stuff that contains I-don't-know-what. it won't go very far, I admit, but it'll last us until the new year starts, and hopefully by then we'll have a little more money and I can buy some more, from the local bulk store. The only reason I didn't go there today for my flour is because I have a limited number of bus trips I can use at the moment. January should change that, though.

    And the best part is, even after getting all this (and more), I still came in under budget. $48 under budget, which is impressive when you consider that I left the house with only $160.

    I may not be a master of frugal living yet, but I'm working on it.

    Sunday, December 13, 2009

    Hypocrisy, or good judgment?

    People who know me have sometimes asked if it isn't a bit hypocritical to be trying to live a simple life while still playing and enjoying video games. I can see where that impression might come from. To play video games, both the television and the video game system must be on and thus using electricity, and it's not like video games come cheap. When we play video games, we could be doing things just as entertaining, like reading books, which usaes up considerably less energy. So yes, I can easily see where one would get the idea that it's hypocritical to play video games and to say that I'm trying to live simply and frugally.

    On the other hand, here's how I justify it. For one thing, Rachel and I are not one of the modern breeds of gamers, the casual gamers, who'll buy the newest video game systems and maybe a few sports or rhythm games and that's all they'll play. We don't buy video games systems unless there are a good number of games for them that we want to play, for one thing. Our most up-to-date system, an XBox 360, was a gift from my father, after he foolishly bought it for a single game that turned out to not be much fun. He gave it to us, knowing we'd use it. The rest of our systems are older ones.

    Secondly, we both tend to play role-playing games more than any other kind of game. Most role-playing games offer between 20-40 hours of gameplay. Assuming they cost $70 a game, that comes out to a cost of $1.75 and $3.5 per hour of entertainment. I, for one, have a tendency to try to master games, which usually involves hours of level-building my characters and searching for hidden things and doing everything I can. It's been my experience that this at least double the amount of gameplay time. So that's now between $0.87 and $1.75 per hour of entertainment.

    And that's only assuming we play through a game once. It's not unheard of for us to start a 3rd, 4th, 5th playthrough of a game.

    And considering we often buy our games second-hand and thus a bit cheaper than breand-new, the cost for an hour of entertainment is now only pennies.

    It may not be simple, but it certainly is frugal!

    The trick is to know what you like, to know your price limits, and to shop around. Much like finding a good bargain for anything. We don't feel the need to "keep up with the Joneses" by buying the newest systems and games just because they're the newest systems and games.

    Friday, December 11, 2009

    Learning about tomorrow from yesterday.

    I'm a big fan of looking into the past to learn how to better live today. One of the things that my friends often hear me say is, "People did it that way 100 years ago and got along just fine." Now in some cases, I'll grant you that isn't true. People used lead-based makeup 100 years ago and I can't in all honesty say that it was good for them. But there are plenty of things that we can learn by looking at what people used to do before they had access to all the fancy trappings of today's society.

    Maybe "trappings" isn't even the right word to use anymore. It implies that one is, well, trapped by the luxuries we share. And to be honest, a lot of people are. Some people can't imagine going a day without checking their email, having light blazing in every room of the house, having three TVs on at once. They can't imagine another lifestyle because they haven't known another lifestyle. They are, one could say, trapped. But day by day, more people are learning how to break out of that trap, and learning that there's a whole world out there beyond the computer screen.

    Years gone by teach us that people got along quite happily without a lot of modern conveniences. I admit, I'm quite the fan of video games. I enjoy the stories behind a lot of the role-playing games, and can spend hours playing them. I can also spend hours sitting and talking with my roommate as we both work on a cross-stitch embroidery pattern or knitting pattern. Sometimes doing this is far more entertaining for the both of us.

    We have a lousy heating system in our apartment. It's common for it to blow freezing air into the apartment in the middle of winter. So when it does, we cover up the vents, put on a sweater, and bury ourselves in comfortable blankets. We've spent entire power-utages under blankets, in complete darkness, just talking. We don't need more than that.

    Stoves used to serve double duty in that they not only cooked the food but they heated the house, too. Our stove does that in the winter. The heating system doesn't extend into the kitchen, so having the stove on while we cook delicious food warms up the entire back area of the apartment. And at the end, we get fresh-baked bread to munch on, or a nice chicken-and-vegetable dinner.

    People used to use herbs before they'd turn to chemical medicines, and I try to do the same thing. I know that most medicines originally came from plant extracts, and some have argued that taking herbal remedies is no more "natural" than taking an aspirin. I disagree. A lot of modern medicines are synthetic compounds that are only mimicking the original plant extracts. It's a different kind of chemical entirely, even if it does the same thing. I feel much more comfortable using herbal remedies for my ailments than pumping my body full of chemicals that it could probably do better without. I have, in some cases, had better luck with herbals than with modern medicines. I used to suffer terrible migraines, and had been on different kinds of preventatives, and they worked with varying degrees of success. Then I was told about feverfew and a natural migraine preventative, which I tried. It stopped a migraine better than the prescription drugs, and kept them away longer. Mint and chamomile calm nausea better than Gravol, and they don't leave me feel sleepy afterward. Rachel has a digestive disorder that is helped somewhat by prescription medicines, but is helped quicker and more consistantly by an herbal tea, herbs which have long been used to treat the very problems she has.

    Old recipes were often designed to make the most of every little thing, and lots of old cookbooks had specific sections for things you could make from leftovers. Today, most leftovers get thrown in the trash? Just had a turkey dinner? The skin and trash go into the garbage, or for some people, the compost. Why not use the skin and bones to make a soup stock instead, and all those little leftover pieces of meat that were too small or fiddly for people to eat can get thrown in there and eaten in the soup.

    Most people who have frugal living blogs know well the saying, "Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without." This is something I take to heart. I'm a knitter, and often my yarn comes from sweaters I get at second-hand stores. I unravel them and then reknit them into something else that I want. Good yarn at a fraction of the cost of buying it new. Old pants get cut up and turned into blankets: jeans get made into heavy-duty blankets, velour pants (so comfy!) get turned into soft throws, and sweatpants can even be used in place of quilt batting. There's a way to reuse just about everything, if you're creative enough.

    People back then also understood the value of stillness. Human history has been filled with progress, and that means hard work, day-in and day-out. So people appreciated all the more the little times they could stop and enjoy something as simple as a pretty flower, a glorious sunset, or just a moment in the day when they could rest their bodies and relax a little. Nowadays it's always rush rush rush everywhere, do as much as you can in as short a time as possible, and the only time we stop is when we sleep. I can't live like that. I need the beauty of those sunsets, those moments of stillness.

    This is the kind of life I lead, and also the kind of life I want to lead more of. I'm not doing too badly at the moment, but there are areas in which I could do better. I'm hoping that having this blog will prod me into paying closer attention to things, to find a way to reuse yet more items around the house, and to remind myself that I need to stop and smell the roses more often. As I say all the time, living simply and frugally doesn't mean going without. I expect the quality of my life to keep increasing as I decrease my spending and my need for spending.

    Thursday, December 10, 2009

    I'm on top of the world!

    Thanks for coming to my blog, and welcome to On Top of the World. This blog is al abbout living simply and frugally in Eastern Canada. This means that my posts could run the gamut from, "Brrr, it's cold in December," to "Brrr, it's cold in April," to, "Brrr, it's getting colder now that it's almost October!"

    I tease. Sort of. There's a joke where I live that we have four seasons: Almost Winter, Winter, Still Winter, and Construction. So it does get mighty cold up here, and we all know it!

    But there's more to life here than the cold, and I aim to explore it. I've spend a good chunk of my life living from paycheque to paycheque, from day to day, and to be perfectly honest, I'm rather tired of that life. It's hectic, stressful, and puts too much emphasis on what I can buy next with the money I just earned. Now that I'm in my mid 20s, I'm really starting to understand that there's much more to life than money and and possessions.

    I used to panic a fair bit when I was younger, thinking that I had to "make something of myself" as soon as possible or else my life would be wasted. Well, I've got plenty of years left in me, barring unfortunate circumstances, and it's been lately that I've come to the conclusion that I don't need to go rushing off and doing everything at once. That's a sure way to an early grave. There's a reason that people say we need to take time to smell the roses.

    But there's more to simple living than taking time to oneself. Simple living, to me, also means being eco-conscious. What may seem like a small thing to me may actually, in its process, be terribly complicated and harmful to the very planet I live on. So simple living also means buying locally and responsibly, making do when I can and making my own when I can't. It means not spending money where I don't need to.

    But it doesn't mean that I need to deprive myself. I may not need to go and buy embroidery floss, for example, but I do need entertainment, and I enjoy crafts so much that buying some supplies is an excusable expense. It's possible to live a rich and full life without spending thousands of dollars doing so, and that's the way I aim to live.

    So here's to the joys of living simply, and simply living, on top of the world.