Wednesday, March 10, 2010

A slow news month.

There really hasn't been much to say on this blog lately. I haven't done a whole heck of a lot. I'm still unemployed, but finally got off my duff and applied for EI, so hopefully that'll help keep my head above water for a while. I sent off my tax return, and expect a decent amount back so that should also help.

Haven't done grocery shopping or much cooking or major cleaning in a while, so I can't even report in on that.

In short, I am in a simple and green slump.

Does that happen much to any other green and/or simple-living bloggers? Do you ever get a touch on ennui and just end up not doing much to move forward with your goals, instead just sitting back and resting for a while. Not even rest to recover from something. Just lazy rest, where you can't be bothered to make headway.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Absolute disgust

Rachel and I went to a local pet store, Village Pet Centre, to pick up some eye drops for one of our cats, who's had some eye irritation over the past few days. While there, we checked out the pets for sale, not with an eye to buying them, but just to spend a moment looking at cute fuzzy things.

That's when we noticed the hamster with the bleeding hind foot. We called over an employee and told him about it.

"Huh. Nothing I can do about it," he said. He looked closer to make sure that the hamster still had all his toes, said that the little thing had probably gotten its foot stuck between the bars of the cage and had ended up biting it, but nope, there was really nothing he could do. He wandered away to continue doing whatever he'd been doing.

Absolutely disgusting.

Yes, there was something he could do. He could take the hamster from its cage, clean off the foot, apply a bit of Polysporin (it's suitable for animals as well as humans), and clean the cage of the blood that was smeared on the bars, bedding, and food bowl. It's not rocket science; it's basic animal first aid. If he wasn't trained in it, that's not much of an excuse either. The store should train employees in basic animal care, and the employee at least should have thought to call someone over who did know how to do what needed to be done.

If it wasn't for the fact that our cat needed the eye drops pretty badly, we would have walked out right there and then, but neither of us could justify causing yet another animal additional suffering on principle like that. The only other pet store in the city that we know doesn't mistreat their animals was too far out of the way to get to at that point, clear across the city and off a bus route.

Needless to say, Village Pet Centre will no longer be getting our business, and we plan to write a letter to management about this incident. For the mistreatment of a $20 hamster, they have now lost potentially a few hundred dollars from two customers, and I have no problems with spreading the world about what happened today.

I beieve in treating animals properly, in acting as though they have as much worth to a comfortable and happy life as any human does. This was a blatant violation of what I hold dear to my heart, and might even be something the SPCA should hear about. It's neglect, pure and simple. Willful neglect of animal pain.

My heart goes out to that hamster. Believe me, if I had the money, we'd have brought the little guy home with us so we could take care of him. Apparently we have more knowledge of how to do that than the guy whose job it is to do so.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Happy birthday kitties!

My cats turned 7 years old yesterday. Or rather, we celebrated them turning 7 yesterday. We don't know their exact birthday, having gotten them from a pet store rather than a private sale, but we know they were born sometime in early March, 2003. So we decided, for fun, to designate March 3rd their birthday, so that we could say they were born on 03/03/03.

They celebrated by playing with catnip toys, getting lots of pets and cuddles, and then sleeping a lot. I'm pretty sure they enjoyed their day, and so did we!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Good news!

My mother did not have a TIA last Thursday! We went to see a neurologist today, as she had been directed, and he said that from what she described, coupled with the fact that she had a headache later that day that went to the following night, it sounded much more like a migraine with aura than a mini-stroke.

This was such good news to hear!

It did get me thinking, though, about the popular image of migraines in culture. A large number of people use the word 'migraine' to describe a bad headache, and while head pain is common in migraine sufferers, the two are not one in the same. This has also led to people who actually suffer from migraines being told, "Oh, you just have a headache. Stop complaining and just deal with it."

On the other hand, my mother's migraine was mistaken even by doctors as a potentially dangerous attack of something else entirely. If a migraine can look like a mini-stroke, tingling limbs and slurred speech and all, you'd think that would make people give it a little more credence.

But most people don't know that. Heck, it fooled all the doctors she saw except for a specialist.

Much like my roommate's IBS. People brush it off and tell her that a stomach ache is no reason to miss work. On the other hand, the pain associated with it has been compared to the pain associated with childbirth. She's been tested for kidney stones, more to rule it out than because they seriously suspected it was happening, but they wouldn't have wanted it ruled out if there wasn't a chance that it could have been happening. They don't X-ray your hand when you sprain your ankle, after all. Kidney stones are notoriously painful. She has that pain. And yet people tell her she must be exaggerating her illness because "no stomach ache can be that bad."

Which is why I'm spreading the word. Misconceptions like this cause poor quality of life for the sufferers, because not only do they have to live with the condition, they have to live with nobody taking them seriously and nobody making accommodations.

I'm glad my mother's doing well and that things aren't as serious as we both thought. But I hope this doesn't mean that even she'll ignore such health problems again, figuring that it's nothing the way so many other people do.

Monday, March 1, 2010

A connection to the people who let us live cheaply.

What is that strange thing in the image above? It's a candy wrapper for a banana-and-cream sucker from China. Not something you typically see outside of Asian markets, unless you're, well, in China.

This was found inside a newly opened box of shoes last week, at the store where my roommate works. She was putting new shoes on the shelves, and opened a shoebox for the first time, and found this tucked inside.

This is a connection to the people who made that pair of shoes, the people who work and live in substandard conditions so that we in the affluent west may spend a little less money on our belongings. I don't mean to come off as preachy when I say that. I'm sadly aware that my clothes, my electronics, most of my belongings, were all made by cheap labour so that a big company could save on production costs. Alas, I don't let have all the skills I need in life to make my own clothes properly to cut down on things like this.

But when my roommate showed me that wrapper, I really started to think. It's one thing to think of some faceless mass of underpaid workers toiling to make cheap goods, but it's completely another to think that the person who made that shoes left a little something of themself behind. Did they have to sneak in that little treat? Where did they buy it? Do they like banana-flavoured things, or was it just a random grab from a box of suckers?

That faceless worker suddenly got a face, and it made me all the more aware that they all have faces. We tend to forget that, and lump them all in together because of a similar condition they all share. But they're all individual people, driven to the factories for one reason or another, trying to live their lives as best they can. They all have failings, foibles, fantasies. They're all individuals, and I'm going to try even harder to keep that in mind from now on.

After all, I've got hard evidence sitting in my hope to attest to that.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Simple Saturday

A very simple Simple Saturday today. The thing I'm most thankful for right now is that my mother's in good health again and isn't suffering any bad effect (aside from being scared) from her mini-stroke.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Prayers and well-wishes appreciated.

My mother had a transient ischemic attack, also called a mini-stroke, last night, and was taken to the hospital. She's doing fine now, all her functions have returned and her diagnostic tests (CAT scan, ECG, and blood workup) came back clean. The odds are in her favour that this won't happen again, technically, but all my research in the past tells me that TIAs like that are often warning signs of deeper problems, and that 1/3 of people who experience them once experience them again.

She's only in her mid-40s, and this understandably scared her very badly. If you have any extra energy today, I, and she, would appreciate some good vibes sent her way, to help her recover from this properly, both physically and emotionally.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Insults disguised as other insults.

My temp agency called today, to discuss with me a complaint given to them by one of the supervisors at the temp job I'm doing. Turns out they had a complaint about my hygiene.

Oh dear, I think. Until they told me the reason for the complaint.

I wear the same clothes to work every day.

Yes, that's right. Wearing the same clothes, regardless of whether or not they're clean, in a hygiene concern.

Now, had they said, "She wears the same clothes every day and they smell bad," I could have seen a legitimate complaint. But no, that wasn't the issue. The issue was merely that I come to work wearing the same clothes all the time.

Which I wash quite often,I might add. I need to, since I don't like to stink.

I've been advised to change this habit. I wanted very much to ask where they think I'll get the money to buy a new wardrobe to satisfy people I'll only be working with for another few days. My three weeks of employment is going to get me the following: a month of rent paid, a bus pass for next month, expensive medication that I need to stay alive, and the payment of debt which hasn't been paid in months. I'm not overly concerned with the fashionistas I'm offending by wearing the same clothes.

I wear them because they're the only business-casual clothes I have. I also have about 5 pairs of pants that are the same style, colour, and size, because I like them. I could actually wear a different pair of pants each day and without looking at the label, nobody would be able to tell.

This wasn't a complaint about my hygiene. It was a complaint about my fashion sense.

I tend to wear the same style of clothing a lot because I like it. Unlike most females, I don't feel the need to have a large and colourful wardrobe to select my clothes from. I have a few t-shirts, a few pairs of pants, a couple of sweaters, and a nice big skirt. The skirt's not suitable for work, and I wear the sweater over my t-shirts when it's cold. I can't afford more than that right now, and wouldn't need it even if I could.

I'll keep wearing my black sweater and black pants, thank you very much. I like the style, and I call myself something of a demi-goth anyway. The Green Goth... Maybe that's what I should have called this blog.

(Or the Gimpy Green Goth, given the way my ingrown toenail has been playing up lately...)

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Simple Saturday

Simple things I've enjoyed this week:

  • The sun is shining on this glorious false-spring day
  • I feel better, health-wise, than I have all week
  • I bought myself a treat last night in the form of a sinfully delicious chocolate pastry
  • I've been enjoying a lot of reading lately
  • Friday, February 19, 2010

    Haste really does make waste.

    I've been pretty quiet, blogwise, this week. Too much work, not enough inspirational stuff happening or to say.

    But today it hit me that I've been getting lessons at work that I can so very easily apply to other areas in my life. Specifically, the concept of doing things right the first time.

    You'd be amazed at how much time it takes to correct mistakes or ommissions when you're putting data into a computer system. It may seem simple, just typing in names and addresses for 8 hours a day, and in some respect, you're right. Assuming, of course, that all the information's there.

    If it isn't, then I have to take extra steps to make sure it gets into the system.

    It may seem a trivial thing to leave out your postal code (or zip code, for you USians) when filling in your address, but consider that when you do so, the time it takes for the data entry agent to go online and look it up will take more than twice as long as it takes you to write it down in the first place.

    And while they're looking up your missing information, there's more time before they can move on to the next entry.

    Or perhaps longer before they can move on to your entry because they're busy finding info for other people.

    This isn't my way of nagging people to be complete when filling out forms (though you should be, really). This is my way of comparing that to the rest of my life. If I take a little bit of extra time to do things right in the beginning, then it saves time in the end. Even if the time saved isn't my own, the overall process runs more smoothly because I did what I was supposed to do.

    Whether it's in regards to recycling, finding a job, keeping my apartment clean, or any number of other things, I'm going to try to really focus on this lesson. It's been drilled into my head over the past two weeks, and it's not a bad lesson to be drilled on. It's like what I was saying the other day, about how it's a lot of trouble to clean up the accumulated messes in my apartment. I did things wrong the first time, and now it's a lot of trouble.

    But if I'd been more diligent, done a little bit of work then, I could have saved myself a lot of work now. It's a humbling lesson as well as a profound one.

    I just regret that it actually took me this long to properly learn it.

    Wednesday, February 17, 2010

    Taking a sick day.

    I really shouldn't have, but I came home early from work. I ended up waking up an hour and a half earlier than normal this morning, after only about 6 hours of sleep, and then had an upset stomach for the better part of the morning. Add that to the cold that's been steadily growing inside me for the past few days... Even my supervisor deemed it better that I go home and rest rather than infecting everybody there.

    Of course, since I was there yesterday, part of today, and will be there tomorrow, I'm still likely to infect people. It can't be helped. That's the catch-22 of sick days. A lot of workplaces say they want you at home when you're sick, not at work, so that you don't pass your sickness around. And yet they will punish you for taking what they decide are "too many" sick days, and unless you're lucky enough to have paid sick time, the day you spend at home will be an unpaid one.

    I'm going to have to work late tomorrow and Friday, and possibly go in for some overtime on Saturday, to make up for losing part of today's pay. I can't afford to do anything else right now.

    This is why I wish most fervently that I had a steady well-paying work-from-home job, one that could give me enough money to meet my financial obligations. I don't even want enough to meet my financial obligations and then some, because that's just being greedy. There isn't much I want to buy for myself that I can't do without, and quite frankly, being able to work from home is enough of a bonus that I'll gladly take some losses to personal possessions.

    Working from home when I'm sick will be a sight easier, too. I can lie around in bed in pajamas all day if I want, so long as work gets done. I can work in short stints, taking many little breaks, so long as the work gets done.

    It's a goal of mine. I want to make enough money from doing side-projects and things I can do at home to be able to support myself. It may take a year or two to properly set up, but if I work at it, I'm sure it can be done. My lifestyle won't be exravagant, but then again, if you know anything about me from reading this blog then you'll know that I'm not looking for extravagance. I'm looking for simple frugal comfort. I want a cabin, not a palace.

    Monday, February 15, 2010

    The flip side of simplicity

    You'd think that simplifying my life would involve less work than normal, right? After all, work is a complicated thing, so it just stands to reason that making things simple would make things easier.

    Not if you've been living in a complcated mess for years!

    In striving for a simple life, I first have to start picking up the pieces of my old life, tidying them up, and storing them where they need to go. This can be the very opposite of simple when you've got years of crap to sort through.

    And I don't just mean physical crap, though that is a huge part of it. Right now, I've got an apartment full of junk that needs wading through. We need a storage room to put a lot of the boxes that have things that we need or want but don't have room to keep around without having boxes piled five feet high in our hallway. Somne of those boxes are filled with things we legitimately don't need, things that were thrown in there in a hurry during our last move. Things that we needed but couldn't find and so bought another of. So much stuff, and it's toxic!

    Not the possessions themselves, but how they are kept, how they are used or not used. Seeing the high piles of boxes in this place is an energy suck. It makes one feel tired just to see them, because you know just how much work is going to have to go into sorting it all out. You feel defeated before you even begin.

    Or, to put it more accurately, I feel defeated before I begin. Which is why this stuff is still sitting around after 4 years.

    But not all the crap to wade through is physical. Some of it is mental, and by that, I mean my attitude. I'm not a get-up-and-go person by nature. I am, in actuality, something of a lazy person. I enjoy sitting on my behind with a good book in my hands, putting off housework until tomorrow, or the next day, or maybe next week... You can see where the problem lies.

    So in simplifying my life, first I have to make it way more complicated. I have to clean up, both inside and out. I'm used to this way of thinking, though. When I was young, and my parents told me to clean my bedroom, I always knew it had to get messier before it got tidier, because I'd have to sort through things, move stuff around, all that jazz. It would see like hours passed with no progress made, but then nearly everything would be finished fifteen minutes later!

    And once the major complication of tidying is over, the rest is just maintenance, which is much easier. It's a lot easier to make yourself wash the dishes when you know there's only a few plates and some cutlery to clean. It's really hard when you know you've got about 5 or more loads piled up on the counter because you got slack.

    I did get slack this past month, with just about everything. Cleaning and cooking fell by the wayside. Last week I gave myself a bit of a pass, since I started working again, but that's no excuse for the three weeks before that! Some food has spoiled in the fridge. Lots of dishes need washing. Laundry needs doing. The floor by the front door needs a good sweeping and mopping.

    In addition to the zillion and a half other chores that need doing around here.

    Tonight is the night we put the garbage out. I'll get rid of the spoiled food, at the very least, and wash some clothes for the rest of the work week. If I have time and energy (work was tiring today), I'll see about washing up some of those dirty dishes. I'd much rather spend the evening reading, but I know, when I remember to remember, that there are more important things I can be doing with my time.

    Sunday, February 14, 2010

    Saturday, February 13, 2010

    Simple Saturday

    I'm going to start doing Simple Saturdays in addition to Silent Sundays. In a sense, this gives me a nice little weekend break from heavier blogging, and yet still allows me to post and to focus on the finer and simpler things in life, which is what this blog is all about.

    Simple Saturdays will basically consist of a short list of the simple things that I am currently thankful for. There are a lot of simple things that are in my life that I don't give enough thanks for, really, and it's time that changed.

    So, without further ado, the following list contains some of the sweet simple things that I have appreciated this week.

  • Going for a short walk at lunchtimes
  • The love of two beautiful kitties
  • Sleeping well for the past two nights
  • Weather warm enough that I can open my coat without freezing
  • Knowing that I'm earning money again, even if it is just for a little while
  • Friday, February 12, 2010

    First week = done!

    Today marks the end of my first week back at work, and also that a third of the assignment is already over. The days may have passed slowly at times (especially after lunch), but the week just flew by, and it's hard to believe that it's over already.

    For the curious, what I've been doing is working for the local branch of the Red Cross, processing donations for Haiti relief. The government has pledged to match the amount of money donated by individuals (companies and anonymous donations don't count), but there's a deadline to be met in order to get that matched money. The deadline is a week and a half away now, and there's still a ton of work that needs doing.

    Hence hiring a few temp agents to do some data entry.

    I didn't donate money to Haiti. Though perhaps it's more accurate to say that I couldn't donate money, seeing as how I had none to donate. But even though I'm being paid for the work rather than volunteering (I don't even know if they'd take volunteer data enterers), I know that I'm still helping out, since every donation I process is going to be matched. Every $10 that I enter into the system, $20 goes to Haiti.

    And thanks to a donation I processed that was over $20000, that's a heck of a lot of money going to help people!

    Yes, that donation was made by an individual. Bless them, whoever they are. And blessings upon all who gave up time or money to help others, this time and every time in the past and every time in the future.

    Thursday, February 11, 2010

    Planned Obsolescence

    If there's one thing that really cheeses me off, it's the notion that things are made to break apart. And I'm not just talking about knowing that things will biodegrade eventually. I mean things that are made to fall apart earlier than they ought to, so that consumers will be forced to rebuy a product.

    Drives me nuts, it does!

    Computers are the perfect example. Provided one is interested in having a top-of-the-line computer, things are set up so that by the time you get a new computer, it's already fallen "out of date". Granted, that's partially due to a fast-moving industry, but on some level, manufacturers push this kind of marketing. Release a product and then very quickly have it become second-best, forcing the buyer to buy upgrades (hopefully from the same company, of course, to ensure maximum compatibility) to get their machine to the peak again.

    It's a vicious cycle. And sadly, it works. How many people go out and buy new computers these days when they still have one that works perfectly well?

    When I got my latest desktop, it was because the old one had finally kicked the bucket. The power supply was shot and the hard drive had already been replaced twice. My parents offered to pay for a replacement for me, and when they asked me what specs I wanted, I told them that I just wanted no more than what my previous system had.

    Turned out that they didn't make 'em so crappy by that point. What I got was about 5 times as good as the one that had died, and that was the lowest and cheapest model I could find in the store at the time.

    But this sort of thing is seen other places than computers. Companies build their products with flimsier and flimsier materials these days, charging the same price as if they were using sturdy materials, of course. The products break sooner, have to be replaced more quickly, and then the company has more of your money than if they'd made a sturdy product in the first place.

    On one hand, using less of a material to make a product is beneficial, since when you pare it down to the bare minimum of what's needed, then less gets used so less gets wasted. It doesn't take as much plastic or wood or the like to make something. On the other hand, if your product breaks when you accidentally drop it only once, that has now become waste, and you've got to go buy another flimsy copy again. Funny enough, making things 50% more sturdy could save a lot of hassle and money.

    But manufacturers aren't out to save you money and hassle. They're out to take money from you. I don't begrudge hard workers their wage, but I do dislike shady business practices that make sure what I buy is of lowe enough quality that it's practically ensuring that I have to go back to buy a replacement before I need to.

    I've seen cell phones made in the early 90s that still work. I've seen the majority of cell phones made in the early 2000s (the "naughties?) that aren't good for anything but being a paperweight now. I think I'd rather have a "brick" that works in 20 years than something small and stylish that fails in 3.

    Tuesday, February 9, 2010


    I recently watched the documentary Affluenza, which talks about the culture of overconsumption in America today. Not living in America, I can only base my opinions and thoughts on what I see of my own country and of the media of other countries, but it does seem to me that this documentary hits the nail right on the head.

    This comes as no surprise to any of you. Why would you be reading this blog if you didn't at least have some small interest in the commitment I've made to a simpler and more frugal life?

    I agree that there's a huge culture of overconsumption in the more developed countries today. I'm also thankful that there are people out there who are working to fight it, or at the very least to not be as big a part of it. Every time you buy second-hand, that you recycle or reuse, that you acknowledge that you don't need the biggest newest product, you're doing your part against that overconsumption. Even if nobody is really listening, you can rest with a clear conscience, and you can tell yourself, "I didn't contribute to a problem."

    I see a lot of people participating in "no spending" challenges lately, on the various blogs I read. For a certain number of days during this calendar year, they are trying to not spend a single penny. They limit themselves to spending money out of maybe a third of the year, and I admire then for it.

    The biggest reason I didn't bother participating in such a challenge this year is that it didn't seem fair. I'll have a job starting on Monday, but before that, I had no money, and aside from borrowed money for groceries and other essentials, it didn't seem fair to participate in a challenge where I wouldn't be spending purely because I have nothing to spend. It would be like a vegetarian participating in Meatless Mondays. Not much to brag about when it's just a part of your everyday life.

    (On a side-note, I have found employment again, evem if it's only for 3 weeks. I'm very thankful for it!)

    Being unemployed has taught me a lot. For one thing, as much as I said before that I wanted to have a simpler life, I didn't have a great amount of motivation to do so. I was trapped in a consumer spiral. I worked, I had plenty of money, and I spent the excess on fun stuff to fill the void. And the void got bigger, and I knew that to fix it I had to simplify, but maybe I'd do that after this next paycheque, because there's a new book and a new video game that I want.

    Next time, next time, always next time.

    But being unemployed taught me, more than anything else could, that I've got plenty, I have even more than I knew I had, and I didn't need to keep buying more. I'm a stockpiler by nature, but I stockpiled all the wrong things. My stash of yarn will keep Rachel and I in socks and scarves for years, no doubt, and my video games will provide endless hour of entertainment, and so will my books and my burned DVDs of podcasts. But oh, there's that pesky manner of food.

    I got so used to food being always there, and always more than I could eat, that I didn't really seriously grasp the thought of being without it, having it limited. My video games won't fill my stomach. My yarn won't make dinner.

    I've learned to take stock of what I have and to be more appreciative of it. And I've learned that when I get regular steady income again, I know my priorities have been re-arranged. First, I pay my allotted amount into the joint bank account that Rachel and I pay our rent and bills from. Then I pay money toward my debt. Then I buy any medications I may need, since I do need a steady supply of some kinds.

    Then I start looking at two main things. The first is storing and preserving food for lean times. If I ever lose my job again, it will be a great load off our minds to know that we've got enough food to last us for a few months without real worry, for example. The second thing, and equally important, is to start an emergency savings fund. Stored food won't do us too much good if we have no way of paying the rent. I'm pretty sure our landlord won't accept a bag of dried apple slices in lieu of $535 each month.

    It's funny what having so little can do to make you realise just how much you actually have, and to help you put your priorities in place.

    Monday, February 8, 2010

    Green Goes with Everything, by Sloan Barnett

    Thoughts: Not going to do a "back of the book" intro to this today, because what this book is about is fairly obvious. The green revolution is upon us, and this is another book filled with info about the toxic products in our lives and how we can make little changes to our lifestyles in order to make us more healthy, and the planet more healthy along with it.

    I have to admit, this book did have some good advice and good information in it. It was very America-centric, which is good for Americans, but bad for anybody who happens to live outside America when they read this book. I have plenty of research to do now to find out if Canada has pretty much the same view on chemicals and additives that America does. I know we don't allow bovine growth hormone to be used anymore, but beyond that, I have to admit that I have no idea what my country's green regulations are.

    Green Goes With Everything was broken up into easy-to-understand sections relating to the products and processes covered, from household cleaners to makeup to clothing, which prevented a whole lot of jumping around that I've seen in other books. It also had a handy listing at the back for companies that make green versions of a lot of the everyday products that we use, so as to give us a little more choice in the matter, which I'm quite thankful for.

    However (and isn't there always a 'however'?) this book felt like a huge advertisement for Shaklee products. Which I wouldn't necessarily mind so much if the author didn't have a personal stake in flogging Shaklee products. The company may make some good green alternatives to common products, but when the company is owned by the author's husband, I really have to ask myself how much she was recommending the products because she'd feel bad not recommending them, or because she gets to benefit from the potential increased sales. They may work just fine, but since her motives are suspect, now so are mine. I don't like branding being thrown in my face like that. It makes me take the advertising less seriously. Minus points on that one.

    This book also seems to be heavily geared towards women rather than men, or women and men together. Since it was written by a woman, I can't fault her too much, since most people tend to write what they know and for whom they know, and most people tend to generally have a majority of same-gendered friends. But this struck a chord with me and made me wonder if the proponents of green living are, as a majority, female rather than male.

    Either way, this made for some pretty odd advice. Like throw away your chemical cleaners right now, but even though your makeup might be dangerous too, yeah, just keep using that stuff and replace one item a week with a green alternative from now on. Is makeup actually that important to women? I understand that chemical cleaner are more dangerous all around than foundation cream or lipstick, but it still seems odd to say, "By the way, some lipstick has been shown to have dangerously high amounts of lead, so keep using it until it's gone, but if you can, try to find a green alternative, but if not, meh, that's not so bad." Minus points again on skewed priorities.

    But if you can get past the rampant advertising for her husband's company, you'll find a lot of useful information and advice in this book. Though it has its problems, I can't deny that this was a helpful book and an informative read.

    And now, if you'll all excuse me, I'm off to get ready for my first day of work at this new temp job!

    Sunday, February 7, 2010

    Friday, February 5, 2010

    What the heck is Swagbucks, anyway?

    Some of you have probably noticed the Swagbucks banner in my sidebar. Some of you know what it is, but undoubtedly there are a few of you who have no idea and who hesitate to click on it because goodness knows where it could lead you. Winning stuff by searching online? Scams start off with a hook like that all the time, after all.

    This one? Not a scam. What it is is a search engine that rewards you with a certain percentage of their ad revenue when you search. Use their site to find what you're looking for, get a little reward every so often, and keep coming back to get more rewards. It's a benefit for everybody.

    You exchange the points for prizes once you've saved up enough, and the prizes are pretty good. Magazine subscriptions, gift cards to websites and restaurants, TV shows and songs to download through iTunes. There's a good variety of things, and you get to earn them by doing nothing more than you'd be doing when you search for something online anyway.

    It's not a bad search engine, either. Not as good as Google, I have to admit, seeing as how quite often you actually have to ignore the first few links that it brings up because they're nearly always sites that will try to sell you something, but if you know how to read it, it's a pretty decent system.

    They also have things like Megabucks fridays, where when you search for something on Fridays, you have chances of winning increased Swagbucks. It's not unheard of for a person to win 100 Swagbucks at a time. What does 100 Swagbucks mean, though? Well, it can mean $5 directly into your PayPal account, for one thing, with some points left over.

    It's also got a nifty referral bonus, too, where for everybody that signs up under your referral, Swagbucks matches the points that they earn, up to 100 points. So when somebody who signed up under my referral earns 5 Swagbucks, for example, so do I. And so does anybody that signs up under your referral.

    I've tried out a few "search and win" sites before, and some of them have been scams, or give tiny points values, or some other thing that makes it not worth it to stick around. But Swagbucks is actually one of the best I've seen, which is why I use it as often as I can. My trick is to search for things I already know. Need to look something up on Wikipedia? Just use Swagbucks to search for Wikipedia instead of typing in the URL yourself. You'll get there with just one extra click, and you've got the chance to win some points in the process. Sneaky, but effective.

    Sign up and give it a whirl. It may take a while before you get enough to exchange for something, but the fact that you can get it for free is a big bonus, in my book, and there are some pretty cool prizes to choose from in their catalogue.

    Thursday, February 4, 2010

    A wonderful surprise.

    I had a delightful surprise the other day with the delivery of a huge package in the mail. I couldn't for the life of me remember sending away for any freebies that large, and it took me a while to remember that yes, my part of a knitted shawl exchange had arrived.

    Inside was much more than a shawl, though. A scented candle, 6 skeins of yarn, a desk calendar, some cat toys, a pin, and a lovely card came along with the shawl, which I shall get pictures of as soon as I can. It's very long, and in variegated shades of purple wool. I just love it!

    I'm the kind of person who loves getting things in the mail. Letters, little free samples I've sent away for, all kinds. There's something thrilling about seeing an envelope addressed to me and wondering what's inside, or opening it up to see something you've been hoping would arrive soon. I love hearing that the mailman has just been by, and I go straight to our tiny little mailbox and see what's inside. More often than not, it's junk mail or bills, or something for Rachel, but it's fun all the same just to look and see.

    That's why I tell people that my favourite part of my birthday is getting cards. Often they forget, especially family, and opt to send an e-card, which I have to admit is an eco-conscious decision and I can't fault them for it. But I love opening cards and reading them, and I save each one. I don't know how many cards I have from years gone by now, but sometimes I'll look at them again, and instead of a flutter of excitement I feel a warm sense of love and appreciation. I was remembered by somebody, and here's the physical proof of it.

    Wednesday, February 3, 2010

    Good news!

    I have a job again!

    Granted, it's only a temporary job, but 3 weeks of working for $11 an hour will give me enough money to pay the rent this month, buy the medications I need, but a bus pass for next month, and still have a little money to pay toward my debt. That is, of course, assuming full-time hours of 40+ hours a week, but since I've been told the project has a 3 week deadline and they're seeking temp staff because they're a bit behind, I imagine that I'll get decent hours.

    I am so happy about this! Yesterday I received a call and found out that I didn't get a job I was hoping for, so finding this out today really softened that blow. The rent will be paid this month, and we won't have to tighten our belts further in order to do it!

    Definitely a good thing to get out of bed for this morning.

    And I'm going to keep my fingers crossed that by the time this contract ends, there'll be some other work soon after, so that I can pay March's rent too. But that's in the future. For now, I'm just going to be happy about starting work again on Monday, doing something I'll like to do, doing it close to home, and making good money once more.

    Monday, February 1, 2010

    Blogging and money

    I read yesterday that Emily of Under $1000 Per Month actually made over $1000 in January from ad referrals and the like. She made over her monthly budget by blogging.

    In reading through the comments that announcement made, it got me thinking about the ethics and philosophy behind making money by blogging.

    The way I see it, there are two real distinctions. There's blogging for money, and making money by blogging. I actually see them as two very different things.

    To me, blogging for money is blogging with the express purpose of making money. Sponsored product reviews, SEO optimized posts every time, only saying things that you know will get some financial gain, or partnering with companies and getting financial compensation for flogging their products.

    Making money by blogging I see more as a compensation for doing work. Although blogging is a hobby for the majority of bloggers, the upkeep of a blog, the advertising to get readership, maintaining a community in the comments, it all takes time and effort. And I don't see a problem in placing a few ads here and there to get a little compensation for that.

    Particularly when it comes to the blogs of writers, I've noticed that they seem to be the ones that mind making a little ad money the least. Why? Because in blogging, they're writing, and writing is their profession. It makes sense to me. They aren't writing to make money, but they are making money by writing.

    If that money happens to be the entirety of your income, then that just means you're one of the lucky ones, since that won't happen for everybody. I wish it would happen to me, to be honest. Having no outside job and no source of regular income would be made a lot easier by having some money come in from blogging, since I tend up update this blog on a regular basis. But that will take a lot of work. Not only will I have to keep updating regularly, I'll have to make interesting posts that people want to read. I'll have to advertise my blog on community sites. I'll have to comment a lot on other blogs so that people see my name and click back here and read through a few things. It's not like I just expect to sit back and watch the money roll in. I have to work for it.

    The fact that I enjoy working for it makes it all easier to do. I enjoy reading blogs, I enjoy writing blog posts.

    Making a little money from blogging is one of the ways I'd like to simplify my life. If truth be told, I'd much rather stay at home and work on making handmade items for sale or barter than go out 5 days a week and work for somebody else. If I can make a little trickle income by blogging about my experiences, then that just gets me one step closer to my dream.

    Making room for progress

    A local cafe has closed, and the Celtic shop beside it is relocating, I discovered last week during a walk uptown. Why? No particular reason. Oh, except for the fact that a new clothing store came along and said, "We want your spot in the mall." And the mall let them have it, in spite of having to uproot two stores, both local businesses.

    The House of Tara, the Celtic store, moved to that spot originally because it was in a better place for foot traffic than their first location. I don't much like the owner of the store, since she seems to have a frown for everybody who looks younger than 35, but I'm glad to at least see that she's relocating rather than closing down, because there's been a House of Tara in this city since I was a child.

    Holly's Cafe Soha, on the other hand, just rolled belly-up at the news and is closing down completely, isn't even trying to relocate. They were doing good business there in a good spot. Rumour has it that they were on top of their lease but evicted from the spot anyway, because the mall owners felt that the new clothing store could bring in better business.

    As I said to my roommate, this is the biggest problem with living in a "city on the grow." Big businesses come in and get rid of the smaller ones, the local ones that were loved as established for years. It's the price we all pay for progress.

    Assuming you define progress as a wider choice of clothes, that is. I know I don't. I get 90% of my clothes from thrift stores anyway. But even if I bought brand new, I think I'd still avoid this new store on principle. I don't like it when big companies evict smaller ones. It's like playground politics. "I like what you have, so gimme!"

    I was annoyed when the first Starbucks came to this city a few years back. Their first location? 50 feet from the local equivalent, Java Moose. Sure, it's great that people have another choice, but when the majority of sheeple see a bi famous brand versus a small local one, they're going to choose big and famous. Then another Starbucks came. Then another. We now have 4 in the city, 3 of them in less than a square mile, and the other uptown.

    I don't buy from Starbucks. I don't like their lack of commitment to fair trade (they advertise fair trade for only one of their coffee types, at least here, whereas Java Moose advertises that it's on board with fair trade for all of their coffees), and besides, Java Moose makes a much better chai! (And Starbucks doesn't do iced chai, either, which is one of my favourite drinks from Java Moose.) If I'm going to pay $4 for a chai, I'm going to give it to the company I support the most and who makes a better product!

    I buy local when I can. It prevents the world from being taken over by Starbucks and WalMart.

    Sunday, January 31, 2010

    Friday, January 29, 2010

    My first blog award!

    I found out over at Striving For a Simple Life that I've been given the Kreativ Blogger award! Huzzah! I'm right proud of this, given that On Top of the World is pretty new to the blogging scene, and it makes me happy to know that people are reading and enjoying the things I have to say.

    (Hopefully enjoying it different than my cat enjoys yowling in my ear, standing on my shoulder, and whacking me in the side of the head with his tail as I type this.)

    Part of this award involves me telling you all seven things you don't know about me. The hard part of this is trying to find things that I may not find cause to mention here otherwise! But here goes!

    1. My obsession with Laura Ingalls Wilder started when I was about 8 years old. Through all these years, the obsession hasn't waned, and I still consider her a hero and role model.

    2. I have Tourette Syndrome, and yes, that includes the occasional verbal tick. There's a reason my friends sometimes joke that I'm "barking mad."

    3. I can knit lace shawls but can't make a simple crochet stitch to save my life.

    4. I have a weakness for dill pickle popcorn seasoning, pink lemonade, and British chocolate. Not all at the same time, mind you.

    5. I love watching Japanese horror movies, though they often scare the crap out of me.

    6. I'm a terrible procrastinator. That's one of the reasons I got this blog. It's a lot easier to commit to doing something when I've already announced it and a bunch of people know about it.

    7. I rode a horse for the first time a few years ago. I had always wanted to go riding when I was a child, but my parents would never let me. I told them that it didn't look as hard as most people made it sound, and they told me that I didn't know what I was talking about. I'm happy to say that I rode pretty well the first time I did it, and that I was right. It wasn't as hard as most people make it sound. (Not for just a little trail ride, anyway. Show-jumping's another matter!)

    Now, the 76 people (I don't know enough bloggers, clearly) I have selected to receive this award are:

    Sam, of It's Me, Sam!
    Simple Mama, of Homemade Serenity
    Susy, of Chiot's Run
    Kathie, of Two Frog Home
    Canadian Saver, of Saving4Later
    The witch, of The Witch's Island

    More free entertainment!

    My mother and her roommate are moving this weekend, and did a little bit of destashing to avoid packing and transporting things they hadn't used in a while and likely wouldn't use again. I got to enjoy their clearing out a little bit, and I now have five new board games: Trivial Pursuit, Trivial Pursuit TV edition (from the very early 90s, and I'm lucky if I can answer one question every 10 cards), Battleship, a Lord of the Rings trivia game (this had never been used at all, as all of the question cards were still wrapped in plastic and the cardboard pieces hadn't been punched out), and one of the CSI board games.

    I enjoy board games more than a lot of people these days, the downside to which is that few people ever want to play them with me. But I'm fortunate to have a couple of friends (including my roommate) who enjoy a good board game every once in a while, so this is going to give us even more ways to enjoy our time together.

    Playing Trivial Pursuit is rather fun, since half the time if we don't know the answer we just give some sarcastic pat answer that doesn't make any sense in relation to the question. I try to have one sarcastic answer that I use all the time, which gets some really funny reactions sometimes.

    I'm really looking forward to playing the Lord of the Rings trivia game most of all, though, but it'll be a while before I do. All of the questions are in relation to the books, which I don't know quite as well as the movies, so I want to read the books once more (and make sure my friends have read them) before we play. This'll undoubtedly save a lot of annoyance on all sides.

    It really is great to get things like these games. I didn't spend any money getting them, have additional entertainment for when I'm bored, and in a way, helped my mother with moving, since she didn't have to pack these and cart them halfway across the city.

    On a similar note, this is also why I love Value Village. They often have a lot of board games and puzzles for low prices, usually $2-5. Puzzles are a real hit-or-miss thing there, since there's never any guarantee that all the pieces are in the box, but sometimes you can tell right away if all the pieces of a game are there, making it easier to choose which to buy. I stood in line behind a family once who bought 7-10 games and puzzles around Christmas last year, as gifts for family, and I know some people who go there to buy new games for when they go away on a camping vacation, to help keep the kids amused. It's amazing the amount of entertainment you can get practically for a song!

    Hmmm, now if only I could really sing for my games. That would be cheaper still!

    Thursday, January 28, 2010

    A little look at what you don't see

    Recently I talked a bit about my religion and belief structure. Now I'm going to bring something even more controversial to the table: I cover my head.

    Yup, it's not just reserved for the Judeo-Christian-Islamic faiths anymore.

    I belong to an online community of pagans who veil, and we all do it for different reasons. Some do it because it's easier than shampooing some days, to cover up dermatological issues, or for religious reasons. What a lot of people don't realise about pagans is that, much like with any other religion, you can't lump us all into the same category and expect us to be cookie-cutter pagans. Some of us dance skyclad under a full moon, and others of us cover our heads.

    Why do I do it? I do it because I feel called by my deities to do so. I feel that it's the right thing for me to do, as a sign of respect to the deities I pay respect to. I do it to remind me that there's something above, around, and beyond me. I do it to give myself a layer between me and the world, so that on days when I feel extremely shy and afraid of going outside, I can disconnect a little, reminded that I'm safe within the world I create and that my deities are watching out for me.

    It feels right. That's about the gist of it. And while some people think it's a little strange, I'm comfortable with it. I don't expect everyone else to do it. I don't do it as a sign of submission to anyone. (Even my deities know it's not a sign of submission, but rather a sign of respect and reminder.) I don't do it to be oppressed or oppressive.

    I'm bad at doing it all the time, but I'm getting better. And so to help me along the way, I think I'll post the occasional picture of myself, in various style coverings. It'll remind me more to do it, even on days when it feels like a little too much trouble to do it all properly.

    So without further ado, I present myself, with my head covered hijab-style.

    I find this stle comfortable and protective. Takes a little fiddling sometimes to get it right, more so than just typing a bandana on, but I find the effect is worth it, since I alsolike how it looks.

    Tuesday, January 26, 2010

    It's raining on top of the world

    And wouldn't you know it, I got caught in the downpour. Carrying 2 bags of groceries weighing about 10 lbs each, I ended up walking fifteen minutes in the pouring rain to get to the busstop, and fortunately the bus driver saw me attempting to run to catch up, since he was pulling away before he finally stopped to let me on.

    So as a reward for being cold, wet, and tired, I treated myself to a nice mug of hot chocolate at The Infusion, a local teahouse.

    I'm pretty proud of myself today where groceries are concerned. I went shopping at the local bulk store, in the hopes of saving a few bucks by focusing on buying the product rather than the packaging. 22 cents shy of $40 got me the following:

  • 5 pounds of sugar
  • About 7 pounds of 12-grain flour
  • A bag of trail mix
  • A bag of mint candies
  • A bag of dried sage
  • White navy beans
  • Vegetable fusilli
  • A jar of yeast
  • Granola

    The beans will likely last for 4 meals, 2 meals each for Rachel and I. Possibly more, depending on how much we eat. The vegetable fusilli will probably make about 3 meals: 1 meal each when added to chicken stock, and 1 meal for Rachel, since she loves pasta all on its own. The bread and yeast will do for quite a few bakings of bread. The granola's for breakfasts. The trail mix and mint candies are for snacking on. The sugar's for, well, tea and whatever else we happen to need sugar for. (My weakness is a mug of hot sweet tea!)

    $40, for another week's worth of meals, or there about.

    Of course, this is assuming we eat nothing but bread, pasta, and beans for the week. This stuff is all going to be pieced out with the food we still have in, like the ham and eggs and turkey and potatoes and pork and cabbage and everything else still in the fridge and cupboards. I'll probably be heading out again tomorrow with another $10 to buy milk and apples and cheese, too.

    It may seem like I'm spending a lot of money on groceries. But consider that our monthly grocery bill used to be about $300. I'm whittling it down to about $40-$50 a week now, cutting out the junk and cooking large batches of things instead of eating microwave frozen dinners and cans of spaghetti as much as we used to.

    Oh, and I won't even go into how much we're cutting back on the junk food! I'd say about 1/4 of the grocery budget used to go to snacks of a more junk foody nature. Now our big sin is trail mix and some mint candies. Beats the heck out of chips and chocolate bars!

    Really, cooking more and controlling more of what goes into my body has done wonders for me, and I haven't even been doing it that long. I enjoy getting in the kitchen and making food now. I enjoy the work behind it, I enjoy the satisfaction of eating something I worked hard to make, and I enjoy knowing that there's nothing going into me that I didn't make a point of putting into me, instead of all the sneaky chemicals that come along with a lot of pre-packaged food from the grocery store.

    Tomorrow, when the ham and potato soup has run out, I think I'll make that quiche before the eggs go bad, and then boil up the leftover eggs so we have some hardboiled eggs for snacks. The turkey soup, turkey sausage, beans, and pasta can wait until the perishable food's been used up more.

    I might also be brave and attempt another batch of bread. The last loaf I made made me ill, but I think that's probably because the yeast was past its best. Serves me right for not checking, really, but this time, I've got fresher yeast and understand dough a little better, so hopefully it'll turn out tasty.
  • Monday, January 25, 2010

    Potato and ham soup

    There's something freeing about only loosely following a recipe when you're in the kitchen. Yesterday, I did just that. I made a huge pot of potato and ham soup, mostly made by experimentation rather than strictly following any one recipe, and happily it worked out rather well. It needs a few adjustments if I ever make a batch again, like smaller chunks of ham, creamier milk, and perhaps a bit more salt, but over all, I enjoy what it turned into.

    The ingredients are wonderfully simple, too. It's 3 parts milk to 2 parts water, then you add in chopped and cubed pieces of ham (remember to cut off the rind if it's there), a small amount of finely chopped onion, 3 tablespoon of flour to help thicken the mix, then some salt and pepper to taste. Then just wait for it all to cook, and voila, you've got a nice batch of soup.

    Or chowder, technically, since it's made with milk, but since I always think of chowder as being much thicker and more packed full of various ingredients, what I made last night is still soup to me.

    I learned a few things in the process, too. Like remembering to always be on hand to stir the soup when you're making it with milk, because if you don't it can and will foam over, or get a skin.

    No word on how long this soup will keep, as I only made it last night. All I can tell you is that it's still fine this morning, but for all I know that will change by nightfall. I sure hope not, though.

    We're supposed to get a lot of rainfall today and tonight, which means that in all likelyhiid the snow will melt and then all the water will freeze over to make the streets into skating rinks. Fortunately, there isn't anything I particularly need to leave the apartment for today, and possibly tomorrow too, so I'm content to stay comfortable inside while all this happens. I've got plenty of food and drink, and am not likely to run out of essentials suddenly before the horrible weather passes.

    I knocked on wood as soon as I finished typing that, just to be safe.

    Take care, wherever you are, and stay warm and dry!

    Sunday, January 24, 2010

    What I am, and what that means.

    When I first decided to start a simple living blog, I have to admit that even that was a daunting task. Not in the thought of upkeep or content or the like, but because of how dissimilar, in a lot of ways, I am from the majority of other simple living bloggers.

    Most of the blogs I read that espoused a simple and frugal life had two threads that ran through them. They were written by Christians, and they were written by mothers.

    Being neither of those things, I wondered if reaching out for a community was a pointless venture. I don't much care for children (personal issues where that's concerned, and it isn't that I hate them so much as I don't have the patience for them, nor do I understand them) and I have, to be frank, had some bad experiences with people who are vocally Christian. Even the ones that didn't tell me I'm going to hell spent hours trying to convert me rather than accepting me for who I was.

    I am pagan, at the heart of it all. And I tend to live by a simple rule where religion is concerned. "Don't try to force your religion on me and I won't try to force mine on you."

    I call myself a Quakerversalist Pagantarian, which I find fits rather well. The message of silence and simplicity in Quaker beliefs appeals to me, and I was thrilled when I learned that one could be both a Quaker and a pagan, since the Divine speaks to people in many ways. I know in the nod to Universalist Unitarians since they have a nearby church that I enjoy going to when I can get there.

    Why am I coming right out and saying this, instead of just hinting at it or acting like everybody knows in the first place? Because in avoiding saying it right out, I was making things more complicated on myself (the antithesis of simplicity, after all), and I was also acting as though I'm ashamed of my faith. I'm not. My faith gives me strength the way the faith of others gives them strength, and there's no shame in that.

    As for myself, I'm confident enough in my own faith that I don't feel threatened by other people talking about their faiths. I enjoy reading about the relationships that people have with their deity of choice. Often their lessons are lessons I could stand to learn. Maybe some of my lessons are lessons somebody else could stand to learn.

    But no more hiding. No more veiled hints. No more sneakiness and avoidance. I am what I am.

    Friday, January 22, 2010

    When bad bosses get worse.

    My roommate, Rachel, has health problems, ones that are not competely cured by having a regular schedule, but the predictability of a regular schedule means she can more easily handle flare-ups and be better able to take care of herself.

    So in the grand tradition of lousy workplaces, her bosses refuse to give her a regular schedule. She has asked them repeatedly. She has givn them doctor's notes that recommend she have a regular schedule. And they keep blowing her off, either ignoring her or outright lying to her. They said at one point they might be able to reach a compromise by making her schedule a little more regular but not completely so, and then they didn't, instead making it more irregular. They said that there was no way, after Christmas, they'd have enough hours to give her a regular schedule and that there wouldn't be enough part-time hours available for people to cover her old shifts if she switched her shifts.

    So far, the part-time hours have equalled the full-time hours since the beginning of January.

    (I should explain at this point that part-time and full-time where she works don't actually correspond to how many hours you get. Full-time people get some insurence benefit and a guarantee of at least 28 hours a week. Part-time people get no benefits and no guarantee, but when the hours are available, still will work 40+ hours in a week anyway.)

    As if this weren't bad enough, her bosses are now saying that all full-time staff must work one Sunday per month, and they "don't care about [their] reasons" for not being able to do so. Yes, that quote comes from one of the higher-ups in the store, who didn't take employees aside to tell them this but instead told them right on the floor, where they couldn't speak out against it because customers may overhear.

    Now even aside from religious views, aside from the fact that the bus service in this city is lousy on Sundays, there is the law to prevent them from doing this. We've looked it up. In this province, an employee has to give their employer at least two weeks notice, written or verbal, about not working any given Sunday. And yes, saying, "I'm not working any more Sundays after two weeks from now" is valid. The workplace must comply.

    Her work place (less-than-affectionately nicknamed "Hellers") is refusing to comply.

    Most employees there know the law to some extent, but are still afraid for their jobs if they refuse to work that day. They know that technically they can't be fired or punished or discriminated against for refusing to work, but most of them insist that they'll just be fired for other reasons, even stupid ones. Even though wrongful dismissal is something they could sue the company for, they don't want the hassle, or are still too afraid for their jobs to do anything about their rights.

    Not Rachel. Rachel has called the Labour Board to file a complaint against them, not just for trying to force them to work Sundays but also for ignoring health problems that she has repeatedly told them the consequences of. Where that's concerned, the law states that they have to accommodate her within reason, and it's not unreasonable for her to work all morning shifts throughout the week, or all evening shifts, rather than working a morning one day, night the next, morning after that, and so on, but with no preditability.

    Since my own employment problems started last year, where I got laid off with no notice and was refused both severence pay and pay for the time I'd worked (still waiting for that, by the way), I've learned a lot about the labour laws of this country and this province, and it's astounding to see what employers will try to get away with, banking on people not knowing their rights under the law.

    I can't call myself a crusader for the little guy, but I'm tired of myself and others putting up with crap from employers because they either don't know their rights or are too scared for their jobs to fight for them. So I beg you, if you work for somebody else, learn the labour laws that apply to you, don't let your bosses try to screw you over, and remember that you can't be punished for reporting them for doing something illegal. The reason bad employers do this is because other people let them get away with it. If you're mugged, the police can't do anything to help you unless you file a report. The same principle applies here.

    Fight for your rights, or else you may as well not have any.

    Thursday, January 21, 2010

    21 things to do that don't cost money

    A lot of people love to claim that entertainment these days is expensive and that it's nigh impossible to have a good time without spending a lot of money. They're right, so long as your idea of a good time involves going to concerts and seeing a new movie in theatres with your family every weekend.

    But there are a lot of free ways to entertain yourself these days, even ones that are fun for the whole family. The shame is that so many people overlook them.

    So here's a list of ways to keep yourself entertained that don't cost you a penny. (Some of them may require Internet access, but I assume if you're reading this blog, you already have that.)

    1) Visit your local library - If your local library's anything like mine, not only will you have access to a lot of books to keep you entertained, but also video tapes, DVDs, and music CDs. If your library doesn't have what you're looking for, ask about inter-library loans. Plenty of libraries have book clubs, too, which can add a community experience to the event.

    2) Take a walk - Either alone or with friends and family, going for a walk is a great way to pass the time and get exercise in. If you have small children, consider a nature hike. Challenge yourself or your friends to see how far you can walk in a day before you're too tired out to keep going.

    3) Learn a new language - There are a ton of websites that offer introductory language lessons for free. I can't say you'll become proficient using only online tools, but you can certainly get a good feel for the basics of grammar, pronunciation, and vocabulary for a lot of world languages, and even some fully-functional made-up languages.

    4) Read or watch TV online - I already made posts about free online books and TV channels in Canada.

    5) Listen to podcasts - Podcasts these days can range from general observations on just about any subject you're interested in, to full audiobooks written and read by up-and-coming authors. I myself have a backlog of over 500 hours of podcasts to listen to, and I didn't spend a cent on any of them.

    6) Start a blog - Or join message boards. If there's one thing I've learned, it's that everybody has something to say, and there are always people out there willing to listen to your opinion. Take advantage of that. Write, and build a community around yourself.

    7) Browse your local Freecycle listing or Craigslist for free hobby supplies. - Books, yarn, cloth, furniture, there's always somebody giving it away for free, and there's no reason you should spend money when you can recycle and reuse and get the same benefits. More benefits, even, because you're taking part in both helping somebody declutter and saving usable things from landfills.

    8) Volunteer - If you're so inclined, join a volunteer group in your area. Spend time with underprivileged kids, teach an adult to read, serve food to the homeless, or any number of things.

    9) Play games - From board games in the closet to free online games, this sort of thing can keep you busy for hours! I speak from experience.

    10) Go Dumpster-Diving - Your Mileage May Vary on this one, but I hear that Dumpster Diving is very entertaining and even profitable. Plenty of stores and companies just throw things away even when they're still perfectly good. From fabrics in no-longer-popular colours to canned food that the grocery store has decided to stop carrying, if you go with an open mind and a pair of rubber gloves, you can come away with plenty to keep you busy or fed for weeks! (A movie store I used to work at would rip the covers from unsold game guides and movie books and just throw them away. I can't count how many free game guides I got this way. Movie theatres will put the night's leftover popcorn into a single bag, nothing else in it, and throw it out though it's still perfectly edible. They can't sell it, often can't donate it, so they trash it. And their loss can be your gain.)

    11) Be a local tourist - Cities often give tourist info away for free, and you'd be amazed at what you don't know about your hometown that tourists do because you've never taken the time to explore. Act like a tourist, look around, and I bet you'll learn things that you didn't even know you didn't know!

    12) Learn a new skill - Instructional diagrams and videos are all over the Internet these days, so why not think of a skill you don't have that you want to learn, and go learn it. Juggling, quilting, knitting, bookbinding, any number of things! You can often learn the basics in only a few hours, and practice take care of the rest.

    13) Alphabetize your books - It may not sound exciting, but it takes up some time, and you may come across books that you'd forgotten you even had.

    14) Organize a neighbourhood yard sale - Not only will you get rid of stuff you no longer need, but you'll also get a little bit of cash for it, and have a chance to meet and greet your neighbours.

    15) Get involved in a barter community - Just because you're not spending any money doesn't mean you can't get something new. If you have a local barter group, or can find one online, why not barter your skills or homemade stuff for something that somebody else has or does. It doesn't cost you anything (assuming you've got the materials on hand to trade, that is), and you get something new in return.

    16) Make your own recycled paper - It's easier than it sounds. Take non-glossy flyers that plague just about everybody, rip 'em up, put 'em in a pot with some water, then wait until they're a soggy mess. Layer that mess on something that the water can drip through (old window screen work perfectly for this) and when it's dry, voila! Your own coloured recycled paper!

    17) Read back entries of blogs - I love starting from the beginning when it comes to blogs, because I get to see how people started and go along with them until I get to today. I can learn skills that they wrote about once but may not reference often, or find link to other fascinating blogs and bloggers that they may no longer be in contact with for whatever reason. And if nothing else, if the blog is interesting, then I just enjoy reading it for the sake of reading it.

    18) Clean up - Not the most exciting task in the world, but it does take up your time, doesn't cost you anything, and is beneficial in the long run. I myself ought to pay closer attention to this suggestion sometimes...

    19) Take a bubble bath - Yes, men, even you! Bubble baths can be wonderfully relaxing things, good for destressing, and just taking a little bit of personal time to ignore the world and find your focus again.

    20) Improve your cooking - See what delicious things you can make using the ingredients you already have in the house. Get a little creative and experiment with new flavours, look up recipes online or in recipe books, and try something new. It can be a lot of fun.

    21) Go to gallery exhibits - Some art galleries and museums will have open-to-the-public exhibits, so check them out when you have the chance. You'll have the chance to meet people with similar tastes, and perhaps even meet the artists themselves! And you'll get to spend a great afternoon surrounded by culture.

    Of course, this is by no means an exhaustive list, and additional ideas can be found all over the place online. But it's a good start to filling your days with interesting and exciting events when you're really low on cash, and given the economy these days, finding free entertainment is getting to be high on a lot of priority lists.

    (As a little aside, too, Sudsmuffin is having their anniversary contest, so drop by their blog and enter for the chance to win some free stuff to pamper yourself with.)

    Wednesday, January 20, 2010

    Fluffy flakes are falling

    It's tough living on top of the world. Especially when the snow comes down in thick clumps and makes it hard to see or walk outside.

    Of course, this would happen on the day I have a job interview. It couldn't be a mild temperature and a little slushy or something. No, it had to be lots of snow.

    This city and the currounding area is currently under a snowfall warning, and around 15 centimetres are expected by nightfall. Looks like today is a very good day to stay inside with hot drinks and good homemade food.

    Shame I was planning on going out to a knitting meetup tonight, though. But oh well, I think I'd rather be inside where it's safe and warm. Though I won't get to share in the comeraderie of fellow crafters, it's not like I can't knit from my chair in the living room, and I won't have to worry about waiting for the bus and slipping on icy snowy streets.

    I think it might be time for a nap soon, though. I did sleep well last night (nightmares aren't conducive to restful sleep), and I could use a little extra.

    Tuesday, January 19, 2010

    Florida's colder, so global warming is a conspiracy theory.

    If you smacked your forehead with your hand when reading this post title, then raise that hand.

    Hmm. I see a lot of raised hands out there.

    I don't actually believe that, mind you. But I recently got into a discussion on a message board about whether global warming was real and worrisome or just a load of hogwash. Though a lot of people voted in that thread's poll that global warming was a problem, most of the people who posted a reply message seemed to give opinions like that. Below average temperatures in their area this year clearly meant that global warming was just a big lie.

    (Good to know that global warming and climate change aren't a problem. I guess the fact that in August we saw temperatures near the freezing mark is just something I forgot happening every other year. No climate change here, folks, move along.)

    Someone heard from a friend of a friend who saw it on TV that some emails from "scientists" were leaked, and it turns out that they're worried because they can't prove global warming and their funding might be cut because of it.

    ("Scientists". I love that. Because physicists and climatologists are exactly the same, have the same career interests, and the same knowledge about the same subjects.)

    Plenty of people claim that because the earth goes through cycles and that both hotter and colder temperatures have been the norm for the world in the past, that this really is just all natural and not a problem at all. It's just part of the cycle.

    (Never mind that it's happening faster than it ought to, coincides with a lot of other problems that humans have caused, and is partly occuring because of man-made pollutants and interferences. It may have come about naturally eventually, but not so quickly and not because the planet always needs an atmospheric toupee.)

    I see people saying that sure, it's probably a problem, but it's not going to make that much difference in their lifetime, so why should they bother making sacrifices in their lives anyway?

    (Good to know that they care so very much about everyone who has to live on this planet after them, and that they're perfectly happy to leave their messes for somebody else to clean up. Didn't we get taught to clean up our own messes in elementary school?)

    Sometimes I want to scream at these people that if they'd just open their eyes and look beyond their own tiny portions of the world then they'd see there's a problem. I want to shout at them that global warming doesn't mean that every single place in the world gets above-average temperatures, and that atmospheric heating can, in fact, lead to colder temperatures because of air currents and evaporation. I want to beat them about the head until they understand that we need to do something other than sit around and talk about whether or not it's all a big conspiracy theory.

    Which makes this post somewhat ironic, in retrospect, but I'm making it anyway.

    I admit that I don't do as much as I can, and I admit that the actions of one lone person are probably going to mean jack in the grand scheme of things. But I'm trying more and more each day, and I also know that I'm not alone. There are thousands of others out there like me, trying to do their little bit to reducing the carbon footprint and to living sustainably and without so much excess, and little by little, the effects add up. We likely won't see the planetary effects we're having in our lifetime, but by damn, we're trying, and that's more than some people can claim.

    And you know, even if we're all wrong and the world's doing just fine despite us, I won't be ashamed to tell people that I'm living a better life. I waste less, I do more, and I'm happy for it. How, I ask you, is that worse than they people who waste more and do less and are only happy when they can prove they have more than their neighbours?

    My lifestyle isn't for everyone. But this planet is. And isn't it about time we started taking better care of it?

    Monday, January 18, 2010

    Piecing it together.

    I'm a big fan of Piecework Magazine, done by Interweave, and today I was pleasantly surprised by the delivery of a few back issues that I had ordered with some of my holiday gift money. It may see a strange thing to talk about on a simple living blog: magazine subscriptions regarding historical textiles. But to me, Piecework is a good magazine to have around when you want to do some needlework and yet want a reminder of the simplicity of times gone by.

    Piecework's historical patterns are a treat to see, and a lot of the articles in the magazine include cultural and historical information that often make it pretty clear that the majority of needlecrafters didn't have a lot of money or resources, no matter which country they lived in. They used what they could, used it frugally and wisely, and made stunning heirloom pieces, some of which survive today. If you're amazed at a pair of jeans lasting you a decade before you consign them to the scrap pile, imagine a lace shawl, knit or crocheted or tatted out of something as fine as sewing thread, lasting a hundred years or more.

    This sort of things reminds me that although making something fancy like that is arguably "not simple", it is a good way to remind myself to slow down, to take my time, to do it right the first time so that it's all done properly and will last as long as I need or want it to.

    When I knit or sew or embroider, sometimes I'm struck by the amazing complexity and simplicity of it all. One tiny stitch, the same as a dozen, a hundred, a thousand others, insignificant on its own, but perfectly made just the same, and when put together with all those other insiginificant and perfect stitches, comes together to make something beautiful and meaningful and worthwhile. It's like the world, I sometimes reflect. Each person is perfect in their own right, insignificant on their own, and part of something wonderful when put together with others. What one cannot do at all, many can do easily.

    A lot of people think of needlework as a sort of spiritual craft, and in some ways, I can't deny it. It's like playing Fibre God. You form all these little things out of next to nothing, and when you're done, you've got so much more than you started out with even though it's all still made of the same stuff. There are challenges and failures and successes, but overall it's all just a part of the process, and you learn and you improve and you've got something to be proud of and to make you proud.

    And it's a connection, to all the hundreds of thousands of women and men who did it all before you, who started off and paved the way for you, made mistakes so that you don't have to, learned corrections so that you don't have to muddle your way through in the dark, and who made a beginning so that you can experiment and make the future. It's history, built one stitch at a time and wrapping the whole world together.

    I don't often think of it quite like this unless I'm waxing poetic, but I don't feel any lie in my words when I write them. This is how it is to me, and this is how to is to others, how it was, and how it will still be long after I'm dead, so long as handmade textiles live on. Even if they live on as hobbies instead of careers, they still live, and it's another stitch in the fabric, another knot and bind to the past and the inevitable future.

    It's humbling to think like this, and even though the sky outside is grey and threatening to bring snow and wind tonight, and I have work to do that I don't want to do, and I'm still unemployed and without much money, I want to thank the world and history and deities of all kinds of giving me this chance to be a simple insignificant stitch, to reach other and hold and support other stitches, and to be a part of the fabric.

    Sunday, January 17, 2010

    So, Silent Sundays?

    A local artist is having a giveaway for some of her greeting card designs. The contest is open until tomorrow night, so check it out while you can. Her art is really awesome, and I'm a proud supporter of pimping out local artists.

    She inspired me to pick up my pencil and art pad again and to start drawing once more. No reason why I shouldn't, I suppose. I find drawing relaxing and challenging at the same time, and I like trying to find another talent niche.

    Today, I suspect, is going to be a nice quiet day around the apartment. I'm not one to take Sunday specifically as a day of rest, but it is a convenient day for it.

    I'm thinking of starting a bit of a theme here On Top of the World, in the form of Silent Sundays. On Sunday, if I post I post only a picture of something meaningful and relevent to me. It sounds silly, but I think that by doing that I might be able to better keep my thoughts on what really matters in life, instead of the pointless little fleeting things. The fleeting things make up the moment, certainly, but in ten years from now, then fleeting things and the little moments may not matter at all anymore.

    But it will be interesting to look back and see what I considered important, whether I still consider them important, and whether or not it's for the same reasons.

    Now, the trick is to find my camera before I commit to this idea...

    Saturday, January 16, 2010

    Trickle income and barter

    A friend of mine turned me onto this concept, that of trickle income, and I've been looking for ways to achieve it ever since I first heard about it. I can't help but wonder if perhaps the time has finally come where I can start really getting the first few trickles.

    Trickle income, in a nutshell, is when a person has many small flows of financial income rather than one large one. Instead of having a full-time work-for-somebody-else job, maybe this person makes money by selling crafts, doing a little web design, writing articles, and browing second-hand stores for stuff to resell on Ebay. Lots of little flows instead of one big one.

    The past few days have made me see that perhaps it really is possible for me to have the same thing going in my life. It may take years to set up in a stable way, but it's possible, not just some silly pipe dream concocted by advocates of laziness who should just go out and get a "real job".

    I'd have a real job. A lot of little real jobs.

    The thought of knitting and teaching classes to bring in a little bit of money appeals to me. So does the idea of continuing to write little things for HubPages, to get my AdSense earnings up, and perhaps writing for actual magazines or books someday. Reviewing books doesn't bring in much money (the site I use for my book review blog doesn't do ads), but by being an Amazon Affiliate, I can still earn money. Same thing with Swagbucks.

    It's not much, but it's a start. And I really do think my life is reaching a point where doing this is going to be possible.

    I'll still need a regular job for a good while yet, to give me support while I get up lots of little tributaries into my income river, so to speak. It can't happen overnight, and I don't expect it to. But it can happen, and that's an uplifting thought.

    One way that I think gets left out of "trickle income" plans is bartering, too, or exchanging goods and services for different goods and services rather than money. By working for half an hour at Sudsmuffin the other day, I ended up coming away with a free bar of soap. This means that I can go even longer before needing to buy more soap, which saves me a little extra money. I'm not opposed to exchanging things for other things. In fact, if it wasn't for having to pay the rent in money instead of yarn, I'd prefer doing a lot more barter for my services, and wouldn't give much thought at all to things like AdSense revenue or the like.

    For Yule gifts this past year, I traded some embroidered bookmarks for some personalized calligraphy for Rachel. Barter gives me access to things I might not otherwise get, and lets me do it by exchanging my skills for theirs instead of having to spend money that I may or may not have. Money isn't easy to come by for me lately. But I have a lot of craft supplies that can be turned into any number of things for trade!

    I'm excited about this, and just thinking about it makes me optimistic. What about you? Do you have any sources of trickle income? Do you ever want to develop enough trickles so that you have a river?

    Friday, January 15, 2010

    Making connections

    I planned to meet my mother for lunch today, but had a bit of time to kill uptown before she got out of work for her lunch break. On a whim, I decided to check out the new yarn store in City Market, Cottage Crafts. Their home base is in St. Andrews, but they've opened up a new branch here, and I had to see what they had in stock, even if I couldn't afford anything.

    I left there with a free skein of yarn and the owner's contact information. She gave me the yarn to knit mittens for the store, which she will also pay me for doing. She sells mittens so quickly that they're nearly always in need of them, so I'll likely have that to bring money in on the side for a little while.

    She took my phone number and said she'd consider me for a job there if any of her current new-hires don't work out.

    She seemed very interested in the fact that I recycle old sweaters for new yarn.

    She asked if I'd be interested in teaching classes, and seemed even more interested when I said that I knit lace.

    On a complete whim, I made a friend and a business contact today, and potentially have my name in for a new job. Even if I don't work there permanently, if all I do is knit samples and teach classes, it'll bring in some money on the side, and right now that's a wonderful thought.

    I came home to find a message on my phone saying that a 4-6 week temporary work position might be available for me, too. And a package containing a new book to review, which I shall start reading as soon as I'm finished my current novel-in-progress.

    Today has been a wonderful day, and it's only half over. I expect a delicious supper tonight, followed by an evening of knitting mittens and watching Rachel play video games. And really, I couldn't ask for more.

    Thursday, January 14, 2010

    Helping a friend.

    I saw on Facebook today that a friend of mine was looking for somebody to watch his store while he ran out to do a few errands. Not having anything else to do today, I dropped by and kept watch while he was out. He runs a handmade soap store, and I have to say that the place smelled delicious!

    In thanks, he gave me a free bar of soap, which I appreciate very much. It's Buzz & Munch, a goat's milk soap with organic honey and oatmeal. It's unscented, but still technically smells like oatmeal and honey. Kind of like cookies, really. I'm looking forward to trying it out.

    I also met somebody who's going to try to organize a renaissance faire in this city next year. I've wanted to go to one for a while, but they never come any closer than two provinces away, or down in the States. I offered to help out where I could.

    It felt good doing this today. I got to help a friend and make a friend, and when Ivan tried to give me the soap, I at first refused. I didn't help him for a reward. I helped him because he needed help, I wasn't doing anything, and because he was a friend. But as he insisted, it would have been rude to refuse further, and I am very appreciative of what he gave me.

    I hope to help him out again in the future. Just being in his store makes me feel good inside!

    (And for the curious, I have used his products in the past, and they smell good and work well. If you're interested in anything from his Etsy shop, it definitely gets my approval, and you'll be helping out a small local company that makes great stuff.)

    Wednesday, January 13, 2010

    Contests ahoy!

    Zach Ahoy is holding a contest at the moment for a free product from Scratch & Sol. Not a contest I can enter, since it's for a children's item and I have no children (unless my cats count), but I figured I'd pass along the good word.

    Homemade Serenity is also hosting a contest draw for a set of handfelted wool hearts and a paper lantern. I adore those lanterns!

    I've thought about using this blog to host a content or a draw or two, but at the moment, it just isn't feasible. For starters, I haven't exactly shown off any crafts that I make to pique any interest. Secondly, this blog is too new and has too low a readership at the moment to really make it fair. It might be a contest between all of two people!

    Also, I have nothing in the way of spare cash right now to cover shipping charges.

    But maybe in a month or two, when this place has more content, crafty pictures, and a higher readership. Maybe then I can do a draw for a set of embroidered bookmarks or something like that.

    Speaking of crafts, though, I really should get a move on with a shawl that I'm supposed to be knitting for somebody. I joined a shawl trade a while back on Ravelry, and it isn't finished yet. I still have over a month to finish it, but there's no time like the present, after all!

    Tuesday, January 12, 2010

    Free online TV in Canada.

    So I promised a post earlier last week about free online TV for Canadians. Most of the free online TV channels that gets mentioned a lot are, sadly, for Americans only, which means that even though Canada gets American stations, we can't watch them for free online.

    I can see some degree of sense in that. After all, most of the free channels a person can get are local anyway, and another country's stations don't count as local. We'd pay to get access to them. So I can see why official sites and the like wouldn't give free online TV to Canada.

    But there are plenty of unofficial sites that host TV shows that don't have a TV station that one would pay for anyway, and yet will only broadcast if it detects that you have an American IP address. Meaning that great sites like Hulu are out if you happen to live in the frigid north.

    We do have our options, though, limited though they may be. And I'm not just talking about sites like YouTube or GoogleVideo or other such sites. They're great, and I use them all the time, but for those concerned about doing things the legal way, the TV shows you watch on those sites are often uploaded illegally, without copyright holder consent. It's a risk you have to take when watching shows on sites like that.

    (For those that don't mind dubious legality, though, you can always use SurfTheChannel to find TV shows, movies, documentaries, and so on, that have been uploaded to free video sites.)

    But as for the legal stuff...

    Global has videos for a lot of the most recent primetime shows. Downside is that if you happen to be interested in a show but haven't seen it from the beginning, you're out of luck, since they don't keep man back episodes on hand to watch.

    The Comedy Network is great... if you're into comedy and/or watch every single episode of South Park. (For some shows, you'll have to install SilverLight, a new Microsoft media product. It's not harmful or annoying in itself, but I hate having to download programs that I'll only use to watch one of two things on one site.)

    CTV isn't bad, but it's much like Global in that you'd better only want the most recent episodes, or at best the most recent season.

    The Discovery Channel seems to, thankfully, have a few more options for back episodes, and is great if your tastes tend towards educational as well as entertaining. Even if you can't access entire back seasons, though, you're not likely to start watching halfway through a story arc of some kind, which makes this a bit more tolerable than on other stations.

    Really, aside from news channels, that pretty much cover the big-name stations that give us some online show access. But still, considering it's free and actually accessible in Canada, I can't complain too much. I don't watch much TV as it is, but it's nice to know that if the mood takes me, I can watch a little without paying extra for it, even if my choices are limited if I don't want to come into something halfway through Season 4.