What to do when everything gets expensive

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This sure has been a crazy summer so far. Between tons of work and lots of projects around the house, I also try to do fun stuff with the kids and work on my own projects (specifically the upcoming sixth and final volume of Frozen World). And, by and by, I watch everything get more (and more, and MORE) expensive.

I mean literally everything. Electricity, food, public transportation, gas. I know it’s like that all around the world. Though I had taken on extra clients and more work, it’s not enough to compensate for the absolutely outrageous costs of living (and by living, I literally mean just that: a roof over your head, food to eat, keep the lights on).

Sometimes, I feel like shaking a fist at Global Economy and saying, “You ain’t getting my hard-earned money!”

Luckily, I have lived through Shoestring Budget Bootcamp which involved zero income, young kids, and limited access to basic facilities. I figure that, for many of us, it’s time to get back to basics and tighten those belts.

It starts with nonessentials. While I have argued that being too frugal can actually keep you stuck in poverty, when retailers and service providers are literally trying to rob you, it’s time to examine what you can live without. I believe in the consumer’s power. If we buy less, prices will drop, or corporations will go out of business.

My favorite way to cut discretionary expenses is to avoid going into stores. I know that all my willpower fails when I face a great deal on craft supplies, so I just dodge the temptation. Same goes for online stores (sorry, Woolstack!).

You can also save on:

Food: Cut the prepackaged foods and go with what’s basic, cheap, and healthy. Mix meat with beans and rice to stretch it. Try growing your own vegetables, stock up on long-keeping goods when you expect prices to rise, and consider keeping some chickens if your local regulations allow it.

Electricity: This one is tough. We live in Israel, and summers are hot. However, I try to be extra mindful of any AC units working needlessly (this usually involves peeking into any room my kids have exited). There are also long stretches in the afternoon when it’s not that hot outside anymore but the house radiates accumulated heat. Spending these hours out of doors helps cut electricity costs.

Transportation: We now pay an arm and a leg for gas, and local public transportation is undergoing a “reform” which essentially means you pay more unless your whole family uses buses and trains often enough to justify a monthly plan (spoiler: few kids do). So we’re falling back more and more on the old-fashioned form of transportation called walking. I try to merge several errands in one trip to save both time and money.

Second-hand: I love hand-me-downs and thrift stores. You can find excellent quality clothes, furniture, and household items for a fraction of the cost. Of course, it’s a matter of luck and it’s not as convenient as hopping online and just ordering whatever you need.

Entertainment: Luckily, no one has yet tried to make us pay for walks, local hikes, hanging out with friends, making dinner a picnic, or borrowing extra books from the library.

I’d love to hear how everyone is coping with the rising prices and what strategies you have adopted to live well during tough times.

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Crochet Bolero and Elegant Metallic Cotton Yarn Review

It’s summer! Time for lemonade, popsicles, and crochet with warm-weather yarns like cotton and silk.

My latest creation, this spider stitch crochet bolero, was made following the charts here, but with a simple shell border. The beauty in crochet charts is that, if you read them, you can totally transcend all language barriers for so many gorgeous patterns.

This was my first time making a clothing item that isn’t worked top-down. This pattern calls for making the individual pieces (back, front, sleeves) and sewing them together. It was intimidating for me at first, but I was so pleased with the fit that now I want to make another one! It’s perfect for wearing over summer tops and dresses, and the pattern works up super quick.

back

I used Elegant Metallic Cotton by Ice Yarns, in light blue. My daughter chose this yarn for its pretty metallic sheen, but let me tell you, many times throughout the project, I was ready to throw down my hook in frustration. This yarn has a unique texture, almost braided-looking, and the individual threads kept snagging and pulling. It also has practically zero stretch and works up pretty stiff.

If I had to do it again, I’d recommend this yarn for projects like bags and totes, and use another type of cotton yarn for this pattern, like Camilla Cotton Magic.

What to do when you’re starved for time

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Ironically, right after my last post, which talked about how to use stretches of low-intensity time productively, a heap of Things landed on the top of my head. Tons of work. New clients. Sick kids. A house in shambles.

So let’s flip the coin. How do you cope when there simply aren’t enough hours in a day? Everyone has their tricks, but here are mine:

#1. I get up early. And I mean, really early, like when it’s still dark and the roosters are crowing. I know, I know, I’m not really THAT much of a morning person either, but I figured out my day is a lot more productive if I get the most difficult tasks of the way before the kids are even up. Which brings me to…

#2 Save your productive time for the important stuff. If you know that your energy and concentration ebb in the afternoon, don’t plan anything big for that time of the day. Complete the large tasks (whether it’s major work assignments or cleaning out the refrigerator) in the morning. I allot time in the afternoon mostly for mindless stuff like picking up around the house and maybe some admin tasks.

#3. Get the most out of your time. We all know what this means, right? Set the phone aside. No quick peeks at social media. No glimpses of the latest yarn arrivals at Woolstack (guilty here). And no hopping between tasks – if I’m writing an article, I don’t stop in the middle to answer an email (unless I’m convinced it really can’t keep an hour!). I don’t answer most phone calls, either, because an interruption of even a couple of seconds gets me out of the loop and makes me spend more time on whatever I’m doing.

#4. Get enough sleep. I don’t always follow that rule to the T, I admit. I used to work nights after the kids were in bed, but I don’t do that anymore, because I realized my health and sanity pay the price. If you overdraft on your “sleep batteries”, your brain becomes sluggish, everything takes more time, and eventually, you have to take a nap. I’m typically in bed by 10 p.m., which allows me to feel rested and ready for another day by 5:30 or 6 a.m.

#5. Reevaluate. How much of the strain is temporary and unavoidable, and how much is because of choices? I had to let go of clients and pare down some other commitments because they didn’t work into my schedule. Living under constant stress is unsustainable and not worth it.

Coping with freelance writing ebb and flow

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Every freelance writer knows that workflows can (and will) shift. One day, you have a steady trickle of work. Then you’re buried in an avalanche of projects that looks like it will keep you busy until next year. And a month later, you sit around wondering where your next gig is coming from.

I’ve been a content writer and editor for several years now, and I’ve mostly been very, very lucky to find extremely steady, reliable, and reasonable clients. Still, like everyone else, I get my highs and lows. Sometimes I put my foot down and say my work-at-home-mom schedule is as full as I’d like it to be, and sometimes I apply to new job listings.

When you’re sending applications and work/money isn’t coming in as fast as you’d like it to, and the electricity bill is due this week and your kids have outgrown all their shoes, it’s easy to panic. So here are my top five tips for those slow days/weeks.

#1. Don’t panic. Remember the time when you started from scratch? It was probably more difficult than whatever you’re facing now. If now you have a portfolio of work and some experience under your belt, you’re ahead already. Jobs are out there. You just need to land the right ones.

#2. Budget. It’s tempting to splurge when you’ve made a bundle on a big project, but if you have an unstable income, the smart move is to lay aside as much money as you can every month. You can also implement two types of monthly budgets: one for lean months, and one for periods when you can allow yourself some more financial leeway.

#3. Do useful stuff. Brush up on your resume. Make or update a spreadsheet of your earnings over the past months. Set your office in order or even give your house the nice deep clean it has been desperately needing. Vacuum your car. Take care of all the little things you never have time for.

#4. Expand your knowledge. Niche writers are in high demand. If you take the time to dive deep into a specific topic (whether it’s cryptocurrency or herbal remedies), you may gain an edge over your competitors. There are free courses you can take to learn more about interesting stuff you’ve always wanted to explore.

#5. Do your thing. Enjoy some peace and quiet while you can. Go on a hike or a picnic with your kids. Dig into personal projects, like getting your garden in shape or repainting your kitchen cabinets. During my latest slower period, I was able to finish editing and (finally!) publish my new historical fiction novel, Queen of Ophir.

Finally, it may be time to sit down for a re-evaluation. If waiting for work and juggling clients is too stressful, maybe you should look into a position that is less flexible but more secure. But that’s probably a topic for another post.

Peachicks and incubator woes

Newly hatched peachicks

What can be worse than finally getting hold of some long-awaited and valuable eggs, only to have your incubator go bonkers on you in the middle of the hatch?

Yup. The trusted old incubator finally fluked, at the worst possible moment. Of course we did a test run, as always. But sometime about a week before due hatching date, I was horrified to discover that the thermostat went crazy and the eggs overheated. Then the temperature dropped. Then shot up again. We managed to stabilize it in the end, but still, only three eggs hatched out of the seven I was anxiously watching. I counted myself lucky, considering everything.

The problems didn’t end there. One of the peas had the worst case of curled toes I have ever seen. Luckily, fixing the toes in proper position with a bit of cellotape helped. I wish I had taken photos – I was so relieved to see that chick standing and walking!

I’ll post more updates on the progress of these little guys soon, hopefully.

Farm eggs, dirty?!

beautiful fresh eggs

Lately, someone on social media commented that they can never use farm-fresh eggs, no matter how much they would like to, because they’re so dirty and full of gunk. As you may imagine, I couldn’t just scroll by. It seemed almost tragic to me that someone should miss out on the goodness of farm eggs because of an unfounded prejudice, or because they chanced to run into a dirty dozen.

My family has consumed mostly home-grown eggs for over ten years. For the most part, our eggs are absolutely pristine. The picture above shows the eggs as collected – I never wash eggs because the eggshell is porous, and washing can push any contaminants into the egg.

I often pull the eggs straight from under a hen and hold them against my cheek because they’re so nice and warm (yep. Really! It’s one of the weird things I never thought I’d admit). You can bet I wouldn’t do that with an egg that isn’t perfectly clean.

Of course, we do get the occasional dirty egg, especially on rainy days. But overall, our eggs are lovely and clean. There’s just absolutely no reason why farm or homegrown eggs should be dirtier than factory eggs.

In some cases, though, farm eggs may end up extra dirty because ofĂș:

a) A very crowded coop and not enough nesting boxes

b) not enough lining in the nesting boxes

c) letting eggs pile up

All of the above can lead to eggs breaking and making a mess over any other eggs next to them. I have one nesting box for 3-4 layers, I line the boxes with plenty of straw, and I collect eggs at least once a day. It makes for nice, fresh, clean, and healthy eggs.

Disclaimer: even clean eggs may carry contaminants. I advise only consuming thoroughly cooked eggs, regardless of their source.

Crochet simple ribbed hat in Malabrigo Rios: yarn review

Why would I make a winter hat when it’s April and the next cold day is months away around here? Simple: I finally got my hands on a beautiful hank of Malabrigo Rios, and I couldn’t wait to try it out.

Malabrigo refers to Rios, a worsted weight 100% superwash merino, as their “workhorse yarn”. Once I started my project, it was easy to see why. This is a smooth, even yarn that rolls easily into a ball, doesn’t tangle, has a marvelous stitch definition, and slides through your fingers nicely as you work with it. If you make a mistake and need to rip out a few rows, you can do that easily. And, of course, being a Malabrigo and superwash yarn to boot, it comes in a beautiful range of variegated and solid colors.

Now let’s talk a bit about the drawbacks – or, I should rather say, the specs that make a specific type of yarn more suited to one project than another.

I wanted to make a hat for my son. What I had in mind was an interesting cabled pattern with tons of texture. However, about midway through my project, I realized that, a) my chosen colorway, Playa, looked a tad too busy with cables, and b) the cables seemed a little flat. I wish I had taken pictures, but since I hadn’t, you’ll just have to take my word for it. I did not achieve the satisfying bouncy, squishy cables I got in my other hat projects.

It turned out I wasn’t alone. Another crafter who had made beautiful hats in Malabrigo Rios complained of the cables not holding up too well. Her project was knitted and mine was crochet, but it still prompted me to seek more feedback.

This was my first time working with superwash merino. After reading up a bit, I realized that superwash merino yarns have their strengths and weaknesses. In a nutshell: the superwash treatment removes some of the scales on the fiber surface. This results in a sleek, smooth yarn that offers more drape than body.

I switched gears and decided to rework my hat into the simplest pattern I could find. It’s literally nothing but a crochet rectangle, all worked in single crochet in the back loop and then seamed and cinched at the top. It came out very simple and neat, and the all-ribbing structure gives it a nice stretch.

So would I recommend Malabrigo Rios? Working with it was a treat. However, if I purchase more Rios (or Malabrigo Arroyo, its sport weight version), I will probably earmark it for a project where drape matters more than bounce, such as a cardigan or a shawl.

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