Thursday, January 17, 2019

Going Deeper 2019 Challenge

Recently, a friend sent me this little missive. For whatever reason, this resonated with me. Possibly because I had just had two or three people ask what "new craft" my daughter had gifted me for Christmas, and I had explained that she suggested I get more involved in the crafts I already had. Separately of course, these two things have nothing in common. But as I looked at the new retirement year, and how I wanted to live such year, I did realize that instead of reaching out for new opportunities, maybe I should dive deeper into the ones I had.

Somehow I expect that's a terrible metaphor.

But for the past few years, every year I have added a new, craft or skill or interest. And it's come to me that there are still layers or layers of ways to explore, learn and develop in that studio of mine already. Just in the quilting area alone, there are tons of things I can (and do want) to learn to do. I want to learn to use the embroidery stitches on my sewing machine, to learn how to free motion quilt. I want to make an art quilt, and practice making a landscape quilt. 

My machine has all these things and more and oh, the things I could do with them!

Never mind just regular sewing, the fact that I have pastels never used, two kinds of watercolors, oils, acrylics, watercolor pencils, and assorted papers and brushes. And that's just the art supplies. I have knitting supplies and skills never practiced a mini loom never used-heck the list goes on. I have a whole set of essential oils and other supplies given to me. I've made two natural products as Christmas gifts. I've never even researched their properties, what each is best for, or any of the other things I have wanted to do. 

Yes, both pan and tube watercolors, most unused!

See how pristine most of those brushes look>
Unlike the article suggestion, I'm not promising to not start anything new, or never buy things I don't need. Mainly because my creativity style is such that I buy the yarn, fabric, groceries even and then decide what to make with those things. And since I've downsized my library, no new books is not an option (albeit I am mainly a library type of gal). While I save money in the process (will save), this is more of a mental challenge to myself than it is a frugal one. And it meshes nicely with my goal to re-use and re-purpose as I, for example, learn how to knit or weave with T-shirt yarn and other fabrics.

I am a dabbler, a flit here and flit there kind of person, and someone who never met a new thing she didn't want to try. While I'm not going to ignore that as such, I am going to try and move that natural habit more in the direction of deeper exploration of the things I already have and do. I have downloaded Great Courses unfinished. I also have boxes of really old family memorabilia and photos to search through and document-while this may not exactly meet the challenge, it meets the spirit and I'm going to learn a great deal along the way!  

 My goals for the year included learning three new skills. I'm going to do that, but by going deeper with the skills, general stuff and supplies on hand. Instead of learning a new language , I'm going to take the language I have, and try and bring it to fluency (which I never truly had) by reading German papers and news online, and practicing speaking.

Yep, they have quilting magazines in German as well! 

 I'm a very basic knitter, for whom there are so many skills and tools and methods to be learned. I'm going to research those various cast on stitches, learn to make cables and yes, maybe learn to crochet as well. I'm gonna learn everything I can about those essential oils and their healing properties. Instead of learning to can, I'm going to learn more freezer recipes and try new and frugal slow cooker recipes. And read all those free low cost books I've downloaded from various websites that are sitting on my kindle, be they books of fiction or cookbooks. 

My first two challenges? To completely sew together a quilt I walked away from last summer, and to use some online tutorials to learn how my watercolor pencils (never used) work and make some messes I am sure along the way.

I'll let ya know how it goes.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Monday Morning Contemplations

Saturday we went to High Tea at the Brown Palace here in Denver. The tea was lovely, the ambiance and piano playing equally good, and the decor was still in Christmas mode. There is a stock show in Denver every year and because there are so many folks in town post Christmas, the hotels remains in Holiday mode until the end of January.  

Nevertheless, next year I'll try to reserve far enough in advance to get there through the pre-Christmas holidays. 

I tried to get some good pictures while sitting and sipping tea, but getting a photo of the huge chandelier was almost impossible, even after elevator-ing to the second floor.

Today I am wondering and contemplating: 

1. Why is it that, healthy as oatmeal is, I am ALWAYS hungry a couple hours later, as it seems, are many of my Facebook friends? I try and alternate oatmeal with flax seeds, egg and whole wheat English muffins and the occasional whole wheat waffle or other alternative. Oatmeal is the only thing that has me craving a snack two hours later or sometimes earlier.

2. I've decided that there are two kinds of people in this world. Those of us who prefer quiet, and those who need the background noise of a turned on TV, music or other thing to keep them company. Neither is wrong, and I am definitely among the former. While I've been known to occasionally turn on music when I craft or create, I read-and often knit-in silence. I've tried to do the audio book thing on occasion while doing other things-and in my case at least, have learned I can concentrate on one or the other, not both.

3. I don't get Marie Kondo (don't judge me, don't judge me). But then I really didn't get Fly lady except for that weekly area cleanup thing. I'm a stuff person, not a minimalist. I don't necessarily believe less is more, especially when it comes to organization and efficiency (I have pens, scissors, chap stick and paper in every room so I don't have to go searching). More importantly, I don't think they put enough accent on the proper methods of getting rid of what you have (hello landfills full of clothes with tags and thrift stores not accepting more stuff). And honestly, I think the folding clothes thing? You love it or you hate it. I like the traditional folding method.

4. There is casual and there is casual. I have both friends and fellow bloggers who mourn the demise of getting dressed up or "dressed for the occasion". One friend still get dressed in dressy dresses, pantyhose and heels when she goes out to dinner with her husband. I tend to be more of a "business casual, softened" type of girl. Black knitted pants and leggings, bright tops and sweaters with cardigans, matching jewelry and sketchers flats on the high end, and sweats, jeans or casual leggings on the low end. I wore black pants and booties, a pink tunic sweater and matching jewelry to the tea. There were others in camel coats and dresses and heels. Unfortunately there were also others with overalls and ripped jeans (a planned look it would seem, as underneath said ripped jeans were leggings or tights). Too casual for me. But then again, perhaps those gals with the heels and hats thought I was too casual..??!??

5. One of my goals is to repurpose one thing a week, as opposed to disposing to the landfill or elsewhere. This week I am learning how to cut my too big t-shirts (yes, even if you like loose clothing there is a time when they become too big) into.....wait for it.......t-shirt yarn. To be turned into fun stuff, incluuding jewelry, baskets and things. And perhaps I'll even use said yarn on the new mini loom I got for Christmas! 

6.  And finally, after saying I didn't need a word for a year, I may have kinda sorta found one. That word being Deeper, after reading a variety of articles, including this one. While I won't be giving up traveling, or not shopping as such, my goal is to more deeply discover and use the things I have, the skills I have and so on. How does this fit with my goal to learn three new skills? Not sure yet!

Friday, January 11, 2019

More Slowly Than Surely

I think I've decided that I'll feel accomplished if all the Christmas and holiday items are put away by the end of January, since Epiphany Sunday has come and gone and I have a single bin packed up to go downstairs. I haven't even looked at the tree, the village is still mainly in it's place, Christmas dishes are in the sideboard and not packed up, and Christmas quilts and table runners still grace various surfaces. Never mind the past their bloom plants that need to be dealt with and re-potted. 

Note the poor dead plants (which did bloom beautifully!!) and the nativity set still on the shelf!

Admittedly, a small part of this is that someone other than me needs to bring boxes up from the basement. I also need to admit that adult offspring has taken his collection of nutcrackers back to his space. What will I do after he graduates and moves without those to decorate my mantle?

Unfortunately that's not the only way I'm moving slowly these days. I can blame it on January I suppose. Only except for this snowy weekend, the weather has been sunny and in the low fifties and will return to that by the middle of next week at the latest. It is also getting dark early still, but I think the end result is I'm just feeling some kind of post holiday laziness. And I've decided I'm going to run....or rather walk..with that.

I've yet to go to an exercise class now that I am a real Silver Sneaker-although I do attempt to walk around my house for ten minutes a pop as many times as I can, and workout with weights and bands. I had to take a large part of the kimono I'm knitting for my daughter out and rework it (too many lacy yarn overs to just go back to the last row). I can't seem to decide which of the two projects below to begin next, knitting wise, as well as which fabrics to choose for daughter's T-shirt quilt reboot!  And I've spent more than my share of time legs up (either in bed or recliner) reading and TV watching as opposed to doing those things on my goals list like cleaning a room a month!  

Found on free knitting

Fortunately, I've also managed to hit a gals day out, and a knitter's meeting since the first of the year, as well as going to my orientation for my new medical practice (which I love, love, love, and will talk more about later). 

Truth be told, it's only the 11th. The month is less than half gone. The sun will come out. I know exactly where I'm going to begin with the shelves in my bedroom, as well as how I plan to go through the clothes in my closet in some part. I HAVE decided on my next charity project and learned how to cut T-shirts into strips for knitting, as well as doing more than my share of reading and Netflix and Utube visiting. And If I'm having more lazy nesting time than productive time, well, it's winter after all. 

My newist TV series Maniac. And yes, that is a VERY thin Jonah Hill!

And organizer of said group or not, after looking out the window, I'm missing my monthly book group. Tea and crumpets or no. I will, however, find a way to get out tomorrow in order to attend that elegant high tea that I had to reserve six months in advance. 

The view this morning through my very dirty and dog smudged front window!

Fortunately the snow will be gone and the son will have returned by Monday-although I'm not promising that my energy level will have improved a bit!

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Prime Reads, Amazon First Reads and Kindle Unlimited

One of the reasons I love Amazon, especially Prime is all the things that come with that monthly or annual membership. I get free cloud storage of my photos, I have a free streaming app, a subscribe and save service where you can get regular delivery of household items you use on a fairly regular basis like TP. I also get an email every day with the special deals, like that previous deal I shared where a $40 plus bottle of COQ10 was on sale for 17 bucks. I am definitely gonna wish I had ordered more of those than I did.

But I joined Amazon originally for books (and video), years ago when I lived in a place with no English library and limited television in English. And books, albeit mainly kindle books, are still a large part of my Amazon purchases-even if most of them are free or deeply discounted-or even borrowed from Amazon via the library.

Did you know that if you are an Amazon prime subscriber you can get two free kindle books a month?  The first option to get a book is from Prime reading, which allows you to read a free book a month and some times more.

The second option is something called AmazonFirst Reads, or Kindle First. Each month Amazon chooses six new books that have not yet been released and gives Prime members the first option to read and comment. These books are usually of varying categories, thriller, romance, mystery, family, historical, memoir, fantasy and so on. Some I have loved and some I have not, although I have yet to read a bad book or a book I was sorry I tried. 

If you're a Prime member, you may want to give both options a try, especially since Prime reading also has magazines available. To those folks who have yet to move to the dark side, I have yet to meet anyone who regretting getting a kindle, even if they didn't use it all the time. And you can add the kindle app to literally any device including a laptop in order to take advantage of the digital magazines and free books, without buying a kindle. 

The final way to get "free" books is with a monthly subscription known as Kindle Unlimited. Now, I'm not a big fan of subscriptions. I even put my on hold until I had time to give it the attention it deserved (which will be in another month) and I even put my Great Courses on hold for awhile while I delve into the richness of Utube. Some subscriptions are worth having, and KU has been so for me. I read lots of books, am always looking for new books to read and new authors to try and when it comes to non fiction instructable kinds of books, the subscription allows me to keep a book as long as I need without buying it.

Admittedly, I don't get the James Patterson, Danielle Steele, Harlan Coben, John Sandford kind of new release or book on my kindle. Publishers like Hatchette are not part of the deal, except for older books. If that is the only thing you read, I would say that KU is probably not a good idea.

Kindle Unlimited is good for things like reading early books from good authors (it's the way I found the authors James Grippando and Dana Stabenow, among others. It is also very good for finding new authors that normally might not get a chance and you might not read. Yea, you might have to kiss a frog on occasion, but overall my KU reads have been pretty good. I am now following the Morgan Dane series, The Mercy Kilpatrick series (mysteries about a detective who was raised in the prepper community in Idaho),  and the author Robert Dugoni among others.

Where Kindle Unlimited really shines (In my own opinion) is the access to non fiction books, especially those on creativity, cooking, and other topics. Since I'm learning to make paper and fabric beads out of leftovers (more on that later) I have two books on beading. and if there were two books on insta pot or slow cooker cooking when I looked today there were a hundred. My wish list for trade outs include a book on learning to crochet, one on farmhouse soups, and a couple classics to re-read.

Just in my brief scan this morning on KY, there were books on cross country rail travel. A book about D Day through the eyes of Germany that has like three thousand five star ratings, the Book Chasing Excellence. The early Harry Potter Books, the Handmaid's Tale, and the Simarillion were all there as well.

I can have up to ten books on Kindle Unlimited and keep each book as long as I like (good when you are learning a language or some other skill as there is no three week limit like at the library). Right now my kindle library includes 3 mysteries, two bead books, a book on making yarn from colorful T-shirts and turning them into jewelry, rugs and other cool stuff, a book on purposeful retirement and a book on the best money making apps on my phone. I also have a long list on my wish list.

All of this for the price of $10.50 a month. Which works for me, and may or may not work for you.  As with everything else, a free trial is probably the answer!

And if course if you have a kindle and are a true addict, I'm assuming you already know about Bookbub, the free Kindle book section on Amazon itself, Project Gutenberg and other places-including your local library. 

Cause while I love Kindle Unlimited, free is well, free.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Cookin' at Home-Italian Beef Stew

For whatever reason, Monday ends up being the day I pretty much don't leave the house, except for the back yard. When I started typing this, it was 10:17 am and I still hadn't had breakfast even though I awoke at eight. My exercise is done at home, I move at my own speed and it works for me.

Thinking on this, it's probably because Sunday is generally a lazy day. If I have not gone somewhere after church, then I am eating, relaxing, watching TV and chilling at home-and generally heading to bed without having cleaned up organized or done anything else to prepare for the next week, or even the next day! Ah, the joys of retirement.

Anyway, one of the goals for the year is to lower our grocery bill to fifty dollars or seventy dollars a week max-for two and a half people. A challenge since, well, I don't cook. Or particularly like to. I am one of those odd folks who loves to eat really good food, has a pretty good palate but never picked up the cooking thing. Since this causes part of my grocery budget to be frozen casseroles from those "downtown dinner" type places, or deli offerings or the occasional Schwan's meal, I need to be ruthless yet healthy with the "in the grocery store" budget portion. Restaurant meals are not part of the food budget.

Since I am one of those crazy paranoid types who prefers to be home when she cooks in her slow cooker,  Monday is almost always slow cooker day, today being no exception. For what it's worth, I've never even seen This is Us, so not the cause of said fear.

Beef stew is beef stew by any other name, and Italian beef stew is pretty much as it sounds. A couple packages of beef stew meat (bought at loss leader prices), beef broth (the same), tomato paste, wine, and a variety of veggies which today included mushrooms, baby carrots, celery and Italian flavored diced tomatoes-along with the attendant seasonings. Since my son is working and he seems to be the only person in this house who can make popovers at altitude, I'm cheating and pulling out a Pillsbury French loaf that comes in one of those whack em on the counter tubes. What works, works. And of course, except for the produce it's all bought at loss leader prices and usually with coupons.

Since beef stew by any name is also as good or better on the second day, this is a doubled recipe. Actually, I figure we'll get by with more than a few days of not cooking (which is great by me). Yesterday, someone in this house cooked a half a spiral ham. So for Tuesday and Wednesday at the minimum, we'll have been stew and leftover ham (I'll probably throw some biscuits in the oven at some point) as well as having ham for breakfast. Eventually of course, we'll freeze the rest of that ham in portions and assign the bone as well as some ham to split pea soup. The only way to live when you love to eat but don't love to cook is to cook a bunch a couple times a week-which is what we do except at the height of the summer grilling season (and even then we grill large amounts and use the leftovers in salads or whatever. This is especially true when trying to cook for two or two and a half economically.

Meanwhile, since it's also Making it Monday below is a quick photo of the yard goat I got for my sister for Christmas. At the moment it (he?? she??) sits over on the dirty patio in front of the large brick fireplace that is normally blooming the other half of the year. Since I've decided said goat needs some decoration, also below is the fabric I intend to use for a Valentine's bandana. Yep, I'm going to have to add goat outfits to that creative project plan list on top!!

Saturday, January 5, 2019

About Those Federal Employees

Recently I was participating on a frugal Facebook page. Someone asked who was affected by the shutdown, and how they could be helped. Another gal piped up with something along the lines of "Highly paid Federal workers don't need help, they will be fine during the shutdown".

Or not.

One of the things that drives me to distraction is the fact that to many people, high level federal employees, cabinet members and politician types are the face of America's federal work force. And I am the first to admit, a very bad face much of the time. From the news, it seems like even the folks in Congress don't understand who it is that is affected by their decisions. And it's not only politicians. I've participated in more than one retirement blog that talked about health care for federal employees that ended with "I wish I could have a nice job with the government".

Don't misunderstand me. There are lots of positions in the federal government that are good jobs. MOST of the people in those good jobs, started out in regularly, entry level jobs. And for every department chief or supervisor, there are ten or twenty "regular" people, just as in a big corporation. Because at it's heart, the government is a really, really big corporation.

Who works for the feds? The TSA worker who stands and watches you walk through the metal detector. The clerk who sits or stands for hours processing passport application. The guy who paves the roads at the local military base. The entry level security guard. The person who does child care at the government day care center where the congressman's kids spend their day. The man who picks up the trash at the national park and the gal who takes your money when you enter the park. The nurses aide, the records clerk, the 20 year old mechanic. The custodial worker. The cashier at the local commissary or possibly the national park guest shop. The waiter or waitress or cashier at the guest shop at the park. The guy who washes down the government vehicles. The guy who manages the heating system, the gal who cleans the offices, the person who paints and maintains the building. Firefighters and guards, including those at entry level. These are just a few of the  folks working for the feds, and the jobs are of a similar and sometime lower pay scale than on the so called "civilian market".

When my husband left the military because his job description was "erased", he decided to go to work for the federal government. This included a huge pay cut and an adjustment for us. For years, my ten year old daughter and new born son shared a bedroom in our two bedroom one bath rented townhouse. This continued up until the time she was almost ready for high school. We lived on the edge, and except for one period of 21 days of shutdowns during this period we were lucky. Now, I don't have those tax returns any more, but my husband started out his job as a GS5-which, when I was at the same pay scale in 2006, was $18,000 a year. In other words, federal employees make the same sacrifices as everyone else, and live the same lifestyle, for the most part. Did my husband eventually get a better job and at the end become a financial manager? Yes. But as with any other company or career ladder it took time.

Some would argue that good financial management would prepare for these issues. I would suggest that's equally true of the general population, and that's a separate issue. But when you've been sent home and want to go back to work, are willing to work or cannot, that's a different story. These are not employees who can get another job, and just dump that employer in three weeks when the President and congress get their act together. And over half of these employees are working, and working hard, but not getting paid.

It is true that federal employees have good benefits-for a reason. Without the benefits, many jobs and salaries could not compete with the private sector, and many federal employees would go elsewhere. My family went to Europe twice, for example and both times had to pay rent at European prices and maintain a home in the US, because we couldn't keep buying and selling every time the government asked us to. My husband could have gotten a better paying job in the private sector multiple times. He stayed because of health benefits, a tiny pension and because he liked his job. In exchange for the benefits the government gave they got quality, service and continuity.

I could not continue, or finish this missive without observing this: You cannot complain about the "good" health care that federal employees (from the day care worker to congress) receive, and then argue that the "government" can't be trusted to manage your health care. In fact, the two government managed health care systems-the federal and the military-are the best run, most cost effective and most efficient in the country. No system is perfect, but these are the best two we have. Or families with multiple kids would not be begging to join the Army, Air Force and such annually. Just an observation.

So please, no matter your political persuasion, encourage your own personal politicians that using the federal workforce as it's personal punching bag is a thing that needs to stop. Sending out letters that encourage employees to try and "barter" with landlords and mortgage companies is not only out of touch, it's arrogant. These are employees and families, just trying to live their lives the best they can-in the middle of a political mess where pretty much no one seems to care what happens to them or how they end up. Those of us who are retirees have been paid and will be paid. But we remember what it was like when we were on the other side.

And finally, the trickle down effect is real. Those federal employees who cannot work, or will not be paid will not be taking transportation. Or buying gas or paying parking fees. Or eating lunch with the boss. They won't be able to pay their day care providers. They won't be going to their local small businesses such as dry cleaners, or restaurant or other jobs. And that doesn't even begin to address the class of government contractors, of which there are tens of thousand who also will not see work, or contracts fulfilled. Never mind the regular Americans who want to travel, talk to someone about their student loans, get a death certificate of proof of military service so they qualify for VA benefits.

Or who fall in a national park and have to be rescued by good Samaritans because there is no medical care or rescue facilities in the park.

Let's top this mess, shall we?

Friday, January 4, 2019

Five (or Six) Frugal Things- The Mainly Healthy Edition

While Christmas is not officially over, we are back to more normal routine round here in the new year. I've been to the first knitting afternoon and happy hour of the year. I've started that one room decluttering cleaning goal. My son has been working more than forty hours while he can these two weeks before school begins for his final semester, and the sewing machine is beginning to hum again. I've even done some planning for my May train trip to Chicago!

Meanwhile, I've been working to combine the two goals of being healthier, and also spending less money:

1.  As part of my health goals, in addition to eating and exercise I am adding some vitamins and supplements to my diet. I'm aware that for some people the common wisdom is that you eat nothing but food, but because arthritis can leech certain vitamins and minerals from the body, and my Dr has recommended some vitamins and supplements. One of the things I am adding to my routine (to counter the fibromyalgia side effects of my statins)
 is COQ10, which is not cheap. No sooner had I started looking than my daughter sent me a link to Amazon where they had their $40 bottle of 200 mg capsules for $17 for less than a day. A win!! Hopefully I can find equally good deals on my D3, as well as my Turmeric/Ginger supplements.

2.  After months of research, I suspended my federal health benefits in favor of a no fee Medicare Advantage plan with a $3700 annual max out of pocket. I'll put that former insurance fee into a medical specific savings account and should they ever get rid of Advantage plans, have the option to re-up with the feds. I know I have more than one Federal Retiree reading this blog. I researched this for many months, so feel free to ask me questions. Also, while not related to frugality as such, I had to find a new doctor due to the previously mentioned executive practice my current doctor joined. I became a part of this primary care system, which caters specifically to those of us above 65. I'm looking forward and will share more after my first visit next week.

3. Part of my new Advantage benefits is that I am now a Silver Sneakers member. My Federal insurance did not include SS, so this is an additional advantage at a value of up to $70 a month, depending. I've also learned that I can enroll in more than one facility or program, which I may do-if only because the hot tub at my rec center is very deep and almost impossible to climb out of. I could end up water walking and taking some classes at the rec center with the heated pool, while exercising and using the hot tub at 24 hour fitness as well.

4. My side of the bed (and therefore my nightstand and lamp) are on the far side from my entrance to the bedroom, right next to the master bath. I often avoided turning on the switch and tried to navigate my way to that side of the bed in the dark so I wouldn't have to return to the other side. I never fell, but had a few shin issues and it was a pain in the patootie. I was gifted a new version of the Echo Dot, along with a "smart plug" for my bedside lamp. I can now tell my friend Alexa to turn on the lamp as I enter the room, eliminating the back and forth-as well as any fumbling in the dark. I now have three of the dots, and use all of them regularly. In addition to the "light on, light off", Alexa makes a wonderful clock radio, without a glow or numbers. I just tell her what to play, when to stop playing and when to wake me up, on the rare occasions I have such a need. 

5.  Two of my 2019 goals are to eat healthily and to lower my food costs for eating at home (dining out is a separate category round here). Since I emptied the freezer before the holidays, I'll be spending more than my average weekly goal as I refill the freezer and pantry I expect. Fortunately, looking at this week's ads, I can see that while we may be eating similar foods for awhile, there are lots of loss leader sales and deals to be had. This weekend may not be the healthiest, as I bought a spiral ham. We'll eat it for two days, freeze a bunch, and have bones and ham for at least two kinds of soup (split pea now and ham and bean later)

6. In the unrelated to health area, we are having our rotating Church dinner this weekend. 9 or ten people will gather for food, wine, dessert and a generally pretty rocking good time knowing this group. My admission to this event will be nothing more than a small slow cooker of creamy spinach dip made with cream cheese, chopped spinach and  variety of already on hand herbs and spices (I'm not an artichoke fan as such). Low cost and VERY yummy. Someone else will be bringing the small breads and crackers that accompany.

Have a lovely weekend, all!