Tuesday, November 30, 2010

soba, so good

okay, you deserve a fun post of yumminess after yesterday's downer post. life is all about balance, right? which also means i'm getting offline soon after posting this, to listen to christmas music on pandora and maybe some NPR BBC news and knit.

here is tonight's super-frugal dinner, all made with food items i already had on hand:

this is buckwheat soba noodles, mixed with steamed bok choy and kale, raw carrot, tahini, lemon juice, tamari, fresh ginger, and tofu stir-fried in organic veggie broth (my new cooking weapon is to buy 5 large cartons of this stuff to replace my one glass bottle of organic canola oil at - GASP! - $17/pop. i use way too much oil, and am concerned both about the saturated fat content of both my wallet and my body...i'm also planning on using applesauce to replace oil in many of my vegan baking recipes). this would be amazing with snap peas but i didn't have any so whatever. this meal was healthy, cheap, and came together quickly. i ate it cold.

i'm also a huge fan of this combo: brussels sprouts-nuts-garlic-red pepper flakes-tamari-sesame oil. holy YUM.

i'm off to the knitting. one student loan is overdue, the car reg will be done a month late, but the rest of the bills are more or less paid till next month and i should have a bit of cash left in there to float me through till christmas. i hope.

i think my friends are getting vegan peppermint bark in jars this year 'cause i never made it back to my sewing machine after the craziness of prepping and taking on a brand-new classroom. next year you'll get your napkin rolls with bamboo flatware, friends. i (try to) promise.

here are the lemon gem cupcakes i made for a special friend's birthday. from the best cookbook in the world, vegan with a vengeance.

love and light to you,


Monday, November 29, 2010

another post about money, sorry ...

I'm not sure where to begin tonight.

I guess I'm feeling the need for a sounding board :-)

Everything is fine, it's just that I'm stressing about money again. I feel I'm in a money pit I can never quite climb out of.

I wish someone had MADE me save in my twenties, that they hadn't been so darned frivolous and materialistic. i was such a different person back then. shopping at the mall, racking up the credit cards. but i can't change the past, nor the fact that my development as an adult was just not yet complete.

but that leaves me, at 31, not much better off than in those days. i am saddled with student loan debt, credit card debt, and short-term loans that i take out every month to float me by till the next paycheck.

i'm sorry, you've heard this before. i feel like every time i've made a money post in the nearly three years since i've written this blog, i get a hair better. a hair is just not good enough though. i drive by nice houses (not mansions just nice homes) and that's what i want, too. but i know i'll never get there if i can't do what i need to do: get out from under debt and build my nest egg.

every month, i say it's going to be different, and mind you i'm not spending money on ANY frivolities such as furniture, clothes, or knickknacks. but i do VERY occasionally still plop down $12 for a lunch out (cursing myself the while), $2 for a coffee because i woke up too late to make it at home .... i do believe in treating yourself from time to time but if you're really serious shouldn't you just go cold turkey for a time?

it's hard. i've eliminated so much from my life, so much extraneous. it's frustrating to have a job that pays all the bills but leaves no cash for living for the rest of the month. or saving.

so i'm hoping to start with part-time work in january in addition to my full-time job. i only need $150-200/week extra to free up some space for saving and debt reduction. i'm excited about this, although i no doubt will be tired and there will, for a time, be little time for social life pursuits or hobbies. good news is i can make even more money by working some full-time weeks in summer, while i'm still being paid my regular salary by the school.

i am using the debt snowball method to pay off my cc debt, but i just did the first payments using this method and i feel like it didn't even make a ding (only spared $15/extra toward the lowest balance card minimum) .... i know i just have to keep it up and give it time though.

i struggled and struggled with the decision to keep my monthly yoga membership, but in the end it's really economical considering how much i go and also considering i am nearly four payments behind on my health insurance coverage, this is like health insurance for half price. preventive, anyway. i'm hoping a tax refund in january will help me pay the back premiums.

so instead, i'm going to go back to VERY simple meals and still be able to eat healthy, organic, unprocessed, whole foods. yep, rice and beans. pasta. vegetable soups. i'll manage to make it interesting. but seriously, frou frou ingredients are out. i can't give whole foods all my money. i'm going back to kroger for most of my shopping, they don't have the selection the alternative stores do but for basics they do have things like organic beans, and they are cheaper. i can really do it on the food, i'm ashamed to admit i've plunked down $30 or so at the farmer's market alone ... for just ME! i don't waste much food but i think cooking from cookbook whims is a very expensive way to eat that i just can't afford to stomach (literally!) right now. i don't know how much to budget for food when anything went before. if you live alone, what do you budget per week for food? no joke i can spend over $200/month. this must end! i'm hoping that I can do $15/week bare bones. you know, milk, bread, beans, seasonal veg, bulk grains ..... hmmm.....imagine saving $35 a week for month ... that's $140 ... now i've spent $60 instead of $200 ... ahh that's more like it!

i could eliminate my cell phone and save about $55/month. i'm with a no-contract provider so i could sign back up anytime. i like the idea of having a cell phone though for emergencies. if i can give up my horrible texting habits i could suspend that for a temporary time and get a bare-bones plan. apply the savings (maybe $20/month?) to debt and savings.

christmas is coming, and i'll put any money i receive directly into savings. my goal is to build up a small e-fund.

if you've made it this far, thanks for listening. i'd appreciate any suggestions or advice or thoughts you may have, too. i'm already feeling more positive. it's not like i've never been broke before. it's just that i'm sick of it, and i swear that every day that goes by since i've started this blog i've changed my life just a hair more. ah, the hair again. i know that's how big life shifts happen, one day at time. i know i should cut myself some slack. but i also know that some moves in life just require big commitments and real action.

it's just damned hard so i'd appreciate any and all positive support. thanks, you're fabulous.

soon to return to regular programming, i promise. but this is so very important to me as i continally strive to live a more frugal, pared-down life. i already love how my mindshift has firmly settled on being a conserver, and NOT a consumer!

love and light,


Thursday, November 25, 2010

A time for thanks

that was the feast i just enjoyed, alone, with not a light on except a flickering candle. in my living room, watching it pour down rain here for a second day. a wonderfully quiet, peaceful, and contemplative span of moments.

and yes, that is all vegan food you see! :-) i am so happy that no animals had to be harmed for me to thank the earth for all of its bounty, which is all we need.

in a while, i'll call my parents, then a close friend whose birthday it is today.

i have some peppermint tea here and a spot of knitting which i will share with you if i ever get it finished! it's for an orphan i adopted through frugal trenches' blog, who lives in China.

i won't list all i'm grateful for here, but i feel all of those things residing heavily, comfortably, in my heart.

most of all, i'm grateful for turning my vision for life into action, manifested in numerous instances throughout my daily journey. i'm glad for whatever gave me such strong, intuitive, compassionate vision. and for continuing to cultivate it in myself through mindful living and yoga practice.

i still write in my gratitude journal every few days.

tomorrow, i'm going to the lovely fair trade shop, a couple of local bookstores, and a louisville-themed gift shop. i will buy a few things for others for christmas on buy nothing day, things that benefit the lives of those in the third world, the lives of those in my home community, and the environment, through such as used books that get a second life. forget the "door buster" deals. i'll take things slow with a good warm drink from the locally-owned coffeeshop in hand.

i'm also going to decorate my house for christmas, briefly babysit a lovely 4-year-old girl, and watch my favorite holiday movie, "Love, Actually" to kick off my favorite season of the year.

and the weekend holds yet another vegetarian community potluck, trying my hand at gifts of homemade vegan peppermint bark, and baking lemon gem cupcakes for a dear friend's birthday. hmmm...maybe a very chilly hike too!

i can't believe that in three weeks i'll be on a train headed home to crisp, snowy new england! at last! oh ... and i'd better start knitting like crazy, 'cause i've been too ambitious, as usual!

it's a busy season and i'm grateful for all the purposeful bustle it entails. i will not forget others in my quest, and perhaps will share with you who i'm helping during this blessed season of giving.

you can't see it too well, but i'm looking at a lot of rain out there. don't you love that tree? late fall, in all its glory.

and here's what i am going to enjoy in a couple of hours! vegan sweet potato pie from scratch with caramelized-sugary-nut topping! mmmmmmmm.

Monday, November 22, 2010

healthy limits

i'm needing to set some "online time" limits for myself.

i'm on the computer too much every night, and on the weekends. i'm not reading books, knitting, sewing, writing letters to friends, or getting simple household tasks accomplished. i'm also not going for walks as frequently as i would like.

i'm thinking, try no more than one hour a day between blog reading, facebook, and whatever else i use this for. tonight i've been on for three and a half hours already. it's ridiculous, but it does go by fast. i could easily stay on for three more hours if i let myself.

it's just too much, and i think a lot of us face this dilemma when trying to move toward a simpler life in the digital age. there's a lot of inspiration to be had out there from blogs and other forums, but there comes a point where you realize you've done more vegging (as in making popcorn to sit by the computer some more! guilty!) than doing despite all of your inspirations.

i think i can do it for a week to start, and go from there.

i want my sanity back. normal life back. eye health. a feeling of satisfaction in pursuing my own hobbies after a long day's work. to feel refreshed, not bugged-out from the screen.

do any of you cope with these issues, as well? i'd like to hear your thoughts.

i'm getting off this thing to make up my bed with clean sheets, take a shower, clean the cat area, wash dishes, prepare pumpkin bar ingredients for tomorrow, and perhaps do some knitting and reading, and visiting with someone special.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

31 years ago today ...

I was born in Connecticut, where i then lived for 17 years before heading off to college in Vermont.

I have so many goals for this decade of life.

I don't know if they'll happen; we can only plan so far ahead, I've learned.

Maybe these:

learn guitar
write and publish a book
learn to ride a horse
home ownership
a real vacation
travel abroad, either for work or adventure
a year off from working at all
more challenging sewing and knitting projects
my own garden
move back to New England? (pulling hard for Vermont!) but i don't know ... i also truly love it here in Kentucky
daily yoga practice/maybe become a yoga teacher
daily meditation
become a better blogger and photographer

for now, i'm happy to be working in a career i love (if you're new to my blog, i'm a first-year AMI trained montessori primary teacher, with 3-6 year olds in my class), in the great midwestern/southern town of Louisville.

i was thinking today, yet again, how much my life has changed since i started this blog back in march of 2008. i was desperately seeking "another way" to live. i found it here, i'm slowly crafting my own version of life and not some corporation's/advertiser's/politician's. i'm not following the majority.

there are so many more steps i want to take, that i feel like i've only made baby strides so far. but that's just not true. what i'm most proud of, is that since that day i started the blog at age 28, i've done the following:

grew a basil and a chard plant for one season
started cooking from scratch
moved from a vegetarian to a 98 percent vegan diet
became a yoga regular
got rid of my television, and much of my clothes and furniture. stopped caring about whether or not i lived in a "hip" neighborhood and settled for renting a nice house in a quiet neighborhood with space in back for a garden (hopefully this spring!) and cheap rent, allowing me to soon save money and build up an emergency fund
committed to paying off my credit card debt for good using the dave ramsey snowball method
stopped buying so many useless gifts from big-name shops for people, and pared it down to locally-produced, fair-trade, handmade items
learned very basic knitting and sewing skills
began using the public library again for the first time since (gasp!) childhood

that is a lot of progress for just under three years, right?

i read so many of your blogs that share the common themes i've become so interested in -- growing food, raising children in a nurturing, imaginative, creative home environment, beautiful and inspiring photos, finding beauty in the simplicity of everyday life, whether it's a hand-stitched tea towel, a warm cup of coffee on a porch, a vintage flea market find, knitting and sewing projects -- and they keep me inspired on a journey that's hopefully starting to look similar. not in a keeping-up-with-the-jones' way, but in a way that holds the way i want to live up to me like a mirror, keeping me honest to myself and reflecting all the light there is too see.

happy birthday to me, an old soul to be sure.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

homebody's update

hi, everybody.

just a quick update from the nesting homebody who isn't spending any money these days.

all is well, exhausted today after two very late nights. with good reason though.

my to-do list lately has been scant and it's been lovely. hike. knit. read books. read blogs. seriously, that's it.

i still don't feel much like putting myself "out there" and this is okay though i am somewhat missing female-friend companionship. however i am attending a benefit sunday night at a local winery for a dear musician-friend i know who needs to get on the heart transplant list. literally heartbreaking, but also hopeful.

i'm craving the comfort of stews and chunky soups these days. i made one the other night, in fact, spicy roasted butternut squash with homemade oregano/thyme foccacia bread. thank you to the Vegan with a Vengeance cookbook for that one. it's my favorite!

i think i'm boycotting christmas this year. well, like last year. i downsize it more each year. it becomes more about handmades/fair trade baubles/locally-produced and made products each year. i want to try my hand at vegan peppermint bark.

i'm currently knitting a scarf and a dishcloth, and a baby hat (this last one for a friend's project to help orphaned infants and children in China). progress is slow. i am not consistent.

(here i am, enjoying a local festival, excited to be in layers)

the time change has messed with my energy levels, it'll take me a couple weeks before i get used to it being dark at 6 p.m. (sorry fellow new englanders, i know you have it much worse). the temps are chilly here at night but still getting up to 75 during the day! i don't get it. but i'm still craving soups and stews and snuggles in cardigans.

(easy "eco art" project i found in a library book for crafting with children ... these will be potato "porcupines" if the grass seed grows)

since the finances post, i've learned to go literally DAYS without spending a dime. it feels like a struggle, but it also feels good. going to bed early, well, that's still a mess. 11:30 seems to be the earliest i can do. ideally i'd like to go to bed at 9:30 and wake up at 5:30 ... two hours for yoga, meditation, coffee, prep for work, and maybe even some knitting/reading/sewing before leaving for work. i don't know. maybe someday.

yoga holds steady at once/twice per week. i'd like to walk more, but the hikes are making up a good balance on weekends.

i like being a HUGE introvert right now. still, i'm thinking a smallish dinner gathering of friends would be really nice.

i take the train home to connecticut in a month. i can't wait to be home. i love being home for a short time.

(this turned out to be a magical day that turned into a magical weekend. i wonder what will come of what happened that weekend. man i loved that weekend.)

i guess that's all that's happening here right now. i'm gonna make some stove-topped popcorn, knit and read a bit, and go to sleep earlier than the last two nights.

Friday, November 5, 2010

on finances.

I haven't posted about my financial situation in a while. I guess because it sucks. I mean, it doesn't suck, technically. I got a raise this year for becoming head teacher, and I now make DOUBLE what I made as an assistant! Yes, that's awesome! Then how is it that I'm still living paycheck to paycheck and paying for checking account overdrafts each month?

I don't buy new clothes or gadgets and yes maybe my food budget is just a weeeee bit out of control, but seriously. My money is spent on day one of getting paid. The problem, of course, is that for the third year now, I have spent my first three paychecks (and soon to be four!) on catching up from an entire summer of not being paid at all. Yes, I was on a 10-month paycheck plan. Luckily, this year I'm on a 12-month plan, so I don't have to worry about missed payments and late fees and paying double rent (living here in Louisville AND in St. Louis, where my training was).

But I haven't felt the raise yet due to this sitchy. And I'm sick to death of not ever having any money. I feel like a complete loser at the age of 30. No one ever taught me how to specifically manage money.

If you're not a new reader, you know that I've taken many, many steps over the last two and a half years of blogging to simplify my life in terms of material things, in terms of going out to eat (which I was horrible at when I first began this blog in 2008, almost never cooking it seemed), etc.

My mindset now is TOTALLy different than when I was on the mainstream consumer acquire-acquire-acquire treadmill. And, in so many ways, I've translated this to practical actions.

Yet I still have no savings, my credit cards are still maxed out at about $6,000 (due to classroom expenses, yes setting up a classroom from scratch with a $500 budget for the year from my school gets very expensive because of course you're going to need more than that, a Montessori moveable alphabet alone is $300, not to mention all the weekly/monthly things that add up, like flowers, cheese, soap, cleaning supplies, etc. I also have some of last year's traveling-home-for-christmas money still on there), and I'm behind on my health insurance payments (yikes).

And to top it all off, I just received my very first graduate student loan bill in the mail! $499/month for the next 10 years! yippee!! ;-)

I have taken out payday loans (I know, bad, I did just pay one off in full though) and check advances from my own bank to keep my head above the water.

But I'm not paying myself first, and every month I get paid it seems the earlier I'm broke again.

So this month, I'm going to only pay what I absolutely need to to get by. Rent, student loan bill (never want to get behind on those!), cell phone, car insurance. Et cetera.

I've decided to look for an extra job to pay my credit cards off (which I'm cutting up, at least the lower balance ones, I'll probably freeze the $5,000 limit one in a block of ice until I have a decent emergency fund built up), which is likely going to be babysitting work. I only need about $80/week to do the snowball thing. I like Dave Ramsey's advice on paying off credit cards.

It's been challenging, but I've come up with some solutions, for example as soon as I'm paid I give myself $100 cash "end of month" money that I can't start spending until 10 days before I'm paid again.

It's been interesting, as well going DAYS and DAYS (as in, a week or more) without spending a dime. I think in a way, it's a good lesson that there is a good life to be had without constantly running to the shops for this and that little (and usually unecessary) little thing. Today, for instance, I spent 2 hours after school deep cleaning my classroom. I've been hiking a lot on weekends, and bringing a picnic lunch with me. Last night, I spent an hour and a half at a local yarn shop, knitting a scarf that will be a christmas gift. I got a lot done! Tonight, I'm going to really relax: blogging, doing laundry. Tomorrow night is "ladies' night" at a friend's (not something out). You are getting the point.

This is something I want to continue when I actually see my finances creep into the black again. I think it's a mindset we as consumer-brainwashed Americans (and we are, much as I hate to admit it, it's a lifetime of advertising, cultural rituals stamped onto my brain unconsciously and not-so) really struggle with. I know I do, and you know how I strive to live! It actually feels like a struggle to go days and days without spending money on something, even a something as trivial as a coffee or a beer! I'm trying to worm my way through that tiny hole to the light, as it were.

I know that I will catch up. I'm not doing any more short-term loans, and I'm going to start advancing less and less with each paycheck, the better I get at this "no spending" game.

Of course, we all need to treat ourselves sometimes. I considered giving up my reservations to a very high-class hotel in Chicago the weekend before I head home on the train for Christmas in New England. but you know what? i'll have gone so long without any real "treat" that it's worth it to me. Windfalls are coming, Christmas cash and tax refunds and one more student loan installment (I have one more short semester of school to attain my master's, and I'll need the money for travel, food, and other expenses) will come soon after, and will be well distributed.

I guess I'm mostly writing this to encourage myself, to see long-term goals (house, travel, family)as the things I really want to save for .... but mainly, in the short-term, so I don't give up on seeing "no spending" as an okay thing.

I'd like to start paying for nearly everything outside of bills with cash, too, including food (I've already started that) and gas. I used to think that was worse for someone who has money burning a consistent hole in her pocket, but I think I can handle it better now.

If you have some positive words or advice to share, please do so in the comments. I'd appreciate the support.

cheers and happy weekending to you (I get another three-day one!),


Monday, November 1, 2010

the cooking bug.

do i really get this many fruit/veg into my diet in one day?

here is a list of what i got in:

sweet potatoes
string beans

today, i also had (in various things):

two snack size bars of reese's/butterfinger (meh)
almond milk
peanut butter
ezekiel bread made from sprouted grains (no flour)
vegan chocolate chips
tofurkey, smoked deli slices
silken tofu
tofurkey italian sausage (whoa on the soy today ...oh well)
ground flaxseed
salt and vinegar kettle-cooked potato chips

i have been going for less fat (oil) in the diet and seem to have overcompensated with salt and sugar. well, it is almost that time of the month ... i'll balance out soon. overall, pretty healthy!

breakfast: green smoothie (and those two little candy bars)
lunch: "turkey" sandwich with chips and edamame
dinner: one bowl each of, 1. sweet potato-"sausage"-apple bake, 2. maple-mustard glazed potatoes and string beans
dessert: vegan chocolate zucchini bread with melted vegan butter

I also have a ton of leftover red kidney bean curry to have with grains throughout the rest of this week.

I plan on making a roasted butternut squash soup this weekend.

So glad the cooking bug is back!! :-)