Minimizing the grocery bill has been on my mind a lot the past couple of weeks. Here in the Midwest, it is not easy to eat well cheaply. In fact, since eliminating meat from the house and bringing more fresh veggies in, our grocery bill has gone up, and I’ve been looking for ways to get it back in line with the rest of our lifestyle.
Alien in Aisle 4
The Gardener’s Cottage has had an interesting series of posts on her grocery budget, and I’m still picking my jaw up off the floor after reading them. Evidently it is possible for two people (one man, one woman, middle-aged) in southern California to eat well for less than $90 per month. The dollar stores there actually carry fresh produce and other non-expired food. I feel like I’m on a remote outpost where anything other than the most synthetic frozen pizza is the equivalent of Cordon Bleu. It’s a miracle if I spend less than $100 in a week, and I cook most of our meals from scratch.
Every few months I do an estimate of the grocery bill to see how we’re doing. There have been times when money was tight (actually it’s still pretty tight, but it was much worse back then) and those skimpy frozen pizzas and ramen noodles were regular items on the menu. Loaded with carbs, fat, salt, and additives substituting for nutrients, a week of that diet nowadays would kill me. But the grocery bill could clearly be improved. Maybe not southern California-improved, but certainly better than it has been. Read more »
Reading a novel series slows down time, I think, and that is a good thing the older one gets. When I follow a series about the same protagonist(s), whether in books or on television/video, something happens to catch me up out of my own life and place me amid another life with just the pertinent highlights. Perhaps that is why binge-watching entire 90-episode series via Netflix or another service is such fun, because it increases that sense of immersion in a time warp.
Time to snuggle up with a good mystery
There are more novel series than there is time in my life to read them. I can read quickly, but I don’t like to, not if the book is any good. Reading slowly enough to form a mental picture of what is happening, right down to the specifics and the emotions, is all part of the immersion process. It’s like savoring every bite of a favorite dessert. In this way, reading is different than watching. When you watch a story, the tempo is controlled by the director, and the experience is fairly passive: you sit back and let it hit you. When you read a story, you are the director visualizing the author’s script, picking out the bits that resonate, filling in the gaps in description, and choosing when to pause and pick up again–if at all.
I read mysteries, almost exclusively. There have been periods of my life where I read large amounts of nearly all kinds of fiction, from classics (English major, duh), translations of the great Russian and French novels, and most of the well-regarded 20th century novels through the 1980′s, including a rather lot of science fiction and fantasy. From the 90′s on I had very little time to read, and when I read, I wanted the coziness of traditional mysteries. Read more »
The minimalist lifestyle–scaling back nearly everything to just the essentials–has enabled me to pursue writing, and in particular to devote the past year and some months to learning the craft of writing a novel. One doesn’t have to just write about minimalism to be a minimalist writer, or a minimalist anything else.
At the Art Institute of Chicago
A crucial part of learning to write a novel is learning to be a novelist, something that a lot of people aren’t aware of. Being a novelist is a mindset, and I will go so far as to say it is a lifestyle, because it has required rearranging priorities to put writing and writing-related time at the top of the list nearly every day. It also meant learning to compartmentalize unavoidable distractions, like grocery shopping, in order to be able to pick up where I left off at the computer. Having a minimalist lifestyle in place has made this so much easier.
You can’t blame life for doing what life does, which is a universally-shared sentiment among minimalists. Instead, by having your own needs streamlined, you leave yourself less vulnerable to being thrown off track by whatever life does. Chief among those needs is sustainable income. Fewer expenses, smaller expenses, mean being able to get by on less income. A smaller house helps by being easier to maintain, as does an uncluttered house. Judiciously selected activities give back more than they take; here I think of all the novels I could have written in my life if I hadn’t spent so many, many hours in recreational shopping and then maintaining and reorganizing all the stuff I bought. Instead, ventures to Chicago or Lake Michigan or visiting with friends and family are actually welcome, grounding me to the real world so that I don’t get lost in the fictional world inside my head and computer screen.
Perhaps I have a keen awareness of this process because it’s meant staying focused on one single project for longer than I’ve sustained for any other in my entire life. There was no getting bored with it all and wandering off to do something else. It remained fresh, from the day I set my mind to do it, to the present, where the second draft (108,000 words!) is with my beta readers. I’m even looking forward to starting the final draft in a week’s time. If you want to read the first two chapters as they currently stand, I’ve got them up on the Novel Excerpt page.
“Write what you love” is another bit of good advice, and I’ve loved mysteries all my life, particularly traditional and cozy mysteries. The fact that I like knitting, gardening, cats, and cooking is probably a giveaway, as an awful lot of mystery writers and readers seem to share my affliction. But I do love character-driven plots, studies in motivation, and stories of interwoven lives, all told from a distinctly philosophical point of view, and never formulaic. Readers of this blog may find similarities in my fiction. Certainly I welcome feedback, and if you’d like to be on the current team of readers or want to get on the list for an Advance Review Copy when its ready, just let me know.
Publishing fiction these days means the author has to do the marketing, whether or not one goes with a traditional publisher. I’m curious about how you learn about new books and new authors. Do you have a favorite website or newsfeed, or some form of social media like a Facebook or Google+ group? I’m totally open to suggestions and recommendations on this, or other forms of outreach that are effective, but not abrasive.
Happy New Year! (Hey, my outdoor holiday lights are still up! Priorities, right?)
The nice, simple holiday I thought was going to happen turned out to be much simpler and yet more complicated. Blizzards and black ice at various points over the course of the past two weeks created so many travel difficulties that we missed out on what few things we had planned to do. We were snowbound.
The view from the living room window
One of the small social gatherings in the works was up in the air for nearly a week and went through the sort of hourly it’s on/it’s off/it’s on/it’s off deals that put my routine-loving nerves on edge until we learned that one of the close friends attending had just received catastrophic health news. It was on. The moment the roads were the slightest bit passable (and the state of emergency lifted), we would make our way there.
It kept snowing, and then it got so cold the wind chill was -45F. The world seemed to have ground to a halt, and I wouldn’t have been surprised to learn that everyone was simultaneously praying the electricity would stay on. The stillness was eerie–so quiet, no people or cars about. The last time it was that quiet outside of any house I lived in was on 9/11. Outside of the walls of my home, outside of my own little life, there was a catastrophe, and there was nothing I could do about it.
The quiche was baked, the back of the car weighed down with leftover sacks of garden project gravel and concrete, extra blankets and boots were thrown in, and enough time allotted for a 35 mph journey. There wasn’t much traffic. It was the sort of just-do-what’s-in-front-of-you activity that seems to occur with more frequency these days, that blankets the nerves and buys the heart and mind some time while one keeps the wheels of everyday life on the road.
It’s an odd thing, this second-hand pain. I’m not the one facing the life-changing crisis, not the one experiencing the first holidays in widowhood, not the one standing in line at the food bank, not the one looking at the flat, blank city lot where just a year ago I had a home with a Christmas tree lit to the nines. For now, I’m the one in the bubble, the one behind the glass, watching as the snow melts and reveals whatever will remain.
This is our fourth simple Christmas in a row. What started as a frugal move (Let’s Skip Presents, Money’s Tight) became a philosophical stance (Let’s Get Real). Last night, I had the Christmas present conversation with my son and daughter-in-law. They just want to double-check that the no-present tradition is still in place, and I don’t blame them–few things are more uncomfortable than showing up empty-handed at a family gathering, and then being handed cheerily-wrapped packages from under the tree.
It’s Red! It’s Green! It’s the Holiday Thing!
We don’t actually do empty-handed, though. Comestibles are always welcome, and we make a point of bringing them, too. Family gifts tend to be on an as-needed basis–there’s a baby shower coming up at the start of the new year, etc. But traditional gift-giving is fraught with problems and potential waste of time and resources. We live in a small house, and so do the kids. None of us are spendthrifts or clothes horses, and could all be considered minimalists.
What do you get the minimalist who, by definition, has everything? Answer: nothing! Nothing, that is, except whatever is suitable to the spirit of the occasion: good cheer, something to eat or drink, something to do. Don’t worry about sizes, specs, or gift receipts.
And what kind of holiday should a minimalist throw? Whatever suits! In our own house, I’ve used a light hand (for me): a medium-size tree, a couple of unfussy things here and there, a few lights around the front door and the shrubs flanking it. For Christmas day I’ll set out a buffet on the kitchen/dining room counter, a jigsaw puzzle on the table, we’ll eat in the cozy living Read more »