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Fishing Lessons: Remembering to Budget Time Wisely

Yesterday my husband had one of the few glorious days off he will have all summer (he has only four more real days off with us until Labor Day, in case anyone is wondering). My oldest son, who is five years old, had recently begun talking about going fishing since he’d never gone before (we don’t buy cable and my husband has an affinity for the old Andy Griffith Show which we watch on a DVD collection we have. Little Opie Taylor goes fishing some and my son thinks this is cool. If this doesn’t tell you just how suggestible children are I don’t know what will.). We’d considered doing something entirely different with this rare day off. I needed a haircut and we could use a trip to town for a few things (“town,” by the way, is 75 miles away). But listening to my little boy I knew how important it was to be quiet and be still and hear his heart. You see, time is not like money. You can never earn more of it. We are born and have a finite amount of it available to us. When we look at the length of our lives we should consider that, out of an entire lifetime average of 70 to 80 years, childhood is fleetingly brief. My son will be five for only a year. In the arc of his life, and mine as his mother, this is but a nanosecond of time. I looked at my husband over our children at dinner and whispered “Let’s go fishing tomorrow. Let’s have a better memory.” He whispered back, “but you need a haircut.” I smiled and shook my head and whispered back again “no. I’d like a haircut. We need something better tomorrow. With all of us as a family.” We got into our pajamas that night, after dinner, spread a blanket on our back lawn and laid on the grass to watch the stars come out while we listened to the desert wind blow in the trees. We hadn’t told the boys yet, but we were going fishing tomorrow.

The next morning my husband came to me and said “maybe we should just practice casting on the lawn today since he’s never been fishing and then go ‘for real’ on another day. That’s what I did as a kid. Practiced first.” I considered this a moment. Then I said no. I reminded him that we have few precious days together this summer and I told him that we aren’t going fishing to catch fish. The fish were incidental. We were going fishing to catch this time in our lives because we cannot get it back. We were not seeking the perfect casting experience. This would be the day we introduce fishing to our kids. There would be mud and wet, tangled line, lots of instruction and plenty of goofy things likely to happen. He said “but we don’t have the right clothes and the right gear.” I smiled. I said, “A fishing pole, some bait, snacks and water are all we need. We’re going.” After a stop at our local store for fishing licenses for my husband and me, and an inexpensive fishing rod for our son, we were on our way.

After a good half hour drive, we wound our way back from the main highway to a small lake tucked back in the mountains. It was hard not to be stunned by the beauty of this area we hadn’t seen before and marvel that it was only minutes from the highway we’d driven many times. It was quiet. There were people hiking around the shore nearby and the quiet sound of their chatter. Mostly there were people sitting quietly with fishing lines in the water. There was the occasional sound of summer thunder in the distance, birds tittering and chirping, an occasional bark from the few dogs running free with their owners nearby and the effervescent excitement of our own children. We spent three glorious hours fishing. There were muddy fingers holding dangling worms. There was, indeed tangled fishing line. There was plenty of instruction in how to navigate the rocky, sandy shore without falling down and the discovery of how to perch on a good solid rock while bait fishing and how to watch the bobber for the sign of a fish nibbling. There was an introduction on how to reel in ‘just so’ when spin casting. There was the re-injury of a previously scratched up knee and the gentle cleaning and re-bandaging of the boo-boo while drying a few tears. There was our first and only catch of a large crawdad eating the worm intended for the trout I didn’t catch, which made us laugh. We saw fish jump from the corner of our eyes and would turn and point too late to see anything more substantial than the ring of water left by the phantom swimmer that had disappeared beneath the water. We witnessed tiny fish swimming near the muddy shore. There were, as it happened, no trout reeled in to bring home. But what we brought home was so much more than that. When the sun started sinking lower in the sky and it was getting on toward dinnertime, we packed up and climbed the rocky hill back to the car for the drive back home. My son sat in the back with the warm glow of satisfaction on his face and said “Mom. Dad. I love fishing. Maybe we’ll get a fish next time. When are we coming again?” It was a simple day with nothing more than the desire to capture our time, a brief moment.

It is so easy to get lost in the busy of our days. It is easy to overcomplicate our lives and those of our children. It’s easy to give into a life so loud with the insistence of our daily to-do list that we miss the simple opportunities to use our time wisely.  I love gadgetry and gizmos and technology as much as the next person but sometimes it can make us lose touch with what is simple and real. It can overfill our lives with multitasking, making us lose more time than we realize. It’s easy to forget that time is a limited commodity that cannot be regained. Sometimes all we need is to remember that life is simple. That our time is finite. In the end, really, we have all we needed to make life wonderful all along. Budget and use your time wisely. You’ll be glad you did.

Fishing lessons

Using time wisely

Keeping Mindless Conveniences in Check: Our Mission to Kick the Paper Towel Habit

I realized recently that we are throwing some of our money away. There’s an item that makes it’s way onto our shopping list far more often than I like because we seem to go through it faster and faster. I found myself scratching my head and trying to consider how to stop this small, but irritating loss as I tossed out yet another center cardboard tube left by the paper towel roll. How had we gotten to the point that one roll of paper towels was lasting only 2 days in our house?  We’d developed a bad habit of grabbing paper towels at the slightest need and were mowing through them at an alarming rate. As I mulled this over, upon tossing that recent cardboard tube, I wondered how paper towels even became such a staple in homes today. This is, essentially, a convenience item. What did they use before paper towels? There had to be a way around this. After all, I told myself, I’d figured out how to make my own laundry detergent, and I use cloth diapers and wipes and make my own cleaning spray for my kiddos bottom. There just had to be some way to stop this waste. I did a little research and sure enough, there are plenty of people just as irritated about this wasteful grocery list item as I am. The answer? Rags and dishtowels. Re-use them. Wash them. The challenge was on!

So where to start? First I took a few minutes to assess the paltry collection of dishtowels and washrags I had in my kitchen drawer. Most were in sore shape and, really, I didn’t have nearly as many as I thought I did. Clearly I needed to bulk up my supply if this was going to work. On that next shopping trip I managed to collect some bar-mop style towels in 5 packs as well as packs of inexpensive dish rags for what I usually spend on a big pack of paper towels.  I now had a good solid start to my cloth towel and rag stockpile. During this shopping trip I allowed myself to buy only a 2 pack of paper towels. Like most habits, it’s easier to wean than go cold turkey.  I came home and announced that we were on a mission as a family to wean ourselves from the overuse and waste of paper towels.

Our goal for week 1: To get through seven full days on one single roll of paper towels. When we can achieve this, we’ll graduate our attempts to getting through two whole weeks, and so forth (I’d read about one woman who uses only one roll or so a year! Wow.). So far, we are a week into this experiment. I can’t believe how ingrained my first instinct to reach for a paper towel has become. I’m having to retrain myself to reach for the dishtowel instead.

Now, in the grand scheme of my grocery budget, is changing my paper towel habit going to save me untold riches this year? Probably not. I do realize, there is still a need for paper towels to some degree in our house and that paper towels can, on occasion, be the better choice. But I’d been suckered into a mindless convenience and it was costing us. That bothered me. I’ve found, as with my cloth diaper adventure, I am saved the aggravation of running out completely and needing to make a trip to the store since all I have to do is toss them in the wash. It’ll save me about $10-15 a month (yes we had a REALLY bad habit) which translates to about $120-180 a year in savings. I can even help keep some waste out of the landfill with this new habit which is a nice thought. But really, for me, it’s part of unravelling the real challenge of finding the little habits of convenience that sneak into my life that add up. Are these conveniences really worth the cost? So far, I’m loving the dishtowel and dishrag upgrade to our kitchen. They work much better. I’m finding this is, indeed, a good habit for us to break. It’s good for my grocery budget, and, if you are so inclined, it’s “greener” living. It’s a frugal, budget friendly solution. I have a feeling we won’t be going back.

Making the shift from paper to cloth

9 Fun Facts for the 4th of July (and a Fun Poem)

BANG!

I love fun facts and here are some fun ones for the 4th of July. As we have go forth to whoop it up as Americans today let’s be proud of who we are. Proud of the profound and serious as well as the silly and fantastical. Have a wonderful and safe holiday!

  1. Francis Scott Key, the writer of the Star Spangled Banner was a 35-year-old American lawyer at the time of it’s writing.
  2. Independence Day has been celebrated since the 18th century but was not made a federal holiday until 1941.
  3. According to census information available the estimated population of the United States of America in July 1776: 2.5 million; Estimated population July 2011: 311.7 million
  4. “Because the static electricity in synthetic clothing can create sparks capable of detonating fireworks, those who make shells must stick to wearing cotton—all the way down to their underwear.”-NOVA online at www.pbs.org
  5. “Fireworks use in the U.S. rose by almost two and a half times during the 1990s, from 67.6 million pounds in 1990 to 156.9 million pounds in 1999.”-NOVA online at www.pbs.org
  6. Go here for the great story of the flag that inspired our National Anthem at smithsonianmag.com: What So Proudly We Hailed-The story behind the flag that inspired America’s national anthem,by Cate Lineberry, Smithsonian.com 2007 (note this is a longer read but really interesting!)
  7. Sparklers with metal cores can be hottest in the middle section and can reach a temperature of 1000 F degrees (some sites say 1800 F degrees-which is hot enough to melt gold!). Wooden core sparklers burn down entirely but can cause burns from falling ash. (in other words-while they are fun-Please be careful!)
  8. Hot dogs are one of the most popular foods for 4th of July. Coney Island hosted it’s 96th annual hot dog eating contest. The 2011 winner ate 62 dogs in ten minutes.
  9. You can add your name to the Declaration of Independence for fun! Add your name to the Declaration of Independence and learn fun facts here.

A fun 4th of July Poem I loved as a kid:

The Fourth
by Shel Silverstein
Oh
CRASH!
my
BASH!
it’s
BANG!
the
ZANG!
Fourth
WHOOSH!
of
BAROOOM!
July

ZANG!

CRASH!

Thoughts on the 4th of July

As we head into the 4th of July weekend, I feel compelled to consider our freedoms, our flag and how grateful I am to be a citizen of our great nation. No matter our troubles, no matter our challenges, I am an American. And I am grateful. I am grateful for those who have protected our freedoms. I am grateful for those who question our direction to make us think more deeply on it. I am grateful for our unique culture of courage and fortitude. I am grateful for the those who came before and hopeful for those who will come after. I am grateful that I still get tears in my eyes watching fireworks and hearing the Star Spangled Banner on the 4th of July. I am grateful for hot dogs on barbecues and fireworks in town squares. I am grateful for children’s faces silhouetted, dazzled by colorful celebratory explosions in the night sky. I am grateful for liberty and for the pursuit of happiness. I am grateful for religious freedom. I am grateful for red, white and blue snow cones. I am grateful that Ray Charles’ rendition of America the Beautiful moves me deeply. I am grateful that, while we are not a perfect nation, will never be a perfect nation, we strive for better in our country, even when we disagree on what that is. I am a grateful American.

Last summer we spent 4th of July in the town where this man made his home so I thought I’d share a work of his today.

RAGGED OLD FLAG

Written by Johnny Cash

I walked through a county courthouse square,
On a park bench an old man was sitting there.
I said, “Your old courthouse is kinda run down.”
He said, “Naw, it’ll do for our little town.”
I said, “Your flagpole has leaned a little bit,
And that’s a Ragged Old Flag you got hanging on it.
He said, “Have a seat”, and I sat down.
“Is this the first time you’ve been to our little town?”
I said, “I think it is.” He said, “I don’t like to brag,
But we’re kinda proud of that Ragged Old Flag.”

“You see, we got a little hole in that flag there
When Washington took it across the Delaware.
And it got powder-burned the night Francis Scott Key
Sat watching it writing _Oh Say Can You See_.
And it got a bad rip in New Orleans
With Packingham and Jackson tuggin’ at its seams.”

“And it almost fell at the Alamo
Beside the Texas flag, but she waved on through.
She got cut with a sword at Chancellorsville
And she got cut again at Shiloh Hill.
There was Robert E. Lee, Beauregard, and Bragg,
And the south wind blew hard on that Ragged Old Flag.”

“On Flanders Field in World War I
She got a big hole from a Bertha gun.
She turned blood red in World War II
She hung limp and low by the time it was through.
She was in Korea and Vietnam.
She went where she was sent by her Uncle Sam.”

“She waved from our ships upon the briny foam,
And now they’ve about quit waving her back here at home.
In her own good land she’s been abused —
She’s been burned, dishonored, denied and refused.”

“And the government for which she stands
Is scandalized throughout the land.
And she’s getting threadbare and wearing thin,
But she’s in good shape for the shape she’s in.
‘Cause she’s been through the fire before
And I believe she can take a whole lot more.”

“So we raise her up every morning,
Take her down every night.
We don’t let her touch the ground
And we fold her up right.
On second thought I DO like to brag,
‘Cause I’m mighty proud of that Ragged Old Flag.”

Inspiration Thursdays: The Problem with Perfect

Because Thurdsay’s child has far to go…

“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor.” Anne Lamott, American best-selling author

I hate the word ‘perfect’. Ok. Hate is a strong word. I really, really don’t like it though. Many moons ago, in another galaxy far, far away, I used to sell beautiful, frothy, extraordinary wedding gowns to extremely happy, glowing, beautiful women (most ladies in love, in my opinion, have a beauty in them that is about hope and love and all things of good expectations). I loved that job. It was fun to be a small part of helping someone to have one of the most extraordinary days of their lives. But I learned something extremely important from the owner of that shop: Never, ever utter the word ‘perfect’. Especially to a bride. Why? I remember thinking this was pretty extreme the first time she mentioned it to me, but I’d worked in that business long enough to know that it could have some serious pitfalls. The longer I worked there, however, the more important that advice became. The problem with ‘perfect’ is that it is extremely relative. When you are looking for perfection it often leads to expectations that exceed reality (yes, there were conversations in our shop that actually involved the detailing of physics to some of these brides who had ideas of perfection in their heads. Even the best bridal salons and most talented seamstresses could not defy physics.) ‘Perfect’ is highly over-rated. What it often does is cause us to wait, frozen in our tracks like a deer in headlights instead of taking chances and finding perfection IN the imperfection of our lives. Perfection impedes our progress. It’s a nice idea. We can look for better, sure, and  ‘perfect’ can be a fine ideal, sometimes. But it’s a slippery slope. Sometimes it can hold you back and push you down. There will never be the perfect time to say I love you. There will never be a perfect time to have your children. There will never be a perfect time to simplify your life. There will never be a perfect house or a perfect job. There will also never be perfect frugality or a perfect budget, incidentally. There will never be perfect. So whatever it is you’ve been waiting for in the idea that ‘perfect’ will show up eventually, consider that maybe perfect will show up in the imperfections in your journey. But keep moving. Keep trying. Don’t let ‘perfect’ hold you back.

Darn This Frugal Life! ( Or How Pizza Tastes Now)

My family took me out to for dinner for my birthday last night (it was a week later than my day since our schedule hasn’t really allowed for it any sooner). We went to one of our favorite places in town to try the pizza we’d been threatening to try for a while. We don’t go out very often. When we do it usually involves special occasions for us. We shared a really nice large salad and the pizza that we’ve been meaning to check out for a while. It was good.  It was lovely to be treated to a night off from the kitchen by my husband and my boys.

As we were leaving the restaurant it hit me. This frugal life has killed pretty much all restaurant pizza for me! It was good. It wasn’t great. It didn’t hold a candle to my homemade pizza at home, which, frankly is super easy to make and really inexpensive. I’m not sure how I feel about this! I’m now too aware of how much money we spend on restaurant pizza that is a far lesser quality than what I can produce in my own kitchen.

Our pizza adventures began back when my husband left the military. In spite of all our planning, saving, and preparing, we still experienced five full months of being without an income and living off of our savings. It was a trying time and it pushed my frugal living skills to a whole new level. One night, a couple of weeks into his unemployment, our oldest son said “Mom, can we please, please have pizza? Just once? It’s been a long time.” It broke my heart to have him missing such a simple delight. It was very difficult for him to understand our financial situation since he was only four at the time. I decided to make it into a fun DIY project for us. With a little quick online research I found a great recipe for dough and pizza sauce. We were on our way. As we measured and stirred our recipes I kept telling him how this probably  wouldn’t taste like “real” pizza from a restaurant, that the important thing is how much we were having fun doing it. When it came out of the oven and onto the table, each of us bit in. We all looked up to see a look of pleasant surprise on each others faces. This wasn’t just good. This was better than restaurant pizza. Why the heck had we never tried this before? And it was so easy (granted, I own an old Kitchen Aid mixer and this helps-but really-I’d probably still do it if I didn’t have one). These days I’ve perfected my sauce to our preference by tweaking the recipes here and there. I’ve also graduated to making a double batch of dough and sauce so I can freeze one set. This give us a super easy Friday night pizza on occasion since the work is mostly done.

So, while we had a lovely night out to dinner last night and enjoyed our meal a great deal, I’ve realized our frugal life has changed our enjoyment of pizza permanently. I’ve realized I’ve ruined us for restaurant pizza for good. We all got in the car and heartily agreed on one point: Moms’ is better.

If you’ve never tried homemade pizza before, trust me. Try it. It’s fantastic. You don’t need to go out and buy a pizza pan or stone-just use an old cookie sheet for now. It’ll work fine. Be warned though: this might just ruin restaurant pizza for you too.

Homemade Pizza:

Kitchen Aid Crusty Pizza Dough Recipe (note: I prefer to use whole wheat flour with this recipe and it works great. I also sprinkle cornmeal on my pan because I like to. But that’s a personal preference thing.)

Homemade Pizza Sauce (note: I actually use only the can of crushed tomatoes in this recipe so it intensifies the flavor and makes a nice thick sauce. I figured this out when I only had a can of crushed tomato on hand. I don’t alter the other ingredients at all. If you look at the comments below the recipe you’ll see that fresh tomatoes can successfully be used as well so if you have a garden full go for it!)

The Cheese: We hand grate ours and use a combination of 2/3 mozzarella and 1/3 cheddar. I get a pound block of each and then just eyeball it to suit us. Once you’ve grated your cheese add in 1 tsp of dried Italian Herbs. It’s much better this way.

Toppings: This is up to you! Go for it!

Our first homemade pizza. We've come a long way since then!

Is Being a Naysayer Hurting Your Chance at Better?

I read a lot of blogs, a lot of books and a lot of, well, pretty much anything that comes across my path. Heck, I’m even guilty of actually reading some of my junk mail (sick, I know, right?). With so many people struggling financially and the tough state of the economy these days (don’t we constantly hear about this on the news?) I’ve seen a lot of articles and blog posts about how to save money. I’m always looking for money-saving tips myself and trying to share with you what I’ve found to be good (or not so good) for our household. I also read the comments below online articles. Readers have great insights and additional tips. I love reading them  (I also love it when people jump in and add their two cents here as well! I’m grateful for any source of wisdom!).

What I’ve noticed when I go reading lately troubles me. I’ve seen a persisting attitude of “that just won’t work for ME-therefore it’s bad advice!” For example, I recently read a blog post encouraging people to ride bikes or walk more. It had a link to a great little calculator to help determine the potential savings, and even went so far as to admit the thing might not be 100% accurate to each persons personal situation but that it might be helpful and at least interesting to check out. Then I read the comments. There were a surprising number of comments stating  reason after reason why they thought this advice was so off the mark: Can’t ride my bike to work because I live 65 miles from my job. Can’t ride my bike because it’s too hot here. Can’t walk because it takes too long. My town is not bike friendly. We don’t have sidewalks. I shook my head. And then a quote I often hear Dave Ramsey make crossed my mind:

Those convinced against their will are of the same opinion still.~Dale Carnegie, American author, lecturer.

I shook my head. Personally I love to bike. Our whole family does. We’re that family that you see tooling around with the kids in the bike trailer, using correct bike signals, heading to the park, or the grocery store or the library. We purposefully chose to live close to my husbands job to maximize biking and walking. We live in an environment that often shoots over the 100 mark on the thermometer. We’ve also lived in towns that aren’t bike friendly. We’ve lived in areas that lacked sidewalks. While it made it a little harder, we still managed. Because we chose to.

The thing is, it’s not really about biking or walking being some great avenue to financial savings and a more frugal life that I find to be the problem here. It’s about owning the choices we’re making. It’s about unwillingness. It’s about an attitude of reluctance to challenge yourself. I’m not saying all advice out there is good. Some of it won’t be. But don’t go throwing the baby out with the bath water. If you are happy with the state of your finances or don’t feel compelled to live a better life then by all means, stay put. No one is shoving you of the cliff of making positive changes. No one owes anyone the perfect answer or parachute, either. Sometimes you have to be willing to find the gems that work for you. Sometimes it’s one idea, heck even one sentence in an article that might speak to you. You have to find it and be inclined to see it.

Being willing to try something new or see a solution from a different angle so that it fits you better is all it takes. You have to be willing to take a chance and experience the discomfort of change or newness. And you have to take ownership of your own attitude and how it affects your personal success or failure. Check in with yourself. If you have a habit of being a naysayer-or seeing that glass as half empty-is this blinding you to the positives and the possibilities of better?  I think everyone does it at some point in our lives. But don’t let it get the best of you and be where you stay.  Some times all you have to do to succeed is to get out of your own way.

 Comment-worthy:

Have you gotten in your own way recently? What can you change your attitude about today that might open your eyes to a positive change in your life today?