Uber Driving

Probably the most interesting thing to happen around here in the past few weeks (besides birthdays, which really aren’t mine to tell anymore) is my new income stream as an Uber driver.  If you haven’t heard of Uber yet (or Lyft, or Sidecar), it is a ride-sharing service.  Uber provides an interface and payment system between people who have cars and people who need rides.  Ideally, Uber in particular likes to place itself as a “private driver” service rather than just “giving a friend a ride,” requiring that drivers not have others in the car and recommending minimum standards in dress and car care.  I must say that the incentive of getting paid means my car is now nicer than it has ever been.  I think my father would be impressed!

For riders, this means the ability to call for a ride anytime, anywhere, at the touch of an app screen.  When signing up, riders give their payment information to Uber.  When they need a ride, they open up the app and put a ride request out.  A driver accepts the request and picks them up.  When they are dropped off, Uber automatically transfers the ride fee to the driver.  No cash, no credit cards, and usually very little wait time.

For drivers, we can set our own hours and work as much or as little as we want.  We get paid automatically, and Uber also provides fees to cover cleaning expenses if, say, some drunk pukes in the car.  For me, this means I can take activities that I would normally do sitting on the couch or in front of the computer, like small knitting projects or studying, and I can do them in my car while waiting for a ride.  Nothing lost time-wise, and a potential gain in income–a win-win for me!

If I were to take take away from something else to go sit and wait for rides, I would have to pick carefully when I wanted to head out.  But so far I am driving in the evenings when I would be knitting or studying anyway, or when my kids are in hours-long activities where I would be wasting time and gas to drive home and drive back into town anyway.  Not to mention I absolutely love to drive, especially now that I finally have a stick shift, so I am having an absolute blast, and so far I’m making enough to help pay for the extra expenses associated with this latest vehicle acquisition.

Security issues are also taken care of by the system.  Although riders and drivers are anonymous to each other (even our phone numbers are screened through the Uber system when phoning and texting each other), we are most definitely not anonymous to Uber.  If I had a passenger become a security issue, Uber would know exactly who they were, and the same in reverse if a passenger felt unsafe riding with me.  In addition, riders and drivers get to rate each other.  A good ride should always get 5 stars, or maybe 4 at a minimum, unless there are obvious issues with cleanliness, driver knowledge, or driving skills.  Drivers whose ratings start to fall will have riders refuse to take rides with them, and they can eventually be kicked off the system by Uber.

I am really excited to finally have something that I can do, that I enjoy doing, that has super-flexible hours that I can work around family and church and school obligations, and that looks like it will bring in enough extra money each month to really ease the financial stress we’ve been under the past couple of years since I had to quit my last part-time job.  So if you want a ride, sign up with Uber.  You can use my promo code “2iscu” for a $20 credit for your first ride.  And if you want to drive, too, just let me know and I’ll get you hooked up.

Mabon Reflections

 

Fall color leavesToday is Mabon, the celebration of the fall equinox in the Northern Hemisphere.  The world sits at the balance between the summer half of the year and the winter.  Now the days begin to grow shorter, the nights longer.  Now we reap the fruits of the harvest, the corn and the wheat, the apples and the pumpkins, all the things that have grown through the summer.  Now we stock up, canning and preserving, preparing for the long, cold winter ahead.

In Wicca, now is the time to take stock of our year.  It is time to look at what our plans for the year were and how they went.  It is time to prepare for a period of rest and rebirth as we head into the death of Samhain and the birth of Yule.  It is a time to look at things in our lives that can be sacrificed, spiritual fetters and garbage that are holding us back from growth and progress.

This year, I had a few goals.  I wanted to do more things with the kids, more of the things they want to do instead of only focusing on the things I think they need to do.  I wanted to work on connecting with and building the Wiccan community in Lansing, building up the numbers that would be attending rituals here.  I was also given a heads-up this year that I should expect a period resembling initiation (or possibly hazing!) in my priesthood and in my relationship with Loki.

This spring, I had the kids draw up “bucket lists” for the year.  I told them to put anything and everything on them, no matter how silly.  I wanted to have things to aim for with them, a direction to follow.  I do not feel that I made as much progress down this goal as I had hoped, but we did a few things.  We took a hike down the old brick factory trail.  I will have at least one and possibly two microscopes by the end of the month.  The girls are taking a thrown pottery class.  We went to Pagan Fest.  I spent a day with the younger three visiting seven playgrounds in a single afternoon (the goal was 10, but they got worn out).  Now that I see that list, I guess the idea worked better than I expected!  We’ll continue working on those lists, and next spring we’ll make new ones and work on those.

I’ve been convinced for years that there were more pagans and witches in Mason and the greater Lansing area than I already knew.  This year, it seemed like every ritual and event brought me into contact with at least one.  I led two rituals in the Lansing area, and participated in a couple more.  I went to Pagan Pride Day, got in touch with a local chat night for a while, and got the word out about Crossroads.  I think the progress on building community was perfectly acceptable given the limitations I work in (namely, very little extra free time to network!).  This goal is now going to be tabled until I get further directions from my high priests, I think.

This year, I was raised to Second Degree Priestess with Crossroads.  I was encouraged to take a more active role in leading the church, both in rituals and elsewhere.  I explored some possibilities for clerical work outside actual rituals, things that might lead me to or become the Great Work I will need for Third Degree.  And then I jumped head-first into seminary training with the goal of finally getting a degree, hoping that having that degree be in something I had already spent most of my life studying would make it easier for me to finish.  This was entirely an impulse decision.  I can’t recall even a few minutes of thinking before taking the plunge.  I say a prompting made me do it, because really, what could be crazier?  Signing up for seminary when the year is half done (assignments must be completed by Yule to move ahead, and I haven’t gotten any passes for being second degree in an ATC church), with everything else I have on my plate?  Crazy or not, I have been enjoying my time there so far, and I hope that continues.  Maybe this is the “initiation” period I was warned of back in February.

Not that the year has been lacking in hazing-type events.  After (let’s be honest) living on credit cards since Kender was born, that well finally dried up this year and we’ve been forced to live within a budget tighter than any I can ever remember.  It feels tighter to me than previous low-money periods partly because of how many of us there are now, making every little expense magnify by a factor of 8 (or more, sometimes).  It doesn’t help that it seems like everything in our house is breaking at once.  All the appliances, our cars, the computers, the furniture, even parts of the house itself, everything is broken, worn out, falling apart, molding, losing its stuffing, leaking, in one case catching on fire (!!).  So at the same time that we have no extra money, we need a ton of it to keep functioning.  Yes, I know where (or who!) this lesson is coming from, but I don’t have to like it.

Every year at this time I am asked to make a sacrifice.  A few years ago, I consciously let go of my breeding status, placed within a corn dolly holding a baby that I burned in a fire.  Another year, I offered up my roots, thinking that if I distanced myself from my Texas family, friends, and background it would help ease my longing to leave this place.

This year, I am letting go of my expectations.  I want to formally release the idea of what my life should look like, all of the “supposed to” and “have to” and “everybody else” that puts boundaries and strictures on my life.  I want to release the idea that I have to know every detail of the path I am about to take before I ever step foot on it.  I don’t mean that I will have no goals, but I do mean that I want to have fewer preconceptions about what achieving those goals will look like along the way.  I want to focus on my destination, and I want to focus on what I see along the way and enjoying the journey.  I don’t want to walk my path worrying about whether the right trees and flowers are growing there.

I’ve spent a lot of time recently feeling like a rat in a cage, scurrying back and forth, back and forth, screaming and seething with rage and tears inside (yes, even when you saw me laughing) because I want to find a way out but I am trapped.  I believe this is my door, to simply have the confidence to walk forward, not just to keep swimming in place but to move forward, regardless of whether I think it will work, regardless of whether I am confident that it is the best path.  I’m tired of standing still, tired of feeling trapped.  Maybe I’ll end up someplace unexpected.  At the very least, I won’t still be where I am now.

Hopefully it won’t mean I’ll end up running off a cliff.

Have a happy fall and harvest and all that goes with it.  Happy apple picking, happy hayrides and corn mazes, happy cider and mead and festivals.  We had our ritual this past Saturday; next weekend we’ll be off to the apple orchard.

Happy Mabon!

And the Beat Goes On

I’m definitely getting into the “overwhelmed” part of the cycle of life around here.  Adding up the expenses for Tamara’s cheer group just gets crazier and crazier: $70 for a uniform, $30 for regionals, $69 for nationals, $1200 to get the van road worthy, $250 for the timeshare exchange, probably $1500 for gas and hotel/camping along the way.  What is that, over $3000? The other families are doing all these fantastic fundraisers to help cover their expenses.  They have local extended families they can reach out to. (“Okay, honey, you can invite this set of grandparents to this one, and the other set of grandparents to the next one, and that way somebody will always be there to watch your little brother.”)  Me, I am still trying to raise funds for Kender’s dog as well as Odyssey of the Mind, and so far all their fundraisers dates are on days when I have ritual, funerals, picking up Kender’s dog, etc.  Did I mention that we are booked every Saturday from now until I don’t know when? At least through getting the dog.  And it’s not just cheer, it’s the $1400 I need to get the girls high school books, it’s how everybody wants to go to PaganFest and everybody expects us to be there.  Meanwhile I’m skidding along from day to day barely able to keep up with everything, and I’m trying to figure out how to squeeze out MORE and MORE.  I want to help Chris’ family more, I want to help my friends, I want to help my newfound favorite witchy shop rebuild after burning down last night, but about all I have left to give anybody is some sweet dreams when I collapse at night.

This too shall pass.  It will.  All the rough weeks do.  The stress inside will ease, something will happen to help everything fall into place one way or another.  I don’t know when, I don’t know how, but it will.

Sometime after I go to Meijer to get something to unclog that toilet upstairs.

The Grocery Budget

I’m going to continue forcing the discussion of money by focusing on the grocery budget today.  We all have to eat, so food is a necessary expense for everybody, right up there with housing and clothing.  Some families manage to survive by what seems like magick to me, on very little money, clipping coupons and growing food in their yards.  Others think nothing of not only buying all of their food, but buying it local, organic, free-range, etc., at their local Whole Foods or farmer’s market or food co-op.  The differences in food budgets from household to household can be staggering, and what feels like being cash-strapped to one household can feel like luxury to another.

I want folks to share their grocery budgets here, along with the things they value and any tips they have.  I want to see specific numbers so that I can have an idea of where I stand in the grand scheme of things, and I want to see all the ideas that are out there for reducing what I spend, even if they are things that may not be practical for me at this time. I want this to be a judgement-free zone, with everybody understanding that we all have different circumstances, different priorities, even different dietary needs.  This is for sharing ideas.

I will start us off with my numbers and information, without imposing any judgement on myself.

The United States government Department of Agriculture puts out its own estimates of what each family should be spending based on the cost of various items across the country.  These numbers only include food for humans; they do not include toiletries, house or kitchen accessories, cleaners, pet care items, or medicine.  According to its charts, as of January of this year my family should be spending anywhere from $1245.50 (thrifty) to $2427.70 (liberal) each month on groceries.  Our actual average over the past twelve months has been $1734.83.  For my own ease in budgeting and tracking, this includes anything I would be able to buy at a typical grocery store, so it also includes things like cat food, bunny litter, tin foil and plastic bags, dishwasher and laundry detergent, vitamins, toothpaste, hair conditioner, all of that.  Every once in a while, I wonder what our actual food budget is, but trying to break it down is always more trouble than I care for.  In addition to including non-food items, our spending includes a fair amount of gluten-free processed foods and spelt breads, flour, and pasta, as I try to keep wheat out of my diet.

The single biggest impact on our grocery bill has probably come from meal planning.  I have never been able to actually sit down and plan a whole week’s worth of meals on my own.  Instead, I subscribe to a menu service such as Menu-Mailer or eMeals.  The small monthly cost of these has been more than outweighed by the amount it saves me on the grocery bill. Left to our own devices, we’re liable to get to dinnertime and order pizza, grab boxed meal kits or frozen dinners from the store, or otherwise find a fast, tasty dinner.  When I shop ahead, even 2 or 3 meals at a time, knowing that food is in the fridge and having the instructions to prepare it makes it much more likely that I will cook and that we will eat things like…vegetables.

Beyond menu planning, mostly I try to practice being frugal with our food.  I serve people small portions to start.  I save leftovers, I eat them for lunch, and I will refuse to cook dinner if there are enough leftovers to eat dinner.  I have tried harder and harder every year to throw away less food.  Sometimes my fridge will be nearly empty, and right after a new menu shopping trip it will be overflowing.

I also shop in bulk whenever possible, which is a more feasible strategy for my family of eight than it would be for a household of only 1 or 2.  I can buy enough milk, eggs, toilet paper, etc., at Sams Club (or Costco, if you have one; I don’t) to more than pay for the membership fee.  Other things I get cheaper there are butter, sugar, salad, onions, paper towels, parchment paper, aluminum foil, salt for cleaning, vinegar, baking soda, dried cherries…all sorts of things.  The key to shopping at Sams for me is to stay the hell out of the middle aisles, no matter how tempting it looks, and to focus on buying ingredients, not pre-processed foods.

I have tried clipping coupons in the past, and I am trying again now.  Previously, I subscribed to the Grocery Game and picked up the Detroit Free Press at the gas station (the Lansing State Journal has only a small fraction of the coupons).  I went nuts at first, shopping all the stores for all the deals I thought we would ever possibly use.  Needless to say, I did not save any money. (I filled up the pantry with cleaning products and smelly candles, though!)  Then I switched to no coupons, only buying “stockpile” deals without coupons.  This was okay, but I petered out after a couple of years and cancelled the subscription.

Now I am trying again with Coupon Mom and home delivery of the Free Press.  Coupon Mom is free, and I am having the Press delivered because we had trouble remembering to get to the convenience store on Sunday mornings. (HabitRPG might be able to help with that now…)  I’m sticking to deals that are 50% off or better, that are things we regularly buy or that we would love to have as a treat, and that we are not already overstocked on.  I’m also not going out of my way to shop anywhere but my usual stores.  We’ll see how it goes.

My couponing is a bit limited.  I pull the circulars and keep them in date-labeled file folders.  Then I pull coupons one at a time as CouponMom lists the deals.  I tried clipping every coupon for a while, but I could not keep up with the effort.  I am also too controlling to let the kids do it; the very thought of a coupon I might want slipping through makes my shoulders go up past my ears.  Maybe one day I’ll get over it.

So, how does your grocery bill look?  What are your tips and tricks for making the most of your grocery dollar?

Money

We love it, and we hate it.  We need it, and we wish we didn’t.  It is a necessary medium of exchange and an unfortunate target of vitriol.  We’re never supposed to talk about it, and so we live our lives only able to speculate about what kinds of financial management are behind the lives of our neighbors and friends, only able to guess at whether our wages or expenses are fair or how good we really are at budgeting.

I want to be wise with it, but I don’t want to hoard it.  I want to live life, but I don’t want to strangle in debt.  I want to help others, but I need to help myself and my family as well.  I want to grant all my children’s wishes, but I know I can’t let them live pampered childhoods.  I know (or suspect) I am better off than many of my friends, yet I seethe inwardly in frustration at trying to make ends meet.

Sometimes I wonder why I even bother trying to save and be frugal.  We refinanced our mortgage last year, saving $400 a month in mortgage payments.  Six months later, the new mortgage company decided they needed more escrow, and so our mortgage payment shot right back up to nearly what it was.

We get better insulation, line our windows, cover the window A/C in the living room…and then get hit by the coldest artic temperatures in decades, so our energy bill doesn’t budge.

I want my kids to do all the same activities their friends are doing, but the costs add up.  We don’t qualify for scholarships, discounts, or assistance generally, so I spend as much as a couple hundred dollars a term for my kids to take only 1 or 2 classes each, while they have friends on financial aid taking 4 or 5 classes apiece, and I can’t explain to my kids why they can’t do that, too.  I want my kids to do wrestling, cheer, soccer, art, but even for one activity for one child we could spend $50 a month.  Times six and it would be $300.  But I hate to say no.

We cut the satellite.  We cut the phones.  We shop at Goodwill.  We (try) to grow food.  We cut back on gas.  We turn the thermostat down in the winter (as far as we can with cold allergies) and up in the summer.  And every year, we end up further underwater, even while doing less eating out, fewer presents for birthdays and holidays, fewer road trips and visits to amusement parks, fewer school books.

I don’t know what the secret to clipping coupons is.  When I tried being diligent about clipping coupons, we ended up with a higher grocery budget than we had when I simply worked to plan meals, cut out junk food, and make our own treats.  Not to mention it takes 2-4 hours every week to clip and organize and making shopping lists for the darn things!  It seems like it is some mystical secret language or ability that I don’t have.

I feel like I have no right to complain, because I know there are others struggling much harder.  I know people scavenging food out of dumpsters, unable to pay rent, unable to buy medicine.  We used to have much less money, but we seemed to have more to spend.  It’s frustrating to feel like we are on this constant downward spiral of standard of living, though, and not be able to figure out why, not be able to pull off the miracles some people seem to do with shopping and eating cheaply and growing food.

And it’s frustrating not to be able to talk about it.