Easy DIY Orange Candles (Cheap! Eco-Friendly! All-Natural! Fun!)

How to make a candle out of an orange. A fun, cheap, easy, eco-friendly DIY!Here’s a neat little craft/activity you and your family might enjoy: turn an orange into a candle (with stuff you already have in your house)!

We love having a candle burning while we eat our dinner, especially during the dark winter evenings. I typically burn my own homemade tallow-and-beeswax candles — it’s important that my candles are clean, natural, and unscented, especially around food.

But this DIY orange candle was a fun little twist. The orange rind acts as a bowl to hold the oil, and the orange’s “central column” (which you have to keep intact) acts as the wick.

We first tried this on little tangerines, and they burned for hours and hours! They have a slightly citrusy scent, which is delightful.

All you need for these homemade candles are:

  • an orange (or other citrus fruit. So far we’ve found that tangerines and clementines work better than large navel oranges)
  • some cooking oil (I used olive)
  • a knife
  • a lighter or match

Optional:

  • it really helps to work over a napkin, because it gets pretty messy.
  • a spoon is helpful to loosen the fruit from the peel.

how to make a candle out of an orange and olive oil

Okay, here’s what you do.

1. Using a small knife, cut just the skin of the orange around the equator.

Is that actually what it’s called? Like, if the stem and navel are the north and soul poles, you’d cut around the equator. But not all the way through; just the peel. Here’s a picture of what I mean:

cutting an orange to make a diy candle

(Yeah, I’m a leftie — sorry.)

2. Loosen the orange peel from the fruit.

A spoon is really helpful for this step. Stick the tip under the rind and slide it around the perimeter of the orange to separate the rind from the fruit.

making an orange candle

(Whoa, what a crappy photo! Did I go partially blind for a second? I don’t know what happened there. Oh, well; it still gives you the right idea.)

If you don’t have a spoon, you can do it with just your fingers, but it will be messier.

3. Go ahead and cut the orange in half now, all the way through.

diy orange candle

(My little helper was eager to do this part.)

4. Now scoop out the fruit from both halves, being careful to keep the orange’s “central column” attached.

orange candle diy

(I totally had to google what that part of the orange is called. You know what I mean. That white, fibrous column that runs through the orange, stem to navel.)

diy orange candle

Now you have two candle bowls with wicks!

Go ahead and eat the fruit while you’re at it. Vitamin C!

5. Fill the orange halves with cooking oil, making sure to get some on the wick.

diy orange candle with olive oil

I used olive oil. I think just about any oil would work: vegetable, canola, peanut . . . whatever you have on hand.

Just leave a little bit of the wick sticking out.

6. Light it up!

diy orange candle -- light the middle

Note: be sure to place your orange candle on a ceramic or glass (or other heat-safe) dish before lighting. It can get very hot when it gets down to the bottom and could burn your table. I don’t want to be responsible for any house fires!

Lighting might take a few minutes, especially if you use a large orange with a really wet, fleshy column. (Yeah . . . sorry if that sounded perverted. I noticed it too.) Be patient and keep trying. The wick needs to be soaked in oil.

As I said above, I found the little tangerines and clementines worked the best and easiest, while the big navel orange gave me some trouble. (I could only get one half to light, in fact.)

And there you go! Your homemade, all-natural candle!

make a candle out of an orange

Keep an eye on your candle and keep adding oil as the level burns down, and it will keep going for hours. My first tangerine candles burned for over 4 hours! Jury’s still out on the navel orange. We’ve lit it every evening for the last 3 days and it’s still going strong.

Have fun!

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What’s Saving My Life Right Now

Here in the northern hemisphere, we’re at the halfway point of the suckiest season: WINTER. It’s cold, it’s gray, and going outside requires fifteen minutes of prep.

I’m joining Modern Mrs. Darcy to talk about the things that are saving our lives right now. These are the things helping me get through the season of blah.

My Diffuser

diffuser and essential oils

When I’m feeling gloomy, running a few drops of essential oil in my diffuser helps pick me up. DoTerra’s Elevation is always a solid choice for the blahs. Other times I drop in some wintergreen+grapefruit (smells like bubblegum!), or rosemary+lemongrass+clove (surprisingly energizing). Or any number of oils, really, depending on my needs. I mean, look at that ridiculous collection I have to choose from.

(And I know! Look at that incredible essential oils and diffuser holder my husband made! Isn’t he amazing?)

(P.S., though I’m not a die-hard fan of DoTerra in general, I have to say their diffuser is fantastic. I’ve smelled the work of other, cheaper diffusers at other people’s houses, and so far, none throw their scent as far as this one.)

Iced Coffee

iced coffee

Yes, iced coffee, even in winter. (I just don’t care for warm beverages. But I like that caffeine kick in the afternoon after a sleepless night with the Boy.)

I used to think I only like cold-brew iced coffee, but recently Ben started making extra coffee in his fancy-ass coffee maker with his fancy-ass (fresh-roasted, fresh-ground organic) beans, and putting it in the fridge for me. It’s just as good. I add a ton of raw cream and two tablespoons of maple syrup and ooh-la-la. Liquid cheer.

Charles Trenet

Okay, this a weird one, I know. Charles Trenet is a French jazz singer from the 1930’s-1950’s, which is not my typical style. But we recently saw the movie The Little Prince (which is spectacular, by the way), and I was all like, I want to listen to what that old man is listening to. So I did some googling and discovered Charles Trenet.

Listening to him makes me feel like I’m strolling through Parisian flower gardens in spring. Try it! (And I don’t mean sit down and listen to the album, but play it in the background while you work. It might put a little bounce in your step. Or however the saying goes.)

Grandparents Who Babysit

Parenting is exhausting at the best of times. Parenting a special-needs kid night and day — while trying to homeschool the other — can be enough to crush your spirit. Thankfully, I have two sets of grandparents living nearby who can watch the kids for a day every so often. It is so refreshing to spend some time just being a woman. With interests and hobbies and a personality.

Knitting

knitting

Every so often, it feels good to make something. Just for fun. I love having a knitting project on the go that I can just pick up and work on for a few minutes here and there.

Right now I’m working on a simple lap blanket made from chunky wool I “inherited” from a friend’s grandmother. I love using big needles and yarn because it knits up so quickly and I feel like I’m making progress. Plus I thought it would add some “hygge” to my home. (Check it out on Ravelry.)

Book Club

I recently re-joined the Book Club I helped found in 2009, and man, does it feel good to sit down with other nerds and talk about books. Technically, we are currently discussing Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic (one of my favourite reads of 2016), but we always end up being side-tracked with talk of our favourite fantasy and sci-fi novels, which we’ve all read. It’s the best.

How about you? What’s saving your life right now?

What I’m Into: Winter 2016/2017

Ugh, you guys. I know. I’ve been a horrible blogger. I don’t have any excuses, except that it’s 80% this guy’s fault.

felix(Sorry about the crappy picture — I’m working from a laptop in a hotel room without my camera.)

He has decided recently that daytime and nighttime are basically interchangeable. Each day is made up of a period of light and a period of darkness and sleep has nothing to do with either.  So if you have any complaints about the way I am conducting my life, take it up with him. My body still hasn’t adjusted to his routine after two years.

Anyway, I thought it was time I shared some of the stuff I’ve been loving over the last few months. Because even though my day-to-day life has been kind of blech (curse you, Canadian winters!!!). . . I’ve been into some really awesome stuff!

Books

Audiobooks have continued to save my life. I still don’t really get a chance to sit down and read physical books these days, but I can listen to audiobooks while I cook dinner or supervise Felix’s nighttime play sessions.

Cinder; Scarlet; Cress; Winter (aka The Lunar Series) by Marissa Meyer; Read by Rebecca Soler. Ignore the cheesy-looking covers of these books and have an open mind. This series was a ton of fun. If you enjoy young adult dystopian sci-fi, this series is for you! Each book is very loosely based on a fairy tale (Cinderella, Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, and Snow White), but set in the future (and some of it in outer space). Cinder is a cyborg and her only friend is an artificially-intelligent android, for example. Cress is a computer engineer and hacker working from a satellite orbiting the earth. Very addictive. Impressive world-building. And Rebecca Soler’s narrating is perfection.

Dead Cold; The Cruellest Month by Louise Penny; read by Adam Sims. If you enjoy a good murder mystery, Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache series is on point. (The aforementioned are Books 2 and 3). Lovable characters, thrilling plots, deep exploration of human nature. I am amazed by the depth of Penny’s characters. (If listening to the audiobook, ONLY accept versions read by Adam Sims, who is spectacular. Ralph Cosham, by contrast, is just AWFUL. I returned my copy to Audible after hearing him read the first chapter.)

Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton. This memoir is Glennon’s second book and it is just phenomenal. It’s a brutally honest retelling of her life story, with a focus on her marriage’s sudden tragic implosion a few years ago, and the difficult path of healing. The book tenderly and bravely explores sex, love, marriage, God, family, and faith. I found her story of self-discovery gripping and inspiring.

Children’s Read-Aloud Chapter Books

How to Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell. We picked up this book from the library since Lydia enjoyed the movies and now the show (more below) so very much. Turns out, the movie is only very very loosely based on the original book. In the book, all Vikings already own and train dragons, which are hardly bigger than macaws. Hiccup just does it a little more nicely. Toothless isn’t even particularly interesting. It was an enjoyable read, but one of those rare instances where the movie is actually better (i.e. more interesting, more exciting, more . . . logical) than the book. Or maybe that was just us.

The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis. Oh, what joy it is to read my childhood favourites to my daughter! There are few things that bring me more pleasure. At 5, I think Lydia’s a bit young to get full enjoyment out of these books, but she’s been eager to hear each chapter every night before bed. And I love getting to revisit magical Narnia.

Television

Stranger Things (A Netflix Original Series). I’d been wanting to watch this highly-acclaimed show for quite some time, but didn’t have an opportunity until Felix kindly gave me a chance to watch them by myself in the middle of the night. HOLY CRAP!!! This show was one of the most terrifying but also MOST INCREDIBLE tv shows I’ve ever seen!

The story begins with a sweet, geeky adolescent boy vanishing from his small Indiana town, but things quickly become paranormal. The storytelling is so skillful that I immediately fell in love with all the main characters. It is at times heartwarming, and other times downright frightening. I was gasping and covering my eyes and occasionally tearing up. WATCH IT WATCH IT WATCH IT. (P.S. I’ve never seen any of the 1980’s sci-fi movies that allegedly evokes so much nostalgia for many viewers, but that didn’t limit my enjoyment at all.)

Dragons: Race to the EdgedragonsOkay, this one is actually for the kids. Lydia started watching it after we watched the How to Train Your Dragon movies. This Netflix Original Series is a spin-off of the movies. It takes place in the years between the first and second movie, and features all of the same characters. It is so good, you guys! I’m constantly wanting to sit down and watch it with her. The animation is great, the stories are compelling, and the jokes are genuinely funny. The girls kick ass, and the main character (Hiccup, who is now a young man) leads with cleverness, intuition, and compassion rather than brute masculinity. In fact I’m developing quite the crush on him. Is it okay for me to have a crush on a fictional, animated twenty-year-old Viking? Never mind, don’t answer that. P.S. I can now accurately identify a gronkel, nadder, monstrous nightmare, thunderdrum, deathsong, and quaken, and feel unreasonably proud of that fact.

Note: the intended audience for this show is probably more the 8-12-year range, but Lydia (5) still gets a lot out of it.

Sherlock Season 4. THIS IS THE GREATEST SHOW TO HAVE EVER GRACED TELEVISION AMEN. Holy crap you guys. I CANNOT STOP SHOUTING ABOUT SHERLOCK SEASON 4. The first three seasons were the best thing I had ever seen in my life and SEASON 4 OUTDID THEM ALL. I shouted. I gasped. I jumped out of my seat. I laughed out loud and punched the arm of the couch. I grabbed Felix by the shoulders (it was the middle of the night and we were all alone in the basement) and yelled “THIS IS THE BEST THING I’VE EVER SEEN!”* I don’t think I will say anything else though because then I might never stop and then I might ruin it for you. If you haven’t watched it yet WHAT THE HECK ARE YOU WAITING FOR??? (Oh, right. You might not be able to access it. We got our episodes from Pirate Bay.)

*Felix, not understanding language or most human emotions, was somehow not moved by any of this.

And that’s it for now. SO MUCH GOOD STUFF!

Felix is Two!

Last week we celebrated Felix’s second birthday.

It was a short, sweet and quiet celebration, just at home as a family. But it offered some time to reflect on how far he’s come in the last year.

I felt bittersweet about the arrival of his birthday. Now that he’s two, it feels more glaring that he’s so behind in his development — he still can’t walk, can’t talk, and has disordered eating because of all those months of tube-feeding. We’ve recently learned that he can’t really hear, either, so we are working towards getting him hearing aids with the hopes that we will see progress with his speech.

But goodness, we’ve come a long way. Last year he was still in strict isolation and was still hooked up to continuous IV. He had a central line in his chest and was still on strong oral medications. He couldn’t sit up on his own or crawl. He had never been kissed, had never had a bath. He had never seen the outdoors beyond our back yard, had never seen another child.

In the past few months he has gone everywhere with us: to the park, the mall, the beach, to friends’ houses. He has weekly days out with both grandma and oma. He splashes in the bathtub for almost an hour every day, just delighting in being surrounded by water. He’s chewed on sticks and gotten his hands dirty in the mud. He gets smothered in kisses constantly, by his adoring big sister and mama.birthday kisses

Felix continues to be an absolute, complete and utter delight. He’s the snuggliest little snuggle bug you ever did meet. He loves to explore new places and new toys (even if he does it all on hands and knees). He loves being tickled, and will pull our hands to his face to get more tickles when we stop. And did I mention he loves the water? Bath tubs, swimming pools, the lake, you name it.

We are unspeakably blessed to have him in our family. His life is a miracle and we are in constant awe of that.

I just want to thank you all again for supporting us through prayer, friendship, and financial support over the last two years. We will never stop feeling grateful.

What I’m Into: October 2016

fall

pumpkins

geese

spielgaben

When I look at these photos, I realize what a blessed month we had.

I still struggle with anxiety, especially concerning Felix’s complicated health and his and developmental delays and the infinite appointments that come with them; but when I take a moment to reflect on the beautiful moments, I have to admit I’ve been unspeakably blessed.

It’s still such a treat to be able to take him out into the world and expose him to all the things he missed during his first 18 months. We’ve had gorgeous weather and are surrounded by such wonderful people. It’s been divine. And I’m still working through therapy.

Anyway, here are a few things I’ve enjoyed this month.

Audiobooks

audiobook - ready player one

YOU GUUUUUUUUUUUYS. I JUST DISCOVERED AUDIOBOOKS. And it has changed my life.

(Audiobooks were always out of my reach because I didn’t have a device on which to play them. My smartphone was super-old and didn’t have space for apps. But when Lydia smashed it, I had to upgrade. Since then I’ve been maniacally downloading ALL THE APPS, including Overdrive. So now I can borrow audiobooks from the library FOR FREE. And now I can read books WHILE GETTING WORK DONE. It’s . . . it’s miraculous, you guys. I haven’t been able to read fiction for the last five years because I can’t simultaneously take care of my children. I want to cry, I’m so happy.)

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline; read by Wil Wheaton.

This is the first audiobook I tried. Modern Mrs. Darcy had recommended it. It was so awesome, you guys. The story is a ton of fun and Wil Wheaton does a spectacular job reading it. I don’t know a thing about video games or 80’s pop culture so most of the references were lost on me, but I was hooked by the charming characters and thrilling plot, set in a fascinating dystopian future. I took my dang phone with me everywhere I went for two solid days until it was done. It was a blast. And it has a happy, hopeful ending. (P.S. I laughed out loud when the protagonist/narrator makes a reference to Wil Wheaton as an “old geezer” and the future president of the OASIS. The irony was too good.)

Dad is Fat by Jim Gaffigan.

We’re big Gaffigan fans around here, so I jumped at the chance to hear him read his first book. It’s laugh-out-loud funny, and I enjoyed hearing about his life with five kids in New York City. You can tell he adores his children but of course they drive him crazy. I found his essays relatable, amusing, and even inspiring. He’s a good guy.

Still Life: Chief Inspector Gamache Book 1 by Louise Penny; Read by Adam Sims. Gah! I’ve always been a fan of the murder mystery genre. The first book in this series is everything I could have hoped for. A brilliant, lovable detective; deep musings on what it means to be human; a charming but vibrant community; and a thrilling mystery. The plot was exciting and well-paced. And the reader was phenomenal. I can’t wait to read book 2.

Children’s Read-Aloud Chapter Books

Since our libraries have been closed for the last four months, I gave in and bought some kids’ books at the bookstore. I was fortunate to hit on a couple of winners:

children's book - bfg and pippi longstocking

The BFG by Roald Dahl. Lydia’s a hard sell when it comes to chapter books unless they feature fairies or princesses, but I managed to lure her into this classic by watching the trailer for the movie. (Which looks pretty sweet, by the way. I can’t wait to watch it.) Anyway, she ended up loving it, just as I did as a kid. She was amused by the Big Friendly Giant’s silly, bumbling language; she got a kick out of the slapstick humour (the giants fighting in their sleep slew her); and she loved to talk about frobscottle and whizzpopping — a.k.a. farting — with anyone who would listen. It’s an exciting story (though a bit scary — children get eaten) with some complex characters and lots of impressive imagery.

Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren. This fun collection of stories about a crazy girl who lives without parents and is strong enough to pick up grown men was an immediate success with my five-year-old. She laughed out loud at many of Pippi’s antics. I love that the girl is brave, goofy, confident, and totally herself. I honestly appreciated a story wherein a child tries school and decides it’s not for her. (School is always presented in books as this wonderful learning environment and I worry Lydia will think she’s missing out.)

Children’s Picture Books

Bones: Skeletons and How They Work by Steve Jenkins. Lydia’s been really into skeletons lately, so I knew this one would be a bit hit. Steve Jenkins makes beautiful books, we always love them. It features some life-sized bones, lots of different animal skulls, and tons of interesting facts about bones. She was delighted by the fold-out pages depicting the life-sized 200 ribs of a python. When we closed back cover the first time, she breathed out, “That was a really good book.”

Movies and Television

Since our children both sleep so little and are so disruptive when awake, we haven’t had a chance to watch much in the last year.

We gave the 1984 film Splash a try. I saw it listed on a “Top 20 Rom-Coms of All Time” kind of list and it stars Tom Hanks.  It was recently added to Netflix in Canada. I thought Lydia might enjoy the mermaid element. I expected it to be silly and fun.

It was completely stupid on every possible level.  Oh my gosh. Did people not have brains in the 80s? I feel embarrassed just thinking about it. A total waste of our time.

That’s what I’ve been into! How about you? Any audiobook recommendations?

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What I’m Into, Podcast Edition (Fall 2016)

my favourite podcastsImage credit

Do you enjoy podcasts? Until recently I didn’t really even know what they were or why I’d want to listen to them. I didn’t even know where to find them. (Hint: you can listen to them on iTunes, straight from your laptop if you have one.)

With a very talkative 5-year-old homeschooler always around, quiet time is a premium in our home.  Why would I want to hear more talking? But somehow I stumbled upon Katy Bowman’s podcast on Nutritious Movement a few months ago and was completely smitten. I could learn stuff while folding laundry and kneading bread? It wasn’t long before I’d discovered the magic of podcasts.

Because there is hardly a moment in my life that’s not already filled up with spoken words, I’m very particular about the podcasts I listen to. I quickly get impatient with podcasts that feature women chit-chatting about their lives and things they like. I have enough chit-chat in my life. I want to learn things. Like a big old nerd. All right?

Here are a couple I’ve come to love.

Magic Lessons with Elizabeth Gilbert.

I went completely gaga for Gilbert’s recent book, Big Magic, a few months ago. (See my review here.) Her podcast is every bit as inspiring. In each show, she talks to a regular human being who is struggling with a creative project, whether that’s in dance, poetry, writing, comedy, etc. Then she talks to a successful artist in the same field for ideas and inspiration. Finally, she goes back to the original person a few months later to see how they’re doing. The combined wisdom of Gilbert and her co-conspiring expert never fail to fill me with encouragement and a sense of awe and excitement about being human.

Shalom in the City with Osheta Moore.

If you want to make the world a better place, you have got to listen to Osheta’s podcast.

Osheta is one of the best sort of people. She is genuinely passionate about reconciliation between individuals and communities, and she is humble, patient, and generous. Now, I’ve been following Osheta’s blog for a few years now. She’s a great blogger, but she is a phenomenal podcast host. She is a natural. She was made for podcasting. She has such a warm, loving voice. She asks insightful questions. She makes me want to be a better person.

In each episode, she talks with a “shalom sista” — a woman she feels is working to bring shalom to a broken world in her own unique way. Every woman she has interviewed has been inspiring, knowledgeable, and wise. They have talked about issues like human trafficking, living in a neurodiverse community, and caring for the environment. I come away from each podcast feeling encouraged and inspired.

Katy Says with Katy Bowman.

Katy Bowman is the biomechanist who has been rocking my world for a while now (and, as I mentioned above, was my gateway to podcasts). She’s the author of the Nutritious Movement blog, as well as the books Whole Body Barefoot and Move Your DNA, which I looooooved. In fact, I recently wrote this about her work:

Bowman is majestically articulate and engaging, able to explain complex and foreign concepts in easy-to-understand terms. She’s funny and memorable, too. And her ideas are revolutionary and exciting. Some of the most interesting highlights for me have been:

-the difference between exercise and movement (and how we need more of the latter in our lives)

-the difference between fitness and health (“fit” people can be just as susceptible to illness and injury as anyone)

-her radical suggestion that you don’t have to add exercise to your busy schedule. Just change the ways you move in your everyday life to become stronger, more capable and less prone to injury. In a word, healthier.

Katy Bowman is the reason I spent this last weekend walking barefoot in the woods carrying my toddler in my arms (instead of, say, on my back.) I still have so far to go, but I am constantly being inspired to move more and move better.

The Robcast with Rob Bell.

I used to be a big fan of Rob Bell’s — when he was the pastor at Mars Hill and was constantly putting out popular books and videos — until he kind of just disappeared, and I forgot about him. Just recently I discovered he’s been podcasting for quite some time.

I think he’s better than ever. He interviews the most amazing people and has such invigorating conversations. Some of my favourites have included Richard Rohr, Pete Rollins, and Elizabeth Gilbert. These folks make me fall in love with God all over again. I appreciate Rob’s easy, relaxed style, too. And there are no frills in his podcasts. No ads, no sponsors, not even any intro music to suck up my valuable time. He just launches in with his signature, “Hi, friends!” I love it.

Yesterladies with Heather and Dayna.

I might be a little biased because the hosts of this podcast are two close friends of mine. But I deeply enjoy learning about different women from history, from the most successful pirate of all time (who happened to be female) to Canada’s beloved L.M. Montgomery. I particularly enjoyed the history of the bikini. Who knew it was such an explosive history? It’s a fun, easy, lighthearted way to brush up on my history from two wildly intelligent and articulate women while I cook dinner. It never ceases to make me a little prouder to be a woman.

What are some of your favourite podcasts?? Please share!

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My Favourite Reusable Grocery Bag Solution

Hi friends! This is a super-quick post I’ve been meaning to share since the spring.

I just wanted to tell you about a cool product I’ve been loving. No one asked me to write it or gave me anything for it. I just bought something I loved and wanted to tell you about it.

In my quest to live simpler and produce less waste, I’ve switched to reusable products as much as possible. One of the first and easiest transitions I made was to get reusable grocery bags instead of using single-use plastic bags.

Reusable grocery bags and tote bags have become very popular, at least where I’m from. Most stores sell them for a dollar or two, and some even give them away for free occasionally. Everyone has a stack of these totes by now. I collected a good stash a couple of years ago. It takes a bit of effort to remember to take them into the store with you every time you shop, but after a few months I was pretty good at remembering.

But the problem with these cheap totes is that they are extremely bulky. And ugly. They take up a bunch of space in your trunk or your mudroom or wherever you keep them. And you have to keep them handy so you can easily grab them before you walk into a store. So they’re always laying all over the place. They’re usually a bunch of different sizes and styles so they’re hard to consolidate into a tidy stack. Am I right? Do you struggle with this, too?

My stash looked like the pile on the left:

grocery bags, before and after(OK, you can already guess from the photos where this is going.)

That big ugly pile had to be moved from the trunk of the van to the kitchen to the front room, and back to van. It was always in transition. Always in the way.

I kinda hated it.

But I owned one really cool little bag. I’d received it as a Christmas gift a few years back. It was attractively designed, durable, and best of all, it folded neatly into a cute little package that fit in my purse. I always had it with me, because after I emptied it I could just fold it up and tuck it back into my purse.

All of a sudden it hit me that I could replace all my mismatched tote bags with a small collection of these little foldable bags.

They’re quite a bit more expensive, of course. I bought mine at a local gift shop for $7 each. But they’ve been so worth the investment.

Look at the difference:

grocery bags, old vs newWould you rather have that pile of assorted tote bags scattered all over the trunk of your car, or that little handful of cute bags in your purse? The latter makes my minimalist heart happy.

You only need a few because they hold so much. They’re so strong and roomy. I can fit my entire week’s grocery haul in four bags. See?

grocery-bags-in-cart

As soon as I’ve emptied the bags and put away my groceries at home, I take a minute to fold them all back up and stick them in my purse. It literally takes about 60 seconds and they’re ready to go, no matter how spontaneous the shopping trip. I almost never get plastic grocery bags anymore.

The bags I have are made by Envirosax. You can get a set of 5 from Amazon for about $30-35. Take a gander at all the adorable patterns you can get. Sweet, right? I especially love this set. I’ve had my first bag for at least five years and it gets used at least once a week — usually stuffed with heavy groceries — and it’s still in perfect condition.

I highly recommend them!

(PS: The links are affilate links, so if you click through and make a purchase I get a small commission. Thanks for your support!)

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What I’m Into: September 2016

beach

I didn’t write a What I’m Into Post for the last two months because I wasn’t into much.

I’ve been so busy with appointments with Felix, grappling with more and more diagnoses, struggling against depression, and, to make matters worse, our libraries have been closed due to a labour disruption. For over three months. Yeah. It sucks. That has meant very little reading and very few movies for us.

We went to the thrift store a couple of times and took home armfuls of mediocre children’s books. We’ve also had to rent movies from the local movie rental store (Yes! We still have on of those in our town!).

Homeschooling is going just fine.  Lydia is enjoying tap dance lessons. I started seeing a therapist. Which is good, but it’s yet another thing to schedule in.

So today’s post is brief. But I figured I’d share the couple of things I enjoyed this month.

Books

books sep 2016

How Children Learn by John Holt. For those who aren’t familiar, this book is one of the original classics in unschooling. In it, the author recounts his many years of personal observations of children, both in their homes and in classrooms. The intro was a little hard to get through, but after that it was a fun and inspiring read. I love John Holt. He strikes me as one of the nicest people who ever lived. He has profound respect for children and it shows in the way he interacts with them. I loved the experience of sitting at his feet and soaking up his wisdom.

Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer by Richard Rohr. After hearing Rob Bell’s breathtakingly awesome interview with Rohr on his podcast, I decided that what my life needed more of was a 75-year-old Franciscan priest. I’ll read a few pages before bed each night to help ground me. I can’t wait to be old and wise like Richard Rohr.

Movies

Man Up – I was eager to give this movie a try when I saw it featured two of my favourite actors, Simon Pegg and Lake Bell. Their characters meet when Pegg mistakes Bell for his blind date and she decides to go with it. This movie is WEIRD and HILARIOUS and I LOVED it. Pegg is adorable and Bell is just brilliant. Their performances knocked my socks off. Ben and I both laughed so hard when we weren’t groaning in pain from the awkwardness. I’m still thinking about it weeks later.

Anne of Green Gables – I’ve been interested in watching this movie since I read the book last year in the hospital and was surprised by how much I loved it. Can you believe I’d never read or seen the book or movie?! Megan Followes is perfectly charming. But I have to admit I found the movie a teeny bit boring. (Please don’t hate me! It seems like everybody on the internet loves it!!). It didn’t help that both kids whined and complained through the whole thing. (We watched it in three parts.) I’m kinda looking forward to the newer movie versions coming out to see how they compare.

That’s about it for now! Hope you are enjoying fall.

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How Selling Our Second Vehicle Changed Our Lives

How selling our second vehicle changed our livesI know this sounds hyperbolic, but I’m being completely serious: selling our second vehicle, and becoming a one-car family, has changed our lives in ways we never expected. (Mostly in terms of financial freedom we never believed possible on our tiny income.)

Here’s the story.

Our Financial History

Like many young people of our generation, Ben and I have always struggled with money. Not because we’re bad with money, but because we just can’t make any.

school-dayMy first day of school as a married woman.

We got married when I was still in university. For the first four years of our marriage, I was in school full-time. Ben went from working shift-work at a factory to working for my carpenter dad to starting his own carpentry business. We eventually had kids and I put my degrees to work by becoming a stay-at-home mom. (That’s what liberal arts degrees are for, right?)

So our household income has always been low. But we have always been frugal. We were raised by frugal Mennonites. We shop at thrift stores, buy used vehicles, cook from scratch, and DIY all our home renovations. Our idea of a fun, indulgent night out involves going to a local bookstore to flip through (but never buy) some books and share a venti frappuccino.

Despite our frugal lifestyle, though, we could never get ahead. We never got into debt, apart from our mortgage, but we could never make a savings, either. Our bank account always hovered around the zero mark.

We had no safety net in case of financial emergency, and absolutely nothing set aside for retirement. I felt constantly anxious and we fought about money often.

Month after month, year after year, we would look through our budget and wonder, where on earth can we cut back? We were already spending the minimum possible amount on everything. We almost never ate out; we didn’t go to the movies; we didn’t have satellite for our TV or data for our used smartphones. We biked instead of driving whenever we could. We didn’t buy each other Christmas gifts. All of our technology was outdated. We didn’t go on trips or buy new clothes. What else could we possibly do?

(I am leaving out the year we lived in the hospital with our son and were financially supported solely by our wonderful government and absolutely incredible community.)

The Vehicles

We owned two used vehicles, both for which we’d paid less than $10,000 (in cash). Ben needed a truck and trailer for his carpentry business, for picking up materials and for bringing cabinets to his installation sites. We needed a family vehicle for everything else. So we owned a 2003 Ford F150 and a 2003 Dodge Caravan.

But it felt like we were constantly pouring money into these vehicles. Repairs, gas, insurance, license plate stickers, maintenance . . . it never stopped. These inexpensive, used vehicles were sucking our bank account dry. They were like black holes for money.

But we thought that was just how it had to be. We needed the two vehicles.

Or did we?

Last summer we came across the blog Mr. Money Mustache. He promotes a frugal lifestyle similar to the one we were living, and writes about it in an engaging way. He calls it “baddasity,” and we thought it sounded exciting and life-enriching. But he had one interesting, new idea: ditch the second vehicle.  Even more interesting: ditch the work truck, even if you run a business like Ben’s.

After reading this fantastic article, Ben approached me with this shocking idea: what if he sold his truck and started using the family van as his work vehicle? The van would in fact work double-duty.

He only rarely needed to pull a trailer — less than once a week. The van could handle that. Most of the time, he could probably load his materials into the back of the van. The rest of the time, he was working from home.

And since I stayed home with the kids, I only rarely needed the van, too. There were usually two vehicles sitting in the driveway, sucking up money just by existing. Even with one vehicle between us, our transportation needs would rarely conflict. And when they did, one of us could bike.

Losing the Work Truck

see ya, work truck!

Within a matter of weeks Ben had sold his truck. And suddenly we had an extra $5200 in our bank account. For the first time, our bank account was well in the black, with no reason to go down any time soon.

And the money kept piling up. We got a $1200 refund on car insurance for the year. We saved about $1000 on fuel and $500 on maintenance by not using a truck. Ben had planned to replace the tires that year, which would have cost another $1500.

That first year, we earned/saved $9000 by not owning and operating a work truck.

It was mildly inconvenient for Ben to do all his work with the family minivan, but definitely not $9000 worth of inconvenience.

What To Do With All This Money?

It was thrilling, for once, to have extra money. What should we do with it??

The first thing we did was create an emergency fund. We’re not big fans of Dave Ramsey in general, but we felt this was a first good step. It lifted a huge burden from my mind to know that money was there in case of emergency.

And beyond that, we knew we ought to invest some of our money. But how?

Investment planning is not our forte. There are likely better ways to invest extra money than the route we chose. But one thing felt like a safe bet: to use it towards our mortgage.

The amount of money you can save in interest by putting cash towards your mortgage is mind-blowing.

We figured out that by putting down an extra $8000 on our mortgage, we would be saving almost double that in the long run on interest (i.e. close to $16,000.)  (The savings on extra mortgage payments for you will, of course, vary depending on your interest rate, amortization and size of mortgage. But for some, it could mean doubling your money, as it did for us.)

Another bonus? The sooner our mortgage is paid off, the sooner all of our income becomes pure spending money, with which we can do whatever we want — from investing and saving to just plain old spending on things we want (including donating to good causes). We estimate that our first extra payment alone shaved off almost two years from that goal. We are eager to enjoy that freedom as soon as possible!

And there’s more!vacation

In addition to putting down all that money towards our mortgage, in the second year we were also able to do the following:

  • buy some good used bikes and a bike trailer for getting around town
  • visit the dentist without guilt or worry (first time in six years!)
  • experience general freedom to purchase things we needed, and get the best quality
  • start saving up for our next mortgage payment!

We plan to continue putting extra money down on our mortgage every year — ideally at least $5000 — until it’s paid off in full. In doing this we hope to shave off more interest and more years to reach financial independence.

All that freedom from getting rid of the work truck that we thought we “needed.”

In Sum:

So, basically, a $5000 clunker we were maintaining to mostly sit in our driveway had the potential to suck up $20,000 of our hard earned money and life energy over the years. Once we got rid of it, all that money slowly trickled back into our lives to go towards smarter things.

We feel more relaxed about our financial situation and we have more freedom to choose where our money goes.

We’re not promising we’ll never buy a second vehicle, but the benefits of going without for a few years have already been enormous.

If you have more than one vehicle, maybe you’d benefit from giving one up, too? Just something to consider!

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Felix in the News (Again)

Photo credit: Dale Molnar

 

Hi friends!I just wanted to pop in briefly to let you know about some recent news coverage Felix has gotten.

The local chapter of CBC did a story on Felix a few months ago while he was still in isolation (I shared those links here.) They contacted us a while ago to ask if they could do a follow-up story, now that Felix is out in the world. We were happy to welcome them into our home and share our story.

So if you’d like to read, hear or watch a condensed version of Felix’s story, here you go! They did a wonderful job. We had all had a crappy night and none of us were at the top of our game. But the folks at CBC did their magic and made us sound totally coherent.

  • There was a really great TV story, but as I went to link to it, I found that it seems to be gone. Bummer! You would have loved it!

That’s it for now. Hope everyone had a great summer. Hope to be back in this space with some of my own words soon!

 

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