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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

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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

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

Glitches, Snafus and All That Jazz

16 Sep

Writing a blog is a new experience for me.  I’m still learning the ins and outs of it, and am starting to think that a short class in computer programming may be a good investment of my time.  I haven’t even found the cable to connect my digital camera to my computer to upload pictures yet, and we moved months ago!   But practice makes perfect, as they say, so I shall soldier on and learn as I go, and this blog will begin to take shape in the very near future.

I want to be able to link to all of the great blogs and writers that I am enjoying.  Most notably, I am enjoying reading Radical Homemakers – Reclaiming Domesticity from a Consumer Culture,  by Shannon Hayes.  I guess Scott and I kind of fall into that category: purposefully lowering our lifestyle in order to live more freely and less burdened by debt and outside responsibility.  Being a true “homemaker” is hard work, though, and I am eagerly counting down the days until I am gainfully unemployed and can spread the work out over a week, instead of cramming it in on the weekends.

So bear with us, readers, as we toddle on in our blogging, as well as our shift into minimalism, homemaking and all sorts of assorted goodness and joy!

Cheers!

Brenda

Ice is Nice (or how to make small steps towards cutting the budget)

8 Sep

I love ice. I am an ice chewer, ice cruncher, ice connoisseur. I will fill a glass with ice, then pour enough iced tea over it to just melt it a little bit. Drink the tea, then crunch the ice (yes, my dentist tells me how foolish this is).

My favorite ice is the good, crunchy kind that comes in the 20 pound bag at the grocery store. For $3.99.  For frozen water. It never bothered me to shell out four bucks, plus tax, for frozen water until recently.  Faced with only one income and little money left over for luxuries and indulgences, I had to rethink my ice habit.

Not ready to give it up cold turkey (groan), I chose instead to do it the old-fashioned way: I would make it myself.  Silly?  Perhaps, but it is taking one small step in the right direction.  And that is what this journey is – small steps in the right direction.

Next step is to work on cutting the coffee budget, but hey, we’re not savages here.  We needs our coffee!  I will gladly give up basic cable if I can get my Peet’s fix regularly.  That being said, we have significantly cut the eating out/entertainment budget.  We are definitely making progress.

The funny thing about progress is, we tend not to miss those “must-haves” as much as we thought we would.  I like to cook and will gladly whip up something delish for dinner if it means saving money.  When you both work busy jobs, plus have school, exercise, chores and what not, that is when eating out becomes a “must-have”.  But by careful planning ( and by counting down the days until I no longer work a 40-hour week) and doing major cooking on the weekends, weeknight dinners are mostly reheatable and easy.

What small steps can you make to move towards independence?  Packing your lunch?  Making your own ice?  It all adds up and I encourage you to start small and think big.

Cheers!

Brenda