Thursday, January 28, 2010

January Quandaries: budgets, exercise, and motivation

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking this week about the effects this time of year has on me. I always get a little down in the winter (though only since moving to Portland- the snowy winters where I grew up drove the blues away. I think it has to do with snow making things brighter and reflecting sunlight…just a theory) and this is about the time every winter when I get very restless but also very lethargic. I aspire to bike up the Alberta hill to yoga once a week, and at the last minute poop out because it sounds too hard, even though I know it will make me feel better. I get frustrated more easily, want to get out of dodge and go somewhere warm and sunny, and struggle to keep myself positive and engaged in my friend group.

I’ve really been struggling with exercise recently- my bike rides to work are super short so I have to go out of my way to get more physical activity, which is really hard to motivate myself to do when it’s dark and rainy outside. My goals are to bike to yoga on Tuesdays and swim at my local pool on Thursdays, but even knowing how great I’ll feel afterwards, I have a hard time maintaining the willpower it takes just to get there. I’m experimenting with making my motivations different- for example, tonight I am biking up to Alberta to have dinner with one of my best friends, something that sounds like a lot of fun, and will also get me some exercise. Matt is also good about refusing to drive me places I could bike to, so I don’t use getting a ride as a cop-out.

I’ve also been trying to balance how to get my own projects done while juggling time between my apartment and Matt’s. We tend to split our time fairly evenly during the week, with more time spent at my place on the weekends. We usually take one or two days each week where we don’t see each other at all. But often during the week I have projects I want to get done and get stressed out trying to fit them in on the few nights I have at my house, and get especially distracted if Matt is there. We are still working on how to both work on our own things in the same space, which is made difficult by the fact that we both live in tiny apartments. I’m realizing I need to do some planning around having portable projects, reading, etc. that I can take with me when I go to his house in the evening, so I can still feel like I’m accomplishing some of my own things while spending time with him.

Another thing on my mind has been spending- it’s always a constant consideration of mine, as I place a lot of value on being able to save money and live frugally, but this month it has not gone well. Sure, there were a few big purchases that were necessary and that will last me for years, like the fluorescent shop lights I bought to use for starting my tomatoes and peppers. Also $50 went for my application fee with my graduate school application (which has been officially turned in! One task checked off my list). But still my credit card bill is far higher than I would like, so I’ve decided that instead of just trying to “curb my spending,” it’s time for a budget. I’m going to challenge myself in February and go with the “cash only” rule. I will withdraw $400 in cash at the beginning of the month, and that is all I am allowed to spend (beyond rent and utilities, of course) until March 1. I think I can do it- it will just be an extra challenge to see if I can have any left over at the end of the month. With my credit card completely paid off (which I do every month), I will set the goal after February of spending $250 in cash per month, and allowing myself to put $150 on my credit card. This way I will keep my credit record rolling, and still get the dividends (I have the REI credit card). I will check in at the end of February as to how this is going.

Hopefully finding some solutions to all of these issues will help me fair better mentally as I wait for spring to arrive.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Seven Things that confirm I am living the kind of life I want...

(Click on photos to enlarge)
1. Jasmine tea in a glass mug.

2. A handful of freshly darned socks.

3. More seeds than I know what to do with!

4. Matt stirring a colorful Saturday Night Stir-Fry in my kitchen.

5. The blooming geranium over my kitchen sink.

6. Bringing home a full compost jar from the office every day.

7. Melty fresh biscuits with butter and cinnamon honey; steamed broccoli with cheese.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Something Remarkable

Once in a while, a person sets out to do something truly remarkable, something positive and something that is just truly an achievement. If you want to hear about one of these people, I suggest you check this out:

Jessica Watson is a 16 year old Australian sailor who is on her way to becoming the youngest person ever to circumnavigate the globe solo, nonstop, and unassisted. In the last week she has rounded Cape Horn, passed the 10,000 mile mark (the whole journey is around 23,000 miles) and seen her parents (sort of) for the first time in months as they participated in a flyover off the tip of South America. I have been following Jessica's blog since she left Sydney in October, and every time I read it, I am totally heartened by the reminder she is of strength and courage in the human race and the sheer guts with which she has undertaken her voyage.

Besides her blog, there are news updates, a voyage tracker, and various videos from throughout the saga. The latest one is from her parents' flyover, I admit I cried at how small she looked in that giant ocean, a symbol of strength and humanity way out there away from the rest of the world.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Garden Planning!

My sort-of New Year’s resolution was to not look at my seed catalogs or think of garden planning until January. Well, January is here and I have spent the last couple days cracking out over my seed catalogs, dreaming and scheming and mapping out potential gardens. My neighbor Julie and I are co-using the garden space, so I can’t grow quite as much as I wanted, but I’m sure I’ll still pack in a lot. We chatted about what we want to grow/share (chard, arugula, and other greens) potentials for biodynamic gardening (something I’ve never really read up on, but which Julie is very keen on), and how to share the space.
Without much space to work with, I am planning on doing lots of interplanting (basil between peppers, feverfew between tomatoes, squash plants growing around corn) and using the back fence and trellises for vining plants. By using indeterminate varieties of cucumbers, peas, etc, the amount of soil space they take up is much less than bush varieties so I can fit more in overall.

It’s so much fun planning- I love the organizational aspect of it, and finding ways to barter, share seeds, and involve multiple people. My coworker Olga and I are ordering seeds together, and going to do some swapping as well from what we already have. Olga was wonderful last summer, bringing me lots of surplus produce from her garden and bestowing me with lots of herbs that would have been really expensive to buy from the store.
This year I will (attempt to) grow my own starts of tomatoes, peppers, squashes, cabbage, and onion sets. I may try starting corn inside too, as it takes so long to get going in the ground. Later this week will be the trip to the hardware store for good florescent lights with hoods, so I can replicate my mom’s plant-starting setup (which will occur under my dining table in the living room, as that is the only space available in my apartment for several square feet of planting pots and trays. Olga has a major surplus of starter pots/trays/supplies and is giving those to me for free! I always find it so amazing and gratifying how many things you can pick up for free or for trade, to save money and to reuse instead of unnecessarily putting more products into circulation. Olga is also going to trade me cucumber starts (lemon cukes and others) for tomato starts. We are trying to stick mainly to heirloom varieties of veggies in order to preserve traditional pure varieties and not funnel our money into hybridizing and patenting companies like Monsanto. Of course there are some hybrids that we both love (Bright Lights Swiss Chard comes to mind) so we will make a few exceptions.

Already my garden is getting going- my garlic came up before Christmas!

(click on images to enlarge)

I was not expecting it to show up until February at least, and was planning on fertilizing before it sprouted, but too late! I had talked with my dad about how/when to fertilize garlic, as fertilizing can make a huge difference in its growth, so last weekend I pulled back the mulch and gave both patches a dose of fish fertilizer (excellent for most veggie crops, dilution ratios differ for different types of veggies, all the ratios are listed on the container). Now it’s mostly just waiting. The sprouts are already several inches tall!

Here's some views of the garden space, from both ends:
You can see my compost bin (and the neighbor's rowboat) in the background.

Here's another view, on the same rainy day. You can where the garlic plots are "roped" off:

On top of everything else, loads of flower bulbs are sprouting! Check this out:

I have this feeling that I’ll be writing more frequently with garden updates as I get seeds ordered and everything set up for starting plants indoors.

Recent Crocheting Projects

Here are some photos of a couple recent things I’ve done with crocheting.

The first is a purse that I’ve taken forever to finish- I started it last spring! I’ve had all the pieces sitting around for months and finally got around to putting it together.

The purple heather wool came from Matt’s grandmother’s knitting bag, which he inherited when she died. It is a really fine wool, and tears easily, so I doubled it with embroidery silk to reinforce it. The lining to the bag is an old napkin from my kitchen that I cut down and hemmed by hand (before I had my sewing machine).

The button and the grosgrain ribbon for the strap came from a craft store. The crocheted section is just a rectangle, with pink embroidery silk instead of purple on one end, which became the flap. I sewed the napkin lining to it with dark teal embroidery silk- I was being a little sloppy with big stitches, but I really love the way it looks!

Once the lining was on, I folded the rectangle over on itself and “spiral” stitched the sides of the bag with the same teal thread, making sure to get the stitches through the lining to hold everything well in place. I folded the ends of the ribbon and put them right inside the edges of the bag and double stitched them with the teal thread to make sure they were good and attached. Then I sewed on the brass button, and I was done!

I didn’t use a pattern and just kind of made the whole thing up as I went, so I’m extra pleased at how it turned out. I needed a new purse, and it just fits my wallet, phone, keys, and glasses case.

The other projects are a couple more dishcloths that I’ve been crocheting in my free time at work.
They are made from wool, not cotton, so they shrink once they get wet and end up with a nice felted texture, so after my first one I learned to make them a little bigger, so they don’t end up tiny once they’re in the water!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Tracking My Spending

With graduate school on the horizon and a steady income available, I have been making a conscious effort to save money. Starting at the end of October, I have been tracking my spending, writing down every time I spend any money and what I spend it on. Just the act of having to write down every time I spend anything at all is good incentive not to spend! My goal has been to put $500 into my savings account every month, and I achieved that in November, but only put in $370 in December. I tried to curb my spending for the holidays and I know I could have done better, but all the events of the holidays, gifts, plus food for a family of four (five if Matt was around) for 3 days added up. I feel pretty good about how I managed, but wish I could have made my $500 goal in spite of it. I’m not particularly concerned about my grocery costs, I feel pretty good about those, but here is the breakdown for bills, leisure (eating out, candy, coffee, movies, etc.), and spending on Christmas gifts/events:

November leisure spending: $66.83

December leisure spending: $174.06

Christmas gifts/events: $123.32

My average rent/utility bills per month: $740.00

I can account for some of the increase in my December spending by the fact that I had a couple doctor/dentist appointments in December with copays, and a chunk of $40 to Deck Family Farm when I stocked up on their free range sausage and other pastured meat at the last farmer’s market of the year.

I have definitely cut down on buying things like coffee and candy, but I still succumb sometimes when I need a pick-me-up. I try to remind myself that it’s ok to treat myself once in awhile, and that the fact that I’m only doing it once or twice a month is making a huge difference. I feel that it’s not a sin to indulge if it’s done infrequently and if you don’t spend on a whim. I try to really think about what I want and if it is worth it, or is there something else I want to spend that money on. I love seeing the difference it makes, when I really do have money to spare at the end of the month and can transfer it into my savings. I’ve been living paycheck to paycheck since I got laid off a year ago, so it’s really nice to continue to live that way to control my spending, but know that I have a reserve if I need it.

My rent and bills each month add up to almost an entire paycheck for me (I am paid every two weeks), so my goal is usually to set aside the majority of the other paycheck into savings and spend the rest on groceries. If I think of it in those terms and plan ahead and keep good track of my accounts via online banking so I’m always aware of how much I have available, I feel in good control of my finances. I have not yet set a budget, as writing down my spending makes me think twice about what I’m paying for and has already helped me cut down drastically on my spending. I don’t feel trapped and have found a lot of good ways to be innovative and make things last longer, and do things with my time that don’t involve spending.