Monthly Archives: March 2012

Am I losing it?

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So, after writing about downsizing, I was thinking about what I wouldn’t buy used. Turns out the list is pretty short and has the things on it you would expect – underwear, shoes, sheets, towels – those sorts of things. Some it’s just the gross factor and for others, like towels, its just that they are one of those items that tends to get used until they are threadbare and relegated to the “rag” bin.

My kitchen towels are looking particularly sorry these days. Some of them are as old as my son, who is 16. I’m going to need to start replacing them soon (I’m thinking of putting together a little hope chest so that when I move out I can start in my new place with pretty new things). There are actually several organic towel sources, so that’s good. I also decided to look on etsy to see what it had to offer. I found a weaver who makes beautiful towels. Some of her designs reminded me of a slip stitch pattern in knitting and this made me think “could I knit my own towels?”

There are actually towel patterns out there but I wanted something that looked more like those woven towels I saw. I took out my stitch dictionaries, found some simple patterns I liked, grabbed on of the two unbleached cotton cones that I have and knit a stitch gauge. I threw it in the washer and dryer to see how it did and was very pleased with the results.

So now I am knitting myself towels. In terms of time, buying them is probably cheaper, but I like having a no-brainer project in my rotation. Sometimes I just need something to keep my hands busy while I am watching a movie. This project fits the bill.

Tuesday’s Top Ten: The best things in life ARE free

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Madison Avenue would have us all believe that happiness comes in a shiny new car, white teeth, the newest gadget or whatever product they are trying to sell.

Will any of that really matter when we look back on our lives? I say live in the present and enjoy these 10 little pleasures that we can all share in that make life a wonderful bounty of riches (in no particular order).

1. Laughter. Tell a joke, tickle your fancy, find the humor in a situation, laugh at yourself and delight in the absurd. Laughter is the best medicine.

2. Good conversation. Engage in face-to-face contact with the people you love, listen to them instead of thinking of what to say next, learn something new, expand your point of view, share memories, create new ones. Bond.

3. Help others. You think your situation sucks? It may, but you can always lend a hand and maybe it will put your’s in perspective. Get outside your head and put a smile on someone else’s face, comfort them, bring them cheer, raise awareness or just be a friend to someone who needs one.

4. Sex – duh!

5. Kissing. Long, slow languid kisses with your lover, sticky kisses from a child, kiss on the cheek to greet friends, kiss it to make it better, wet kisses from your dog.

6. Nature. Pay attention to the changing seasons, sunrises and sunsets, starry nights, lightning bugs, gardens in bloom, scents in the air, the smell of fresh-cut grass, the calm of the first snowfall, the rush of water. It’s all miraculous.

7. Move your body. Bicycle, swim, run, jump, skip rope, play ball, dance, hula-hoop.

8. Create. Cook, bake, sew, knit, crochet, craft, draw, paint, build, sculpt, write,  take pictures, exercise your creative muscle.

9. Connect with your inner child. Play. Jump through puddles, poke things with a stick, collect leaves, pick a dandelion bouquet, let your ice cream dribble down your hand, smile, ask why.

10. Let it go. Know your priorities and values and live them. Let everything else go: perfection, the need for other people’s approval, to be right, the past.

Crochet Love

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Here’s a little urban art from a crochet artist named Olek, who apparently has permanent installations now in museums. I’m guessing that to do this she took measurements and then crocheted the pieces and seamed them.  I love that she chose a camo design in pink, purple black and teal.

Another little tidbit I came across on the internet is this site – specifically the “Magic Ball”. Of course this is nothing new, I have had an idea for a sweater using this process (tying together all of your leftovers) for years now although I thought to leave the knots as a decorative element.

What fun ideas do you have or have you seen for crochet?

I’m a Hypocrite

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I’ve talked about eating healthier, avoiding processed food and cutting back on sugar and having done so I present you with this:

CAKE BALLS! They really have no redeeming nutritional value whatsoever. And if that isn’t bad enough, I must confess to these also:

The best brownies known to man. I would hang my head in shame but these little treats were made for a theater group that I just started volunteering for. They are doing a reading this weekend with a wine and cheese spread and I thought they also needed some desserts.

Doing my part to support the arts!

Downsizing – steps to simplifying my life

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I am 15 months away from downsizing. That’s when my son graduates from high school and I will be able to sell my 3000 square foot house. I’ve been ready for this for a while but it’s important to stay put so my son can graduate with his friends.

There is not a lot in my house that I plan on bringing with me, a few pieces of furniture, kitchen essentials and small appliances and the contents of my sewing rooms will make the cut. The rest is either: too big (I anticipate cutting my living space in half), not my taste anymore or just decorative knickknacks that fill space. In my next home I only want the things I need or absolutely love.

As someone who is trying to be more mindful of her own as well as the companies I deal with,  ecological impact, I could be considered a hypocrite for getting rid of perfectly good (old) stuff in exchange for new stuff. However, I feel that I am handling it in a responsible manner. Here’s how:

1. I intend to sell or give-away whatever doesn’t make the cut. It’s not going into a landfill, but getting a second life in someone else’s home.

2. Not everything is getting replaced. So much of what I have is just stuff to fill space. Letting go of it frees up my time,  (from cleaning and caring for it), my budget and my space so I need less. I don’t want to be a slave to my stuff.

3. The majority of what I do replace will be with second-hand finds. I love the thrill of the hunt of finding a bargain at the thrift store or garage sales. One dresser that will be coming with me was a $30 buy at Goodwill. It was an ugly green but I stripped it and in its natural state it is beautiful and well made. The drawers are put together with dove tails, not nails, a sign of quality.

4. For the things that I buy new I intend to first try to buy it from a local manufacturer. If that isn’t possible, then I will look to quality American manufacturers – I want it to last. It’s important that we support manufacturing in this country. You may think you are better off shopping at the big box stores but those low prices are an illusion. They don’t take into account how they are eroding all of our earning power. It’s not just the menial jobs that no one wants that are shipped overseas where cheap labor markets are exploited to make all that cheap stuff we buy. As we’ve seen with the economy, any of us can be affected. Well, trades people are safe. You aren’t going to call India when your toilet is backed up.

Then there is the hidden environmental costs of all those cheap goods – on the manufacturing and the disposal end. Dyes from jeans are leached into drinking water. Stores like Ikea are cutting down forests for furniture that ends up in the dumpster because it is so cheap that people would rather throw it  out and buy new stuff rather than deal with the hassle of moving it.

I have 15 months to do my research. I expect to pay more for these goods but then I expect that for some, it will be the last time that I need to buy them. I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve blown $400 at one time at Sephora, not to mention all the little nickel and dime purchases (meaning under $100) I’ve made over my lifetime for stuff I didn’t need. This time around I am willing to pay a fair price for a quality good that I need, love and will serve me well for hopefully the rest of my life. Everything that I keep or buy will now be evaluated on a strict criteria. My time and money are precious. I don’t want to be a slave to jobs that don’t feed my soul. Adapting this mindset will allow me to pursue my dreams without worrying about how I’m going to pay my bills.

Taking Better Pictures

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I’m getting ready to open my etsy shop. It’s the first phase of my plan to transition into a design career.

This is my second etsy shop. I didn’t put a lot of effort into my first one which explains why it was unsuccessful. But I took away some valuable lessons and have done more research and there are two (obvious) areas that I need to focus on: getting traffic to my shop and inventory.

Of course there are a lot of questions I need to ask myself and a list of to-do’s under each category, but one thing at a time. This post is going to focus on photographing your product. Good photos are important when selling online. Buyers want to reassurance (through your photos since they can’t physically touch it or try it on) that what they are getting is worth it.

I am by no means a professional photographer and I have an inexpensive point and shoot (Olympus FE-340) camera. The challenge is to use my camera and tools/materials readily available to create better pictures. Thank goodness for the internet!

One of my lines is jewelry so I searched “taking pictures of jewelry”. After perusing a couple of sites, here are the tips I came away with:

1. Use a tripod. I bought mine for $20 at Target. It made a huge difference in taking crisp, clear close-ups shots.

2. Use the macro setting on your camera. This feature is specifically for close-up shots. My camera actually has two macro settings so I can get within 1.5″ of my subject. The macro setting is usually indicated by a little flower icon.

3. Manually set your camera’s white balance. This took a little bit of investigative work on my part to find. In my camera’s manual it’s just called WB. For this shoot (which was on my kitchen table in a corner that has large windows facing north and east) I got the truest color from using the cloudy day setting.  But under other conditions I have the choice of using auto, sunny day, Tungsten light and Flourescent lamp1, 2 or 3.

4. Set the mode dial to optimize aperture and shutter speed. I usually used auto for my pictures but according to my manual, the “P” setting will do this and still allow you to manually set other settings such as white balance. 

5. Use a light box. On the etsy site tutorial, they showed a homemade one. Just take a large enough box, cut off the top and put white paper on the inside. It took me about 15 minutes and $3 for the role of white wrapping paper that I bought. You could probably use copy paper but I didn’t want seams to show.

6. Lighting is key. I shot these pictures on my kitchen table under the light with the light box facing the east window. I also had a desk lamp and experimented with different positions to see how it cast shadows and lit up my piece.

7. Set your camera to fine zoom so you can get close up without reducing image quality.

8. Choose your backdrop carefully. I used a piece of light blue faux suede for these shots, which I think makes a nice, neutral background. For white and clear jewelry, I used a piece of black matt board.

Again, I am not a professional but these photos give you a very clear idea of what my pieces looks like and are a huge improvement over what I have done in the past.

Another resource that I picked up is BetterPhoto Basics by Jim Miotke. It’s a great beginner’s guide that does a tutorial per page without all the dry photography terms (f-stops and what have you’s) so that you can instantly improve your photographs, whether shooting the family vacation or trying to improve product pictures.

 

The joys of home cooking

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Food is central to all of our lives.  My own relationship with food has had its ups and downs over the years. When I was younger it could create wonderful memories, such as going to my grandmother’s and getting a slice of her homemade banana cake, complete with buttercream frosting. I still make that recipe.

Or it could be a punishment. I also remember when I was about 7 years old sitting at our kitchen table well past dinnertime, locked in a battle of wills because I wouldn’t finish eating my lima beans (I still won’t eat lima beans).

During my teens and early 20’s food was the only thing I seemed to be able to control in my life and it turned into an eating disorder. It wasn’t until a boyfriend checked himself into a rehab facility for alcoholism that I decided to face my own demons. It was an uncomfortable battle. You can live without alcohol but you can’t live without food and it probably took me a year to learn how to eat properly and listen to my body so I wouldn’t overindulge.

I’ve gone through many phases with food. Given what I now know about the relationship between what you eat and your health and information on how our food supply is being corrupted by greedy corporations, I am trying to be a more mindful consumer and cook.  What I’ve learned along the way, and I’m sure I have more to learn, is that your food budget doesn’t have to skyrocket to eat healthy, fresh, unprocessed, home cooked meals and you don’t have to spend a lot of time in the kitchen preparing a meal if you don’t want to. I, however, find cooking relaxing and meditative and I love looking in my freezer and seeing the rewards of all of my hard work and none of it has an ounce of pink slime in it.

Here are some lessons I’ve learned along the way:

1.Learn to cook with the ingredients you have on hand. Look in your cupboard and fridge and my bet is that you can make a meal out of what you already have. I love sweet potatoes and wanted to do some baking with them. I often put them in waffles but decided to make some sweet potatoe burgers (which ended up being pancakes because I got a little too heavy-handed with the blender…) I bought 3 sweet potatoes figuring I’d throw them in the crock pot. What I didn’t realize is how much sweet potates I would end up with. I made the above mentioned pancakes, two different kinds of sweet potato bread and sweet potato muffins. I froze both loaves of bread for breakfast at a later date.

2. Use the internet. I heard about a website that will create a recipe based on ingredients you have on hand. Allrecipes.com is a great website, if not just for the comments section. When I have a leftover ingredient (such as the sweet potatoes), I’ll go on there to see my options. After reading the comments section on this site, I know how I can improvise the recipe to suit my needs or ingredients.

3. Figure out what your staples are and keep them on hand. If they go on sale, stock up. Staples for me are flour, olive oil, grains (rice, barley, quinoa, oatmeal) beans, pasta, vegetable stock, canned tomato products, eggs, butter, sugar (I cook alot of quick breads/muffins for my son for breakfast instead of the sugary breakfast cereals) and my go-to spices.  

4. Plan ahead. It takes less than an hour to scope out the pantry and fridge to figure out what you have and plan at least a week’s worth of meals. Planning really helps cut back the amount of money you spend at the grocery store. I only have to feed two people but almost every meal we eat is home cooked. When I first started out I just assumed that my food bill would be high. Once I started planning out my meals and sticking to my shopping list, I found that I was able to reduce my food bill but it also streamlined my time in the kitchen.

5. Double the recipe or cook and freeze. I work full-time and usually do my grocery shopping on the weekend. When I come home, I’ll usually spend some time preparing meals in advance for the week such as mixing up a couple of batches of muffins for my sons breakfast, some will go in the freezer. Or I will double a recipe – have it for a meal that night and freeze the rest for later.

6. Use a crockpot. Talk about a time saver, just throw the ingredients in the morning and turn it on and come home to dinner. I love it for cooking potatoes and if it’s great for cheaper cuts of meat (if you gotta eat meat, that is).

7. Find meat alternatives. Beans, quinoa and tofu are all good sources of protein and less expensive than meat. They are also better for you.

Treadmill or Stairs?

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If you think this is a post about exercise, you’re wrong.

I just picked up a couple of books: Savvy Chic – The art of more for less by Anna Johnson, Making the Good Life Last by Michael A. Schuler, The ProsperousHeart – Creating a life of “Enough” by Julia Cameron with Emma Lively and The Not so Big Life – Making room for what really matters by Sarah Susanka. Do you see the common thread? This post is about creating a life of purpose and quality.

Most of my life I bought into the “ideal” of making a lot of money just to turn around and spend it – mostly on crap that I really didn’t need. Shopping was always an event. My mom and I would drive an hour to go to the discount mall and come home with our car loaded down with our “bargains”. Shopping was a buzz, but the problem with most buzzes is that they eventually go away and you have to turn around and do it all over again to get another buzz. Maybe I wasn’t blowing my cash on alcohol or drugs, but I was still blowing it. I racked up credit card debt and I don’t even remember what I bought and I no longer own any of it.  To keep my little habit going, of course I had to work and I did so at a soul-sucking job. I was on a treadmill, running fast but going nowhere.

I bought into this life. I tried hard to be the corporate climber and had a career in insurance and even made some decent money at it. But it didn’t last for very long because as it so happens whenever you are ill-suited for something, I crashed and burned. I hated that job. I hated climbing the corporate ladder. All I really wanted to do all my life was to create. Even my Briggs-Myer test said I was a crafter. My mom, who really wanted better for me and meant well, told me that all my crafting was great as a hobby but I had to do better if I wanted to be independent. And I followed her advice, got a college degree in marketing and I have spent almost every single minute since then trying to go back to doing what I know I’ve wanted to do in my heart since I can remember.

I problaby won’t ever make a lot of money at it, right now I’m not making ANY money doing it, but what I’ve realized is that when I fill my life up DOING the things I really love, I feel fulfilled instead of empty inside. I don’t require the buzz of shopping because I get such a buzz out of creating.  So I’m going to start shedding the unneccessary stuff and only keep what’s necessary or what I love (that means the wall of yarn is staying). And I’m finally, once and for all (because if I don’t do it now, then when?) building a career where I can create. In the past money and confidence always stopped me, but now I am more worried about dying before I am able to achieve a life that really matters to me. I have such regret about the time I have wasted but I can’t get any of it back so I try not to dwell on it. Instead I focus on how I want to spend my time now – am I living in sync with my values and passion?

I’ve stepped off of the treadmill and I decided to take the stairs. It’s not less work but at least each step is moving me forward.