week 2…and more snow

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We ventured out to the library this past Saturday, per usual. It had been snowing for a little while, but we did it anyway because we had to get out. It was a “now or never” situation because we knew we were going to get slammed, and soon. Thankfully it didn’t get nasty, and our little ladies still made it to the Daddy Daughter Dance that night, or we would have had two very sad little girls, and a sad Daddy too.

Our own date didn’t turn out nearly so well. Sunday dawned cold and gray, but with no snow falling. We had tickets to the symphony down in Portland, a good hour and a half away, and so planned to leave well in advance of curtain. It came time for us to get on the road, and without a cancellation notice or a single snowflake, we set off. The highways were dry and clear, and we made great time. Half an hour from the theater, we got the cancellation. And then a call from the restaurant that they were closing early. And so we took our overdressed selves to the bar for adult beverages while we had gramma and grampa to babysit. We chatted with strangers, and made new friends, and headed home just as the storm really got going.

I’d say we got somewhere between two and three feet of snow from Sunday night through Monday. It was pretty hairy at points. J tried to stay ahead of it, clearing paths to the truck and the chickens, but in the end, he had to call out of work because he couldn’t see the end of the driveway in his rearview mirror. It was several days of playing inside, making homecooked meals and homemade valentines (check them out on Instagram!).

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We all made it through, and the sunshine yesterday morning…oh! The sunshine! It was so nice to sit at the breakfast table and let it wash over our faces.

So. Frugal February. I didn’t cut our grocery budget last week because the long term weather forecast was so brutal, I wasn’t sure when I’d get out again. We stocked up on things, though I didn’t go too far overboard. We knew this past weekend’s plans would cost us some money, and we were prepared for that – I built that in. J went a little above and beyond for his date with the girls, buying flowers for them and bubbly for mama, but I had tucked away the cash for their dance tickets months ago, so that wasn’t too much of a blow. I did spend $5 and took the girls to a Valentine’s crafting party in town, which was unplanned. No snacks or beverages purchased, no non-essential impulse buys at the grocery store.

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And then we bought a snowblower.

My husband is the handy type. He can fix most anything that’s not too far gone, so when he found a snowblower in the garage down in Pennsylvania this fall, he brought it home with us. He tinkered and fiddled, and got it running. And then the damn thing exploded. It is now beyond his abilities to make it operational, though it may still be worth repairing, and so it sits. Worthless in the face of all the snow we were expecting. A quick scouring of the Facebook marketplace led J to a small, well-used machine, and $100 later, he saved himself hours of work and lots of back pain.

What I’m learning through this endeavor is that we actually don’t blow as much cash as I thought maybe we did. We do make unplanned purchases, but they’re not usually frivolous and are often items that have been on the list for some time but suddenly become important. I suppose in the grand scheme of things, that’s not too terrible.

 

snow day

IMG_8318.JPGThe neighbors’ empty pigpen

I felt at loose ends all day yesterday. As a childless adult, snow days were like heaven. My introverted nature rejoices when the most sensible course of action is to curl up in a blanket with a project work work on and something yummy to enjoy. My girls love a good snuggle and a story, but yesterday they were having none of it.  They’d been exhorting me to “play, mama!” since the snow started right around breakfast. And despite a loving willingness to do so, I found myself battling some serious internal conflict, wandering from room to room without accomplishing anything as I forced myself to squelch this sense that the only right thing to do on a day such as we had is hunker down and embrace the silence. The non-existent silence.

We made it through dinner and baths, and then ten o’clock rolled around and it was still snowing. I found myself sipping a glass of syrah and eating mini marshmallows by the handful. My two-year-old was on the couch (“Mama, my brain says it’s not going to sleep.”), and her big sister was calling from the bedroom that she couldn’t sleep alone. I had plans last night that didn’t involve the toddler set. Got a babysitter and everything, but with the buckets of snow being dropped on us faster than it could be cleared, the event was rescheduled.

It’s ironic how you can make the conscious choice to live more simply, to plunk yourself down way out in the country and be perfectly content about it, but when the isolation becomes forced rather than voluntary (too much snow, bum vehicle), you bounce off the walls. It’s made me antsy and irritable, and since the bitter cold is making snow play no fun, the girls are full of energy and beginning to pick at each other. Not a great combination.

So. I am taking naptime to regroup. I rearranged the kitchen counters, and wiped all the crumbs out from under the toaster. We found evidence of mice in the dishtowel drawer last weekend, so everything was removed and washed while traps were set, and then all the linens sat in a heap by the coffeepot for days on end; no more. The floor is swept, the miscellaneous papers are recycled, and I am preparing myself for another evening in.

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We’ve been doing a lot of making. Last week it was Giant Ginger Cookies, a most delicious kind of making. Crunchy edges, chewy centers. We shared some with neighbors and grandparents, but the rest were gobbled so quickly I didn’t even get a photo. Valentine production has been ongoing, one set popped into the mail as another is begun. Mama did most of the cutting for that project, but Beans has been practicing her scissor usage so I’ve been sweeping a lot.

There is more snow coming, both tomorrow and Sunday, so I’m sure that more making will be on the agenda. Muffins this time, I think. I’ll have backup this weekend as J and the girls head to the Daddy/Daughter Dance so perhaps I’ll get to hunker down in a blanket after all.

 

 

frugal february – week 1

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We’re less than one full week into my #FrugalFebruary experiment, but have arrived at the first designated checkpoint. It was a fairly easy beginning, with little temptation. Our regular grocery trip fell in the last days of January, so I filled up the gas tank on that same outing and haven’t personally spent anything outside of the parameters I set for myself. So far, so good.

I realized on the first day of the month that we have an event coming up next Saturday – the annual Daddy/Daughter Dance. It is pretty rare that we have a need for toddler tights and Mary Janes here in the Maine woods, but if ever we do, this dance is probably the reason. We did a quick scramble yesterday to try on outfits, and though Sweebee’s tights are a bit tight, I think we’re good to go. It’ll do.

Besides that little failure to plan, I’ve had a couple of other realizations that really only affect me. I began a new cross stitch project, and found that I don’t have all the floss colors that the pattern calls for. Just today I sat down at the sewing machine to work on some baby gifts, and ran out of white thread, though I’m pretty sure I have another spool knocking around here somewhere. In these cases, I’ll see what I can borrow from my mom and another friend who offered her stash. Worst case, they’ll just have to wait.

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I spent $4 of a gift certificate on local eggs at the country store in town. Our girls aren’t laying enough to feed us, and we really don’t want to go back to those pale store-bought eggs. Even the cage-free kind are no comparison to what backyard flocks are capable of producing. I would have bought them even without the gift certificate and rolled the expense into the grocery budget.

I knew I wouldn’t force my family to play along, which I suppose is good since J thinks this endeavor is stupid. Ahem. He bought chips at work one night because he forgot. Today he is frustrated with me because he doesn’t want to wear his normal work clothes to the dance next week when his girls are getting all dolled up. His argument is that he never buys anything except snacks, so what exactly am I trying to prove by not spending money for a month?

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So it’s been an interesting start, and I think the challenge is going to begin in earnest as we move into week 2. I have one class left on my yoga pass, but feel strongly that weekly practice is important for my well-being. I’m trying to decide if using birthday cash on yoga violates the terms of the project. I took the truck to class this morning and came home to the hood popped on my car and a frustrated husband swearing at a vehicle that crapped out on him (twice) after dropping the girls at their grandparents. We have no idea what’s wrong with it, so he’ll be calling the mechanic tomorrow. I will need to go grocery shopping this week, Tuesday at the latest. My plan is to eat a solid meal before leaving the house and pack a water bottle to avoid impulse purchases.

Jill wrote a bit last week on prioritizing your spending, particularly in regard to beauty routines and self-care, and one of her readers commented on the fine line between intentional frugality and asceticism, which I thought a good point. If buying a new button-down will make J feel good when he takes our girls out on their date, and he will wear it to work, then it’s not really a waste of money. Neither is investing in myself with a new yoga pass when it’s the only regular thing I do for myself. My fear is opening that gate, and falling into the habit of over-indulgence, so I suppose mindfulness is the real goal here. Keeping the reins held tight.

If you’re following along with this no spend month, how was your first week?

 

 

waistlines and wallets

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It was difficult to get warm the other day. The wind was whipping around the house and sneaking in under the kitchen cabinets, a frigid draft that chilled the floor and therefore my toes. I kept stepping in puddles left by the tumble of boots in the laundry room, and went through three pairs of socks before resigning myself to scuffing around in too-big slippers that make a racket on the wood floors. Food, I thought. Cooking will warm things right up, and a hot, hearty meal would be nice.

But it was a tough crowd in the kitchen. I thought that playing out in the snow would guarantee appetites at dinner and the menu wouldn’t be questioned, but oh ho ho, was I ever wrong. I made a big batch of “snack mix” that the girls won’t eat. A huge vat of cauliflower cheese soup and meatballs with hidden veggies (just carrots! they love carrots!) were also rejected, so mama hit three strikes before bedtime and had to tap out.

#FrugalFebruary starts this week (are you joining in?) so I have been thinking even more about food than I usually do. Not to say that this challenge is all about the kitchen, but groceries are a huge part of our budget, and one of the few places we can really control what is spent (other than just not buying non-essentials). I decided that I want to avoid depleting our pantry and freezer, because I’d eventually have to spend the money to replace those items anyway. Instead, I want to focus on being more mindful of my choices at the store, selecting items that will go further than one meal and choosing recipes with basic, inexpensive ingredients rather than something pricey or fancy. For example. I know I’ve got at least one ham bone in the freezer, and recently bought a bag of beans for less than $2. If I make a loaf of bread to go along with a big pot of soup, that’s three meals or more for under $5.

There is always food in our house. We rarely waste anything, particularly now that we have chickens who eat what the dog does not. However, we don’t need to skimp on portions or prices for any reason other than saving our waistlines and our wallets. There is always more for us. We can afford it when the girls are picky, but not everyone can.

It is downright alarming how many do not have enough to eat. Surrounded by farm stands and homesteaders, it’s sometimes hard to remember that food insecurity isn’t just an urban problem; here in Maine, approximately 14% of our state’s population uses the SNAP program, far fewer than actually need it because of new restrictions on who qualifies for assistance. Our food pantries are filling that gap – and not on an emergency basis, but as a regular source of calories.

The Bangor Daily News did an eye-opening piece on how and why food insecurity in our state has increased, even as the recession has ended and unemployment has decreased.

If you’re a podcast listener, I recommend “When the Food Runs Out” with Erica Heilman at Rumblestrip. Parts are tough to listen to, but give a pretty clear picture of how things actually look right now.

I don’t think we can afford for issues such as these to remain invisible. I’m not certain what the answer is at the governmental level, but down here in the weeds, it’s obvious to me that we need to make a commitment to caring for each other. If the political climate continues to deteriorate, our community may be the only thing we can rely on.

Anyway. That’s just what’s running through my head these days.

35

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When I woke yesterday, the bedroom was already bright, and I was groggy and confused. I was alone – no husband, no little ones, no cell phone, not even the dog. I found pants and glasses, and shuffled out to see if the world had ended and I had somehow been forgotten.

It turns out I had been remembered. It was eight o’clock, practically afternoon in this mama’s eyes, and I had been left to catch up on sleep without interruption. My littles greeted me with a chorus of “Happy Birthday Mama!” as their daddy and doggie watched them play nicely in their room.

It was generally a quiet day. I rode along to drop our big girl at school and get water at the spring. On our way back into town, we waited while two pickups in front of us finished their country road conversation, stopping traffic and chatting out their windows to each other. As the one truck continued toward us, we realized we knew the driver and waved. He stopped and said, “Oh! I do know you!” and so we became the other vehicle, blocking the road to chat.

On to the library, where we visited with Ms. Alice the librarian and Beans showed off her purple apron smock, an art-time favorite that had been incorporated into her attire for the day. I promised to email Alice the apron pattern to use for her granddaughter, and we left a coffee can on the counter to collect Box Tops from our neighbors (because part of searching for my place in this community has included joining the parent/teacher group and taking on the role of Box Tops Coordinator).

Home again for lunch and an afternoon at my computer for work, trying to hammer some things out while ignoring the sister spats in the next room. Because life doesn’t stop just for birthdays!

J suggested dinner out, and so we trooped to a family-friendly place for burgers and fries, a much-deserved beer for mama, and a BIG mint brownie milkshake to share, four spoons. No cooking, no dishes. A lovely gift.

With the temperature dropping rapidly, we skated across the parking lot carrying babies and balloons on sticks, and headed home once again. J quickly plugged in to his online seminars as I snuggled full bellies and guided gangly arms and legs into jammies. A late night movie with my love, and the day was over.

I’ve been expecting 35 to feel monumental. To feel depressing, if I’m being honest. It puts me very decidedly into the “adult” category and I’ve wondered lately if I’ve accomplished enough to have earned that label. A friend texted me last night that 35 has been a really great year for her, and that was encouraging because instead of melancholy, I’ve been feeling this sense of…potential. As if my lifelong affliction with impostor syndrome is slipping away. I’m ready to do some things. Maybe they’ll be GREAT. And maybe they’ll be great. But I’m going to do them this year, and I’m not going to let myself get in my way. Once I figure out what they are, of course.

Thanks for the birthday wishes, my friends. I am grateful for you!

today, we marched

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Or rather, we gathered in solidarity. We didn’t have a permit to actually march, and so an estimated 10,000 people from all over Maine descended on our state house this morning, a “sister march” to our sisters actually marching on our nation’s capital. The diversity of ages in attendance was remarkable – tiny littles on their mama’s chests to elders with gray beards and canes – as was the atmosphere of kindness, love and respect. I didn’t hear a single harsh interaction; on the contrary, I was the recipient of smiles and gentle words.

I would be very surprised if anyone, ever in my lifetime, used the word radical in reference to me. Perhaps I am not the type of person one would expect to pound the pavement in protest, and that’s alright. I’ve even written here before how I don’t believe this is my season to be an activist. And yet, this didn’t feel radical for me – it felt right.

This was not specifically a pro-abortion or anti-Trump rally. This was a pro-women statement! It’s about the right to choose who we love – not just man or woman, but which man or woman. It’s about the right to an education, and the right to speak out on our beliefs. It’s being a voice for the trees, and the birds, and the water! It’s about the right to have six children, or zero, or somewhere in-between. It’s standing up for ourselves and our families, raising our boys to be strong compassionate men who respect and honor our daughters and sisters, working with them as equal partners. It’s about climbing the corporate ladder or devoting ourselves to our homes – and not being belittled for either choice. And yes, it’s about providing adequate care and services for women everywhere – regardless of color, marital status, tax bracket, or what have you, even if her choices don’t match up with your beliefs. It’s love and kindness, plain and simple.

Why wouldn’t you march for that?

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I took my children and my veteran husband. Or rather, he took us – found us a parking spot and gave us an exit plan should we need to make a quick getaway (hope for the best, prepare for the worst). He’s not much for crowds, but he knew this was important to me, for me, and for our girls. It was such an experience.

And yet. I am left with a very strong feeling of, now what?