Tuesday, December 30, 2008

"As you simplify your life, the laws of the universe will be simpler; solitude will not be solitude, poverty will not be poverty, nor weakness weakness."
--Henry David Thoreau

This morning our Christmas tree fell over. It seemed as good a time as any to un-decorate, to put away the past year, tuck it neatly into boxes and place it ever so gently in the garage. Perhaps the year will stew, ferment and become more than it was like a sourdough starter or a dark yeasty stout; something from nothing. Then again maybe it will be just what it was - a year. A year full of beauty and concern. A year sprinkled with joy and a pinch of fear. Next year, I suspect, I’ll open those holiday boxes to much the same.

Cleaning and organizing proved cathartic. Now I'm thinking ahead, contemplating resolutions and plans for the new year to come. I expect the recession to continue. I expect to be financially poor but hope to be emotionally rich. Rich in family and friends, rich in nature and the allure of the earth. I hope to find grace in the things around me and want not for the things I do not have. I hope to be frugal, creative and industrious so as to make the best use of available resources. I hope to nurture my family and myself; to spend time snuggling and reading, talking, laughing, walking and playing. I hope to decrease our financial debt while increasing our non-material abundance. I want to live a simple joyful life.

And I’ve thought quite a lot about how to express this desire, this need to deconstruct. To get back to the basics as it were. One word continuously comes to mind . . . simplify.

Of course I wanted a symbol of my hopes and dreams. Somehow, however, it didn’t seem right to go out and buy my deity. Instead I decided to make one. Some scrap lumbar, some leftover paint, a homemade stencil and voila - my mantle is now adorned with one simple word ... simplify. It is a visual reminder to take each day as it comes, to appreciate the artistry of the world and to enjoy what sits before me. Who could hope for more?

To all of you in bloggerville - Happy New Year! I hope you, too, have a simple joyful 2009!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Only Six Days 'Till Christmas ... or, alternate title, Trying Not to Freak Out Friday!

Next year I will knit gifts throughout the year ... next year I will knit gifts throughout the year ... next year I will knit gifts throughout the year ...

A half finished hat for my son

I thought I started early enough. I was wrong. I'm still in the middle of this hat, a brother-in-law scarf and an elephant. I also have one more lucy bag to go. Then there is the question of my sister's Au Pair; someone I've never met but who will be at my parents for Christmas. I don't want her to feel left out. Do I give her bulbs? A cloth grocery bag? Do I have time for another pair of fuzzy feet?

Today packages were shipped back East; felted bags, handmade lotion bars and grocery bags. Cards have been sent; complete with holiday DVDs.

And no, I don't have my computer back. The dvds were made on this old but capable beast. It took a long time. A long long time. Everything takes longer. But I've figured out how to make things work. Right now I'm burning additional dvds, blogging and knitting. I knit during the inevitable computer pauses.

There is also a silver-lining to creating the dvd project on this beast. I discovered some videos the kids took with their still cameras. The papa and I are not so good about videotaping. These videos are grainy and have no sound but I love them. How could I not add them to the holiday dvd? Here is a sneak peek ...

Now I'm off. I have to provide taxi service, shower and go to work. Here's wishing you and yours a stress-free fruitful pre-holiday weekend!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Frugal Friday: The Holiday Version

This week I have lots to share so let's just jump in shall we?

Easy Inexpensive Last Minute Gifts:
Forced Bulbs

Remember this Frugal Friday? Well here are the Paperwhites in action...

(recycled glass container, recycled glass beads, felt bucket from
Target dollar section, bulbs -- total cost $3.19)

(recycled containers, recycled glass beads, bulbs -- total cost $2.19 a piece).
Notice the labradork in the background. I gave up cleaning my windows ages ago.

Another Easy Last Minute Gift:
Homemade Moisturizing Body Scrub

(Please note I ran out of sugar while making this photographic batch.
I recommend filling containers completely for gifting.)

1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 Tbsp honey
1 tsp olive oil (optional)

Mix well and place in pretty container. Recipe may be doubled or tripled as needed for container size. I found these lovely glass containers in the spice section of my local Whole Foods Market. They were three dollars a piece and can be re-used multiple times.

I used this scrub in the shower this morning and now my skin feels soft and supple. And the bonus? You can lick your lips while washing your face - mmm mmm! It sure beats chemical moisturizers!!!

Inexpensive Holiday Decorating:
Cut Your Own Christmas Tree

In Oregon you can cut your own Christmas tree from the forest. Simply go to the Forest Service office and get a permit. Total cost $5.00. Be sure to follow all the rules and regulations that come with the permit - we definitely want to be environmentally and socially responsible, as well as, frugal. Searching for and cutting your own tree makes a wonderful holiday tradition. Check with your local forest service office for details.

(Mr. Peculiar procuring this year's tree)

Inexpensive Holiday Ornaments:

Back when we were students and had less than no money we had to make all our own tree decorations. We went out into the backyard and gathered up pine cones. Then we sprayed them with glitter paint and used a hot glue gun to attach a ribbon to the bottom of each cone. These ornaments have lasted 12+ years and are still one of the first items we put on our tree. It is a gentle reminder that the holidays are not about material possessions but about the spirit of the season.

And don't forget. You can also make origami ornaments that would look wonderful on any tree.

Inexpensive Gift-Wrapping:
Use What You Have

I can not take credit for this idea. Mr. Peculiar came up with this gift wrap all on his own: a pillowcase and a napkin ring. What could be easier?


And now time for a little personal sharing. Remember this post? I pledged to participate in the Jingle Bell Run. Well, true to my word we did. Here is a photo of myself, middle daughter, the boy and some family friends just before the race.

My finish time? Well let's just say my running partners were six and eight-years-old.

And finally .... here's a sneak peak at some of the felted bags I've been working on.

Happy Frugal Friday all!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Thousands of Bananas Wash Up on Shore

Florence, Oregon

A woman searching for sea glass gingerly picks her way through the wanton fruit; it’s still green, taken before its time. Her feet bare she curls her toes in the clammy sand at water’s edge and discounts the waves tugging at her ankles. The bananas remind her of beached whales, one leading and others following to certain death; only now it’s fruit, a mass suicide of fruit. She spots a fleshy sea star among the green tubers and picks it up for closer examination; it’s different, there’s something shiny on one of its arms, it’s a ring, a wedding ring. Retching violently she falls to her knees. The ocean, aided by the pull of the moon, envelops her and drags the found hand back to the sea.

Somewhere in the Pacific Ocean

A call comes through the satellite - heavy storm ahead; 35-foot waves and 45-knot winds. The call’s too late, the ship is already scudding before the wind; plunging into a perilous tango with the sea in a rhythmic heave ho, water greedily licking starboard then port side then starboard again. Cloistered in the bridge the captain and first mate struggle to face the bow into the swells. A deck officer scrambles over cargo containers securing lashings, sliding topside as if skating on ice. Lashings fail on the stern and a fulminating boom reverberates across the vessel. It's silenced by the wind. Two cargo containers slip unceremoniously into the tempestuous water. The officer races lee side seeking shelter but trips in a scuttle and slams onto the deck, sliding to and fro at heaven’s mercy. He catches a cable and wraps it around his arm as a third wayward container looms over him; it hesitates, as if deciding to spare a life, then slams onto the deck and releases 12,000 banana bunches into the ocean.

Uraba, Colombia

A full moon, floating along the horizon, spawns a billowy wake leading to the harbor. Torches illuminate a path from wooden warehouse to steel ship. Paramilitary guards wield semi-automatic weapons while they monitor civilian activity. An American supervisor stands nearby scanning for bushels of rotten fruit, tossing it overboard. Dissapointed puffer fish sample the fruity fare. The cartel busily alters two of the ship’s containers, replacing insulation with cocaine. A scuffle behind the palm grove arouses little suspicion. A guard drags a lifeless body onto the beach and slices it to pieces with a machete; a warning to union supporters. The body is discarded with the rotten fruit, each piece tossed like a football into the ocean. Plum-striped triggerfish flash in the moonlight as they swarm and devour the meaty flesh; beauty and obscenity tangled in time. One hand, the left, with a gold band on the ring-finger is thrown long and far. It lands in a container of bananas. Nobody notices. The bananas continue their journey.


I've been without my lap top for over a week now. The verdict is not yet in although it may just be the keyboard -- hopefully I'll have more information today. In the interim I've been reading a lot. I finished Friday Night Knitting Club by Kate Jacobs and Simple Prosperity; Finding Real Wealth in a Sustainable Lifestyle by David Wann. The second book really resonated with me; we, as a society, need to find happiness in a simple sustainable lifestyle. What is the real cost of materialism? Money to be sure but there are also environmental and social impacts to consider.

'Tis the season of excess; I certainly don't need a new car or diamond ring or plasma television this year. Perhaps a pair of locally made earrings. Maybe some macaroni ramekins. I'd be wonderfully content knowing we were environmentally responsible and not in the poorhouse this holiday season. And yes the economy is bad. But spending is not the answer; "Go out and shop" merely fuels corporate greed. Maybe, just maybe, we need an economic revolution and a new way of thinking about our world.

"When money is plenty this is a man's world. When money is scarce it is a woman's world. When all else seems to have failed, the woman's instinct comes in."

--Ladie Home Journal, 1932

There are so many wonderful, inventive, pioneering and forward-thinking woman on the blogosphere it boggles my mind. These are the people at the leading edge of a new future; one that "...moves you in the direction of less stress, more health, lower consumption, more spirituality, more respect for the earth and the diversity with and among the species..." (quote from Paul Ray of Cultural Creatives). I continue to be humbled and amazed by this spectacular group of women who are at the forefront of the simplicity movement. These are the people who inspire me to keep up with the non-Jones as it were.

And in the spirit of keeping up ... I've continued knitting and sewing like crazy; four-felted bags, three pairs of slippers, two grocery bags and cotton ba-aaa-bbby sweater (sorry - the partridge left the pear tree). Even so I'm not yet ready for Christmas which is a mere two weeks away. So I'm back to my projects and back to drumming my fingers on the table waiting to hear about my computer. I don't need a plasma television, I don't need a fancy car but I do want my computer back. Hey - nobody's perfect!

Addendum: I heard from the computer store.  The good news ... the computer is repairable.  The bad news ... to the tune of $450.00.  Ouch.  I am having it repaired (that was one expensive bottle of wine!).  But I'm also going to scour my house to see what unneeded items I can purge on Ebay.  Hmmm - anyone want to buy an ancient television?  ;o)

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The Demise of a Laptop and Other Holiday Stories

Monday night my beloved laptop met with a glass of wine. I don't want to place blame but lets just say the husband had something to do with it. Immediately half the keyboard stopped working. I am hoping, praying, that nothing else is wrong.

Tuesday morning I was the crazy woman at the computer store, tapping on the glass, waiting for them to open. Open, open, open. The manager finally unlocked the door and I raced to the repair station. My eyes welled up. Breathe, breathe. The poor store clerk must've thought I was a crazy old coot. I managed to check the computer in without actually crying and am now waiting to hear from them; to find out if only the keyboard was affected or the whole shebang is kaput. In the comforting words of the repair guy ..."liquids and computers are not a good combination."

It's embarrassing to admit how crippled I am without my computer. It's where I write, process photos, make holiday dvds. It has my blog reader, my knitting patterns, my recipe files. Essentially that computer is an accessory brain; a brain now lobotomized. As such I'm wandering around in a daze not knowing what to do. Most of my photo files and writing files are backed up. There is hope but I'm still not pleased with the universe.

This incident is just another in a series of unexpected expenses for the Peculiar household. Traffic tickets, orthodontia and now computer repair. And the thing is -- we are not made of money. (Yes I know you are shocked by that revelation as most people are made of money. I too hear them jingle and jangle as they walk down the street). In truth as our expenses have been increasing our income has decreased. Things are very tight. We get paid on Friday and I sincerely hope I have enough for the mortgage and student loans. We will be fine. I'm pretty sure. But for now I'm a bit worried. We are balanced on a tight rope and expenses keep getting added to our balance pole. One more unexpected expense and we'll topple to the cold hard concrete below.

But enough about that. What you're really wondering is how is she blogging without a computer? Well we are not totally without. I am upstairs on the kid's computer. This ancient beast used to be our computer, as in belonging to the grown ups. Before that it was my parent's computer. In other words we practically need another room to house the vacuum tubes (okay so I stretch the truth a bit but you get the idea).

So I've been trying to figure out what I can do to make myself feel better in light of recent events. The first thing I did was clean my girls' room. I typically clean when upset. That felt good. But I wanted more. Then I realized the thing that would make me feel best is to share. Because, you see, things are tight. But really we have all we need. We will manage in one way or another. And no matter how dire any situation we all have something to give. So here is my humble offering ...

A couple of weeks ago a friend gave us an Amish Friendship Bread starter. Monday night, before said computer incident, we baked the bread. It was delicious. The kids love it as did the labradork who partook when we weren't looking.

We baked the bread and packaged three starters for neighbors. Now I can't send a fermented yeast mixture over the internet. But I can direct you to a starter recipe so you can make your own. And here is a little bonus: click here to download the starter care instructions in PDF format. My bread came with boring photocopied instructions and I wanted to spruce them up a bit. Somehow I had the foresight to upload this file before the crash.

I printed four copies for each neighbor (one copy for them and three to share when their bread is done). Then the starter dough and instructions went into basic gift bags. Gussied up with a little ribbon and voila -- inexpensive fun gifts to share.


But that's not all I want to share with you. I was also fortunate enough to finish my holiday cards before I was lobotomized.

Here's this year's card:

And here is last year's card:

Both these photos are on Flickr under a Creative Commons License. You are welcome to download and use either photo for your own holiday cards. Click here for this year's card and here for last year's card.

Well that felt good. After a healthy session of David Sedaris and Holidays on Ice I'll feel even better. Have a wonderful Wednesday all!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Today is a day for sleeping and becoming human again after working the holiday weekend.  In the meantime check out my photo tutorial at My Baby Photos.