Coping with freelance writing ebb and flow

Photo by Negative Space on Pexels.com

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.

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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.

Happy Passover (my least favorite holiday)

Pure loveliness

At this time of the year, I always wish I had the means to reach whomever set up the counterproductive tradition of combining the Passover chametz hunt with spring cleaning. That, and the founders of the waaaaaay overboard chumrot (unnecessarily tricky practices) like covering all the kitchen surfaces. Hello, aluminum foil, how nice to see you – NOT.

I’d file a collective lawsuit against them or something. Because when I toll the accumulated stress, chaos, frustration, exhaustion, and pangs of hunger of hundreds of thousands of Jewish children unable to get a proper meal in a disordered pre-Passover home, the mental damage is just unimaginable.

Jezreel Valley in spring

If my children grow up and decide to part ways with Jewish tradition, I’m laying the charge at Passover’s door. Yes, it’s that bad. I envy the rich people with holiday homes they can use just during this week.

But, on the up side, this year I managed to lower the level of insanity a tiny bit. I left ALL the bookcases and closets alone (other people in this house who are unhappy about it can roll up their sleeves and get busy – I never told them not to), and in the week before the holiday, I peeled off my scrubbing gloves and went with the kids on a hike through the woods.

Such lovely weather. So many different kinds of vegetation, especially lush after a generously rainy winter. This most beautiful time of the year, totally wasted on cleaning.

Chickens on a stroll

And here is just a random pic of the backyard flock roaming while I was cleaning out their coop. The rooster just showed up out of the blue over a week ago. Isn’t he a handsome boy?

Crochet Nightfall Shawl and Malabrigo Silkpaca Yarn Review

Nightfall Shawl in Malabrigo Silkpaca

You would think that now, barely a week and a half before Passover, wouldn’t be a likely time for me to complete a crochet project. But the truth is, I’ve had this shawl at about 90% done for a while and decided to make an effort and complete it so I could wear it during the holiday.

And, of course, so I could get to talk about the absolutely delicious yarn I used for this project – Malabrigo Silkpaca.

Draped over the sofa

This was my first time working with Malabrigo. I’ve been ogling their yarns for a long time but balked at the price. However, eventually I decided that I can and should use nice yarn for two reasons.

One, I’m not a high-volume crocheter. Definitely not the type of crafter who completes a huge afghan in a couple of weeks. Working on this shawl took me around two months. Since it required two hanks of Silkpaca, that’s one hank a month – something even a budget crocheter like me can deal with. Also, if I invest so much time in a project, it makes sense to use the best yarn I can afford.

Two, I love thin yarns, so I get more bang for my buck, weight/price vs yardage. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not immune to the allure of a chunky squishy worsted. But I live in a warm climate and therefore naturally gravitate towards lightweight, lacy, thin garments. Crochet creates a denser fabric than knitting, so a laceweight yarn like Silkpaca was just perfect for my project.

When I shared my plans for this project in my crochet group, someone doubted that two 50 gr hanks, a total of 100 gr, would be enough. As you can see, this is a nice-sized shawl – not a scarf or a little shawlette. That’s the advantage of working with lace and fingering weight yarns. You get a super nice yardage that really goes a long way.

What can I say about this treat of a yarn? It’s everything it promises to be. Nice to the touch, springy, slightly shiny, with a very very light fuzz. It’s 70% baby alpaca, which means it’s deliciously soft and 30% silk, which lends its strength and sheen to the yarn. Perfect for shawls, lacy scarves, and other diaphanous projects. And, of course, it comes in the gorgeous Malabrigo color palette.

I used Hollyhock, which is a solid color, but you don’t get really solid effects with Malabrigo, since it’s a kettle-dyed yarn. You get subtle variations, which are impossible to see in the photos. Personally, I think they add to the interest of the project.

Drawbacks? I can think of two. One, Silkpaca is a two-ply yarn, and it tends to split a bit. And two, because of the slight fuzz, this yarn is a pain to frog, so just pay extra attention when you work with it.

Pattern closeup

Finally, choosing the perfect pattern for this lovely yarn took me nearly as long as making the shawl. I wanted something lacy but not too busy, clean and crisp openwork that would showcase the beauty of the yarn. Then I came across the Nightfall Shawl pattern by Sylwia. It was made just for what I had – two hanks of Malabrigo Silkpaca. Bingo!

Sylwia offers a free version of the pattern, but being a girl who learned to crochet with vintage Soviet magazines, I had to have a chart, so I purchased the PDF pattern. Well worth the investment. I altered the border slightly and am extremely happy with the result.

I believe the future definitely holds more projects in Malabrigo Silkpaca for me. Also, once you try their yarns, you’re a fan. I purchased a few hanks of their other offerings to try them out, and once I do, I’ll review them here.

Happy hooking!

Why do chickens eat Styrofoam?

In a nutshell: I have no idea.

OK, here’s the long version. I’ve raised many chickens over about a dozen years now, and not one of them could resist a bit of Styrofoam packaging or a stray construction panel with Styrofoam insulation.

Chickens will go for Styrofoam even when they have fresh pasture

My chickens consume a diverse diet of layer feed, kitchen leftovers, and pasture. They choose Styrofoam over their feed, vegetable peels, fresh grass, and any food you can imagine. No, they won’t only eat Styrofoam, given the choice, but they’ll eat it before anything else.

It seems this isn’t an anomaly. Chicken owners all over the world report the same thing: their hens and roosters can’t resist Styrofoam. If I ever publish an updated edition of The Basic Guide to Backyard Livestock, I’ll be sure to include this phenomenon.

What do chickens find so appealing about Styrofoam? Its texture, I suppose. It’s easy to peck at, and when it scatters, it looks like crumbs. But surely when they taste it they should be disappointed?

Compared to humans, chickens have very few taste buds, so they don’t respond to taste the same way we do. However, they generally have an innate ability to choose nutritious foods. Styrofoam doesn’t quite fit the profile, though.

Will Styrofoam harm your chickens? I can only speak from experience. For years, I have tried to discourage my birds from eating Styrofoam. I offered distracting treats and shooed them away. I herded them out to patches of succulent fresh grass teeming with bugs. To no avail. If Styrofoam is available, they’ll come back to nibble on it. So far, my flock hasn’t sustained any visible damage.

Naturally, eating Styrofoam can’t be good for chickens. Theoretically, Styrofoam could impact a bird’s crop and cause suffocation. The only practical way to deal with this problem is to avoid leaving any Styrofoam lying around.

Do your chickens go crazy over Styrofoam too? Tell me in the comments.

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