Book Review: My Life In Middlemarch by Rebecca Mead

My Life In Middlemarch by Rebecca Mead is a fascinating book.  Written about her favorite book, the author visits some of the places George Eliot lived, visited, and wrote, goes to museums to read manuscripts and letters and views articles which once belonged to Eliot now housed in family homes, museums and libraries, and reads memoirs and manuscripts from literary professionals,  all in an effort to better understand the book that had long been Ms. Mead's favorite. 

I could not put this book down.  It is not a dry as bones recitation but a very personal look at how a book literally can be a life companion and how it resonates with that reader for several decades.  Having a favorite book companion of my own,  I understood just how Ms. Mead came to write this book.  It is a compelling look at how Middlemarch came to be written and what experiences from Eliot's own life inspired the book.  The back story is about how the book shaped Mead's life from first reading through several decades of re-reading.  

Retirement Remedies: Brainstorming In The Kitchen

I've been thinking again!   Yes, indeed I have and I've been thinking specifically about the food area of my budget this week.  A number of things prompted this.  For the third month in a row I am over budget.  I have allowed myself $300 a month for foods which is more than ample for  two and two pets with plenty of room for stocking up, as well. However, here I am finding myself constantly spending a bit more each month and the freezers are dwindling as is my stock.  There's no good reason for it and I mean that!

Storm #1:  Recently I was speaking with my niece, who had taken my advice and taken her grocery budget to Aldi.  She said she'd given it the one month trial I'd suggested and done so well on her budget of $200 a month that she's kept it up for two and half months now.   That's for two adults and two under two years of age....And it made me think that just possibly I really need to look harder at my budgeted amount and make it work a whole lot more for me than it does!  Now this amount does not include the bulk of our meats.  We both shop at the same meat market for good quality antibiotic free meats and purchase in bulk about once every four months.

I was also looking online at Pinterest this week and came across a blogger who purchases food for her family of four for about the same amount my niece spends.  It's really made me want to look hard at my grocery money and bring my spending more in alignment with theirs.

I have struggled with this for quite a few years and really I've felt that lowering my budget to somewhere between $325-$400 each month was a big deal.  I'm convinced I can go lower and we can eat as well as we do now, if I simply put a bit more effort into it.  As far as my household budget is concerned I really need to be at $300 or less each month.

Spring Fresh: Updating the Bedrooms

The guest room last fall

I was so excited to finally pull the guest room together last autumn.   Though it is not finished, it is still a far sight better than it was last year.  I wanted a fresh look for Spring but I've searched endlessly for bedding with nothing affordable or really lovely being found.  I really wanted to change from the red.

Last week I had a call from the flea market and I was told I'd made a fairly good sale, one that will more than cover rent this next month.   That made me feel I could be free to spend my allowance this month without holding it for the booth.  

I'd tried all sorts of things here at home but at present, I don't really have a lot of extras, having weeded out all the worn/torn/beyond tired things, I was pretty much left with nothing.  I'd no idea I'd have such a hard time replacing them!  I'd already changed out the blue spread in our room for the madras quilt that John has come to like so this late winter/early spring.  I'd tried every option that might possibly work for curtains in that room and nothing felt right.

This Week In My Home: Busy, Busy Saving Away

My little flower bed next to the back steps last fall..Right now it has snapdragons, pansies, begonias and rosemary in it.  

Saturday:  Easy sort of day, but then Shabats always are.  We take the word 'rest' quite literally in our home for the Sabbath day.  Breakfasts are generally of the fix it yourself variety and I keep a supply of muffins, sweet rolls, bagels and cereal (not all but some of each) on hand for that very reason.

We used the last of the rotisserie chicken for our dinner.

I sliced rolls into bread slices to make sandwiches.  The last three rolls netted enough bread for sandwiches for supper, sandwiches to go in John's work lunch and one roll for breakfast slices in the morning to toast.

Made John's work lunch.

I have a very very limited amount of funds at present and quite a long way to stretch them.  To that end, I spent all afternoon long on Pinterest looking at landscaping ideas that are similar to the one above.

I spent an equal amount of time looking at fashion snapshots to try and figure out how to stretch my wardrobe.  This is what frugal folks do: look for ways to get similar results without spending.  The truth is that I had completely forgotten one shirt and looking at these snapshots helped me remember that I had it, which netted me the possibility of two or three more outfits.  Every piece I own is not the exact same as what is in a photo but I do own similar pieces in similar colors and those pieces I don't have I will figure out how to substitute what I do have.  I'd also been about to remove two items from my closet when I came across two snapshots that had used those exact colors with other pieces like my own.  Well, that's two more items I didn't know I had, too!  I am not saying I will not spend any money over the coming months but I'll certainly spend a lot less if I keep in mind what outfits I can make with what I have instead of going off shopping with the attitude that I've nothing to wear.

Retirement Remedies: Stretching A Wardrobe, Part II

Week 1 was a success.  I never felt once that I needed anything new.  I had only small adjustments to make.  I wore the chambray colored tee and white jeans to a birthday party. I added a silvery camisole under the shirt.  As much as I love the gray/black/white pearl drop earrings they didn't work at all with the look.  I swapped them out for pearl studs.

I added a jeans jacket to the Chevron Maxi skirt/white tee just as it was pictured.  It was raining and church is generally pretty cool anyway.  I felt very comfortable.

I've been thinking about something and wanted to share it here because I feel it does apply to our wardrobes.  John sort of brought this home to me this past autumn when he found a great sale on a brand of outerwear tee shirts he especially likes.  The best price was for six.  He told me "I don't really like any of the colors except black and navy."  I didn't faint with shock, having been well aware that is what he wears all the time anyway.  I did encourage him to go ahead and order six of each.  I mean, it's a wardrobe staple for him.  Why buy just one?

Well it's true for us, too.  I don't wear a lot of any one color  (tell that to my closet, ha!) but workhorse pieces for me are white tanks, white tees, black pants and jeans.  Why am I buying these one at a time?  I've had them in my wardrobe for years and I might as well have several.  Case in point I just recently went out to buy a fresh white tank.  My old one was just too stained to continue to use.  I promise I would have bought more than one had I not been limited to the single one in my size, which was all the store had to offer.  I'm watching for a sale, and I mean to stock up in future.

Confession time:  I had a lot harder time making up the look alike outfits this week.  In fact, I ended up deleting some of them and working with new looks.  It was work, let me tell you.  The first outfit was easy enough, since I pinned this one because I essentially have these pieces.  From there, it was a slow and tedious process as I eliminated things and added others and tried to figure out just what it was I needed to accomplish the same feel.

So let's see what I can make up for Part II:

Photo credit

This Week In My Home: Good Habits Rather than Good Intentions

Here we are at the start of the last week of this month.  All of the things not done earlier this month, now press a bit harder upon me to be done.  Only so much shall, as we all know.  I can't make up in one week all that didn't get done in a month no matter how hard I work.  Frankly dears, I'm all about being productive, but I have never been obsessed about working.  I kind of have always had the idea that hard work and quiet work should balance one another.

I've set myself some new tasks this week, which I'll tell you all about shortly.  I am trying to change my mind set to DOING more and having fewer moments of good intentions with nothing to show at the end.   

In the meantime, planning meals and preparing food to get us through the week is the primary time saving tool in my arsenal of being work ready.  Otherwise I end up spending all my time in the kitchen.  I have begun to employ one help for saving time, though it's not always possible to fully implement.  That is to rinse and stack dishes and only spend time once a day loading into dishwasher and hand washing.  It's amazing how much time that one small change made this past week.  

And let me just say that meals last week may vaguely resemble those planned for last week.  Things changed.  Monday or Tuesday we made plans for weekend company and Friday, after meal prep, the company  changed their plans.  So if some ingredients of meals appear similar to meals planned last week...well now you know why.

Well, let's get on to meals shall we?  

Coffee Chat: Caught In A Season

Hello dears.  Do come in.  There's coffee, iced water, pound cake from the freezer.  Do help yourselves and let's have a quick chat.  I say 'quick' because I'm afraid if I don't get it written I might never have a chat at all this month.

It's been raining.  There have been only brief moments of sun until these past few days, but mostly April has lived up to its name of being a shower-y sort of month.  It's made it hard to get out in the yard to do much of anything.  I've tried to satisfy my desire to work hard by taking care of things in the house but somehow I've lost heart with all the gray skies and clouds.  I try to spend the bulk of my time in the kitchen which is the lightest and brightest room in the house.  Janelle, who lives nearby contacted me to ask a question, saying she felt the rain had affected her brain.  I know just how she feels.  My head feels foggy and cloudy.  And though we have had a few brilliantly sunny days with blue clear skies I'm afraid my body was a bit confounded and responded with an allergy attack.

I've had a bit of set back.  The Season of Little Frustrations continues, but appears to be running alongside a Healing Season which involves reopening old wounds, scraping them clean and closing them up once more to heal anew.  It's hard.  I'd rather not do this.  Who wants to revisit painful things?  I didn't volunteer for it but then who ever volunteers for a season of difficulty? There's a reason for it, of this much I am sure.  That I must go through it, I am also sure.

I was taken by surprise to be honest.  I had no idea that these issues would resurface.   No angst or bitterness of my own brought them up but that of someone else.  Nevertheless, right in the middle of the Season of Little Frustrations I ran smack into the brick wall of deep seated pain.  So here we are.

There was another healing that took place this weekend when we realized that an old hurt was finished and we'd come out the other side of this long healing with a good report.  That was a blessing, to realize we weren't bitter or hurt or unforgiving.  We could see the value of the old thing, were glad for the journey it took us upon.  I think we will likely move ahead now, and venture out on the next leg of the journey, confident that we are stronger than we were.   And I hope that is what comes of the healing time I must go through on my own.  That at the end, there is nothing but great gladness that I am healed and I can move ahead with out the weight of the old things.

This Week In My Home: Destination Savings

The back porch we added last spring.  I asked John if he had any regrets about spending the money.  "Only that we didn't do it sooner."  

Saturday:  Gave myself a fresh pedicure this morning.  I subscribed to the Julep Maven offer on Swagbucks...not just for the swag.  Katie had given me a Julep nail polish a couple of years ago and it seemed to last longer than other polishes I had.  So, in need of fresh polish this year, I thought I'd subscribe for a short period of time and restock polishes.  My first box arrived two months ago and I used the polish for the first time two weeks ago.  I redid my pedicure this morning only because I was tired of the polish!  The previous pedicure still looked great.  I figure I averaged about $6 per bottle, which is about what you'd pay for a decent brand on sale.   These polishes are vegan and allow the nails to breathe as well.

I like popcorn.  I bought bulk corn and I do the stove top method.  It's very inexpensive, so tasty and I've tried some variations: Parmesan and Black Pepper, Peanut butter and chocolate drizzle...Trolling through my reading list I found one of the bloggers had written a post about it this past week.  It's a good read!

We went to a birthday party tonight.  I'd forgotten they were serving a meal instead of just finger foods.  We had more than enough to eat with ice cream and cake, too.

Sunday:  Put a whole chicken in the crock pot before we left home this morning for church.

I had a meal plan...God had a plan all his own.  Though I'd told John twice I had easy sides to put together for our meal he went to the grocery to buy macaroni salad anyway.  The odd thing is that he made three stops on the way home: once for a paper and drinks, once for doughnuts (which was a bust) and then for the macaroni salad.  At the third stop he ran into someone he hadn't seen in a few years.  I think it was a God thing.

I decided to get some minor housework things done after dinner.  Nothing big time but enough to sort of decrease the amount of work needed tomorrow.  I hung the new curtains in our room.  I stripped the guest bed for guests coming in next week.  As I stood there wishing I had a fresh look for that room I suddenly 'saw' it...with the blue spread we'd used over winter.  I hurried to pull that spread out of storage.  It looks so nice with the creamy curtains, the same quilt and a pillow tucked into the old sewing machine cover.  

Washed a full load of dishes...It wasn't quite full but I put the grates from the gas stove in and that filled it up properly.  I try to do this about every two-three weeks, washing the grates in the dishwasher.  It really knocks off the crusty bits and oil that doesn't all come off despite wiping down after using them.

Wore my fourth and final outfit today to church.  I wore the white pants and chambray tee to the birthday dinner last night.  Today I wore the Chevron maxi skirt and since it is usually pretty cool inside church (and raining as well today which makes AC that much colder) I wore my denim jacket with the outfit.  I felt so comfortable and well pulled together.  Now it's time to set up a few more.  It certainly did make me realize this past week that I had no need of anything new just now.

In My Home This Week: Are We There Yet?

Have mercy!  Work and meals come around as regularly as laundry and dishes, don't they?  As of the time I'm working on this post we've had rain for 8 days.  Not steady rain, not all day or all night sort of rain but rain of some sort every single day for the past 8 days.  Two days it rained so long and hard that we felt we were under a deluge.  Both of those days the 'chance' of rain was in the lower percentiles.  I cannot even begin to imagine what the day two days from now will be like when it is meant to be a 90% chance! (*Two days later: It rained hard enough and powerfully enough to flush the clogged ditch at the field side of the end of my driveway!)

 It has rained enough to keep the yard wet, too humid to open windows, and just wet enough to really make you feel discouraged at going anywhere that wasn't absolutely necessary.   Every now and then the skies have lightened and we've breathed a sigh of relief, looked at one another and said "Oh good!  It's starting to clear off!"  No, it wasn't.  It was tomfoolery.  It was just a deep breath before the next wave of rain came in.  And it came in.

This 6 inches of rain pretty much put an end to my plans to do yardwork and go out to the shed to work.  All the dreary weather also put an end to ambition to do anything at all indoors other than the daily dozen.  

We ate well this past week.  I pretty much stuck to my menu with only two deviations.  Once was a failure on my part to THINK.  John came in late and I waited breakfast on him.  I simply forgot he came in two hours late.  And so dinner time rolled around and there was no dinner, nothing prepared, and I was hot, bothered, tired as could be because I'd been working hard.  I threw together a meal and I mean that literally.  The second time was John's kindness.  He insists on grocery day in getting take out.  I don't plan for takeout but he wants to make things easy on me.  It's a lovely loving gesture and I am happy to accept his kindness.

This Week In My Home: Itching to Make a Change

The seasons have fully changed and while we may have a few cool days and possibly even cold nights, it will mostly be warm, warmer and HOT for the next 7 months.  And now is the time to begin to juggle the recipe books, gardening implements, glasses of iced water and try and find a fresh viewpoint.  The house looks so nice...I want all the outside to join in and the menus to reflect something new as well.  The trouble with going outdoors at the moment is the pollen.  It's better than it was but boy does it make me itch and burn!  Still, I admit the itching to get outdoors and freshen things up is just as bad as the itching that ensues when I do go out.

So here's the deal...There are NOT enough hours in the day to revamp menus, yards, bedrooms, review a book, pick and choose and tag for the booth, peruse cookbooks, every day cleaning, do frugal boot camp, try and pull together new warm weather looks from my poor little supply of clothing.   There is not enough money for all the things I need much less want.  Yet I am determined to eke out a little something in every. single. area.

Retirement Remedies: Stretching a Wardrobe: Spring/Summer, Part I

When you're working within a budget, you have to use tools available to you to stretch your dollars.  I am in need of summer clothing.  In the South, Spring lasts about two weeks and then we're into some pretty warm weather rather quickly.  When you're at my stage of life, heat is heat is heat and you swelter.  So yes, though it's just April, I am looking for a summer wardrobe.

In my closet I have a few key pieces, same as most people have: black dress pants, gray dress pants, white jeans, black jeans and blue jeans, a Chevron striped maxi skirt.

I have a mere handful of tee-shirts and blouses in coral, black, green, white.  I have a few purses and several pairs of sandals.  I have costume jewelry and a few shrugs and scarves.  Anyone looking at my closet would see that it is modest.  Not a room sized closet for me.  It's a modest sized walk-in which I share with John, various stored items and we have plenty of room to walk in. I have one 3 1/2 foot rack for my clothing.  That's winter, summer and in between seasons.

So you see I'm not bewailing my 'nothing to wear' status with a room sized closet full of things to wear.  I have a need however, to make do this summer as much as I can, replacing only what must be replaced and using to the fullest those things I have.  At present, I'm not ready to replace, so I must use.

This Week In My Home: Returning to Frugal Bootcamp

Saturday:  Return trip from Kingsland today.  We stopped at a travel center for breakfast, coffee, sodas and gas.  The place is a temptation island, with gifts, speciality candies, premium coffee bar, etc.  We try to keep things in line.  While John filled the car, I bought sodas for the trip home.  I made sure I bought the lesser expensive options of the ones we like best.  At one of the fast food counters, I picked up chicken biscuits for us.  At the coffee shop I used my gift card (two Christmases ago) to purchase coffee to go with our breakfast.

I couldn't help but think of the woman we'd run into three years ago at the grocery where a similar coffee shop is located on premises.  She stated she'd received a gift card for her birthday of equal value to the one I'm currently using.  "I used it up in three days!" she said proudly.  We typically get a coffee about once a month, but not every month though I do enjoy the coffee very much.  A year and four months after receiving our card we're just under half the value on it...and that's for TWO!  I shake my head still over the silly woman who felt it necessary to use that card up in a three days period.

We decided at dinner time that we just weren't hungry and didn't want to stop.  Not a savings, because we splurged big time later when we arrived in the town with the meat shop where we shop quarterly or so.  We went in and bought two rib eyes for our meal when we got home.  Pricey...but worth every quarter of the splurge we made!  We ended up eating only one steak.  The other will be halved and used to make two more meals this week.  No waste and no need to too heavily indulge twice in a week's time.

Retirement Remedies: First Quarter Report

I started out this year determined to make a difference in our future retirement.  How have I fared over the past 3 months?  Each of the items below were listed in my original 'Fighting Back' posts in the fall of 2014.

Our first step this year was to purchase health insurance.  I'm still adjusting to making this payment each month but I expect by the end of the second quarter we'll have figured out where to pinch harder and where to relax.  After I worked on my 2nd quarter budget I realized that we've managed to 'find' all but $60 of the premiums.  We need only make a few more tweaks and it will not affect our savings at all.

We switched cell phone carriers and purchased new phones.  Mine was a mere $22.99 and I was refunded $22.  Not a bad purchase at all in my opinion.  John's phone cost more but he did not go for a fancy model.   His phone has to be rugged since he uses it for work...and no we don't get any refund from the county, although the reason for using private phones at work is that it protects patient information rather than having it broadcast over a several county wide area via radio transmissions.

We looked into Internet service via the cell phone company and bundling cable etc.  No go.  There is no Internet service available for our area and the company uses Directv, which we have in our home at present.

Questions and Answers and Comments, Oh My!

Hello there.  I'm a little late this month starting this post and came very very close to not writing it at all.  Why?  Because of a silly survey I read that stated those commenting  rarely go back to see if anyone has replied to them and therefore it is a waste of blogging time to answer the folks who write in...Then I thought of you all and decided that we are not the norm for bloggers/readers.  We chat among ourselves rather nicely and answer one another and I do read and look for replies on my own comments and always feel rather gratified when a blogger is a homey sort such as myself who believes it is right and good to answer those who address you.  In the end, it came down to knowing that you all are YOU and like me, you enjoy getting answers to your questions and comments on your statements.  And some of you might miss the wonderful wisdom that others share.

So we'll begin at the beginning of March with the first Coffee Chat.  Dora shared some of her spring plans and it seems a rather nice list of new Bible study, sewing, reading, etc.  Just the sort of things we all like to do.  Like you, Dora, I am ready to get out in the yard and the weather is to be very cooperative this week.  All is overgrown and wild looking here and needs much work.     A friend of mine built a house a few years ago and she too planned her whole kitchen with nothing but big deep drawers in the bottom cupboards.  She said it was the best possible choice she might ever have made.

In My Home This Week: Blooming Away

Truly the blooms are done with at the moment, though I'm hoping some of the iris I transplated will bloom and by end of this month I expect the roses will be ready to burst...but for now it's all new greens.  I admired the variety of greens in our world this weekend as we traveled in a more southerly direction to see the Kingsland trio of grands.  All sorts of colors from citrine to deep pine green.  It's a regular patchwork look when you top a hill and see a long view of woodland stretched before you, a different colorwave than autumn, and yet oddly reminiscent of it, with a few rusty reds and golds just to break up the monotony of only a hundred or so variations of green.

I overspent my long pay period's portion of grocery money though the frivolity was missing and instead I sported four bags of sale priced chocolates which we'd done without since February.  I don't really consider that frivolous.  It's not quite the necessity it was in years past but it's not quite luxury either.  So I didn't shame myself too badly about going over.

This Week In My Home: A New Month, Time to Find New Savings

                              My 'new' wreath.  Winter's wreath with a few Spring picks.

Saturday:  I made a fairly big breakfast this morning.  We went to Athens and our arrival was going to coincide with an immediate need to leave to go to a baby shower for Katie.  No time for lunch for us and while the shower would have finger foods, politeness demands we be polite and not eat like we were starved.  I figured a big breakfast would hold us over and it did.

Mama paid for dinner that evening.  We put gas in her car.  I think it was about an even swap.

I took water along with me, enough for all three of us.

I was just longing for a cup of coffee by the time we got back to Sam's.  Fortunately my son and Bess are coffee drinkers and happily made a pot.

Sunday:  I made oatmeal and toasted leftover muffins from yesterday's breakfast.

We took off trash and picked up bread and a paper while we were  out for church.  John also bought chicken though I had a meal ready to heat once we got home.

We didn't make a big meal.  We threw nutrition to the wind and had meat and bread for both meals.

In My Home This Week: All Routine