Three hundred and sixty-six

Three hundred and sixty six days

I made it through it all.  All 366 days of it!

Normally I do a recap of the month, but as this month was a bit of a recap of the year, I’m going to skip that and just do a final post of the year.

Recap of the year

Where do I even begin?  So much has happened over the past year.  I’ve decided the best way is to share my favourite posts, divided by the months.  Although I have lots of ones I am proud of, these in particular resonate with me for some reason or another. (If you want a short description of what I got up to each month, click on the monthly topic below and it will take you to my recap posts for that month.)

MARCH 2011 – Extreme Couponing

APRIL 2011 – 30 Days of Art

MAY 2011 – 31 Days, 31 Dates (there’s a tie with this one – I also really enjoyed my dating advice at the end of my final post for that month)

  • The speed-dating date – I have always wanted to go speed dating and it was quite the experience.  It was one of the worst ‘dates’ of the month, but also one of the most memorable.
  • The social experiment date – A confusing date that forever changed my life, the way I feel about myself, and my future plans (we had a short, passionate affair that ended badly, then I drove across Canada with him during First Kiss Interviews month, we hated each other, then became sort of friends, he made me doubt all the great things about me, and now we don’t really talk – advice to all the ladies out there: listen to your instincts and don’t get blinded by a pretty face).

JUNE 2011 – Cooking 30 Countries (funnily my two favourite posts this month were meals I shared with the man who taught me stop motion animation and the one who confused me)

  • Italian with the Italian – a wonderful evening with a wonderful man, and lots of practical information about Italian cooking.
  • Aussie Aussie Aussie Oi Oi Oi – Kangaroo and Tim Tams.  It reminds me of living in Melbourne, and some very interesting facts about kangaroo meat included.

JULY 2011 – Only Online Purchases

AUGUST 2011 – Out of My Comfort Zone (there were so many great posts this month, but here are a few of my favourites)

SEPTEMBER 2011 – 31 First Kiss Interviews

OCTOBER 2011 – Vegan for the Month

  • Freeganism - I find this world of living without money fascinating, and although extreme, I think we can learn from them.
  • Raw Vegan Food Diet - Another extreme way of eating, taken from a lecture I went to at the University of Toronto.  Lots of great information.
  • Makeup and Skin Care - Interview with Kait Gray from Arbonne.  This changed the way I look at the cosmetics industry.

NOVEMBER 2011 – 30 Holiday Celebrations

DECEMBER 2011 – Good Deed a Day

  • Extremely good and bad people in one day - A shocking negative event followed by an equally shocking positive one.  It brought tears to my eyes.
  • Hitting the bottom mid-month - including a very personal (yet very public because it was on the blog in the comments for all to read) debate between a friend of mine and I which almost cost us our friendship.  The debate crossed several posts, with this being the finale.  It really opened my eyes to my own views, but also how others perceive what I write.
  • The science of good deeds – How good deeds affect us mentally and physically.

JANUARY 2012 – Life at the Poverty Line

FEBRUARY 2012 – A Photograph A Day (month suggested by and voted on by the readers)

What I learned

In each of the month recaps (click on monthly topic above to read them), I talked about what I learned as an initial reaction.  As a year-long learning experience, I have no idea where to start.  I have learned so much from skills to knowledge to personal growth.

I am a different person than when I started March 1st, 2011.  Besides physical changes of losing weight through being vegan (and keeping it off through keeping up the no dairy and yoga), there have been many emotional and psychological changes.  The knowledge I gained about the different topics has given me a wider perspective on the world.  I feel like I have a purpose – like I’m fulfilling a need in myself and sharing it with others.  I am now part of a community of bloggers who are as supportive as they are talented.  I am happy and calmer, but also a bit more jaded with the world (damn porn cinema!).

I gained skills like extreme couponing (the auto correct on my computer kept wanting me to write extreme “coupling” – when you’re tired like I have been on numerous occasions this year and am right now, you find this very amusing) and cooking.  I feel blessed that I have the opportunity to do this and I have such amazing people in my life who support and encourage me.

I wrote this on Day 100 and it still rings true:

There have been days when I’ve hated that I’m doing this – that I’d love a ‘normal’ life where I don’t have to blog and make Taboulleh at 1:30am.  But most days I love it.  I love that I’m learning something new and writing every day.  I love talking about my project – still.  I love sharing my experiences with other people, whether by the blog or by them being a part of whatever adventure I have planned for the day.  I love that I’ve created this for myself (with the help of so many great people) and I feel so fortunate every day that I can do this.  Whether this turns into a million-copy selling book becomes less and less the point (although that would be fantastic).  It’s about the experience, the knowledge and the growth.  And the chance to share that with you.

Where do I go from here

The plan is to write the book about my experiences.  I will also be blogging at least once a week.  Every Wednesday I will post a recap of how things are going with me.  Sometimes it will be a comment on a topic or research on a subject that I’ve discovered about one of the ideas from the year.  And sometimes it will be just about how I’m feeling.  A bit like the daily blog posts I’ve been doing, but on a bigger scale.  I will also be posting occasionally during the week if there is something that inspires me to write or a very interesting or timely topic I want to discuss.  So keep reading for all that.  I will also be updating you all on how the book is coming along and my search for an agent and publisher.  This could be interesting to those of you out there trying to get your own work published.

I’m also going to stick with some of the things I learned this year.  I’m still trying to buy all natural cosmetics, and not eat dairy or pork.  I am determined to pick up my guitar again, paint, make pottery, sew more and do all the other projects I started during art month and never finished.  I still use my online and coupon shopping skills.  I’m still pushing myself to  do things out of my comfort zone on a weekly basis, and I’m a fountain of dating knowledge for my single friends out there.  I’m working on arranging some more volunteer experiences for me to help out more in the community.  I’m donating money regularly to help those less fortunate.  All of these habits I learned through experiences in the past year and I am grateful that I can stick with them.

Thank you again everyone for following along through three hundred sixty six days of posts!  Check back next Wednesday to hear how much I miss my blogging routine, how the book is coming along, and hopefully some other fun information.

Three hundred and thirty-one

Treating myself

I gave in and bought myself a treat while I was at the grocery store.  It’s hard not to.  It was cookie dough that was on sale for $2 at No Frills.  I know I don’t need it, but I understand what my friend Sarah was saying when she said you get so frustrated and overwhelmed with not being able to spend money, that you just want a little treat to make yourself feel better.  And it actually does make me feel better.

I think sometimes you’re allowed to reward yourself with something little every couple of weeks to keep you going. It just can’t be something really expensive that you’ll be paying off later, and you have to have saved a little money for it.  Even something as simple as $2 cookie dough can keep you going on the right path, so you don’t go crazy, completely give up on your budget and then get yourself in worse trouble then you are in.  I made a couple of cookies yesterday, shared with my brother, and am making a couple today.  Yum!

Extreme couponing

Remember my favourite couponing lady Mrs. January that I interviewed during extreme couponing month?  She just released a coupon database for her website.  As couponing is a great way to be frugal, especially on a tight budget, this relates to life at the povtery line. The database is great.  You can search the coupons, scroll through them,  sort by using printable coupons or not.

I spent today getting back into the extreme couponing thing a little more and am having some really valuable coupons mailed to me. I also forgot how much MrsJanuary.com has money saving tips.

I picked up an extra shift at work tonight to make some extra money, so this will be a short post.  Happy Robbie Burns Day everyone!

Day one hundred

I can’t believe I made it to day one hundred!  I feel like I should celebrate, but I can’t seem to find time.  Below is a little recap of how the past three and a bit months have influenced me and each other.  But first, Lebanon.

Lebanon

Tabouli/Tabbouleh

It was 1:40 am when I sat down to eat my tabouli after finishing a twelve-hour shift at the pub (oh, the life of a server).  Such a simple, healthy and delicious dish, it was perfect (suggested by my manager Alana).  Traditionally made with bulgur, I used couscous because of my time constraints (bulgur needs to be soaked and then dried before using it).

A few facts about Taboulleh:

  • The word tabbouleh (tabbūla) derives from the root Arabic word “to season” or “to spice.”
  • Tabbouleh is properly eaten by scooping up small amounts with pieces of romaine lettuce.
  • Tabbouleh relies heavily on parsley to cleanse the mouth between bites of other more heavily seasoned dishes, such as hummus.
  • Served as part of the mezze or beginning course.
  • The Guiness World Record for Tabbouleh was in 2009 in Beirut, Lebanon, weighing 3557 kilograms!  “250 sous-chefs and their 50 bosses from the state-run culinary school chopped and sliced over three and a half tonnes (7,000 pounds) of the salad, using 1,600 kilogrammes (3,520 pounds) of parsley, 1,500 kilogrammes (3,300 pounds) of ripe tomatoes and 420 kilogrammes (926 pounds) of onions.” (Google News)

More information: CliffordAWright.com, suite101.com, Wikipedia.

Lebanese Tabouli/Tabbouleh from epicurious.com

3 bunches finely chopped flat leaf parsley
1 cup chopped fresh mint
2-3 tablespoons fine bulgur
1 chopped firm tomato
1/2 onion or 2 scallions chopped
1/2 cup extra Virgin olive oil
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 teaspoon cayyene pepper (optional)
Prepare the chopped parsley and mint and set aside.
In a large bowl, mix Bulgur, chopped tomatoes, chopped onions/scallions with lemon juice, salt and pepper. Add to them the parsley and mint and olive oil and mix, adjusting seasoning by adding more oil and lemon if desired.
Serve cold garnished with romaine lettuce.

(I borrowed this image from a Vancouver "100 day long experience inspired by the unique collaboration of graffiti art and innovative cuisine".)

Making it to day 100!

It’s been a crazy few months, but I’m over a quarter of the way into my year of experiments and I’ve learned a lot.  Sometimes those lessons are obvious right away, and sometimes they are a little harder to figure out, but I do feel more knowledgeable – and more tired!

It’s interesting how each month tends to help the next ones.  I still use coupons – one I even used to get someone to go on a second date with me!  I agreed to direct a one-woman play because of art month, which we’re rehearsing for right now, and the woman was a guinea pig for a couple international recipes.  Some of my dates from last month have sent me ideas for this month.

Extreme couponing taught me about planning, making lists and saving money (I’ve managed to do all the months on a budget so far).  30 Days of Art taught me about being creative and trying new things.  Date month helped me connect with some amazing people, go to places I would have never gone on my own, and to be comfortable in meeting people.  This month so far has made me try new foods and eat healthier meals.  They’ve all taught me about time management.

There have been days when I’ve hated that I’m doing this – that I’d love a ‘normal’ life where I don’t have to blog and make Taboulleh at 1:30am.  But most days I love it.  I love that I’m learning something new and writing every day.  I love talking about my project – still.  I love sharing my experiences with other people, whether by the blog or by them being a part of whatever adventure I have planned for the day.  I love that I’ve created this for myself (with the help of so many great people) and I feel so fortunate every day that I can do this.  Whether this turns into a million-copy selling book becomes less and less the point (although that would be fantastic).  It’s about the experience, the knowledge and the growth.  And the chance to share that with you.

Today

South African curried meat casserole – Bobotie

Day thirty-four

First, a follow up to Extreme Couponing month:

I did my first grocery shop since finishing Extreme Couponing month.  It was very weird not to be using coupons, but sort of freeing.  I realized today that I really have changed.  I look out for tearpad coupons and for the coupons attached to end-of-day bread and close-to-expiry meat.  I’m excited when I find a good deal and I still brought my coupon organizer with me.  Before last month, I would get a thrill from spending money.  It was nice to splurge when I could.  Now I get a thrill from saving money!  I hope this lasts.

Art planning:

I can already tell this month is going to be much harder to organize than couponing month.  Trying to schedule one hour every day to devote to art is hard enough (especially considering I’m trying to organize it around working restaurant hours).  But then trying to organize it around either other people’s schedule (if it’s something that I’m doing with a friend or teacher) or around the hours art things run (which tend to be in the evenings or on the weekend, and I work many evenings and weekends) is going to be a challenge.  Then finally, writing about it afterwards.  Couponing usually took place during the day, so I had plenty of time to write before work.

On that note, I am going to do my ‘art project’ later this evening, so I will be writing about day thirty-four’s art either late tonight or tomorrow.  Although I will still write every day about art, recaps of daily art experiences might happen the next day in some instances this month.

Day thirty-one

I made it to the end of Extreme Couponing month!  Thirty-one days of only buying things using a coupon.  There were two exceptions to that rule.  #1 The dentist – I had to go to the dentist and any dentist that offers coupons is probably not one I want to go to!  #2 Transportation – I don’t think coupons exist for transit and cabs.  I used tokens instead of spending full price on the streetcar, so it was a discount, but I didn’t have an actual coupon.  Besides these two exceptions I didn’t buy one thing without using a coupon for it.  Thank you to everyone who supported and helped me through it!

Recap of the month

It’s been quite the journey.  I learned how to find coupons online (see Links for all the websites I used) and in some cases have coupons mailed to me.  I figured out how to organize my coupons (twice, as I had to change my organizing system half way through to make it easier).  I bought an Entertainment Book for restaurant coupons and I learned how to better use loyalty cards.  I wrote about the history of coupons, interesting facts, stockpiling, getting things for free, coupon clipping services, coupon marketing, group-buying coupon marketing, price matching, and coupon trains and trades.  I looked into the differences between Canadian and American coupon shopping (two different days) and how we have a harder time finding great deals in Canada.  I interviewed a couple of people, including Mrs. January and a representative of General Mills.  I learned to overcome the urge to quit when things got bad, get over the embarrassment of using coupons (see here and here for two of my most embarrassing moments), and eventually started to use them as a means to save money, not just because of the experiment.  My Top Ten Reasons Extreme Couponing is an Extreme Sport was mentioned in the Time.com money blog and was featured on Treasure’s Stockpile (Treasure will be on TLC’s Extreme Couponing show in the upcoming season).  I managed to eat healthy and find pretty much everything I needed to buy with a coupon (if I didn’t have a coupon, I figured I didn’t need it that badly).  There were many ups and downs, but I made it through!

What did I learn?

The thing I’ll take away from this experience the most is an awareness of my own personal shopping habits and ways that I can change those to save money.  I started as an unorganized spontaneous shopper and I’m leaving this month planning my grocery shops with lists and price-comparing from online and paper flyers to find the best way to save money.  I’ve also learned a lot of useless facts about couponing that have made for very interesting conversations!

The extreme couponing community is very strong.  Sometimes, though, I think it’s as much about getting the deal as it is about saving money.  It’s a challenge, with the reward of extra money left over at the end.  There are a lot of extremely extreme couponers online who give the other ones a bad name.  There are ways to coupon without having to buy 150 chocolate bars.  I have so much respect for women (and sometimes men) who spend time to save their family money, but still keep healthy and aware of the environment.

I’ve also learned that although it is hard to use coupons for smaller brand or organic companies, it is possible.  I know not to buy things just because I get a deal (this is especially hard on the group-buying sites where everything looks like such a huge discount), but to use coupons for things I really want or need.

Where will I go from here with Extreme Couponing?

I am still receiving coupons in the mail, so I will keep using them until they’ve run out – or I will give them away to people who will use them.  I will check out the online coupon sites every once and awhile to see if there are any good deals.  I still love Mrs.January.com and will continue to visit her website.

Will I become a hard-core extreme couponer?  Probably not.  But I will continue to use coupons and look out for ways to use those coupons with sale-price items for a real bargain.

Tomorrow I start 30 Days of Art to examine how being creative and artistic influences the way I live my life.  Stay tuned…