Reclaiming My Claim on My Time

26 Jun

Some time ago—it is going on a year now—Brenda and I embarked on this project together. The idea was to embrace a minimalist lifestyle…to cut back on expenses and possessions and all of those burdensome, time-wasting activities like cable television that eat away at our existences.

At that time, we were both working at fulltime jobs. And we were frustrated by the ways in which we were forced to spend our time in the “free” hours that we were not required to give to our employers or in devotion to the never-ending project of preparing for, going to, and coming from our jobs. We found that these requirements of participation in the system consumed so much of our time that there was little left for us to do the things we enjoyed.

We looked at the ways in which we spent our “spare” time and found that a good deal of it was consumed with shopping, cleaning, and maintaining the things that surrounded us in our daily lives and which, more than anything, seemed to support our function of participating in the work-a-day world.

One of our key limitations was in the time it takes to prepare meals at home—good, healthy meals with natural ingredients—and then subsequently clean up after the meals. We found that, so often, after a day of work or at the end of a weekend spent cleaning and scrambling to take care of the exigencies of our daily existences, the only tolerable solution in terms of the time that remained in the day or in the weekend was to go out and buy ready-made food at grocery stores and restaurants.

We were so caught up in an economic system that taxed our time and left us too exhausted to do anything but increase our level of participation in that system.

So in a bit of adventurous behavior, we decided that Brenda should leave her job and stay at home to take care of those nagging tasks that consumed our evenings and weekends: shopping and laundry and cleaning. Doing so would free up time in which she could prepare healthy, homemade meals, bake bread, and so on and so forth. The upshot is that we cut our expenses back as much as we could, Brenda left her job, we started this blog, and then we began our revised lifestyles: Brenda began to take care of nearly all of the shopping, cleaning, and cooking, and has also been able to bake our bread and to experiment with all manner of recipes, and she has embarked on an adventure of handiwork in which she has made purses and children’s clothes and various craft-y sorts of things.

For my part as one whose ultimate goal is to be able to devote himself to the craft of creative writing, I have remained in my job as a technical writer for a large information technology company, I have continued my project as a graduate student in literature at Sacramento State University, and I have kept up a patchwork sort of existence as a creative writer.  All in all, in reflecting upon the past several months, I can say without a doubt that Brenda’s work has certainly left me—and I have no doubt, both of us—with more time on evenings and weekends for the pursuit of personal interests.

Lately, however, I have experienced a persistent lack of time on a day-to-day and a week-to-week basis, and I have been frustrated by an inability to accomplish all of the reading that I need to do and the writing that I ought be doing in order to ultimately achieve my personal goals.  In short, I am still caught up in the system.  As much as my life has improved since Brenda quit her job (and make no mistake about it, my life has greatly improved, as I am quite sure Brenda’s has), it is not enough.  I need more time.  I need to find a way to reach another level of extrication from the time-suck system of the 40-plus-hour workweek existence that dominates my life and prevents me from fully using my talents to achieve my personal goals.  For several months I have been waking at six in the morning on weekends to write, and now for the past few weeks I have been waking at five on weekdays to write in an attempt to give the best part of my energies every day to my own craft rather than to my company’s bottom line; and I have transferred this new five a.m. timeslot to the weekends to spend more time writing.

Still, I find that this is not enough time.  The craft of creative writing requires time to brood and to ruminate in reflection upon the characters and situations a writer creates.

And this is why I’m here, now, writing this post.  My increased frustration of late along these lines has led me to this point.  This is in fact proper, because all along I was supposed to have been participating in writing this blog, but I have not done so.  I feel I have let Brenda down in this regard.  But I have not contributed because I have felt that I have not had the time.  Today, however, I am inserting the time.  I am spending part of the time I allot to my creative writing in order to write this post.  And I plan to write more posts.  It is, after all, still writing; it is to some degree still creative; and it is finally an outlet for these frustrations that I have been feeling.

If all goes according to plan, I will recount some of the successes that Brenda and I have had over the past months.  (For one thing, she, who is recovering from surgery this weekend, has become an amazing maker of homemade jams!)  I will also begin to explore and develop new strategies for time utilization and prioritization.  Most important of all for me, I hope to begin to chronicle new steps toward an every-increasing liberation from the time-restrictions that, as it seems to me, are keeping me from my objectives.  It won’t be easy, I know.  As I write this, it is the height of summer, with long days and no school schedule to keep.  When my fall semester starts, my schedule will challenge my ability to keep this up.  But here’s to hoping for the best!

Cheers!

Scott

Feelin’ Beany

30 Dec

Thanksgiving and Christmas are over and Scott and I are feeling the bloat that goes along with too much celebrating.  Dinner at home has been a rare occasion of late, what with get-togethers, celebrations, and just plain being too pooped to cook.  I was very crafty this Christmas, and made the bulk of the gifts for the grown-up kids, along with something handmade for each grandchild (except for Liam – I’ll get you soon, little guy!), so we ate out quite a bit, which was not friendly on any of our figures (budget or bodies).

One of our favorite easy meals has always been veggie burgers on a homemade bun.  Paired with sweet potato oven fries, it is quick, tasty and cheap!  Since we are avoiding processed foods, it’s been a goal of mine to create one from scratch (the lentil burgers I made were a definite fail) that would make enough to freeze for future meals, and be good enough to make it into the regular dinner rotation, so it was back to the drawing board.

We picked up a gorgeous bunch of cilantro at the farmers market, and I already had cooked black beans and brown rice in the freezer, so that inspired these Black Bean and Rice Burgers.  Filled with good-for-you ingredients and flavorful spices, these burgers are very low in fat and loaded with good taste.  They are baked in the oven, so clean up is a breeze, and it makes enough to freeze for future meals.  We like things spicy, so feel free to change the spices to suit your taste buds.  We were hungry, and devoured them before I thought about taking pictures, but take my word for it – they were deelish!

I can imagine some variations – using cannellini beans, a little grated Parmesan cheese, Italian style bread crumbs and seasonings for one, or garbanzo beans, coconut oil and curry powder for a middle-Eastern spin.

Black Bean and Rice Burgers – makes 12 large patties

4 cups whole cooked black beans (or 2 cans, drained), mashed

1-1/2 cup cooked brown rice

2 tablespoons olive oil

½ large onion, chopped

½ red bell pepper, chopped

3 cloves garlic, minced

Spices (add more or less, depending on your taste):

1 tablespoon chili powder

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

2 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, minced

½ cup chopped fresh cilantro

Salt & pepper to taste

2 eggs

½ – ¾ cup bread crumbs (I used panko because I had them on hand)

Flour

In large bowl, mash the black beans into a coarse paste (some unmashed beans are okay).  Add brown rice.  In medium skillet, sauté the onion, garlic and pepper until softened and slightly browned.  Scrape into bowl and add the spices, eggs and breadcrumbs and stir well.  Mixture will be quite loose.  Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Heat oven to 350°   Cover two large baking sheets with foil, and grease the foil.

Stir the bean mixture; it should be quite moist but not loose.  If it is still very loose, sprinkle 2 or 3 tablespoons of flour over and stir to combine it.  Take out ½ cupfuls and form into patties and place on baking sheets.  Bake for 20 to 25 minutes until done.  Carefully remove from foil and enjoy on a bun with all the usual burger trappings.

Freeze leftovers by wrapping individually in waxed paper, then place in freezer bag or container.

Cheers!

Brenda

Homemade Yogurt!

8 Dec

One of my favorite things to eat is yogurt with honey and granola.  There’s just something about the crunchiness of the granola against the smoothness of the yogurt that is so satisfying to me.  Of course, Greek yogurt is the best, but it’s very expensive.  We can go through a quart of yogurt in no time, and at $3.99 per, that really adds up quickly.  I have found it much more economical (not to mention easy, satisfying and even a little bit fun) to make my own yogurt.  And the best part is, you don’t need any special equipment or gadgets.  You just need milk, starter, a pot and thermometer, jars and a controlled low temperature to allow the milk to culture.

Google “how to make yogurt” and you’ll get many different options: using a yogurt maker (duh), a crock pot, the oven, an ice chest, but my favorite is using a heating pad.  Yep, the same one you pull out when you strain your back.  It takes about 8 hours for the milk to culture, and the heating pad is the easiest and gives me the most consistent results.

It takes about an hour to make the yogurt, plus another 8-1/2 hours of culturing time, so start it in the morning.  It’s a good “set it up and go” activity as once it is culturing, it doesn’t need any babysitting.

Here is what you will need:

Pot (preferably stainless steel) to hold milk

Thermometer (I use a candy thermometer that hangs on the side of the pot, but anything that will give you an accurate temp is all you need)

Stirring spoon (preferably stainless steel)

Glass jars (any type – I use quart sized mason jars, but any glass jar is fine)

Milk (1/2 gallon is a good amount to start with.  Get good milk, but if you use organic milk, make sure it is not ultra-pasteurized.  That stuff won’t culture.  I get the best results with 2%, did not like the results with 1% and never tried nonfat.)

Plain yogurt (for your starter – make sure it is “real” yogurt with live cultures.  I like Brown Cow cream-top plain) You will need 2 tablespoons for each quart of milk, or 1/4 cup per 1/2 gallon of milk.

Heating pad, two bath towels and a tray or cookie sheet

Cleanliness is important as you don’t want any nasties getting into your good yogurt!  Start by filling your pot with water and bring it to a boil.  Put your stirring spoon in the pot and place lid on.  Let it boil for a few minutes to sterilize.  Rinse your glass jars with hot water and place in sink.  Pour the boiling water into the jars, filling them and letting water run down sides.  Let sit for a minute or two, then drain and let dry on a clean dishtowel.

Heating the milk

Pour milk into pan and place over medium heat.  You want to heat the milk gradually or it will burn.  Hang your thermometer in the pot (or check temperature often using your thermometer).  Stir occasionally until the milk reaches 205°.  This takes about 30 – 40 minutes on my stove.

While milk is heating, get the heating pad ready.  Find a place on your counter free of drafts.  Put a towel in the tray or cookie sheet, and lay the heating pad on top.  Turn it to medium.

Next, fill your sink with enough cold water to reach about halfway up the outsides of your pot.  You need to cool the milk before putting the yogurt starter in.

Cooling the milk to 110 degrees

When the milk has reached 205°, place pot in cold water in sink – make sure water doesn’t slosh into the milk!  It just takes a few minutes to reduce the temperature.  Once the thermometer says 110°, introduce the yogurt to the milk (“milk, this is yogurt; yogurt, this is milk”) and stir well to combine.

Ready to culture

Pour into the clean jars and nestle them onto the heating pad.  Don’t put lids on them yet, just cover with a clean dishtowel, then fold the bath towel around the jars and tuck your babies in.  Cover with the second bath towel.  The temperature needs to stay as close to 110° throughout the culturing process.  You can check temp to be sure it’s not too hot or too cool.

Let the yogurt culture for 8-1/2 hours, then put lids on and put in the fridge overnight.  (Some recipes say just 8 hours, but I find that the texture and thickness of the yogurt is much better with that extra half-hour).  You may notice some greenish liquid on top – that is whey and is perfectly fine.  Tomorrow morning you will have delicious, creamy yogurt for the price of the milk and your time.  Not a bad trade off, in my opinion.

Stir the yogurt in the jar before serving.  If you want a thicker yogurt, strain the yogurt through a coffee filter for a few hours.  Save the whey – you can use it to bake bread, or lacto-ferment vegetables.

Cheers!

Brenda

Turning the Tide

5 Nov

As many of you know, we are embracing a frugal lifestyle in order to live on one income.  It is a constant learning curve, and one that makes you stop and think, “Do I really need/want that?  How long would I have to work to pay for that?  Is that something I can make myself and save money?”

This lifestyle involves cutting the budget where ever possible, from the most obvious (food, entertainment, whooping it up on the town) to the things that don’t readily come to mind (cleaning supplies, personal care items).  The internet is a great source of recipes and how-tos, it just takes a little time and patience to track down the information and the supplies.

I have heard of people choosing to make their own laundry soap, and agreed with the arguments:  you’re buying mostly water anyways, it’s full of chemicals, it’s so cheap to make yourself.  So I wondered, how cheap could it be?  Answer: extremely cheap!

The recipe I found, that I made out of ordinary items, works out to a whopping two cents per load.  That’s right, folks – two cents per load.  For those of you brave enough to try it on your own, here is the recipe.  I use liquid, but this can also be made into a powder (it won’t be quite as thrifty, though).  The hardest part was locating the 20 Mule Team Borax and the Arm & Hammer Washing Soda.  Thanks to the “big box” mentality of stores, which has limited our selection to just the brands they think we want, very few stores actually stock them (I did find 20 Mule Team Borax at Target).  I found them both at Ace Hardware (but at different stores), and just recently at my local IGA market.  A quick search on Google should help you locate them.  The borax and washing soda are roughly $4 a box, and will make many, many batches of soap!  You may never have to buy it again!

Liquid Laundry Detergent (found on A Sonoma Garden’s blog and on tipnut.com – a great site!)

Makes 2 gallons, or about 32 washes per gallon (1/2 cup per load)

1/3 cup grated soap (I used Dr. Bronner’s Peppermint Castile Soap – $2.99 at Trader Joe’s. 1/3 of the bar equaled 1/3 cup grated soap. Fels Naptha is another choice)

1/2 cup Washing Soda

1/2 cup Borax powder

Essential oils, for fragrance, if desired (I didn’t use, and didn’t factor this into the cost)

2 clean gallon jugs (old laundry jugs or milk jugs work fine)

In large pot, heat 4 cups of water to a boil, add grated soap and stir until melted.  In a separate pot, heat another 4 cups of water.  When soap has melted, add the washing soda and borax and stir until dissolved.  Remove from heat and add the other 4 cups of hot water, stir well.  If you are adding any essential oils for fragrance, add them now (10-20 drops ought to do it).

To each gallon jug, add 11 cups of plain water and half of the soap mixture.  Use a long stick to stir well.  Soap will gradually cool and thicken.  Stir often (every 15-30 minutes) for a couple of hours.  (I didn’t do this and ended up with a soap layer and a water layer.  I just shake the jug before measuring and it mixes up fine.)

Shake before using.  Use 1/2 cup per normal sized load.  Soap will not get the wash water sudsy, but it is working.  Clothes don’t have a fragrance, but they are clean. Plus, for only TWO CENTS per load, it’s a screaming deal!

For even more laundry savings, get some “dryer balls” to use instead of fabric softener sheets.  They work great!

Cheers!

Brenda

One New Thing

29 Oct

Part of my transition into becoming a full-time homemaker involved searching for a sewing machine.  I didn’t want anything fancy – just something I could use to stitch up some new projects, use to repair clothing, stuff around the house and so on.  I found a good, basic Singer on Craigslist for $40 – score!

The machine has been patiently sitting on my work table – just waiting for me to find a good project to work on.  First off, though, I had an urgent need to ferment some food, so that took up the first two weeks of my freedom.  Things are slowly working into routine now, so it was the perfect time to search for my first project.

Apron?  Skirt?  Hmm, no, nothing spoke to me.  Repurposed old sweater fashioned into fun new handbag?  OK!

Sweater Purse

I found this while blog surfing on Lemon Squeezy’s site.  It was Purse Week (best to limit it to a week, or I’d want purse year!), and she featured a guest tutorial by Create and Delegate.  I loved the contrast of the yellow sweater with the cheery interior, and it looked like it would be easy enough to attempt without getting in over my head (as I am prone to do with new projects).  I will attempt to add the link here, but here is address if it’s unsuccessful!  (http://alemonsqueezyhome.blogspot.com/2010/10/purse-week-kick-off-with-guest-tutorial.html).

After hitting several thrift stores in town for sweaters, I came across a nice black cotton cable knit pullover for only$3.  The purse itself is easy – just some interfacing, batting, a quarter of fabric, some ribbon and handles.  I think the cost all told was less than $20 total.  The biggest expense was the handles (you could repurpose handles from an old bag), and the sweater (again, if I had one to reuse, I would have done that).  I finished it in about two hours.

 

Sweater Purse - interior

I would make some alterations to this next time I make one, in order to accommodate my sewing machine’s capabilities:  leave out the batting (or use something less lofty), use smaller handles (I had to hand stitch a portion when I attached the lining to the bag as my handles were too big to fit around the machine’s arm), and sew a couple of interior pockets on before attaching the lining.

All in all, though, it was a very satisfying first project: inexpensive, easy but still cute, and quick to complete.

Cheers!

Brenda

Free at Last

21 Oct

It’s finally here – this week.  Freedom.  A little bit scary, a lot exciting.  The past few days have been spent in a flurry of catching up on errands, and those nagging things that needed to get done, but now – freedom.  Well, if you consider running a household as cheaply as possible to be freedom.

To me, it’s wonderful.  This week is my gentle intro into the self-made life.  It involves lots of planning, study, and just plain thinking about what needs to be done.

Number one priority is getting this blog going and posting regularly.  Number two is getting rid of stuff!  (At the top of that list is selling our motorcycles)  Number three is working on our foodstuffs (baking, fermenting, cooking).  Number three has been number one lately, hence the planning, study and thinking to rearrange the priorities.

These are exciting times – please stick around as there should be lots of activity!

Cheers!

Brenda

The Final Stretch

8 Oct

My last day of work is next Friday.  Once Scott and I made the decision that I would stop working and concentrate on home, the clock seemed to go into super-slow motion while I feel like I have been in hyper-drive making preparations.  My notebook has been filling up with ideas, recipes, plans of attack and assorted thoughts ready to implement.  The weekends have been filled with cooking, baking, making this and that, and rushing around doing this and that, until I arrive at Monday, thoroughly exhausted, yet with much more still to be done. 

Trying to do everything has taken it’s toll, though.  I am starting to feel like a bowl of bread dough that has proofed too long and deflated back on itself.  I just need to get “punched down” and refocus so that the creativity can grow again.  

Which brings me to my last weekend/week of employment.  I am not going to do “everything” this weekend, or run around like a squirrel trying to hide it’s winter nuts.  I will bake bread, that’s a given, but I also want to relax and have some fun.  I want to slow down and enjoy the moment and let the week take its course without me trying to rush it along in a blur of activity.  This is a monumentous time for me.  It’s something to savor. 

 Here is to everyone slowing down and just appreciating the journey. 

Cheers!

Brenda

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