Thursday, January 15, 2015

Budget Post: Earning money from home

Oh my, how many posts have you seen like this? "You too, can earn money from the comfort of your own home!" And who doesn't see those posts and think, "Yeah, but... what's the catch?"

Trust me, I've thought the same thing. Many MANY times.

This is NOT a too-good-to-be-true post where I tell you how my family is paying cash for luxury cars, (our only car has over 180,000 miles on it) and living debt-free, (we're not) while enjoying multiple vacations (haven't been since 2009) per year. This is about honest to goodness financial gain, through small tweaks to my normal online activities that DO add up!

Here is my pièce de résistance.

This morning I placed an order for a Kindle Fire tablet, and paid $4... plus tax. And I WOULD have only paid half of those taxes, but my husband insisted that the ad-free option was worth an extra $15. Picking my battles, this wasn't even worth a grumble. 

So how did I do it? With gift cards. Two very large gift cards were birthday and Christmas gifts, but the majority of these were earned - slowly and methodically, through online point-earning sites over the past nine months.

There are dozens of points sites out there, but the two I use are MyPoints, and Swagbucks.

MyPoints sends me regular emails to participate in surveys, and special offers. At 50-150 points per survey completed, and 10 points per survey that I attempt but do not qualify for - these add up quickly. They also have daily emails advertising sales at different websites... with an offer to earn anywhere from 2-12 points per dollar spent. Yes, I do wait for these emails from stores that I shop from anyway. If I know my son (who wears a 30 waist, 34 length... impossible to find in thrift stores) will need new jeans, why not earn several hundred points while simultaneously taking advantage of Old Navy's holiday sale prices?

Think of it as the biggest, most tempting coupon you've ever seen.

Recently, they have also had offers where I go to a specific store, purchase a specific sweet-treat, and fax them a copy of my receipt. The resulting points I have earned from these offers have in a points-per-dollar conversion ended up meaning that MyPoints was actually PAYING me to buy these products. Seriously, no joke. I was PAID to buy candy!

With Swagbucks, I use their search-bar widget. Rather than using Google as my main search-engine, I use Swagbucks and over the course of the day I earn points a few times simply through my regular searching habits. It's only a few points at a time, but again they add up quickly! I will also cross-reference their points-per-dollar offers with MyPoints when making an online purchase and use whichever service offers me the biggest incentive. (No, you can't get points through both sites for the same purchase!) They also offer surveys, but lately I haven't seen terribly many so my points earned via survey have been scarce at best.

I do have one other favorite way to earn points via Swagbucks. They have short video-clips on every topic from animal-news, to cooking tips, to fashion tips. We have a widescreen monitor, and I will open two windows... one to half-watch the videos, and another to check on my email, surf Pinterest, chat on Facebook, or whatever else I may be doing. My daughter will also keep videos running while she is typing out school essays, or playing Facebook games. My husband has SBTV installed on his cellphone, and he will also let videos run on the cellphone while he sits at the computer. I actually earn over $25 per month via Swagbucks. They have a limit on how many $5 gift cards I can redeem per month, so my balance is constantly rising. This actually came in handy these past few months, as I didn't have the chance to be online - and I was still able to redeem my monthly cards!

Money has been painfully tight these past 6 months. We have been living on a part-time income, and unemployment. If it weren't for these points, we would not have been able to purchase a fruit press last fall, or the tablet now. Our next purchase will likely be a pantry restocking of several flours & gluten free oatmeal, but just for the moment I am savoring the single largest "free" purchase I've ever made - ordering something I WANT to own rather than something we NEED to purchase.

It feels pretty darn good.

(For the record, no I was not paid by either company to recommend them... however if anyone happens to want to join either, I would LOVE if you considered using me as a reference! I DO earn points for referrals!) 

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Word of the Year

Happy New Year!

I have NEVER been more ready to turn over a new leaf and start over again. Last year seemed like one loss after another, with precious few blessings. I am NOT sorry to see the end of 2014, as 2015 MUST be better. It just must.

The best summary of last year I can give, is to quote the one TV show I've been watching since I was three. Matt Smith (Doctor Who #11) said, in Vincent and the Doctor, "The way I see it, every life is a pile of good things and... bad things. The good things don't always soften the bad things, but vice versa, the bad things don't necessarily spoil the good things or make them unimportant."

That was last year.

This is now.

Several of my friends choose a single word to encapsulate their intentions for each year. I love the idea, and as I was thinking about 2015 and what I wanted from this year, a single word kept coming to mind. So this year, I too will be living this year with a single word as my focus rather than a list of goals.

This year, I will PERSEVERE.

Webster's 1828 Dictionary defines persevere as Latin, deriving from the word persevero. It says, "The last component part of this word, severo, must be the same as in assivero, with the radical sense of set, fixed or continued. So persist is formed with per and sisto, to stand. Constant and continue have a like primary sense. So we say, to hold on." The Free Dictionary defines persevere more simply, as: "To persist in or remain constant to a purpose, idea, or task in the face of obstacles or discouragement."

Either way you look at it, this seems like a great word of intention for this year. Many of the struggles we dealt with last year, are still with us. We will have an uphill climb, but we ARE climbing back up. So this will be a year of "holding on" and persisting in the face of discouragement. 

Or, to quote the good Doctor once more, (Doctor Who #10 this time) "Allons-y!" 

(For any other blogging geeks out there, I also just realized... this is my 100th post! Wow!) 

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Christmas Decorations: A Steampunk Tree

We have been tinkering for awhile now with a master bedroom renovation. The concept is Jules Verne's dream bedroom - a blend of masculine Victorian, industrial, vintage travel, and fantasy. I'll be sharing more on our changes later.

Anyway, since our son begged for a larger Christmas tree last year, our beloved twig-tree moved into our room this year. That meant a completely new set of decorations - and since they were for our bedroom, we got steamy.

Not THAT kind of steamy...I'm talking steampunk. Budget-style.

The tree is a 3' tall German twig-tree. We placed it atop our stacked suitcases, so it would be a prominent decoration in the room. Winding 'round the tree, is a homemade paper-chain made from antique book pages, edged with a bit of copper German glass glitter.

The tree-topper is a homemade paper top hat - complete with hatpin, made by stringing glass pearls & goldstone beads onto straight pins.

The paper mache globe ornaments were given to me by my mother last year. They had been sitting with her decorations unused, and when she heard about this tree she insisted that we HAD to take them. I think they go perfectly!

We found a set of five metal keys at Michaels for $1 apiece last summer, and couldn't come up with a  place to display them until the tree went up. They add just a bit of metallic shine.

Our splurge last year, was a set of three brass clock-hand snowflakes! At $18 for the set, they were well worth it.

I wanted hot air balloons, and found  tutorials using solder, glass-blowing, and  incandescent lightbulbs. Opting for a simpler approach, I printed out silhouette images, and glued them to create 3-d ornaments.

My husband found a pair of earthtone blown glass mushrooms on sale after Christmas last year... and at $.20 apiece I certainly can't complain about the price!

I also found a few post-season ornaments last year... a pair of bookish owls that seemed perfect for a set of bibliophiles!

The only other decoration in our room, is a pretty embroidered pillow from the thrift store. I'm not usually one for throw pillows, but this one had such a pretty handmade look that I had to bring it home. It looks SO pretty against my matelasse duvet! It doesn't quite fit the steampunk look of our tree, but it looks as if it was made to rest on our mid-Victorian era bed.

It's taking me forever to get my decorations up this year, but slowly everything is coming together.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Christmas Decorations: Sweet Surprises

I just have to share... because this TOTALLY made my day! My UPS man showed up this afternoon, but we hadn't ordered anything recently. When we opened it up, I found a lovely snowman ornament from one of my dear sweet friends. It ABSOLUTELY made my day, and I immediately popped him onto my antique sewing machine next to another snowman-friend so they could keep each other company.

What a wonderful unexpected surprise - and what a sweet couple these two make together, sitting where I can see them from the entire living area.

A few of my other smaller decorations are now tucked about the place as well. In my kitchen niche, I've tucked my reproduction snowman bubble light, and my husbands' Bing Crosby album. 

Across the top of my crafting shelves, I've arranged a vintage shawl under a variety of pretty white candleholders. 
It's a simple display, but it offsets my red and white feather tree so nicely.

My men have spoiled me this year, by surprising me with a trio of sweet mouse ornaments.  How fitting for Miss Mouse, wouldn't you say?

I have felt SO spoiled this  past week with all these amazing surprises!

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Christmas Decorations: Bottlebrush Trees

I tell people that I have 37 trees in my house for Christmas, and it's true.

Most of my trees, however, are bottlebrush trees. I LOVE how many ways there are to use them, and place mine in various vignettes about the house.

Near the front door, I crocheted a a pool noodle and tucked a few bleached trees into it along with a pretty wooden church ornament for a simple "White Christmas" wreath.

Atop the sewing machine under the wreath, is this tiny display - with a paper church, and tiny lanterns. 
 In the dining room, I tucked several more bottlebrush trees into some cotton batting, and added several wintry animals for a natural look. My husbands antique car nestled nicely into a nest of feather boa, with one more bottlebrush tree tied to the roof for just a touch of whimsy.

This year has been particularly difficult. I have been saying that I'm ready for next year to begin because it MUST be better. However, I am choosing to live the rest of my winter by this quote by Anne Bradstreet:

If we had no winter,
the spring would not be 
so pleasant:
if we did not sometimes
taste of adversity,
prosperity would not be so welcome.
 May all our winters lead to pleasant springs.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Christmas Decorations: Two Beautiful Nativity Scenes

I love nativity scenes. I love the simplicity of wooden-block ones just as much as the complexity of a full 300-piece Fontanini set. I also LOVE the creative ways people find to display theirs. Our house may be small and our storage-space limited, but I have two complete nativity sets.

Near our front door, visible from nearly the entire living area, is my Willow Tree nativity. I love the way the Willow Tree figurines speak to my heart -with their simplicity and subtlety.

The candle and aspen shavings were inspired by THIS beautiful scene. I wanted to add a warm backdrop, but after MONTHS of searching I still hadn't found anything that felt right. As I put everything onto the shelf last night, inspiration hit and I placed an embroidery hoop with warm brown fleece inside and everything fell into place beautifully. I LOVE how it silhouettes Jesus, Mary, and Joseph without taking away from the simplicity.

Our other nativity is a tiny porcelain set. I picked this up initially to place inside my giant lantern, but they looked so small and delicate that they just didn't fit well there.

After some fussing, I came up with a display I feel good about. Mary and Joseph are resting on a doily crocheted by my grandmother, and the Bible is my husbands' Great-Grandmother's Norwegian Bible, opened to the second chapter of Luke.

I will be sharing more of our decorations over the next few days, but I wanted to begin sharing with two of my newest and favorite pieces - those that tell the TRUE meaning of Christ-mas.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Dear Mom - final garden post of 2014

Dear Mom,

It's been a month to the day, since you passed away. I still can't write that, without my eyes going blurry. We finished your zucchini relish for you, and we'll be putting your gardens to bed for the winter over the next few weeks. I don't know how we'll do, since you were the one to tell us which plants needed extra hay covering them and which ones benefited from a handful of mulch, but we'll figure something out.

We spent yesterday and today, getting our own deck-garden ready for the winter. Next spring, we'll be planting it just like you & I talked about - with the zucchini trellises, the tomatoes against the wall, and the extra herbs. The one change I've made, is to plan on adding Chinese longbeans in with the zucchini. It seems as if those beans we discussed not planting for next year are the perfect companion for greedy zucchini. What I wouldn't give, to be able to double-check that decision with you.

Anyway, our garden is as ready as we can get it. You'd be proud, I did everything just like you taught me.

To the north, we've uprooted everything and hand-tilled the soil - removing roots, clumps, and squirrel-planted peanuts until everything is ready for next spring. That Santa-Fe pepper you sent back to my house? It's STILL going strong! I'm seriously considering bringing it in for the winter, to see how many more peppers it will produce before it gives up. I counted 9 blossoms yesterday afternoon.

To the west, everything is dug up, churned over, rearranged, and ready for spring. And you were right - those carrots we planted, tasted awful. It'll be the specialty carrots next year, or radishes for us. The rabbits thanked us, for our pitifully small carrot harvest.

Along the south, we still have several things growing. You were right about the lemonbalm, too. Two plants WAS one too many! You were also right about the marigolds. They're still blooming this late in the season. I'm tossing the seed-heads into the yard below, in hopes of those volunteer plants you suggested might crop up.

In the southwest corner, our flowers still look and smell amazing. And yep, the lemon thyme is still in there too, thriving and smelling amazing.

In the southeast corner, the mint is still struggling to stay green as well. I'll be trimming it back like you taught me, but I know if it doesn't come back next spring I can run over and snatch a few cuttings from your abundant supply.

We went to the store last night, to find two more of those blue bins for the zucchini, but look what we found instead! Four awesome planters, that will look positively amazing next year, and be a far sturdier deeper pot for those zucchini! And I got them on sale too! I wish you could see them Mom, you'd love these.

The garden's ready for winter now, just like you showed me. Now we just wait for the spring, to start the cycle all over again. I don't know if they have binoculars in heaven Mom, but if they do - you might want to take a peek at next year's garden. I think you'll like what you see.

I miss you, Mom.