Sunday, May 1, 2016

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Crafts Pixelated

Instructables has current how-tos for photo art using fused beads...

Picture of Fused Bead Mosaics From Photos

Yep, those beads that kids use for bracelets and such. Very cool.

Translate those beads into squares of colored fabric, instead, and you've got wonderful quilts, as well!
     For example, Old Abe, shown above, is a 30 x 35 square set -- so with 1 1/2" finished squares (2" cut), you've got a 45" x 52 1/2" quilt. Adjust up or down as needed for the size you want.

(The program uses Excel 2016 and a pegboard.)


Mapped image 01.png

Using the program, you can easily translate your own photos and images into something wonderful. Instructions are here.


Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Financial Advice I Wish I'd Learned Sooner...And Things I Did Right, After All

More thought-provoking posts in Blogland lately, including this piece (a bit too general, but helpful) and this piece (much more specific), both from Apartment Therapy.

What advice on finances has helped you...and what do you wish you'd learned years ago? 

For me, it's:

*Save at least 10%, give away at least 10% -- then live on the rest. My parents mentioned this my first day at the hardware store, back when I was 15. Except for a few lean years, when we weren't able to save 10% (we did give away 10%, though), we've followed this pattern through three-plus decades of married life. That 10% doesn't seem like much while you're setting it aside, but it does add up.
    As for the giving part -- you're fortunate. Really. You can make do without that bit of money. Others need it more. Just think what we could accomplish in livable conditions and education for the world, if everyone (celebrities included) kicked in a mere 10%!

*Always have more than one source of income...even if some are intermittent. Multiple flows of income, it's called; if one job isn't happening at present, the others still pay the rent.
     I've been following this advice for the past few decades -- but really wish I'd learned it sooner than that.

*Only work for free if YOU decide to.  I've been a writer all my life, but gave much of my writing away, thinking that would give me an 'in' for paying jobs the next time. I made the same mistake when I started teaching and lecturing about quilting.
     It didn't.
     If you believe in the cause and want to donate your services, then go ahead -- but make sure that group understands that you are offering this. Not them.
    Same goes for discounts.

*Educate yourself.  Study, study, study. Learn everything you can about your chosen subjects, both online (thank God for the Internet) and via print. Take every class and lecture you can afford. This not only makes you better-informed about your work, it gives you confidence to speak up and offer your opinion, even if that differs from what others are saying.
     That makes you an 'authority' -- and even more valuable.

*Don't dismiss others' wisdom until you check it out for yourself.  It was far too easy to dismiss my parents as uneducated hicks when I grew up in a small Michigan town. My dad was fond of describing himself as a "dumb Hollander" -- partly because he hated to have people noticing him. But he was a voracious reader, and able to fix anything, we joked, with chewing gum, wire and tape. (Partly because he had to, growing up out on the South Dakota plains, with no hardware store in sight.)
     What I learned over the years: my parents' quiet wisdom on frugal living, honesty and integrity was quite rare, compared to other, 'smarter' sources.
     But they were right.

*Don't make a big deal about the B-word... but do keep track of your expenses.  The Brick and I have never had a budget -- there, I said it. We've never used envelopes or snowballs or other budgetary tricks, primarily because we know basically what we need to cover expenses every month, but what's needed for the next month. That includes extra for certain bills -- February and June for property tax, for example.
     I wish we could have this deducted automatically every month, like we do for insurance -- one of the smartest things we ever did, and it doesn't cost extra in fees. (Our company is Liberty Mutual, but I'm sure others offer this.) It's a lot easier than coming up with that lump sum every six months.

     If we keep careful track of expenses, I know when I need to cut back on groceries, or we won't be going out to eat as much. Or we need to pick up a few extra jobs here and there to balance costs out.

*Don't pay full price, particularly for extras like vacations or entertainment. If you're willing to start early, you can often find the same hotel room or trip for less. I just booked a plane ticket to visit the Mama: Chicago and back for $78 total. (Thank you, Frontier!) On the flip side, there was the year we paid full price for an Alaska cruise. Because the family clan decided to go, and didn't tell us until a month before. What made it even more irritating: we'd just come back from a much-longer Caribbean cruise that cost us roughly a third of the Alaska trip -- because there was no time to plan.  Grrrrrr.
     Begin now: at the very least, you'll know how much to allocate -- and you'll be able to start enjoying the trip vicariously.

     One final tip:  See if you can pay large expenses a little at a time. Paypal Credit is perfect for this; a number of companies also offer plans that give you 6-12 months to finish payment -- and no interest or fees, provided you make the monthly payments. The Brick turned me on to this easy way to fit travel -- or laptops, or construction materials -- into our plans. (I wish we'd done it back in the early years!)
     But -- Don't commit if you can't do it. The interest fees are crushing if you miss a single payment.

*Expert opinions may not be best for you.  When the Brick's mom died, we used the inheritance to pay off our house -- at a time when conventional pundits were shouting that we should put that money into stocks, instead. The market tanked soon afterward. If we had, we would have lost at least a third of it -- and still be paying on the mortgage.
    If you follow what everyone does, you'll also be affected by the combined results of their actions. Every time we've lost money in investments, it's been an item promoted as a 'sure thing' that would be lost if we didn't take advantage of it Right Now.  Sure...
    Better to save your money, research and wait. Listen to the experts, but remember: it's your money. You make the decision -- not them. Don't rush into anything you don't understand. (Yes, I learned this the hard way.)
    Warren Buffett said once:
   "Be fearful when others are greedy, and greedy when others are fearful."

Three last bits of advice -- basic, but they work.

*Never spend more than you earn. (Or, as someone I knew once said, "If ya ain't got it, don't spend it." I think it was my dad.)  

*When you do spend, enjoy it. If you're doing your job, everything's covered...stop worrying and relax.
    This has been one of the hardest lessons for me to learn.

*It's just money. Not life, not the people you care about. What's more important?

Exercises Moms Do

Not that our angelic little children ever did this... 

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Election Year Rag

I found this recently during a search for another Steve Goodman song... hum along, regardless who you're planning to vote for.

Considering this wacky, no-holds-barred race... it fits!

Being Poor -- My Take On the Subject

By now, you've had a chance to read (and hopefully digest) my earlier post on "What It's Like to Be Poor." 

I have strong feelings about this...probably because I grew up as a farmer's daughter in very modest circumstances.

My dad worked for a tractor equipment company owned by my uncle -- and farmed on the side. If you've had any farming experience, with the exception of the megafarms, you know that farmers tend to live on the tip-edge. If the weather cooperates, everything goes as planned, and the prices stay reasonable...then you'll make a profit for all that effort. It's usually not a big one.
     But if there's a drought, or your cattle get sick, or prices tank -- congratulations. You've just done all that hard work for nothing.

In spite of this, farmers farm because, like my dad, they love it. And I grew up loving fresh vegetables from the garden and clean, home-raised meat. The smell of fresh-cut hay is still one of my favorites, or the crisp snap of fall cornhusks as you walk through the rows. I raise chickens, make homemade soup, and garden partly because it's in my DNA now to do it.

There was money for the basics -- if we were careful -- and not much else. The price of my parents' farm was only $10,000, but they were not able to pay it off until I was almost through high school. We raised most of our food, and our clothes, with rare exceptions, were either made by my mom (an expert seamstress and tailor), or hand-me-downs from older cousins. If I wanted extras, I had to work for them, first by selling raspberries and sweet corn by the side of the road. Later on, I babysat and cleaned house for people, catered with my mom, and worked in a hardware store from age 15 through  part of college. (That job, along with scholarships and financial aid, was the major reason why I could even attend college in the first place.)
    My brother also worked, both on the farm and for his uncle at the Case dealership. And we both worked part-time throughout college, to help with the bills. (We both graduated, too.)

Were we poor? Most probably. I don't think Dad broke the $20,000 income barrier until after I went to college -- even then, he earned more working on his own when the dealership finally went bust. (That's a whole 'nother story.) We didn't go out to eat much -- a root beer at the drive-in on Thursday night, plus a birthday dinner, was about the extent of our lavishness. I didn't even eat burgers regularly until I was in high school -- and only then because I bought them myself. (And I got the cheapest kind.) A bicycle at Christmas was the highest splurge. But every bill was paid in full -- Mom and Dad insisted on it. They gave money to help others. Even saved for retirement. (Something my mom benefits from today.) And they did it without welfare or SNAP cards.

 "Take care of the family name," he would say. "Your reputation is the most important thing." And in that small Michigan town, it was. At my dad's funeral years later, total strangers came up to me, saying that he was the hardest-working, most honest man they'd ever met. At least one man didn't even realize I was his daughter...yet he told me that my dad had set an example for his own life.

That honor and integrity made us rich. It had nothing to do with money.

Does that mean I look down on receiving public aid? Not if you've tried every other means possible to support your family.... and you really do plan to get off as soon as possible. But to subsist on it for years, then watch your children and grandchildren do the same thing? To refuse to work basic jobs because you think they're beneath you? Refuse to save, because after all, someone else will take care of you...or waste your money on junk? Or take that aid so you can buy luxury items with your available cash, instead of (as my parents did) 'splurging' on schoolbooks, new jeans and tennis shoes for your kids.

Take care of your reputation, and pass it on to the people who are your family. 

Then, whether you're low-income or high, it won't matter how much you earn.

You'll be wealthy, indeed.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Monday Stuff On the Way to Other Stuff: Chickens and Other Interesting Animals

I know -- chickens are not an animal. 

But they and the dogs are the 'livestock' on the Brick homestead.  I thought more about this after spending the weekend at our local library's Homesteading Fair. A few dozen booths showed everything from honey to 'fermented' products, chicks to bunnies. A white tom turkey strutted around outside, along with some goats, a working smithy and tables of heirloom tomato plants for sale.
    I was there for quilting, but brought our 'sick' chicken, now restored to health, thanks to the Brick. (And heavy doses of vitamins.) She spent the day staring confusedly through her cage at could almost see her saying, 'What the heck...?' The kids especially loved her. And since more than 600 people attended the Fair, there were lots of them.
     People would stop to talk about chickens -- and move on to quilting. Or they'd look at the quilts -- then segue into chicken discussions. I was glad to have brought both, though Missy Chicken probably didn't appreciate the honor.

20 easy methods for 'systematic savings.' In other words, paring down or eliminating recurring expenses. (From The Simple Dollar)

Why it pays to be persistent. Sometimes a 'no' becomes a 'yes!'  (From Money Beagle)

A 'heavenly vision' quilt from North Carolina. (From Barbara Brackman's Material Culture)

'What should I absolutely NOT do when visiting your country?' Quora is a discussion forum that a lot of Europeans hold forth on, and a bunch of countries are included here. These are not only fascinating, but should be especially helpful if you plan to travel there soon. (One case in point: never wish a German a happy birthday before the actual day -- there's a longstanding superstition that doing so is actually wishing that something awful would happen to them. Like death.)
    I laughed my head off at the British version. One tip: do NOT refer to your backside as a 'fanny.' Means something way more vulgar in England. Speaking of traveling:

A trip to Cordoba, Spain -- what to see, how to do it. Thanks for sharing, Living Rich on the Cheap. You'll want to read her earlier post about Spain, too.

10 ordinary-looking locations with creepy secrets. (From Listverse)

Got a scruffy-looking table? Here's a classy makeover. (From Frugal in Lincolnshire)
From this:

To this:

How to freeze eggs. This doesn't matter now -- our egglayers are tapering off. (Molting.) However, if you hit a really good sale... (From Her Peculiar Life)

Is the Amber Room behind the walls of a hidden bunker in Poland? We should find out soon.

Happy Birthday, Mum. In celebration of Queen Elizabeth's 90th birthday -- what she likes to eat. (Which was linked, surprisingly, to an article on what Princess Diana liked to eat, as well.)

An interview with Monica Lewinsky. I am not sure what to think of this -- I get the feeling I'm supposed to be sympathetic toward her: 'I've had a hard time of it blah blah blah.'
     On the other hand, she was young and stupid, and has learned from her experience. (And benefitted from the publicity too, I suspect.)
     Having endured some very public insults in the past (insults that I could not respond to in kind, because it was unprofessional), I found this part of the interview interesting:
     "The writer Mike Daisey described this sensation to me in a chillingly perceptive way. (He'd been publicly shamed [and rightly so] for embellishing the facts of a story about visiting Apple manufacturing plants in China.) 
     'What they want is for me to die,' he said. 'They will never say this because it's too histrionic. But they never want to hear from me again, and while they're never hearing from me, they have the right to use me as a cultural reference point whenever it services their ends. That's how it would work out best for them.'"
     Better for Lewinsky to take another approach: state simply she was young and an idiot, and she's grown up since then. Then treat all further questions with dignified silence.

The snow has melted, and the ground is warm. Time to dig and plant...
Have a great week.