Cold weather yarn projects

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The drop in temperatures means it’s a perfect time to whip out the yarn and crochet hooks (or knitting needles) and get to making beautiful and useful things. Check out these cute two-color slipper socks I recently completed – perfect for pattering around the house for kids who don’t like bulky slippers. I’m really quite proud of them.

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And while I’m on the roll, here’s the start of another project – a circular white round poncho. I haven’t crocheted in a while, and it’s a true joy to get back to it. All I need is to get started with a project and make sure I always have it in my bag for those quiet spells I’m out and about and have a few spare minutes waiting in line or sitting on a bench in the park while my kids play.

Patterns used: Bev’s Very Easy Booties, enlarged to a size that would fit older kids.

Bea Poncho – I love lacy patterns like this, and it’s really easy and fun to work.

Making money from home – revised

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Re-reading my previous post on making money from home, which I wrote almost two and a half years ago, I thought some updates are in order.

Following the birth of another baby, a house move, and many frumpy days spent in a maze of boxes and/or with sick little ones, I was reaffirmed in my wish for work that could be done in the comfort of my home, with a steaming cup of tea and in pajamas, depending on no one’s schedule but my own. Moving to an area with a fast, reliable internet connection was a godsend, and I am now able to play to my strengths more than before, focusing on what I’m good at: writing, editing, proofreading and translation – all of which is a perfect fit for a work-from-home solo entrepreneur.

My holy grail is still writing and publishing my own books, both fiction and nonfiction. I will keep at it, and if I could, I would do nothing else. But it’s extremely challenging to make one’s way as an author, and when you’re starting on a little to nonexistent budget, you are prone to get stuck. So part of my other-source earnings will be funneled as an investment in my books, with the darling wish of someday being able to work on them exclusively.

For more income streams, I registered on freelancing websites such as Freelancer.com and Guru, but soon saw these places are absolutely flooded with people from developing countries who are willing to work for ridiculously low wages and swarm upon every project within minutes. Getting noticed was extremely difficult without several “pay to play” options (on Freelancer, they offer paid certification tests) which I consider greedy and unethical – since the host website receives a mediator cut from every project acquired through it, I don’t think it’s fair to try and get more money off people.

Being trilingual, I’m also registered on several crowdsourcing translation platforms such as Gengo. I’ve made some legitimate earnings through Gengo, but their pay rates are low, their work volume very unsteady, and their ratings often arbitrary, with senior translators appointed for reviewing without really understanding the nuances of the language.

I tried doing transcription through similar crowdsourcing platforms, but quickly realized that, again, the pay is extremely low (unless it’s transcription + translation), plus you need a quiet work environment to listen to audio files – with four kids at home and me working on the living room couch, trying to get everyone to be quiet enough for me to listen to audio is stress-inducing and just not worth it.

Recently I discovered Upwork and so far I am loving it. Hands down, it’s the best freelancer website I ever came across. They are committed to only accepting qualified people providing in-demand services, so not every profile gets approved, and the traffic is a lot less crowded. I had to apply three times before I was accepted. There are many tests you can take for free to prove your qualifications, and choose whether to display them on your profile or not. You can check out my profile here.

I would like to stress that my objective is not to make as much money as quickly as possible, but just enough to allow me to stay home with my family without struggling financially. It isn’t easy to find the perfect balance, and I will probably keep going back to this topic in months to come.

Under the weather

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Photo by Lisa Fotios on Pexels.com

It has been windy, rainy, dreary and cold (yes, I can hear you folks in the northern states and Canada laughing all the way to here) and, to top it all off, the kids and I have a nasty cough. I have been up with poor little Hadassah half the night, doing my best to help her cough up phlegm. So today is officially dedicated to being under the blankets, snuggling and nursing her. I’ve put everything else aside. Please remind me to get out of the house when the sun shines again and I can comfortably work in the garden without wearing a jacket.

For now I feel like I’d be more than happy to spend the next couple of months at home, drinking gallons of tea, reading books, baking cookies, doing crafts and playing board games with the kids. I guess it’s probably a matter of time before cabin fever hits, but for now we’re all snug and cozy.

An exciting event I’m preparing for is the release of my first ever children’s book, Dragon Diplomacy, which is going to take place early next year. I actually first wrote this book just for my children’s enjoyment, without the thought of publishing it at all, but it has been such a big hit around here that the girls have been pestering me for a long time, saying “You should publish this, Mom. Everyone will love it.” So I took the leap, did a whole bunch of revision, and am now counting the days till its launch into the world.

Now please excuse me while I grab a tissue and make another cup of tea …

Random ramblings on finances

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This post has been brewing at the back of my mind for a long time, and though it’s going to be long and rambling, I do feel that I need to share it.

Before I was married, my husband and I had it all figured out. We would raise our family in a peaceful rural setting and live a very simple life. We would give up the luxuries and extras that come with a second income in favor of having a stay-at-home mother who is always there for her children.

It worked well enough for a couple of years, but then our family hit a rut of unemployment and under-employment, and our financial situation was further worsened by unfortunate decisions that made us lose a lot of money.

I had become an expert on pinching pennies, buying second hand clothes, frugal cooking and baking, doing all I could to minimize the electric bill. We had a vegetable garden, chickens and goats that provided us with eggs and dairy products, and we gleaned what we could from the wild-growing bounty in our area. We ate through the stockpile we made in better days. We stopped going to weddings and other festive occasions because we couldn’t afford to give the presents in money that people expected. As a matter of fact, we could barely afford the gas to get there and back.

Saving money helped. It helped a lot, and it taught me that it’s actually possible to live, and live well, on an income far below average. But it wasn’t enough.

There comes a point when you just need some cold hard cash to pay your taxes and utility bills and to buy some basic groceries, and no degree of frugality can get you around that one. You need some sort of income… And, at that point, we had none.

I was incredibly frustrated. First off, I spent way too much time griping about how things are not the way they are “supposed” to be. Then, when I began to look about me and see what I can do to bring in some money, I saw flexible and convenient positions opening just a short drive away, but they might as well have been on Mars for all the good it did, because I had no car and no public transportation in the area. I didn’t even have the smooth uninterrupted phone and Internet connection needed for most telecommuting jobs.

I did what I could, of course. I got more serious about my writing, both fiction and nonfiction, approaching it for the first time as more than a hobby. I published and sold books and articles. I began providing editing and proofreading services.

Finally came the move here, which allowed us to cut down on gas and car use, and gave us a roof over our heads (we live in a house that belongs to family). We still retained our own house, and were lucky enough to get very good, responsible renters and a steady trickle of income. I now have a reliable Internet connection, which has enabled me to set myself up as an independent contractor with several translation, transcription and proofreading agencies. I am still right here at home for my children, but I now see I can do a lot more than I thought, and it’s incredibly empowering .

A few insights:

1. Being a wife and mother, and running a home, is a full-time  occupation. I really don’t need anything else to have my hands full, but I realized I can juggle if necessary. If I didn’t have to think about money at all, I would just focus on my family and my fiction writing.

2. Looking back, I would probably think twice before agreeing to live in a location where I would be utterly and completely unable to get anywhere and would depend on my husband for every little errand, including the post office, the doctor and the bank. It eventually led to feelings of extreme frustration and helplessness. Remote rural living in a cheaper area can potentially save a lot of money, but when it comes to making money, you can find yourself stuck with no options.

3. It is no use to sit around and mope about how things should have been, what you could have done differently, what your spouse could have done… Just get up, shake off the dust and move on. I wish I had realized this sooner, and had been more flexible and less dogmatic. It would have saved me a good deal of grief.

So what next? The future is foggy, but things are infinitely better already. We have a steady roof over our heads. We live in a place where we are close to everything we need. And it’s still rustic enough that I can hear roosters crowing every morning. Life is good.

The battle against sugar

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It seems that sugar cravings, at least in my case, get especially bad in winter. The cool, short, rainy days make me (and my kids!) long for a pick-me-up in the form of a sugary baking session of cookies, cakes, and sweet rolls. It’s so homey and fills the kitchen with a delightful smell, and arguably what you make at home is better than any store-bought sweets – but it’s still not the healthiest treat in the world.

The winter cravings can be explained on many levels. Not only do we stay indoors more, and so have more time, inclination and possibilities for a snack, we also feel sleepier due to higher concentration of melatonin caused by the diminished daylight hours (winter hibernation, anyone?), and so subconsciously long for something energy-packed to keep us going. We also tend to eat more, and more energy-high foods, when we’re cold. Finally, at least for me, in the summer we have all these wonderful juicy fruit that make such great dessert alternatives – melons, watermelons, mangoes, grapes – while in the winter we’re pretty much limited to apples, bananas, and oranges.

Read more in this informative article from Sweet Defeat: Sugar Cravings – Why We Crave Sweets and How to Stop It:

“Fighting and putting a stop to sugar cravings can be a challenge at start. Initially, you may notice that your cravings are in a vicious cycle that only causes you to crave sugar more often. However, there are some things  you can do to set your body up for success.”

Also check out other posts on sugar and food cravings:

Conquering Sugar Cravings

Food That Makes You Hungry

Making the land come alive

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When we first arrived at this new home of ours, I looked around and said in despair, “there was beautiful, living land all around. Why would the owner choose to kill it by smothering it in concrete?”

I mean, I know some people aren’t really into growing stuff. All they want is a hassle-free, low-maintenance yard with no mud, weeds or critters. I get it, I really do. But there are options that are less damaging, less ugly, and less permanent than concrete. Breaking concrete apart can be difficult and costly for those who aren’t used to this kind of work and don’t have the right equipment.

We didn’t give up, of course. We’re too stubborn for that.

Read more in my recent Mother Earth News post:

“There’s nothing like having the freedom to grow and raise whatever you want on your own piece of rural land, but town living has its potential for homesteading and sustainability. Our gas costs have dropped dramatically since we no longer need to drive for every little errand. Also, in a larger local network of people, there is bigger potential for swapping, trading and giving things away.”

After the rain

We’ve had some lovely refreshing rain here lately, and all our plants are looking so invigorated (as are we). Is there anything nicer than stepping out after a rain and breathing in all the fresh smells of earth and grass?

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We have a huge mango tree that provides delicious shade and, hopefully, will bear fruit this season.

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My big, beautifully propagating aloe plant.

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And flowers that are finally beginning to show some color.

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