Monday, February 27, 2012

Parameters::Limits::Food


Warning: This is more of a philisophical, mind-wandering post, and less of a newsy post. You may not know where you're going or where you'll end up... I know I don't! :)

So, my mind has been on parameters and limits the past few days. I have so much in my brain that I am trying to accomplish, so many ideas and directions my brain wants to take me, so many to-do list tasks to cross off (some by choice, others by necessity) that I find myself having to say "no" to myself and give myself some limits. I just wanted to kind of make some notes here of things... things that I'm doing, wanting to do, experimenting with, just to have a record of them and kind of dump them out of my brain. Here goes:

Food and Budget:

We are devising our new budget now that we are somewhat more settled and have some more regular expenses to use as a guage. We have had a budget for YEARS and I really do love it. I have felt kind of wild and directionless without one as we have made this moving transition, but it was necessary. We had no way to calculate our costs. What would we be paying for water, electricity, health insurance, etc. etc. What would the new salary be? Would there be overtime? And on and on.

And so, we've lived a bit with a cavalier attitude toward our food spending the past few months - since about the holiday season. It was, after all... the holiday season! :) And then the move...

We don't eat out much at all, but again, some of that was necessitated with the move. And then there has been the re-stocking of the pantry since I didn't want to move too much food - mostly just dry goods. So all of that has been out of whack. But there have been many food treat purchases. We like different seasoned almonds a lot, but they're pricey. Despite that, of late, when we were out, we'd just get more. With the move I didn't have all of my regular cooking tools at hand and so more packaged treats made their way in. Not only is it not as good for you, but it's just dang expensive.

I looked at the receipts from February and came to a grand total - and I do feel it is pretty grand for a family of four - of $722. And that doesn't include beer and wine that we've had more often in the house as we've had more family and friends over since our return to this old community. And it was worth it - worth a little celebrating after all the hard work we've been through. But now it's time to settle in and settle down and simply get back to reality. We just can't live like this all the time, especially on a new, reduced income.

So, limits. I have a few goals that I want to be shooting for:

$600 is the goal, with wiggle room to $650 for starters. We'll see where that gets us and how we feel about that number throughout the month of March. I am not much of a coupon clipper and I'm certainly not going to devote a good deal of time to it - I just don't have the time, or the desire at this point really. I find that my selection of coupons is somewhat limited anyway, as I primarily cook with whole foods and we simply don't eat a lot of the things that coupons offer. That said, I do get certain coupons off the internet for brands that we DO use and I invested in a Chinook book, which has pretty much already paid for itself.

The other parameter I want to set for myself is to see if I can make this amount of money work while limiting my shopping to our local co-ops - Missippi Market, in particular, is our closest one -, Whole Foods, and Trader Joe's. I wish I could JUST shop at the co-op, but that is just not financially feasible. That said, Whole Foods and TJ at least share more of my values than do the big box grocery stores and the shopping experience is just simply more pleasurable. So, I'm going to set a parameter and see what we can do in the month of March without me stepping foot inside one of the big box grocers. I am thrilled to have so many CHOICES in this area available to me and all of these stores are less than 7 miles from my house.

We're taking advantage of our budget by incorporating meal planning/spending/cooking into our homeschool curriculum as part of our on-going home ec course. The girls helped me with a Kitchen Factory operation this weekend and we prepared homemade vegan mayo, vegan cheez, peanut butter cookies (the recipe is naturally vegan), hummus, and pumpkin muffins.

The cookies are an attempt at limiting purchased/processed snacks - something that Eve decided on her own to give up for Lent.  And another limit is two of those delicious cookies a day until they're gone. Homemade treats always want to get eaten so much faster it seems, but we don't want to eat up all our hard work in an afternoon!

The pumpkin muffins are homemade breakfast options; cold breakfast cereal is a budget killer!

Well, I thought I'd get farther with this post than I have, so I'll stop with this bit for now, though I do have some more thoughts on limits and parameters in other areas of my life. But, I've actually reached my time limit and it's time to take dinner out of the oven.

I'll leave you with a few other pictures of our second clay date! Eve got to try the wheel first today and then Maia and I each took a shorter turn and are enjoying ourselves a great deal. While we waited for our turns, we did some hand sculpting and experimenting with the clay. A good way to start our week!




Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Keeping Me Happy: People, Places, and Links

A blessed Ash Wednesday to all my friends and family observing the day and the season of Lent. We live on a corner lot just across the street from a Catholic church/school and the streets have been full all day with parishoners coming and going and being annointed with the cross on their foreheads.

Being naturally contemplative by nature, I thoroughly enjoy the season of Lent, but I confess, I haven't thought of a particular way to mark it this year. Last year, I gave up complaining and it taught me a lot and brought new practices of observation into my life that I continue. Given that we're still sort of in an adjustment period: seeking out a new church, trying out new stores, finding our way... everywhere, I was startled when my mom mentioned to me last night that it was the day before Ash Wednesday. I have a regular time of devotion every morning and am enjoying the books and lessons I am going through right now, so I don't think I'm going to switch things up in this area of my life this year.

Besides... I feel that kind of inspirational bug that I mentioned in the last post and I'm fairly bubbling over with ideas and projects and there's certainly not enough time in the day to do them all, but I don't want to squelch that energy.

Here are just some of the things that have been lending me inspiration and just... pleasure... this past week:

 The temperatures have remained so very comfortable outside that we are making a habit of getting out a couple of times a week to explore our new neighborhood. We haven't had much snow, but the day we'd planned to go we were met with big, fat flakes. This scene met me outside our front door:



And then we were off heading down the street to the bluff!

Oh, my girls just make me smile...


That's Maia, sheltering her eyes from the snowflakes, and Eve has brought the walking stick she claimed on our last outing.





Apparently, on the way home it was some time for some snowball baseball.



More inspiration to be had in colorful, old homes that occupy our neighborhood. I am continually wondering where we will end up? Where will we finally settle into home?







A couple of days after this walk we worked ahead in our schoolwork and took off on Thursday. I needed to have my knives sharpened and there is a wonderful place over in Northeast Minneapolis that sharpened four of my knives for a mere $12! We could have waited around for the 15 minutes it was going to take, but since Northeast was where Paul and I had spent a number of years before we had the girls, I took them around some of the areas we used to call home. And, as usual, there were new things and destinations of discovery that we had in mind too.




Sewing classes at Crafty Planet are newly on the wish list... maybe for spring or when school gets out...

Next door at Rewind, we had fun browsing and imagining what kinds of funky outfits we could pull together.

I'd wanted to take the girls into Dinkytown, but didn't have change for a meter. We headed over to the West Bank and had some coffee at Hard Times Cafe.


This week brought our first CLAY DATE with our friend, Jen.  Jen just happens to have a wheel in her basement and perhaps enjoys the excuse to get down there and get good and muddy! We'll have a few more classes with her and then I'll teach her older daughter some drawing. Bartering is a good thing. :)






I actually got to try my hand at the wheel too! Eve will get to go first next week, as she didn't get her turn this week. SO fun - there's a lot of freedom in being a beginner. :)



After clay, we'll be finishing our art year by trying out Keri Smith's, Wreck this Journal and have invited all of our Facebook friends - and anyone here too - to join us! It's going to be great fun! I'm sure we'll be pushing a lot of boundaries and we'll all be feeling a little bit, as my friend Kathleen said, "weird", but what a great way to feel as we shift into a new season! :)

A few other things I am enjoying right now:



Danny Gregory's, An Illustrated Life. I remember when he had a podcast before the release of this book where he interviewed some of the featured artists. Such a fun book with ALL kinds of different styles. I've got this one out on loan from the library, but this is going to be added to my wish list for sure.

My Kindles. Yes, I have two. Love the Calendar and Address Book by Seven Dragons and Sticky Notes by Mobigloo. It's the first year in countless that I'm going without a paper planner. So far so good. Those are on my Keyboard. And the Children's Indie Music station on Pandora is a blast to listen to on my Fire. Great artists make great music whether they're singing something for an adult or a single-digit-aged audience.

Listening to my daughter and husband play guitar together in the basement.

Along with everyone else, Downton Abbey. Very fulfilling season finale!

Tea, as always, keeping me company, keeping me warm. I tried the Orange Bliss sample that came in my Lady Grey box of Twinings tonight. Yummy. Stash's Chocolate Mint is a great afternoon treat.

Ooo, yes. And speaking of chocolate, Chocolove Ginger Crystalized in Dark Chocolate was the Valentine's chocolate I bought for myself when I bought everyone else's goodies. Mmmm....

Knitting back on my needles after the longest hiatus I've had since I started knitting 7 years ago. Now that we're a bit more settled, I can concentrate on something more than stockinette stitch.

I've got some Mary Kay parties on the horizon. So excited to get out there, meet some of my friend's friends and begin showing off our new line of skin care: Botanical Effects!

Some more things are on the horizon too, but these are the things that have had me smiling this week and last. What's making you happy these days?
.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Loves ~ On Valentine's Day


 "Discover" is my word for 2012. That was a pretty easy one, since I just knew with a move 1500 miles north to a new state, new city, new climate, there would be very little that wouldn't be new to us. One of our loves, I am thrilled to say, is libraries. We have been going to the library, pretty much weekly, ever since Maia was a baby. Our fondness for them has crept into our vacations where we now have the habit of visiting local libraries whenever we travel. So, imagine our joy when we learned that our house is not only a 5 minute drive to the beautiful downtown branch of the St. Paul Public Library, but also, literally around the corner from one of its smaller branches. The girls are already volunteering there two days a week and love it so far.

It kind of feels like having a brick and mortar Google in your back yard.

The funny thing is that despite its relatively small size, the girls have discovered all sorts of books that they've brought home with them already and, despite the fact that they are now at the library twice a week, they still want to stay after their shift and "look around for a few minutes."

Herbs are their latest fascination. When I explained to them that our back yard perennial bed was full of them - some I recognized from seed heads and others we'll just have to ask the landlords... or wait to be surprised in a few months - they were SO excited and rushed for coats, and jars, and scissors.





This current love is connected to their favorite genre of reading which is fantasy. And fantasy often has an alchemist or two and thus, my children are now spending their spare reading time captivated by herbal encyclopedias.  It's times like this that I would like to follow every flight of fancy and just spend days on this one topic that fascinates them right now. I know my unschooling friends are out there shouting, "Yes! Let them do it!!" Well... I do... but in limited doses, because I don't know that algebra or chemistry will ever find its way into their fancies... In some form, yes, but not as far as the coursework will take them. And so herbology is relegated to lunchtime and after-school reading, but nobody has complained thus far.

***

The previous photos were taken late last week just before our "arctic blast" came through.Yes, it was cold... for about a day. But the rest of this week has been mild and the state continues to experience the 2nd warmest winter on record.

Yesterday afternoon the snow that blanketed the southern part of the state reached the city and cast it's perfect winter blue that I adore.


It snowed little more than what you see here and the sidewalks are all clear today as it melted pretty quickly. But last night on my way out to my Mary Kay meeting, the glowing yellow street lamps cast enough light to set the fresh snow glimmering and twinkling. Another love.

And today is Valentine's Day.

When I was a child, Valentine's Day was a favorite holiday. Perhaps it's because we got to make little mailboxes nearly every year in elementary school and I have always, ALWAYS loved giving and receiving mail. We covered our boxes with white paper and cut a simple slot in the top. There was a a wonderful afternoon spent decorating the boxes, of course, and this was the time to perfect the skill of the half-heart on the folded paper!


The Valentine's boxes added to the festive decor of the classroom of red and pink and white and Presidents Washington and Lincoln on the bulletin board calendar with the wavy, ridged border stapled all round. Everyone needed to wear red that day or you were threatened with a kiss! Imagine! The worst thing happening to you: a kiss.

Valentine's Day for our family is little tokens of love. We usually have a bit more decor than our minimalist celebration this year, as so much is still packed away. But it was all still received so warmly and everyone was genuinely pleased with what we made for each other.







My Valentine's given...


and received...







Aren't they cute??? And that's another love, as you likely know by now: the creativity inherent in EVERYONE. These are each perfect, little treasures to me that cost my family nothing but its time - oh and I did spring for a couple bars of chocolate, but I doubt those will be remembered nearly as much as these little tokens of our affections.


You know, the light is always changed by Valentine's Day. In the north, the ground is still frosty white, but the light is lasting longer and I always feel a charge of inspiration around this time of year. January seems a month of recuperation after the holiday season and the nights are still quite long. But February brings more sunshine and doilies and ruffled hearts for heaven's sake! It's kind of an unfortunate time to get that inspirational itch, when I want to cast off all responsibilities and pursue all those flights of fancy myself. It takes a good deal of self-discipline to homeschool, to stick to a thing and not just... cast off...

But... if you can plan ahead just a little bit... work ahead just a little bit... you can also plan a day of exploration and discovery of even more new things that invite love. I've got something like that in mind for later in the week. I can't say how it will all go, but bags are being packed with sketchbooks and watercolor pencils, cameras and maps - oh yes, maps - another love...

lotta loves. 





Thursday, February 9, 2012

Crafting Community


Have I mentioned that I am loving living in Saint Paul? Having a wonderful, record-breaking mild winter certainly helps. But it's more than the views and the weather that are keeping me smiling these days. I am delighted with the different events, large and small, that our family has enjoyed the past few weeks; and it seems they have been many!










My good, long-time, highschool friend, Liz, is a fine seamstress (and maker of many other amazing things as well!). She stopped by last Saturday to "borrow" Eve for a fitting of a costume she was making for her cousin's daughter's upcoming play. Eve was only too happy to oblige and only reluctantly returned the dress to be mailed off to its rightful owner. I sense that sewing lessons are in our future.

That same day the girls and Paul walked over the Wabasha Street bridge with Liz (the picture at the top of the post is a shot taken by Maia) to the annual Winter Carnival Torchlight Parade. The parade is the culminating celebration of two-weeks worth of icy events that take place every January in Saint Paul. I was attending my sister's Pampered Chef party or I would have walked down with them. Walked. I have a feeling that walking to the Winter Carnival is not going to take place for another 100 years when the state experiences another record-breaking warm winter.

Still, while they were drinking hot coffee, shivering and  cheering on the Vulcan victory party at the parade, I was enjoying a glass of wine and eating appetizers while watching my sister's friend make us an apple/cherry cobbler. It really was a win-win. :)





Super Bowl/Nephews' birthday party the next night and the list goes on: there was a potluck hymn-sing one night, more old friends paying us visits, bringing us little, potted primroses (!) (thank you 3 T's!), planning for belly-dance classes and talking about Sumo wrestling, thrift-store shopping, lots of knitting, and visits to the coffee shop.


Tomrrow the girls begin volunteering at the library around the corner. Jen will teach us how to play with clay on a pottery wheel next week and I'll swap the crafty goodness by sharing drawing skills with her daughter. There's a theater class on the horizon. Lots of creativity swirling about and it's making life feel rich, indeed.

The temperature is dropping overnight tonight. It's going to feel like real winter for a few days here, but that's okay; it still feels pretty good when you've mangaged to find your place in the sun. :)






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