Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Keep tightening the belt

Well, my taxes are done and I'll be getting two small refunds. Gratefully, I didn't owe anything. Staring at the cold, hard numbers of my slice of the US economy, I now have numeric proof that my income took a bit of a nosedive in 2012. Not that I hadn't suspected, even as I continued to work at a job I've had for years. Gone are the days of tax refunds big enough to finance a vacation; today my refund is cash for gasoline.

My point being, frugality has become a necessary way of life. I have never been a spendthrift, although on occasion I have impulsively enjoyed dinners out, been known to buy coveted yarn I really didn't need, and taken a trip I didn't budget for... It's just getting harder to justify purchasing anything over a five bucks that will not be used daily, eaten over a couple of days or has limited usefulness.

When I am in need of an item I'll search dollar and thrift stores or estate sales before heading to a commercial shopping center. Online shopping is probably the only instance I will use a credit card. Actually, I haven't been to the nearby mall in years, preferring to shop local small businesses. This all sounds pretty hard line but truly other than food or car repairs, most purchases can wait a few days or weeks. The challenge (fun in my mind) is to use resourcefulness to find a cheaper way to accomplish household needs:
  •  Choose what is really important for you; my household no longer has TV but we do have computers & internet. 
  • Simplify needs; get rid of the extra, especially kitchen equipment, clothing or collections that no longer give you joy.
  • Socialize, today we are surprisingly isolated; participate in games, clubs, sports or hobbies. 
  •  Be energy efficient and limit resource waste; try LED light bulbs, hang clothes to dry, use insulating curtains, create rain barrels and compost vegetable scraps & yard waste.
The Reduce/Reuse/Recycle mantra can really make a difference. I have been able to save some money by giving thought to personal essentials and experimenting with the rest. It is surprising what learning opportunities are created by a little introspection; gardening and composting have become a hobby, saving on my electric bill a monthly challenge and I have learned to enjoy a bit of kitchen creativity. The old adage "live and learn" certainly applies. I grew up during a time of plenty and now have to deal with a dwindling economy. Relearning the resourcefulness our grandparents of the Depression Era had will re-infuse valuable skills into our culture and allow making-do-with-less go a lot farther.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Is there a difference between Muffins & Cupcakes?

Ahh, yes I have been contemplating some serious issues... I've been on a bit of a bake here lately, starting with a box of Duncan Hines Spice Cake Mix. I have never liked any "airy" box cake mix so I augment the ingredients with some density infusing goodies. Every cake mix benefits from 1 cup of quick-cook oatmeal, just stir in and follow the egg, oil and water additions as written on the box.

My secreting of oatmeal into baked goods stems from my sense of utter failure as a new mother when my toddlers would not eat a bowl of the stuff. There was more oatmeal on chairs, walls and table than ever passed the lips of my little ones. I remember once rolling my son, in his high chair outside (we lived in sunny California then) to hose him off, as he had upturned the entire bowl over his head! Consequently, I started sneaking oatmeal into the kids' food. I have no idea why I was so obsessed, but in my mind nutrition = good mothering.

Almost twenty years later, my kids beg for oatmeal brownies or breakfast cake. Yes, breakfast cake, we aren't frosting fans, so for all those past school mornings I'd make a 13 x 9 cake from a mix, add in oatmeal, a 1/2 cup chopped nuts and some dried fruit or carrot and let them eat it for breakfast. Lately, I have been enamored with the cupcake size for breakfast cake; portion controlled and portable. Tonight I made some from scratch, with a bit of guidance from my ancient Betty Crocker Cookbook. I used the Oatmeal-Raisin version but without the raisins, instead topping them with bits of thawed raspberries & pearl sugar. Very yum while warm and sipping a stout cuppa tea.

That was our return snack after walking Emma & Wendy in the newly fallen 5 inches of snow. Happy, happy dogs although it was a bit icy going. Emma is shorter and had to leap from footprint to footprint when she got tired from breaking through the snow crust.

Regarding my initial blog question about cupcakes and muffins... There's no real difference, other than my dictionary says muffins are eaten warm. And I'm good with that!

Monday, February 18, 2013

Another read

Apparently life is more fun than writing or perhaps I am too happy to be in this written place but this story has stalled big time. I think this is not a genre I will explore further but shall share as an interesting snippet because I like the visual descriptions: 

     Tears hurt. It had been months of aching days each stomping her further down. Sunshine helped though. Lying on the warm lawn with the sun glowing red behind her eyelids gave her a sense of comfort; a moment of peace, when her whole body felt warm and alive.
     The world sounded busy at grass level, dogs barking, birdsong and airplane roar. A distant siren pulsating with emergency vibrated in her ear. “Someone is worse off than me,” she whispered to the sky. She envisioned a ruined vehicle crumpled and cutting into a victim, shards of broken glass winking like diamonds on the street. Squinting, her tears sparked, shifting light through her wet lashes. She wished she could just breathe herself into the dirt. Calmly inhaling and exhaling until finally deflated and boneless, she mingled with the mulch. Only the painful, wet lumps of her eyes would be left, to watch burrowing worms and ants until a robin drilled its beak into their core allowing them to mercifully drip away.
     No instead, she lay like a Gulliver, one giant feeling presence on the lawn. Her survival mind dogged her to get up, and move! The leaden pain in her heart held her prone, lacking energy or desire to stir. Yet, warmth from the sun made her body feel whole, as if her arms, torso and head were absorbing those rays, pulling her molecules together.  Sunshine made her smile and the redness behind her eyelids became a soothing glow, not the fire of tears.
      Breezes blew strands of her hair, drying her cheeks. She lay quietly breathing in the perfume of growing things, hearing the prickly rustle of grass blades when she turned her head. Opening her eyes, she gazed at pink stars, tiny blooms pushed through the brown, leafy debris. Born from the basic elements of soil, buffeted by hardships of weather this simple plant forced beauty into a minuscule spot in the world; existing only to be and growing because it was alive.

Words breathe life or entwine with emotion. Overall, I think I prefer more humor. Travel journals seem to be my favorite format lately, unfortunately the trip budget is on hold. Perhaps I will take a vacation approach to my community and see what I end up with...

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Space Rocks!

I have to admit, I think rocks are cool. I had a rock collection of mostly found mineral specimens throughout my youth and in fact, I never parted with that collection or my admiration for minerals and geology.

Back in the late 60's and early 70's, my Dad and I would take our rock picks and hike some of the quarries and old mines open in rural Connecticut. An old silver mine near our house yielded some lovely pale purple amethyst crystals, and at other sites we found quartz, veins of copper ore and garnets. Today these areas are gone.The mine was filled in when another housing development was built and the other spots are parking lots or highways, but this experience outdoors with my Dad, literally hunting for treasure is indelibly etched into my personality. I never walk a beach without searching for stones and when hiking or camping I've got my eyes peeled for interesting specimens. Even around town, I've found tiny geodes in the pebble landscaping around malls or restaurants and yes, I still get the "finder's thrill." I have panned for gold, found fossilized bones, arrowheads, ancient beads, bits of jade, and a meteorite...

The excitement over the flyby of asteroid DA14 and the unexpected meteor explosion over Chelyabinsk, Russia brought back my meteor memories from when I was a 4th grader in Massachusetts. Back then, kids could be outside after dinner and I was a big stargazer. I saw a green/yellow streak just above the trees and ran up the street to see where it landed; it disappeared behind a house next to the paved path to school. I planned to search that backyard after school. It took about an hour but I did find a weird rock; it looked like rusted metal but without the weight, was smooth and burnt.  My Dad took it to the local science museum but they couldn't identify it, so I tucked it away as my little bit of the greater galaxy.

This weekend I got it out and thought it would be interesting to share. Our planet is amazing but to think we are surrounded by the vastness and mysterious expanse of space is beyond incredible. The intersection we on planet Earth have had with the universe these last couple of days shows how puny we are compared to the power of some falling space rock.

Monday, February 11, 2013


Weather has been milder here after the last bit of snow. Today started with thunderstorms but now a chilly wind is moaning around the corners of the house and rattling windows. Climate change must be a significant element since we in the Midwest are having very unseasonable weather. The blizzard on the East Coast seems a typical winter occurrence.

Anyway, I have finished my stalled hat, which will be a birthday gift for my youngest. I could not sleep last night with the thunderclaps, so I knit the body of the hat and finished the decreases today. It is a snug lace beanie pattern called Boardwalk by Elizabeth Pedersen which I found as a free download from www.Ravelry.com. I used Cascade 220 yarn in a lovely ruby, color #9404. I enjoyed the pattern although I had a bit of trouble with the decreases counting out. It does look quite nice and I will probably make another. My model "Aloise" was a fun Christmas gift, so she will be showing off my hats from now on. Do click on the photo for a better view of the knitted stitches.

I am working on another short story. Unfortunately, a bit of writer's block has hit so I thought I would get away from it for a while. My dogs, Emma & Wendy got a lovely damp walk this evening too.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Capricious and creative

Four inches of snow appeared over the weekend and it was an odd silent snow. We had been outside at 9:30pm when the weather was cold, clear and dry but by 11pm the dogs were out romping in two inches of snow while huge flakes fell. No wind, no storm, no weather prediction, just snow! It all melted in a few days and now it is spring again. Today temps are in the fifties, lots of sunshine and the flower bulbs are sprouting. My daffodils are now four inches tall!

I have tried to maintain my hibernation mode but I think I am "out of the cave" for the season. My knitting  has not been as compelling either as I am dawdling through my latest hat... Outdoors is a beautiful distraction with all the little shoots and birdsong. Do you think spring is here for real in February? I half doubt it, as March can be such a cruel month but I will enjoy every sunny day.

My son and I went to a couple of estate sales this past weekend and I found some darling wooden shoes from Holland. I filled them with some silk spring flowers and I think they are a cheerful addition to my table, at least until some of my garden bulbs start flowering for bouquets.

The dogs have been thrilled with a few more walks and I have been enjoying my tea and a book on the front porch.