Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The End of My Frugal Rope

(Originally posted at my now defunct writing up blog on 6/24/06. Apparently these things come in cycles)

Lately I feel like I'm at the end of my frugal rope. (A frugal rope, as I envision it, would probably be made of a series of plastic grocery bags, twisted up and braided together. But I digress.) When I first started being frugal and recognizing places that I could cut back, save money, and live in a more simple and deliberate way, it was very gratifying. I could see the impact of my big changes, could quantify the money savings, could feel the difference as the space opened up in my life.

The longer I live this lifestyle, though, and the more like habit these actions become, the less visible the impact. There are no more big changes to make, no more egregious factors in my life, and that means that there are far fewer victories to be made. I read blogs and message boards where people write "I saved $20 this week by not buying lattes!" For me, this is not a savings. I never buy lattes. I don't get to count that.

I'm afraid that I'm at the point when most people get frustrated and give up. My expenses have leveled off and there is no more big excitement or glamour involved in reducing bills. The changes I have yet to make are much smaller, and are the kinds of things that in the past I have considered trivial, but they're the only changes I have left to make.

It's not so much that I need to cut my lifestyle more because we still don't make enough money to cover out bills; I want to cut deeper to find more money to put towards loans. Most of all, though, I want that excitement back of finding something to cut. Without that sense of victory and success, it's hard to continue to live this way forever.

In order to stay motivated, I'm trying to come up with little games for myself. Every day, I try to stretch one more day before having to run the dishwasher. I'm experimenting to see how I can reduce dryer time by hanging heavier items, running the washer's spin cycle an extra time, and keeping the machine free of lint. (I know I'd do even better by hanging all of my clothes, but I'm still trying to find a productive way to do that in this tiny apartment.) I'm trying to turn my water heater off during the day, to see if that reduces my energy bills at all.

Right now, any victory would be enough to keep me at it.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

In search of a frugal Christmas

I really love Christmas. I have images of snowy mornings, childhood innocence, family caroling and tree decorating and every one of these ideas makes me feel warm and fuzzy and happy. For the past few years though, I have gotten so caught up in the business of Christmas, and the business of the end of the semester of school, that I have not really let myself get into the spirit of Christmas.

It really doesn't take much for me. In college, we set up a tiny Christmas tree, put tinsel in our hair, and danced around. I baked cookies at my mom's house and went from dorm to dorm delivering them to all my friends on campus. I sat on the floor quilting a Christmas present and eating Chinese food out of boxes while my roommate and I crammed for a psych final together.

That's the kind of Christmas I'm looking for again. The kind that's not about gifts or travel plans but is just about love and giving. I want to really feel like it's Christmas again. I'm sitting here now with my Christmas lights lit, the "holiday music" channel on my television, and a big pot of applesauce on my stove. I'm wearing snowman socks. . . shhhhh, don't tell my boss. When I finish writing this, I'm thinking about cutting some paper snowflakes out of white scrap paper. I might even find some tinsel to put in my hair. :)

I am interested in finding frugal ways to buy Christmas presents and deorations, and in the next few weeks, I hope to share some of those. But right now, the only Christmas I need is in my heart and mind.

And that kind of Christmas doesn't cost anything at all.

Monday, November 26, 2007

"TV's going to end! Honey, what will we do?!?"

My husband and I watch a lot of TV. Unlike some of my more frugal counterparts, I have never made the effort to give up TV. We really enjoy it. We enjoy it even more since we got a DVR and can watch Heroes, House, Life, or Prison Break any time of day sans commercials. We can watch while doing homework, grading papers, folding laundry, knitting, cuddling. . . all of our favorite activities.

But now the writers are on strike. Go labor. Fight the man. I've got your backs and all that. But it does leave us with one little question:

What are we going to do with our evenings?

Sure we have some movies on DVD, but not very many and almost nothing from the past year. And my husband's plan of watching less TV now in order to stockpile shows on the DVR, though valiant in its efforts seems somehow flawed (I'm sorry, but those four episodes of Chuck we have saved? Those will get us through two evenings). So what shall we do instead? Oh, I have big plans.

Listen to Christmas music.

Play Backgammon.

Go to the park and look at the Christmas light display.

Play card games.

Talk to each other more.

Play Guitar Hero. :)

Read Lord of the Rings out loud to each other.

Actually get our homework and grading done.

Bake cookies.

Visit with friends (on a weeknight! Gasp!).

Anyone else have any great ideas for free or cheap things we can do once TV ends?

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Black Friday reflections

On Black Friday, more than any other day, it becomes very obvious that there are two kinds of money-saving bloggers: those who tell you where the deals are and those who tell you to run the other way. While I do occasionally enjoy a good deal, on Black Friday I fall very firmly into the latter category.

I could begin here a rant on commercialization, on the system that convinces us that we NEED to shop the day after Thanksgiving, on the evil of feeding that system and how we should all refuse to shop on that day and should instead give away all our possessions and pray or meditate on our living room carpets all day long.

Okay, maybe that's a bit extreme.

The truth is, I admire a little bit people who get good black Friday deals. One of my friends is almost done her Christmas shopping. Another stayed up all night and got a $400 laptop. Wow. That's dedication, and since he needed the laptop for his business and his wife's school, it was a great deal that's really going to help him.

But me? Here's how I spent my black Friday:

I slept until 9:30, then spent another half an hour in bed just snuggling with my husband and being glad for my blankets. Then I got up, made oatmeal and coffee and poured my husband cereal, and sat on my couch until my best friend - who's visiting for Thanksgiving - woke up. She came into the living room with the blanket from the guest room and we curled up on the couch with our coffee and dished for an hour or so. Then we watched What not to Wear on cable while my husband finished his homework. I put up my tiny Christmas tree, hung stockings and set out all my little handmade Christmas knickknacks. Around 1, we got dressed and went to Sonic for lunch then drove around town for a while.

In the evening we went to "Santa's Wonderland" with our friends and their 6 month old, who was less enthralled by the petting zoo than we'd all hoped. We had some hot chocolate and stood around a campfire while a guy with a guitar played Rudolph. Then we came home and watched Walk the Line on DVD.

I can't imagine a more perfect black Friday.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Why I teach

I'm a teacher. I've probably been a teacher, in some way or shape, since I was about thirteen years old. In 10th grade, I was the girl in math class who - when the overeager teacher would turn his back to the class to answer a question totally different from the one he'd just been asked - would quietly write out the answer to my neighbor's question in the corner of his notebook. I remember lying on my friend's living room floor, explaining buoyancy to a group of my very eager friends the week before our science midterm. In 7th grade, I scolded my friends at the lunch table when they were being rude or uncharitable to each other. "Be ni-ice" became my catch phrase, and my name was attached to it whenever anyone else said it.

Just the other day, I was telling an old friend how bizarre it was that I knew what I wanted "to be" by the time I was in 7th grade. I want say, I knew what I wanted to do, but really in my heart I know that I am a teacher, not just a person who teaches.

What do I love about it? I love working with teenagers. High school kids just ... make sense to me. Maybe it's a sign of my maturity level, but I'm not sure that's true. Even though I'm young, I'm rather mom-ish with them, but then again I've been that way since I was 12. I think one of my especial gifts is my ability to really listen to kids. A colleague said to me today "Kids tell you an awful lot" and I thought, but didn't say, "they tell you too, you just don't really hear them."

How cool is it that it's my job to go to school everyday, read fantastic books and watch kids react to them? Sometimes I just want to walk around bragging about some clever remark or comment one of "my kids" made in class. I can't think of a better job in the world.

There have been times in my life when I was tempted to quit teaching, but it was never because of what happened in the classroom. Grading can get overwhelming, especially for English teachers, and there's so much paperwork that I can't even imagine ever getting to the bottom of it. There's always drama among faculty members, confusion among even the best administrations, and disagreement about how a school should be run. But as long as I'm in my room reading books with my kids, none of that exists.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Feeling drained, and feeding the spirit

e.c. left a comment on my last post asking if I'd given up the blog. Sigh. I didn't intend to, but every time I sit down and think about writing, I feel completely uncreative and drained and can't think of anything to say.

I am not a big fan of whining. I have a giant "No Whining" sign in my classroom. The idea of coming on here and complaining about not having anything to say seems completely unappealing. But here it is, and it's the truth. It started out as "I don't have time," then it was "I don't have energy," and now it's just "I don't know what to say." I always forget how draining teaching is: physically, emotionally, spiritually, and creatively. I feel like all the good stuff goes to my kids and there's nothing left for me.

But really, I know, somewhere in my heart that when you do what you love, it feeds you and doesn't drain you. So, I know that I need to write, and if there's anyone still here, I would like to start writing here again, as long as I can find things to say. So if you'd like to leave me some encouragement, or some suggestions, I'd love to hear them.

(And as I read my own paragraph above, I hear my own voice telling a ninth grader not to start all her sentences with "so." Ugh.)