October List.

This classy photo was free.

I did have my annual-once-again Halloween tea party earlier this month, and it was the one of the best low-key gatherings I’ve hosted in a long time. We didn’t spend too much over our usual grocery budget, either. Unfortunately I did purchase fabric for a costume that I didn’t have time to make, but I can just pop it in the fabric box for next year. I’ll consider it a Halloween investment rather than merely a spending failure. Hah!

This month I:

  • Paid for half of my Patreon pledges using money earned doing surveys.
  • Finally found a plain white 100% cotton tablecloth for a decent price. It was new in the package with a $30 price tag, but I got it on eBay for $11. I couldn’t have gotten comparable fabric so inexpensively — and this way I didn’t need to hem it, either.
  • Remembered to use the points on my Walgreens card before they expired, plus a coupon, which gave me a total $5 discount on my crazy-expensive-but-dentally-necessary specialty mouthwash.
  • Got a free packet of M & Ms and a free pouch of potato soup mix with my Kroger card.
  • Painstakingly downloaded most of a Hall & Oates greatest hits album for free using the Freegal service through the Houston Public Library. I can download five MP3 tracks a week, DRM free — they’re mine to keep. It usually takes several weeks to get a full album, but if you’re patient you can get a lot of great music. I don’t think I’ve mentioned Freegal on here before, but I use it as a way to download music I like but wouldn’t really pay for — which for me, oddly enough, generally means greatest hits albums. But not always! Within the last year I’ve downloaded David Bowie, Johnny Cash, Psychedelic Furs, Simon & Garfunkel, Arcade Fire, and a lot of assorted classical music. You can’t always find exactly what you want in their somewhat limited catalogue, but you can always find something interesting.
  • Downloaded two free fonts and several graphics sets from Creative Market (including the photo above, which I obviously made awful with text). This is another resource for free stuff I’ve never managed to mention here! They have six free items every week — photos, fonts, blog templates, and more. I generally use these things for my own amusement (I am not a graphic designer of any sort), but I like the stuff on Creative Market so much that I’ve purchased my last 3 or 4 WordPress blog templates there.
  • Watched a free horror movie on Google Play and used a coupon code to get a $1.99 streaming rental of “Logan.”
  • Got a referral for a new private bookkeeping client, which should bring in a little extra income in 2018.
  • Did a few tarot readings for a little extra income, too.
  • Had a free drink on my Starbucks card.
  • Watched 3 DVDs and read 24 eBooks from the library. The library is the best thing in the entire universe. (I only paid $13.70 on all of my other reading, which was at least an improvement over this year’s monthly average.)

I’m participating in National Novel Writing Month again this year, so I assume I’ll be doing more writing than spending in November. But we’ll see! Sometimes I manage my writing time so poorly that we end up eating more take out. Whoops!

September’s list.

I missed two weeks of work between late August and early September, plus I have a private client with outstanding invoices, so I found myself a little short of personal cash this month. (Our household income was unaffected, though. Lennox is a salaried employee.) It was a good reminder that there are always more ways to economize, and also that I should probably cultivate an additional income stream. I worked a combination of multiple part time jobs and side gigs before I became ill, and although I would love to be both physically and mentally well enough to work more, I would never want a traditional full time job again if I could avoid it.

Though I have a part time job in an tax office and I work bookkeeping clients for myself on the side, this is the first time in many years that all of my income comes from the same skill set. I used to have money coming in from at least two different kinds of skills, and usually more. Even last year I did audition coaching and taught voice lessons. I’m definitely under-earning, even considering my limitations. So I need to think on that a bit.

In September I:

  • Paid for all Patreon pledges and my Seamwork subscription with money earned doing surveys.
  • Sent in a tip to The Dollar Stretcher (a resource I highly recommend) on how smaller households can still benefit from warehouse club memberships, which was published online. They gave me 3 free issues of their print publication as a thank you. I never expected that; I was just trying to be helpful!
  • Discovered once again that simply cleaning something well generally keeps me from replacing it — in this case my razor. I soaked it in vinegar (sans blade) for about half an hour and scrubbed it with a brush to get the soap scum out of its crevices. Although I plan to replace it eventually with something that will take cheaper replacement blades, I’m happy enough with it for now — now that it looks almost like new again.
  • Decided to audit the Nanowrimo courses from Weslayan on Coursera for free. This means I don’t get the peer review function (or a certificate at the end), but I couldn’t justify the cost at the moment. I’ve been enjoying the courses and getting some useful writing instruction, though I have gotten a little behind on the assignments.
  • Made granola in the slow cooker. (The trick isn’t the recipe, but the method: You leave the lid askew so steam escapes in order to make the granola crispy.) Although it’s a pricey recipe (mostly because of the nuts), it’s still cheaper than prepackaged granola by a large margin — especially gluten-free granola. I use liquid agave sweetener instead of maple syrup to help keep the price down, too.
  • Made a large batch of gluten-free chocolate chip cookie dough and froze 2/3 of it for later. Future Sarah is going to be pretty happy about that when she has a cookie craving again.
  • Had a free drink on my Starbucks card.
  • Used the Duolingo app to practice my French skills, and finally finished all of the lessons on it! I have found it to be an excellent free resource, and can proudly say that I read very well in French now, and understand about half of it when spoken. (Well…when spoken slowly. Heh.) I will need to find a more advanced resource to take my French learning further — especially my conversational skills — but I also think I will start learning Spanish on Duolingo now, too.
  • Bought three Colette sewing patterns with credits from my Seamwork account. Using credits made them basically free — or at least a tangible use of previously spent money — since the pattern credits come automatically with my monthly subscription and I don’t always use them.
  • Read 18 eBooks and one physical book from the library, and watched 2 library DVDs. (I am so glad that some of the library branches are open again!) I also read 6 free Kindle books. I finally analyzed my spending so far this year and found that I’ve been spending $30 – $35 a month on books (both electronic and physical), which was less than I expected…though it’s probably more than it could be. At least now I have a real figure to work with and improve upon in the future.

I plan to have my previously annual Halloween tea in October — something I haven’t managed the past two years. I can fail at everything else, but I’m holding my tea whether or not I even have guests! It’s my only goal for the month; anything else I accomplish will just be a bonus.

Fuck Hemingway.

Fuck Hemingway.

Hemingway. You savage ruiner of glorious, complicated prose — you misogynistic, literature-killing inebriate — fuck you and the iceberg theory you rode in on. Your terse, manly prose deserves to be relegated to the literary dustbin. You committed word crimes in the name of clarity, but you took that name in vain and destroyed nearly a century of American writing.

I shall gather ignored, dessicated adverbs to my old-fashioned bosom. I shall write swathes of parenthetical complication and use semicolons to my heart’s content. I shall recover the beauty of the English language from your cruel, dead hands like a delicate and ladylike Conan the Barbarian stealing a dusty sword from a forgotten tomb.

And I will wield that sword in the service of colorful misandry and for the love of words themselves.

I will exorcise Hemingway and his ilk from the boring modern novel. Get thee behind me, Ernest! The power of poetry compels you. The power of sublime prose compels you. It is writing itself compels you.

My list for August.

After days of rain, the sun peeked out for just a minute Tuesday evening. I have never been so happy to see the sun in my entire life. Though the city of Houston and its surrounding areas have a long, long road to recovery from the devastating flooding of Hurricane/Tropical Storm Harvey, I am very grateful to report that Lennox and I came through unscathed. We got a very small amount of water in our apartment during the worst of the deluge — literally just puddles — but they were from drainage issues, not floodwater, and they receded almost immediately. We have no damaged property (including our car), and were safe and relatively comfortable the entire time.

We lucked out.

We are making room in our September budget for some charitable giving for organizations helping with the aftermath of the storm.

August was a difficult month all around, though. My anxiety spiraled out of control again, and I have been having panic attacks almost every day. I had to start back into weekly therapy, which is a very large expense (we pay completely out of pocket as our insurance does not cover extended talk therapy). Our savings rate will be reduced to almost nothing until I can scale back to monthly sessions. Trust me when I say that this is disappointing on a lot of levels.

Anyway, in August I:

  • Refilled my dried parsley spice jar for $0.28. Herbs and spices from the bulk aisle are one of the best grocery bargains that exist.
  • Got a free sample of Kotex pads in the mail.
  • Used a Redbox discount code to rent a Blu-ray disc. I watched “The Fate of the Furious” for $0.81! That’s a LOT of over-the-top car chasing and a whole bunch of heavily muscled leading men for less than a buck.
  • Was actually able to use a coupon at Jo-Ann Fabrics (their coupon game is completely rigged, but that’s a whole other rant). I got 40% off a purchase of muslin that I would have gotten regardless, but it was nice to get a discount.
  • Only bought a few extra snack-type dry goods and three more gallons of water to augment what we already had on hand for our hurricane kit before Harvey hit. Panic buying and hoarding can be expensive.
  • Being in the middle of a natural disaster meant eating no take out, and mostly from the pantry. Not enough to compensate for lost income, but at this point probably anything that isn’t flood-related is a positive point.
  • Read 13 eBooks and 2 physical books from the library, and 2 free Kindle books. It was a slow reading month for me; I was mostly too anxious to concentrate.

I just hope my crazy ass has a more productive and less emotionally taxing September.

July has been a rough month.

Our cat had been sick for many months, but we had to have her put to sleep last week. So: July has been a rough month. Pet grief is a real thing, you guys. I can’t sleep, I’m depressed, and I’m having trouble feeding myself properly. To add insult to injury, we also got a terrible flea infestation in the last week and a half of her life (almost certainly from a neighboring apartment, as our cat had not been outside in many years, and had never had fleas — even when she came to us as a rescue). So she got to be itchy and miserable as well as in pain, because I didn’t dare use a chemical pesticide on her or in the house with her illness.

It was horrible.

Anyway, in July I:

  • Finally watched a movie I’d gotten for free from Google Play a long time ago. I had forgotten all about it — I sometimes watch TV episodes on the computer if there’s no other way to stream them, but very rarely watch movies that way — but our new Roku has a Google Play channel, and I noticed the movie in my library when I logged in.
  • Used money earned doing surveys to pay for both my Seamwork subscription and all my Patreon contributions this month. I almost never accumulate enough to pay for all of these, so this was particularly nice.
  • Started to transition back into eating more prepared foods instead of take out. Though more expensive (and likely less healthy, in many cases) than eating food made from scratch, it’s definitely less expensive (and healthier in most cases) than take out. I have to work within my limitations, and a marginal improvement is still an improvement.
  • Spent a very quiet 4th of July holiday. Cooked all meals at home, and went for a swim in one of the pools in our apartment complex.
  • Went to a free sneak preview for “Atomic Blonde” – 2 1/2 weeks before it opened. Look, I’m more than willing to pay for Charlize, but free Charlize is even better.
  • Had been reading a series on eBook from the library, but the next book was not available. This particular book was a re-release to eBook only (the physical book is out of print), and I didn’t want to pay full price for it. I found a used paperback on Half.com for $1.00, and even with shipping it was less than half the cost of the eBook. (File under hashtag #VoraciousReadingHabit.)
  • Snagged a 2018 Nature Conservancy calendar from the free pile at work. And it has lovely photos!
  • Got a free sample of flavored sparkling water from our grocery delivery service. It really hit the spot on a hot day. Kept me from buying a soda, in fact.
  • Restored all of the data (including all of my music files, how I had missed them!) from our old computer, and returned the external drive to our back up service on time, which refunded me the $99 I had paid to have the it delivered. Then I deleted the old computer’s license from the service, thereby halving our monthly back up service fee. Or, to be honest, returning the fee to its original single computer price. Still counts, I think — despite the procrastination. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Any progress is progress.
  • Spent an excellent afternoon visiting with E.K. and her partner when they visited from San Francisco. They brought snacks and I cooked lunch for them, and since they are probably the most frugal people I know it probably never occurred to them to demand a fancy, expensive outing. Now we need to carve some airfare out of the budget so we can go to the Bay Area and visit them.
  • Had a free drink on my Starbucks card.
  • Read 17 eBooks from the library, and 5 free books from Kindle.

That’s actually not a bad list for such a bad month. Here’s hoping for a much better August, at least emotionally, and that I can keep my frugal momentum going even in the face of my sadness.

“Atomic Blonde” was okay.

I went to a sneak preview for “Atomic Blonde” this evening, and I promised you guys some thoughts on the film. (This is pretty close to spoiler free, as far as plot goes.)

“Atomic Blonde” is not exactly an action movie. It’s a period piece spy thriller punctuated with extreme violence. And I do mean extreme. Many, many poor stalks of celery must have been sacrificed in the making of its foley effects. The fight sequences are nothing short of brutal — neither stylized nor overtly cartoonish. When Lorraine Broughton slams a dude with whatever is handy, it’s obvious that she’s genuinely fighting for her life. I am not generally squeamish about movie violence, but I flinched almost continually through the bloodier bits. One thing I appreciated, though, was how very bruised and bloody the protagonist became. This wasn’t glamour shot violence in which a severe beating leaves little more than the need for a bandage on the forehead or the lip and everything looks fine the next day. In an odd way, I respected this touch of realism.

I wanted to love this, but I only sort of liked it. I was bored on and off through the first third of the movie, which seemed like “here’s a little sparse dialogue, here’s a little violence, here’s a snappy song from the 80s” with little cohesion and some uneven pacing. I wanted to punch James McAvoy right in the throat from the first minute he appeared on screen. Charlize Theron seemed to be exhibiting a here-and-therian accent that was sometimes American and sometimes British — and sometimes neither, but nearly always off somehow. I’m willing to give her the benefit of the doubt that this was a character choice. I mean, I wouldn’t put it past her to do something like that as a symbolic gesture toward the amorphous nature of her spy character…but it might not have been anything so deep, either. I genuinely don’t know.

I enjoyed the latter half a lot more than the first, though. The pacing evened out, battles were waged, and everybody played their parts well. Events in the film were successfully woven around the fall of the Berlin Wall, and it became far more entertaining. Broughton is obviously a badass, but she doesn’t make it look easy. She makes it look bone-crunchingly hard. Also, the only sex scene in the movie was femme-on-femme, which — though a little male-gaze-y — was completely atypical for a movie like this, and an interesting touch.

Everything else aside, I have to say that I loved the costuming! Broughton is clothed almost exclusively in black and white, as if to symbolically deny the grey area in which a spy must by definition operate — besides being chic as hell. (Even the visible dark roots of her platinum blonde hair echo this theme.) Percival’s scruffy post-punk regalia (with hidden traditional English undertones) was also very effective.

I also really enjoyed the soundtrack, though Lennox thought it was too “mainstream.” I argued that since most movies are actually aimed at the coveted youth market, kids these days aren’t going to care that they used almost every single German pop hit that also charted in the US in the 1980s. They’re just gonna think that it sounds cool. And I also disagreed that it was only the most blatant pop hits. I mean, “Cat People (Putting Out Fire)” is likely not close to the first Bowie song most people will think of from the 80s, and “Cities in Dust” by Siouxsie & the Banshees is probably mostly forgotten in households other than ours, where Siouxsie is perhaps more revered than average. So. Obviously I’m right.

Anyway, Lennox felt like he liked it a lot more than I did, and yet we both gave it 3 out of 5 stars. (What can I say? Maybe our scales are just different.) It’s worth seeing if you have any interest in it, but I wouldn’t recommend paying full price unless you’re a Charlize superfan.

 

My list for June.

This is probably not a comprehensive list, and — to be honest — I spent more than I intended to this month. I bought two pairs of shoes (on clearance, at least) as well as some fabric I definitely didn’t need, and we spent more on take out than I would like. Hopefully I will be too busy in July focusing on Camp Nanowrimo to spend a lot of money.

In June I:

  • Had a free Starbucks drink on my card.
  • Did an additional project for a client to bring in some extra income.
  • Replaced the streaming device on our bedroom TV. Using a combination of credit card points and a coupon, Lennox bought a new Roku for only $10! I have been watching a lot of PBS on there, which I had previously been watching on the laptop. Much more convenient! (The PBS channel is free, too.)
  • Spent a whopping $0.24 on bulk thyme to refill an empty spice jar. [Insert money bag emoji here.]
  • Had a free taco at Taco Bell with my Mom (they were free due to some sport-y thing again). We also got “happy hour” special iced teas for only $1 each. I do love a cheap outing.
  • Stocked up on inexpensive gluten free products at Aldi.
  • Had a free lunch at work to celebrate a co-worker’s birthday.
  • Had completely forgotten that I still had a small balance on a Google Play gift card I had gotten for Christmas, so I used that to buy a few eBooks this month.
  • Got a $5 Amazon card by taking a survey.
  • Read 2 physical books and 20 eBooks from the library, as well as 2 free Kindle books. I also watched 4 DVDs from the library this month.

I may finish another library book this evening, too. I read a lot, you guys. It’s a good thing the majority of my reading is free!

The pleasant ambiguity of “My Cousin Rachel.”

We went to see “My Cousin Rachel” this afternoon, and I really liked it. It wasn’t perfect, but it was pretty good overall — and Rachel Weisz was excellent.

I haven’t read the book since I was a teenager — it had been so long, in fact, that my internal misandry had erased the male protagonist from my memory altogether — so I can’t say whether or not the film was true to the source material. But as Lennox remarked, “It was like a du Maurier mobius strip of both misogyny and misandry!” Is Rachel wicked after all? Is it just a function of the male gaze? We never really know, and it’s better that way.

The costuming was interesting, too — subtle, but quite good. The vicar’s daughters have terrible, slightly out of style sleeves from the previous decade (fashions were slow to appear in Cornwall, I’m sure), the fresh-faced innocent is presented in all of her country glory (her at-times almost masculine daywear underscores how understanding she is, of course), and Rachel is a figure of enigmatic foreign mourning (with so many symbolic veils). Even Phillip’s scraggly and mud-spattered riding clothes imply his immaturity and artlessness as clearly as the actor’s performance.

And Cornwall! What is it about Cornwall that makes everyone in a du Maurier story fall into terrible trouble? Criminals around every corner! Wicked women and evil vicars and conspiracies of silence! Muttering, mad housekeepers! Amongst the cliffs, terrible misunderstandings abound. And a distant cousin, who may (or may not) have been every bit as horrible as a naive and suspicious young man suspected.

“My Cousin Rachel” isn’t a masterpiece, and isn’t for everyone. People with short attention spans or a low tolerance for costume drama will want to skip this, but others with a taste for gothic ambiguity will probably enjoy it. I thought it was worth seeing for Weisz’s performance alone, though I enjoyed all of it. I recommend it (although with my previously stated reservations). I give it 4 out of 5 stars.