Monday, 20 June 2016

Weekly Column: Practicing Gratitude in Hard Times

Practicing Gratitude in Hard Times

For many area residents, life has changed drastically in the last year and a half since the price of oil dropped. Families that were once confident about how much money they could spend every month are now unsure how they will pay for the month’s bare necessities. It can get overwhelming, and the stress that people are feeling is very real. Prescribing positive thinking in the face of such uncertainty is not meant to dismiss your apprehension, but focusing on the good in your life can really bring comfort in hard times.

Eyes on the Horizon

It is easy to get dragged down by daily worries about bills and money, and decisions regarding what to sell and what to try to keep. No one can dispute the stress that this situation can bring. To help yourself through this difficult time, focus instead on where you hope to end up when the dust settles. Are you making a career change? Moving? Staying? Make plans and set goals for your future and slowly let the past fall behind you where it belongs. It may not remove your worries but it will prevent them from robbing you of your daily joys.

3 Things, Every Day

Make it a habit to find three things, every day, that you can be grateful for. Is your family healthy? Are you able to spend more time with your kids? Have you found a bit of temporary employment? Is your spouse making an effort to help more? As you learn to practice gratitude more often you should naturally begin to notice the small kindnesses occurring around you all the time. Did someone let you into traffic when you were trying to turn onto highway 17? Gratitude. Allow you to take your couple of items through the checkout ahead of their huge cartload of groceries? Now that’s classy. Did someone smile and talk to your crying child rather than act annoyed? Do you feel better yet?
Noticing and feeling grateful for the little things can take your day from crummy to tolerable, or tolerable to joyous, if you allow yourself to look for the good.

“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.”  -Melody Beattie

Pay It Forward

Once you are more conscious of the things you have to be grateful for (and hopefully you are finding more than three per day), why not pass that feeling along to someone that needs it? When things seem worst for you, try helping someone else and notice how your own situation doesn’t seem as bleak.

What Makes You Stronger?

It helps in every way for couples and families to be on the same page. If you have sat down as a family to prepare a budget and are working on it as a team, have you also taken the time to thank each other for hanging in there? Have you acknowledged that your spouse is perhaps stepping out of his or her comfort zone in applying for every job possible? Or have you said thank you lately to the parent or grand parent who is going the extra mile to help out? Families are making sacrifices to get through an unpredictable time—Have you told your kids that no matter what the future brings you have everything you need, together? When you show appreciation it gives every one a break from worrying.

“Develop an attitude of gratitude, and give thanks for everything that happens to you, knowing that every step forward is a big step toward achieving something bigger and better than your current situation.” –Brian Tracy

No one would choose to have their job disappear without warning, and there is not necessarily a storybook ending for everyone coming out of this economic downturn. Telling the wrong person “This Too Shall Pass” might get you a smack in the lips. But it will pass, won’t it? The question is, will you lose yourself in the process or will you come out the other side stronger, wiser, and a more appreciative member of the community?

This is a difficult time for many. People are adjusting to a new normal where they don’t have the financial security they are used to. The strain can be too much for even the most positive to bear. If you are having trouble coping, or know someone who is struggling, contact the Rural Distress Centre Hotline at 1.800.232.7288 or the Mental Health Helpline (toll free in AB) at 1.877.303.2642. Remember that a little kindness might make all the difference for someone who needs it today.



Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Weekly Column: Plan a "Stay-Cation" This Summer

Summer holidays are a wonderful opportunity to enjoy time together as a family. For many, this means a road trip, a few weeks at the lake, or flights to somewhere exciting. But if money is tight, you may be wondering how to give your family the fun summer they have come to expect. If you can’t afford an expensive vacation this year, don’t despair. You can stay in your own home (saving hundreds in hotel and flight costs), prepare some of your own food (save money and feel much healthier), and still create the feel of a holiday for your family if everyone understands and takes part in the plan.

Adjust Your Expectations

Most people tend to think of distant destinations as more interesting—and depending on your interests that may be true. But there is a lot to learn and enjoy right here at home if one takes the time and energy to explore with “tourist eyes”. Try to think of your home and surrounding area as a place you have never been—if this were a city you were passing through while traveling in a different country, what would you do to fill your time? Hit the Travel Info Centre and look online to learn about local attractions and events. You might be surprised how much there is to do.

Change Your Routine

Parents, if you have some vacation time—or are just wanting to break up the routine of your summer’s unemployment—choose the dates where you effectively “leave” for and “return” from your staycation. During that period, commit to living as though you are on a trip away from home—give your kids the gift of your undivided attention even if you can’t afford to give them their dream vacation this year. Avoid the habit of browsing online and reading Facebook while they watch TV. Begin each day with a plan and a purpose—have the laundry ready and groceries in the fridge so that every day can begin as an adventure. If you must, schedule a bit of time each day where you take care of work or job search opportunities. Dedicate the rest of your time to having fun and being truly present with your family.

Let The Chores Slide

You don’t need to let the mail pile up on the doorstep, but do try to live in your home as though you are not responsible for its upkeep. Don’t worry about cleaning the garage or sorting that basement storage room while you are “staycationing” with your family. When duty calls, plan a “beach day” on the lawn with some good library books and the sprinkler while you get the laundry done and tidy up. Do your best to leave the bills and worries behind for the duration of your holiday from real life.

Spend Locally, When You Spend at All

Remember that if you are cutting back, others are too. What do you want this landscape to look like when the economy improves? If you hope to see a thriving, locally owned business community then do your part to help them survive by spending your money at the most home-grown establishments you can find. That might mean eating at a Ma and Pa restaurant while you are touring the countryside. Perhaps you will stop at a local U-Pick for berries or the farmer’s market to show your kids where their food comes from rather than racing through the air-conditioned grocery store again. Small town fairs, parades, rodeos, chuck wagon races and festivals give a glimpse into local culture while supporting communities at the grass roots level. Would you rather take your kids through a drive-thru or help them learn about the place they actually live?

Hit The Beach

Most of us like to escape the prairie winter by flying to a southern destination and soaking up the sun. But do we take the time to fully enjoy our beautiful summer weather? Yes, we have mosquitoes to contend with. But let’s be thankful that our streets are relatively safe and we don’t have to worry about natural or man-made disasters on a regular basis. Let’s celebrate what makes our area a great place to live. Make day trips to nearby beaches or a camping trip to a local lake part of your staycation plan and enjoy the sun and water without the high cost of traveling.

So Much to do, So Little Time


It’s not fair to promote certain attractions over others in this brief space but if you get looking you will quickly fill your holiday time with trail rides, museums and art exhibits, animals and people that you will be glad to have experienced. Make memories with your loved ones and realize it was never about the money.

Friday, 10 June 2016

Our Mobile Chicken Coop

Our coop, this morning.
My apologies for the shadow to the upper right corner of all my rubbish photos lately--I simply can't haul a camera around with me during the day so I snap the occasional picture with my phone and call it good enough. Now that I have a new phone I bought an actual case for it and of course it covers half the camera lens. And I have neither the time nor the inclination to haul the case off every time I manage to have a) the phone with me and b) hands clean enough to take a picture. I feel like the difficulty with pictures on the blog is part of why I considered letting the whole thing go...so I'm trying to come up with a system where I can do better at this without adding more steps and work to my already overwhelming days.

But I digress! We got our chickens a couple weeks ago. 35 are meat birds that my mom kept in a brooder at the farm for us until they had feathers. Another 10-15 are a variety of breeds that hatched in my mom's incubator and are meant to be kept as layers (we will see how many roosters we end up with). Most likely the layers will return to the farm once fully grown and be added to my moms existing flock.

I only took the time to snap one photo this morning and it is hard to see but my dad built me this coop with the intention that it could be dragged onto fresh grass every few days. To the right of the main run you can see how the grass was eaten down to bare earth. The chickens were delighted and rushed around clucking and pecking when we moved the coop, and I felt good to allow them the most natural setting I can for their fairly short time on earth.

The coop is insulated with insulation that was leftover from when our garage was built, and also used up some vapor barrier that was laying around from various projects at the farm. The window was one that did not get used in my brother's shop, and the tin roof was also scrap. My dad would weld all day if he had the time, so it was his satisfaction to build the coop with attached, wired in run, on pipe so that it would slide along when pulled and also be quite predator proof. There are an additional 5 panels (not roofed in) that can be added as an extra grazing/foraging area for the birds.


The coop is wired for power--all I need to do is run an extension cord to it and it would have a working light and outlet. I won't have my own layers this winter so I won't need to worry about that, but the prospect is there should I ever need it.


If I could change one thing, okay three things, it is that the doorways into the mobile panels, the attached runway and the coop itself are all too narrow for a wheel barrow. This means if I keep the coop stationary for a winter with hens I would have to carry my forkfuls of bedding both in and out rather than just throwing it straight out the door into a wheel barrow. Really, not that big of a deal considering the coop was built mostly from materials on hand at the farm (although I think they bought the wire and chip board used).


As of now I am unsure whether we will process the meat birds ourselves right here or take them to the Hutterite colony as my mom has done in the past. It's not a job I look forward to but it is one that I want to learn and feel that my kids should also learn (when they are a bit older). Right now it feels like there hasn't been a minute's rest around here so I am leaning towards hiring this one job out. But we will see if that has changed by fall when they are fat and ready for butchering :)

The kids and I painted the coop red last year :)


Any interesting projects taking place in your neck o' the woods?



Thursday, 9 June 2016

Weekly Column: Teach Kids Healthy (Money) Habits

Teach Kids Healthy (Money) Habits

Most parents today are doing their best to teach their kids healthy habits: we read to them, give them healthy food, get them to bed on time and encourage activities that will boost their confidence and teach them to persevere. The ultimate goal is a child that grows up to function in society to his or her highest ability. But as hard as we try provide them with the toys and lifestyle we think they need, we are not always teaching them the skills needed to maintain that lifestyle once they are out on their own. By neglecting to teach children the basics of money management, many parents are inadvertently setting their kids up for stress and failure down the road.

Begin The Conversation

Kids need to understand that, if your home is not paid off, the rent or mortgage comes first. Groceries, payments and bills come next. Kids as young as three years old can begin to learn that once money has been spent it is gone until more has been earned. Don’t scare them, but be honest, and use age-appropriate examples to help them understand. If you have experienced a loss of income and have had to adjust your lifestyle, sitting down to create a family budget that kids can understand might help take the stress out of dodging requests for toys and money. Within reason, including older kids in discussions can empower them to help save towards family goals. Using a chart to illustrate progress towards saving for a vacation, for example, is good motivation to curb other discretionary spending. Be sure to discuss privacy and tell the kids only what they can handle without causing them to feel stressed.

Set an Example

Even if you are a smart shopper and stick to a budget every month, your kids may not be aware of the skills that you are using. They may observe you buying what you want and need and not realize that you have carefully set aside the money to do so. On the other hand, kids may also watch their parents spend on things they cannot afford and develop the belief that bad debt is just a way of life. Remember that your children are learning from what you do as well as what you say. Recognize opportunities to discuss how and why you are spending and resist the urge to “preach”. If your child grows up feeling comfortable discussing money with you they may avoid costly mistakes later on.

Learning to Spend Wisely

It is tempting to deny children access to money—if they don’t have it they can’t waste it! But experts agree that kids must receive money in order to learn to spend it wisely. At the same time, experts caution against giving an allowance for doing simple household tasks. Teach your kids that helping out is expected of them as a member of the family and keep their allowance a separate transaction.
Randomly purchasing what kids ask for ensures that they will always desire the next new thing that they see. By providing an allowance (however small that may be in today’s reality) and allowing them to shop for themselves, kids learn to wait until they have enough money for what they want. When spending their own money, they will also be much choosier about what to buy. Learning to delay gratification is very important for kids and is something that many adults need help with, too.

Saving and Giving

Money experts agree that dividing a child’s allowance into separate jars or containers is an effective way to teach them to save for different purposes (because we all do that, right?). Do what works for you, but an example is 10% towards both short and long-term goals, 10% towards charity and the remaining 70% used at the discretion of the child (within agreed upon guidelines). At first, you may dread seeing more cheap plastic toys being brought into your home. But, given guidance and time, having access to a small amount of spending money teaches kids responsibility and thrift.

Kids today are inheriting a world that is increasingly unpredictable; the drop in the price of oil is just one example of that. Teaching them to handle money wisely is one more way you can prepare your kids to cope in changing times. Allow them to make some financial decisions while they are young so that they can learn about buyer’s remorse and debt on a smaller scale. Let them discover that there is as much reward in helping those in need as there is in purchasing a new gadget. It will be a relief to watch them move on to independence knowing they have the skills to live within their means.


Sunday, 5 June 2016

Weekly Column: Time to Travel

Summer is upon us and, with it, the season of graduations, weddings, reunions and vacations. While money is tight for many, it is not possible—nor should we try—to avoid all recreational spending this year. Initially, a summer full of events may feel stressful and guaranteed to derail your plans. You must sit down as a family and prioritize your invitations. Is it possible to combine several events and make a family vacation out of it? With planning, a budget, and some creative thinking, hopefully families can still attend important functions and enjoy a memorable summer.

Travelling on a Budget

Whether travelling to a family event or planning a trip with your kids, leaving things to the last moment can often cost you more. If you know in advance where you will be stopping, and if you are a collector of travel miles or similar points, book your hotel rooms using miles rather than cash. Plan your trip around where you can stay.

In the days of plenty one might have chosen a hotel rather than accepting an offer to stay in the home of a friend or relation. Perhaps now is the time to accept those invitations and realize that you can have a much better visit in the comfort of a real home. And if it isn’t overly comfortable your family will have something to laugh about when they remember the summer of 2016! If you choose to receive someone’s hospitality, be considerate and clean up after yourself and your kids. Help with the dishes and offer to contribute to the food. Be the guest that you would wish to host.

Road Trip Reminders

Setting out on a trip together is exciting. Although money might be a concern, don’t let it ruin the fun for your kids. At the same time, you must explain to them what to expect on the trip. Rather than hitting expensive theme parks or water parks, book a hotel with a water slide. Check in advance for local (free!) attractions along your route. Most communities have fun events planned in the summer; don’t overlook a good time just because it isn’t costly. Many hotels offer a coupon to local attractions, along with a free breakfast. Take advantage of these perks and save yourself a bit of money. Whatever you are planning to do, look online for a reduced rate or coupon in advance
.
Did you know there are apps for cell phones that can tell you the price of gas along your route? Saving a few cents/litre on a long journey does add up. Take a cooler along to keep your snacks and drinks cool, and stop at a grocery store to replenish rather than convenience stores. Check your grocery receipt to see if the store offers a discount on fuel. Just by purchasing your food before your fuel, you may be able to save.

Stop at parks, historical sites or road side pullouts with a view to fix your own lunches and let the kids run off some energy. Not only will you save the cost of a restaurant meal but you will avoid trying to control the behaviour of kids that have been buckled into seat belts all day. Pack the ball gloves or a soccer ball and have some fun along the way.

Be proactive and have your vehicle maintenance up to date before you leave on vacation. Check your spare and know what to do with it. Replace the ragged wipers and top up the windshield washer fluid at home. Don’t speed. You will save on fuel, get there safely, and avoid the wasteful cost of speeding tickets.

Gifting on a Budget

How much to spend on wedding gifts can be a delicate topic. There are various opinions but you must find your own balance between generosity and common sense. As hard as it may be, you may need to warn people in advance that your budget will not allow the lavishness you could once afford. Job losses are widespread and it shouldn’t surprise anyone. At the same time, be creative with store rewards programs, air miles and online deals to give the best gifts possible. Pool your funds with a group. Consider the interests and hobbies of the recipient and give a gift that is meaningful and economical.


As adults we have to know when something is beyond our reach. If you are already stretched to the max you may have to bow out of some invitations that are going to bring stress and simply can’t be paid for. That is a reality that many families are facing. That said, being creative and keeping it simple might help bring your family together and squeeze a little more travel and fun out of your summer budget this year. 

Thursday, 2 June 2016

Who Says It Doesn't Matter?

Lately I've been contemplating the pros and cons of putting my thoughts out here on the Internet.

I began this blog mainly as a distraction to combat postpartum depression, if I'm honest. I didn't know anyone in our small town and Husband often worked away. I was alone with a baby--madly in love with him, yes--but lonely and feeling like my own identity was being lost in a sea of diapers.

At the same time, I got off Facebook because I realized it made me feel lousy--reading people passive-aggressively attack their spouses or complain about their lives or politics or, worse yet, present their lives as "perfect" when in reality I knew otherwise. For me, the negatives outweighed the positives so I cancelled my Facebook account and got busy reading about things I was interested in.

I loved the Simple, Green, Frugal Co-operative and began to follow several of the contributing blogs. I read Mother Earth News and found myself getting passionate about things like gardening, simplifying and becoming more eco-friendly. Over the years since that difficult time with a newborn (and I don't want to sound like I was always on the computer instead of tending my wee boy, because I wasn't), many wonderful blogs have come and gone out of my life. People with common interests or wonderful writing styles or just some certain quality that drew me in and made me check back again and again to see how they were doing. Those blogs made a difference for me, a big difference.

And so, when the other day I saw a new blog post from Gene Logsdon, an elderly farmer and writer in the US, titled "Farewell, Dear Gene", my heart just sank and I welled up with tears to read that he had passed on after a private battle with cancer. And it made me realize how important our writing is to each other without our ever knowing, really knowing, who we are writing to.

What I loved best about Gene's blog "The Contrary Farmer" was that he put into words so many things that I feel about a simple life in the country. He did it knowledgeably, informatively, humorously, and with a wonderful writing style that I could only someday hope to achieve. He was a gentleman and I so very much enjoyed reading his blog when sleep evaded me as it often does. As someone wrote in one of the many comments on his passing, Gene validated my interest in having a homestead and raising my kids to grow their own food and be as self-sufficient as possible. In a sense, he gave me permission to be myself and not seek the approval of my peers over my own happiness. He did that without trying to sell anything or promote himself and also without attracting that particular type of reader that wants to argue and denigrate and outdo. Basically, he created something very special, he was very special, and I'm thankful to live in a world where the writing of a humble contrary farmer can land in my inbox every Wednesday and I can feel like I'm chatting with my dad--if my dad was the type to chat.

In one way or another, most of the blogs that I have followed and continue to follow validate my own interests in one way or another. I'm very grateful to the people that write about their lives and doings without thought to payment (for most of my favorite bloggers are doing it simply for the joy of it). I'm glad they take the time to observe and interpret and share--I'm seeing and learning things I could never possibly be exposed to otherwise. I'm touched to have readers return to my own little corner and leave a comment here and there, and I realize now that we are all just encouraging each other in our own ways. Thanks for that, and thanks for reading. I suppose I'll keep blogging because today I feel like it connects people in a way that actually matters, and that's very important to me.


Monday, 30 May 2016

Weekly Column: BBQ on a Budget

BBQ on a Budget

It is great to fire up the grill and celebrate the arrival of warmer weather with friends in the backyard. But how can one afford to host a big gathering without blowing the monthly food budget?

Shop Ahead
It can’t be overstated that being prepared and buying ahead saves you money. Learn the regular price/pound on meat so that you recognize a deal when you see one. If you see a great price on meat and have the freezer space, buy it even if you don’t have a BBQ planned at the moment. Buying meat for a large meal at the last minute can be pricey, so watch the flyers, catch the sales, and be choosey. Call your local butcher to inquire about BBQ packs that might be available.

Be Flexible and Do-It-Yourself
If grilled lobster is no longer in the budget, adjust your expectations and try something new. Select cheaper cuts of meat and marinade, skewer, debone or slow roast for tenderness. If you have the time, try making your own burgers or buns for a homemade experience. Have a look for the best deals as you shop and prepare your menu, and adjust your plan according to what is on sale. Sites such as Pinterest or allrecipes.com allow you to search for recipes by ingredient, so try something new and save cash at the same time.

Save with Sides
Make the ordinary extraordinary by grilling corn on the cob or stir-frying veggies on the BBQ. A slow cooker of baked beans, either homemade or from the can, is filling and fibrous too. Making salads ahead saves you time and prebaking potatoes then reheating on the upper shelf of the BBQ can take the stress out of all that cooking. Sliced potatoes cooked in foil are easy and affordable, too.

Focus on the Fun
Gathering for a meal is a wonderful way to bring friends and family together and the cost should not deter you from having a good time. Borrow some outdoor games such as bocce ball or croquet and include the kids in an afternoon of friendly competition. If you have the room, a horse shoe pit or bunnock court is hours of entertainment. Something as simple as bubbles or a sprinkler for the kids will bring squeals of delight for a minimal cost.

Potluck and Bring-Your-Own
It is totally acceptable to be upfront and ask your guests to bring their own meat or alcohol to the BBQ. Offer to provide sausage or hotdogs and some salads and ask that they bring anything else they might wish to eat. Plan a frugal dessert such as a bucket of ice cream or water melon, or try something homemade. If you aren’t confident on the grill, designate a willing volunteer and make sure he or she is still part of the fun. When people ask what they should bring, be specific so that you end up with a good variety of food. Also, ask about any dietary restrictions and allergies when planning the menu. Making sure there is something that everyone can eat is considerate and ensures everyone will enjoy their meal.

Keep it Simple
If you are keen to stick to a budget, or are just environmentally conscious, don’t feel obligated to decorate for a backyard BBQ. If you wish to brighten your space, try a potted herb or plant that you can enjoy all summer. If you do decide on some decorations, take care of them so they can be reused. Single-use items are hard on the wallet and go straight to the landfill. This includes paper plates, napkins and cutlery. On the subject of waste, be attentive to your grill. Burn it only as long as is necessary to safely cook the food and clean the grate. Don’t waste fuel and you might get a few extra meals out of that propane tank. Likewise, pack up the leftovers quickly so they can be eaten the next day. If you won’t eat them, send them with someone who will. Don’t leave the food you worked hard to pay for and prepare sit out in the heat or bugs, even if you are busy enjoying a drink or conversation.


Many people won’t be travelling as much this summer but there is still much fun to be had. Adjust your expectations. Invest your time and energy in the friendships all around you. When you gather, focus on your company and resist the urge to “put on a show”. You do not need to outdo someone else’s yard, patio, menu or liquor cabinet. Chances are, no one is paying that much attention anyways. Possibly, they will be relieved to have a place where authentic, simple pleasures can be enjoyed without the pressure to spend more money.