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.

    Monday, January 11, 2010

    Baby steps.

    Even in Japan, it seems that small-scale farming is taking off. Which makes me think that any exceuses I had for not doing it in the past, like not having much room or not having a lot of time, really don't mean much.

    Now I'll grant you, it didn't take finding this article to make the decision to do some small-scale gardening. It really just cemented the idea in my mind.

    For a while now, I've been a strong advocate of the "baby steps" way of doing things. Doing too much at one time didn't get me anywhere, and left me discouraged when I realized that it didn't get me anywhere.

    But then I started thinking of doing things in baby steps, habit-building tiny changes that add up over time, and I've found more success in such projects.

    Like knitting. Just because I couldn't knit a huge lace shawl in a week didn't mean that knitting a single pattern repeat a day wouldn't show progress, and wouldn't take much time out of my day.

    I couldn't lose weight for a long time, no matter how hard I tried. Then I started doing tiny little things like stretches twice a day and drinking a little more water, changes so small that they didn't feel like they could possibly be doing anything to help me, and suddenly I lost ten pounds in only two month. Strict diets hadn't worked. Trying to go to the gym three times a week hadn't gotten me anywhere. They were large gestures that become a chore rather than an enjoyment, and I stopped them quickly.

    Baby steps work. So just because I don't have an acre to plant a field of corn doesn't mean I can start off by filling a tote bin with soil and trying to grow a few carrots. They may only provide a meal or two worth of food, but it's a start, and every little bit will count.

    And if a bunch of pressed-for-time inner-city Japanese business men can take a little time to tend a tiny g=vegetable garden, then so can I.

    Sunday, January 10, 2010

    A good deal or a waste?

    While getting groceries yesterday, I was struck with a dilema in the produce section. I needed to pick up an onion. A single onion would do, really, since I only planned to use it for one meal and don't use onions that much to start with.

    Spanish onions were $1.29 per pound, and getting only one of them cost me a grand total of $0.17. But yellow onions were selling at $1 for 3 pounds.

    I was tempted to get the 3 pound bag of onions and just find ways to use them. I mainly wanted one to add some flavour to soup, and since I'm not a big onion fan anyway, adding more than just a little would probably spoil the soup for me. But I could probably add little bits of onion to other recipes. I'm planning on making a quiche next week, and I'm sure some little bits of onion could go in that. Normally Rachel pan fries potatoes with French onion soup mix, but fresh onions might be better, and it would be another way to help use up some potatoes.

    And onion skins make a really good dye for wool yarn!

    But did I really want that many onions around, especially when I didn't plan on using many. They could probably last for a long time in the fridge, I was sure, and 3 pounds of onions for only $1 was a good deal...

    I hemmed and hawed over it for a while, but eventually decided against getting the bag, even though it was a much better deal. I only needed one small onion, after all, and although I was sure I could find uses for the rest of them, I couldn't guarantee it to myself. Likely some of them would end up being wasted and thrown out, so that would be wasted money as well as wasted food. Better to just buy the one onion when I need it and know I'll use it.

    It taught me that sometimes what seems like a good deal actually isn't. It all depends on what use you'll get out of what you buy. The yellow onions were cheaper per weight, but when I didn't need that many and probably would use them all up before they started to go bad, it didn't seem like quite as good an investment. I got less, at a higher unit price, but at least I know I'm going to use what I bought and not waste any of it.

    That, to my mind, is a better bargain.

    Saturday, January 9, 2010

    Reading on top of the world.

    Okay, so I lied. Today's post isn't going to be about free online TV for Canadians. Rather, it's inspired by a comment I made on somebody else's blog, and relates back to yesterday's entry about books and reading.

    I've been an avid reader right from childhood. It was rare to find me with my nose out of a book. Books took me away from the problems in my life, and let me deal with emotional problems in my own time. Books probably kept me sane during difficult periods.

    But that wasn't how I started being a bookworm. Truth to tell, I don't know how it all started. But I don't ever remember disliking reading. I barely remember not being able to read very much, when I was little.

    It's a shame I had the bad luck to live in a city with the lowest literacy rate in the province, and possibly the whole country.

    And the highest teen pregnancy rate. I'm too jaded to think that there's no connection there.

    But for a while, things weren't too bad. There were about 5 second-hand book stores within walking distance of my high school, and that's where most of my allowance went. When I got a job and started working for pay, that's where a fair portion of my paycheques went, too.

    But those stores didn't last very long. They rarely did. There just wasn't much of a market for books, unfortunately. The only people I ever saw who were my age in those stores were a few close bookworm friends, and I rarely saw adults there either.

    So inevitably, the bookstores closed. Now there are two second-hand book stores in the uptown area, to the best of my knowledge: one that makes more money from the sales of comics and magazines, and the other that's also a coin collector's shop and semi-antique store.

    I once signed a petition to bring an Indigo Books or Chapters to this city. For a long time, the parent company declined. We had 3 Coles Bookstores in this city, and that should suffice, they said. Those stores were small enough as it was, but their sales weren't high enough to warrant bringing in a larger store.

    We have an Indigo now, after a lot of economic and business development on the east side. But I think that Starbucks coming to this city was more of a deciding factor in bringing an Indigo here than our reading rate was. (Yes, we've only had a Starbucks in this city for a couple of years now. For being one of the oldest cities in Canada, we don't have much to say for ourselves most of the time.)

    (I should mention that I don't much like Starbucks, and will instead buy from a local company called Java Moose. Java Moose makes better chai anyway.)

    This is a city where more people brag about not having read a book since high school than there are people that read a book a month. (I read far more than a book a month, it should be said.) The reason for our recently business development boom is because of an influx of Chinese university students with money to burn, not because the native reseidents were outgrowing our surroundings and yearning for more culture, more entertainment, more education.

    The library has more people signing up to use their DDR and Rock Band equipment than for their book clubs.

    I could rant on for pages about declining educational standards and all sorts of reasons for an overall lack of interest in reading in this city, but that isn't what this blog is for.

    So why am I ranting at all about it? Because it relates back to a simple lifestyle, I think. A lot of people here have forgotten, or never knew, the simple pleasure that can be found in opening a book and getting lost in a story. One of my skills that I prize very highly is my ability to read, and my subsequant enjoyment of it. I can't imagine not reading. I can't imagine taking a bus ride even for ten minutes without a book to keep me entertained.

    And for that ten minutes, one sixth of an hour, I was somewhere else, transported away on a great adventure, making new friends and seeing new places, experiencing things that others can only dream of, if they dare to dream at all. Ten minutes is all it takes.

    And it seems that for ten minutes, far too many people find it more fulfilling to stare out of a dirty window at passing cars.

    Friday, January 8, 2010

    Free books at your fingertips.

    When it comes to free books, most people will advise that you go to the library, and this isn't a bad suggestion. Your local library's bound to have a ton of interesting books for you to peruse and read through, after all.

    But if you're like me, there are going to be times where you wake up at 2 AM and can't get back to sleep, and you'll want to read some book you read a few weeks ago but had only borrowed, so it's not in your possession anymore. Waiting until the library opens to go and borrow it again isn't always the most convenient thing when we have jobs, families, any number of obligations that come before enjoyment.

    To help combat this, I've turned to free books online. It's not the best solution ever, but it gives me great access to a lot of books without even having to leave the apartment. And best of all, because they're free and easily accessible, if I want to read them again at 2 in the morning, nothing stops me!

    The Baen Free Library hosts a small (but still decently-sized) collection of fantasy and science fiction books published by Baen that are available to read for free online, or for personal download. I've made use of this site many times.

    I'm sure most people have heard of Project Gutenberg by now, the site devoted to creating free online books that have an expired copyright. The expired copyright means that essentially the books are in the public domain, and Project Gutenberg is collecting them all to make them more public than antique stores and libraries can manage. Thise is a great site if you like the classics, or, like me, are interested in historical books or all kinds, since the expired copyright often means they're old and obscure.

    Questia has a similar online free library of books with expired copyrights. is a site I only recently discovered, but it seems to have great potential. I found the autobiography of Helen Keller on here, and that's definitely been added to my "To Read" list!

    WikiBooks is a compilation of open-source textbooks, and so if you trust open-source content (and/or can take it with a grain of salt if things don't seem to be adding up), then this can be a wonderful resource for anyone interested in continued learning. Very handy, I must say! is a site for authors to host their own novels and short stories and the like. You may be taking a chance on quality, but remember that not even unpublished author is unpublished because they can't write well.

    If romance is your thing, why not try Public Bookshelf?

    Literature Master has a lot more expired copyright books, though these are a bit easier to search through than Project Gutenberg, and are more likely to be ones you've heard of before.

    This article has a listing of even more free online book services. Just in case the ones I listed aren't quite enough to keep you going!

    If you prefer audiobooks, then why not give Podiobooks a shot? These are serialized audiobooks, often written by new and up-and-coming authors, and there are some wonderful things to keep you entertained here no matter what your preferred genre is!

    Librivox is like a cross between Podiobooks and Project Gutenberg. They take books that are in the public domain and turn them into audiobooks for your listening pleasure.

    Still prefer the feeling of a good old-fashioned book in your hands? Then maybe Paperback Swap is right for you. List the books you have that you no longer want, and mail it to whoever requests it. In return, you can do the same for the hundreds of books listed to trade across the site. This not only helps you cut down a bit on clutter, but can also act much as a library does, only by delivering the books right to your door instead of having to go out and get them. And unlike the library, if you really like the book and want to keep it, you're not under obligation to return it!

    The downside to Paperback Swap is that it's useless to people who live outside the United States. Go figure. Someday people will remember that Canada exists, I swear!

    Tomorrow, I'll go over some free online TV sites that are actually available to Canadians! Yes, they really do exist!

    Thursday, January 7, 2010

    Meal planning.

    A lot of people advocate planning weekly meals in order to better manage their budget and food consumption. In the past, I pretty much bought on the fly, grabbing what looked tasty from them shelves, and thinking to myself, "I could use that thing to make this other thing," and convincing myself that I truly would.

    And I didn't. And it led to a lot of spoilage and waste.

    I don't strictly plan out my weekly or monthly meals, but I do now have a better handle on what I do in the kitchen. (The fact that I'm getting better at not putting off washing the dishes helps with that.) But I do plan out some meals in advance, and I've found it helps me a lot with grocery shopping.

    I've also found that planning meals in advance opens up more meal ideas for me almost immediately.

    Take the turkeys I've been using over the past while. I made turkey porridge out of one (why is it that so many recipes I try turn into something else but still end up being good anyway?), and got the bones and skin from the turkey that my mother had over Christmas. Because she couldn't fit all the leftover meat in her fridge, she gave a lot of it to me.

    So from those bones I can make another soup stock, and can fill it with some of the meat. Just as I'd do if I bought the turkey myself from a store because I'd planned to make a soup.

    But given that I can't use all the meat in the soup, what can I do with the rest of it? (Besides turkey sandwiches, I mean.) I came up with the idea of making turkey sausage, forming it into patties, and then freezing it for later consumption. With some bread or bagel or something like that, I might not only have half a week's worth of soup, but also a week's worth of breakfast!

    In my next grocery order, I need to pick up sushi rice, flour, ground pork, cabbage, and spring onions so that I can make gyoza (also called potstickers), and likely some leftover pork will be used to make nikuman (steamed pork buns) too. Rachel and I are big on Japanese food; can you tell?

    I'll get eggs and milk and cheese, and use some leftover ham to make a quiche. (The ham will come from whatever's left after I make the ham and potato soup later in the week.) Leftover eggs gets hardboiled for snacks, and possibly turned into Scotch eggs if I'm feeling adventurous.

    I might get a bag of apples to turn into apple pie or apple turnovers, too, and I've also been dying to try baked apples, so I'll likely pick up a small container of cream.

    So let's take a tally of that, shall we?

    Eggs, milk, cheese, flour, ground pork, cabbage, spring onions, sushi rice, and apples. Not exactly a budget-breaking grocery order! And combined with a few things we already have in the apartment, those little top-up items can pretty much provide meals for at least another week here.

    The best thing about planning my meals in advance, even if I don't stick to a rigid schedule, it that it allows me to think of what I can turn the leftovers into. It saves me money, allows me to eat better, and gives me some creative license in the kitchen, something I'm coming to enjoy more and more.

    And now if you'll all excuse me, I hear a cup of tea calling my name.

    Wednesday, January 6, 2010

    Ways to reuse worn out clothing.

    In my last entry, I mentioned things that you can do with all sorts of stuff you can get from thrift stores. But before going to thrift stores, you may want to take a look at some of the things you have lying around the house that you don't use any more, especially clothes. There are a lot of uses for clothing too worn out to wear anymore.

    Aside from cutting them down to rags, I mean.

    Old sweatshirts and sweatpants can be used in place of quilt batting, if you're a quilter.

    Sweaters can be unraveled for their yarn, and you can knit, crochet, or weave that yarn into something new and wonderful.

    I mentioned that blouses can be cut into squares and embroidered with initials to make personalized handkerchiefs. Men's dress shirts can be put to the same use.

    Got a pile of t-shirts sitting around that no longer fit or have too many holes in them? Cut them into strips and use them to weave or crochet a squishy rug for your house. Cotton t-shirts turn into very good absorbant bath mats with a little effort!

    Any old material can be cut into strips and then braided and sewn into lovely rag rugs, too.

    Want to improve your sewing and embroidery skills? Use an old pair of pants or a shirt and embroider something on it. Maybe a sampler, or a bright design in contrasting colours. Then hang it on the wall for a nice homemade decoration.

    Cut old pairs of jeans into squares and sew them together to make a heavy-duty denim blanket. It's good for anything from a cold night to the perfect thing to sit on when you have a picnic.

    Old towels? New facecloths or dishcloths!

    Done all this stuff and ended up with a whole load of oddly shaped pieces of scrap material? Make a crazy quilt!It's a good way to use up those little scraps that can't be used for anything else, and you get something useful at the end.

    Got enough scraps to take up space but not enough to make a quilt? Use those scraps to stuff a handmade rustic-style doll.

    Take the threads from scraps and very thin strips of material and spin them into new and unique yarn for your knitting/crocheting/weaving pleasure.

    Cut up old pantyhose into rings and weave a potholder on a potholder loom.

    Even though something may not be in a condition to be worn again, there are still a great number of things you can do to old clothing before even thinking about consigning them to a trash bag.

    Tuesday, January 5, 2010

    Frugal crafting alternatives.

    One thing I am is a die-hard crafter. Honestly, I have yet to meet a craft that I don't like. Plenty I'm not good at, I'll grant you, but I can see use, art, and entertainment in them all.

    But how, on a limited budget and an attempt at a frugal lifestyle, can I get my hands on the materials to satisfy my crafty urges? It's not like most of them come cheap, after all! I ball of wool to make a single scarf can cost $8, depending on the brand and the quality of the wool. (And I do mean wool as in the fibre type, not as another way of saying "yarn.")

    Thrift stores.

    Some thrift stores are good enough to have a small section for actual craft supplies, and this can come in handy, but the downside is that there's no guarantee of finding something for a specific project that you have in mind. It's worth taking a look, if the thrift store you patronize has such a section, but really, there are better and cheaper ways to get your hands on good materials, so long as you know how to look.

    The trick is to look in the rest of the store. With a bit of creativity, old clothing can be remade and repurposed into things that most people wouldn't even imagine!

    I get most of my yarn for knitting by buying sweaters from thrift stores, unraveling them, and then reknitting the yarn into whatever I so desire. Sometimes I'll overdye the yarn with drink crystals like Kool-Aid, if the yarn is made from animal fibres like wool or angora. In this way I can get a sweater's worth of cashmere, for example, for the same price it may cost me to get a scarf's worth of acrylic, if I were to buy brand-new.

    Look in the larger sizes of clothing for the best buys. Some stores price the oversized things at the same cost as the smaller items, so by buying large, you're saving yourself that extra bit of money. That size 22 skirt could be turned into that new pillowcase you've been needed, after all. (And before anyone thinks I'm ragging on large people, I'd like to say that I'm one of them. I could probably wear that size 22 skirt!)

    Old second-hand books, if you don't feel like reading them, can be turned into hollow books to conceal little trickets and treasures.

    Beaded necklaces can be snipped and just "harvested" for the beads they once held.

    Old blouses? New handkerchiefs, and if you personalize it by embroidering an initial in the corner, it makes a wonderful gift option!

    My local thrift store often has fabric remnants for really low prices. I once bought enough plain black cloth to make myself two pairs of dress pants, and it only cost me $3.

    I once read a story about a woman who bought old fur coats from thrift stores, cut them up, and resewed them into teddy bears. She apparently made quite a tidy living by doing so, and it allowed the fur to not go to waste. Very few people are brave enough to wear furs anymore, and if my thrift store is any indication, half the time the fur coats they have already are ripped or cut up to start with, so nobody could wear them again anyway. Giving the fur new life lessens the blow, a little bit, of the fact that an animal was made to give its life for the sake of fashion. At least it's not going to waste.

    A friend of mine once told me he used to buy cheap velvet dresses and gowns at thrift stores, cut them up, and turn them into embroidered pouches to sell to tourists.

    Some people buy old wooden furniture from thrift stores, sand them down, give them a new coat of paint, and end up with something that looks as good as if it had just come from a speciality store. Chairs, dressers, you name it. Some thrift stores even sell cans of paint, though those are a little harder to come across than the furniture.

    With a creative eye and a mind for frugality, second-hand stores can become so much more than just a place to get cheaper clothing.

    In a few days I'll probably also make a follow-up post about crafty things you can do once old clothing wears out, too, to stretch the dollar that much further.

    Saturday, January 2, 2010

    The Last Best West.

    I recently finished reading Eliane Leslau Silverman's The Last Best West, which is a collection of anecdotes from women who lived and worked on the Alberta prairie between 1880 and 1930.

    This isn't a book I can imagine too many people scrambling to get their hands on, since it's an old book, and even I could only find a copy at a second-hand bookstore. But it was well worth the $5 I spent on it.

    Aside from the general interest in the lives of pioneer women, the sadness and struggle they all went through when settling and cultivating a barren wasteland of a place, I found one of the themes of this book particularly apt to write about on this blog.

    Just about all of the women who told their stories had the attitude of, "we made do, because we didn't have a choice."

    Now, I'm all for choice. Choosing the ways in which we live is one of the freedoms I love. We don't have choices for everything, but we have enough to make ourselves feel truly free.

    But the sentiment of these women, making do because they had to, is so very different from the attitude in modern society that I think it's worth contrasting.

    I think a lot of it comes down to choice. We live in a much more affluent society than the women back then did. We've got so many luxuries, so many choices, so many paths we can take.

    But these choices are a double-edged sword, and come along with a bit of society hypocrisy. We've got all kind of fancy new technological advances, little luxuries to make our lives easier, all manner of wonderous things to buy. And we do buy them, make no mistake, because they keep selling.

    And yet, it's often said that a family cannot get by on a single income anymore.

    Maybe they could if we all stopped being so obsessed with keeping up with the Joneses, with buying the newest and shiniest gadget just because it's new.

    I think we've lost the sense of what it means to "make do". We don't make do anymore, we struggle along from paycheque to paycheque. We spend our money on the newest toys, sometimes more in the urge to show off to others than to enjoy it for ourselves. "Look at me, I just bought a new computer and flat-screen LCD TV!"

    We've lost a lot of "making do" skills, because society teaches us we don't need them. Why bother learning how to cook when so many prepared meals are available? Sure, they're more expensive, but they're less work. Why learn how to sew or knit or crochet or weave when going to a department store will be cheaper. The clothing might not last as long, fit as well, or be the style or colours you want, but hey, it takes less time to get and doesn't require actually doing anything beyond getting in the car and spending money.

    And then when lean times hit us, when we lose our jobs and can't afford to keep up our old lifestyles, we don't know how to get by on the little we have left.

    An old coworker once bragged that "nobody lives within their means anymore." That isn't completely accurate, but in the age of credit cards, where all you have to worry about is making the minimum payment each month, people live outside their means all the time. Using a credit card might be a nice way to get a new TV right now, but with interest, you end up paying more than if you'd just had the patience to save up in the first place.

    Debt is commonplace, and some people actually expect to die before they pay off their debt. Houses stuffed full of expensive technology while people struggle to put food on the table is just the norm these days. We live in a time where once-essential skills to survival are no longer a part of our lives. They're hobbies, at best.

    And the thing is, they could be enriching our lives at the very least. In a time of serious financial crisis, knowing how to cook a decent meal (that isn't Day-Glor orange and from a plastic container) might be the difference between eating and not eating that day. Knowing how to sew might be the difference between looking presentable and going out with holes in your pants and shirt. Having a little windowbox garden might only give you enough for a single meal, but it's a meal you don't have to go out and buy.

    The old "making do" frugal skills might actually stand us in good stead these days. That's why I love reading about those women, and how they lived. Their past can enrich my present and my future.

    Friday, January 1, 2010

    Starting the year off right.

    Right cold, that is! This city, and surrounding others, are expecting snow and rain-and-snow mixes for the next four or five days, and on top of that we're under a wind warning, too. "Potentially damaging wind gusts", says the weather channel, "forecast for Saturday night."

    I can't say I'm looking forward to that.

    This weekend might be a good time to bundle up under many blankets, with mugs of tea and hot chocolate located conveniently close by.

    My biggest hope is that the winds don't break the window in the back room of the apartment. Right now that room is so crammed full of old junk and things that need to be sorted that getting to the window is a tough job. If it breaks, well, even arranging a temporary cover is going to be a challenge, and then cleaning the whole room up so that a proper replacement window could be put in.

    Have I mentioned that the back room has no insulation? It's technically supposed to be this apartment's second bedroom, but since it's only fit for using during half of the year, we just use it as a storage room instead, and Rachel and I share a room until we can get another apartment.

    So yes, cleaning and sorting everything out in an uninsulated unheated room with a broken window sounds particularly hellish. That's why I hope it stays unbroken in the high winds.

    The winter here has barely begun and already it's been a hard one. Snow on the ground for almost the entire month of December, and normally we're lucky if there are a few piles of slush around on Christmas day. Two instances of absolutely bitter windchills, dipping down to near -30 degrees Celcius.

    It isn't surprising, really. We had a cold year in general. July was unusually rainy, and we had a cold snap in the middle of August that sent temperatures down near the freezing mark. Once that happened, everybody began predicting a hard winter, and so far those predictions have proven accurate.