Is stability still possible?

financial sustainability

These days, my heart is just breaking. It’s breaking for all the people who have been separated from their families as the skies closed. For all the people who lost their businesses. For the older folks who were active and hardy and kept in good shape, mentally and physically, by going to exercise classes, swimming, and traveling, and are now stuck in their homes, deteriorating by the day and unbearably alone if they have no nuclear family living with them.

It’s heartbreaking that children will have to start school next year burdened with restrictions that are far too heavy for their age, and other children who will be left out without adequate resources for at-home learning.

It seems we are saying a reluctant goodbye to job security, financial security, pension security, any-kind-of-security as stocks are plummeting and pension funds losing value as we speak. I am heartbroken for all the people who lived wisely and made all the right choices, and still find themselves financially (among other ways) vulnerable today.

This was also the core of my latest Mother Earth News post.

“What does this mean? I won’t say anything radical like “money is worthless now” or “ditch the money economy.” I’m a firm believer in personal finances, putting money aside, and planning for the future. 

But I also believe that the coronavirus crisis has shown us that stability, security, and wellbeing depend on much more than money. “

Now is the time to ask ourselves: how self-reliant are we? How prepared are we for another event of extended lockdown and empty store shelves? Do we have barterable skills we can use in lieu of money if the latter loses some of its value? Do we belong to a supportive community of people who can be counted on to help each other out when the you-know-what hits the fan and starts flying in all directions?

Read the rest here.

 

Crocheting through tough times

Lately, I have found myself putting things off: a visit to the bank, the doctor, the post office… “I don’t have to do it today. There’s time. Maybe in a week or two…”

Then I caught myself: why? What is going to happen in a week or two? Will the coronavirus go away? Will it be safer to go out and about?

Not likely. The you-know-what has hit the fan and is now flying in all directions. I’m afraid the world as we used to know it is no more.

A few days ago, we had a huge local demonstration of small business owners – restaurant owners, tour guides, dance instructors – who were all hit hard by COVID and now demand that the government gives them a financial boost to keep their businesses afloat.

I understand their plight, I really do. I know what it’s like to be financially desperate. However, I believe that no amount of handouts will enable businesses to operate if they don’t adapt to the new situation (Zoom lessons, takeout instead of sit-down meals, etc). And it often sounds like that: people don’t want to adapt. They want things to go back to normal, refusing to admit that normal has flown out of the window.

Even if we are lucky and the coronavirus disappears (which doesn’t seem likely), the impact of the past months has already hurled the world into a deep recession with a wide ripple effect. To get through it, we must be resilient, resourceful, and flexible.

In the meantime, there’s yarn: the best escape whenever things are stressful.

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My latest make, a little crochet tunic for Hadassah. It was meant to be a dress, but I ran out of yarn and, as it was one of the oddments of a vintage stash, had no way to buy more.

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Nevertheless, I like it, and so does the recipient. I put some vintage buttons at the back. Love the open raglan top – such a useful design.

I hope you are all using your favorite wholesome destressing outlet, whether it involves gardening, fabric and yarn, baking, or any other thing you can do away from dangerous crowds.

Power Outage

Today I got an early start in the morning and was sitting in peace and quiet in front of my laptop, working on a project for a client, when the power suddenly went out. Since I have a problem with my laptop battery that I didn’t make a priority to fix, the screen instantly went black, not allowing me to save my work.

A call to the electric company let me know that there was an unexpected accident and the power supply would return in 3-4 hours. Thoroughly bummed out, I went ahead to straighten up the kitchen in preparation for breakfast. 

The power eventually returned and I completed my project and sent it off, but this was a throwback to the good ‘ol days when we lived in a place where this could happen any moment, and for much longer. I remember 72 hours without power, during which we did our best to eat everything that spoils and I was careful not to open my freezer so that it wouldn’t thaw.

I love living in a place with a steady electricity supply, but today’s incident reminded me how much we have to improve in preparing for emergencies.

In our old home, we took care to keep our mobile phone power banks charged and our freezer always stocked with ice bottles so that it would thaw more slowly. A laptop battery would most certainly be fixed earlier. There was a communal backup generator we could fuel and hook up to if need be.

And, from electricity my thoughts jumped to preparedness in general, which is something we really should gear up for again. A life of convenience lulls you into a sense of security which may, unfortunately, be false, as the covid-19 pandemic showed us all, turning our world upside down and giving it a thorough shake that totally messed it up.

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From Your Own Hands: Self-Reliant Projects for Independent Living

A radical homesteader from Connecticut who prefers to call himself Xero says, “Consumerism to a large degree only exists because it profits off of our own loss of skills. Over the last hundred or so years people have undergone what I see as a horrifying loss of survival skills.

Without these skills, without the ability to survive on one’s own, one must depend on already manufactured, and continuously manufactured goods and services to stay alive. These goods and services cost money. In order to get said money, one must submit to paid labor. Sometimes one can find labor that is fun and fulfilling, but that doesn’t represent the majority of folks, especially on a global scale.” 

Another day, another basket

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I made another little rustic jute basket, much along the lines of my previous one. It seems perfect as a nest for my kids’ dinosaur collection.

It was meant to be oval but sort of came out round anyway – I guess I didn’t make the base chain long enough.

As much as I love the rustic look of jute baskets (and the fact that the material is inexpensive – I picked the roll up at the hardware store for about $2), I think I won’t be making another one anytime soon, as working with it is pretty heavy on the hands. Jute chafs the fingers, and I had to really pull on the thread to make the loops – no smooth gliding yarn action here!

I made the top row in a double strand of leftover coarse yarn of unknown origin. 😉

I hope you are all enjoying a happy and crafty summer.

When being too frugal keeps you stuck

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I am a big proponent of doing more on less, living modestly, and implementing creative frugal strategies. In this post, however, I’m going to talk about how taking it too far can actually keep you broke rather than lift you up to a better situation.

A couple of years ago, our financial situation was pretty bad. Actually, we were in a crisis following a long period of my husband being out of work, coupled with some bad financial decisions. We were on the brink of not being able to afford to maintain the household another month without getting into debt. There were no longer any cushions or savings, and we were free-falling into poverty. 

I was very conscientious and very dedicated, and my mind kept looping and looping in endless circles, trying to come up with even more efficient ideas for saving money. I gave up on showering when there wasn’t enough sun for the solar heater to do its job, stretched one sack of chicken feed for months, and put off grocery store trips as long as I could.

All of these things helped, don’t get me wrong, but it wasn’t enough and I knew it. I felt helpless. I tossed and turned at night, wondering whether it would make a difference if we unplug the extra refrigerator and what to do if the thrift store doesn’t carry shoes in my kids’ sizes, because theirs all had holes.

What I should have done at that point was getting more proactive about getting paid work, selling my books, and building professional networks that would be useful in the long term. THAT makes a difference. Whether you choose a slightly cheaper oil for baking doesn’t.

True, I was limited. I lived in the middle of nowhere with a bunch of kids, with no reliable transportation and no steady internet access. I remember sitting for long minutes waiting for the HTML version of Gmail to upload and cursing under my breath when it wouldn’t budge.

But apart from that, I was a prisoner of my own rigid conceptions of a father of a family being the sole breadwinner and the mother stretching the income to make sure it’s enough. It’s a great way to do things, but if it doesn’t work for some reason – and it might fail at any time, temporarily or permanently – and you aren’t prepared for the possibility, you’re up shit creek without a paddle. I’ve learned that the hard way.

It took me a long, long time to face the fact that, while I can make a little go a long way, I do need that little. I can’t make do with nothing, or nearly nothing.

And that’s a key point of successfully overcoming financial hurdles. In a crisis, you should sit down and make a realistic, bare-bones budget of the minimum you need to live. If you aren’t reaching that minimal income, you need to focus on getting there. It’s that simple. Otherwise, you may tighten and tighten that belt until it chokes you, and it still won’t make a difference.

It’s GREAT to have the ability to go without frills. So many people have an entitled attitude and would rather live in debt that do without. But the primary focus should still be on not being poor. I wasted a tremendous amount of time on researching ways to pinch a few more pennies, while I could have used my efforts so much better looking up ways of working from home.

I have tried several things and it’s certainly been a learning curve, until I got into editing books for authors (quite accidentally) and acquired a few loyal and happy clients. I also do some content writing and, after a long time, began seeing profits from my own books, especially fiction.

I regret nothing. Whatever hard-earned lessons I had, I’m making the most of them.

For most people, financial wellbeing and resilience will have these two components – making enough money to live and staying within a reasonable budget. Sometimes, when you’re just hunkering down and trying to survive, it’s hard to see the forest for the trees.

If you’ve been skimping and saving and pinching for a long time, you might be so mentally exhausted and so, for lack of a better word, poverty-wired, that it can be hard to step back and evaluate ways that might actually help you improve your situation on the macro level.

Try to take a piece of paper and pencil and brainstorm for a while. What are your strengths? How can you utilize them to earn more money and become more financially secure?

Remind yourself that though things might look hopeless, they will improve. You won’t be stuck forever. You won’t be poor forever. This mindset, I have come to discover, is the most important element in pulling out of the quagmire.

This world is crazy

Honestly, though. I feel like everything that is going on right now is messing up with my head so badly that I just want to crawl into a narrow hole and hide.

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Seeing how that’s impossible, I can find nothing better than sitting in the shade of the mango tree, supervising the little ones in the wading pool.

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Watching my geraniums grow is nice and relaxing as well.

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Oh, and baking cookies. These ones are oatmeal-peanut butter-chocolate chip, and they are seriously good.

Hope you’re all hanging in there and keeping sane. Because it sure hasn’t been easy lately.

Sanity saving tips for stay-at-home moms

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At the time of writing this, I have four children aged 11, 9, 5, and 2, which means I have been a mom for over a decade – and during all this time, I have been at home with my children, whether “just” a stay-at-home mom (more than a full-time occupation in itself!) or, in recent years, also a freelancer juggling writing and editing jobs and publishing her own books.

I have home educated and done crafts, started a garden and changed a gazillion diapers, milked goats and potty trained, nursed four babies and broke up countless fights, treated children and chickens for lice, kissed boo-boos and wiped noses. Now that I have preteens, I constantly find myself having conversations with kids who are convinced they are infinitely smarter than I am.

It has not always been easy. There were (and are) days when I just wanted to get away for a bit. There are frumpy days, dragging days, tear-my-hair-out days.

But I still wouldn’t trade it for anything, and with time and the gift of perspective that comes with it, I have learned to lean on a few strategies that help me keep (somewhat) sane.

1. Be realistic. I know that there are going to be all kinds of days. Sometimes we are all sitting in peace and harmony around the table and I’m doing fractions with the older girls while the little ones are coloring. Sometimes my kids are doing their best to get the house demolished. Sometimes I have plenty of energy; sometimes I’m down with a stomach bug or just feel blah. But whatever happens, you get to have a fresh start the next day.

2. Focus on the basics and prioritize. I used to iron. I never do that anymore. I don’t do labor-intensive recipes and I don’t wash my windows from the outside. I know that I do a staggering amount of work each day and I refuse to feel guilty about not cramming in more.

3. Don’t let things pile up. If at all possible, wash those dishes before you go to bed. In the morning, you’ll be glad you did. The longer you leave things to pile up, the harder they are to tackle eventually. I keep laundry manageable by sticking to throwing in a load every other day and having it folded and put away before the next load is due to wash. I do a tidy-up several times a day and try to clean messes (such as a dirty stove) as soon as they pop up. I don’t do it because I love to clean (ha!), but because I hate being overwhelmed.

4. Delegate! There is absolutely no reason your children should expect you to do things for them which they can do for themselves. Insist that everyone picks up after themselves, serves themselves, and helps out with age-appropriate chores. Very young children can learn to pick up after themselves, keep their play area tidy, and wash their glass after they have a drink. No, it isn’t always easy, and yes, I struggle with this, but I refuse to raise little entitled layabouts who expect full room service.

Don’t forget to enlist your spouse if possible – just because you are the one who stays home, it doesn’t mean you have to do everything by yourself. You are always on duty and deserve a break (more on that in a bit).

5. Don’t compare yourself to others. We all have that friend with the immaculate living room and the kids who all play cello. But guess what? We are all different. Be kind to yourself. Think about what would happen if you stopped, for just one day, doing all the myriad of “nothings” that accumulate during each 24 hours – mopping up spills, keeping everyone clean and fed, tackling the garbage and all those little “insignificant” jobs your family only learns to appreciate when you happen to fall sick. Yeah, you see my point. Don’t judge by performance – evaluate by work performed, and you’ll likely see you’re already doing awesome.

6. Take some time off and break the routine. When was the last time you read a good book? Spent time on a hobby? Took an unplanned hike? Called a friend? Got enough hours of sleep? Had a bath without someone banging on the door? Be honest, and you’ll see that you deserve some pampering.

While it isn’t always possible to get time alone, you can also be refreshed by having a break from routine with your children – a picnic, watching a movie together, putting your feet up while little ones play in the pool, even just curling on the rug as you read side by side with them.

Don’t feel guilty – there is always more work to be done, and life is too short. So do what you can to grab that portion of joy and beauty in your day.