Let’s Talk About Something Else for a Minute

A fellow blogger made the statement this week that “there’s so much to talk about right now that it’s almost paralyzing”. She was mainly referring to the pandemic, but truer words were probably never uttered. I didn’t make a post last week, not because I was too busy, but because I have no clue what to write about right now.  I know COVID-19 is a big part of everyone’s life these days. It’s a daily conversation in our family and honestly, I don’t know what else to say about it. I’m at the point where I just want to put on my mask and gloves and get on with the business of living. And above all, I want – no, I need – to talk about something else, if for no other reason than my own mental wellbeing.

But what do I want to say? I have no clue on that either! Do I tell you all about the garden and how we harvested enough spinach to make a salad? Do I tell you about work and how I’ve been fortunate to have a lot of grants to write this month? Or do I tell you about some of the dumb decisions I’ve made lately regarding work and how frustrated I am because of it? Do I tell you about the book I’m reading and how it’s reaffirming our choice to eat a mostly plant-based diet? Or do I tell you how our neighbor is making us reconsider living in a RV again? There are just too many topics!

So, I’ll start in the garden. We did indeed harvest enough baby spinach on Sunday to make a salad and it was delicious. The potatoes that we planted in grocery bags – well, they are growing like gangbusters. Our first crop of radishes should be ready the middle of next week. And our tomatoes are now in the ground.

But the thing we’re most proud of is what we’re calling the “renegade garden”. Angie and I cleaned out a corner of my mom’s backyard near the creek a few weeks ago. The corner is not technically ours but Judi, who lives next door, has probably not set foot in this corner in years. When we removed all the overgrowth, our original plan was to make a space for our hammocks. As we started observing the sunlight, we realized this was the perfect space to grow something, so we planted a little row of sunberries (aka wonderberries) and randomly placed all of our leftover tomatoes. Oh, and a sprinkle of watermelon and cantaloupe seeds. We don’t plan to tend this garden, except to water it if it gets too dry. It’s an experiment in growing food in unusual spaces and we’re excited to see how it goes.

Our Renegade Garden

Work has been abundant this month, which is great considering the freelance editor job I was hired for has been put on hold and I was beginning to get concerned about our budget. A lot of foundations and government entities are offering emergency funding to non-profits right now so I’ve had a lot of requests for grant writing. In fact, I completed 6 grant applications this month and have 3 more possibilities for May. So far, 4 of those 6 applications have been funded – a nice little fact that plays well for me when trying to find new work. So, I’m pretty happy on that front.

What I’m not happy about is a side-hustle that I agreed to do back in February. I won’t disclose the company but the gig is merchandising mostly seasonal products in a large grocery chain. When I accepted the job, it sounded like fun – 1 day a week calling on stores in/around middle Tennessee – with most of the hours being drive time hours, for which the company paid a gas allowance and a car allowance (along with an hourly wage, of course). The numbers added up on paper to one very important thing –  RENT. Yes, working this easy little gig would pay the rent – and all the gas our little car would ever need in a month. But, not everything that works out on paper works out in real life. The job is easy. It does pay everything it said it would. But OMG! the communication is terrible, the technology fails all the time, and the work is so boring, I don’t even know what else to say. Except that I sincerely hope that this editor gig comes through so I can ditch this one soon.

Even with all the work this month, I’ve had a lot of time to relax, read, and think. Right now, I’m reading How Not to Die by Michael Greger, MD. As a math nerd, I love that it’s chock full of statistics but I also love how practical it is. If you are thinking about going plant-based, I highly recommend this book. It will tell you everything you ever wanted to know (and some things you didn’t) about the food we eat. Like, did you know that 20 servings of fruit has the equivalent sugar content of 8 cans of soda, yet when a group of researchers fed 20 servings of fruit to test subjects daily for 3 months, there was no increase in weight, blood sugar or triglycerides. There was, however, a reduction in bad cholesterol (LDL) by 38 points. Go fruit!! As people who eat fruit like it’s candy, Angie and I both found this study particularly fascinating and a great way to refute all those folks who keep telling us that “too much fruit is bad for you”.

A typical breakfast for us – homemade yogurt with granola and flax, fruit, toast, nuts, and green tea.

What is bad for you though? Noisy neighbors, that’s what! And I can’t even blame this one on the stay-at-home order. Our downstairs neighbor is a single man in his sixties. He’s nice enough when you’re just exchanging greetings but lately he’s been extra invasive (like trying to invite himself up to our apartment invasive). We have nothing in common. He drinks (excessively). We don’t. He’s a hoarder. We aren’t. He eats most every meal at Logan’s Roadhouse or Cracker Barrel. We cook at home. He commonly refers to certain groups as “those people” and uses the N-word (a lot!). We’re a little too gay to be discriminating against anyone. So, we try to avoid him as best we can, but lately he’s made that super hard. He parks a lawn chair in front of our balcony and blasts music from a boombox all afternoon (at least on days when it rains, we have a reprieve). If I can hear the lyrics inside the apartment, the music is way too loud, and yesterday I thought Freddie Mercury was in our living room. Our apartment staff has yet to do anything about this and every day, we find ourselves wanting to move. Maybe this is a sign?? It is lease renewal time, after all.

So that’s the sum of our lives over the past two weeks. Admittedly, I’ve had a bit of the quarantine blues but even just writing this post has helped a lot with that. I’m looking forward to a great garden season this year, looking forward to the re-opening of our parks and Farmer’s Market, and hoping that everyone out there has something they are looking forward too as well.

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A few weeks ago, I asked for submissions from our community on your journey to minimalism or what minimalism means to you. This week, I got one from Ilona at ILONAZBLOG called What is Minimalism or How to Free Your Space? Ilona is from the Ukraine and recently started her minimalist blog. I encourage you to check out her post and show her some community support by liking or subscribing to her blog.

Do you have an inspiring story about minimalism to share with others? Just send me the link at minimalistsnextdoor@gmail.com and I’ll share it in my next post.

Unique Jobs = Unique Experiences

A few years back, I wrote a post called My Great Big List of Little Jobs. It was a compilation of the various income producing activities that I’d had throughout my life, from voice-over artist to landscaper. While some folks might look at a list like this and see what amounts to a piecemeal resume, I look at it with great fondness. I’ve had some great experiences (and of course, some not so great ones too) and I was paid to do them!

Since that list came out, I’ve added a few more interesting hustles to it, ranging from the normal stuff (like freelancing as a grant writer) to the ones that make people say “someone paid you to do that??”. I believe it was last year that Angie and I got a gig cruising hotel parking lots after dark to write down any business names found on the cars parked there (like Joe’s Construction or Sally’s Interior Designs). I’m pretty sure the hiring agency was trying to put together a list of businesses to reach out to for their travel discount program. Regardless, we made more than $600 for the 4-day project and we had fun doing it.

Which leads me back to the present…

Back in August, I answered an ad on Indeed for a Field Researcher in the metro-Nashville area. The job was a quarterly gig that involved driving around new neighborhoods to gather information about the homes being built there. It didn’t pay much in an hourly wage but it sounded like fun and something Angie and I could do together, plus it paid mileage. I was hired. (Side note: The more unique the gig is, the better your chances of getting hired. Why? Because most folks pass over these really part-time opportunities because they are looking for “career jobs” or at least, traditional part-time employment.)

We completed our first route in September and were soon asked if we’d like 2 routes this time. Of course, we said yes since we’re 100% relying on gig work to support ourselves now. This time, we had part of Williamson County, TN – home to everyone who has ever thought themselves a country music star. Don’t believe me? Just Google “celebrities that live near Franklin, TN” and you’ll get a list that includes folks like Carrie Underwood and Tim McGraw. But I digress…

We spent 3 full (8-hour) days in the car cruising neighborhoods under construction. Angie drove while I filled in maps and forms. Yes, it was exhausting but it was also fun. We had a car picnic for lunch every day, got to see some really unique Christmas decorations (including two reindeer in a very compromising situation), and viewed some of the most ridiculously humongous monstrosities ever to be called houses.

When I interviewed for the job, the hiring manager told me that most folks love the job because they get to look at all the new houses. Some folks even used the job as a way to find a new place of their own. Us…well, we love to look at the new houses too…but for a different reason. Perspective. Every time we entered a neighborhood full of 4,000 square foot homes on tiny lots with 3 car garages, we noticed one thing – no one was home. Not even on Saturday. I don’t know where they were but the one thing was certain, they weren’t there enjoying their big, fine home. Seeing these huge empty homes reminded us why we are minimalists, and it made us appreciate (once again) the many perks of living in an apartment (from not having a huge mortgage to being able to call the landlord to fix the AC). But mostly it served as a sort of inspiration, if you will – an inspiration to be even more true to ourselves, our goals, and our beliefs than we already are.

I’m not knocking big homes (okay, maybe I am), but bigger is not always better. A 4,000 square foot home for a family of four essentially means that every member of that household has an amount of space equivalent to the size of home that our parents and grandparents (and some of us) were raised in. It’s an amount of space larger than your average apartment. With that kind of space requirement per person going forward, at some point, we as a society are going to run out of…well, space. And resources. And land to grow food. And on and on I could go.

I don’t envy the big homes I see. I feel sad for the occupants. I may be out cruising their neighborhood on a Saturday for a few bucks an hour but at the end of the day, I get to curl up in my 700 square foot “nest” knowing that this little gig is all we need to do this month to pay the rent. It’s a peace that I wouldn’t trade for any amenity a “planned development” neighborhood could offer. No great room or even a great-great room can compare to the great feeling that comes with freedom.

Aside from starting a discussion on housing in America today, the real point of this post was about alternate income streams. Money can come from so many sources besides the traditional “9-to-5” job that it’s almost a challenge in itself to find them. At least it is for us. I understand that a life of never knowing what the next gig might be may not sound like fun to you. I understand that because for a long time, it sounded downright scary to me and I refused to go all in with it. Being a minimalist. Being debt-free. Being frugal. These things make it so much easier to pursue a non-traditional income-seeking path. We are these things and right now, we’re having fun with work for the first time in a long time. Will we feel this way 6 months from now or when we have to dip into our reserves to pay for something? I don’t know. For now though, we’re going to ride the wave and see what other unique experiences we can add to our list.