Sunday, May 18, 2014

finding and savoring the simple order and peaceful harmony in enough

I've been thinking a lot lately about the way we live our lives. As each year has gone by, I've parted with more and more "stuff." It feels GOOD to see empty floors in closets, and half empty clothing racks. There is more to cull, but at this point I am very happy with the kitchen supplies and furniture and clothing we have. We don't NEED more (although I'd like a tart pan and some new cookie sheets). I have finally, after six years of my journey into living simply and frugally (it really IS a process that reverses so much of what we absorb growing up in such a harried, materialistic culture), felt the SEA change in myself regarding the way in which I want to live. I almost can't believe it, yet there it is, firmly planted somewhere in the center of my being. I first felt it strongly the day I bought organic half and half because the awful grocery store here had it stocked for the first time, even though I knew full well we had at least 2 perfectly good non-dairy milks at home (I have learned that I prefer good half and half in my coffee to vanilla-flavored nondairy milk, which is what my DH prefers). It was $3 I hadn't wanted to spend. It was an "aha!" moment which is weird because I've certainly had those dilemmas before. It made me WANT to be intentional but not stressed about those types of choices. Usually, there is one choice. Do without and make do! So I have begun applying that to everything. Also, of course, less being more -- a little less laundry powder each time I wash, washing in cold water for 99 percent of loads (our most recent electric bill was HALF the previous month's!!). We are using the drying rack to hang towels that have had dishes drying on them and it has drastically cut down on how often we wash kitchen towels. I just bought the EXACT bathing suit (well, very close) I had been researching online for lap swimming (priced at $60-80+) at a thrift store for $9. It wasn't the perfect suit, but darn good enough for that price! Saved me a bundle, plus I also was able to purchase a new work-appropriate top for $4. Still way less than the price of one suit. I have been packing a meal for grocery shopping trips and saving $10 or more on the cost of dinner, say, at the Whole Foods salad bar.

We have been crazy busy here trying to find our place to live in northern Virginia. We may have settled on a place (!!) in Alexandria. Now, this place is not perfect. It's SMALL. But it does have great storage should we need to stow a chair, our books, etc. for the next year or two. Our master plan is to rent a single family home in a year, or two, depending how it goes. The rent is a little cheaper than the blandblah (yes, my word creation) townhouses/condos rampant in that entire area that we are SO not fond of. Not much, but it puts more wiggle room in a tight, but not unbreathable, budget. I have found that if I stick to the budget, I will have some for savings, some for joining a pool and yoga (NOT extras in my opinion, as health is thy medicine!), and plenty for bills. I also found a few loopholes to begin paying down debt. DH having a full-time salary at last helps too. Alexandria is farther from work, but a vibrant city full of life and amenities (and lots of free entertainment, in addition to what's a short train ride away in DC!). I think we're going to like it. We should know for sure in a couple of days on whether we get this place, and then I'll post some pictures for you.

I am struggling with not having a summer vacation this year, as the school year here winds down (2 more weeks of school days!) and I get into my usual pattern of "too hard to get up" and getting to school much later than I normally would, not having breakfasts and lunches planned, etc. But I think the new environment will refresh and keep me occupied and summer nights are long :-)

Food here has been quickly lightening up. We are doing a lot more smoothies and salads. There are just a couple more roasts and stews planned. Lunches have been hard-boiled eggs, grassfed hot dogs, homemade trail mixes. I love this time of year, a nice break from all the cooking/baking/heavier foods of winter. It's a great time to lose some weight, although I find that my diet keeps the weight steady :-( Not sure if that's good or bad, as the weight is much higher than I'd like it to be. But I always do seem to lose some this time of year. The heat does make one eat less, I find.

Well, this is quite enough rambling for one update. Speaking of food, today will be spent in the kitchen doing some prep work for pizzas. I'm going to make crockpot baked beans, quinoa, and -- for dinner later -- a lamb roast with mashed potatoes. If I don't get it all done, well that's okay too.

I hope you've been enjoying a wonderful spring.

Love and light,


Sunday, May 4, 2014

the first true day of spring

the knitting basket, currently. The Simple Things Shawl in progress is at the far left, with fingering weight yarn from our honeymoon in Savannah, GA called Spanish Moss :-) 

basketweave dishcloth (a project from this winter's Hibernate retreat)

that apple candle (gift from christmas) is incredibly mind-clearing! 

we have been loving that white flowering bush down in the yard. i can't bring myself to take cuttings it's so delicate and lovely. 

favorite cookbook of the moment, and chicken salad over local greens

Yes, that feels like today. And with sweet timing, as I had gotten all my "personal tasks" done yesterday, an attempt to get back on track with personal life after a very imbalanced (yet rewarding) week of WORK at work. Today is a "free" day and I had even written it down as such on one of my usual lists. I have actually, unexpectedly to myself, made May a month of relaxation as much as possible when you are moving in the first week of June. But this time around we have wonderful family help with both our moving costs and -- MOVERS!! -- and it just makes things a million times easier, even thinking about it is just not stressful. All we'll have to do is pack. And erm ... go up to northern VA next Saturday and find our special place to live.

But I've gone off on a tangent ... so back to today here at home. Because it's halfway (!) through the year (already thinking about Christmas handmades...), the light comes earlier in the morning so I was up at 7:15. It was lovely to have the dishes and laundry done, the dog walked, french press and breakfast made all by 9 a.m. I knitted for a good hour and a half, and I read the most captivating novel (The Snow Child), about 80 pages worth, on the outside balcony. I wore my new thrifted skirt and needed my 100SPF cream and spray. The sun was hot, it's sunny, and there's been the most gentle breeze all day. Just gorgeous.

I've already begun lighter eating. Still thriving on a mix of Paleo-ish and vegetarian meals with a much lighter emphasis on grains, though we did have a wonderful pasta dish last night -- spinach fettucine with walnuts, adapted from Rose Eliot's 30-minute Vegetarian. I've been making a lot from this book lately. I love the simplicity of the recipes, I love the photography. I own a lot of cookbooks, have in fact embargoed myself from collecting more at present until I see which ones I do cook from all the time (I also get a ton online, mostly more last-minute stuff and very directed stuff, like "enchilada sauce", but nothing beats a real cookbook) -- except for maybe a good slow cooker one as we've been really enjoying the benefits of my crockpot lately. I would highly recommend this cookbook. From it, we have loved:

Avocado and Roasted Potato Salad with Creamy Dressing
Vegetable Curry with Bombay Potatoes and Dal
Grilled Mediterranean Vegetables with Couscous, Hummus, and Toasted Pine Nuts
Mediterranean Strudel
Fast White Chocolate and Lime Cheesecake

We are looking forward to making
Spaghetti alla Puttanesca
Red Onion Tarts
Quick Almond and Raspberry Cookies
Grilled Halloumi Skewers with Red and Yellow Peppers and Herby Couscous
Grilled Eggplant with Halloumi and Mint
Potato and Leek Gratin
Oven-Baked Asparagus and Pea Risotto
Red Bean Wraps
and many more!

Really if you're in need of some inspiration this one's great!

I have recently decided on a plan for weekday lunches once the new school starts up in June. Do something like a bunch of amazingly fresh chicken salad started in the crockpot (currently being enjoyed over organic lettuce from the first farmer's market of the season).

4 bs breasts. stack in crockpot with 1/2 cup water and turn on low 6 hours (9 hours if frozen).

once cooled, chop small. combine with 1 cup organic mayo, 2tbsp organic lemon juice, and black pepper. no salt needed (best part)!

Take one portion every day, over greens. Fills you up for hours!

In a couple more weeks, I think we'll be relying on the Vitamix (thank you wedding!!) for almost all of our meals, at least for breakfast. This morning we enjoyed frozen banana with fresh chopped watermelon, pineapple, strawberry. Half a scoop of vanilla whey protein powder and 2 tbsp. chia seeds. Creamy, filling, and delicious. Of course you could skip the powder.

For now, it's still cool enough to bake a few more treats. Today I'm going to make Heather's raspberry oat bars, which uses ground up oats instead of flour. I've been craving them for a while and have had a couple jars of organic raspberry preserves in my pantry all winter just waiting for their turn to be used. I do want to decrease the pantry items down a bit even though our move will be just roughly 4-5 hours away and the food will keep for the trip.
** added some white chocolate chips to the raspberry filling. mmmm!!!

Wow that's a lot of kitchen items!

I have some knitting mojo back again, right now working on dishcloths (my mom) and another Simple Things shawl (MIL). Also will soon start on a shawl for myself called Vintage Bouquet. I have a couple people who I'll knit a small pile of dishcloths for for Christmastime (I took a pledge online to drastically reduce my Christmas spending on "new" this year -- something I've worked at intentionally for a few years now, but this will be more "extreme" and I'm excited about it. A lot of handmades and secondhand items will be featured). Two shawls which have been languishing, and a long-hibernated shawl for my grandmother which I'd like to give her for this Christmas. Have you ever knit dishcloths from Aunt Lydia's crochet thread? I like this so much better than Sugar n Cream yarn which I really do not like the feel of. And the thread seems much stronger for the use of a dishcloth, much likelier to hold up well over time.

I never did start the Little House journal, instead one day, inspired, I began a list of ways in which I am already frugal and ideas for how to be more frugal. This is always a work-in-progress in my life. One recent thing is I've been washing everything in cold water. I turned our water heater down 5 degrees and we haven't needed heat at all for a couple of weeks. Hopefully we'll see a difference in next month's bill.

I am finding that a lot of my attention span has come back since I've become more conscious of screen time. Most nights by 9 p.m. (and many nights by right after dinner, so 7:30-8-8:30) I shut the laptop down and avoid the Kindle. I've never been a cell phone person, that mostly stays off or dead and in September when my contract is up I'm going to pay for a much cheaper basic phone that only makes calls. Anyway all this to say I've been reading more which is something I was missing from my long hours of childhood curled up with a book. I'm so happy to be plowing through books again. I also have been thinking about using Friday nights when I am very tired to watch movies or shows online (yes, back to screen lol) and have a very simple dinner, like popcorn or snacks like salami-olives-cheese. That would also be frugal (once we have streaming again, and good libraries to get free DVDs from!) because we could move homemade pizza night to another night, like Monday or Saturday, and save on the grocery bill. Popcorn is super cheap (I pop organic kernels in a paper lunch bag that I've taped shut and placed in the microwave, or I use a cast-iron dutch oven on the stove) and snacky dinner doesn't take much to fill me so leftovers can be saved for other weeks, especially the meat-cheese-olive combo I mentioned above.

I am also considering figuring out how to put some soft advertising on my blog, mostly for indie companies like yarn dyers and mothers who own home-based businesses. Any trickle of dollars earned would go into savings. If anyone has ideas for how to begin this process, please message me to let me know!

Finally I've been loving using my Amazon Prime membership. Yesterday I needed more vitamins. Popped online to order them, and guess what? My first bottle, purchased at Whole Foods, was $35/bottle. The SAME bottle was $18 on Amazon! I purchased a set of needles I needed for the new shawl project, and the price for two items came to $28 (free shipping with AP membership)!! STILL cheaper than the bottle of vitamins, not to mention the gas (and here, tolls) it took to get there. WOW.

Wow, this post has gotten super long so I'm going to go tidy up the breakfast and lunch dishes and get those raspberry bars baked. We're having homemade pizza tonight with ricotta and spinach. It has been such a relaxing weekend and I feel that my life has been brought into even keel again. Home life is so vitally important to one's family happiness!! I feel proud to call myself a part-time homemaker.